1. What kind of suspension do I want?
In the old days, a fully rigid bike (zero suspension) was your only choice. Some old-school riders still like this style but most prefer more shock absorption on bumpy rides. “Hardtails [no rear suspension] are generally for more entry-level riding or hardcore cross-country racers,” says Lopes. They’re lighter and faster on climbs because of a more productive pedal stroke that doesn’t lose its efficiency with rear-shock absorption. Hardtails transmit more power to the ground, which also makes it ideal for racers who need speed. But that rigid rear end also makes them more jarring on rocky sections and downhills.
If you want a smooth downhill ride that eats up bumps and floats through rock fields, go for a full-suspension bike. Each full suspension bike style has different suspension travel—the distance the shocks will move to absorb bumps—the greater the travel, the greater the absorption. Get your local bike shop to fine-tune the suspension for you. You’ll add weight, but the increased control and comfort makes up for it.