For What It’s Wirth – Is There a Best Bike?

By Mike Wirth

The most frequently asked question in our “Ask MBA” section of the magazine is, “What is the best mountain bike to buy?” It’s a question we are asked so often that we have a hard time keeping up with the responses. Here’s the deal: there is no such thing as a best mountain bike for everyone, but there is a best mountain bike for you.
I don’t know your trails. I don’t know how tall you are or whether you prefer going uphill or down. Asking that question is like asking a waiter at a restaurant, “What’s the best thing on the menu?” You’re saying, “Hey, you know nothing about me, but make my decision for me.” It must be even more frustrating for those waiters when they diligently try to answer that question, only to be ignored. Imagine asking, “What’s better, the chicken or the steak?” Then the waiter goes off on how the steak was flown in from Japan that morning and is served with a salad that was handpicked that morning and pairs perfectly with the Cabernet that’s been aged for 20 years, only for you to say, “I’ll have the chicken.”

I’m not trying to knock anyone who asks us questions about the right bike for their riding style. In fact, those are some of my favorite questions to answer. If you can give me a description of how and where you ride, I can likely give you a very solid recommendation on which bike will work best, partly because I’ve probably ridden there and partly because I’ve probably ridden that bike you’re asking about. What irritates me is when I get questions from people who have already made up their minds and only want me to agree with them. Sorry, but that’s not always going to happen.

Most of the bikes available today are awesome. You might notice that we don’t often give a poor review on a bike, or a product for that matter. That’s not because we’ve gone soft. It’s because there are simply not that many poor products out there today. For that reason, it’s an incredible time to be a mountain biker. I could somewhat confidently give the same advice to nearly anyone who’s shopping for a new bike—just pick the color you like best. (don’t worry, I would never actually do that.)

I sometimes think that many of the letters I get asking which bike is best are from riders who simply want me to confirm that the bike they already own is the best. And you know what? They’re completely right. The best bike is always the one that’s being ridden. The best bike is the one that’s under you, or at least that’s the message that was instilled in me by my old boss when I was managing one of the biggest shops in Boulder, Colorado. We had plenty of flash-bang bikes on the shelves. We had a constant flow of professional riders bringing their sponsor-funded wonder bikes through our doors. But, that shop owner was wiser than to drool over every fancy machine that came in. Instead, he always asked the question, especially of the younger employees, “What’s the coolest bike in the shop?” Inevitably, the shop rat’s first instinct would be to say the carbon road bike that weighs 16 pounds or the downhill race bike with a price tag larger than his salary. Instead, the owner said, “No. The coolest bike in the shop is the one that just walked in the door. It’s the one that was just ridden in a group.


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Mountain Bike Action is a monthly magazine devoted to all things mountain biking (yes, that’s 12 times a year because we never take a month off of mountain biking). It has been around since 1986 and we’re still having fun. Start a subscription by clicking here or calling (800) 767-0345.

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