There are many factors to consider when you are shopping for a full-suss mountain bike for big guys. First, there are so many types of bikes – hardtails, duallys, fatties, and so on. You also have to consider the wheel size, frame materials, full suspension or no, and we’ve barely even begun to scratch the surface. So, in order to simplify things, we’ve made a guide to help you understand the terminology, as well as how to select the perfect one for you.
- 1 Types of Mountain Bikes
- 2 Best Dual-Suspension Mountain Bike for Big Guys
- 3 Types of Bikes (continued)
- 4 Wheels
- 5 Budget
- 6 Frame Material
- 7 Mountain Bike Brakes
- 8 Mountain Bike Fit
- 9 How to Select the Best Mountain Bike: A Recap
Types of Mountain Bikes
Although many bikes can be categorized under the umbrella term “mountain bike”, just like road bikes the purpose and type of each one can vary greatly. However, unlike road bikes which are designed for use on roads which don’t vary much and have a flat profile, mountain bikes are specifically designed to handle rough terrain and riding styles.
Some bikes have suspension in both the front and back to handle arduous trails; some have no suspension at all to be lighter and faster on smooth trails; and some have limited suspension to find the perfect balance between support and speed. Nowadays, there are subcategories of mountain bikes, like the “Fat” bikes that are designed to tackle snow and sand.
Furthermore, mountain bikes will have varying head tube angles depending on if they are focused more toward superior stability or handling. For example, bikes with a steep head tube (around 69-71 degrees) tend to climb better and have more responsive handling. On the other hand, a lower head tube angle is more stable at high speeds.
Below, we go over each type of mountain bike and what they are built for.
Why Go for Dual-Suspension/Full Suspension?
Full suspension or dual-suspension mountain bikes, as the name implies, have suspension in both the back and front of the bike. The suspension system allows for travel, which means some amount of suspension movement is possible. This is important because the suspension will absorb some of the impact while riding on rough trails, reducing the strain on the rider.
By keeping the wheel on the ground, the suspension system improves traction and makes it much safer to ride on rougher trails. More suspension is needed the rougher the trail, and generally the travel ranges from 80-200mm (both front and rear) depending on what the bike is designed for.
For instance, downhill bikes are designed to handle technical and steep tracks as quickly as possible, so they usually have more travel to give the most support and traction. Conversely, cross country bikes must be efficient to pedal and light and will have around 100mm of travel. Most suspension systems let riders “lock out” or disable the suspension which makes the shocks inactive. This makes the bike stiffer and reduces movement which is ideal for riding on the road or riding up to the top of a mountain.
Now that you know a bit about full-suss MTBs, let’s go over the best dual-suspension mountain bikes under $500.
Best Dual-Suspension Mountain Bike for Big Guys
Gravity FSX 1.0
With how expensive mid-range and high-end MTBs are, most would scoff at the idea of a sub-$500 bike that presumably only imitates what “real” mountain bikes are in terms of aesthetics. At the same time, some big bike brands are guilty of plastering their revered name onto budget bikes and skyrocketing the price tag.
So when we came across the Gravity FSX 1.0, we were pleasantly surprised at the quality despite having a price tag below $500. From the tires to the frame, the FSX 1.0 gives the best bang for your buck we’ve ever seen, while still being capable of handling real trail riding. Let’s go over what we liked.
First, the bike is surprisingly light despite being a dual-suspension bike. Weight is often an issue for budget bikes, but not so for the FSX 1.0 This just goes to show how impressive the aluminum alloy material it’s made from really is.
Next, let’s talk suspension. The Suntour shocks are miles ahead of what you’d expect from an entry-level full-suspension bike. It gives a good amount of travel, as lets you adjust the preloads for both the back and front end. This gives you the versatility to stiffen the bike for better pedal efficiency when you want.
The disc brakes also deserve a mention. Budget MTBs typically have dual-pivot caliper brakes, but the Tektro brakes found on the FSX 1.0 would hold their own even against mid-range bike brakes.
Unfortunately, a bike this cheap will inevitably have some downsides, so let’s get into it. We feel the tires are underwhelming, so we recommend swapping them out as soon as possible if you want to improve your trail performance. Also, the rear suspension could be better, but we feel it is lacking in travel range.
