1. The most important thing about buying a new bike is to make sure it fits. The only way you'll know if the bike is right for you is to size up the bike and make sure that the bike's geometry matches your body's geometry. Ask questions and do some research.
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2. If possible, try to find a shop that will let you demo the bike on real dirt. Five minutes in a parking lot won't cut it. You wouldn't buy a car without a real world test drive, and a bike should be no different.
3. Don't belive the hype. Just because your favorite rider or best friend rides a certain bike, that doesn't mean that's the best one for you. Have an open mind and be realistic about your needs and ability.
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  1. #1
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    Beginner Geometry

    I'm coming into off-road from a road bike background and am trying to nail down a few contenders for my first MTB. At first I was just looking at component specs and price, but started reading more and more reviews. This review for the BMC Speedfox is a good example. In it the reviewer (and the reviewer in the follow-up) both comment that it'd make a great beginner bike because it inspires confidence.

    My question is if this "confidence" in handling comes from the geometry, and if it does, what specifically? Is it a matter of HT angle and wheel base, or is there more to look at? I'm assuming part of the confidence they mention has to do with the dual suspension rather than it being a hard tail, which I'm also looking at. What should I be looking for as a never-been-on-a-MTB-noob.

    When I compare the review above to the review for the similarly-spec'd Team Elite, they get "nimble" and more race-oriented. But HT angle is the same between models, though ST angle is a half a degree more slack on the Speedfox, TT is 5mm shorter, and the chainstays are 15mm longer. Is that enough to make that big of a difference between beginner-friendly and something more race oriented?

    Thanks.

  2. #2
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    I'd go to some bike shops and check out different mountain bikes within your set budget. Obviously the more expensive the bike, the better the forks and components are and the weight of the bike changes. I'm sure there are experts on bike geometry for different angles but I'm not one of them.

    Mountain bikes are more compact, with shorter chain stays and I think the bottom brackets are higher for better clearance. It also depends on the mountain biking you plan on doing for the geometry. Try both a 29er and a 26er. Both are great and it's personal preference.

    I like hard tails as they are simple and easy. I get motion sickness on the full suspensions as the "floating" feeling makes me nauseous. That's just me, but tons of people love their full suspensions. The better the fork, the more comfortable the ride as you can make more adjustments.

    Just like with a road bike, fit is everything for comfort. Confidence comes in time as you get more experienced.

    Hope that helps some.

  3. #3
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    I can't speak to why bikes with similar geometry would be characterized differently. Different reviewers with different opinions? Other factors? Who knows.

    I can say that slacker head angles, longer fork trail, longer wheelbase and wide bars tend slow down the steering, make the front wheel less susceptible to being knocked out of alignment by obstacles and will be more stable and forgiving on drop-ins and descents. Hence, "confidence" inspiring.

    I agree with the advice to rely more on your own impressions of test rides.
    Use it, use it, use it while you still have it.

  4. #4
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    Ride them all, buy your favorite. IMO, most of the reviews of mountain bikes are about as good as the reviews of road bikes. Take that either way. Although Bike Radar writes reviews that feel a bit more balanced to me.

    Handling is a tricky thing to pin down. For a while, I was thinking it was all about head angle. But I think weight distribution plays into it too. If you imagine a bike with really short chainstays and a really slack head angle, there wouldn't be a lot of weight on the front wheel. It would feel a bit odd and probably climb like ass.

    If you imagine a bike with long chainstays, a steep head angle, and a relatively short top tube, there'd be a ton of weight on the front wheel. It would feel pretty planted, but on a descent, it might be a little bit too planted, if you know what I mean, and the long chainstays would probably still make it feel a bit ponderous to try to get around a switchback or something.

    I suspect there's a relatively narrow range of weight distributions that works well. Want a slacker head angle? Make the chainstays longer too, or the reach shorter. (See DH bikes for a good example of this.) Want to make it easy for the rider to keep the front wheel planted on a climb? Make the front-center dimension short, give the bike a long enough head tube to have a reasonable stem length, and make the chainstays short too because this is for a rider who wants to be able to loft the front wheel easily too. And that brings us to steep-angled XC bikes. People complain about the handling manners of both classes, depending on the circumstances, and there are some classes in between - trail bikes, AM bikes, freeride bikes.

    So - is this your first MTB period, or are you on a loaner or some old thing or something? Basically, do you have the ability to take your time and do some demo days, or do you need to buy the equipment before you can meaningfully try it? And, what kind of riding do you want to do?
    "Don't buy upgrades; ride up grades." -Eddy Merckx

  5. #5
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    Thanks, everyone, for the replies so far. Lots of useful info.

    Quote Originally Posted by AndrwSwitch View Post
    So - is this your first MTB period, or are you on a loaner or some old thing or something? Basically, do you have the ability to take your time and do some demo days, or do you need to buy the equipment before you can meaningfully try it? And, what kind of riding do you want to do?
    Straight-up first MTB and don't know anyone I could borrow from. Do shops typically loan bikes? I was leaning toward finding something online for around a grand and getting to know what's what on that (this fuji is a front-runner).

