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Mountain Bike Advice?

a green mountain bike laying next to a trail

Ok mountain bike nerds, I need your advice. Here’s my situation: I’ve been riding for 3.5 years now on a Kona Honzo hardtail (which I really love) and am pondering a full-suspension bike purchase. They are $$$, but I want to do more riding this summer & fall — including some downhilling on some local lift-serviced trails here in VT (Bolton, Killington, Sugarbush, Burke) — and it feels like it’s the right time to invest in an upgrade.

I would say I’m an intermediate rider (but more towards the beginner end of the spectrum than the expert end). I love flowy trails and can do small jumps and such, but I’m not super fast and am still learning how to turn properly in the berms. I’m never going to be a super aggressive rider but I’d like to progress. A lot of the stuff I ride is up and down, so I need something that climbs well (not looking for a downhill bike). I’m 6’ and 155# if that matters. My Honzo is a large and has 29” wheels, which I like. I’ve ridden a Kona Process 153 29 and that felt good, although maybe a little squishy (but maybe everything feels squishy after a hardtail).

There are good bike shops around here and I’m definitely going to talk to them about what I’m looking for, but I’m wondering if anyone out there has thoughts about brands (particularly those that are known for quality (and ones that aren’t)), what to look for, what to stay away from, etc. Should I buy used? If so, good places to buy used? (I know about Pinkbike.) Any help or advice is appreciated, either in the comments below or via email. Thanks!

Discussion  28 comments

Adam Michell

MTB's are like Coke....they are all the same and they are all good. Unless you are a pro where milliseconds of performance matter, go for the cheapest option as you will get used to it after a single ride.

Nick Jones

This is so true. I bought a gravel bike at the end of last year, and have bought a few mountain bikes in the past—and if you find a reputable brand (Trek, Cannondale) and look at the low- to mid-tier of their price range you really will find good things that don't even cost four figures. I also have to say that REI bikes are quite good. And you can't beat their customer service and return policy for members.

Jim Cuene

Hard disagree here. Don't go cheap. You'll end up paying more to fix/repair/upgrade your stuff. Now, that said, there are some amazing bikes our there for a $2k-$3k. You don't have to spend $5-$8k, which you could easily do.

Adam Michell

oh yeah Jim... I agree with your perspective on 'dirt cheap'. My experience has been that any quality brand (not a Wal Mart Special) will do just fine. Bought a Specialized Stumpjumper a decade ago for about $2k and it's still going fine.

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sampotts Edited

Can't speak to mountain bikes, but you might check out Pro's Closet for a used bike. And there's always The Radavist for deep deep rabbit holes of beautiful bikes.

Kyle Aster Edited

I'd say there big decision for you is how big of jumps you want to be able to do at the bike park. If you want to do bigger jumps, you're going to want a longer travel 'Enduro' bike — something in the 140-160mm range. If you are okay renting a downhill bike a parks, a shorter travel 'Downcountry' at 100-120mm is going to be a ton more fun on the trail and easier to climb on. That being said the old adage of 'Enduro bikes suck at climbing' is really not that true for non-athletes and modern bikes.

Focus on quality drivetrain/brakes. That's the stuff that breaks easily and makes a bike feel clunky. I prefer Shimano brakes, and either Shimano or SRAM drivetrain.

Carbon fiber is fun and makes bikes silly light (very nice for loading onto cars). It's also expensive and doesn't change the quality of the ride for non-experts much if at all.

Good brands? So many out there now. I'll just list some of my favorites… Santa Cruz ($$$$), Ibis, and Ari (formerly Fezarri). Personally I've got a Santa Cruz Nomad and an Ibis Ripley that I both adore. I usually find myself on the Ripley, but the Nomad is great if I want to play around on some jumps. is a good resource for comparison — and also happens to be run by an excellent group of humans.

Mils Yobtaf

One of the biggest downsides to a full suspension bike is the increased maintenance. You have the shock, but also all kinds of bearings and bushing that make up the rear triangle. To reduce the moving parts you have to worry about, I would avoid any of the fancy “high pivot” or “mid pivot” bikes that have come into vogue recently, and lean towards something with a simpler suspension setup. It might not be the plushest or the best pedaling bike, but you'll spend more time on the trail and less at the bike shop.

Since you already have a hardtail for long distance rides, err on the side of more suspension travel in this new bike to help you progress into the bigger and gnarlier downhill oriented features.

Kona is a good brand, Santa Cruz and Pivot are also big names that are easy to find replacement parts for.

Pinkbike is great for buying used. You can filter the results to your local area to make it easier to kick the tires before you buy.

