In the last 20 years, mountain bikes have evolved into many forms built for speed, control, and performance. But with so many bikes on the market these days…so many different shapes and styles…how do you work out which bike is right for you?
Mountain bikes present the ideal vessel for travelling on pavements, gravel, mud, and all sorts of road types. These bikes are ideal for mid to short travel and may even be used for competitive racing as well as leisure rides between family members or friends. Owning a mountain bike certainly has a lot of benefits such as improved cardiovascular and muscular health. They are very affordable and come in a variety of designs which should allow any individual to find an ideal bike to ride. Let us explore the types of setups and basic modifications of a mountain bike.
Mountain Bike Types
As most mountain bikes have similar setups and modifications, it is essential to get to know the type of mountain bikes available in the market today. Beginners who are interested in owning a mountain bike for the first time, here are some of the various mountain bike types available today:
- Cross Country Bike. The Cross Country Bike is a mountain bike designed for long distance travel. It has a lightweight body frame designed with low to mid volume tires with aggressive tread designs perfect for taking any type of punishment from travelling on gravel, rocks, and mud. Cross Country Bikes usually only have a front suspension system because these bikes are built for speed. The Cross Country Bike’s lightweight frame allows riders to easily travel distances that have uphill riding, stationary riding, and downhill riding. Aside from having a lightweight frame, Cross Country Bikes have among the largest tires among most types of mountain bikes.
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- All-Mountain Bike. The All-Mountain Bike is another bike built for medium to long travel. It has a body frame of medium weight and is equipped with disc brakes as well as mid to high volume tires that provide tighter grip on all sorts of road types. Its more stable frame geometry is ideal for uphill and downhill riding. In addition, All-mountain Bikes are designed with extremely hard body chassis’ that allow them to take a beating on off-road trails.
- Free-Ride Bike. The Free-Ride Bike has a long suspension ideal for long travel distances. This mountain bike is ideal for aggressive road terrain and is built for the advanced riders who perform bike tricks. The Free-Ride Bike has a heavy-duty body frame that comes complete with disc brakes, chain bash guard, and limited gearing.
- Trail Bike. Trail bikes tend to be overbuilt in their suspension areas as these bikes are built to withstand off-road punishment from riding on forest trails, mountain trails, and many other trails where there are many obstacles on the road. Trail bikes normally have very long wheelbases, which make them ideal for racing. About the only disadvantage of riding a trail bike is they do not handle uphill riding too well because of their long wheelbases.
- Downhill Bike. The downhill bike was designed for one thing: downhill riding. The downhill bike is easily distinguishable with its ultra-thick tires and very long wheelbases. Downhill bikes are ideal for racers who travel from the top of a trail towards the bottom. Uphill riding on this type of bike may be a very difficult endeavor due to their long wheelbases.
- Hardtail Bikes. Hardtail bikes come in various shapes and sizes and contain very thick wheels that are ideal all types of trails and terrains. These bikes are one of the more popular mountain bikes in the market today because they are very affordable and can be used by beginners to experts.
Mountain Bike Anatomy
Before you get to learn the various types of mountain bike setups and modifications, you must familiarize yourself with all of the parts that make up your bike. Mountain bikes consist of many parts and systems that work together harmoniously to allow riders to travel from point A to point B by utilizing tire speed, gears, and brakes among many others. These parts must all be working completely for the bike to deliver the performance and handling that only mountain bikes can deliver. Let us take a quick tour of the various parts that constitute a mountain bike.
- The saddle is known as the seat of the mountain bike where riders sit. These seats come in many shapes and sizes, which are ideal for allowing riders to sit comfortably through short, medium, and long biking distances.
- Seat Post. The seat post is located right underneath the saddle. This post is usually adjustable, which is beneficial for taller or shorter riders.
- Seat Post Clamp. The seat post clamps allows riders to adjust the height of the seat. By unclamping the post, riders can adjust the seat post upward or downward to adjust the bike to their specific height.
- The handlebar of your mountain bike is one of its most important parts as it allows you to handle your bike. It allows you to find the right upper body balance while controlling the direction of your bike.
- Brake Levers. The brake levers are located on handlebar of your bike and allow you to stop the front and rear wheel of your bike. In your short to long distance travels, you will regularly utilize these brake levers to keep you from over-speeding, which may cause you to fall down and sustain injury.
- Gear Shifters. Gear shifters are the speed enhancers of any mountain bike. They control the gears in which you will be pedaling on. The lower gears are recommended to be used during uphill riding, as they require minimum exertion from your legs. The higher gears, on the other hand, are good for downhill riding as they load more power to the wheels with each and every pedal.
