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Discussion Starter #1
Hello everyone,

I have decided to get back into trail riding after not riding for 5+ years. I currently have an old trek 620 that is just way too big for me. It’s a 21” frame and just not really all that fun to ride. So I am wanting to purchase a new bike that will last me for years to come. My budget is about $800 and I just don’t know what to go with. I have looked at treks, specialized and giant bikes and just can’t make up my mind. I rode a specialized rock hopper comp and really liked the feel of it but I just want to make sure I make the right decision.

I am about to turn 31, and am 5'7 140lbs. Another thing I’m concerned about is 27.5” vs 29” tires. I am used to 26" and never really had an issue with them but as small as I am, I’m worried that a 29 might just be too big for me. I have a bmx background so naturally I like to jump things and bunny hop over obstacles and I guess I wonder if having a 29er is going to limit me here. Then also when it comes to frame size, the guy at the bike store recommended a medium frame size for me but it still felt kind of big. I didn’t get to try out a small though so I didn’t really have anything to compare it to. I do know that the saddle was all the way down, and I could barely reach my tippie toes when I was sitting on the bike. He said that’s about right but I want to get more opinions.

Anyways, I hope you all can help me make the best decision. Any advice would be helpful and appreciated very much.
 

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since 4/10/2009
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Hello everyone,

I have decided to get back into trail riding after not riding for 5+ years. I currently have an old trek 620 that is just way too big for me. It’s a 21” frame and just not really all that fun to ride. So I am wanting to purchase a new bike that will last me for years to come. My budget is about $800 and I just don’t know what to go with. I have looked at treks, specialized and giant bikes and just can’t make up my mind. I rode a specialized rock hopper comp and really liked the feel of it but I just want to make sure I make the right decision.

I am about to turn 31, and am 5'7 140lbs. Another thing I’m concerned about is 27.5” vs 29” tires. I am used to 26" and never really had an issue with them but as small as I am, I’m worried that a 29 might just be too big for me. I have a bmx background so naturally I like to jump things and bunny hop over obstacles and I guess I wonder if having a 29er is going to limit me here. Then also when it comes to frame size, the guy at the bike store recommended a medium frame size for me but it still felt kind of big. I didn’t get to try out a small though so I didn’t really have anything to compare it to. I do know that the saddle was all the way down, and I could barely reach my tippie toes when I was sitting on the bike. He said that’s about right but I want to get more opinions.

Anyways, I hope you all can help me make the best decision. Any advice would be helpful and appreciated very much.
Ride a bunch of bikes and pick what you like best.

I do know that the saddle was all the way down, and I could barely reach my tippie toes when I was sitting on the bike. He said that’s about right but I want to get more opinions.
I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "the saddle was all the way down" but touching your feet to the ground when you're on the saddle has absolutely zero bearing on bike fit. What matters when you're sitting on the saddle is your feet on the pedals. But what matters most with frame fit is whether you are comfortable reaching your arms to the handlebars. That dimension has the LEAST amount of possible adjustment, so you want to dial that in. The seatpost can either be cut (if a regular rigid post) or changed to a shorter model (if a dropper post) if you need the saddle lower and it bottoms out in the frame and the saddle is still too high.

I'm 5'8 and I ride a medium 29er. It fits well. I've been riding for over 20yrs and it's my first 29er, because I haven't liked the handling of every 29er I've ridden. But the sizing of them hasn't been a problem. I have a friend who's 4'10 and rides (tiny) 29ers. My wife, who is 5'3, prefers smaller wheels. Either is fine, so long as the frame size fits and you like how the bike rides. Wheel size affects the fit of a bike a fairly small amount, but it has a larger effect on the way the bike handles, so the only way to decide what you prefer is going to be to ride some bikes.

With a BMX background, I suspect you'll wind up preferring the handling of bikes with smaller wheels, but you can still do many of those things on 29ers. Especially if the bike was designed with that type of riding in mind.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
I guess what I meant is that the saddle was as low as it could go and it still felt a little high, but maybe just because I am not used to it. I really appreciate your feedback, so what exactly should I be looking for when trying to find the perfect fit on a bike? I do remember that my arms were pretty much all the way extended to reach the handlebars and that did feel a little uncomfortable but again, that may be how it's supposed to be and I am just not used to it.

