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Buying a bike is easy when you know what you’re looking for. But if you don’t, here’s what to look for.
THE FORK (COIL vs AIR)
Coil sprung forks are specced on lower-end bikes, and when the price starts edging up towards the R10k mark, you’ll find more models featuring air-sprung shocks. Air provides a significant weight advantage (air is lighter than steel) but coil forks aren’t necessarily poor performers. An important feature to look out for is a lock-out function, to avoid energy sapping bobbing on long climbs.
Don’t get seduced by shiny components. Many brands fit a high-spec rear derailleur to attract attention, and cut corners elsewhere. Focus on the quality of the frame and fork, the wheels and the components, in that order. It may be counter-intuitive, but good brakes actually help you ride faster on the technical trails – they allow you a shorter braking distance and more control over your speed. Look for Shimano Deore or better, or SRAM X5 or better. Compare bike weights too.
“The best bike is the one that fits you,” is common advice you’ll hear – performance and enjoyment can be greatly reduced if a bike doesn’t fit. Correct sizing is as important as it is with shoes. Get measured up, and be prepared to pay for it. Look out for shops that use ErgoFit or BGFit (Specialized concept stores). Check the size charts of each model you’re considering – one brand’s medium may be another’s small.
A bike is a ticket to good health and well-being. If you spend more, you get more out of it. The law of diminishing returns kicks in at around the R35k mark. Here the bikes don’t get a lot faster, just cooler.