Since you’re here, I’m assuming you want a mountain bike; these are generally designed for more rugged terrain and aren’t necessarily for cruising at high speeds on flat streets. Even within the category of mountain bikes there are a variety of specific bikes designed for several different riding styles and terrain. You will need to figure out what type of riding you will be doing most of the time. Is it smooth trail riding, cross-country racing, all mountain cruising or lift accessed gravity mayhem? Make sure the bikes you look at fit your riding style and not the sales staff’s.
Cross Country Mountain Bikes
These usually have less than about 4.5 inches of suspension travel. These bikes are built for efficiency, low weight, and self-propelled speed. While they can handle most trails, they do not handle the rough stuff as well as longer travel bikes. So, if you want to win a cross country race, get to the top of the hill first, or if you ride on relatively smooth trails then these bikes are for you.
Mountain and/or Trail Bikes
These usually have about 4 to 6 inches of suspension travel. These bikes are built for more aggressive terrain than cross country bikes but are generally slightly heavier. They aren’t exactly cross country race bikes, but they are perfect for aggressive trail riding as well as long epic rides. If you are looking for an all-around mountain bike that can take you almost anywhere without busting a lung, these bikes are for you.
These usually have about 6 to 8 inches or more of suspension travel. These bikes are built for abuse. Big drops, jumps, long shuttle rides, and other stunts are where these bikes shine. While most of them are still designed to get you up the hill as well, you will notice the extra weight. If you want to spend most of your time in rough terrain, big drops, jumps, and manmade stunts, and you don’t care how long it takes to get you there, these bikes are for you. These are also great bikes for riding the lifts at your local mountain bike park.
These usually have about 7 to 10 inches of travel. These bikes will suck up almost anything you throw at them, but pedaling up a hill can be quite a challenge. Downhill bikes are designed for high speed and highly technical downhill racing and little else. If you think you might want to get into downhill racing, get a freeride bike. If you’re really serious about it, a dedicated downhill bike is for you.