Bike me!
August 13, 2006 8:55 PM   Subscribe

I want to buy a mountain bike. I have a nice, fast, light hybrid but it doesn't cut it on anything but the easy trails. I think I'll buy used but have no idea what to get.

I know I don't want rear suspension. I like really light bikes and I am not super hard on them although I have bent a few rims in my time. I like to ride cleats, if that makes any difference, and I like to ride fast. I looked at a few new bikes and the one I liked best was an alluminum frame Cannondale with a locking front suspension. It had disk brakes but I don't know if that really matters. I'm good at doing my own maintenance so I'm not afraid of buying something and fixing it up. Suggestions for good brands/features/models please, and what to look for in case it's been trashed. Also, where's the best place to buy a used bike? I'm in Toronto but can travel a bit to pick it up. Budget is around $700 Canadian or so.

(Bonus question: good trails in the Georgian Bay/Beaver Valley area in addition to Loree and Kolapore? Especially ones my 7 year old son might be able to manage.)
posted by unSane to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total)
You might take a look at some of the Specialized bikes - maybe the Hardrock or the Rockhopper.
posted by Dasein at 9:18 PM on August 13, 2006

You might look for a used Surly frame. They take a hella lot of abuse. Cannibalize parts from your old set of wheels and buy the rest.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:59 PM on August 13, 2006

(I want to keep the hybrid running)
posted by unSane at 10:02 PM on August 13, 2006

first off, you want to buy one that fits. you can buy a mountainbike frame a little small, but you definetely don't want a tight fit on the center bar of a mountainbike... think crotch safety. If you live in a mountainous area and you will be doing really serious mountainbiking, you might want to rethink rear-suspension.
I built a just front suspension bicycle for my sister who was moving to Colorado, and she regrets not get dual. As far as frames go- despite the frame material, certain companies make much lighter frames from similar materials.
Carbon fiber frames are light and designed to give in the correct places. If you buy a steel frame from say, SEVEN, then it might be light than a Cannondale aluminum frame. Of course, titanium is even beter, you just have to put special grease on you parts because titanium tends to bind cold to other metals. Aluminum frames are generally cheap and decently light, although, generally speaking, not as light as carbon fiber or titanium. Although, aluminum frames are by far considered the "most harsh" ride because they don't give at all. So in terms of ride comfort, aluminum is the most uncomfortable, carbon fiber, depending on the company is next, then titanium and steel are considered to ride about the same. Of course, titanium is a lot lighter than steel. The frame is essential to the ride and the feel of your bicycle.
The type of fork is also important. Since you want to buy used, you will need to make sure that nothing has happened to the fork of your bicycle. Also, as far as shocks go, there are different methods for upkeeping shocks, so you might want to look into that (I don't know much about that).
Next, the rims are important. Make sure to watch out for bent for or 'out of round' rims (this is hard to determine without an expensive machine to do so). Those things can really slow down your ride.
Disc brakes last really long, and don't really break in for one-thousand or so miles. If you are doing a lot of downhilling (which I'm assuming you are not doing because you only want front suspension), I'd recommend them, but otherwise, they add to the weight and cost of the bicycle.

Okay, finally, the component group is essential. Most people think of the frame as making a bicycle nice, but really it is the combination of a frame, rims, shock (for mountainbikes), and components. Components are what make your bike operational. They aren't like cars in that you don't often replace components, you tune them. Tuning them is a skill that, although I'd fix my car myself, I'd take my bike in to get tuned. It is a very tricky science/ art.

Component groups for mountainbikes (I'd reccomend shimano components because they are more universally compatible than the other company whose name I can't remember):

The nicer the components, the less plastic in the components, and the more durable and smooth your ride will be for longer. Basically if you buy a bike with used xtr, it is much more likely to still be in good working or at least tunable condition than something with Deore. For instance, xtr hubs on rims are much better sealed than the cheaper versions, and thus, much less likely to accumulate grit and make it harder on you because the wheels no longer spin freely. It costs, in the US, about $60 to tune a bicycle, $80 if you tru the wheels (truing the wheels is important for mountainbikes, because wheels often get out of tru on rough terrain). 'Out of tru' is not the same as 'out of round'. I wish I could find a way to explain this in text, but I don't know how.

Finally, my best advice for you is to go into a bicycle shop or two and talk about what kind of riding you plan to do. Find out what they would reccomend and why. Even mention you are looking to buy used (be careful though, they are salespeople, so try to find an honest one who knows his/her stuff). I know where I live the guys who get pro-deals, (either actual pros or just the people who work in the bicycle shops themselves) on really nice bikes are often upgrading to the latest and greatest, and sometimes will sell for really cheap their old bike/s (mainly because they got it originally for really cheap). That is not technically allowed (reselling a pro-deal), but it happens all the time. Anyway, you might get lucky if you go to a few shops asking about a used mountain bike because someone who works there might be selling, or at least know a friend who wants to sell.

GOOD LUCK, and I hope this helped and didn't just confuse you!
posted by Summer1158 at 10:45 PM on August 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

The Santa Cruz Chameleon was my favorite hardtail for a long time. Should be able to find a used one. Very light. I love SCB.
posted by devilsbrigade at 11:14 PM on August 13, 2006

Go to a few stores and ride some bikes around, even just around the parking lot or up and down the road. Each bike rides differently depending on frame size, layout, components, shocks, etc. This will give you a baseline for when you go check out used stuff.

