With so many types of bikes and riding styles, choosing a mountain bike can be confusing. Here’s some tips to help make your decision a little easier!
As stated in the new edition of Mastering Mountain Bike Skills by coauthor and former world champion Brian Lopes, there are so many choices of bikes out there. It’s understandable how a new how a new rider or even a seasoned pro can be confused about which bike is best for his or her needs.
He also stresses that talking to people who spend hours riding, reading articles, going to demo days and test riding bikes are all great ways to help you make a choice.
Choosing a mountain bike
Bikes keep getting better, lighter, more efficient, more durable and most of all more suited for specific styles of riding. As the number of options increases, the choice becomes more confusing.
Although every manufacturer has different interpretations of the different mountain bike categories, we’ve detailed the most common types.
Cross Country Hardtail Bikes
A hardtail bike is one without rear suspension. Hardtails are lighter and cheaper than full suspension bikes with the same components. They can perform better in two particular conditions, one being cross country (XC) riding. They cover the entire performance spectrum, from entry-level rides to high-end racing. As the first choice for smooth-course racers, the layout and geometry of the bikes have been perfected over the years. If you ride lots of pavements with the odd smooth trails, a hardtail will work well for you.
Cross Country Suspension Bikes
In almost all off-road situations, a full suspension bike allows you to ride faster and on rougher terrain with more comfort. Full suspension is the go-to for most mountain bike riders. XC suspension bikes are great if you want to tackle off-road miles as fast as possible. With 3 to 4 inches (7.6 to 10 cm) of travel, steep angles and a long cockpit (the stem, bars and shifters) XC bikes track well on moderate terrain and respond quickly.
Plus Hardtail Bikes
If you’re having difficulty choosing a mountain bike but want easy and inexpensive fun on trails, a plus hardtail is the perfect bike for you. A hardtail with 3 inch (7.6 cm) tyres is quick, light, affordable and efficient like a normal hardtail. However it’s smoother, comfier and confidence inspiring. Coauthor of Mastering Mountain Bike Skills, 3rd Edition Lee McCormack, thinks this should be the go to bike for all beginners and children.
Cross Country Trail Bikes
Cross country trail bikes are perfect all round trail riding. They climb well and cover distance with maximum comfort and efficiency. Travel ranges from 4 to 5 inches (10 to 13 cm). If you want to try out and enjoy a wide variety of rides, this is the bike for you.
A 29er with 4 inches of travel and 27.5er with 5 inches of travel will also give you a similar ride. If you’re a smooth rider who wants to carry easy speed, try bigger wheels and less suspension. However, if you tend to bash into things and value a more playful ride, try smaller wheels and more suspension.
Plus Suspension Bikes
These types of bikes are still relatively new. They lay somewhere between regular-tyred trail and enduro bikes. They feature plus tyres (typically 2.8 to 3 inches or 7 to 8 cm wide) and a moderate amount of suspension. These bikes provide huge amounts of comfort and grip without all the weight of and inefficiency of a long-travel machine.
Enduro (Formerly known as All-Mountain) Bikes
Enduro is one of the newest and most popular styles of mountain bike racing. If you’re willing to climb a mountain, only to have to ride downhill as fast as possible, enduro is definitely for you. Compared with the geometry of trail bikes, enduro bikes’ slacker geometry and more backward position provide better stability in steep and rough conditions. The travel of enduro bikes is usually 150 to 170 mm. They can handle light stunt work, but they truly excel on rough natural terrain.
A 29er with 5 inches of travel and 27.5er with 6 inches of travel will also give you a similar ride. If you’re a smooth rider who absorbs big bumps with your body, try bigger wheels and less suspension. However, if you tend to bash into things really hard, try smaller wheels and less suspension.
Downhill bikes are perfect for riders who prefer speed to violence and jumping to backside rather than landing flat. These bikes will certainly be fine for sprinting to close a gap but not so great if you’re tackling a 10 mile (16 km) climb. Their long wheelbases work best if you’re going incredibly fast. However, if you’re not riding at race speed, you might have fun with an enduro bike. In skilled hands, an enduro bike can tackle almost any terrain.
Not sure what to get?
If you’re still unsure on choosing a mountain bike you might want to consider a couple of things:
- Perhaps you want to pursue a specific discipline (e.g. cross country racing, pump track, enduro, downhill), make sure you get a bike that’s made for that purpose.
- If you’re a mountain biker (meaning you enjoy a variety of rides) check out a plus hardtail or a cross country trail bike. If you live for downhills, check out an enduro bike.
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