- Your bike’s pedals are also an extremely essential part of your bike as these pedals allow you to move forward via your right and left feet. By accessing higher gears and pedaling at a harder pace, you can achieve very fast speeds in a matter of seconds.
- Crank Set. The crank set is located on your bike’s pedal system and they consist of chain rings. These chain rings is where your bike’s chain is connected to that allows your pedals to spin around continuously and seamlessly.
- The cassettes are located on your bike’s rear wheel and act as the gears for which you use to pedal uphill or downhill. The cassettes are mounted on your rear wheel’s hub, which is what the wheel rotates on.
- Spokes are horizontal tubes that you find connected to your front and rear wheels. These horizontal tubes connect to your wheels’ rims.
- Wheels are what your bike runs on. Depending on the type of riding that you plan on doing, there are tube wheels and tubeless wheels.
- Your bike will not be able to stop without your brakes. Brakes are found in the front and rear tires of your bike and contain brake pads that are controlled by a brake cable that connects to your brake levers on your bike’s handlebar.
- The fork is what connects the front tire to your bike. It has dropouts, a blade, a crown, and a steering tube that runs through the headset that connects to your bike’s handlebar.
- The headset on your handlebar is what allows you to effortlessly turn your bike right or left.
- The fork connects to the handlebar by means of a component known as a stem, which sits over the steering tube and connects to the handlebar via a faceplate.
- The frame is the component that holds your bike’s body together. It consists of many essential tubes that hold the bike’s body together. These are:
- Head Tube
- Top Tube
- Down Tube
- Seat Tube
- One of the benefits in riding a mountain bike is their amazing suspension systems. Mountain bikes normally come with 2 suspension systems: one in the front tire and one in the rear tire.
Mountain Bike Setup 101
Now that you have found the ideal mountain bike to use, it is now time to learn how to properly setup your bike to get the best out of it. These mountain bike setup tips will allow you to have more fun with your bike’s handling, performance, and durability. It will also eliminate damage and all sorts of other complications.
Setting up Saddle Height
One of the most essential practices in properly setting up your mountain bike is to adjust its saddle height. Many people overlook this very important practice, as many are not aware that their bike’s saddle is actually adjustable. Saddle height is extremely crucial because of the following facts:
- Low Saddle Height. If your bike’s saddle is too low, this can lead to sore knees as well as more exerted energy on your end especially when travelling uphill.
- High Saddle Height. With a high saddle height, your hips tend to become unstable, which usually causes discomfort in your backside area. It will also distribute balance weight towards the front of the bike, which could be detrimental to your bike’s handling.
There are many ways to properly setup your bike’s saddle height. One of them is to sit on your bike in a stationary position. Make sure that your legs have a straight angle when they pedal to the down most position. If your legs are bent at the down most position, you will need to adjust your saddle height until they are perfectly straight. Keep in mind that if your pelvic region is rocking from side to side, this is an unstable way to pedal and may cause a lot discomfort on your hips as you ride long distances. To ensure that your legs and hips are at the right position, you will have to adjust your saddle height at a manner where your hips do not move side to side and your legs reach a straight angle at the bottom most position.
Another method of properly adjusting saddle height is known as the “Inside Leg” method, which is to get a piece of wood and place it in between your legs. Next, measure the length of end of the wood to the ground using a measuring tape. After you have achieved this, record the measurement and use the same measuring tape and place it on one of the pedals. Make sure that the pedal is at the bottom most position. From the pedal, measure the height that you recorded and adjust the saddle level accordingly. This should be the right saddle height for you.
Setting Up Proper Seat Position
As your saddle is at an ideal height for your hips and legs, the next setup activity that you will need to perform is to adjust your bike’s seat position. Many experts recommend a level seat position as this allows you to move your torso effortlessly forward or backward depending on the type of biking that you will be doing. Some facts about proper seat leveling are:
- If Seating Position is Upward. If the seat of your bike is tilted at an upward angle, it can cause minor to major discomfort to your crotch region especially when riding long distances.
- If Seating Position is Downward. If the seat of your bike is tilted at a downward angle, you may find your body constantly sliding forward towards the handlebar. A downward seat position will also cause you to place unnecessary pressure on your arms, which may cause immediate fatigue during a trail.
Setting up Brake Lever Position
All mountain bikes have brake discs that are controlled by break levers found on their handlebars. Setting up your bike’s break lever position is another essential bike setup practice that allows better handling and less energy exerted. To understand the value of proper brake lever adjustments, here are some facts:
- Brake Levers are too Low. When your levers are facing down, you will have to spread your elbows wider in order to handle your brake levers. This may result in poor handling and loss of control. Low brake lever angles are usually used by many riders who like downhill riding because this type of riding requires individuals to place their torsos towards the handlebar of their bikes. If this is your preferred type of riding, placing your brake levers at a bottom position is very ideal.
