Contrary to what mountain bike websites may imply, you don’t have to be a millionaire to start mountain biking.
Mountain biking may not be as cheap as some other sports but, as we all know, it is the best sport of all time. And to experience the best sport of all time, need not cost the earth.
Bike shops vs shops with bikes
You’ll probably notice that for the purposes of this feature, the products and brands we’ve chosen are from Halfords. Shock. Horror. This is because, like it or not, Halfords is where a lot of newbies feel most confident shopping.
The extra cost of going to a decent bike shop is arguably £0.00 more expensive, but the added non-fiscal benefits are immense. Advice, experience, trail knowledge, a relationship.
If you’re a beginner, or have not even begun yet: Go to a proper bike shop.
This guide is more of a retail experiment brought about by various conversations we’ve had in the Singletrack Office. Is mountain biking an expensive pastime? How expensive though? Can we put an actual figure on it?
I foolishly put my hand up and said, “Yes, I can put a figure on it”. So here we are.
Er. What’s mountain biking?
First off, what is ‘mountain biking’? I used to rag around on a late-1980s microscopic BMX when I first rode off-road tracks and trails and it’s perfectly possible to ride a gravel/CX bike around most trail centre loops. Neither of those activities are really mountain biking.
My definition of ‘mountain biking’ for this thought-piece is Helvellyn. I think for anything to be called a ‘mountain bike’, it has to be capable of doing the classic Helvellyn-Sticks Pass route. And it has to be fun. Not a terrifying ordeal that you never want to do ever again.
This is the stuff that I’ve selected. I’ll go into my reasoning below the items.
- Price: £575
- From: Halfords
Why this bike? Because it has pretty capable geometry and is specced with good stuff where it counts. It also is not a dead-end purchase. This bike can be adapted and upgraded as you go.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. This bike is fine from the get-go.
The head angle is fine (approx 66°), so it’ll be alright downhill. The seat angle is fine (approx 75°), so it should be okay on climbs. The BB height is fine (approx 310mm), so it should be fine at fun stuff. The standover is generous, so it’s shouldn’t be offputting when things get tricksy.
Parts-wise, it has hydraulic disc brakes with decent size rotors. The tyres aren’t amazing but they aren’t wholly useless either.
The suspension fork is coil which, in my opinion, is a better bet than a cheap air fork. Sure, the spring weight of the coil isn’t going to be bang-on for all riders but at least the fork will have significantly less stiction than a cheap air-sprung fork. And it’s 120mm travel, which is fine and much better than 80-100mm jobbers.
The cockpit is really good. 45mm stem. 780mm handlebars. Lock-on grips (not harsh push-ons that will fly off when it rains).
The drivetrain is 1x 9-speed. Again, fine. The chainring is 32T paired to a 11-46T cassette. That’s not far off the sort of range ratio as top-end MTBs really.
And oh yeah, the bike is a 29er. Which is the best bet for the vast majority of people. 29in is just more stable, grippier and comfier.
- Price: £30 for this Lazer Compact
- From: Halfords
Even if you are a feckless and reckless goon, have a thought for the poor person who will have to deal with you should you come off your bike and stove your head in on a rock. Wear a helmet for other people, as well as yourself.
And… arguably, that’s all you need. A decent bike and a lid.
Fundamentally, you don’t need that much.
It’s really useful and just plain nice to have some other stuff (listed below) but it is not absolutely necessary.
This stuff will come in useful. No rush. Get hold of it as and when you’re able to (and before you try Helvellyn – I’ve chosen the bike as being capable of Helvellyn, but it needs a rider to get it up and down again, in one piece. You’ll need some kit and some skills to do that safely).
- Liner shorts
- Inner tube
- Bottle cage
- Knee pads
- Dropper post
Money vs mouth
And now I guess I need to prove my theory by taking a sub-£600 bike up to the top of Helvellyn and back down Sticks Pass then?
Okay. Game on. Stay tuned.
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