Thursday, April 1, 2010

"What should I do if I can't shop at Walmart?"

If you are looking to get into the sport of mountain biking, the first thing I suggest that you do is not even consider a massive department store chain like Walmart and Target for all of the reasons listed above (here and here). I would recommend looking into getting a decent hardtail mountain bike.  (A hardtail is defined as a mountain bike that has front suspension only.  Thus, the "hard-tail.") To begin with, I would recommend looking for one of these 4 brands: Giant, Trek, Gary Fisher, or Specialized. These are some of the biggest brand names in mountain biking, and the last 3 could be some of the most expensive. These are not the only brands out there, there are many, many more including Airborne, Cannondale, Jamis, Santa Cruz, Haro, Yeti, Ibis, Novara, Scott, GT, Marin, Pivot, Salsa, Tomac, and many more.

All of the original 4 brands mentioned sell high-end, multi-thousand dollar rides.  They also all sell entry-level hardtails.  Go for one of the entry-level bicycles.  If purchased from one of these brands, it will be light years ahead of a crappy Next. This fact of life is due to what is called trickle down engineering. This basically means that much of the expensive engineering put into the high-end frames ends up trickling down to the lower-end bikes with cheaper components.  This may happen to a lesser extent in their lowest end bicycles, but the construction of a lower end frame from one of these companies will still be excellent.

Image found on Google, from
Take the Specialized Hardrock, for example. All of the first 4 brands mentioned have a bike that is similar. According to, the Hardrock's MSRP is about $330. I know for a fact that the Hardrock is a pretty dang good bicycle, and have talked to people who have ridden them hard for years and years and have never had a desire to change, save for upgrading a few components.

For some people, even $250 or $300 sounds like way too much of an initial investment.  If that's the case, the best thing you can do for yourself is to shop for a good deal on a used bike. Used bikes can be found on Craigslist, Ebay, and bike forums.  However, I recommend buying one in person.  That way, you can take the bike for a test ride to see how it feels, and also make sure that the sizing is correct.  Good deals that will allow you to test ride the bike you're buying can be discovered via word of mouth, and can also be had at many local bike shops (LBS's).  When many people think "bike shop," they immediately envision multi-thousand dollar carbon fiber wonders.  What you may not know is that many bike shops buy and resell bikes that are in decent condition. Also, if the shop in question has a rental fleet, they will periodically sell their old rentals to rotate in some new stock.  One of the advantages of buying a used bike from a shop is that it will almost always come tuned up, and extensively checked out before it is sold to you.  Plus, you can get a professional opinion on whether or not the bike you're buying is right for you.

To illustrate my point, here is a quotation (by BarHopper) off of an thread:

I'm not gonna knock Wally World bikes because my friend rides one but, by no means is he satisfied with it. He paid something like $150 for it. What I don't understand is why people wouldn't scour Craigslist before going to Wally World. I picked up my 05' Giant STP 1 off of Craigslist for $200 cause the kid got out of riding.

Deals are to be had if you look in the right places.
On a personal note, my Jamis Dakar XLT 1.0 used to be a rental at a bike shop.  I got it for less than half of what it would have retailed for brand new, and that bike has served me well for over two years!
$800 baby.  That fork alone is worth $400+!

These pointers put you well on your way towards your first mountain bike purchase.  There are a lot more things that go into shopping for a mountain bike, and later on I will be putting together several posts on the topic.  However, much of the detail going into those posts will be too much for a beginner just entering the sport.  This is why shopping at a reputable local bike shop is a much much better idea than shopping at Walmart.  Not only are you going to get a bike that is of astronomically better quality as I've mentioned above, but the people serving you will actually know what they are talking about.  Think about it.

Read the whole series:

This post is a part of the series "Buying your first mountain bike? Here's what you should and shouldn't do." For a well rounded and informed view of the topic, I suggest reading all of the posts in the series.

If you are a more experienced mountain biker, are there any more tips that you would give a person shopping for their first mountain bike?


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Greg Heil is the Editor in Chief for He's been writing and publishing online since before blogging existed.

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