Essential Tips for Buying Your First Mountain Bike: What Beginners Need to Know!

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Are you about to embark on the mountain biking journey, or are you curious to see if this hobby is right for you? Then, of course, you’ll need a mountain bike. Like every mountain biker who’s begun their journey, it’s wise to begin with a bike designed for beginners.

A good and sturdy mountain bike for beginners doesn’t have to be the most expensive one. This way, you can get acquainted with this hobby relatively inexpensively yet safely.

However, there are several factors to consider, even as a beginner, to ensure you get the most out of your money and budget regarding mountain biking. In this article, I’m here to help guide you so that you can make the best choice.

The biggest pitfall: Avoid this mistake when buying your first mountain bike

You’re brimming with enthusiasm and eager to dive headfirst into your new hobby, and we completely understand that – every beginner mountain biker can relate to that feeling. However, it’s advisable to temper that enthusiasm just a bit so that you don’t end up making a wrong choice right from day one…

The biggest pitfall when choosing your very first mountain bike for beginners is picking the one you find the most visually appealing… It’s not necessarily the best idea since the most attractive mountain bike or the one in your favorite color isn’t necessarily the best choice for you. After all, what good is a mountain bike that looks great but turns out not to be your style, isn’t suitable for your intended use, etc…

So, look beyond your favorite color or your taste and opt for the mountain bike that is best suited for you. If you’re unsure what to look for, keep reading because I’m here to help guide you through that process.

What type of mountain bike should you buy?

Before buying a mountain bike, it’s important to know that there are quite a few types of mountain bikes out there. Being on the right mountain bike is important to get the most enjoyment out of your new hobby.

My first hardtail mountain bike
My first hardtail mountain bike: Giant XTC Advanced

Most novice mountain bikers want to ride through the woods and often opt for a hardtail. Hardtail mountain bikes have suspension only in the front but are generally very versatile. However, if you’re looking to tackle rougher terrain right away, a full suspension mountain bike might be the better choice.

In the latter category, you’ll find various mountain bikes. For instance, the fast-paced cross-country full suspension and the increasingly popular downcountry mountain bike exist. You can opt for a trail or enduro mountain bike for rougher terrain and technical trails. While downhill mountain bikes might not be necessary in Belgium or the Netherlands, they exist. If you live in a mountainous area and are interested in downhill riding, then it’s definitely an option for you.

If you have a limited budget or prefer not to spend too much money until you’re sure mountain biking is for you, your options may be limited to a hardtail mountain bike unless you’re willing to explore the second-hand market.

What type of terrain will you be mountain biking on?

The type or kind of mountain bike you’ll be getting also depends on the terrain where you’ll most often be mountain biking. If you’re planning to tackle the most technical trails and visit bike parks right away, then a hardtail might not be the best idea.

If you’re completely new to mountain biking, the established routes, accessible forest areas, and tours in the Netherlands and Belgium will certainly provide you with the necessary adrenaline, and a hardtail is definitely a good choice.

Hardtail mountain bike Scott Scale

Should you buy new or second-hand?

Mountain biking has seen a significant rise in popularity in recent years, almost to the point of booming. Many people have found their way to the trails and wanted to experience this wonderful sport. While many have remained dedicated to the sport, there have also been many who have dropped off along the way.

The latter’s advantage is that you’ll find a plethora of mountain bikes popping up on second-hand websites. If you know what to look for, you can sometimes snag a bargain and get more bikes for your budget than you would in a store…

For the same budget, you might find a better-equipped hardtail or even a lightweight full-suspension second-hand bike. It’s very tempting, but there’s also a downside to that.

Buying a mountain bike in-store might cost you a bit more, but you also get the service right away. For instance, the first maintenance check-up is often free, and you might also receive some complimentary accessories.

Mountain bikes are always sold without pedals. If you buy the bike in a bike shop, you’ll often receive a choice of pedals. This way, you can immediately choose between platform pedals (flat pedals) or clipless pedals.

Furthermore, you’ll have a designated place to turn to in case of problems or broken parts.

If you buy second-hand, you’ll have to deal with problems yourself or find a bike shop/bike mechanic willing to help maintain and repair your bike.

Of course, you can handle many things yourself if you’re a bit handy, but having a real specialist available for more advanced tasks is always useful. Think of tasks such as replacing a bottom bracket, servicing the suspension, or changing wheel bearings.

Second-hand or bike shop?

