When it comes to the price and quality of mountain bikes, the sky -- or your budget -- is the limit. Mountain biking is not a cheap form of recreation and exercise, and there's a pretty big difference between bikes on opposite ends of the price spectrum. Basic models can be purchased for as little as $85 to $300 (especially from large retailers and online discounters), while the most decked-out, high-performance models can run $5,000 or more.
If you don't know your derailleur from your toe clip, then perhaps a top-of-the-line bike is more than you need -- or can properly maintain. Because nearly every part and piece of a mountain bike is replaceable and upgradeable, it's possible to buy a "standard" mountain bike and -- to a limit -- increase its performance over time.
You'll also spend more time replacing chains and other parts on the more affordable but less durable low-end bike. On the bright side, you'll be learning about mountain bikes one part at a time. However, once you get more serious about mountain biking, you very well may decide to opt for a better bike that holds its own against time, the elements and wear-and-tear.
If you haven't done any mountain biking, consider borrowing a bike from a friend or renting one from a bike shop. This way, you'll discover whether this is the sort of thing you want to pursue and fork over some serious cash for. Also, you'll have a better knowledge of bikes in general, and you'll be better prepared to discuss specifics with a bike seller.
If you are just a hobbyist or you use your mountain bike to cruise around the neighborhood, there's nothing wrong with using a low-end bike without full suspension (suspension on both the front and rear of the bike, as opposed to just the front) and other add-ons, features and accessories.
After you spend time navigating your way around difficult terrain, the value of full suspension and other such features will become quite clear.
If you're a more experienced rider, you don't need a high-end mountain bike, but you'll want to get the best bike you can afford, keeping in mind that even mid-range mountain bikes can cost more than $1,000.
See the next page for lots more information on mountain bikes.