Do you have a preferred brand or is it just mainly preference? I feel partial to Specialized only because that is what I rode back in the BMX days and I absolutely loved it. It was a Specialized Vegas modeled after TJ Lavin's bike. I understand there's probably no "right" answer to which brand is the best but of the entry-level ~$800 bikes, does one brand usually have better components than the other? Is one going to give me better value than the other? Is one model usually heavier/lighter than another?

It seems like my options here are the Giant Talon 2, Specialized Rockhopper comp, or the Trek Marlin 6/7. I have tried looking for used but just haven't come across much in my area.
 

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Stop comparing to BMX bikes right now. A mtb is a totally different thing. It's going to be different. It's going to feel different. It will fit different. You don't want your elbows and knees locked out, but you do want to be able to extend them. You need to be able to move around over the bike, but that won't happen the way it can on a bmx bike.

Without pictures or video of you on a given bike, it's impossible to say what's reasonable. What you perceive as super extended might be insufficient or it might be just right for a mtb. I still have no idea what you mean by "seat all the way down" because that's a vague statement. Was the seatpost bottomed out inside the frame? Was the head of the seatpost slammed all the way to the seat collar? Were you on a dropper post, and running it dropped all the way? What was the frame in question? The details matter. A lot.

I like certain brands more than others, as most riders do. Part of that is related to the fit of the bike, but most of it isn't. Some of it is related to corporate behavior, corporate "culture", what the company supports in the way of advocacy or racing or youth development or whatever. Some of it is related to how the manufacturer equips its frames, and what colors/graphics they use.

I used to ride a Specialized bike many years ago. It was a fine bike, but I stopped buying their stuff because they started using a whole bunch of proprietary **** that they'd stop supporting and would make replacements difficult or impossible to source. I loved my bike, though. I rode it for about 11yrs. Before that, I owned 2 Diamondbacks. My wife owns one of their gravel bikes now. They're doing well in the value or bang-for-the-buck department right now. I like Salsa because they build bikes and accessories that do well for "adventure" type riding. Riding in especially iffy terrain, bikepacking, long epics, ultra long distance self-supported races, etc. I own 2 of them. I also like Guerrilla Gravity because they're doing some badass stuff with USA-manufactured frames for a reasonable price. There are other brands I like for other reasons, and others that I dislike for other reasons. The brands I talk about 5yrs from now will probably be different from how I feel about them now.

Considering where you are, I'm not surprised your bike options are limited. Looking at other stuff will probably require you to travel a bit to take a look. Maybe visit a larger city like Raleigh or Charlotte, or maybe taking a trip to Asheville. So many different options available that you can be exposed to that way. And sometimes a first bike just needs to be whatever you can get easily enough.

Usually if you look at a given price point, you're going to get a lot of similar stuff. Especially below $1,000. Some parts will be slightly different from one brand to the next, but nothing is going to make an earth shattering difference. Right now isn't the greatest time of year to be looking for bike deals. Moving into mid-late summer and early fall is when the manufacturers are generally transitioning between model years. Some brands will make some subtle changes to their frames each year like car manufacturers. Others will only vary the paint, and others have avoided the whole model year thing completely. The ones that do the model year thing tend to be at a transitional point this year as they're working to sell through this year's stock before offering the new stuff for sale. Most of the time, this year's models won't start getting marked down until next year's stuff is available, and at that point, what's available will be limited sizes and colors. The popular sizes will be gone, except in the fugly colors that didn't sell.
 

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Because you seem to have limited experience with fitting a bike (not trying to be a tool, just sayin), you are probably best off going to a decent bike shop and getting some advice on fit and riding around on some bikes. If you really can't stomach the shop's price, you could look around for the same or similar bikes online.

