Cycling is more than just a method of transportation to many: it’s also a way to get and keep fit. A healthy lifestyle is built upon a base of eating right and getting plenty of exercise, and bike riding fits well into that scheme. Mountain biking, in particular, provides a great workout while enjoying the outdoors. Experiencing fresh air, sunshine, and the exhilaration of overcoming obstacles, through the beauty of your natural surroundings, beats toiling away in a sweaty, breathless gym any time. Choosing the best mountain bikes for your goals, fitness level, and budget is imperative.

Mountain Bike Basics

Mountain bikes differ from “regular” bikes in a few areas. The tires are wider and knobbier than standard bikes, to allow the treads to grip looser and more diverse terrain better. The frame is more solidly-constructed, preferably from steel, titanium or even carbon fiber, to make it both flexible and sturdy. Most mountain bikes have suspensions built into the frame, to make impacts and landings easier on the rider; front and rear suspension is most common, but there are some mountain bikes, called hardtails, which only have front breaks. These bikes are less expensive and lighter, but have a rougher ride, and are better for smoother trails.

Mountain Bikes for Beginners

The best mountain bikes for cultivating a healthy lifestyle in beginning cyclists are those with lighter frames and minimum complications. These riders should usually lean toward full-suspension bikes, as the suspension will cushion the rider against more jolts. Riders who are just beginning fitness programs are usually carrying extra body weight, and they will not be accustomed to the bumps and jerks a hardtail delivers to their joints. The KHS XC 604 is a full-suspension bike which is perfect for beginners, with 4 frame sizes. The KHS XC 604 was one of the best mountain bikes all-around, being top-rated for beginners by Consumer Reports, and it sells for around $1,500.

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Mountain Bikes for Women’s Fitness

For women who want to get fit through mountain biking, they need a bike which caters to their physical needs: women generally are shorter than men, but have longer legs in relation to their height when compared with men, so a bike should address these differences. Women also need a different kind of seat. For casual riding, the SyCip Women’s Classic Steel Unleaded is a great option, a low-priced hardtail which provides smooth riding on easier trails, and is lightweight and has many color choices besides. For trail riding, the best mountain bikes for women would be the Specialized Era FSR Marathon, which offers a full suspension and hydraulic disc brakes.

Mountain Bikes for Kids

Mountain biking is something the whole family can do, encouraging healthy habits at an early age in kids. The best mountain bikes for kids need to be smaller and lightweight, as kids aren’t as strong and have lower endurance levels. They should also be easy to ride, without a lot of gears. Depending on the terrain and ride type, a full suspension is often recommended, but experienced juvenile mountain bikers could easily use a hardtail. The best mountain bikes for older kids are the Marin Hidden Canyon 20, which has a light aluminum frame, powerful brakes and easy-to-use gears for adjusting to the terrain. It’s also not that expensive, retailing for around $330, and should last for years.

Mountain Bikes for Fitness Experts

Experienced mountain bikers need a bike that is flexible, light, responsive, durable, and powerful, to get them over all manner of terrain, whether it’s on a dirt road, a rocky river trail or a mountain path. This combination of needs demands either a titanium or carbon fiber frame. The best mountain bikes for fitness, as rated by Consumer Choice, are GT Mountain Carbon Experts. This carbon fiber bike is designed to take on all kinds of terrain, is lightweight, and has mid-level Shimano components, which give a great workout, while the suspension keeps the jolting at a minimum. The GT Marathon is pricey, averaging around $3,200, but it is a total package bike and should endure for years.

The biggest thing to remember about mountain biking for fitness is to start slow and be realistic about your physical fitness level; don’t get in over your head and get stranded somewhere, or get hurt by being overly enthusiastic. Pick the best mountain bikes for you and your family, and with the right planning and dedication, you will be biking your way to fitness in no time, with improved muscle strength and tone, greater endurance and improved cardiovascular function—all while taking in the great outdoors and experiencing life to the fullest.

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