Mountain Bike Styles
There are four main types of mountain bike, each designed to suit a different purpose. Trail Bikes is the most common mountain biking style because the category isn’t grounded in any specific type of racing and they are so versatile. Suspension travel is usually in the region of 130-150mm, which gives more scope for tackling bigger features. The geometry is more relaxed, putting the rider in a more stable and confidence-inspiring position on descents. Modern trail bikes also perform very well when pedaling uphill, and you can expect either 29in or 27.5in (also known as 650b) wheel sizes. You can find both full-suspension and hard tail trail bikes.
- Trail bikes are suitable for the vast majority of riding, from trail centers to natural terrain. Choose this style if you are interested in meeting up with friends at the local trailhead and riding a mixture of climbs and descents.
- Cross-Country Bikes implies riding fast, with an emphasis on climbing prowess. Distances vary from just a few miles to 25-plus, and bikes tend to focus on efficiency and low weight. 29er wheels are popular, and most will have around 80-100mm of travel on their suspension forks, perfect for people who like to go fast, for long distances. These bikes can be great if you’re considering getting competitive or would like a racier ride for your local trails.
- Enduro Bikes have evolved as a result of the enduro race scene, are also increasingly popular particularly with riders who like all-day adventures in mountainous environments. Enduro racing sees riders tackle timed technical descents with untimed uphill liaison sections. This demands a bike that's able both to descend well, over more territory than the average trail bike can handle, and climb competently. This type of bike will usually be full-suspension, and will have more travel than a trail bike, around 160-170mm. Aside from enduro racing, this type of bike is great for riders who like technical terrain and long days out exploring natural trails and mountains.
- Downhill Bikes are mostly ridden at lift-serviced bike parks. Downhill bikes are big and tough, and riders wear full-face helmets and body armor as they encounter jumps, berms, rock gardens and wooden ladders. They're likely to feature a whopping 200mm of travel front and rear, and super-slack frame angles to make the steepest of slopes manageable. Because they're just designed to descend, they aren't generally good at climbing, and most downhillers would push back up to the top of a track or use an uplift service rather than attempt to ride.
You can find three types of suspension. Rigid mountain bikes don’t feature any suspension. They are easy to maintain and usually less expensive, but most riders prefer bikes with suspension for greater comfort. Hardtail bikes have a suspension fork in the front to help absorb impact on the front wheel, but the rear of the bike has no suspension. Hardtails are typically less expensive than full-suspension bikes and have fewer moving parts. Most hardtails have the ability to lock out the front fork for times when a fully rigid bike is desired. The general idea Full Suspension bike is for the front fork and rear shock to absorb the impacts of the trail. This drastically reduces the impact on the rider, increases traction, and makes for a more forgiving and enjoyable ride.
2. Wheel Size
There are three main wheel sizes for mountain bikes. The classic 26-inch wheel size is quickly losing ground, which means that almost everyone that is looking for a new bike is choosing between 27.5- and 29-inch wheels. Your choice will largely depend on your priorities, as each size offers distinct advantages. Trail is a function of head angle and fork offset, and it’s the largest determining factor in how a bike corners. 29-inch forks are built with a longer offset than their 27.5-inch counterparts, which means that 29ers require a steeper head angle to achieve the same trail measurement. A more kicked-out head angle yields a bike with greater pitch stability, or fore-aft stability. This means that when things get wild, you’ll be less likely to be ejected over the handlebars. This is mostly a factor for high-speed descending and steep terrain. The 27.5 in. wheels are more easily rolling over terrain than the 26s (considered the “standard” wheel size in the mountain bike industry), but more maneuverable than 29ers. The big ones are a little slower to accelerate, but once you start moving you can conquer considerably more terrain far easier than on a bike with 26 in. wheels. They are more efficient for longer rides as they keep their momentum up and they have a higher “attack angle,” meaning the wheel rolls over trail obstacles easier.
In the upcoming article “How to choose among the best mountain bikes (Part 2)”, you can continue reading about Bike Features like frame Materials, gears, and breaks, and read about Mountain Bike Fitting.