Features of Great Mountain Bikes for Adventure Racing

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There are many different kinds of mountain bikes on the market, which can make it hard to decide which one is the right one for you. When you choose a new mountain bike for adventure racing, the most important thing is to know how you plan to use your bike and select one according to its intended use.

For adventure racing, you need a mountain bike that is suitable for long biking sections and hiking-type cycling as well as one that is light and durable. You don’t need an extremely fancy mountain bike for adventure racing, but there are a few important things you should pay attention to.

In this post, I will share with you the 8 most important things to pay attention to when purchasing a mountain bike

A good mountain bike for adventure racing — the main features

Adventure racing is usually ‘good basic mountain biking’, that is if you ignore the adventurous sections where the bike has to be carried or dragged along in a bog. Given that, a good starting point for a mountain bike for adventure racing is an XC  or a marathon bike – i.e., a cross-country bike.

In adventure races, the mountain bike sections are long, sometimes up to 24-hours long in sections! Races are mainly run on gravel roads, small roads and asphalt, but can be on trails as well. This can vary quite a lot depending on the competition and the route choices. 

The main things you should pay attention to when choosing a mountain bike for adventure racing are:

  • Quality
  • Reliability and maintenance
  • Size
  • The suspension (Hardtail or full suspension)
  • Weight

Quality – price

a mountain bike for adventure racing
Adventure racing is hard for the bikes.

In general when purchasing a mountain bike, I recommend investing in quality first. Quality guarantees certain safety and durability in use. The starting point for quality on a mountain bike is the price.

The cheapest bikes will not suitable for off-road driving and they can even be dangerous in such conditions. The bike must be able to withstand rustling on rocks, the vibrations from gravel roads and extreme weather (such as rain and slush) without trouble.

For mountain bikes, price is heavily influenced by the frame material (aluminium or carbon fibre), the quality of the suspension and the quality of the wheelsets and components.  Typically, the lighter the parts, the more expensive the bike.

Reliability and maintenance

Of course, the safety of a mountain bike comes in part from its quality. If you know that you are not an avid bike caretaker, then it is a good idea to invest in reliable parts. After all, derailleurs must work, even in mud.

The fewer so-called ‘moving parts’ on a bike, the less breakable and repairable it is. Thus, a hardtail bike is simpler to maintenance than one with a full suspension. High-quality components also tend to work better than cheap components.

Right size

In this context, the right size refers to the size of the tire as well as the size of the frame (which should fit the driver’s dimensions). The tire size of a bike is determined by both its intended use and the size of the driver. Today, bikes in adventure races are mostly outfitted with 29-inch tires, but for a small woman — and especially for a bike-weighted ride — a 26 or 27.5-inch tire might be preferable.

Frame size differs by brand, and each brand also has a different frame size counter. Ask help from the store to purchase the right size. It’s also great if you have the opportunity to try out a new bike in a suitable size in advance.

Hardtail or full suspension?

Adventure races by no means require a full-suspension mountain bike. In fact, I would recommend a high-quality hardtail mountain bike over a cheap full suspension bike. But without a doubt, full-suspension adds driving comfort over long distances.

Read more: Five Adventure Racing Tips for Beginners >>>

A travel of 100-120 mm is suitable for a fork. This is a very typical suspension length. If your budget allows, I would recommend a lockable fork. Increased suspension can take away some of a bike’s momentum, and a lockable suspension increases driving power when the suspension is not required.

Bike weight

In adventure races, the distances are so long that weight really matters. Often the rider is carrying a heavy backpack and the bike is loaded full of stuff, which can add up to a significant load. It is a completely different thing to transport 10 kg rather than 20 kg in total weight by pedalling. Particularly for a woman, the best mountain bike for adventure races will be reasonably light.

When purchasing a mountain bike, lightness is usually a budget issue. The lighter the bike, the more expensive it is. A hardtail mountain bike for less than 1000 euros easily weighs 14 kg. However, mountain bikes of less than 10 kg are also readily available.

Besides of weight of the bike, the weight of the wheelset is very important. In principle, full-suspension bikes will weigh more than hardtails.

Photo: YKV Multisport event in Finland 2020.

What things need immediate consideration when purchasing a bike and what can addressed later 

There are many different aspects of price and quality for mountain bikes. Some things are more important than other ones. Practically everything on a bike can be changed, but it is easier and more sensible to replace some parts than to replace others.

I would divide these into three parts:

  1. Emphasize these features when you buy a bike
  2. Parts which you can change later,
  3. Parts you can change immediately.

1. Emphasize these features when you buy a mountain bike for adventure racing

 The most expensive parts to buy separately are the frame, fork and wheelset. When you buy a bike, it is important choose a good frame, fork and wheelset, as each of these can cost up to 1000 euros at the competition level. So, if you buy a new bike, the significance of these three is big.

Choose your bike based on your preference for these things over other aspects of the bike. In the finished configuration, a good fork and light wheelset become cheaper than when purchased separately.

2. Parts you can change easily – Change according to consumption

Bike parts, like the cassettes, derailleurs, brakes or crank sets are components what you can easily change afterwards. Components quality usually follow the price level of the bike you are buying.

In any case, all these components will need to be updated at some point. In other words, the XT’s rear derailleur can be improved in the future if want, and you will have to change it anyway from time to time, so this is not a locked-in aspect to consider when buying a bike.

3. Change immediately, if needed

Many parts of a bike intended for adventure racing can and should be replaced immediately, these include the saddle, stem and handlebar, as these parts must always be custom fit for the rider. The length of the driving position can be adjusted with the stem (i.e., the handlebar holder). A saddle is also very personal.

I wouldn’t recommend choosing a bike according to its handlebar, or saddle, as these are easily (and cheaply) replaceable. In any case, these parts are always adjusted to fit the rider.

Extras to pay attention to

Drinks are necessary for longer biking sessions. Usually the frame of the XC mountain bike can hold at least one drinking bottle, but it’s always better to have two. I don’t consider this an important selection criterion at the time of purchase, but it can still affect your choice. 

If you want to race in international races, keep in mind that your bike should be easy to disassemble and reassemble, as it will be packed in and out of its transport box several times during the race — while the clock is running. Without quick links, this can become difficult.

I hope you got some good tips from this post that will help you purchase a mountain bike suitable for adventure racing.

Cover pohto: Raidaran European Championships 2016.

4 thoughts on “Features of Great Mountain Bikes for Adventure Racing

  1. Love your advice around choice of MTB for AR.
    One additional compulsory gear item is the transition Bike Box, which also needs to be considered in weight, size and durability. Check out boxes on bikebox.company. These are now available in South Africa, Europe and the US.

  2. I think this is solid advice. A couple of additional considerations:
    1. Gears: In the interests of minimizing parts/weight, I would recommend a 1x (‘one by’) setup, i.e. no front derailleur. Less to go wrong and no real loss of function.
    2. Tires: choose a tread appropriate for the conditions. A slicker tire will roll better and potentially make you faster. Tubeless are generally lighter and have a nicer feel. Can still use tubeless with an inner tube in case of emergency. Rims must be tubeless compatible though.
    3. Space for other attachments: computer, map board, lighting system, frame bags, etc. Not something to get too hung up on, but like the water bottles it’s a consideration.

    1. Thank you for your comment! Good points. I don`t know how many still use front derailleur, like in US? Mostly in AR bikes, eg light xc bikes front derailleur is missing. Of course, you have to think about what is the size of your cassettes. Races in mountains there can be crazy up hills etc.
      I will post later more specific about other equipment for the bike, like tyres, bottleholders, saddlebags and bike box.
      Thank you!

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