So you have finally made the decision to splash out on a trail slaying full suspension bike. Congratulations, you won’t regret it!
Compared to hardtails, full suspension bikes absorb much more impact – making them more appropriate for technical trails and considerably more confidence inspiring. This does mean they’re heavier and the extra technology makes them more expensive – but when it comes to shooting down the tougher sections, the benefits far outweigh the cons.
Buying your new full suspension bike isn’t something you should rush into. There are many different styles and it’s important to choose one that will meet your needs, and keep you satisfied for years to come.
Not completely decided yet? Read the pros and cons of hartail and full suspension bikes here
Here Rebecca Parker of Run . Write . Ride helps you to find the perfect trail companion...
What's your style?
The first thing you need to consider is what type of riding you plan to do. Every bike has a designated purpose. You wouldn’t buy a fighter jet for your daily commute and in a similar way, a full blown downhill rig probably isn’t best for teaching a timid newbie to ride on surfaced river paths! Here is an overview of the basic bike classifications...
A XC bike tends to be lightweight, 22-28 pounds, designed to be pedalled vast distances on epic days out. They are more often hard tail bikes with short travel of 80-120mm. Wheel sizes vary between 27" and 29", although riders typically prefer the larger 29" wheel size with smooth, fast rolling tyres for higher efficiency.
The higher spec models are available with suspension lock, carbon frames and a more stretched out geometry for better comfort over long distances. Expect to spend anything from £500 - £1000 for strong entry/mid level bike, but this will shoot up if you’re after something a little more high end, and race suitable.
A wide bracket of bikes here, but most bike loving amateurs will fit into this category.
These are predominantly full suspension bikes with 120-170mm travel, wheel sizes 27.5"(650b) or 29", depending on rider preference, but all will have fatter tread for more grip.
The geometry is slacker, and the bars are wider for added stability at quicker, more aggressive speeds. These are heavier bikes due to their sturdier, durable components designed to handle much rougher terrain.
At the same time they are also made to pedal uphill with the extra suspension aiding grip and lock outs taking out excess bounce for maximum efficiency. You should expect all round lock outs and a dropper post on anything other than the most budget model. Prices range anywhere from £1000 to £4000.
These are the most extreme of full suspension bikes, for daring riders and true speed junkies. These are long travel bikes with 180-220mm travel, coil sprung rear shocks, super slack geometry, reinforced compound tyres, and 8 inch rotor discs for extra stopping power.
What they don’t have is many gears, and with a super slack geometry, you'll have a tough time pedalling uphill on these bad boys. They are better suited for lift assisted riding. The price tag on these bikes is pretty hefty with most ranging from £2500+
Get the fit right...
When looking at bike fit, some women specific bikes are designed to accommodate the generalisation that women have shorter arms and torsos with longer legs. They make the top tube and stem shorter to cater for this. Others will keep the same frame geometry, but use narrower bars and a women’s specific saddle and grips to make the bike more comfortable. Not every woman needs a female specific bike – they tend to suit shorter riders but it’s really best to test ride a few options and decide what is best for you.
Demo days are a great way to try out a variety of bikes on an off road trail, a quick google search will turn up what bike shops near you are hosting them. It is advisable to book a place in advance to ensure you get to try the bike you have in mind. Alternatively, all good bike shops will offer test rides, these are usually just 15 minutes around the car park to give you an idea of the feel and fit of the bike.
Where to buy?
Finally your last decision will be where to buy the bike from. The 2 main options are your local bike shop, or direct from the dealer. The first would be my preferred option as bike shops should provide longer warranties, a free first service, personalised advice, help to set your bike up and this is the real clincher for me – a good bit of free/discounted mechanical help when I break it! However, if you have the mechanical knowledge and confidence to go with buying directly from the manufacturer you can often get a cheaper price.
Other options to look at when bargain hunting are end of season sales, hire venues selling off ex hire bikes and online second hand sales. However, only go with this option if you have some mechanical experience or are willing to allow extra in your budget for a bike shop service, being prepared for necessary replacements/upgrades.
There are so many fantastic bikes out there and deals to be grabbed. Be clear on what you need and don’t let clever sales people confuse you with their jargon. Happy shopping and see you on the trails!
Make sure you get a bargain - and check out this piece on finding the best mountain bike for your budget.