Understand that within each bike type, there are various designs with significant differences. For example, if you're shopping for a full-suspension bike, you'll decide whether you want one with short-, medium-, or long-travel suspension; whether you want lightness and climbing efficiency; or a beefy frame and rugged components and wheels to withstand lots of air time and hard landings. If you can tell us where and how you plan to ride your new bike, we'll point out the key differences and explain why you might prefer one over the other. And we won't be surprised if over time you end up with several different mountain bikes. Many people do because they're all so much fun!
Most of our mountain bicycles are built of aluminum, which is a great material for the job. It produces good-looking, affordable, responsive, lightweight and strong frames that won't rust. There are different grades of aluminum and different ways of forming aluminum tubing, which both result in different feels, so there are many aluminum designs and rides to choose from.
The advantages of a carbon frame are super-light weight, excellent vibration damping and top-notch corrosion resistance. The shortcomings are cost and durability. But don't get the wrong idea: Carbon is extremely strong and under normal use will hold up as well as any other material. However, if you're prone to crashing and ride hard enough to bash your bike, you run the risk of your frame striking the ground or trees or rocks, and a severe impact could damage the structural integrity of the frame since carbon is more prone to impact damage than metal frames (these may dent but that's more a cosmetic than a structural problem).
Note that, depending on the components you choose you may have an option of a double- or triple-chainring crankset. Choose based on your riding and shifting preferences. A triple is the traditional mountain bike setup excellent for all-around use. Doubles are popular with competitive riders who prefer the simpler, faster shifting they offer. (Please ask us if you have any questions about the components on the bicycle you're interested in and we'll be happy to explain more.)
Rim brakes are the traditional brake design that rub on the rim to slow and stop the bike. These work great, usually weigh less than alternatives and are simple to service and repair.
Rim brakes have some weaknesses, however. Because they rub on the rims, they gradually wear the rims, which may damage them in time. Also, muddy and wet conditions rapidly wear rim-type brake pads and also reduce gripping power, sometimes significantly.
For these reasons, many off-road bikes today come with disc brakes, which grip a disc (also called a "rotor") attached to the center of the wheel and work similar to some car brakes. These are affected less by wet and muddy conditions (so you don't lose much braking power) and they don't wear the rims so your wheels will last longer. Some models utilize hydraulics for awesome modulation, stopping power and reliability.
Like the brake pads on rim brakes, disc-brakes have brake pads (sometimes called shoes), that wear, too, however, these tend to last longer and hold up far better in muddy and wet conditions so the pads don't need replacing as often. Plus, with hydraulic discs, there are no cables to worry about so with just a little simple maintenance you have amazing brakes always at the ready.