The first thing you have to do is ask yourself a few questions.
Are you going to be riding in the mountains? Are you going to just ride on some dirt roads?Do you just like the idea of a mountain bike and you're just going to ride on the street?
All of these things will determine which is the right mountain bike for you.
That would be the first thing. Most of the time you will have 21 speeds, an aluminum or frame, Shimano or SRAM components. Pretty basic. At this point you don't even need disc brakes. You can get a linear pull brake or a v-brake, and you'll be fine. It would be much better for you to get an upgrade in components than to opt for an upgrade to disc brakes at the entry level.
Take the 2013 Raleigh Talus 3.0 for example.
It's a go-anywhere machine that is road-bike fast, capable, and fun everywhere. It's lightweight custom butted aluminum frame and 80mm travel suspension fork so it floats over roads and paths. 21-speed Shimano Gears and Promax Alloy V- brakes at your disposal.
Or the 2013 KHS Zaca 29er! KHS' Alloy 6061 with custom formed TT makes for nimble handling,
easy acceleration and quick climbing. 100mm travel suspension fork is amazing at the price point, and it dispatches bumps with ease, grace, and confidence. Quick shifting 24-speed SRAM/ Shimano Combination Drivetrain that will make easy work of the hills. Kenda Small Block 8 29" tires handle the rough stuff on the trail. Excellent bike at a great price.
For the ladies, Raleigh has their 2013 Eva 3.0. It's a fun, all-around bike ready for any and all adventures. It features a Women's Geometry Atomic 13 SL Custom Butted Aluminum Frame, with a SR Suntour XCT front fork (80mm of travel). Shimano takes care of the entire drivetrain, and with 21 speeds you will have no trouble on even some of the steepest trails. Fantastic Weinmann XC260 Double Walled Rims or, as always, we can custom build you some.
Check out Our Video about Custom Rims Here
Next, for the guy or girl that wants to do a little bit of mountain biking, but not to do extreme jumps or dropoffs. Maybe you just want to hit some local trails with your friends. One of the first features you'd look for is: an adjustable front fork. You want a front shock that has enough travel and enough adjustability to hit those bumps and take up the shock and abuse of hitting rocks and potholes and rain-ruts. The next thing would be looking into disc brakes. The more serious you get about riding, the better brakes you're going to need because of the dirt, mud and grime. You will need better stopping power in those dirty conditions and on steeper descents. You will probably still get an aluminum frame but will get an upgrade in the gears. Going up and down hills requires a little more precise shifting than just on flat ground. On this type of bike you can go mountain biking often and expect it to live up to the use or abuse on the trail.
A good example of this type of bike is The 2013 KHS SixFifty 500. It's perfect for this category because it has a 650B Alloy 6061 frame with custom formed TT & DT, and is plenty tough to hold its own in the durability department. Still has 100mm-travel in its RST suspension fork for control and it comes with a hydraulic lockout. Combination SRAM and Shimano easy pedaling 24-speed drivetrain. Stop on a dime with Upgraded brakes coming in the form of Bengal Helix 7.0 Hydraulic disc brakes with 160mm rotors.
The next level up means you have been riding the trails a bit and now you need a new bike. You're going mountain biking every weekend, hitting all the local trails and going to harsher conditions to ride. You may get many more features on the front fork, including lockout or damping control. The better the front fork, the better the bike will handle in adverse conditions. You may want to go to hydraulic disc brakes even rather than cable disc brakes, kind of like upgrading to power brakes on a car. The rims on the better quality bikes are double walled, and the spokes come out of a reinforced "eyelet" rather than just a hole in the rim. This makes them much stronger and better able to handle rougher terrain. At this point you may want to get that full suspension bike, whereas for a first time rider should probably to stick to a hardtail.
The last consideration is weight. When you are selecting a mountain bike for racing, it's important to keep the weight of the bike down. Mountain biking at a higher level requires riding up and down hills of all sizes, over obstacles with frequent braking and acceleration. The lighter your bike, the easier it is to accomplish these feats. Never sacrifice strength and durability for weight.
Remember that you can always come in and demo a bike to find out what works for you. We have a lot of options and sometimes you just need to sit on different bikes to figure it out.