Are Expensive Mountain Bikes Worth It?

While wandering around my local bike shop recently I took the time to look at some high-end bikes for fun, which got me wondering if expensive mountain bikes are worth it. Sure, they’ve got all of the latest technology, a beautiful appearance, and confidence-inspiring specs. But are these mountain bikes really worth the big price tag that comes along with them?

So, are expensive mountain bikes worth it? There’s no doubt that expensive mountain bikes provide a superior ride, performance, and speed advantages. However, the value that a high-end bike will bring to you as a rider will be completely dependent upon your own personal circumstances. Budget and riding style and frequency are just a few of the variables that will factor in.

Just glancing at the price tag on a high-end mountain bike can be a shock. Rather than simply write them off as ludicrous, let’s take a look at what you’re actually getting for that higher price tag.

I’ll also cover what circumstances typically warrant the consideration of purchasing an expensive mountain bike.

Why are mountain bikes so expensive

Compared to a sport like basketball where the equipment needs are minimal, mountain biking is an expensive sport. Even the most entry-level bikes start in the hundreds of dollars, while it takes closer to $1,000 for a decent hardtail.

Once you start looking at the most expensive mountain bikes, you’re easily eclipsing the $10,000 number.

To see why the cost of these bikes is so high, let’s take a look at what’s happening with each part of the bike.

Reason #1 – Frame

The frame is arguably the most important part of a mountain bike. Its geometry largely dictates how the bike handles, and it’s also the heaviest component on the bike.

Because high-end mountain bikes are touted as being stiff, strong, and light, much of these advancements have to start from the frame.

Before getting into carbon fiber, let’s start by looking at aluminum alloy frames. Each tube must be cut, shaped, machined, and then welded together to create the frame.

This in itself is an expensive process that drives up the production cost of the bike. To lighten the weight of aluminum frames, manufacturers spend additional time shaving down the metal in non-critical areas to help lower the bike’s weight.

While it makes the frame lighter, it also increases the cost of manufacturing the frame.

Economies of scale also play a large factor here. Most mountain bikes are manufactured on the scale of thousands. With some really high-end ones only being made in the hundreds and sometimes even less.

Compared to the production of say car, which is made by the million, this drives up the per-unit cost of each bike.

Taking it a step further, we know that all of today’s high-end mountain bikes are made from carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is an awesome material all around for mountain bikes.

It’s lighter, stiffer, and provides better vibration dampening compared to aluminum alloys. The downside to carbon fiber is that it can be REALLY expensive for manufacturing.

On their own, expensive carbon fiber frames start in the $3,000 – $5,000 range. However, that’s not even the top end of the prices that you can find.

As a prime example, Unno manufactures only 50 units per year of their Ever mountain bike. The frameset alone is priced at $6,200!

Some mountain bike companies help to mitigate this cost by producing their frames in various grades of carbon fiber. So instead of having a single really expensive option, they can have a few intermediate ones as well.

As should be expected, the lighter the frame is the more expensive that it generally is as well.

Reason #2 – Suspension

Aside from their sturdy frames, one of the most obvious differences between a mountain bike and all others is its suspension. The suspension consists of two components – the front fork and rear shock.

Hardtail bikes are able to cut down on cost by foregoing the rear shock. However, for the best possible ride, all high-end mountain bikes will have a full suspension.

In addition to their lighter weight, more expensive suspensions come with additional features that further increase their cost. Larger amounts of travel, external controls, volume spacers, and air springs are just a few of these options.

In particular, the ability to fine tune a suspension via external controls is one of the key differentiators on high-end mountain bikes.

Rebound is the first adjustment option that you’ll find. Rebound dampening controls the speed at which the suspension returns after being compressed.

Increasing the amount of dampening means that the bike returns from compression slower, while decreasing the amount of dampening allows for a faster return.

After rebound, the next customizable feature that you’ll find is low and high-speed adjustments. In this context, the term speed isn’t referring to the velocity of the bike, but rather how fast the shock itself is moving.

For example, riding over a smooth flowy trail will result in a slow smooth use of the suspension. If you found the fork to be too harsh in these situations, you would reduce the amount of dampening.

High-speed dampening comes into play during more aggressive actions like landing a jump or hitting a rock. This results in a quick, powerful force that’s sent to the shock. Like with low-speed compression, you can adjust its response.

Nowadays, even most decent bikes come with external compression lockout controls, so that’s no longer considered a high-end option. As with many mountain bike parts, one of the key factors that drive up the cost of a suspension is its weight.

Or lack thereof of in this case!

In order to make the fork and shock lighter, more expensive materials must be utilized which increases its price.

A top fork and shock will each come priced in the $1,000 – $1,500 range. Together, that makes up another $2,000 – $3,000 in the overall price tag for an expensive mountain bike.

If you’re thinking about trying to upgrade your bike’s rear shock, make sure to take a look at my article here.