At the sub-1000 pricepoint, the bikes of various manufacturers are going to be more similar in terms of components than different. Their geometries will probably be similar, also, but there's probably enough variation that some will feel comfortable and "right" and some won't.

Some sort of guidelines for fit/seat height are that your knee is slightly bent while sitting on the saddle with pedal at bottom of stroke. Expressed slightly differently, with your heel on the pedal, your leg can be straight. This practically means that you are going to be on "tippy toes" trying to put your feet down. That's the way "grown up" bikes fit "grown ups." Anything different is going to cause you pain and/or injure you during seated pedaling for longer periods.

One feature of mountain bikes, kind of related to the above as far as "comfort" goes, is standover height, which is where the top tube hits you standing flat on your feet in front of the saddle. That will vary some from bike to bike and it's good to have it an inch or two below the jewels, but depending on your geometry (inseam really), that may or may not be achievable, but you probably don't want to be hung up on the top tube without both your feet on the ground, either go down a size or try a different bike.

Harold gives solid advice always. The reach, how you feel sitting in the saddle and grasping the handlebars, is probably the biggest deal in fit. Then again, riders develop a preference for that reach that you probably don't have. But you don't want to feel either racked or stretched out by it, nor hunched or crouched over by it. You want a comfortable posture, but not one where you feel you have to support your bent back on your hands at the handlebars (some of that is a product of core strength, but it can be a fit issue).

See how the bike feels while standing on the pedals (riding) with them at 3 and 9, because that's a common posture for offroad riding.

You don't need to get professionally fitted, but having a bike that is flat-out the wrong size will probably do more to turn you off of mountain biking than any other thing, so it's good to get close to right. You seem to have experienced this with your Trek. I'd guess you are a medium in most bikes, but that varies from bike to bike and mfr to mfr also.

Also, wheel size should not/does not "dicate" fit. You should be able to get a bike that fits you in either 27.5 or 29. That said, a 29er is going to be a bit larger in some dimensions, unavoidably, and that can make smaller people feel more like they're just on the bike and along for the ride. Ymmv there, go with your "gut," preferably after riding some of both.
 

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One feature of mountain bikes, kind of related to the above as far as "comfort" goes, is standover height, which is where the top tube hits you standing flat on your feet in front of the saddle. That will vary some from bike to bike and it's good to have it an inch or two below the jewels, but depending on your geometry (inseam really), that may or may not be achievable without spending a lot of money, but you probably don't want to be hung up on the top tube without both your feet on the ground, either go down a size or try a different bike.
FIFY. If your body has odd dimensions (long torso/short inseam or long inseam/short torso for your height), it can be impossible to find a budget bike that works for you because they're all so similar to each other. As you move up the price scale, you'll find small manufacturers that produce some stuff with significantly different aspects to them (at least as compared to budget bikes) and if you go higher, you can have a frame custom made precisely to your specifications. Most people don't have to go all the way to full custom just to get something that'll work okay, but some do.
 

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FIFY. If your body has odd dimensions (long torso/short inseam or long inseam/short torso for your height), it can be impossible to find a budget bike that works for you because they're all so similar to each other. As you move up the price scale, you'll find small manufacturers that produce some stuff with significantly different aspects to them (at least as compared to budget bikes) and if you go higher, you can have a frame custom made precisely to your specifications. Most people don't have to go all the way to full custom just to get something that'll work okay, but some do.
True enough. But since OP was troubled by what appears to be correct seat height (seems that a lot of riders that haven't been on a properly seat-heighted adult bike are), he can maybe take some refuge in a standover that will accommodate him more comfortably. Assuming he doesn't have odd geometry himself.

Every time the local bike club has a beginner's clinic, seems like there's a goodly percentage of attendees that want their saddle low enough to put their feet mostly on the ground. They're usually mollified somewhat by low standover, when we point out that they can come off the saddle and have both feet on the ground without dismounting and we point out that you don't usually fall on your own saddle, and if you do, its height wasn't the problem.
 

