Where to buy a mountain bike
Online vs in-store, new vs second hand
So you’ve decided you’re ready to take the plunge and get into mountain biking, but you can’t do that without the most important piece of kit of all – the bike. So, how do you go about buying one?
Well first you’re going to have to make a decision, do you want to buy a new bike or are you going to risk the second hand market? This will largely be decided by your budget. If you can stretch to a new bike then we can’t see why you wouldn’t go for one as it takes a lot of the risk out of the purchase, however if you’re working with less than £1,500 then you can definitely pick up a quality piece of kit if you go second hand.
Bear in mind this isn’t like picking a tin of beans off the shelf at Tesco, mountain bikes are high value items with a niche audience that means they won’t always be readily stocked. Make sure you shop around and don't just settle for the first thing you see, you may have to live with your bike for a few years so you want it to be right.
A local bike shop
A reputable shop with a good knowledge of mountain bikes will be your most valuable resource in buying your first mountain bike. The advice of a shop manager with thirty years’ experience in the game will be a lot more valuable than an anonymous keyboard warrior’s so go and make the most of it.
The biggest advantage of buying from a shop is the ability to demo a bike before you buy it. For a small fee (compared to the price of the bike) you can take the bike out to your local trails and really get a sense of how it feels. This experience is priceless because you can never truly understand a bike from spec sheets and geometry charts alone.
Our advice would be to visit a number of shops and demo as many brands as possible within your price range – that way you can be sure you are getting the best bike for you.
Your experience with a shop won’t end after choosing your desired bike though. The shop will order in your bike, build it up for you and help you get the suspension settings correct for your weight and riding style. They will also be the first port of call for any warranty issues you might have with it. This may seem like a small issue but it’s far easier to wheel your bike into a shop than pack it in a box and send it overseas to be repaired. Check what the shop offers in the way of after care servicing that goes with a bike sale. Make the most of what is available to you and build up a relationship with them.
Direct sales bikes are a recent phenomenon in mountain biking and have really shaken up the market. Leading the charge were YT Industries and Canyon but even the big players like Trek are starting to experiment with the new model.
The advantage is obviously price. You can pick up an aluminium YT Tues for £1,800 and a fully carbon Canyon Sender for £2,900, prices that would have got you laughed at five years ago. The bikes come with top shelf specs and sorted geometries that deliver a race-ready ride out of the box.
Alternatively, you can buy from a UK mail order site, in fact a lot of brick and mortar shops also have an online store you can order from. These won't offer the same discounts as Euro direct sales brands but they frequently offer sweeping sales so if you check them regularly you could save yourself a packet.
But while you do get a bargain you need to remember you won’t be able to size up the bike before you try it and resolving any issues with the bike could be a lot harder without having the human interaction of a local shop. You'll also have to assemble the bike yourself so if you're mechanically challenged this could also be an issue. You're local bike shop should be happy to set your bike up - expect to pay around £30-£80 labour depending on how much workshop time is needed.
Suspension set up will be needed to. If you don't have the confidence yourself then an experienced riding mate, suspension tuning specialist or local shop will be needed. Base settings for suspension will be on many brands' websites, so check there first.
The cheapest way to pick up a downhill bike is second hand, but this comes with a minefield to navigate before you get your dream ride. To be honest, if your knowledge of bikes isn’t that great we’d probably avoid going down this route – you don’t want to end up getting ripped off.
Your best place to look is a bike-specific forum. Here there will be a self-policing community that is able to sniff out anyone with an offer that seems too good to be true. You can also look through a seller’s post history to see if they’ve done deals on there before with good feedback.
It cannot be stressed enough how careful you should be when trying to buy a second hand downhill bike. You should always go and see the bike in the flesh before committing any money. When you’re there give a thorough inspection for dents, cracks, rattles or anything else that might hint that it’s not up to scratch – take someone else with you if you want, there’s no harm in having a second opinion. Mountain bikes are meant to be ridden hard, so it won’t be pristine, but it should be fully functional and ready to shred (unless the advert says otherwise).
Bear in mind that when you’ve handed over the money there will be very little chance of getting it back so make sure you’re perfectly happy with it.
The best time to buy a mountain bike
In a perfect world we would all buy our new bikes at the start of spring, that gives us a couple of months to get it fully set up before the race season started. The savvy buyer knows that late summer and autumn is the best time to splurge though as you can pick up an end of season bargain.
In preparation for next year’s models, shops will offer huge discounts on the current year’s models to free up room for new stock. Very often the new kit is just painted a different colour with some spec tweaks, so you really don’t lose too much by taking this route.
It can be a hit and miss game though. If you’re average height it could well be that all the bikes in your size have sold out. Don’t be tempted to buy the wrong size and make do – it’s only a bargain if it fits you right!