Reason #3 – Wheels

While they may not feel as sexy to talk about as forks and frames, great wheels are a critical component of an expensive mountain bike. Like the frame, wheels are one of the key items responsible for ride quality.

Wheel material, weight, and stiffness are just some of the factors that play into the cost of high-end wheels. Since weight is such a critical component, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that carbon fiber is used instead of aluminum.

Carbon fiber offers the ultimate experience in terms of low weight and high stiffness, but as always does so at an increased cost. While saving weight in the wheels may seem funny, it actually makes a huge difference to the ride.

Wheels that weigh less are able to turn more easily and efficiently. This allows for quicker acceleration and stopping, more agile turning, and faster climbing.

Carbon wheels start around the $1,000 mark but can retail for as high as several thousand dollars. The Crank Brothers Synthesis E11 carbon wheels come in at $2,400! Comparatively, a decent set of aluminum alloy wheels retails around $500, making the upgrade to carbon a pricey one!

Reason #4 – Groupset

A bike’s groupset refers to all of the components related to braking and shifting. This includes the derailleurs, brakes, shifters, crankset, bottom bracket, cassette, and chain.

Clearly, these are areas that you not only don’t want to skimp on but can also have a big impact on performance. From saving your butt from literally flying off a mountain to more efficient shifting they can make a huge difference!

The kings of groupsets these days are Shimano and SRAM. Each makes a variety of packages spanning from beginner to super high-end. Shimano’s top groupset is the XTR while SRAMs top option is the XX1 Eagle eTap AXS.

SRAM X01 Eagle AXS Dub Groupset

X01 Eagle AXS utilizes the proven backbone of SRAM 1x. 500-percent gear range. More secure and longer wearing X-SYNC2 chainring. The resilience of an aluminum cage, paired with the connected components of Eagle AXS.

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Each is priced in the $1,500 – $2,000 range depending on where you purchase them from. That’s a much as an entire decent mountain bike on its own!

What exactly differentiates these high-end groupsets from others?

Features such as:

  1. electronic shifting
  2. customizable shift functions
  3. incredible stopping power

Material upgrades like:

  1. carbon fiber
  2. titanium
  3. super wide-range cassettes
  4. extremely lightweight
  5. and incredible construction

tolerances that all lead to reliable and smooth performance all contribute to their increased price.

Reason #5 – Handlebars and Stem

While most mountain bikes will come with aluminum alloy handlebars and stems, expensive mountain bikes take it a step further.

Yep, you guessed it – carbon fiber makes an appearance again! Just as with the frame, carbon fiber is a more expensive material and raises the cost of manufacturing.

Not only does its lightweight nature help save weight, but its added stiffness leads to better turning performance.

Probably the most important feature of using carbon fiber in these components is its enhanced vibration damping. Rather than transmitting all of the shocks from bumps and landings in a rider’s hands and arms it helps to absorb it.

This can reduce arm fatigue and pump. For more information about carbon fiber handlebars, take a look at my article on their pros and cons here.

Reason #6 – Pedals

Last but not least I’m going to take a look at pedals. As can be expected, high-end mountain bike pedals are typically lighter and stronger than their cheaper counterparts. This is accomplished by using stronger and lighter metals like titanium.

While you can easily get a decent set of platform or clipless mountain pedals for around $100, high-end variations cost as much as $300 – $400.

Compared to wheels and frames this isn’t as much, but that’s still a three to four hundred percent increase over a “regular” pair of pedals!

For more information about pedals, take a look at my article covering the world’s lightest mountain bike pedals here.

Reasons why you might consider buying an expensive mountain bike

Now that you understand how and why manufacturers land at these expensive prices it’s worth looking at why someone would be willing to pay them.

The most obvious situation is professional riders who make their living on the bike. For them, it makes absolute sense to invest in the best possible mountain bike technology.

Any edge that they gain could help them to win races, earn money and sponsorships, and in general advance their careers.

Considering the fact that many of these pros are quite literally pushing their mountain bikes to the limit, there’s also an element of safety involved.

A component that functions just one percent better could be the difference that saves them from severe injury. While there are some amazing and intense weekend warriors, it’s not often that they will truly be pushing their bike’s limits as a pro rider can.

Aside from pro riders, what about the rest of us? The truth is, the vast majority of mountain bikers are casual riders. We (including myself) ride for a mixture of enjoyment and exercise.

While we might occasionally really put a bike through its paces, we’re generally out there just to have a good time.

We clearly don’t need to buy expensive high-end mountain bikes. The chances of us deriving an equivalent value compared to the cost of a really expensive mountain bike is pretty unlikely.

Of course, there’s always a difference between need and want 😉 Some of us are absolutely obsessed with mountain biking and are willing to spend more money on something that we love.

In this regard, mountain biking is no different from any other hobby. The more passion you have for it, the more reward you can reap from investing in it. To be clear, that’s a reward in happiness, not financial gains 😉

Last but not least, expensive is a relative term. For those just getting into mountain biking, spending $1,000 on a mountain bike probably seems crazy.

