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I hope this question isn't too subjective or open-ended, but I would like to know what I should look out for when buying a beginner mountain bike.

My aim is to ride off-road and downhill tracks, but I don't know what type of bike I should be looking at.

Should I look at a hardtail or do I get a second hand full suspension bike?

Are there specific brands that I should look out for or stay clear of?

Any other tips that you might have would also be greatly appreciated.

EDIT

As per the comment below I am adding some more details.

The trails that I am looking at is more the foresty type single tracks. The way I am going to get to the top will be to take a back-route that is more open view.

For all intensive purposes the forest scenario will be ridden the majority of the time, but I will surely do open view rides as well.

EDIT 2

With the current exchange rate as it is I would say that my budget is roughly in the $1000 range.

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I recommend you add more information in the section what trails do you have in mind. Are you going to descend dirt roads with open view or narrow forest trails with boulders and wet leaves? Do you want to ride around the mountain or to catch some transport to the peak, then descend for the adrenaline? –  Vorac Nov 23 '12 at 10:21
    
You're missing a crucial piece of information - what is your budget? Without that we cannot recommend anything. –  cmannett85 Nov 25 '12 at 13:39
    
@cmannett85 Please see my edit with regards to budget. –  Pieter van Niekerk Nov 26 '12 at 5:48

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

At your level all brands are equal and you can find a suitable bike for yourself in almost all brands. Focusing on a specific brand will only make it easier for you to choose but don't, for one second, believe that you've found a better brand than others.

I suggest visiting a couple of LBSes (local bike shops) to get more info and test ride a couple of bikes (even in the parking lot). Pay attention to sizing. This is something that your LBS will help you with.

If you need a bike for getting stronger and having a bit of safe fun then any $1000 26 inch XC hardtail with 100mm front travel will do the job. The bike will take you anywhere and will last for decades.

If you feel that at some point you'll want to get more aggressive then you'll need a more aggressive hardtail with slacker head angle and around 140mm of front travel.

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If it helps, I bought my first mtb last Easter and did not look beyond the Boardman range. Can you get these in SA? They regularly win awards from (UK) magazines and are known primarily for being great value for money.

I've been very impressed with mine, although I should qualify that by adding that I soon decided that I preferred tarmac, so it doesn't get anywhere near as much exercise as my road bikes.

As regards the features you want, can I suggest you work out first how much you want to spend? Once you've got an idea, you'll find that steers you naturally toward a spec. There's a definite relationship going on between price and things like frame composition, suspension options etc. I suggest to get some idea of this you pick a single manufacturer and look at how the bikes' specs vary as you go up and down the range. Even if you can't get/don't want a Boardman, the link above will give you some idea.

This was basically how I approached the purchase of my first "serious" bike (which was a road bike): I knew I was a total novice, and I knew that there were a zillion choices out there, so I went for a Trek because, basically, if that's the brand that Lance rode then they must be decent. And the actual model was purely down to budget.

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"if that's the brand that Lance rode then they must be decent" No! Sponsored riders ride whoever bids the highest for their sponsorship, it nothing to do with technical merit. –  cmannett85 Nov 25 '12 at 13:38
    
I'm quite sure that riders like Lance Armstrong are looking for the est bike and that most manufactures are happy to have their brand shown in such an environment. Still I wouldn't take that as an argument (as long as my body, riding style, needs, ... are different) –  johannes Nov 26 '12 at 10:06
    
I thought that comment would attract attention! But tell me, given that there must be hundreds of bike manufacturers out there, how would you suggest a newbie makes their choice? I stand by what I say - that a manufacturer who wins the TdF must be making decent bikes. Now tell me a better way. –  PeteH Nov 26 '12 at 10:38
    
The bikes rode at the highest level of any discipline are extremely customised to each sponsored rider - you cannot buy them, so you're comparing apples and oranges. A better way is to simply ask people who have actually ridden the bikes, read reviews, etc. BTW, I'm not saying Treks aren't good (their Session series are brilliant); but I think looking at the choice of someone who is paid a great sum of money to ride a particular brand/model, and who never has to worry about maintenance, is not a great plan. –  cmannett85 Nov 26 '12 at 19:52

I'm quite pleased with my 2012 Jamis Durango bike, I think it would fall into the $1000 range from the UK price I paid for it. It's a hardtail, if that puts you off, but I personally feel I prefer that to the full-suspension bikes I've tried (admittedly cheaper, made of steel, heavier and crappier).

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