Buying a second-hand beginner mountain bike is always risky since you don’t know the bike’s history or whether it has been properly maintained. If you’re not very knowledgeable about bikes, bring someone who knows more and can inspect the bike thoroughly. This way, you can avoid ending up with a poorly maintained mountain bike or one that needs immediate repairs…

Even though I have some knowledge, I always opt for a mountain bike from a store. The service you receive there, provided you find a good bike shop, is worth the slightly higher price.

Regardless of your choice, educate yourself thoroughly to know what you want and what features are not immediately necessary. Below is an overview of some important components and features to consider when choosing a beginner mountain bike.

Important components and features

A good mountain bike for beginners, in the form of a well-equipped hardtail, can be obtained for just over €1000. However, what you’ll get for that money can vary significantly depending on the brand. If you’re looking for a full-suspension bike right away, €1000 won’t cut it, and you’ll need to dig deeper into your pockets.

The price of a mountain bike is determined by the material it’s made of and the components it comes with. Don’t expect the most expensive components on a beginner mountain bike. When comparing mountain bikes, which is recommended, the components used can vary significantly even if the bikes you’re comparing are in the same price range.

To make the best choice in such cases, it’s useful to know about the components of a mountain bike. This includes the material of the frame, the wheels, and the different groupsets…

Frame Material

The most common frame materials for mountain bikes are aluminum and carbon. Additionally, models made from steel are also available. A steel mountain bike is affordable and extremely durable but also quite heavy and highly susceptible to rust. Titanium mountain bikes are less common but do exist.

For beginners, an aluminum frame is often the best choice for a mountain bike. Aluminum is lightweight, strong, durable, and cheaper than a carbon mountain bike.

As a result, you’ll often find better components on an aluminum mountain bike compared to a carbon mountain bike in the same price range (if there is one).

Carbon is lighter than aluminum and very stiff, but it is also more susceptible to damage than aluminum. If you want the same components on your carbon mountain bike as on the aluminum mountain bike, you will usually have to dig a little deeper into your wallet.

Of course, you can also opt for the more expensive carbon mountain bike and upgrade the components over time…

With an aluminum mountain bike frame, you should also consider the visible welds. This is not the case with a carbon frame.

You can explore the pros and cons of both materials I previously discussed through this link.


When it comes to wheels, you basically have a choice between three sizes: 26, 27.5, and 29 inches. It’s predominantly the latter, the large 29-inch wheels, that you’ll find on modern mountain bikes. 27.5-inch wheels are still seen on some enduro or downhill bikes. Mountain bikes in smaller sizes may also be equipped with 27.5-inch wheels. For instance, my girlfriend’s TREK Marlin (size S) has 27.5-inch wheels. From frame size M onwards, the MTB will typically have 29-inch wheels.

TREK Marlin 27,5 inch mountain bike
TREK Marlin in size S with 27,5-inch wheels

A beginner mountain bike in the lower price range will always be equipped with aluminum wheels. Carbon wheels are only found on mountain bikes in the higher price range. However, aluminum wheels are always a solid choice.

However, wheels are often where manufacturers cut corners, which can lead to problems. This was certainly the case with my very first mountain bike. While it had a carbon frame to keep costs down, significant compromises were made in the quality of the wheels, especially the rear wheel. Over time, I encountered more and more issues with it.

Fortunately, I had a skilled neighbor who knew a thing or two about wheel repairs. Eventually, I decided to upgrade to a better set of wheels. Since then, I haven’t had any problems with them.

When choosing a mountain bike for beginners, consider the wheelset’s quality. Wheels are crucial as they are the point of contact with the ground, terrain, and all obstacles. Well-functioning and reliable wheels are not something to overlook.


In addition to the frame material and the quality of the wheels, the groupset mounted on the mountain bike often has the greatest impact on the total price of the mountain bike.

In the mountain biking world, two major players provide groupsets for mountain bikes: Shimano and SRAM. The specific groupset on the mountain bike depends on the brand and their chosen specifications. Most brands offer mountain bikes with both SRAM and Shimano groupsets.

The groupset of a mountain bike consists of the following components:

  • Brakes
  • Cassette
  • Chainring(s) and cranks
  • Shifter(s)
  • Chain
  • Derailleur(s) and derailleur pulleys

A mix of components is sometimes possible, such as having a mountain bike almost entirely equipped with SRAM components but still having Shimano brakes.

