Guide to buying your FIRST NEW BIKE

If you’re picking this up as you peruse your first mountain bike purchase, in what is to become your local bike shop, this article is especially for you. Get them to make you a coffee and put your feet up as you read the Full Sus guide to purchasing an entry level bike.

There are a host of factors to take into account. Just like buying anything else of considerable cost, it pays to do your research. There is so much to get through, so let’s jump right in.

We looked at hard-tail 29ers because they are versatile, cost-effective, simple to set-up, cheaper to service and to be honest, despite the lower specification components, some are really very capable. If you need convincing, just give Dylan Chilcott’s account of riding five of the six days of the Lesotho Sky race on a rigid bike a read. Not that we want to turn all of you into steel frame, single speed mountain biking purists (you might read that as snobs, depending on your prerogative.)

Avalanche XXIX zero
Avalanche XXIX zero

First off you need to consider the type of riding you are going to be doing. Most manufacturers produce bicycles not only for price points, but with an intended use in mind too. So where will you be riding? Will you be riding for fitness or commuting mostly on tar and the odd gravel road? Will you be riding on gravel roads and the odd bit of single track? Or are you keen on jumping headlong into this mountain biking malarkey, riding rooty and rocky single track at every opportunity? The type of riding you intend doing will be the over-riding factor in your choice of bike.

If you’re going to throw a set of slicks on your new steed and use it to get back to your teenage figure, or even complete an Argus or 94.7 Cycle Tour, you won’t need to be concerned with tubeless compatibility, tapered head tubes and front shock (commonly referred to as the fork) specifications. You can safely purchase a bike from a reputable store safe in the knowledge that there isn’t much you’ll be able to do to cause it significant damage (if you obey the rules of  the road and avoid colliding with vehicular traffic that is). The price bracket of bikes is very much up to your budget, and a cheaper model isn’t going to affect your riding pleasure. We’d suggest going for as big a range of gears as possible though, as you might need the smaller gears for getting up climbs like Suikerbossie, especially if you’re unfit, and the bigger gears for maintaining a good tempo on the flats.

If you’re planning on getting out into nature on your new bike, riding gravel roads in nature reserves like the West Coast National Park, De Hoop Nature Reserve or Golden Gate Highlands National Park, then you’ll need to look for a slightly more capable machine. Looking at bikes in and around the R10 000 mark there are a host of options. You might want to go for a tapered head tube, which has a broader base than it does top, to ensure that it has more strength where it’s needed – at the base of the head tube. You will probably not want to spend extra on tyres so choose a bike which is already fitted with tyres with a medium profiled knobbly. The rule is lower profiled knobblies for smoother terrain and more aggressive protrusions for the rough stuff. For gravel road riding go for a middle of the range tyre. It’s worthwhile to note that the width of your tyre is also going to affect your rolling resistance. So if you’re not intending on going seriously off-road you could do without the extra resistance that the added grip of wide tyres provides.

Bianchi kuma 29.1
Bianchi kuma 29.1

While gravel road biking has derisively been referred to as “valley biking,” in this publication it’s still a good way to get out into nature and maybe the MTB bug will bite while you’re out there… It is for this reason you should seriously consider spending an extra R2 000 to R3 000 which will take you out of the realm of true entry level bikes and into the realm of capable budget machines.

These bikes have sadly felt the Rand/Dollar weakness quite badly with distributors having to push up the prices quite a bit between 2013 and 2014. So perhaps the best tip of this article, and this goes for those of you in the market for high-end bikes too, buy 2013 models while you can. You can always upgrade specifications later if you really want 2014 components, but the frame prices are set for a jump (if they haven’t already) so speak to your local bike shop about that model that’s been sitting on the showroom floor for six months…

The lower cost, capable bikes are surprisingly good. Bikes like the GT Zaskar 9R Sport and the Trek Mamba share their more expensive stable mates’ geometry (the length and proportions of the various tubes that make up the frame of the bike), so you’re getting expensive R&D for a budget price. We also had a couple of lower cost Momsens (more on that next time) in the office to test during the research for this article and were very pleasantly surprised by how well they handled. The Momen AL229 and al429 offer great bang for your buck. Both are fitted with 3 x 10 drive trains, air forks and the frames seem rock solid. The AL429 comes tubeless ready, which is an important point to consider if you’re going to be riding any serious trails. The nightmare of punctures and replacing tubes on the ride is one you’d like to avoid, so going for a bike with rims and tyres that are tubeless compatible is a good idea.

Momsen AL429_Rear-large
Momsen AL429_Rear-large

While frames are all fairly similar across the Sport, Elite, Expert and Pro versions of the various models (just as the WV Polo 1.4 and 1.6 have the same body work and chassis) the difference in pricing and ride quality comes from the components. While the drivetrains are lower in cost, they’re generally bullet proof, not as sharp or accurate as the higher spec alternatives, but not something that’ll let you down readily either. And even if they do, the lower spec also means they won’t cost the earth to replace. Where you will encounter frustration though, is in wheel quality. The cheaper wheels don’t roll as well as the more expensive models, partly because of bearing quality but mostly because the rims just aren’t as rigid. The rigidity (and weight saving) is why people are willing to fork out over R10 000 for a set of carbon rims. If you’re keen on getting into riding in a big way speak to the sales person in the bike shop, and go for the bike with the best spec wheels you can afford.


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