- Brake Levers are too High. When your break levers are at an upward position, this causes you to bring your elbows closer to your torso region. This is also not ideal as you may lose balance while riding or your handling will be affected. Adjusting your brake levers at a high position is used by bike riders who regularly go on uphill riding. Having high adjusted brake levers allows you to move your torso backwards, giving you more control of your bike as you ascend. This high adjustment will also allow you to switch effortlessly between high gears to travel up higher roads.
- Brake Levers are Stationary. When your brake levers are at a straight angle, this is ideal for beginners and intermediate riders as the angle allows your body to be at an upright position. This body position is very ideal for riders who like going long distances because they do not place unnecessary pressure on their arms or their backside region. The only time wherein you will find yourself placing pressure on these areas is if you find yourself on a hill or on a slope.
The best position to adjust your brake levers is right underneath the length of your index fingertips as this allows your arms be at their natural position, which should allow better handling and proper balance. Placing the break levers in front of your index fingers also allows efficient riding in the sense that you do not have to mover every finger on top of the levers and instead; use your index finger. Using your index fingers to control brake levers lets you maintain good control of your bike’s handles.
Setting up Bike Stem Height
For beginners getting into mountain biking, the Bike Stem is a very essential part of the bike as it connects the handlebars to the steering tube of the bicycle’s fork. Without the bike stem, riders will not be able to control the direction in which they ride in. Proper stem height is also essential at allowing ideal riding posture to improve over-all handling of your bike. Here are some facts about the Bike Stem Setup that you need to be aware of:
- High Bike Stem Setup. With a lower Bike Stem setup, your bike’s handle bar is at a downward position. This causes you to move forward towards the handlebar to control your bike. Low Bike Stem setups are very ideal for uphill riding as your legs have more room to pedal while facing upwards.
- Low Bike Stem Setup. With a higher Bike Stem setup, your handlebar is at a much higher position. This causes you to move backwards towards your bike’s saddle, which is an ideal position for travelling downwards.
To achieve proper bar stem height setup, there are many ways that you can easily do this. One of them is to first determine the type of riding that you plan to do. There are three types of riding that most riders do. These are:
- Uphill Riding. Uphill riding requires a lot of upper and lower body strength that work hand-in-hand at peddling against the weight of gravity. The advantages of uphill riding with a mountain bike are the presences of many gears, which take allow riders to have access to light pedaling even on an uphill pace.
- Downhill Riding. Downhill riding is fun because riders need not exert any effort in accelerating their speed. Through the gift of gravity’s pull, riders accelerates faster and faster, leaving a lot of room to experience an accident especially when they do not know how to ride, start, and stop properly.
- Stationary Riding. Stationary riding is a favorite among beginners because this type of riding is the easiest to master. Stationary riding allows riders to be at an upright position that does not place too much pressure on their arms, pelvic region, and legs. This type of riding is where riders can travel for long distances without experiencing exhaustion.
Now that you have determined what type of riding you will be doing here are the ideal bike stem height setups for each type of riding.
- Uphill Riding = Low Bike Stem Height. The ideal bike stem height setup for uphill riding is a lower stem adjustment. Uphill requires you to move your body towards the handlebar of your bike, which leaves more room for your hips and legs to operate with minimal pressure. If your bar height is high on an uphill trail, you will end up placing a lot of unnecessary pressure on your arms, which could most definitely cause early fatigue and failure to complete the trail.
- Downhill Riding = High Bike Stem Height. Since downhill riding entails your body to move southward, you must setup your bike stem at a higher position so that you do not have to place unnecessary pressure on your arms. With a higher stem setup your body can maintain a high position leaving more room for your hip region and legs to pedal evenly.
- Stationary Riding = Level Bike Stem Height. Stationary riding requires a level stem position so that your body arms and legs do not receive unnecessary pressure. With a level position, your hip region maintains stability leaving your legs able to pedal continuously.
Setting up Tires and Suspension
One of the most crucial activities in proper mountain bike setup is tire and suspension setup. Your bike’s tires are its legs and feet. Without these, your bike will be useless as it will not be able to move. Proper tire setup consists of many essential activities that need to be done regularly. Here are some activities that will ensure your tires are always in tip-top condition.
