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Choose Your Mountain Bike

Row of Santa Cruz mountain bikes.
We've helped a lot of people find bikes that are best suited to their needs and preferences. It's not easy, though. Mountain bikes are evolving every year. The technology and terminology is always changing. It can be difficult to choose from all the brands and models on the market today.
Over the years, we've found a few helpful methods and questions - as proven by our delighted customers. Whether you're starting out or looking to take things to the next level, we can help you find your perfect next bike. In addition, this website is built around our philosophy. We make it easy to narrow down your options and compare across brands. We help you research and understand all the details and technical specs. OR you can chat with us by clicking the icon in the bottom right corner. We are always here to help.


Many times the first question we ask customers is "Where do you ride?" because it gives us a good baseline for what type of terrain the bike needs to be optimized for. There are four basic categories of mountain bikes:


Lightweight and fast. Good for climbing, fireroads, and some light singletrack. Not ideal for rougher terrain and technical descents with loose or rocky conditions. If you're racing Over The Hump, this is the category for you. 

Santa Cruz Blur

Santa Cruz Blur


More suspension (called travel) than XC bikes, with better traction. The proverbial Jack of All Trades. Balancing factors such as weight, pedaling efficiency, and geometry. If you're riding the fireroads and trails at Crystal Cove, Aliso/Wood Canyon, or San Clemente, Trail bikes are a great choice.  

Ibis Ripley

Ibis Ripley 


More specific to going down than up, these bikes have even bigger travel suspension, stiffer frames, and more aggressive geometry features like slackened head tube angles. This allows the bike to roll over bigger obstacles & ledges, and take bigger hits from jumps and drops. If you're doing the really steep stuff in Laguna Coast, or going for Strava KOM's on the downhills, Enduro is for you. 

Yeti SB150

Yeti SB150 


OK these bikes look super rad. But they're really only practical for a small percentage of riders. If that's you, you really should be reading the Advanced section! Downhill bikes are built for one purpose: descending the roughest terrain out there. They're great if you have access to a chair lift. But there are many Enduro class bikes that can handle similar terrain while still being efficient climbers.

Pivot Shuttle

Pivot Shuttle

Note: Sometimes you will see the term "All-Mountain" thrown around as another category. It usually means something between the Trail and Enduro categories. You may also see bikes that fit multiple categories. Remember, with sufficient rider skill pretty much any bike can get up or down any terrain, so consider these terms somewhat loose in their application. 


The two most common materials used for building frames are:

  • Aluminum (or Alloy) - This budget-friendly material has improved in recent years and can be as light and stiff as the more expensive carbon fiber material. It is also favored by some customers being the eco-friendly choice in the manufacturing process as well as being recyclable. 
  • Carbon Fiber - Lightweight and stiff, with a 'softer' ride feel than aluminum. It's difficult to explain until you ride a carbon fiber bike. Then you just know. It can be more malleable than aluminum which gives bike makers more control in optimizing strength vs. weight. 

Pointing out how to tell aluminum vs. carbon fiber bike frames.

Can you tell Aluminum vs. Carbon? Look for the welding marks in the aluminum frame on the left.


Many customers ask what wheel size is "the best." Answering this question involves a few considerations. 

 29" Wheels27.5" Wheels
  • Roll more smoothly over obstacles
  • Carry more momentum, faster overall speed at full pace
  • Great for XC races
  • Favored by taller riders


  • More maneuverable in tight corners
  • Quicker acceleration getting up to speed
  • Plus or fat tires (27.5+) provide traction and stability in sand 
  • Favored by riders who like to do jumps and aerial tricks
  • Favored by shorter riders

We could really dive in and talk about torsional angular momentum* but you want to find the right bike not get a physics lesson, right? Also, personal preference can play a huge factor in which wheel size feels most comfortable. Try 'em both!

If you want to keep things simple, choose your bike category above, set your budget range, and then pick the paint job you like best. But if you're ready to dive into the details, read on...



In general, the length of suspension correlates to the category of bikes we discussed in the basics section, but gives you a more precise measurement. As a rule of thumb: longer travel means it can take bigger hits. But it also means compromising on weight and pedaling efficiency. We group these based on the Rear Shock Travel length.

  • Hardtail (N/A): Typically for XC riders who want to save even more weight and don't mind getting bumped around. 
  • Short Travel (100mm - 120mm): Cross Country Bikes
  • Mid Travel  (120mm - 140mm): Trail Bikes
  • Long Travel (140mm+): Enduro & Downhill Bikes


If you dig deeper into the specs, you'll notice there are different models of suspension and different price points within each travel length. This has to do with the quality of the performance of the shock - how well it handles big compressive hits while still maintaining small bump compliance. It also has to do with the tuning options for the rider to control and optimize the performance characteristics. Some rear shocks have a secondary reservoir 'piggyback' for additional performance and tuning.  

Mountain bike rear shock.

Most shocks and suspension forks are based around air springs, but some rear shocks come with coils. Coils can provide an extra level of performance, but also carry a substantial weight penalty.

Some shocks are designed and tuned specifically for an individual bike model and rider, Push Industries for example. We can help you get the right configuration and get it tuned for maximum performance - just let us know!  


When we talk about geometry, we mean the various angles and proportions of the bike's frame which can give you some idea of how the bike will handle and feel to ride. But here's the thing: you can drive yourself nuts comparing chain stay lengths and bottom bracket heights. 

Assuming you get the right size (following the size charts in the Geometry & Sizing tab), there are a number of adjustments that can be made to achieve a precision custom fit for you.

But to identify the right bike, we tend to focus on a couple key geometry points:

  • Head Tube Angle - The angle of the head tube relative to the ground. Typically described as slack or steep:

    • Steep (68 degrees and up): Faster steering response, but less capable of handling steep/large obstacles.
    • Slack (67 degrees and below): Makes descending easier but too slack can make steering feel floppy.
  • Seat Tube Angle - The angle of the seat tube relative to the ground. Modern bikes generally have steeper seat tube angles (75-77 degrees) to make pedaling more efficient. A dropper post gets the seat out of the way on descents.

Bicycle frame geometry.