This is also a great time to buy new and reap the benefits of a full warranty. Most brands are still overstocked and putting out crazy deals. Kona even had a buy one get one free offer that shocked everyone, however it sounds like they are going through a big re-org / sell off of the brand, so warranty service might be hit or miss in the future.

Michelle Lee

Whoo boy, my favorite topic.

Like cars, the bike industry is currently in a weird spot where used isn't necessarily cheaper than new. After the inventory squeeze of the pandemic, the manufacturers over-ordered so there are steep discounts on new bikes just about everywhere. I got my bike gently used from The Pro's Closet and would certainly recommend it, but if you can't find a good used option for what you want, new isn't necessarily more expensive right now.

You mentioned wanting something that handles both up and down.
Under 100mm is considered a cross-country bike, 110-130mm a "downcountry" bike (blending downhill and cross-country), 140mm & up enduro or downhill bikes. It looks like the Kona Process is 160/153mm front and rear suspension, so it's going to be very forgiving on rough or downhill terrain but a bit of a couch going uphill. I think that's what feels "maybe a little squishy" — I would only go for 160 suspension like the Process if you exclusively ride lift-access, or you're fine with crawling uphill every time in exchange for a very forgiving ride downhill.

Based on what you said, I think you'd enjoy a dual suspension 29er bike with 120-130mm travel (maaaybe up to 140mm) front and back. We have a Transition Spur and Juliana Furtado (the women's version of the Santa Cruz 5010) in the household and both ride great both uphill and downhill. That includes day-to-day riding across the city on pavement to get to local trails, plus some outings to lift-serviced parks in VT or shuttled downhill runs in VA.

Do you have friends' bikes you can test ride, or access to shops with demos/test rides? Or maybe you have local bike parks that do paid all-day demos? That should help nail down the amount of travel (suspension) you prefer.

Jim Cuene

This is excellent advice

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Michelle Lee

Oh, and are you planning to sell the hardtail and keep just one bike (in which case you'll want more of an all-arounder)? Or keep both around for different purposes?

Lastly, if you're going to go for a new bike, a skills clinic might be another fun investment to up your mountain bike game.

Jason KottkeMOD

I'm probably going to keep it...I've got friends who are mtb curious who need a ride. And absolutely going to do a skills clinic...great idea!

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Dirk Bergstrom

I've got a 2021 Specialized S-Works Epic Evo and I love it. Got a good deal on a barely used bike from a friend-of-a-friend. There's a lot of wisdom in "buy a cheap bike" and "they're all good bikes", but I gotta say, if you can afford a top end bike it's really nice.

My previous bike was a 100mm XC bike with fairly steep angles, and I thought I wasn't a very good rider. A month after I got the Epic Evo I realized that the bike had been holding me back a lot. Slack out the front and add 20% more travel and suddenly I could clear technical climbs and descents that had completely flustered me on the old bike.

The current crop of ~120mm XC bikes (Epic, Scott Spark, SC Blur, etc.) are very capable. I don't bother locking out my suspension on the climbs unless it's a mile of fire road, and the bike can handle way more descending excitement than my old bones can tolerate.

I wouldn't go bigger than 130mm in front unless you want to get very rowdy and are willing to huff and puff a lot on the uphills.

Ben Worsley

I concur with Dirk and a lot of the other commentators.

Here is my two-cents as a 20+ year mountain biker that has ridden a plethora of different bikes.

You can have light, durable, or cheap. Pick 2 but you can't have 3. Given your descriptions, I would recommend a full suspension with 100-120 mm of travel. More than that and you might have extra weight that you might not need unless you are really rowdy. A well-tuned full suspension, especially carbon, should NOT feel "too squishy" but rather should float like a butterfly if you have been rocking an aluminum hardtail.

I currently have 4 bikes (a Kona HT, an aluminum 130 Niner, a light carbon Niner, and a Turner Czar). I have ridden Yetis, Treks, Specialized, Rocky Mountains, and Pivots. The latter I rode for several days at Kingdom Trails and it was dreamy. However, if I had to do it all over, I'd probably buy a Yeti (or maybe the Pivot). No bad brands of the ones I, or the other commentators, have mentioned.
Before you commit, you might rent at one of the trails around you, if feasible. However, a lot of the downhill places only rent heavier and/or aluminum bikes which might not be what you want to buy.

I can't offer any advice on used vs new but the former would cause me anxiety (but not somebody else).

Happy considering. And, as mentioned, the appropriate number of bikes is n + 1.

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Ben Kiel

In your shoes, would look at the YT Izzo (I have one and it is a lot of fun but will not be the fastest, but 130/130 does a lot and it's a decent climber), the Ripley/Ripmo AF, Specialized, etc. Good recommendations in the thread.