Even an entry-level mountain bike is typically equipped with either SRAM or Shimano components. You’ll find the more affordable groupsets and components on such entry-level models.


Technology and development are constantly advancing, and a prime example of this is the disappearance of the front derailleur. Whereas mountain bikes used to feature two or even three chainrings often, a single chainring is increasingly becoming the standard. This eliminates the need for a front derailleur. The single chainring at the rear is paired with a cassette with a very wide range.

Furthermore, there is a growing trend towards a new standard, namely 12-speed. This means that the cassette has 12 sprockets. 12-speed is now surpassing and replacing the older 11- and 10-speed cassettes.

With removing the front derailleur, space is freed up on the handlebars for other features, such as a lockout lever or dropper post control.

The latter is certainly not a must-have or necessary item on a mountain bike for beginners, but if you do decide to add it (at a later stage), there is certainly room for it.

The control of the lockout, which allows you to lock the front fork (and even the shock in a full suspension mountain bike) to prevent it from compressing, is mainly found on the handlebars of cross-country mountain bikes. This feature is less common on trail and enduro bikes and cheaper hardtails, where you can lock the suspension directly on the fork.

Shimano of SRAM?

To determine whether the mountain bike you’re eyeing has a good setup, it’s wise to delve into the mountain bike groupsets offered by Shimano and SRAM.

See my in-depth comparison between SRAM and Shimano 12-speed systems here.

Does your mountain bike necessarily need a 12-speed groupset? Not necessarily, but remember that 12-speed is becoming the new standard, and it may become increasingly challenging to find components other than 12-speed in the future.

Many entry-level models are equipped with entry-level 12-speed groupsets from Shimano or SRAM as well.

SRAM 12-speed Groupsets

With SRAM, you have a choice of 5 different 12-speed groupsets. SRAM’s 12-speed groupsets are all labeled with the suffix “Eagle,” indicating their 12-speed configuration:

  • XX1 Eagle (AXS) / XX transmission
  • X01 Eagle (AXS) / X0 transmission
  • GX Eagle (AXS) / GX transmission
  • NX Eagle
  • SX Eagle

The three most expensive groups, XX1, X01, and GX, are also available in an electronic variant called SRAM AXS. However, electronic shifting will never be found on an entry-level mountain bike. Additionally, the regular Eagle versions of these groups are typically only found in the higher-end segment.

The newest SRAM transmission groups that came onto the market in 2023 are also available. For these, you will need a UDH (Universal Derailleur Hanger). You can check if your bike has a UDH and is compatible with the new transmission via this link.

Most beginner mountain bikes equipped with SRAM components will be outfitted with SX or NX, the two cheapest groupsets.

A combination of SX and NX is certainly possible, and occasionally, GX components may also be found on entry-level models.

It’s important to note that the NX and SX cassette can only be mounted on a regular SRAM body or a Shimano HG body. GX, X01, and XX1 cassettes require a SRAM XD body. If you plan to upgrade to GX or higher or even electronic shifting in the future, it’s important to know that you’ll need a different cassette body for that.

SX and NX groupsets and components are excellent for starting. Later on, if parts break or need replacing, you can always upgrade certain components. For example, upgrading from SX to NX or even GX (except for the cassette). In my opinion, one of the better upgrades you can do is upgrading the shifter.

Shimano 12-speed Groupsets

With Shimano, the choice of groupsets is extensive, totaling 9. Regarding 12-speed options, the selection is smaller in comparison to SRAM. Shimano offers four different 12-speed groupsets:

  • XTR
  • Deore XT
  • SLX
  • Deore

Again, the most expensive groups, XTR and Deore XT, are usually not found on entry-level mountain bikes. A combination of SLX and Deore components is most common and provides a good and reliable option for beginners. Occasionally, there may also be a Deore XT component mixed in.

What’s the best choice?

The brand choice will depend on the mountain bikes within your budget and how they are equipped from the factory. However, you can weigh the groupsets against each other when comparing different models.

This way, you may get a better setup for the same price with one mountain bike. However, keep in mind that savings may have been made on other components. A balanced combination of all parts is often the best choice.

In terms of groupsets, a comparison between Shimano and SRAM is easy to make:

XX1 / X01XTR
GXDeore XT
An SX group from SRAM corresponds to a Deore group from Shimano, and so forth.
My advice
The groupset components are subject to wear and tear or may occasionally break. Eventually, they will need to be replaced. When the time comes, you can also decide to upgrade some components. If the mountain bike of your dreams has excellent specifications and components but the groupset is lacking, there’s no need to panic because you can always upgrade later.

