As retirement approaches I am looking at the additional toys I need. One is a mountain bike. Now I am on a ~ 15 yr. old cross bike. It has no suspension and the brakes are caliper style attached to a boss on the fork. I have a really nice and extensive network of dirt trails that I can reach from my house by crossing only 1 road. Some are the usual broad trails that also attract walkers & runners and others are single track. I've been riding the former pretty fast (at least for me) and ridden a little on the single track. I see people riding up things that I can't ride up on my bike and riding down things I don't dare try, I don't want to go over the handlebars and I don't fully trust the brakes. These folks are all on mountain bikes, many with full suspension. So I want a new bike, have some general ideas but have some questions too. I think I want disk brakes and full suspension. I wonder what are the pros and cons of full vs. front only suspension. I also wonder if fat tires and suspension will make a bike a dog on pavement. My cross bike is heavy (steel moly frame) and none too fast; my riding buddy calls his an old truck. I know that keeping up with folks on skinny tire road bikes is a lost cause, but I wonder if a new light MTB would be as fast on pavement as my cross bike. Sometimes I like to ride for a few 10s of miles on a rails to trails bike trail.
Last, what does it cost for a decent bike in the front only and full categories. Where should I go to buy it, REI or equivalent, or a full on bike shop.
Thanks in advance. Denis
To try to answer some of your questions and give you more to think about:
Full suspension (FS) is a more plush ride than a hard tail with front suspension, but, even with some great advancements in FS bikes, you definitely will still lose pedaling efficiency with FS as compared to a hard tail, all other things being equal.
Personally, I think full suspension is over used. If you plan to be on single track, even pretty technical rocky single track, fire roads, rails and trails, and even pavement, I think you would be better served with a hard tail with a 100 or 120 mm travel front fork.
Fat tires and nobby tread are going to slow you down on pavement, but a hard tail won't be a total dog.
Disc brakes vs. pull or V brakes...I think once you ride disc, especially if you go for decent to higher end hydraulic, you will definitely find them to be more responsive. The drawbacks to disc are heavier weight, and more maintenance.
Price on either full suspension or a hard tail is going to run the gamut. You could spend $600 and get a decent hard tail, or you could spend $2,000 and get a great hard tail. Full suspension is going to start at a higher price point, especially if you want a nicer, lighter bike...again, you could get something for less, but I would figure on at least $1,500 for a decent FS bike, probably more, realistically.
Hope this helps. Best of luck!
As retirement approaches I am looking at the additional toys I need. One is a mountain bike.
What exactly does that mean. You are young and wealthy or older with disposable income? My vote is a full suspension bike AND a road bike. I started with a cross bike in '93 (at around 35), had to have a road bike (Trek 1220)in '98 and bought the FS (Giant NRS3) about 5 years ago. Both the Trek and Giant were under $1000. The giant does not have disc brakes. When you're old like me, you really appreciate the plusher ride. Depending on your weight and the bike you buy, you may not pay to big a penalty climbing. I think its well worth it.
I love to ride the local asphalt trails and have the ability to jump into the woods when I want. You could do this on a hardtail but I like the ride better on my FS. I do miss the cross some, its so old at this point I never ride it. If I'm just on rail trails I can take the road bike which is great for covering distance. The heavier FS will be a drawback on longer trail rides.
Solution, buy two bikes. The road bike is perfect for Rock Creek, Capital Crescent, W&OD while the FS is perfect for single track, fire roads, etc.
Spending money on toys that keep you alive is a good use of money.
Good Luck. Steve
Stick with a steel bike. Steel is much more forgiving than aluminum, your body will appreciate it after a long ride. FS is great if you do a lot of rocky rooty downhills, otherwise it's not worth the $ or the weight. For XC or suburban riding I'd stick with a front shock that is between 80-100mm. 120 mm is too much travel for XC riding and will flex/bob too much while pedaling.
As far as LBS's I'd go to The Bike Lane in Burke, they have a great selection of bikes and are pretty knowledgeable. Plus they sponsor MORE.
From what you described, I agree with others, a good hard tail in the 100mm max range. Steel is very nice & plush and there are lots of great options out there for steel framed bikes. A good aluminum would also work. You don't need a full squishy for rail trails/easy single track and will only slow you down.
Discs are not required for what you describe, v brakes are more than adequate. That said, I'm a HUGE fan of discs and personally, would opt for them over V's any day. I don't feel they are more maintenance, in fact I work on my discs far less than I do my V's. The stopping power is worlds better and if you ride in wet, muddy conditions (like I do) the braking power of discs over rim brakes is ridiculous.
Always buy from an LBS, not a box store, even a box store like REI.
Denis: You've gotten a lot of good advice here. One final piece - based on your fear of going over the bars I'd say look hard at a mountain bike with 29" wheels - a "29er". These are usually hardtails - so the cost and maintenace is lower compared to full suspension. But they ride much plusher than a 26" hardtail bike, plus they are great on singletrack and technical terrain - almost as good (though some would even say better) than a full suspension bike. Oh, and about that over the bar thing - test ride one. IMO the big wheel bikes are much harder to endo than any 26" bike I've ridden. Most of the major manufacturers are making 29ers now - Cannondale, Specialized, and Gary Fisher. Next time you are in the Valley - go by the bike shop and rent a Cannondale from Roger and take it on the beginners loop over on the CVI property (behind Shop'n'Save). You'll notice the difference right away. Prices start around $900 and up. I think the Cannodale's Blackwater Bikes sells start around $1500.
Denis, I can't add anything to the recommendations but I can speak to going over the handle bars. Careful with the front brake going down hill. That should be a no brainer and that's what I was when I went over on an asphalt, downhill section of a rail trail. The result, fractured radial head that was eventually removed, one years lost income, grueling rehab that has left me with restricted extension and constant pain, not all of that because of the fracture but compounded because I had surgery on that elbow before. Better to break your jaw then to stop your fall with extended arms, better not to go over at all.
Haven't bought the bike yet but I'll let people know. Thanks to all for great advice & info. I'll start test/demo riding after I retire at the end of the month. Too busy now.
I was wondering where you had gone, Denis. Glad to here it is still in the works, and congrats on retirement.