Knowing Your Tires
If you are to perform good tire setup on your mountain bike, you first need to know what type of tires that are being used by your bike. There are currently two main types: tube and tubeless. Their differences are:
- Tube tires are very popular mountain bike tires today because they present many advantages to users. One is that they do not require sealant to secure their interior. These tires are also lightweight and add more support to the sidewall of a tire and are extremely flexible by design, which allow users to add or subtract tire pressure effortlessly.
- Tubeless tires are very popular among intermediate and expert mountain bike riders because they are known to roll quicker and have a strong resistance to various types of punctures that occur on various terrains. Tubeless tires are also heavier tires than tube tires, which suggest that when they do experience puncture, it is more severe.
Know that you know what type of tires your mountain bikes ride on, you must ensure that these always have the right amount of air inside. Most tire manufacturers design their tires with a certain amount of pressure inside them. To know what the ideal tire pressure for your mountain bike, you may need to check the sidewalls of your bike’s tires. There, you will find information written down that includes tire pressure recommendations. Once you know the ideal amount of tire pressure, you will need a pump that has a pressure gauge to ensure that you are pumping the right amount. Use the gauge as a guide to pump the right amount of air.
Properly Setting up Your Bike’s Suspension
All mountain bikes have amazing suspension systems that are powerful enough to absorb the shock that come with riding on various terrains. These suspension systems can be found in the front and rear of your bike and they both require regular maintenance to ensure that they work properly at all times. Some ways to properly setup your bikes suspension system are:
- Setting up the Rear Sag. Setting up your bike’s sag is ensuring that its rear shock absorbers perform well continuously. To setup up your sag properly, sit on top of your bike and adjust the sag ring found on the rear shock absorber. A good percentage is to move it 30% southward from the top of the sag.
- Setting up the Front Sag. As your bike’s rear wheel has shock absorbers, so do your front wheel. To set up your front sag properly roll down the sag ring to about 80% of the bar. This will leave 20% room, making the shock absorbers ready and able to take any type of on-road punishment.
- Bearings Setup. Your mountain bike has bearings in the front and rear wheel. These also require proper setup as it ensures that the wheels are tightly secured. To setup the bearings of your bike, simply hold on to the saddle of your bike and hold the wheel. Move it forward and backwards to check for signs of looseness that may indicate loose screws or faulty connection. To rectify and looseness, get a screwdriver or Allen wrench and proceed to tighten all screws and connectors.
Setting up Gear Position
Like your bike’s suspension system, the gears also need to be setup properly as you regularly use these to change speeds and to ride uphill at an easier manner. Adjusting your gears to help them shift quickly and smoothly is easy as you need to do the following setup activities.
- Bike Chain Setup. Without your bike chain, you will not be able to access any of your bike’s gears. Chain setup requires cleaning and lubrication. Keeping your bike’s chain clean and lubricated is one of the best ways to ensure a smooth ride and to substantially prolong its lifespan. Setting up your bike’s chain consists of the following activities:
- Removing Excess Grease. One of the substances that is truly damaging to a bike’s chain is grease. Removing excessive grease in your bike’s chain requires a solvent known as a Degreaser. Degreasers or bike cleaners are solvents that are applied to the chain of a bike to moisten the steel, making it easy to wipe away excess grease. Some Degreasers come with lubrication, which are the best solvents to buy as they act as a two-in-one chain cleaner.
- Lubricating Gears. Another activity that you need to do in setting up your bike is to lubricate the gears of your mountain bike. As mountain bikes come with multiple gears, it is essential that you keep all of these lubricated regularly. You can use your Degreaser, assuming it is of the lubricated kind, and apply the solvent on the gears found in the rear of your bike. Spray the solvent evenly on all pulleys, cassettes, and chain links. A better idea is to have a separate lubricant on hand to use in cleaning the gears.
Properly Setting up Your Bike’s Fork
For you bike’s front shock absorbers to work properly, you need to set up the fork. The rule of thumb in properly setting up the fork is the less damping, the faster your fork becomes. If you wish your fork to work slower, you need to increase the damping. A faster fork words ideally for when you are downhill riding and your bike must run on top many obstacles. A slower fork is ideal for downhill riding where there are not that many obstacles yet there are many curves and turns that you must take.
Top Mountain Bike Setup Mistakes
Mountain bike setup is definitely an art that must be studied, dissected, and honed in order to prolong the lifespan of the multitude of parts that constitute your bike. As you gradually follow this guide on setting up your bike, it is crucial that you also know what mistakes to avoid when setting up your bike. Here are the top common mistakes that many people have committed in setting up their mountain bikes.
- Tire Choice.