Overall, the Gravity FSX 1.0 is probably the best bang-for-your-buck full-suspension MTB you can get. It is not a gimmick or a quick cash grab; this is a legitimate entry-level and trail-ready mountain bike for those just getting started with full-suss biking. If you want the bike to be at its best as soon as you get it, make sure to order some new tires and install it right away. For those with a limited budget looking to get a quality full-suss MTB on the cheap, the Gravity FSX 1.0 is a no-brainer.
Ever since the company was founded in 1995, Merax has been trying hard to achieve their goal: to design the most affordable, high quality bikes possible. They have years of engineering experience under their belt, and they’ve used their expertise to make some of the best budget full-suss mountain bikes, and the FT323 is no exception.
The Merax FT323 has a heat-treated alloy frame, which is satisfactory for an entry-level MTB. The full-suss build will give you the comfortable ride you want no matter what the road or trail conditions. Originally, you could only get this bike with 26” wheels, but now 27.5” and 29” tires are being offered.
Furthermore, the Shimano Derailleurs have been well-received and the 21-speed provides you the adjustability to crush steep inclines or maintain a leisurely pace as needed. The shifters are easy and reliable so switching on the fly is a breeze. The FT323 can support up to 330 pounds, enough to support most big guys.
Hopefully you are comfortable with swapping out some components, because users have found the seat to really dig into their bottoms. Furthermore, the crank looks cheap and could also be replaced if you want. However, out of the box and with no additional expenses, the Merax FT323 is a solid full-suss mountain bike for big guys.
The Max4out is a great budget choice for off-road cycling, and it’s quite an eyecatcher to boot. Its frame is constructed using carbon steel, and it promises long-lasting durability even on rough tracks. The chunky 26” wheel provides excellent traction and the aluminum disc brakes are designed by Shimano.
The 21 gear system of the Max4out will cover the ranges you need, low gear for riding up steep hills, and high gear for maintaining a comfortable pace on flat terrain. In truth, you probably don’t need all 21 gears, in fact most gears will probably go unused, but at least the wide gear range means you have lots of adjustability.
When it comes to wheels, you will get excellent strength and traction due to the 4.3-inches of width on these chunky three-spoke tires. You will find it easy to maneuver around inclined or rough terrain, and of course the wheels work just as well on sand and snow.
The Max4out mountain bike looks flashy, and it looks like it could be a stunt bike. You can get it in a variety of color options, and it will easily pass as a more expensive bike. However, due to its budget price, not all parts of this bike have the best quality. For instance, the pedals are made of plastic and not the most comfortable for large feet. However, for the price you have to expect some imperfections somewhere. And overall, this is a solid mountain bike under $500.
The Mongoose XR-Pro comes with an aluminum frame, making it lightweight and easy to maneuver. Despite how light it is, you don’t have to worry about durability. Next up, the XR-Pro’s SR Suntour suspension fork is supposed to provide greater control and a smooth riding experience for the user.
However, due to the spring suspension, it may not be entirely reliable on bumpy rides, but for most terrain and conditions, it does a satisfactory job. Next, with its 24-speeds, gearing will never be an issue for this bike. Shifting between gears is smooth and easy, allowing you to set the appropriate speed given the conditions.
The XR-Pro has 29-inch wheels, with alloy rim that is both well-made and lightweight. When it comes to stopping power, the brakes are exceptional and easy to engage. The front and rear disc brakes helps to stop the bike in an instant if necessary. Furthermore, the overall construction of the XR-Pro keeps vibrations to a minimum, even with a spring suspension. The frame and fork help keep the bike stable.
With that said, no budget bike is perfect, so let’s dive into some of the cons. We mentioned earlier how the brakes had great stopping power. This is also its downside, as it can wear out quite quickly under heavy use. Next, depending on how aggressive you are, the tires can also deteriorate quickly. If this is a deal-breaker, we suggest you look into fat-tire bikes instead, such as the Takara Nobu Fat Bike.
Overall, the Mongoose XR-Pro is a solid bike at an attractive price point. It is well-suited for taller guys thanks to its 29-inch wheels. We recommend this bike for use mainly in cities or paved surfaces, though it can hold its own on rough trails as well.
Types of Bikes (continued)
Even though the focus of this guide is on full-suspension bikes, we feel it is important for you to know all of your options and see what you may be missing out. Otherwise, you can skip to the next section on wheels.
If a mountain bike doesn’t have any suspension, then it is classified as a “rigid” bike. Without suspension, rigid bikes are best used for easier trails and the tires are the only thing providing comfort to the rider.