    As for riding, I'm still not 100% on the terminology, but as far as I understand it, XC. The trails around here tend to be rocky and somewhat technical, though there are enough beginner trails for me to cut my teeth on.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Love Commander View Post
    Thanks, everyone, for the replies so far. Lots of useful info.



    Straight-up first MTB and don't know anyone I could borrow from. Do shops typically loan bikes? I was leaning toward finding something online for around a grand and getting to know what's what on that (this fuji is a front-runner).

    As for riding, I'm still not 100% on the terminology, but as far as I understand it, XC. The trails around here tend to be rocky and somewhat technical, though there are enough beginner trails for me to cut my teeth on.

    Again, this is why you should visit your LBS......many shops will have demo or rental bikes. Sometimes they are free......but some will charge a nominal fee that will be rolled into the price of a bike if you buy from them.

    In addition, they should know the local trails that you want to ride, and thus be able to recomend what kind/type of bike woud be best.
    I crashed hard enough on my Tallboy to break my leg,
    The carbon is way more durable than most people.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by mtnbikej View Post
    Again, this is why you should visit your LBS......many shops will have demo or rental bikes. Sometimes they are free......but some will charge a nominal fee that will be rolled into the price of a bike if you buy from them.

    In addition, they should know the local trails that you want to ride, and thus be able to recomend what kind/type of bike woud be best.
    Yeah, that's a good point. I'll swing by a couple shops this weekend and see what they have.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Love Commander View Post
    ...Straight-up first MTB and don't know anyone I could borrow from. Do shops typically loan bikes? I was leaning toward finding something online for around a grand a....
    Ok here is the most import bit of information we need.

    You have budget of around $1000. So at that price range in a new bike get a Hardtail. The reason is that you will not be able to get a new good quality bike FS bike for that money. You can get a nice entry level+ bike for that money. Since you are road biker a pure entry level bike is probably not ideal for you. You will see the weakness in the more basic components that people that don't know bikes will never see.

    Unfortunately at $1000 you will have a hard time getting FS bike for that money. You may see some, but they will be inferior to the hardtail at that price. You need to be closer to 2k to get solid FS bike and some might argue 3k.

    As for geometry... I would not get that hung up geometry right now. Alot will depend on what trails you ride and how you like to ride them. Best advice is to go your local shop and ask questions. Tell them what you want to do and see where they point you. My guess is that in your price range the geometries will all be pretty close the difference between bike will be more on component vs value side comparing one bike to another. The other thing can be comparing 26 to 29" wheels and such.

    Remember when it comes mtn bikes fit is not a critical as on road bikes. That is not to say fit does not make a difference, but it just not a critical to your riding experience. You simple spend more time standing and moving your weight around to get sore from one position on the bike.

    Now if you goal is to do big rocks, take jumps, and hit the nastiest rocks you can a FS bike with 5-6" of travel maybe the bike for you. These "AM" bikes are not cheap and each one seems to have different strengths and weaknesses. Plus on certain trails they can be overkill due to their heft. Depends on what you ride and how you like to ride it really and if you don't know that yet a hardtail can be the best to get you started.
    Joe
    2003 KHS Alite 4000 26" Hardtail - XC, All mountain, blah blah blah.. I just ride.

  9. #9
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    A lot of people on this forum, myself included, have no idea what they're talking about in regard to ideal geometry adjustments. It's almost entirely preference in relation to the frame and what can be adjusted. I read comments about people wanting longer chainstays, longer top tubes, and slacker head angles on the next model of a given frame, and I'm sure the engineers reading that have a hell of a time decrypting what the rider actually wants. I could name off the measurements of my frame, and to some extent I know what it all means, but any change in one spot does things in other areas and regardless of doing the math, its hard to know how it feels for most of us.

    Just test lots of bikes. Don't buy anything just yet. Be patient.

    Good shops should demo bikes.

    Example, I'm selling a transition dirtbag right now for nearly a grand. I wouldn't sell you it. It's too much bike for any beginner. That and it weighs 40 pounds. Some would love to sell it to a beginner, and maybe it is what some beginners really want. Though more often, its not.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Love Commander View Post
    Thanks, everyone, for the replies so far. Lots of useful info.



    Straight-up first MTB and don't know anyone I could borrow from. Do shops typically loan bikes? I was leaning toward finding something online for around a grand and getting to know what's what on that (this fuji is a front-runner).

    As for riding, I'm still not 100% on the terminology, but as far as I understand it, XC. The trails around here tend to be rocky and somewhat technical, though there are enough beginner trails for me to cut my teeth on.
    buy that bike, it's a very good value in my opinon. Slx shifters and cranks are excellent. Akin to 105 in the road world except probably not as much upside in going to xt or xtr like there would be going to u ltegra or duraace in the road world.

    XT deraileurs are akin to ultegra drivetrain. It's got a highly regarded fork and the brakes could be upgraded down the line and you could consider a tubeless conversion on the wheels down the road as well.

