Get the Right Bike – Hardtail Mountain Bikes

The trail in front of you slips silently into the trees, and the temperature eases as you move deeper into the shade. Pockets of light zip by as you meet every new turn and rise in the trail. An owl, who was perched overhead a second ago moves silently away from you to search for a better hunting spot. The woods are painted in a myriad of colors depending on the season; mostly greens and browns, but peaks of showy purples, bright yellow and soft pinks display themselves hear and there, and if this is your first mountain bike, you just missed it all. Why? Well, for starters, your eyes are glued somewhere on the ribbon of dirt about 3 feet in front of you, and you are traveling at a pace that if you went slower, you would have to put a foot down. Relax – the first time mountain biking is like the first time in a big crowd. There’s a lot to see – so much that all you can do is focus on the section right in front of you. By the end of your first ride you feel more comfortable, by the end of your second or third ride, you notice that owl fly away.

How do you want to ride?

For mountain biking, like other styles, we want to start with how you will ride. Where you want to ride (what trails you know about already or are near you) as well as long-term goals (riding out west, mastering a skill, entering a race) and who you ride with are all important questions. If you are unsure, we’d love to talk mountain biking with you – we’d even like to welcome you on one of our Erik’s Rider’s Club Rides.

For most riders in general, a “hardtail” mountain bike is appropriate for your first bike, and for much of the trails in Minnesota and Wisconsin it’s the best all around choice. In the past there has been a debate about wheel size, but where we live and where hardtails are concerned, 29-inch wheels are the way to go. For a new rider especially, 29-inch wheels (also called a 29er) make it easier to clear obstacles such as logs or rocks in the trail, and lower the center of gravity of the rider relative to the bike which creates a more stable bike. The added benefit is as your confidence grows, it’s also a faster wheel allowing you to better keep up.

Hardtail Mountain Bikes
Many bikes will grow well with a rider's abilities, but the Carve from Specialized is a standout among them.

Many bikes will grow well with a rider’s abilities, but the Carve from Specialized is a standout among them.

Hardtail mountain bikes are so-called because of the rigid back end to the frame. Suspension is provided by a fork up front and proper tire pressure. These bikes are more simple in design than full suspension bikes, making them great for casual riders or even people looking for the lightest mountain bike possible. They are typically made of aluminum or carbon fiber, and are well-suited to trails without big drops or a highly technical design.

Rider Profile

Surface: Unimproved, trails can be made of dirt, gravel, rock or loose surface. Single track or wide open fire roads.
Riding Style: People who like to ride the trail, maybe go fast, not necessarily technical riders
Ride distance: Dependent more on rider ability and experience. A properly fit bike is the most important part in performance.
Extras: Suspension in the front smooths the trail and helps maintain control.
Fit Notes: Rider position is slightly bent, but more upright than a road bike is typically.
Examples: Specialized: Stumpjumper HT, Carve, Rockhopper, Hardrock for men and Fate, Jett and Myka HT for women. Raleigh: Talus, XXIX for men and Eva for women

Next time, we’ll go over full suspension bikes and how they differ. Later on we’ll cover specialty mountain bikes as well as some features that are unique to mountain bikes beyond suspension and knobby tires.


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