Why would anyone forego suspension on their bikes? First, not having suspension means less weight on the bikes and also less moving parts. They are also much cheaper than their hardtail and full suspension counterparts. However, as suspension design keeps improving, bikes with suspension are becoming more affordable and rigid bikes are starting to be phased out. You may still find them in niche bike stores.
Yet again, the name of the bike perfectly describes what it is. Hardtail mountain bikes don’t have suspension in the rear; only in the front. Since the back is so stiff, you could say it has a ‘hard tail’. The lack of rear suspension means it is lighter and has less moving parts; it is also cheaper than full suspension bikes and needs less maintenance. Similar to how full suspension bikes have lock out systems, the front suspension on the hardtail can also be locked, changing it to a rigid bike.
Due to its stiff and lightweight nature, it is ideal for use on easier trails and for cross country riders who want more speed. Even with a limited suspension system, it still provides sufficient comfort under most circumstances barring steep downhill sections and rough trails. Hardtails strike a good balance between comfort and speed, and can be used for a wide variety of off-road trails.
There are three sizes of mountain bike wheels on most bikes, with larger options available on certain bikes. Wheels are categorized by how big they are, and these three sizes are the most common:
Years ago, 26-inch wheels were the standard mountain bike wheel size and they are still occasionally used today because they are light and nimble. Nowadays, larger wheels have taken the spotlight because they provide more comfort and traction, so 26-inch wheels are becoming a relic of the past.
These wheels are also known as ‘650B’ and have become the new standard size for mountain bike wheels. Compared to 26-inch wheels, 650B offers superior traction, roll-over ability, and air volume than its predecessor. Furthermore, they are stronger, lighter, and generally nimbler than the next size up, the 29-inch wheel, so depending on how you ride these are a solid option.
Often referred to as ‘29ers’, due to their bigger size compared to the other two sizes, they have more roll-over ability on obstacles, traction, and comfort thanks to its increased air volume. As a result, 29er wheels are used most by riders in various mountain bike disciplines. Their stability makes them an optimal choice when descending.
With that said, having a larger wheels comes with downsides as well. First, the added weight makes it difficult to use with small frame sizes, and they are not fully supported by suspension systems. For this reason, bikes using 29ers should be used for trail-type and cross country riding, where suspension travel is not required. However, as the sport evolves, perhaps this too will change.
The aforementioned wheels can also come in plus sizes. These wheels are bigger than normal, but still smaller than fat. They are believed to provide yet more control, comfort, and traction than the standard versions. Boasting a large volume of 2.8-3 inches of width, Plus-Size wheels come in 26, 27.5, and 29-inch varieties but adds further height than that. For instance, a plus-sized 27.5-inch wheel would measure close to a standard 29er wheel in diameter.
And lastly, even bigger than plus-sized wheels are wheels designed for fat bikes. Fat bike wheels are huge. They are designed to have enough traction for use in snow and sand, without the use of suspension. To accommodate for this, fat bikes have increased tire clearance and can handle wheels ranging from 3.5-5.5-inches in width.
So now that you know about the various wheel sizes and types of mountain bikes available, it’s time to talk budget. The best full suspension mountain bikes for big guys start as little as $200 USD and can reach numbers as high as $7000 USD if you want all the latest features.
The question then, is what exactly do you need your bike to do? Regardless of the price range, the most important thing is whether the bike can serve your purpose. Buying a more expensive bike will not necessarily meet your needs. Generally speaking, the more you spend, the bike will be lighter and have superior shift quality, durability, suspension, and comfort than cheaper models.
The bike frame construction will also improve in higher end models. The most affordable bike frames are made of steel, and the next model up from aluminum, and the next, carbon fiber. Groupsets progress similarly, starting with low grade alloys then improving to higher grade alloys, and finally at the top end, titanium and carbon fiber. Wheelsets start with aluminum and can be upgraded to carbon fiber.
As a result of additional moving parts and complex technology required, a bike with a suspension system are pricier. Full-suspension bikes with the largest amount of travel will have the highest cost.
Just like road bikes, mountain bikes are typically made from aluminum, steel, titanium, carbon fiber, or some combination of these materials. Each material has different strengths and weaknesses, and affect the price, weight, comfort, and the “feel” of the bike. Keep in mind that one material is not necessarily better than another, rather how it is used by the manufacturers and engineers to make a bike that can accomplish its intended purpose. Each brand will have their own style, and below we discuss what you might expect from each material.
