For most of us, buying a mountain bike is one of the biggest purchases we'll ever make after a house or a car. In fact, the bike could cost more than a car. Current supply chain issues notwithstanding, there are lots of options out there within each category, and I can tell you that no two bikes ride the same. So if you're planning to stick with one bike for the long haul, how do you decide which one to choose?
Imagine you were looking to purchase a new primary mountain bike. How would you go about sorting through all the options? Obviously, right now your choices would be limited by what you can actually get hold of, but try to ignore that for now.
I'm clearly biased, but to me, looking at professional bike reviews, ideally from multiple testers, seems like a good place to start. Professional reviewers get to test many bikes, so they have a sense of how each bike stacks up against its rivals. The downside of swapping between bikes is that we can't say much about long-term reliability.
If the bike has been around for a while, you could also look at consumer reviews. Where many reviews are available, it is possible to get a sense of common problems, but because user reviews are written by people who have handed over hard-earned cash, they are almost by definition biased in favour of the bike they're reviewing (otherwise, they would've bought something else).
You might also ask your mates or the staff in a local bike shop, or go on the experience of the bikes you've owned before and extrapolate from that. For example, if your current bike feels a little small, you might want to try a slightly longer one next time.
The best option might be to try and demo some of the bikes on your shortlist to get a feel for them first-hand. This isn't always possible, and another problem can be that the bike setup - particularly the suspension and cockpit - can have a huge effect on how the bike handles, and there usually isn't time to get this perfected before you go for a test ride. If the setup isn't quite right, it could make your ideal bike ride underwhelmingly.
Of course, you could just look at the results of the World Cup or EWS race circuit. If a bike's winning races it must be good, right?
So which tools do you use to decide which bike to buy?