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When it comes to exercising, biking is an activity that is excellent for many parts of your body. Biking also has the added benefit of giving you a way to travel while still making good time, which is always excellent for getting some fresh air. If you plan to go biking for some time in the great outdoors, however, you’ll likely need a mountain bike to explore the terrain.
What can be surprising for people who are new to this activity is that there are actually several different types of mountain bikes! While it’s true that these differ from the cycles you’d want to use for a quick ride across town, you’ll still need to consider the types of terrains you’ll be riding on and how you intend to use your bike.
Some bikes are more suitable for difficult mountain trails, while others are the perfect match for that cross-country trek you’ve been dreaming about taking. If you weren’t even aware that there were different types of mountain bikes out on the world, no need to worry! Our complete guide has all the information you need—including how to pick out the best bike for you.
A Quick Guide to Suspension in Mountain Bikes
One area that all types of mountain bikes focus on in some capacity is the suspension. In case you aren’t familiar with the term, the suspension is an essential part of a mountain-faring cycle, as this system absorbs the impact from the road, which in turn makes your ride more comfortable by giving your bike better traction.
Ideally, any mountain bike will need a decent suspension system. If you plan to have rough rides, you’ll want a higher value suspension range. Another helpful feature is being able to lock out the suspension, which can make it easier to climb up trails and other inclines.
As you look into mountain bikes, you’ll likely start to see different types of suspension systems, which all have their own sets of pros and cons; it’s worth looking into this area more once you settle on the kind of mountain bike that you need.
Alternatively, you may also find a “rigid” bike, which has no suspension whatsoever. The lack of this system does make these cycles lighter, cheaper, and easier to maintain over time. Even so, the improvement of suspension technology means that these rigid bikes are much less common than before.
A cross-country bike has a design that’s suitable for what the name implies: riding over great lengths of distances at a decent clip. Anyone who wants to travel fast or to increase their fitness regimen, or has an interest in challenges in races will likely want one of these bicycles, as they have a focus on speed and comfort in the long-run.
These mountain bikes usually come with front and rear suspension to make the ride smoother, and they can also be lightweight in comparison to other types since riders want to have as little resistance to their speed as possible. Tires are also fast-rolling, with easy to pedal builds.
While the prices on these bikes will vary depending on multiple factors, many cross country bicycles will be more affordable than some other mountain bike types.
Are you unsure of the exact type of bike that you need? Do you plan to try different biking activities and you want a bike that can handle it all? All-mountain and Enduro bicycles aren’t as specialized as some of the other types that we’ll explore in our guide, but they’ll get the job done in almost any activity, especially if you plan to ride on more difficult or rougher trails.
These bikes are incredibly durable, with sturdy frames and higher levels of suspension involved, which mean you can take on that steep trail (once you work your way up to it). Consequently, an Enduro bike can be a challenge to pedal uphill because of the substantial weight. The tires on these bicycles are also broader than other types, giving them extra grip.
If you see some rough riding in your future, all-mountain bikes will go through the paces with you.
If all-mountain bikes are the catch-all category (almost to an extreme), then trail bikes are easily the most common type of mountain bike. Again, you’ll find that there isn’t any specialization as to which activity it’s suited for, but it can do a bit of everything, whether you’re climbing uphill or letting yourself race down.
You can think of a trail bike as a less powerful all-mountain bike, and these types will generally have a reasonable weight (not as sturdy as an all-mountain, but also not a light as the speed-focused cross-country model). If you plan to hit the world of mountain biking from a recreational standpoint, then a trail bike will serve you well.
While not as heavy as all-mountain models, a trail bicycle will still have a higher-range of suspension to help support your ride across various terrains.
All-mountain and trail bikes support people who want to go both directions on an incline; gravity or downhill bikes abandon this idea and focus entirely on getting down from the top of a hill or mountain as quickly as possible. This biking style is suitable for thrill seekers, as the goal is to throw caution to the wind and race around obstacles, often without any trail.
Bikers who participate in this discipline won’t ride up the mountain; usually, they follow set trails or lift systems to walk up, then let gravity handle the rest on the way down. Because of this practice, downhill bikes don’t climb well at all and instead focus on stability as you race down obstacles and even perform jumps.
For anyone who wants to put in the practice to control their descent safely, a gravity bike is essential for this type of rush.
Each category of mountain bikes has their unique styles and builds to best help the rider navigate their chosen terrain, but fat bikes have a unique style of their own. The build on these bikes in often sturdy, and they also tend to come with multiple racks that can carry gear along for the ride, making them an excellent choice for anyone heading out into nature for some time.
These bikes are also suited for unique terrains, such as snow, sand, and ground that isn’t very solid. The oversized tires and low air pressure help contribute to better overall traction. Anyone who wants to plan an adventure with just them and their bike should enjoy the unique versatility of the fat bike style.
For another niche type of biking, there’s dirt jumping, which is what you’d expect. Dirt jump bikes have designs means for performing acrobatics while still being able to handle rougher terrains outside of just jump parks. For anyone that plans on using a mountainside as their freestyle course, the strength of these bikes can handle the job.