Most frames are made from aluminum, with carbon fiber being the next most popular. Both aluminum and carbon fiber have similar properties; they are both used to make stiff and light bikes. Furthermore, aluminum is both cheaper than carbon fiber and easier to work with. Aluminum bike frames have better power transfer because of their stiffness, as well as thicker tubes, but this results in harsher rides if there isn’t a suspension system installed.
To fortify an aluminum frame while keeping costs low, manufacturers often add “butting” to the frame tubes in single, double, or even triple variations. This process involves making tubes of different thicknesses with thin centers where strength is not as important compared to welded ends. For instance, a triple butted tube has three different wall thicknesses and is lighter without being weaker, however this process costs more to make. Aluminum frames are often picked by riders on a budget.
Years ago, you would only see carbon fiber bikes used in the professional ranks due to their exorbitant cost and how difficult they were to manufacture. As bike design and manufacturing processes have improved, the price of carbon fiber has decreased, and its use in mountain bikes has become much more common. Manufacturers have figured out how to more easily mold it into any shape, giving them the freedom to experiment with frame shape and tube profiles.
It has the best stiffness to weight ratio out of the materials used for bike frame construction, which makes it the only option for bikes used by professionals. The downside of carbon fiber is that it is prone to cracking under excessive stress, which can occur from over-tightened screws or large impacts. Once carbon fiber has been damaged, it becomes fragile and a hazard to use unless it is repaired or replaced.
Many entry-level bikes are made of steel. Before carbon fiber and aluminum were the norm, steel was the preferred material of choice for both recreational and professional mountain bike riders. It is strong and relatively cheap, however it weighs more than both carbon fiber and aluminum. As a result, it eventually fell out of favor since they are laborious to use and premium steels are costly. Many bike brands switched over to materials with superior stiffness to weight ratios like the aforementioned aluminum and carbon fiber.
Very few bikes are made from titanium because it is extremely expensive and difficult to mold unlike carbon fiber and aluminum. With that said, it does have some advantages, namely its light weight and resistance to corrosion. Furthermore, it is more durable than aluminum and carbon fiber, as it can withstand multiple crashes without compromising its integrity.
This is the reason why bike connoisseurs choose it as their luxury, buy-it-for-life purchase. Additionally, new machining techniques are always being developed and improved upon, allowing the tubes to be extremely thin while keeping the weight low and durability high.
Mountain Bike Brakes
Disc brakes are standard on all mountain bike brakes barring entry-level ones. They come in two versions: hydraulic and cable-activated.
Hydraulic disc brakes provide stronger and more progressive braking and require less finger effort to be effective. Furthermore, brake pad wear is not as much of an issue because they self-adjust for it. Cable-activated (mechanical) brakes require you to manually adjust it as the pads wear down.
Disc brakes have some advantages over rim brakes. First, in all conditions they offer consistent braking with less finger strain. Next, they provide better performance in wet and steep terrain, and it is more economical to replace a worn rotor than an entire wheel.
The downsides of disc brakes are how expensive they are to service, as well as how difficult it is to inspect pad wear and switch pads.
You will mostly find rim brakes on entry-level mountain bikes. They operate by gripping onto wheel rims with brake pads. Rim brakes have some advantages over disc brakes, such as affordability and how easy it is to inspect and replace worn pads.
However, there are many disadvantages to using rim brakes over disc brakes. First, the pads will eventually wear down the wheel rim, and at that point you have to replace the wheel. Next, it has less stopping power and is not as effective in muddy or wet conditions. Lastly, it requires significant finger power to brake aggressively.
Mountain Bike Fit
When it comes to selecting a mountain bike, there are factors that go beyond what it is made of or what kind of suspension system it has. You also have to consider whether a bike is good for your height, riding style, and has the flexibility to do what you want it to do. In other words, the bike should “feel” right, and a properly fitting bike will improve your confidence and handling. This, in turn, should translate to improvements out on tough and technical trails.
Mountain Bike Sizes
You can get mountain bikes in small, medium, and large sizes, and their measurements are similar across many bike brands. For the most part, bike sizes correspond to your height. If you are not sure whether a specific size is right for you, check the manufacturer’s size chart for that bike to see if the bike size corresponds to your height range.
