How to Find the Best Downhill Mountain Bike
Searching for a bike is one thing–finding a quality downhill mountain bike is a whole other. But searching with knowledge and patience is the key not only to finding a good bike, but having the best experience possible. But if you’re new to mountain biking, or even just downhill mountain biking, you may not even be aware of just how important it is to find a specialty bike.
But if you’re even a little bit interested in mountain biking in general, read on to find out what downhill mountain biking entails, and how to find the best downhill mountain bike possible.
While the process can be complicated, by focusing on individual features, you’ll be on your way to finding the best downhill mountain bike for you.
What is downhill mountain biking?
Downhill mountain biking, as the name implies, takes mountain biking a step further in that riders engage in challenging downhill, and at times, steep declines. Mountain biking itself does not need to take place on an actual mountain. In general, the term refers to any biking that is done off road and can take in a variety of terrains as diverse as trails and even dessert.
Mountain biking may be for the more adventurous–and carries some risks compared with on-road biking–but it can also be highly rewarding and exhilarating. In all forms, mountain biking allows you to explore areas you might have never before seen and challenge yourself in new ways.
And unlike popular depictions, mountain biking does not always involve great speed. In fact, many mountain bikers take instead longe treks of endurance. As more and more myths of danger, financial hardships, or other related fearful exceptions are dispelled, the sport itself continues to gain in popularity.
But downhill mountain biking takes challenges to new levels, mostly taking place steep and uneven terrain with multiple obstacles, such as:
- Rock Gardens
- Rocky Terrain
- Steep Declines
Downhill mountain biking, compared to regular mountain biking, takes more coordination, command, and occurs generally at faster speeds. And like all mountain biking, of course, it takes place off-road.
Is downhill mountain biking right for me?
If you’ve made it this far, chances are you’re seriously considering at least trying downhill mountain biking. Maybe you want to get invested in a sport in a way you never had before, or maybe you’re already an avid mountain biker who’s looking for a new challenge.
But is downhill mountain biking right for you?
Downhill mountain biking is best for anyone who has already tried mountain biking–that’s because, while it has a lot in common with mountain biking, it is more challenging. We recommend you start with easier trails with mountain biking first and incrementally work to a place you’re comfortable.
Downhill mountain biking is best for the adventurous, those in good physical condition, and those who aren’t afraid of heights. While you do not need to be perfectly conditioned, to begin with, it is advisable to take it slow. Going too rough too quickly can lead to more injuries, and when in doubt, sign up for a beginner’s club to make sure you are as comfortable as possible. Also make sure that you’re in great physical condition before hitting the trails, because downhill biking can be a demanding sport.
What are some ways to make sure I stay safe when I mountain bike?
If safety is the number one reason you haven’t started downhill mountain biking yet, there are a number of precautions you can take. In addition to taking it slow and preparing you should:
- Make sure your gear is snug and properly fitted.
- Perform regular safety checks and maintenance on your bike
- Come prepared with the proper gear
- Let someone know where you’ll be, or better yet, go with someone
- Always maintain a firm grip on your bike
- Survey before beginning a trail
- Check ahead for potential inclement weather
- Start of moderate or easy difficulty trails for the first few months or until you feel comfortable
- Make sure that the area is suitable for biking, and that there are no restrictions
What gear do you need for downhill mountain biking?
Before you even consider shopping for the best downhill mountain bike, you also need to make sure you have the proper gear to get you started. Having the proper equipment is essential for both comfort and safety and will help you make the most out of your new downhill mountain bike and your mountain biking experience in general.
Plus, it’s all that much more important to be properly equipped for an activity as challenging as downhill mountain biking. Even before your shop for your new bike, make sure you have the following:
- Mountain biking shorts, which should be suitable for the various elements, snug but looser than typically biking shorts
- Flat soled mountain biking shoes with a strong tread and grip feature to keep you from sliding
- Knee pads and elbow pads to protect you should you crash or run up against something
- A full face helmet. Unlike typical bike helmets, a full face helmet is needed to protect you as you ride. The fit should be snug but not too tight.
- Goggles for eye protection: mountain biking, especially downhill mountain biking, requires protection against debris or dust
- A pack, for longer treks. Worn often on the back, this can carry essentials like water, snacks, bike supplies, and first aid.
- An ID with an emergency contact
And of course, you’ll need to find the best downhill mountain bike possible.
What’s the difference between a regular mountain bike and a downhill mountain bike?
You might wonder what all the fuss is about in terms of finding a downhill mountain bike as opposed to a regular mountain bike. In general, downhill bikes have:
- Sturdier frames meant to withstand tough terrains and obstacles
- Made of more durable materials
- Full suspension frames, which help with shock absorption
- Double crown for increased strength and durability
- Alignment so rider is further on the back wheel
In general, downhill mountain bikes are made of sturdier materials with a greater focus on shock absorption and meant to withstand difficult terrains and conditions.
How do downhill mountain bikes compare in price with other bikes?
As you can imagine, downhill mountain bikes cost you more than the average bike. While mid-range bikes usually range from a few hundred to a thousand dollars, start a bit higher, and can go into the thousands. That said, you can still find decent downhill mountain bike for less than you might think.
How do I find the best mountain bike?
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Even more so than with a regular mountain bike, a downhill mountain bike must be constructed from materials that are meant to withstand difficult conditions. Look for steel, titanium, and carbon fiber. Carbon is useful also for shock absorption, while steel and titanium are both considered heavy duty and can also be aerodynamic.
A sign of a good downhill mountain bike are wheels that are around twenty-seven inches to twenty-nine inches as opposed to larger diameters common in other bikes. Spokes should be thirty-two inches or higher. A smaller wheel size works better for maneuvering around obstacles and also works better on jumps and for performing stunts.