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I rode all three of the bikes you mentioned in the original post when I was buying a new bike last month. I did not like the Specialized or Giant, but I thought the Trek was pretty comfortable. I needed a bike which sat me more upright since the arthritis in my spine could no longer take the Klein Fervor I have been riding since 1994. I did not buy the Trek Marlin, I bought an REI co-op DRT 1.2, which was about $100 more than a Marlin 7, before the REI member discount and REI CC discount and REI $100 gift card. Out the door given the co-op member account end of year rebates and gift card the price was around $700. The Marlin 7 was very nice but the DRT 1.2 just fit me much better and was more comfortable. If you care about brand name, the REI bike is not the one to buy.

I looked at the mail order bikes, and all of them appear much more popular than my new bike, but I could not bring myself to buy something I could not test ride first.

I suggest you take a tape measure to the bike shops with you when you test ride the bikes. Find the most comfortable riding position during the test ride, and then measure the height of the bars, the height of top of the seat, and the height of the bottom bracket center, all relative to the ground. Measure the actual horizontal seating distance behind and relative to the bottom bracket. Also measure the actual distance from the bars to the top of the seat where the seat tube intersects the seating surface. Take notes on the numbers and which bikes are most comfortable and you will see a trend. IE, on my Klein, which was killing my back after 25 years, the bars were 35.5" above ground and the seat surface was 35" above ground, for a 0.5" differential. The DRT 1.2 and the Marlin 7 were both about a 4.5"-5" differential between seat height and bar height (bars higher than seat). The Klein actual reach was about 3" longer than the DRT 1.2 reach, even though the DRT 1.2 wheelbase was like 4" longer than the Klein. The Marlin 7 reach was longer than the DRT 1.2 reach but shorter than the Klein. Bottom bracket height from ground on both were about the same, and seat offset behind the bottom bracket was also about the same as the Klein. For me the seat to pedal position was comfortable on the Klein but the bars and seat and top tube were just leaning me too far forward.

The bike frame manufacturers all publish standardized numbers, but the standardized published numbers are for a frame and need to be inferred into real numbers. The real numbers are determined by the offset of the stem and the seat tube height which keeps your knees comfortable. The seat and bar positions are moderately adjustable for any given component, and those components can be swapped if needed.

Your numbers which make you comfortable will be different than mine, my only point is to document why you like a bike before you buy it, and whether or not a bike that is a better deal can be made to fit your comfort requirements with some simple component changes.
 

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Man, these forums are so hostile to noobs...

I too was (still am) naive with the MTB'ing world and pondered the same things when I first joined here and other forums asking questions. I was more hung up on components and brand rather than the overall feel and comfort on just sitting on the damn thing.

As mentioned above and in many other threads started by other new comers, your best bet is to go to some local shops (not just one) test them out or go to local demo day events from different brands. Before all that try to have a painted picture of what you're looking for in terms of what you're doing locally... it also depends on the type of riding you are going to be doing.

I ended up with three choices after my long search and pestering these fine folks here. :p

SC Chameleon
Ibis DV9
Orbea Laufey H-LTD

I couldn't try the Orbea, no one had it locally so, that one was out and the other two I was able to test them... fell for the DV9 in the end.

From what I've seen and been told that biking in general is a preference sport. If you don't like what you're riding you're not going to enjoy it much...
 

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At the same price point, all of the bikes from the big manufacturers are going to be about the same. They work hard to compete with one another. At $800, if the bikes you have tried come from several different bike shops, buy the bike based on how you feel about the shop. $800 is at the bottom of the scale for the price of bikes, so you're getting an entry-level, beginner bike no matter what you do.

At 5'8", you should probably be on a 17" or 18" "medium" frame from any manufacturer. If the frame has a long reach, you can probably get away with a small. Erring on the side of small will probably make the bike feel good initially, and it will be easier to toss around. In the long run, it's most likely going to feel cramped. IMO, if you're "between sizes," it's better to err on getting the larger size and use a short stem for better handling than try to size up a cramped bike with a long stem and muddying up the handling that way.
 
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