Types of Mountain Bikes
Mountain bikes are described and advertised by a variety of terms. Knowing the language can help make a more informed choice. The PWR staff can answer any questions, and help you coose the best bike for your budget. 

Leading brands include:
Cannondale
Some common categories of bikes:
 
Trail: General-purpose mountain bikes for everything from dirt roads to single track trails. 
 
All Mountain: Like trail bikes, but with stronger frames and longer suspension travel. They’re best for riding more technical trails with steeper descents, increased obstacles and small jumps. Most are full-suspension bikes. 
 
Cross Country: Light, nimble bikes best for competitive events featuring steep ascents and tight turns. They are not suited for the high impact of jumps and landings. Emphasis is on speed, ascending and cornering.
 
Freeride and Downhill: Designed for going fast downhill and soaking up the rocks, roots, bumps and jumps along the way. Often shuttled to the top of mountains by vehicle or a ski-resort chairlift, they are not as fun or as efficient to ride uphill.
 
Hardtail or Full Suspension?
Up until the early 1980s, all mountain bikes were fully rigid: They had no suspension to soften the ride and improve control. Today, you have a choice of suspensions—none, hardtail or full suspension.
 
Hardtail
Hardtails have a suspension fork attached to the front wheel only (or a single arm called a “lefty” on some Cannondale models). Front suspension reduces your hand and arm fatigue. It also improves steering and control as you negotiate rough trail surfaces.
Basic suspension forks function by using a wound steel coil spring. Higher end bikes use air-sprung forks that are lighter and offer more adjustability.
Choose a hardtail if: you want an affordable first mountain bike; a single bike for all purposes; a bike for
occasional trail use; or a bike for advancing your riding skills.

Full Suspension
On these bikes, both wheels are suspended. The front is suspended the same way as on a hardtail bike. The rear is suspended by the use of a pivoting frame—the rear wheel is attached to this frame and a rear shock absorber. Full suspension comes at a higher cost and sometimes added weight, but it increases comfort and reduces fatigue for the rider. It also offers more bike control when at higher speeds on difficult terrain.
Choose full suspension if: You want a bike dedicated for dirt trail riding; want to ride faster with more control in difficult terrain; have a bike that is easier on your joints and muscles; ride enough to warrant the higher cost.
 
Wheel Size:
 
29 inch (“29ers”):
Bigger wheels have become quite popular. A 29" diameter is heavier (more rim, more rubber) and a little slower to accelerate, but it offers better momentum once rolling (more progress for less effort); a larger contact area on the trail (more grip, less slide); and a higher “attack angle”—meaning the wheel rolls over trail obstacles easier.
Tip: 29ers can fit most riders but should definitely be given serious consideration by a taller rider, especially if it is for use on both dirt and pavement.

27.5 inch (650b) - PWR recommends this wheel size, as it is the most versatile. 
Falling right in between traditional 26" wheels and 29" wheels, 27.5" wheels (also called 650b) combine the best attributes of these other wheel sizes.
Like 29er wheels, they roll over roots and rocks easier than 26" wheels, but they're lighter than 29er wheels, making them easier to get up to speed with quicker acceleration. They're maneuverable like 26" wheels and stable like 29er wheels.
Before the development of 27.5" wheels, smaller riders wanting to experience the benefits of larger-sized wheels were forced to ride a poorly fitting 29er. This is no longer an issue thanks to the 27.5" wheels. 27.5" wheeled mountain bikes are suitable for shorter riders due to their lower stand-over heights and shorter wheelbases. The new wheel size is also great for larger riders who have tried a 29er mountain bike but felt that it was cumbersome on tight and twisty trails. The 27.5" wheels allow these riders to gain most of the benefits of the 29er and leave behind the pitfalls they disliked.

26 inch:
In the not too-distant past, all mountain bikes were equipped with 26” wheels. It is still a popular wheel size, but now when you walk into a bike shop and inquire about mountain bikes, you are likely to be asked, “26 inch, 27.5 inch or 29 inch?”