When checking out a used bike look it over carefully. How much life is left in the brake pads? Is there any rust? Does it shift thru the full range of gears? How much give is in the shocks? Flip it upside down so that it is resting on the handlebars and seat. Spin the tires and watch them dead on. You will be able to see how true the rims are (you don't need any "expensive machine").

Like buying many things, the foundation is most important. I would reccomend focusing on something with a good frame that either has good fresh shocks or is cheap enough that you can afford a good front shocks replacement along with it. Rock Shocks are the big brand name, but I have always preffered Marzocchi for front suspension. The other stuff should be in working condition, but you can always shell out extra money later on for some better shifters or components if you decide it needs that. Getting a new frame means getting a new bike. Find one that fits you right and feels solid.

I think you definitely want a hard-tail from your description, don't let anyone talk you into something different. Hard-tails ride much more responsively, are better for climbing (especially singletrack technical stuff) and will go faster on the road. Full suspension bikes are great if you love to ride a lot of downhill (like where i live we ride the ski areas all summer long and throw our bikes on the lift) but are not as versatile imo.

I would reccomend Specialized or Santa Cruz. Runners up would be Trek, Gary Fischer, Cannondale.
posted by sophist at 3:40 AM on August 14, 2006

I like to ride cleats, if that makes any difference, and I like to ride fast.

Then you're looking for a bike with a cross-country frame, as opposed to a freeride bike which has geometry for taking monster hits off jumps, weighs more and often doesn't have a large chainring (they have rock guards instead). I would look at a hardtail. I was in the same boat as you a few months ago, shopping for a mountain bike and having a road bike and a communter bike already. I eventually bought a Brodie Fury, which is the kind of bike I think would suit you best. These days even the cross country frames look like they could take a bomb and still keep going just fine.

I found that you're going to spend about $500 extra (new price) for a full-suspension bike with the same components, so that almost blows your budget right there. Hardtail it is. If you're like me and used to the harsh ride of a road bike, the front suspension, fat tires and relaxed seating will feel very soft and forgiving even with an aluminum MTB frame, so you're not going to be longing for FS anytime soon. If it turns out that you eventually want a FS bike, there's still always room in the stable for your HT.

The big decision these days is discs or v-brakes. I opted for discs because I'm planning on moving back to the west coast and the discs are great in the wet and I was willing to spend the extra money and deal with the extra weight for this reason. If you plan on simply riding in the dry most/all of the time, go for v-brakes. They're lighter and simpler to maintain, cost less, and it's much cheaper to have two sets of wheels to swap out as you don't need the disc rotors and hubs on all your wheel sets.

Forks. My bike has the RockShox J4, with adjustable travel and a lockout feature. These are both great features and I'd really recommend getting forks with these options, regardless of brand. I have riding buddies who look at me with insane envy for just these features alone.

I've always bought bikes with an eye to getting the best frame I could over the components, as opposed to the best components on a suspect frame. I'd tend to buy the lower end bike in a series riding on the same frame and upgrade the components if anything isn't up to snuff. This is not to say buy a bike with poor components - I'm just saying spend your budget on frame if you get the choice.

Since you're Canadian, I'd recommend something from Brodie, Kona or Devinci. Keep it Canadian! A good place to look for used bikes is the advertisement wall at MEC.
posted by jimmythefish at 6:56 AM on August 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Also, check out the buy&sell on pinkbike. Just keep your wits about you, its just like every other buy and sell forum, with a some great deals and some bad apples.
posted by greedo at 7:11 AM on August 14, 2006

I've always bought bikes with an eye to getting the best frame I could over the components

Why is that? I mean, a frame is just a bunch of tubes, right? I'm sure there's something (besides weight) that people use to evaluate frames, but they all look solid to me--I don't see where the quality differences lie.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 1:21 AM on August 15, 2006

Why is that? I mean, a frame is just a bunch of tubes, right? I'm sure there's something (besides weight) that people use to evaluate frames, but they all look solid to me--I don't see where the quality differences lie.

Well, weight is a big one as you mentioned. More intangible is ride quality, which depends on frame material and geometry. Ride quality is the most important aspect of a frame (and arguably a bike) and usually the more expensive frames feel better than the cheap ones.

Expensive road frames are usually made of carbon fiber and/or titanium, for instance, but can also be an alloy. My road frame is an alloy of 5 different metals, including aluminum, which is stronger and lighter than the all-aluminum frame that would have been the less expensive option. Construction is also important. An expensive steel frame will have thinner tubing than a cheap steel frame, for example.

The frame will last way longer than the components. I'm running a 15 year old steel mountain bike frame on my commuter bike, and it's still going strong. It's nice to have a frame that feels good if you're going to keep it that long.
posted by jimmythefish at 12:26 PM on August 15, 2006

Here's a long overdue update.

I ended up buying a SIR9 29er frame from Niner Bikes and building it up with a Reba fork. Fantastic bike!

The I got so hooked that I started thinking about full suspension, and ended up with a Commencal Meta 5.5 which I found for an insane price on clearance. Fantastic bike!

Then I found a great deal on a Misfit diSSent 29er singlespeed frame, and I had enough bits left over that I could build it up at almost no cost, so I bought that too!

So a year later I have three bikes and they're all great.

If I could only keep one, though, it would be the Niner.
posted by unSane at 8:49 AM on June 7, 2007

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