There are many people who buy mountain bikes tend to stick to the tires that come with their bikes. This is an error because there are various types of mountain bike riding such as uphill, downhill, and competitive riding. These types of ridings require different tires that are ideal for the type of trails and terrains that come with them. For this reason, riders must be wise in choosing tires that provide the right grip, rolling resistance, and puncture resistance that will allow their bikes to perform optimally on a regular basis. You must know the type of tires that will be ideal for the kind of riding that you plan to do.
- Pedal Height Setup.
One of the most common mistakes that beginner to intermediate riders commit in the setup of their mountain bike is poor pedal setup height. When setting up your pedals, make sure that your legs are able to reach a straight angle when they reach the bottom most angle of the pedal rotation. This takes away pressure from your knees and allows your hip region to be at comfortable position throughout your bike travels.
- Handlebar Height Setup
Handlebar height setup is a science in itself because having the right posture is critical to riding without placing too much pressure on your arms, legs, and knees. The rule of thumb in setting up your handlebar’s height is to have it at higher angles when riding downhill and to have it lower when riding uphill.
- Tire Pressure
Insufficient tire pressure can really work to alter the way your bike rides. When your tires lack air, this tends to result in more tire punctures and even leads to damaged rims. When you add too much air pressure, your bike may lose grip and control especially when you bounce of hurdles and other obstacles. An expert suggestion in proper air pressure is to add more air to your rear tire as this takes the majority of punishment when riding on off-road trails.
- Stem Height
As you go about taking on the various types of riding such as uphill, downhill, and stationary riding; it is imperative that you set up your stem height accordingly. The more aggressive the type of riding, your stem height should be set at lower angles. A longer stem height is more suited for uphill riding as it allows you to maintain weight on your front tire in order to maintain balance and stability as your ride at a slower pace.
- Rear Suspension.
Another common mistake that a lot of people commit in their bike setup is poorly setting up their bike’s rear suspension. Many people take on the toughest trails and terrain with very little to no rebound damping on their rear shock absorbers. It is recommended to adjust your shock absorbers damping to a higher level especially when you take on trails that have a lot of obstacles such as uneven terrain, rocks, and bumps. A lack of damping leads your bike’s rear shock absorbers to take more punishment that leads to early damage.
- Suspension Lockout.
In the same way that guns have safety switches to keep them from firing, your mountain bike’s suspension system also has a similar type of safety switch. This is known as the suspension lockout switch that is found on your bike’s handlebar. When this switch is activated, your suspension system fails to do its work. This results in bumpy and unstable rides that may prove to be dangerous when riding on off-road trails and terrain. Always remember that it is a biking fundamental to switch this off when riding your bike and to switch it off when you are not riding.
- Brake Levers. Many people have committed the mistake of poorly setting up their brake levers to the point that they compromise the right body position while riding. The mistake that many have committed is to set their brake lever position too high or too low causing their posture to either move forward or backward while riding uphill or downhill. Keep in mind that the rule of thumb is to position your brake levers under your index finger so that you only use one finger to control the braking of your bike.
- Saddle Height. There is a saying in mountain bike riding world that “Seating is Key” in riding a bike. This saying is definitely true as you must be comfortable all throughout your riding experience. Adjusting your bike’s saddle height at lower angles will cause your body to be cramped while riding. This will prevent your legs from achieving full range of movement throughout each and every pedal. A higher saddle height position will cause your hips to sway sideways resulting in poor balance and stability.
- Riding a Bike that has an Existing Problem.
Like a car, your mountain bike requires regular maintenance and checkups to increase its performance and longevity. Performing regular checkup on your bike will ensure these and also prevent you from sustaining injury due to faulty parts. Regular inspection and maintenance need to be performed on your bike’s tires, shock absorbers, chains, and cassettes.
Setting up your mountain bike properly is very easy as the bike comes with various tools such as a screwdriver and multiple Allen wrenches that are used to loosen and tighten your bike’s saddle, brake levers, and bike stems. You should also invest on sealants such as cleaners, degreasers, and lubricants to perform regular maintenance. Once you have setup your bike optimally to your body size, your bike riding experience will be very enjoyable and unforgettable.
So keep in touch and get out on the trails.
About The Author
Rod Bucton, mountain bike fanatic from Mid North Coast, New South Wales Australia…discover the shortcuts to mountain biking for beginners and while you’re at it follow Rod on Facebook or Instagram.
Like any sport, bicycling involves risk of injury and damage. By choosing to ride a bicycle, you assume the responsibility for that risk, so you need to know — and to practice — the rules of safe and responsible riding and of proper use and maintenance. Proper use and maintenance of your bicycle reduces risk of injury.