If you find yourself in-between sizes, it is recommended that you pick the smaller size since adjustments are easier to make on a smaller frame than a larger one.
How to Select the Best Mountain Bike: A Recap
So, that was a whole bunch of information to take in. If you’re confused and don’t know where to start, below we have included a summary to help you out.
Get the Right Size
This is the most important part when choosing a mountain bike. Every other factor is secondary to this. However, don’t just rely on the stated size, just because you ride a medium on one brand’s bikes doesn’t mean the other brand’s medium is the same.
Think of the S, M, and L classifications to be guidelines. Despite companies abiding by these naming conventions, there is actually no standardized measurements of what exactly constitutes a large, for instance. You’ll have to look deeper into specific measurements to determine the right fit.
To do this, first look at the stack (length from middle of crank to mid-head tube) and reach (length from the saddle to the bars) measurements, and for mountain bikes there’s no harm in going longer than a road bike. A lengthy front triangle places the axle further ahead, allowing you to weight it (for increased grip) without increasing your chances of flying over the bars if you crash. This also improves climbing ability as your front wheel will be firmly planted.
Make sure you still have standover clearance; an inch or two is all you need. A short seat tube allows for the greatest maneuverability and good standover, but check that you can still do a full pedal without overextending the seatpost. Keep in mind that 29ers have longer fronts, and that you can change riding position by adjusting the bars, stems, and seatposts.
Most wheels are either 27.5-inches (for downhill and aggressive trails) or 29-inches (trail and XC) in diameter. Nowadays, the addition of Plus-Sizes means there are more factors to consider, and the surge towards 29in downhill wheels further complicates matters.
While stiff, strong, and relatively light 29ers will become more popular further down the line (in addition to compatible frames and tires), the current trend is to select bigger wheels for travelling far, and smaller, more durable ones to smash trails. Plus-sizes go well with hardtails, but due to their sensitivity to tire pressure many are asking whether they’ll remain a popular choice.
Hardtail, Full-Suspension, or Rigid?
The bearings, rear shock, linkage, and complicated manufacturing process means bikes with full suspension systems will cost a pretty penny. On top of that, hardtail bikes may have better specs than a dual-suspension bike of similar price. Hardtail bikes have less moving parts than full-suss, meaning less maintenance and less parts that could potentially break.
With that said, dual-suspension bikes have come a long way, and they are more advanced than ever. Their advantages are more numerous than their disadvantages, and the added comfort is more than enough to justify the higher price for some. The idea that one should start off riding a hardtail bike before upgrading to a “big bike” is ludicrous, and one should ride whichever bike they feel if they can afford it.
Don’t Focus Too Much on Weight
While it’s true that weight is important, for off-road biking, strength is also something to consider. A flimsy bike won’t withstand random roots, rocks, and ruts that can appear all of a sudden. Furthermore, a bike that is too light will have trouble with cornering, steering accuracy, and your confidence will suffer as a result. Better to have a heavier bike to keep you on the ground and out of the workshop.
Suspension Quality, not Quantity
Don’t just take what the manufacturers advertise at face value, look for reviews of the shocks and forks (on dual-suspension bikes) of the bike you’re researching, and visit the official website to get exact model numbers. Keep in mind that original equipment (OE) units are often lower spec than similar-looking aftermarket units. In our opinion, what’s even better than the extra travel is a decent air spring and quality damping.
Future-Proofing Your Bike
While you cannot be 100% sure what’s going to be the standard in the future, you should still research what the current trends are, such as popular spacing and axle diameters, as well as bottom bracket, headset, and seatpost diameters. That way, you can at least make an educated guess as to what the industry is trending towards and react accordingly when making a purchase.
Save Some Money for Other Gear
Instead of splurging all of your disposable cash on the latest and greatest mountain bike, consider allocating some funds towards getting a dedicated trail helmet, for instance. With its superior coverage, durable construction, you can ride confidently knowing your dome is protected. Also consider getting a sturdy backpack and glasses for mud and dirt flying through the air.
You may also want sticky shoes for flat pedals, or shoes dedicated for mountain biking, as well as clipless pedals or cleats. Perhaps you’d also like some extra wheels for various terrain, or just because OE tires just don’t feel as good as aftermarket ones. Tools for tuning your own gear and adjusting its size and shape are also something you may want to buy. And the good thing is, getting any of these things is no different than upgrading your bike.