People frequently ask me:
“What are the good mountain bike brands and what kind of bike should I get?”
To clear this up let’s talk a bit about what good mountain bike brands are, and why they have been deemed “good”.
First off, good is a subjective word and it may mean something different to everyone that reads this. However, I use it to refer to three factors.
- Quality of the frame
- Quality of the components
- Integrity of the warranty
You could certainly get into a lot more criteria like the material, the weight and the cost or name brand appeal, but judging a bike by my three factors is a pretty good place to start. It at least provides a few reference points to compare against other bikes and eventually dig into the finer criteria I just mentioned.
I will be using my Giant Anthem X1 as an example as I talk through this and lead up to a list of what I think good mountain bike brands are.
Quality Of The Frame
The frame of your mountain bike is probably the piece that you will use the longest. You should get years of riding on a good well constructed and durable frame. All of your components eventually are going to need to be replaced, but the frame. That is the heart and soul of your bike.
A good mountain bike brand will have a quality frame, no question about that. What makes a good frame is the quality of the material, the quality of the weld and also the geometry and natural riding position that it will give you.
Frames may be made out of Aluminum, Steel, Carbon Fiber or very rarely Titanium. Aluminum frames and Carbon frames are the most popular, Aluminum for budget conscious riders and Carbon for those looking at sheer performance and weight savings. Steel isn’t used much anymore because it’s so heavy, and Titanium is lightweight, but extremely rare as well as expensive.
With Aluminum, Steel and Titanium frames you the welds and joints are of utmost importance. With Carbon it’s the layup that your more concerned with. For the average rider like you or me, you probably don’t know how to judge carbon layup and weld’s with much authority, I typically use trusted online sources to help me gauge a brands frame quality. Check out sites like Bicycling.com, BikeRumor, BikeRadar, and of course the never-ending treasure trove of mountain bike information over at MTBR.
Most major bike manufacturers use a process called hydroforming to shape their aluminum tubing before welding it together. This hydroforming process creates complex shapes that is very stiff and very strong.
When I purchased my Giant Anthem I looked at reviews by many of the big shot bike magazines. The Anthem X1 has been voted bike of the year by What Mountain Bike magazine as well as highly touted by bikemag, dirtrag, and almost every other bike reviewer. I knew from these educated cyclists that the frame was top notch, I also spent a lot of time talking with my bike shop Cadence about the Anthem and found out about their lifetime warranty on the frame. This gave me the confidence that I needed to trust in Giant, a brand that didn’t have a lot of high praises from our local DFW community even though worldwide they are industry leaders.
Quality Of The Components
The components on your mountain bike are much more important for overall performance and speed than the frame is. How smooth your shifting is, how quickly you can drop a set of gears without losing your chain or how short a distance it takes to stop is all determined by the components that your bike is built with.
Most good mountain bike brands are going to use very similar components. For instance, when I was looking at the best full suspension mountain bike just about every bike I researched had a lot of the same components on it. I was looking at the best full suspension mountain bikes under $3,000 and at that price point I saw a ton of Shimano SLX, and SRAM X7 packaged into the stock bikes. Shimano SLX was the most common drivetrain component but typically with a substituted in Deore XT rear derailleur.
My recommendation is to stick with Shimano or SRAM for your drivetrain. For brakes you want Elixer, Shimano, Formula, Magura or Hope brakes. All of which are high quality. For suspension parts like your fork and rear shock, the most trusted names on the market are Fox Racing and Rockshox, each of which has high quality products at all price points.
Follow this link for a more in depth look at Sram Vs Shimano components.
Integrity Of The Warranty
This is probably the last thing you think about when looking at buying a new bike. But a good mountain bike brand is going to have a rock solid warranty that they gladly stand behind because they know their product is that freaking good.
Most bike brands offer a limited lifetime warranty on their frames, this will cover all repairs that come as a result of a defect or a recall for the lifetime of the bike. It won’t cover things like normal wear and tear, recklessness or if you void the warranty by modifying the part in any way.
This is big, how many people have you heard of with cracked frames or a weld that has busted. These things do happen even to the highest quality brands. Our mountain bikes are meant to be beat up and treated pretty rough, thats kind of what makes the sport awesome. You need a good mountain bike brand that will stick to their warranty and take care of those minor errors should that ever come up.
There are also great brands out there that don’t have a lifetime warranty, but instead warranty their frames for 5 years. Brands like Niner and Scott are known for making amazing bikes, but their warranty is a little more rigid. When I’m looking at bikes and I find that they don’t include a lifetime warranty, I tend to subtract points from these brands but I definitely don’t rule them out. I just take their warranty policy into consideration as I evaluate my purchase.
Good mountain bike brands will also include a 1 or 2 year warranty on the components that they stock the bike with. Typically that means that if your rear derailleur busts a spring after 2 months of riding then your all good, the brand will warranty it for you and have a new rear derailleur to you in a heartbeat.
Personally, I had my Fox Racing fork split on the U-shaped plastic about 5 months back. It was a nasty crack and not at all anything that looked like it was from a crash. Instead my bike shop Cadence Cyclery found that it was cracked in a common place and was able to send in just the lowers of the fork and get it warrantied. Had it not been for that warranty I would have been out $300 from my pocket.
A List Of The Best Mountain Bike Brands
So here is a long list of mountain bike brands that I think are highly trustworthy and would make anyone happy with their bike. Each one of these manufacturers has a high quality frame, stocks the bike with high quality components and stands proudly behind their warranty.
- Santa Cruz
Each one of those brands has proven over the years to provide mountain bikers with great bikes. There are others as well, much smaller and more niche bike brands that are equally as wonderful, but if your looking for a good brand to ride here in Texas those are the most popular bikes you will see out there.
Other Mountain Bike Brands
So on the flip side, here is a list of mountain bike brands that I am more leery about. Some of these brands are flat out bad, and some others just don’t have the quality reputation of the others listed above.
- Anything purchased from a department store like WalMart, Target, etc.