Nail Trail
Nail Trail (courtesy, Marin)
Gear Guy

As a novice mountain biker, what’s the best bike?

As a young, 59-year-old novice, I'm interested in buying a new mountain bike to prepare for a mountain-biking trip to Steamboat Springs. I'll rent a bike out there, but want to get something economical on which to practice before hitting the novice trails out in Colorado. Jesse Houston, Texas

Nail Trail

Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.

Go for it, Jesse. It’s never too late to start mountain biking. And besides, what are a few broken bones at your age?

Nail Trail Nail Trail

What I’d recommend is a decent hardtail mountain bike in the sub-$1,000 range (though you should plan to use the rig after your trip, too, if you are going to put in that kind of money). A grand or less will get you a good frame, reliable components, a quality front shock absorber, and the ability to upgrade or replace any component as you go along.

And really, the choices are many, many, many. Marin’s Nail Trail ($840; is a representative example—aluminum frame, Answer Axel fork, a mix of low- and high-end Shimano components (XT where it matters, Deore where it really doesn’t). Shockingly, it also features hydraulic disc brakes—something found only on $2,000-plus bikes not that long ago. Or, take a gander at Giant’s XTC 2 (usually $1,100—my guess is you can find a sale; offers a really great mix of components in a light, affordable bike. A great buy, with a Rock Shock Duke fork, Shimano components, even Time ATAC pedals. K2’s Zed 2.0, meanwhile, offers solid performance for around $500 ( .

Of course, you’ll need some extras: Helmet, if you don’t have one (Bell Influx II is a good choice for $60;, and shoes (Cannondale MC610, $80; Also gloves, shorts, jersey, pump, and the like, but that’s more a matter of taste and any bike store can outfit you with what you need. I do recommend giving some thought to eyewear—clear or yellow lenses work best for mountain biking because they offer good visibility when moving through a forested area or in and out of shade and sun. Try the Smith Buzzsaws, for $90 (

Keep the rubber side down, and have fun!

For this year’s best mountain bikes, check out Outside‘s 2004 Buyer’s Guide.

From Outside Magazine, April/May 2021 Lead Photo: courtesy, Marin