Q: How much to start mountain biking? A: £605.00

by 55

Contrary to what mountain bike websites may imply, you don’t have to be a millionaire to start mountain biking.

how much to start mountain biking? beginners guide
Pic: Voodoo Cycles

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?

how much to start mountain biking?
Pic: Voodoo Cycles

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.

Voodoo Braag

how much to start mountain biking?
Pic: Voodoo Cycles

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.

A helmet

  • 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.

Other stuff

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
  • Multitool
  • Pump
  • Inner tube
  • Bottle
  • 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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Viewing 15 posts - 41 through 55 (of 55 total)
  • Q: How much to start mountain biking? A: £605.00
  • wheelsonfire1
    Full Member

    I started with a fully rigid steel Saracen from Halfords, (late 80’s) the shop was a lot less daunting than a bike shop. Customer service was excellent too, when the paint started peeling off, the whole frame was replaced and upgraded to the next year’s model so I had two chromoly tubes! I later got a complete new drivetrain after a Shimano recall – Halfords recorded frame numbers, which not all bike shops do. I did most of the Peak District routes on it, usually from home and upgraded when there were good prices from Merlin etc in the bike mags. Lasted me for years, including the commute. 1.95 Smoke tyres in summer, 1.75 in winter, home made multitool!
    Replaced with a Gringo in 1990 for my 40th, the frame is still part of my only mountain bike, still gets hammered and hopefully up Helvellyn in November.
    I guess my point is that it doesn’t cost too much to start mountain biking and doesn’t have to cost a fortune to carry on!
    Gloves though, after a helmet, essential. Not sure about knee pads though – never worn them.

    crazy-legs
    Full Member

    It strikes me as a little dangerous to imply to an absolute beginner they could ride up (and down) helvellyn armed with nothing more than a bike and helmet.

    My first MTB (back in the mid 90’s) was a Saracen Sahara Elite (the Elite meant it had an “upgrade” over the standard Sahara of a set of MaxShox suspension forks with a whole 1″ of undamped elastomer travel…)

    I took that on rides all round the Lake District – on family holidays up there, I’d get up at 7am and be out on the hills for 3hrs, returning just as the rest of the family were getting up and deciding what to do.
    No mobile, no GPS, precious few tools, one water bottle… And yes, I was an absolute beginner.

    The one nod to safety was that I would leave a route description on the table and generally stick to what I’d written (bar genuinely getting lost!) so if I wasn’t back my Mum could at least phone Mountain Rescue and say “he said he’d be heading over here”.

    Admittedly, I look back on that now and my rides aged 16/17 and wonder how the hell I survived going around Lonscale Fell and Skiddaw but basically it was just me and a helmet out in the wilds!

    dmorts
    Full Member

    @boriselbrus, you’ve hit the nail on the head

    The problems came when they didn’t have enough staff and someone from the Auto /leisure department had to cover.

    And that’s exactly how the poor service happens. It’s a business level issue. I have no doubt they have great individuals working for them. But if you want to give good service you need to have correctly trained people available all the time. I’m not just talking about bikes here either. I’ve known them give bad advice on car seats and car parts too.
    Sounds like they do the right things to be an excellent bike shop, but they’ve spread themselves a bit too thinly. They are one shop when really they could be 3 separate ones or more.

    torchtaylor
    Full Member

    I never understood the Halfords Hate.

    As a former Halfords employee, I can say that (at least in our branch) the BikeHut tends to be staffed by enthusiasts. We all rode bikes, talked bikes, spent money on bikes, and chatted bikes to anybody who would listen. We’d always try to sell people the right bike for the application. The same can be said for a few other bike dispensaries, Like Decathlon and Go Outdoors.

    The current Voodoo, Carrera, Caliber and Rockrider bikes are pretty good value bikes, and the staff seemed to care. I just bought my lad a Two3 Caliber and it is amazing value.

    I just hope that the service offered in my bike shop is as good. I will always struggle with the instant availability of “new bike” stock against the bigger stores, but I always try to have the “needed” items in stock, and we have shifted our hours to suit the average working hours. I know my market, and if they want to call in with their Halfords bike for a repair, spare or upgrade, I will happily work on it and advise all day long. And when they decide that this bike thing is awesome, I’ll advise them on a great bike to move up to. You have to start somewhere, and like me, my riding buddies and the lad, nobody starts anything new by going all in at a £1K.

    kettlefishbanana
    Full Member

    Here here

    fahzure
    Full Member

    I think the point about the local bike shop is: support the shop because it supports the scene. The better LBSs put on races, fix adaptive gear, loan tools, run a bike drive for kids who can’t afford them at Xmas, handle special orders with appreciation, show up at a meeting about access and build trails. That stuff can be hard for a Halfords to develop because much of it takes trust, local knowledge and long-term commitment, something you commonly find in a good LBS owner or manager. If your LBS isn’t doing these (and other) customer service and bike community building activities take your business to one that does. I will plug Happy Days in Sowerby Bridge because some of you all may be tempted to enjoy the fabulous riding of Calderfornia.

    kerley
    Free Member

    I think you are living in an LBS dreamworld. I only know of one LBS that does any of that stuff. The others are staffed with people who know less about bike related things than I do so going to a shop and having to explain things to them is something I gave up on 20 years ago with Internet sales options gowing.

    tomhoward
    Full Member

    One of my (CIC) LBS owners tells his less well off customers, who just want to get their bike running safely, to ‘**** off to Halfords, I sell pedals worth more than your **** bike’.

    All the stuff you mention @fazure, it’s all expensive, and that’s what putting off new customers from LBS, to Halfords. Why would they spend ~1k on a bike in a bike shop, when they could spend £600 in Halfords for, what to them is the same bike. They don’t care about trail advocacy, getting kids on bikes, the local race scene, they just want a bike, and if Halfords seem to offer better value at the outset, that’s where they’ll go.

