If you're thinking about buying your first mountain bike, the number of options can be confusing. Mountain bikes differ in their suspension, method of braking, and, of course, cost. You will want to consider all of the options before committing to a purchase that should last for years to come. Choose a bike that feels comfortable, smooth, and shifts easily when you take it for a test ride.
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Mountain bikes come with a variety of suspension systems. A bike with a full suspension system will provide a smoother, more comfortable ride, but it will also weigh more and cost more. Hardtails, or bikes without suspension systems, weigh less than bikes with suspension systems and are also more durable. However, a hardtail mountain bike will not buffer the bumps of a rough ride. If you are just getting into mountain biking, may want to consider a hardtail bike, since you'll be out less money if you decide you don't like the sport and you won't have to worry about repairing your bike as often, as there are fewer parts that can break. Additionally, you won't be expending as much effort to climb hills, since suspension systems absorb some of the energy used to propel a bike uphill.
Once you've decided between getting a hardtail bike or a bike with suspension, you'll need to decide on a type of riding style. Although there are a number of specialized mountain bikes available, such as downhill bikes and stunt bikes, a good beginner mountain bike is the cross-country bike. Cross-country mountain bikes are lightweight and versatile, so that their riders can enjoy speed as well as the ability to tackle back country trails. They are available with a variety of suspension systems.
There are two types of brakes available for mountain bikes: disc brakes and rim brakes. Disc brakes are more expensive, but offer more responsive braking. Rim brakes are cheaper, but do not perform as well in mud and rain. Try out bikes with each type of brake system before making a decision about which mountain bike to buy.
You may not want to spend a fortune on a mountain bike, especially if you are uncertain how long you will continue with the sport. Generally, you can spend about $400 to $600 and get a decent, entry-level bike. Once you've explored the sport further, you will know which type of bike suits your riding style and the terrain that you like to explore. And remember, renting bikes and taking bikes for test rides is a great way to try out different varieties before you commit to a purchase.