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Gear Guy

What’s a good starter mountain bike?

My 13-year-old son has been road biking for a long time and would like to try mountain biking. He can fit on most small adult bikes. Which bike should I get? Malcolm New York City

A: Malcolm, you don’t offer a budget or what style or riding your son wants to do, so I’ll assume, A) reasonable, and B) general purpose. Besides, it’s amazing what you get for your biking buck these days. Take K2’s Attack 1.0, for instance. It’s a dual-suspension bike with a pretty good dualie setup (Suntour front; proprietary rear shock), SRAM and Shimano drivetrain, and a light aluminum frame. All for just $650 ( The small size fits riders five-foot-three-inches to five-foot-six, and I imagine your son is there now, or will be very soon.

Attack 1.0

The Novara Bonanza—a house-brand bike from REI ($569;—drops the rear suspension and $80 from the K2 price but has an astonishingly good component mix, which will contribute to the bike’s durability and your son’s ride pleasure. It has a Manitou fork, plus a good mix of Shimano parts for the drivetrain, and Hayes disc brakes (yes, disc brakes, on a sub-$600 bike!).

The dual-suspension versus hardtail debate is a difficult one to answer here. I recently acquired a "dualie" and have become a dual-suspension convert. But that’s with a good suspension setup. On low-end bikes, I’m still inclined to favor a good-quality hardtail over a perhaps lesser dual-suspension setup, especially if they’re of roughly equal price. A hardtail is a perfectly capable design (many pros still prefer them over dualies), and will give your son a great introduction to mountain biking.

I’d encourage him to try to get into some sort of bike-skills class, even a short one, before doing much mountain biking. It’s a really different experience from road biking, and a great experience at that. But it has its own set of risks—going off-trail and head-butting a tree, for instance, or performing the notorious "endo"—so anything that can reduce those risks is all to the good.

For more top fat-tire rigs, check out Outside Online’s Mountain Bikes Buying Guide.

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Lead Photo: courtesy, K2 Bikes