Glenn Case

Hey, great question! I’ve been riding since the late 80s, have coached HS mountain biking, and have several bikes I ride regularly- full suspension, fully rigid fat bike, and a gravel/cyclocross bike. I highly recommend getting on a full suspension bike just to save wear and tear on your body. If you are super worried about the extra squishiness, a lot of bikes come with toggles that lets you (effectively) lock out the suspension when you don’t want it. I bought an Orbea Occam (aluminum frame) a couple of years ago, and a couple of my friends bought Ibis full squish bikes. In the current market, you should be able to get a great deal on a bike, but prices are probably going up soon. Kona is a great brand, but they may be due for some restructuring so do your research :)


Oh maannnnnn, I hope you're ready for the Bike Nerd onslaught! We all gots opinions here. And I already disagree with the first comment that all MTBs are the same. They are not. Because XC, Enduro, and now, my fav new category all-rounder, Down Country all ride differently.

Honestly, most people are over-biked and a lot of flowy stuff is still super fun on a hardtail and doesn't truly need the plushness of suspension. MTBs are so good now that even lower end rigs will get you what you need (though needs and wants are diff). From your terrain description, a Down Country is something you might consider, as it's the best of both worlds: fast, just enough travel, but with a more chillaxed geo than XC, so you can descend like a champ.

Dirk's callout of the Epic Evo is solid. ALL the kids at the Best Bike Shop in the Nation (That's River City Bicycles in Portland, OR) are selling their rigs right now to get the newly released Epic Evo (130mm/120mm) and I think they just swayed me.

We can't wait to see what you get (as long as it's carbon)!

Mike F. Edited

Given that Jason's Honzo MSRPs at $1600 and he's looking to upgrade, I don't think he's looking to keep it under "four figures" as one of the earlier commenters mentioned.
Couple that with the fact that I think you have to spend at least $2000, if not $2500 to $3000 for something that is reliable, durable, and fun.

So, if you're brand-agnostic, that's pretty much how I'd approach it. Set your price point, then see what that buys you from your local shops or online. Any bike shop can and will work on any bike, so it's not like cars where you might want to be sure you have an Audi dealership nearby if you wanna buy an Audi, for example.

If you can test-ride (and not just around the block - rent it for an afternoon if you can and take it out to trails you know well) a few different brands or models, that'll give you more helpful feedback / information than whatever I might tell you about how much travel you want. See what your local shops, or the ski hill might have available for rent and take pics and find out specs of what they give you to help you find what makes you happiest on the bike.


Logan Rhyne

Seems like lots of great first-order recommendations shared in the initial posts, so I'll just add that if you're looking to develop opinions about mountain bike aesthetics, in addition to making a decision purely based of your functional needs, hanging out or reading through some of the recent backlog at will quickly have you pondering trading additional $$$ for a custom-built work of art that also rips. Or just head over and look at all the pretty bikes and save your leftover money for gas to get to the trailhead and actually go riding on whatever n+1 bike comes to you next!

Anders Ahlberg

A few hours late to this party! I used to work at Trek for a while, so I'm going to stay out of the brand discussion because of my own biases towards Trek. If it's sold at a real bike shop, it's probably a pretty good bike these days. I'd never buy a bike that I didn't get to ride first, especially MTB, so that might point me away from DTC online brands.

Based on what I'm hearing from you, the 120-140mm travel area is probably best. Somewhere on the "downcountry" to "trail" spectrum. I have a 120mm Trek Top Fuel, and I love being able to go fast (I do race occasionally) without too much squish, but still feel confident on drops and jumps, where I'm much less skilled. But we're different people! This is where finding a shop that is close to trails and you can test a few different bikes would be handy.

Full Suspension- Absolutely this is worth it for nearly all use cases. The Radavist has a great post on why new MTBers should start out on FS. But it doesn't sound like you need convincing, nor are you new.

New vs Used- No time like an industry bust cycle to buy new. Shocks and forks do need regular service, so you are kind of rolling the dice that the previous owner did take care of those things. This would likely be hard to verify yourself on a used bike test ride if you were unfamiliar with the bike. With the discounting going on now, I think buying new would be the move.

