Mountain Bike Beginner's FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What bike should I buy?
A: This is of course, the BIG question. See this article: Beginners Guide to Buying a New Mountain Bike. If in doubt, spend more than £500, and buy a Specialized. They almost always win the ‘best of review’ anyway. (Editors note: we’re not paid to say this, I don’t ride a Specialized bike).

Q: Do I need a full suspension bike?
A: No. Well actually if you want to ride very fast over big rocks the answer is yes.

Q: Do I want a full suspension bike?
A: Yes. Look, I know I can’t tell you what to want, but if we all had enough money, full suspension would be the way to go.

Q: I have a very limited budget, can I find a good MTB under £500?
A: Yes. This can only be done by searching out a ‘last years model bargain’ that was as far over £500 as possible when first offered. Don’t buy second hand unless you’re absolutely sure the bike has only been ridden a few times. Otherwise you’ll find expensive replacement parts soon mount up.

Q: Who makes the best suspension fork on the market?
A: Almost anything by Marzocchi. RockShox Psylo is also excellent on early try outs. For light weight, long travel, go with the Psylo Race, it’s being fitted to my new bike…

Q: How can I keep my wheels from buckling?
A: Check and tension your wheels regularly, see Trail Fix – Wheel Truing.

Q. Where can I find a beginners mountain biking course?
A: This is a better buy than the latest component upgrade for your bike, bike parts soon wear out, skills you learn on a proper course grow with you. Go on, invest something in yourself.

Q: Which is the best type of rear suspension?
A: There really is no single best solution. See The best bikes in the world for some of our top picks.

Q: Which is the best rear shock?
A: Most of the coil over oil type shocks are good e.g. RockShox, Fox, Noleen. RockShox and Fox also make some pretty good air shocks e.g. Fox Vanilla. Air shocks need careful shielding from wet weather grime, Use a neoprene cover and bung it in the washing machine with your dirty kit after your ride.

Q: Riser or flat bars?
A: Riser are better for Free riding, flat for racing. Flat bars and bar ends are best for climbing, risers are better at descending.

Q: Discs or V’s ?
A: Discs if you can afford them, e.g. Hope, Hayes, Magura, Shimano in roughly that order. V’s are cheaper, a bit lighter and give good performance though.

Q: How can I mend punctures?
A: See How to Mend a Puncture Perfectly Every Time. Or run tubeless tyres at low cost, see Stan’s tubeless review. This system rocks!

Q: What pedals should I buy?
A: Crank Brothers Egg Beaters if you can afford £75, Time ATACs if not. Almost any others if you don’t ride in mud. If you like flats you know who you are and don’t need advice from us.

Q. Where can I learn how to maintain my bike properly before it costs me a fortune and I and up in A&E?
A: Check out the maintenance course at

Q: How much pressure should I put in my tyres?
A: 45psi for the average rider.

Q: What size of tyres should I ride with?
A: 2.125 inch with enough space between the knobs to fit the side of your finger in. Bigger knobs are better (steady on Finbar…)

Q: Who makes the best off road tyres?
A: Specialized. (yes, again!) e.g. Team Control and Team Master. Panaracer Fire XC are also good. (We do ride with these tyres, but pay to do it!)

Q: What things do I need to take with me on a long ride?
A: See Essential kit to Take on a Long Ride.

Q: Are Kevlar beaded tyres worth the extra cash?
A: Yes, if you can afford to change them regularly, old tyres are rubbish. There are loads of good Kevlar beaded tyres available cheaply these days.

Q: What type of inner tubes should I buy?
A: Butyl 2.1 (specified inflation size should cover at least this)

Q: How can I ride scary steep trails?
A: Relax, weight back and don’t brake heavily on the worst of it, see Technical Downhill Technique.

Q: How can I ride over drop offs?
A: See The Drop Off.

Q: How much should I spend on a mountain bike?
A: As much as you can possibly afford or £500 whichever is the greater.

Q: How often must I ride to significantly improve my fitness in a few months?
A: 3 times a week, two 2 hour rides and one longer weekend day ride.

Q: Which is the best frame material and why?
A: See Frame Materials.

Q: Who makes the best V brake pads?

Q: What features should I look for in a mountain bike shoe?
A: Front football studs, Velcro straps, chunky tread, stiff sole.

Q: Which are the best value components for my bike?
A: See MTB Britain Component Awards.

Q: Should I try to stand on the pedals through the rough stuff?
A: Yes, and keep those knees relaxed and flexing.

Q: How often should I clean my bike?
A: In the winter every time you ride it in the wet/mud. After a dry summer ride, lubing is all that’s required.

Q: Do I have to keep the boots on my suspension forks?
A: Yes. But don’t forget to lift them regularly to clean around the wiper seal, use damp kitchen towel then pump a few times to lube the stanchions.

Q: How can I ride up really steep trails?
A: See Way Steep Climbing.

Q: Who are the best mail order company?
A: We like Chain Reaction. Take this good advice now, before someone pays us to say otherwise!

Q: If I put a longer travel suspension fork on my bike will it affect the handling?
A: Yes, but an extra inch won’t make too much difference.

Q: Are suspension seatposts any good?
A: They are useful to give a more comfortable long ride on a hard tail. Some extra seated pedaling over bumps may be possible, but full suspension rules in that area.

Q: Should I wear a helmet and shin/knee pads/full finger gloves for cross country or freeriding?
A: A helmet, yes and if you find you’re crash prone, the pads are a good investment. Full finger gloves are winter only stuff really, when you crash, it’s invariably your palms that take a beating, so mitts it is then.

Q: How can I stop getting so many punctures?
A: Bigger tyres with more pressure in them (45psi) will help prevent pinch punctures. Or you could try a tubeless system, the one from Stan is useful as it’s light and stops thorny leaks as well as blow outs. See Tubeless.

Q: Should I get a single speed bike?
A: No! O.K. Actually a lot of people have been having fun on these super simple, retro-everything bikes. It just goes to show you can have fun on any kind of bike, even those made for the road… However, don’t say we didn’t warn you when your knees explode and the orthopaedic surgeon’s not too optimistic…

Q: Is GPS worth the money?
A: Only if you’re a techno-phile who gets lost easily. Actually, it does come in handy if you’re ever riding somewhere where mapping is not much help. This includes anywhere abroad (you’ll miss OS maps if you’re used to them) and forested areas with multiple trails. In these cases if you mark the start point it will always point the way back. Out on the moors a map and compass do the job better. For more on GPS see High Tech Biker

Q: How can I tell if trails on the map are legal rights of way for mountain biking?
A: Long dashed green lines are Bridleways, these are all legal, short dashed lines are footpaths, keep off! If an unclassified (white) road is the obvious route to or from a Bridleway it is almost always OK. BOATs are legal (Byway Open to All Traffic) these are marked as crossed, long dashed green lines. Finally RUPPs are legal (Roads Used as Public Paths) marked as Long green dashes with alternate green dots on either side. Take care not to confuse any of these GREEN lines with BLACK County or other boundaries.

Q: How can I tell how much climbing there is on a trail from the OS map?
A: Look at the brown contour lines on the map. where the trail runs parallel with the lines, it’s flat. Where the trail crosses the lines it’s a slope. Look at the numbers on the lines to see if you are going to be climbing. If the trail goes at around 90 degrees to the contours and the contours are only a millimeter or two apart, you are going to be pushing. Or doing a serious descent!

Q: How can I ride slippery tree roots?
A: Always aim your wheels at 90 degrees across them. Lift the front wheel and unweight the rear if crossing a tall root. Don’t jump them unless you can clear the worst of it, they make for rubbish landings!

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