They won’t have the physical skills to push a bike enough to warrant spending a lot of money in the early days. Nor does it make sense to heavily invest into a hobby before you know its for you.

What is a good price for a mountain bike?

Like the term expensive, “good” has a very subjective meaning when it comes to purchasing a mountain bike. Most of us have to work within a budget, so your definition of good is going to vary from other peoples.

Putting aside the super high-end mountain bikes, let’s take a look at some common price ranges that you can expect to pay for a mountain bike that will come decently equipped and survive a lot of use.

The latter part of that last statement is critical. There is no shortage of cheap bike options out there on the market. While they certainly can’t stand up to the performance of more expensive mountain bikes, the more concerning issue is their longevity.

Because cheap mountain bikes are equipped with inferior components, they will break or need to be replaced much sooner.

Assuming that you enjoy mountain biking, you’ll also find yourself quickly wanting to upgrade to the better bike that you probably should have bought in the first place.

Hardtails

The cheapest way to get into mountain biking will be to get a hardtail. Because there’s no rear suspension to worry about, you can get a decent hardtail bike for less than one with full suspension.

While you can find hardtail mountain bikes for only a couple hundred dollars in a retail store, you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck by spending more.

The $750 mark seems to be the bottom end of the price range for a “good” bike. A $1,000 is an even better one to shoot for if you can afford it.

While bikes are this price point won’t come with carbon frames, they will come with much better groupsets than cheaper options. A quality groupset is also more expensive to upgrade later on, so it’s better to pay for it up front.

They will also come with better forks and tires to help smooth out those bumpy rides!

If you’ve got a little bit more to spend, there are some really solid hardtail mountain bikes in the $1,000 – $1,500 range. Common upgrades in this range include things like dropper posts, air forks, and larger wheels with better tires.

Full suspension

If you’re dead set on getting a full suspension mountain bike, then you’re probably going to be looking at closer to the $2,000 range. You can find some in the $1,500 to $2,00 range as well, but most seem to land closer to two thousand once equipped.

If you can push a little bit past that mark, there are lots of good full-suspension mountain bikes in the $2,000 – $3,000 range.

To be upfront, you can definitely find full-suspension bikes that are cheaper than this. However, they’re not going to be of as good a quality and won’t last as long…

Also, what’s the point of getting an inferior full suspension bike when you could spend the same amount on a much better hardtail?

Once again this “good” price is completely subjective. Depending on how often and how aggressively you plan to ride a bike you may not need to spend much. For example, you can go way below these ranges if all you want to do is go on an occasional relaxing joyride.

If you’ve got a specific budgetary in mind e.g. $500, then I’d recommend just doing a google search on it.

Buying a mountain bike online

When it comes to purchasing your first mountain bike, I’d recommend working with a local bike shop. They can walk you through the ins and outs to help guide you towards an appropriate starter bike.

Most will let you demo the bike or take it on a short ride to get a feel for it before purchasing and offer free maintenance for a set time period.

But if you’ve got an experienced trusted friend that you can rely on, then buying a mountain bike online will be a good way to save money.

They can help guide you through the various choices and selections that can otherwise be overwhelming for a first-time mountain biker.

Compared to bike shops which only carry a couple of brands, the internet opens up the door to buy from almost any manufacturer. This way you can compare specs, frame geometries, groupsets, etc… to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your dollar.

Large retailers like JensonUSA carry a wide range of mountain bikes from many manufacturers that allow you to easily compare prices and specs.

In recent years, there’s also been a trend of direct-to-consumer mountain bike brands. By removing the intermediate reseller, manufacturer’s can sell their bikes straight to a consumer while still maintaining the same margin.

Canyon, Fezzari, YT, and Diamond are just a few that operate in this manner.

I’ll admit that buying a bike based solely off pictures, specs, and review can be a bit frightening. Thankfully, most manufacturers provide 100% guarantees on their bikes and allow you to return them if you’re not satisfied.

Conclusion on expensive mountain bikes

After reviewing all of the component-related upgrades that go into an expensive mountain bike it’s clear that they offer superior performance. For rider’s that demand the absolute best performance out of their bike’s then it’s a pretty straightforward answer to say that yes, these bikes are worth it for them.

For the rest of us, it really comes down to a personal decision. Questions like: what is your budget, are you obsessed with speed and performance, and do plan to use the bike a lot are just a few of the ones that should factor in.

Is a $10,000 mountain bike twice as good as a $5,000 one? Well, that depends on how you look at it. From a performance standpoint, there is definitely a point of diminishing returns.

You can always spend more to eke out tiny improvements here and there. However, just how much improvement you get for that money spent may or may not be worth it to you depending upon your situation.

Recommended Reading

Before you go, I’d recommend taking a look at the following resources that answer a few additional common mountain biking questions.