Get outfitted

Lisa Taggart

Choices can be overwhelming when you set out to buy amountain bike. Don't get talked into buying more than you need.Start with the basics: an aluminum- or steel-frame bicycle withwide, knobby tires and lots of gears ― 27 is good.

A. Bike. Bikes are made from aluminum, steel, carbon fiber,or titanium. Aluminum is the most popular material. Titanium andcarbon fiber make for strong, lightweight frames, but they arepricey. Don't buy a hybrid bicycle ― they aren't really madefor off-road riding. Good fit is key: Make sure the salespersonsizes you. In general, you want two inches of clearance betweenyour body and the bike when you are standing astride it. Prices fora decent bike start at $600; you can get an excellent bike for lessthan $1000.

B. Suspension. Most mountain bikes have front suspension― shocks that cushion front wheel bumps. Many upscale bikeshave front and rear, or full, suspension for a cushier ride. Butfor a first mountain bike, that isn't necessary ― and itusually costs a lot.

C. Shoes. Shoes should have stiff, flat soles ―running shoes won't work, but lightweight hiking shoes can. It'simportant that your shoes are comfortable, can get dirty, andaren't too heavy. Eventually you'll want to get special shoes toattach to clipless pedals, which can improve efficiency.("Clipless" is a misleading term; the shoes clip directly to thepedal.) But avoid them until you're very comfortable on the trail,because they can be tricky to get out of at first. Bike shoes costabout $80.

D. Helmet. Fit is important: Sizes or adjustable pads helpto ensure that the helmet is snug on your crown. The chin strapshould not gap. Helmets cost from $50 to $200; the more expensiveones are lighter and have better ventilation.

E. Shorts. No matter how silly you feel, get padded shorts.They cost about $60, and you will appreciate every penny you paidafter an hour of riding. If you're not into skintight fashion,baggier padded shorts are available. (And no, nothing should comebetween you and the shorts.)

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