Using the Dirt 66 mountain biking trails as a newbie will require a considerable investment in gear. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

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So you've heard about the Fellows Lake mountain biking trails and want to give them a try?

Better think twice about attempting the dirt-track routes with that old road bike in the garage. Those narrow tires and rigid wheel forks just won't cut it.

You need a bike that's purpose-built to handle the dirt, the jumps and challenging natural terrain, according to folks at several Springfield bicycle shops. But just how much should a newbie rider expect to pay to get started in mountain biking?

“From a new rider's perspective, you can get into an entry mountain bike for $600 to $1,000, depending on the features they want,” said Brian Barr, manager at Bicycle Outlet. “The key component is to get a bicycle that fits and is comfortable, which is paramount.”

He said bike frames come in different sizes, and it's not uncommon for beginners to get a frame that's either too short or too tall for a rider's legs. The staff at Bicycle Outlet makes sure a new rider is well-fitted to the bike they want.

Mountain bikes also have bigger, wider tires with aggressive tread to handle rocks, sticks and roots riders will encounter.

“The bigger tires allow a person to run less air pressure in them, which gives a squishier ride and is more comfortable,” Barr said.

Unlike road bikes whose brake pads clamp down on the tire rims, nearly all mountain bikes are equipped with metal disc brakes mounted near the wheel hubs. Barr said disc brakes provide better stopping power and are less affected by dirt, mud or grit.

Bicycle Outlet's popular entry-level bikes include models made by Cannondale and Scott.

At A & B Cycle, general manager Patrick Winstead said the Trek Marlin 5 is a best-seller entry-level mountain bike at $720.

Along with sturdy disc brakes, it has bigger 29-inch diameter wheels that roll over obstacles more easily and provide better traction, Winstead said. Top-end Trek mountain bikes can go for more than $10,000, he noted, but those are constructed with materials and equipment a beginner might not need.

Winstead said the store also sells some mountain bikes with electric-assist motors that might allow some people to tackle hills and terrain they might not try with a standard mountain bike.

Other critical mountain biking gear

There's more to mountain biking than just the bike. The Fellows Lake bike trail requires riders to wear helmets for safety. Winstead said a basic bike helmet sells for $50 to $60, or up to $100 with more safety features.

“You definitely want to wear a helmet and full-finger gloves for protection in case you fall off,” he said. “It's good to carry a flat-tire repair kit too.”

At Sunshine Bike Shop, manager Josh Even said he'll work with someone who's new to the sport of mountain biking to show them the different kinds of mountain bikes “and help them figure out how to enjoy the trails.”

Should they go with a “hardtail” bike that has shock absorbers only on the front wheel forks, or a dual suspension bike with shock absorbers on the rear frame too? Do they want an aluminum frame or a more costly (but lighter) carbon-fiber frame?

“When you talk about price, for some people price doesn't matter,” he said.

A beginner can expect to pay $700 to $1,100 for an entry-level hardtail bike, while a dual-suspension bike will range from $1,800 to $2,500.

“The Fellows Lake trails are smooth and fast and very suitable for a hardtail bike,” Even said.

A popular entry-level bike at his shop is a hardtail Giant Talon mountain bike, which retails for $720.

Along with a good helmet, Even recommends a new mountain biker also consider knee and elbow pads to protect against cuts and abrasions during those inevitable spills. They sell for about $60 each.

All of the bike shops noted that the pandemic has spurred more interest in bike riding as people look for ways to get out of the house and into the outdoors. They also note that pandemic-related supply chain issues have slowed the availability of some bikes and components.

Wes Johnson

Wes Johnson has been a journalist for more than 40 years and has lived in Springfield since 2004. He's an avid sailor, hiker and nature lover. Have a good outdoors story idea? Johnson can be reached at 417-631-2168 or by email at More by Wes Johnson