If you opt for the best groupset and skimp on the quality of the wheels, frame, or even the suspension, you’ll always spend more in the long run if you want to upgrade those components later.

What else should you consider?

In addition to the frame material, wheels, and components, you can also consider a few other factors.

Tubeless setup

Tubeless is becoming increasingly standard on mountain bikes across all price ranges, much like 12-speed drivetrains. However, most mountain bikes are still delivered from the factory with inner tubes.

You can request additional service from the bike shop to set up the tires tubeless. This helps prevent flat inner tubes during your initial rides. Of course, for this to work, you need to have chosen a mountain bike with at least tubeless-ready wheels.

If you want to enjoy the benefits of a tubeless setup without having to buy a new wheelset right away, consider this when purchasing a mountain bike.


A hardtail mountain bike comes equipped with a front fork. For cross-country mountain bikes, the suspension travel is typically around 100mm. Besides the two major players in suspension and forks, Fox and RockShox, an entry-level mountain bike can also be equipped with a fork from Suntour. These are cheaper than the other two brands but still a good choice.

In the entry-level category of mountain bikes, the bike is often equipped with the RockShox Judy or Suntour XCR32 or XCM32 fork. Both models are available with either coil or air suspension. The Fox 32 fork is not commonly found on entry-level mountain bikes.

Front suspension on a entry-level mountain bike

An air-sprung fork can be easily adjusted using a fork pump. If you want to adjust a coil spring, you must replace the spring itself. Cross-country mountain bikes in higher price ranges always come with an air-sprung fork because it’s also lighter in weight. In enduro and downhill bikes, you’ll often see a coil spring.

Which brand should you pick?

There are countless bike brands offering mountain bikes. Everyone knows brands like TREK, SCOTT, Giant, Cannondale, Canyon, Orbea, and Specialized. But brands like Cube, BH, Focus, and Ghost are very popular and well-known to the general public. There are so many choices that it’s easy to get lost in the options.

And each brand will claim to be the best. You can easily narrow down your choice by looking at the bike shops in your area and the brands they offer. Let’s assume you’re buying your mountain bike in-store… By visiting shops within a certain radius, you can already eliminate a lot of brands…

For example, the main options in my area are Trek, Scott, Orbea, and Ridley. I would have to travel a bit further or look online/second-hand for other brands. I prefer the service of the local shop, which is why I’ve narrowed my choice down to the available brands in my area.

The major advantage of choosing a dealer located nearby is the quick access for any problems or maintenance needs for the mountain bike.

Most bike shops will still assist you, even if your bike is from a different brand and not purchased from them. However, whether you can expect the same level of service in such a case is still questionable… So far, in my opinion, this has been working out quite well in practice. I didn’t buy my mountain bike from my current local bike shop, but the service there is excellent!

Final thoughts

The well-equipped mountain bikes of the pros undoubtedly look great, but as a regular and recreational mountain biker, whether you’re a beginner or more experienced, you don’t necessarily need such an expensive mountain bike. If you want to get a feel for the sport and see if it’s right for you, you’re certainly not going to invest thousands of euros right away.

In that regard, a well-equipped mountain bike for beginners in the price range of around €1000 is a good investment to provide you with plenty of enjoyable and safe experiences.

Mountain bikes priced well below €1000 are best avoided. This type of mountain bike is usually not suitable for serious off-roading. If you still choose to do so, you’ll often encounter various problems and malfunctions quite quickly.

If you truly want to experience mountain biking without being sidelined by issues or constantly returning to the bike shop, invest in a good beginner mountain bike equipped with at least a 12-speed SRAM SX or Shimano Deore groupset or better. This way, you’ll also rid yourself of the front derailleur and have a reliable groupset when tackling real off-road terrain.

Once you’ve truly caught the mountain biking bug, you can consider upgrading various components on your beginner mountain bike.

Did you find this article helpful? Did you learn something new or do you have a valuable addition? Please let me know in the comments below.

Photo of author


Geert is a recreational marathon mountain biker, trail runner, and athlete who continually strives to push his limits and challenge himself to achieve his athletic goals. He has completed the Stoneman Arduenna and the Limburg 200 MTB ultra in one day. Additionally, he is a certified bicycle technician.

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