Choosing a cross-country mountain bike


Photo: Bruce Mitchell
Photo: Bruce Mitchell

You’ve skied the Nordic trails all winter, and you want to stay fit for next season. Cross-country mountain biking is an excellent off-snow training activity. You can enjoy the same ski trails, and possibly explore more of the backcountry. So, how do you choose the right bike?

There are lots of factors to consider when choosing a cross-country mountain bike. A few include: price, brand affinity, bike size, components, frame type (full-suspension or hard tail) and materials (aluminum, carbon fibre), weight, size of wheels (26, 27.5, or 29 inch), and even water bottle mounts. A quality bike shop will ask you about your riding habits, favorite trails, level of fitness and technical ability. Do your best to be clear about your needs, and be truthful about your abilities. Take along your own checklist of requirements as well. This discussion should lead you to several options allowing you to make the best decision.

Your most important consideration should be how the bike functions — how does it work when you ride it? A test ride is critical. Arrive at the bike shop ready to ride. Pack your own helmet, shoes and gloves; some people even pack their old bike so they can make a full comparison.

A killer low price can be a strong attractant, but beware of “sale” bikes that are returns from other customers who found the bike had issues.

Brand affinity is important if the goal is to stick with products from a trusted source.

Bike fit affects the bike’s handling, as well as your level of comfort. A quality bike shop will ensure that the bike frame and components fit your body (inseam, hand size, reach).

Components (brakes, gears, wheels) come in various levels, and their quality does much to set the bike’s price. Higher priced components tend to be lighter, more precise, and easier to use than their cheaper siblings. Ensure that you are getting the quality level that matches your needs.

Choosing between a hard tail and a full-suspension bike is a matter of personal preference. A full-suspension bike adds to the weight and cost of your purchase with benefits in comfort and traction. I tend to lock out my rear suspension much of the time for a more responsive ride.

Wheel size is a current tech fad with 27.5 and 29 inch wheels available, and 26er’s on the endangered list. Listen to the sales pitch, and decide which size best fits your needs.

Do your homework, make an informed choice, but most important, get out and ride. There will be no-host group trail rides Wednesdays this summer, meeting at 4:45 p.m. at the Umbrella Café. Some members of the Nordic Club will also meet for a no-host ride on Sunday, July 6 at 10 a.m. at the Umbrella Café.

For the record, I have an expensive bike, and an old aluminum bike. I have equal fun riding both of them. See you on the trails.