Mountain biking is a sport that’s growing in popularity among exercise enthusiasts and fans of the outdoors. Far different from cycling on paved paths, mountain biking takes quite a bit of stamina and endurance, and the ability to control the bike over rough terrain, including steep hills. Mountain bikes are built differently than a typical bike, and usually have a higher price tag than the type of bike you’d need to ride on paved trails. For that type of riding, you can get a less expensive bike (though still get a good one that fits you well) and skip the mountain gear. But if you plan to ride off-road trails at all, you’ll want a bike that can handle it.
If you purchase a bike especially for mountain biking, you can also use it on paved trails and roads; you won’t need a different bicycle for those paths. But mountain bikes are designed for rougher trails, and so are simply better suited for them. If you’ve never mountain biked before, you might want to rent a bike or borrow a friend’s to give it a try before you purchase your own gear. That way you can make sure mountain biking is something you’ll actual enjoy.
The chief obvious difference between a standard bicycle and a mountain bike is the type of tire. Mountain bikes have wide and knobby tires, and have a better system of shock absorption than a typical bicycle. Other differences make them sturdier for the more intense and rugged biking experience.
Before you go browsing mountain bikes, decide how much you’re willing to spend. You can spend hundreds more on a bike than you intend if you don’t have a budget in mind when you go. If you’re looking for a discount option, many large chains that carry bikes also carry affordable mountain bikes. But it’s a good idea to look at a biking specialty shop first, or do lots of online research of the higher-end bikes to see what features you won’t want to compromise on. The staff at a bike shop will be much more knowledgeable and able to answer your questions than the person in the “sporting goods” section of a large store.
You’ll want to consider what’s more important to you when mountain biking—efficiency and your ability to traverse the trails, or your comfort. Ideally, you want a bike that offers the best of both. Keep in mind that a full suspension offers a much more comfortable ride, so if comfort is on top of your list, you’ll want to look at that type of bike carefully.
Hardtail bikes are lighter and pedal more easily and efficiently when you’re on smooth or paved surfaces. But you sacrifice a lot of comfort. Hardtail bikes are usually less expensive than full suspension bikes, and they take less maintenance. Ride both to see which feels best. You have to think about your biking preferences to decide which style is right for you and your budget.