A dirt jump bike will have a sturdy frame while still allowing some flexibility for better maneuverability while in the air. Most dirt jump bikes only come with one brake and single gear, so that you don’t have to think too hard about which settings to use in an emergency. Like gravity bikes, these models are best suitable for anyone who loves adrenaline and extreme sports.
One more type of specialized mountain bikes is the freeride category. If you look at the purpose of these cycles, you’ll find many similarities to downhill bikes in that the design makes going down the trail much more preferable than riding up it. However, the difference is that freeride bikes also emphasize jumps and stunts as you go.
The lighter weight is also a substantial factor, and they are almost comparable to cross-country in this regard if nothing else. The lighter frames better enable these cycles to perform tricks, and they also have a compact structure for enhanced maneuverability. You’ll find that the frame tubes on these bikes are thick, and the suspension setup has higher travel values to better support terrain handling.
HOW TO SELECT THE BEST MOUNTAIN BIKE FOR YOU
Now that we’ve covered the primary types of mountain bikes, you may be starting to get an idea of which one you may want. If not, here are some factors to consider so that you can make the best decision for you!
To start with, you’ll want to determine what kinds of ventures you plan on doing once you get your new mountain bike. As we’ve outlined in the sections above, the different types of mountain bikes all have their builds geared towards giving the best comfort and performance for various activities. To provide a quick rundown:
- Cross country bikes offer the best speed and lightest weights while allowing for up and downhill riding
- Gravity/downhill, freeride, and dirt jump bikes all have an emphasis on downhill movement. Gravity bikes have heavier weights, with the other two types giving better maneuverability and even allowing for acrobatics.
- Fat bikes can handle softer terrains and even snow and sand; these bikes are best suitable for those who also want to carry gear with them
- All-mountain and trail bikes are the best choices for people who plan to try out a variety of biking activities, with all-mountain bikes suitable for rougher terrains. Trail bikes will do well for recreational riders.
For those new to mountain biking, a trail bike may be best, thanks to their versatility. If you find yourself drawn to a specific activity, though, it’s well worth it to discover a suitable bicycle.
Once you narrow down your options to which type of mountain bike you’re looking to purchase, there are other factors to consider in your shopping. Wheels are one of the essential parts, as they are the central area of the bike that keeps you on the ground. For the most part, you’ll find the standard sizes: twenty-six inches, twenty-seven-and-a-half inches, and twenty-nine inches.
Twenty-six inches are the old standard, while 27.5 models (also known as 650B) are much more common. Twenty-nine-inch models are standard for those who want more stability. All types can serve you well, with larger sizes providing more traction and durability, while the smaller sizes are lighter in weight while providing more maneuverability.
If you plan to use a fat bike, you’ll need to use the specialized wheels that allow these cycles to handle unusual terrains.
The frame of the bike is what holds everything together, so you’ll naturally want to have a suitable material for that task. When it comes to mountain bikes, which handle rough terrains, a sturdy frame will be essential—but different specializations will want elements that are lighter in weight.
The four most common frame materials are steel, carbon fiber, aluminum, and titanium, with some cycles using combinations of them. Aluminum and carbon fiber tend to be lightweight, though they can buckle under substantial pressure. Steel weighs more but is sturdier under pressure with the potential of eroding. Titanium is the best of both worlds, but it is much more expensive as a result.
Brakes are essential when mountain biking, especially for when you’re headed downhill (though some gravity bikers may disagree). The fact of the matter is that you need a reliable braking system to keep you safe.
Rim brakes are sometimes on entry level bikes, and they’re easy to replace whenever needed. However, they’re less efficient than other brakes, especially in wet conditions, and they also wear out the wheel rim over time.
Disc brakes are much more common, and they provide better performing in all conditions, with less strain on your part. However, they are more difficult to see when they need replacement. Cable-activated disc brakes require manual adjustment. Hydraulic versions will self-adjust to brake pad wear, but they’re more expensive to replace and maintain.
As with shopping for anything else, you’ll need to consider what your budget is. While it can be tempting to search for the best deal right off the bat, you shouldn’t choose a mountain bike because it’s inexpensive. Doing so can mean you get a product that won’t last, and you’ll have to invest in a new bike before long.
This consideration is especially critical when purchasing a mountain bike, as outdoor terrains can be especially tough on your bicycle. Even so, you can find an excellent cycle for under one thousand dollars; the tradeoff is that it will have less durable materials in the frame and less brake and gear ranges. As you increase the features available to you, the cost will go up as well.
Even once you’ve done the research, compared prices, and looked into features, you still shouldn’t purchase a mountain bike until you get the chance to take it for a test ride. If you don’t, you may end up with a bike that is a poor fit for your body, which will make it unwieldy to control and uncomfortable to sit on during what will likely already be a bumpy ride.
Even so, with the due diligence and consideration, you can find the mountain bike that is right for you, and then it’ll be time to hit the trails!