 
24 inch:
Kids’ mountain bikes typically have 24" wheels to accommodate the shorter legs of children. Most are less-expensive versions of adult bikes with simpler components. Generally speaking, these suit kids ages 10 to 13, but this depends more on the size of the child than the age.

 
Frame Materials:
The frame influences a bike's weight, strength, longevity, ride quality and price.
Aluminum alloy is the most common frame material on mountain bikes. Some more-expensive models have lighter aluminum frames as a result of the manufacturer expending more dollars and effort in the selection of materials, tubing design and the manufacturing process.
Other frame materials include steel, titanium and carbon fiber. Steel is tough, inexpensive and offers a smooth ride, but is relatively heavy for a mountain bike. Titanium is light and strong but too expensive for all but high-end mountain bikes. Carbon fiber is fairly common on cross-country bikes and high-end mountain bikes due to its strength and light weight, but it is relatively expensive because of its labor-intensive manufacturing.
 
Components:
Components refer to all the parts attached to the bike frame, including:
  • Drivetrain (crank arms, front chain rings, rear cassette, chain, derailleurs and gear shifters)
  • Suspension
  • Wheels (rims, hubs, axles, spokes)
  • Brakes
Manufacturers mix and match components based on each model’s riding purpose, price and the intended user, so you often see components from a variety of brands attached to a bike.
 
The low end of a model series will feature an aluminum frame with economical components. This is intended for the buyer on a tight budget who wants a bike for occasional or light use.
 
As you go up in price, quality (more durability, enhanced function, less weight) goes up. The top-end bike in a model series may feature a carbon-fiber frame with the best available package of components.
 
Component Packages: 
Shimano and SRAM are the most popular component suppliers, especially of drivetrains. The table below offers a rough comparison of their current component packages. The best bang for your buck is in the range of entry level to mid range, and will suit your athlete just fine.  
 
Intended Use Shimano Sram
Basic Model Acera and Altus X3
Basic Model Alivio X4
Entry Level Deore X5
Mid Range Level SLX X7
High End Enthusiast Level Deore XT X9
Pro Race Level XTR X0 and XX
   
Brakes:
Disc brakes have replaced rim brakes on all but entry-level mountain bikes.

Disc brakes:
These feature brake pads that grip onto a brake rotor mounted to the wheel hub. Disc brakes come in 2 versions: Hydraulic disc brakes offer more progressive and stronger braking with less finger effort, and they self-adjust for brake pad wear. Cable-activated (mechanical) brakes need manual adjusting as the pads wear.
  •  Advantages: More consistent braking in all conditions; much cheaper to replace a worn rotor than a whole wheel
  •  Disadvantages: More difficult to inspect pad wear and replace pads. Hydraulic brakes are more expensive to service.
     
Rim brakes:
Common on entry-level mountain bikes, rim brakes feature pads that grip onto the wheel rims.
  • Advantages: Economical; easy to observe brake pad wear and replace worn pads.
  • Disadvantages: Gradually wears out the wheel rim, requiring the wheel to be replaced; less stopping power than disc brakes; less effective in wet or muddy conditions; requires more finger effort on the levers to brake aggressively.
     
Budget:
Know what your money can buy or how much money it takes to buy what you need. Here’s a rough guide:
  • $500 to $900: A basic but functional hardtail (26" or 29" wheels) suitable for occasional use on easy to moderate terrain.
  • $900 to $1,500: A hardtail with a lightweight frame and high-end components suitable for regular use on a wide variety of terrain.
  • $1,500 to $2,500: An entry-level full-suspension bike or an entry-level competition hardtail.
  • $2,500 and up: A race-ready hardtail or a good to excellent quality full-suspension bike.
     
Buying tip: It actually costs less money in the long run to buy a higher quality bike now than it would to buy a less-expensive bike now and upgrade the components later.
 
Prince William Racing can help you choose a mountain bike that fits your budget, and can help you make the proper determination prior to walking into a shop. We can also recommend a bike shop for you. Please don’t hesitate to ask questions.