    Another LBS I know tried to do what you mention. They’re no longer in business.

    crossed
    Full Member

    I think the point about the local bike shop is: support the shop because it supports the scene. The better LBSs put on races, fix adaptive gear, loan tools, run a bike drive for kids who can’t afford them at Xmas, handle special orders with appreciation, show up at a meeting about access and build trails.

    I’m sure that would be the case in an ideal world.
    The reality that I’ve seen is far from it.
    I’ve never had, or known of, an LBS who put on races, support kids schemes, loan tools or have anything to do with trail building.

    crazy-legs
    Full Member

    All the stuff you mention @fazure, it’s all expensive, and that’s what putting off new customers from LBS, to Halfords. Why would they spend ~1k on a bike in a bike shop, when they could spend £600 in Halfords for, what to them is the same bike. They don’t care about trail advocacy, getting kids on bikes, the local race scene, they just want a bike, and if Halfords seem to offer better value at the outset, that’s where they’ll go.

    This ^^.

    It’s only later, once you’re properly into MTBing and reading about issues such as trail access that you begin to think “oh yes, I should support [local advocacy group]”

    When Halfords started selling Boardman bikes, they suddenly started turning up in large numbers at corporate events – the big charity Sportives, London Triathlon and so on. The main driver was CEO-types giving their PA £5000 and telling them to go and buy them a bike for [event] and the PA going “where sells bikes – oh yes, Halfords”. Literally the only bike shop they knew.

    I’ve never had, or known of, an LBS who put on races, support kids schemes, loan tools or have anything to do with trail building.

    Mine sponsors the local cycle club. I know of quite a few that do that, it’s a guaranteed source of revenue if you offer 10% off to club members and there’s a decent sized club most of who will be riding decent bikes and will want to look after them, upgrade them and so on.

    convert
    Full Member

    I never understood the Halfords Hate.

    As a former Halfords employee, I can say that (at least in our branch) the BikeHut tends to be staffed by enthusiasts. We all rode bikes, talked bikes, spent money on bikes, and chatted bikes to anybody who would listen. We’d always try to sell people the right bike for the application. The same can be said for a few other bike dispensaries, Like Decathlon and Go Outdoors.

    The current Voodoo, Carrera, Caliber and Rockrider bikes are pretty good value bikes, and the staff seemed to care. I just bought my lad a Two3 Caliber and it is amazing value.

    I just hope that the service offered in my bike shop is as good. I will always struggle with the instant availability of “new bike” stock against the bigger stores, but I always try to have the “needed” items in stock, and we have shifted our hours to suit the average working hours. I know my market, and if they want to call in with their Halfords bike for a repair, spare or upgrade, I will happily work on it and advise all day long. And when they decide that this bike thing is awesome, I’ll advise them on a great bike to move up to. You have to start somewhere, and like me, my riding buddies and the lad, nobody starts anything new by going all in at a £1K.

    Good post.

    This bit is interesting/depressing though….as someone with access to trade prices it was still better for you to buy through Go Outdoors than your own shop/business?

    nickc
    Full Member

    It strikes me as a little dangerous to imply to an absolute beginner they could ride up (and down) helvellyn armed with nothing more than a bike and helmet.

    Change Helvellyn to Sugar Loaf and that’s exactly what i did. Not only that it was stupidly hot (in wales, who’d have thought) I didn’t have enough water and I didn’t have a map, as it quote “looked like a easy to follow loop”

    Anyway, like a lot of long time MTBers, as I’ve got more experienced and as my finances allow, I’ve bought nicer, more longer lasting and more expensive stuff, very few bits of it are very high end XTR or XX1 level, but still; my “nice bike” is pretty nice.  I don’t particularly feel the need to apologise, or feel bad about it. I think very few people think you need to spend £1000’s on a bike to start off MTB, I think that’s just a badly loaded internet argument

    It’s absolutely that right thing for STW to promote how cost effect entry to an otherwise expensive sport can be, they’ve done lots of great articles previously about it as well. But there’s also no reason why they also can’t run a article about titanium e-wings cranks. It’s no different to all us pressing our noses against the glass cabinet of “Shiny Things” in the shop.

    torchtaylor
    Full Member

    Global Supply issues I’m afraid. I’d rather he had a bike all summer and got out and rode. Unfortunately as an Independent LBS I don’t have the buying power, or storage space, which is why I/We have to focus on more specialist parts and components and repairs. Hence we become expensive stores that are scary to new riders. He can have one from the store when he is definitely a keen rider.

    gazzab1955
    Full Member

    Just read the “other stuff” list again and noticed the dropper post on it! Everything else you can pick up very cheaply in the centre aisles at Aldi or Lidl. But a dropper post is expensive and although I have never messed with mine (had no reason to) I imagine that they are a bugger to install and that’s if your bike is already compatible. Don’t get me wrong I wouldn’t buy a bike now without one, but as an immediate upgrade for a newbie, probably not.

    Also while the bike maybe capable of doing Helvellyn I very much doubt a newbie’s legs would be. Perhaps a few months (at least) riding local low level trails might by an idea before tackling a big ride out in the lakes at which point adding maps, Garmin device, first aid kit, etc to your other stuff kit list might be an idea.

    doomanic
    Full Member

    Loan tools? To take away? My LBS won’t even lend an Allen key to use on the spot. They’ll happily book you into the workshop though. In three weeks.

    I bought my first MTB from Halfords in the early ‘90’s. A steel framed Saracen of some sort. Kind of grey/green. Went back the following month and bought another for my wife.

Viewing 15 posts - 41 through 55 (of 55 total)

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