    I'm building up from scratch and have a similar build going sourcing parts from ebay and the like and i've spent a smidgen under $1000. The only difference is i have tubeless ready wheels that I got a GREAT deal on from Chainlove but I also have a POS fork so you and I are about even.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by cpfitness View Post
    buy that bike, it's a very good value in my opinon. Slx shifters and cranks are excellent. Akin to 105 in the road world except probably not as much upside in going to xt or xtr like there would be going to u ltegra or duraace in the road world.

    XT deraileurs are akin to ultegra drivetrain. It's got a highly regarded fork and the brakes could be upgraded.
    I agree... Seems like a solid bike that fits your price range.
    Joe
    2003 KHS Alite 4000 26" Hardtail - XC, All mountain, blah blah blah.. I just ride.

  12. #12
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    I'm pretty much in the same boat as you except I own a mtb already. My budget is similar as well so am keeping my eye on this thread. I also like the specs of that Fuji bike you linked.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Love Commander View Post
    Thanks, everyone, for the replies so far. Lots of useful info.



    Straight-up first MTB and don't know anyone I could borrow from. Do shops typically loan bikes? I was leaning toward finding something online for around a grand and getting to know what's what on that (this fuji is a front-runner).

    As for riding, I'm still not 100% on the terminology, but as far as I understand it, XC. The trails around here tend to be rocky and somewhat technical, though there are enough beginner trails for me to cut my teeth on.
    For me, XC, Trail and AM are as much a matter of emphasis as they are the trails you choose. Which is part of the confusion of getting into the market - basically, the majors keep making up new categories to see if someone with an XC bike and an AM bike can be talked into more bikes.

    The way I read the geometry charts, that Fuji size names are assigned to inch sizes (and corresponding reaches) about a size larger than how most brands land their sizes. Definitely read the chart - you can find it on their site - and compare to bikes you can try locally. As with road bikes, it's important to get the size right.

    Spec's pretty good for the money. Chainstays are a bit long, but the geometry doesn't look too funky other than that and the sizing.

    There's value added in test riding bikes. Basically the same deal as road bikes - so if you'd order one of those online, have at it.
    "Don't buy upgrades; ride up grades." -Eddy Merckx

  14. #14
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    Where will you ride.
    Here's a review that speaks to geo and fit.
    Fuji Tahoe 29er 2.0 Review - BikeRadar
    The long chain stays were before curved seat tubes, etc. That's why the bikes of this gen needed a steep HT angle. You can play with the handling and balance with a setback seat post , shorter stem and wide low rise bars.
    The components on this bike are excellent and can go on another frame like a Chinese carbon FM056 down the line.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by AndrwSwitch View Post
    For me, XC, Trail and AM are as much a matter of emphasis as they are the trails you choose. Which is part of the confusion of getting into the market - basically, the majors keep making up new categories to see if someone with an XC bike and an AM bike can be talked into more bikes.

    The way I read the geometry charts, that Fuji size names are assigned to inch sizes (and corresponding reaches) about a size larger than how most brands land their sizes. Definitely read the chart - you can find it on their site - and compare to bikes you can try locally. As with road bikes, it's important to get the size right.

    Spec's pretty good for the money. Chainstays are a bit long, but the geometry doesn't look too funky other than that and the sizing.

    There's value added in test riding bikes. Basically the same deal as road bikes - so if you'd order one of those online, have at it.
    Yep. First thing I did was find the geometry chart in the Fuji archive. As far as TT and stem lengths, it's spot on with my calculated fit and in line with what I would expect based on my road bike fit. I didn't really think about what kind of effect the chain stay length would have, though. Regardless, I have an idea of my idea size. I'm going to make the rounds at a few LBSs this weekend to see if they have anything I can't live without.

    Quote Originally Posted by eb1888 View Post
    Where will you ride.
    Here's a review that speaks to geo and fit.
    Fuji Tahoe 29er 2.0 Review - BikeRadar
    The long chain stays were before curved seat tubes, etc. That's why the bikes of this gen needed a steep HT angle. You can play with the handling and balance with a setback seat post , shorter stem and wide low rise bars.
    The components on this bike are excellent and can go on another frame like a Chinese carbon FM056 down the line.
    Riding in Oklahoma. I've only run on the trails around here, but it seems to be fairly rocky. There's a nice trail system that's a 7 mile path ride from my front door I plan on hitting up.
    That review you linked to also mentions the chain stays. So are more recent designs going for shorter chain stays and slacker HT angles? Keeping a similar wheel base, I'm assuming. Is this to make it easier to get the front of the bike up?

    Hey, thanks everyone for all the help. This is really clearing up a lot of questions for me.

  16. #16
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    That last East Ridge video is a fun run. The Reba fork is the most important component on the bike for those trails. It will really make a difference.
    Chain stay length is tied to balance and steering quickness. 438 on a Scott Scale allows a 69 HT angle for stability while still maintaining good steering. They did it by curving the seat tube to move the rear tire forward. Fuji has 455 and 71 HT angle. A setback seat post could get you back when seated. Short stem and wide bars and you can make the Fuji work.
    The review also points out Fuji dimensions make a medium about the same size as a large from most manufacturers. Keep that in mind on test rides of other bikes.

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