A suspension frame should be typically made out of carbon and allows for both shock absorption and the best maneuverability, as well as overall control for your ride. It should also mention a geometric set up that allows you to ride back on your seat.
Making sure your bike can fit your properly and your riding preferences is also a key thing to look for. And adjustable fork allows you to cater more to your body type, adjust how you ride, and bolster the best in shock absorption, all the while giving you more control.
Though not with all models, frame protection, usually in the form of removable guards is also a plus and can help increase the longevity of your downhill mountain bike.
There are some trends right now to make the reach between you and the bar handles of the bike longer. The longer the reach, the more centered the wheels tend to feel and it can also make for a smoother ride. But too long can result in more difficulty maneuvering. Go for medium long to get the best features.
Mid Width Wheels
We’ve already discussed overall wheel diameter, but wheel thickness is important to consider, too. Look for a wheel that is just a bit over two and a half inches in width.
The Right Weight
While you want downhill mountain bikes to feel lightweight in theory, you also want to make sure they are sturdy enough to endure difficult terrain. In general, aim for a downhill mountain bikes that weigh anywhere from twenty-seven to thirty-one or so pounds.
Brakes, of course, are essential to any bike, but for downhill mountain bikes, making sure you have the best breaks possible is all that much more important. But brakes shouldn’t merely be able to stop your motion; they also should ideally provide an added layer of stability and control. Look for a disc brake; a mechanical one, which tends to be lower cost and is more common, should do the trick. Also make sure that, no matter what brake you go with, you maintain it with proper brake fluid.
Just how much should you spend on a decent downhill mountain bike? As you can imagine, that depends on what you’re looking for, as well as your overall budget. Because a downhill mountain bike can cost as little as a few hundred and go as high as ten thousand or even more, it’s important to have an idea of what’s reasonable. A mid-price range for a downhill mountain bike falls around one thousand to fifteen hundred dollars, will and upper mid-range goes up to around thirty-five hundred dollars. If you can, try to save up and don’t dip down way past that mid-range, because you may be sacrificing quality. Beyond the upper mid-range, though, it’s more or less about extra features. So be realistic about what you can spend (no need to deplete your savings) but also keep in mind that you should be spending more on a downhill mountain bike than you would for a regular on road bike.
Considering a used bike?
Maybe you want a mountain bike but are worried about how much it will cost you. While in the long run, a new downhill mountain bike may prove a better investment, if you do opt for a used mountain bike, make sure you have the chance to inspect it carefully. In addition to getting information about how it has been used (as you would with a car), you should also make sure that the cables are in good working condition, and there are no obvious cracks. Even better, have an expert take a look at it. Beyond trying to make a wise purchase, it’s important your bike is in great working condition to ensure your safety.
With any bike, of course, you want to make sure that the seat is comfortable for you–everyone has different preferences, and of course you want to go with a seat that is easy to adjust. Look for saddles made from breathable, microfiber materials with rails made from durable materials, such as titanium or aluminum alloys. You’ll have to decide based on personal preference whether you prefer a more firm or flexible seat, but a medium firm is a nice way to go because it provides support and also flexibility.
In a downhill mountain bike, look for a rear shock that is specifically designed to support full front suspension. If you can afford it, air sprung shocks are considered more durable than coil sprung shocks, as they are less vulnerable to wear and tear and generally require less maintenance. However, an especially heavy mountain bike may be more suited to the traditional coil shock. Rear shocks will also ensure a firmer grip.
Marketed as a downhill bike
By no means should you rely on marketing alone, but you should purchase a bike that is specifically labeled as a downhill mountain bike. That’s because the overall geometry, suspension, and weight will more likely be optimized for downhill ventures. If the bike is not labeled as a downhill bike, look for something else, because it may not have the features you need.
Angles and Dimensions
The overall structure of a downhill bike is especially important, because you need to be able to exert control, maneuver, and still have your bike absorb shock as you naivete steep declines and jumps. A good head angle should be around sixty-five to sixty-seven degrees. Here are some other dimensions to keep in mind :
- Seat Angle: low to mid-seventies
- Wheel Base: Around forty-five to fifty inches is a good start
- Chain Length: Shoot for a chain longer than sixteen inches; sixteen inches is normal for a regular mountain bike, but longer chain lengths can provide greater stability for downhill ventures.
Downhill mountain bike chains absorb a great deal of pressure for the rugged terrain and sometimes high speeds. Chains should make for a smooth ride, have little noise, and are constructed from strong durable material. Stretch proof, alloy materials, double chains, and mushroomed pins are all pluses. And of course, you’ll want to ask what speeds the chains are compatible with.
Tire treads can be fairly overwhelming, so it’s important not to get too caught up in different tread types, especially if this is your first time trying out mountain biking. In general however, tread can make a difference in your overall riding experience. Downhill tire treads should be a bit heavier and textured than other tire trends, able to deal with both muddy terrain and also maneuver through difficult spaces. Some features to look for include. For more speed, look for smaller and less spaced tread, but if you want more control handling much, larger tread with more spacing is the better bet. Ramped treads help lower resistance while side tread will provide extra grip. Depending on what you want in terms of speed and grip, you may look for a combination. Finally, also look for puncture resistance. Puncture resistant tires tend to be a bit heavier and include additional casing around the rubber wheels.
Finding the best downhill mountain bike takes time, energy and commitment. Downhill mountain bikes are not only an investment in terms of cost but safety as well. Taking the time to find the proper downhill mountain bike can save you in the long run and ensure you have the best experience possible. With the proper gear, information, and a little preparation too, there’s no reason why you can’t take on a new trail and see all that downhill biking has to offer.