• Country

First-Time Buyer’s Guide – Mountain Bikes

By Jiri Kaloc

You want to buy your first mountain bike but you have no clue where to start? This article is for you. Should you go for an XC bike or a trail bike? Do you need a hardtail or a full sus? It can feel overwhelming but thankfully, you only really need to make a few decisions when it comes to your first bicycle. We will help you identify which ones those are so that choosing your bike becomes easy.

XC or trail bike?

There are a ton of different styles of riding a mountain bike. But to make things simple, most brands make a clear distinction between two types of mountain bikes: XC (cross-country) bicycles and trail bicycles. Here are their characteristics to help you understand the differences better.

XC (cross-country) bicycles

  • Long-distance riding: suited for riders aiming to cover vast distances on forest paths, gravel, and moderate trails with efficiency.
  • Climbing prowess: excelling in steep, challenging climbs due to their lightweight build and efficient power transfer.
  • Speed and fitness: best for those who enjoy fast, long rides focusing on cardiovascular fitness without overly technical obstacles.

Trail bicycles

  • Versatile trail riding: engineered to handle a variety of terrains, from smooth singletracks to rocky technical sections.
  • Downhill confidence: offers stability and control at high speeds and on steep descents, thanks to slacker geometry and more suspension.
  • Playful and fun: ideal for those who enjoy jumps, drops, and more playful features on trails.

What’s your budget?


It’s important to be honest about what kind of mountain biking you enjoy to be able to choose between these two types of bicycles. Unfortunately, if your answer is trail, then you have to be prepared to spend at least 1,500 euros. That’s mainly because trail bikes should have full suspension, front and back, which is pricey. Bikes that are considered XC are typically hardtails, which means they only have front suspension. This makes them a lot cheaper. You can find a capable XC bike for around 500-800 euros.

But don’t worry, if your budget is limited and you can only afford an entry-level hardtail, you can still do some trail riding. Some would even say that it’s good to start with a hardtail bike because it’s better for learning how to handle the bike and how to move your body in the right way on the bike. Hardtails are also lighter, less complex, and easier to maintain, which is a benefit to any newer cyclist. And you can always get knobbier a wider tyres and pump them up to a lower pressure to improve your grip and handling on trails and you can certainly have some fun until you save up for a full-suspension trail bike.

Bike frame

Superior bike frame
Your bike frame is the key to the identity of the bike and says the most about you as a rider.

Your bike frame is going to be decided by whether you’re buying an XC bike or a trail bike. At the entry-level price range, you’re most likely going to get an XC geometry because those bicycles are not meant for difficult terrain anyway. Only when you get above 1,500 euros, you’re going to be able to choose a bike that has the slacker geometry and full suspension typical for trail bikes. So, your budget kind of defines the frame at these prices.

When it comes to materials, you are definitely getting aluminium at these prices. It’s a great, reliable material that many bikers swear by, even if they can afford carbon. Carbon fibre certainly makes the bike lighter and stiffer but it comes at a significant cost– you may be looking at twice the price.


There are some choices you can make when it comes to suspension. Most XC bikes come with a short travel distance front suspension of about 80-100 mm, which is plenty for gentler terrain. Trail bikes typically have a much longer travel distance of between 120-200 mm to handle jumps, drops, and difficult terrain. So, if you plan to do longer descents and trails but don’t have the budget for a full-suspension trail bike, you can at least pay a bit extra for a 120 mm fork. And if you can get air shocks as opposed to springs in your suspension, even better.


This name is used for all the components required for your shifting and braking. When you hear Shimano Deore, Sram GX Eagle or Microshift Advent X, those are the names of popular mountain bike groupsets. You can make a few decisions here.

Shifting – Gone are the days when mountain bikes had 3 chainrings and 24 speeds total. Technology progressed and there is a clear trend to go with only 1 small chainring and up to 12-cog cassette with crazy tooth ratios like 10-52. Avoid the very cheapest mountain bikes that still use 2 chainrings. Going with 1 chainring makes shifting simpler, the bike is lighter, and there’s less maintenance. Entry-level bikes will offer about 9 speeds with a ratio of 11-42, if you’re planning to do a lot of steep hills, you may want to spend a bit extra for a larger gear going up to 50 teeth.

Brakes – When it comes to brakes, your choice should be disc brakes. They are a lot more reliable, particularly in rain, and they also cope a lot better with dirt and grime where rim brakes would struggle. Mountain bikes are meant to grapple with nature and are bound to get dirty, brakes are not the place to save money. Entry-level models are likely to come with 160 mm discs at the front and back. If you’re planning to do long downhills, consider paying extra for a model with at least a 180 mm disc in the front for more control.

Wheel sizes

There has been a shift from 26” towards 27,5” and 29” wheels for pretty much all mountain bikes, XC and trail. The 27,5” are typically paired with smaller frame sizes and 29” with larger ones. If you do get a choice, then here is what you should know about both.

  • 27,5” are more manoeuvrable for starting and stopping, they are lighter, but you have to pedal more to keep your momentum.
  • 29” offer better control and grip, you maintain momentum with less effort and you feel small bumps less, but they are heavier and less nimble on narrow trails.

Most of the time, we would recommend going for 29” if your recommended frame size allows it as it will be overall a more enjoyable experience for newer cyclists. And for bonus points, it’s nice to have tyres and rims that are tubeless-ready for when you want to make that switch.

When it comes to your first bike, that’s about everything you need to know about. Later on, you will worry about other components such as your handlebar width, dropper seatpost, and so on. For now, as long as you buy from a reputable manufacturer, you will get reliable parts appropriate for the price point.

Try your bike before buying

Having a well-fitting bike is one of the big reasons to buy a new bike. The manufacturer has recommended sizes based on height but people come in many different shapes. Always get on the bike before you buy it to really understand how it fits you.

But that’s enough theory. Check out the next article in the series where we will go over our top picks for the best XC bike, trail bike, and accessories.