Jim Cuene

Some excellent advice in this thread. But, as a super bike nerd (and many MTBs in the garage), i'll offer some comments here.
* Definitely go for full suspension - They're so good now, that it makes sense to just go full. And, you can lock out the back and front or both.
* Price Range - You can get really great bikes between 2500-3500. But, if you can swing it, the bikes between 3500-5000 are all so good. Expensive, though.
* Carbon frames - Worth it.
* Components - Almost all are going to come with SRAM or Shimano. Don't stress on this right now. They're both awesome. You'll eventually have a preference, but at this point it doesn't matter much
* Brands - They are all great for the most part. The differences will come down to frame geometry and some construction techniques, but what really matters is how you like the ride. The following brands are all really good: Trek, Giant, Specialized, Santa Cruz (my favorite), Cannondale, Scott, Yeti, Niner, etc. (Note: Kona is going out of business
* Look for downcountry or XC bikes. These are more versatile. Skip enduro or downhill bikes.
* I've had great luck with DTC brands (Canyon, Yeti) but i'm a nerd. Probably not the best fit for everyone, though you can save tons of money
* Buy new - Less stress and you have a warranty
* Support your local bike shop - Don't buy DTC; Buy what they carry
* Remember: Save a couple hundred bucks in your budget for extras. You'll probably want new pedals, bottle carriers, bags, and other gear to replace your old stuff. And, think about getting a new helmet, too.

Ultimately, it's going to come down to what feels awesome to ride and what you can afford.

If i could only take one final bike ride, it would be on a full suspension XC MTB through the red hills of Cuyuna in MN. Good luck with the search!

Keith Franchetti

This all seems like fantastic advice right here! I second all of it, with the one caveat that if you can luck into the *right* used bike, you can get closer to that SO NICE range, for more like NICE money. But it’s harder to make that happen—to luck into it. And it’s also true that it’s less supportive of the local bike shops.

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Bill Connell

Lots of good advice and I'm too much of a retrogrouch (I didn't get a sus fork until I'd been mountain biking for 20 years, and still riding hardtail) to recommend anything about suspension.

What I will recommend is visiting lots of local shops and ride lots of bikes. I got my last new bike pretty cheap because it had been sitting on the showroom for 2 years. Still new, just not as flashy. Bike types are also very regional, so it's most helpful to see what the locals are riding. If you want to do some downhill, see what shops near those mountains are renting and test ride those.


I’ve been waiting for this post! Jason, as someone who got into MTB in 2020 I’ve really enjoyed following your progression.

I’m biased but IMO you should just bite the bullet and get a proper enduro. I ride a 2020 pivot switchblade (160 up front, 142 in rear). It’s a perfect swiss army knife. XC, resort, bike park, you’ll never be held back by the bike.

I ride in WA state (where I live) and QC (where I’m from). This bike has me feeling at home wherever adventure takes me.

Just do it man. You won’t regret it. If you want to know what the PNW crowd rides, lots of Ibis Ripmo’s, Transition Sentinels and the odd Pivot also.

+1 on doing a bike clinic when you get the chance. Will do more for your progression than anything else. Just remember my bike mantra: no new bruises!


Oh and 1 more thing. Assuming you’re doing a new build, and you’re in decent (but not excellent) uphill riding shape, i would highly recommend looking at a 28T chain ring. Standard builds are often 30 or 32T. This will allow you to access way more gears while climbing and more evenly distribute wear on your drivetrain

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Rachel Anderson

What an awesome, passionate, informative thread.
+2 for the clinic and +1 for XC. I love climbing and it is awesome.
Hope you share what you decide!

Keith Franchetti

Jason, I so relate to this question. My experience 4 years back in going from a hardtail to a FS bike (with a dropper post!) is that it is such a great upgrade that you can easily WIN by buying a used (3-5 year old) version of a mid-upper-level bike of its time. Does that make sense?

My case was extreme. In 2019 I bought an Ibis Ripley that was from 2013! Now, 11 years later, its geometry is slightly dated, maybe, but it is still kind of my dream bike (within reason), and it allows me to do SO much more than my (really nice) Cannondale hardtail allowed me to do. And I paid less for the Ibis than I had for the Cannondale.

My suggested strategy is to look for a used bike that was maybe 2-4 thousand dollars more than you’d ever dream of actually paying. One that’s well taken care. And that now is selling for within your reasonable budget. I think that $2-3k can get you a KILLER full-suspension bike on the used market.

Whatever you do though, it IS worth taking that step. And soon! In time for this season if possible. It’s a whole different sport!! And I am not talking about doing crazy sends down scary stuff. I’m just talking about having a LOT more fun riding on all the great trails around us. And yeah, daring to get a little more air here a there to boot! Hope to ride with you some time!

Jason KottkeMOD

Hey, I just wanted to drop back in here and thank everyone for their advice and counsel (including a couple dozen folks who emailed). I ended up spending a little more than I wanted, but I found a really great deal on a Pivot Switchblade and just went for it. I took it out for an inaugural ride on my favorite local trail and within 5 minutes I knew I'd made the right decision. I'm gonna be so happy riding this thing for the next 6-7 years and beyond.

(That said, the Druid was the coolest looking bike I ran across — look at that color! 🤩 Just not within my budget at all tho.)



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