Dialing in an entry-level mountain bike

Logan, a coaching client and beginning rider from Colorado Springs, is rocking a $600 Kona Blast hardtail. He’s learning to Ride (capital R) before he buys his 6-inch dream bike. Here are the tweaks I recommended for him and his Blast.

1) Set the brake levers correctly. Move the levers inward until the end of your index finger is at the end of the lever. This gives you maximum braking power with minimum effort.

2) Cut your seatpost as short as possible while allowing full extension. This will let you drop your seat as much as possible. Too-long seatposts often hit seat-tube water bottle bolts.

3) Adjust your fork (if you can). Many low-end bikes have non-adjustable forks. Try to get the right amount of stiffness (you can barely bottom on the hardest hit), and the right rebound speed (quick without feeling bouncy).

4) Shorten the stem. These days, 90mm is the standard stem length, which works well for all-around riding. If you want to help your handling skills, consider going shorter. You don’t have to spend a ton of money here. My favorite value: the Specialized Pro-Set 2 31.8mm MTB Stem. It comes in 60-105mm lengths, has adjustable rise and it’s only $40. I have the road version on my S-Works Tricross.

Advertorial: Stems $0-$50 at Jenson USA.

5) Get decent pedals. If you want to learn how to Ride, start with flat pedals. You can get good ones — with wide platforms and protruding pins — for less than $50. If your stock pedals don’t look something like this or this, look for better ones.

Advertorial: Flat pedals $0-$50 at Jenson USA.

6) Wear good shoes. Running shoes are not ideal. Skate shoes are pretty good (and cheap). Five.Ten riding shoes are the best but run $100+. You can save some money by trying an “approach” shoe with a sticky sole. These hold pedals well, and they hike better than riding shoes.

Advertorial: Five.Ten riding shoes at Jenson USA.

And, of course, learn to Ride your bike!


— Lee

Know more. Have more fun!

Join the leelikesbikes mailing list:

9 replies
  1. Chris Q says:

    Tyres? A 2.35 Highroller on the front could inspire some confidence. If Logan’s been coached by you, he’ll know what to do with the cornering knobs.

  2. Chris Q says:

    Haha, just saw that Jenson USA is having a huge tyre sale in the sidebar of this page!

    Subliminal or what?

  3. Logan C says:

    Thanks Lee! Ive already seen a huge jump in my confidence and skills. Looking forward to our next session!

  4. leelikesbikes says:

    Forgot about tires. I mean tyres.

    Tyres are one of the best upgrades for any bike. As a matter of fact Logan, when we do our next session I’ll bring you a meatier front tire. That’ll dramatically change the way your bike handles.

  5. Simon says:

    Hi Lee: Couple quickies – you’d recommend switching for a meatier *front* tire, rather than the rear tire?

    Also, my bike set up guide tells me how much sag I should have in my suspension. But it tells me to measure it while I’m sitting on the bike. Whenever I’m actually relying on my suspension, I’m standing, chest down, elbows out, etc. Wouldn’t it make more sense to check the sag in that position?

    Any plans for clinics on the East Coast?

  6. leelikesbikes says:

    Meatier tires front and rear are a good idea. The front will feel more noticeable.

    I never set sag while sitting. Like you said, I’m not hitting bumps while sitting. I say set sag in your attack position.

    East Coast: Looks like I’ll finally get out there in June!

Comments are closed.