Don’t let the term “Mountain Biking” intimidate you! Not all mountain biking is done in the mountains and each year, more and more mountain bike trails are built with all levels of rider in mind. Visit a trail in your area on a weekend and you’ll see everyone from little kids on balance bikes to extreme riders on downhill bikes and full body armor. From women’s groups to racers in spandex, these trails are for everyone! Regardless of your riding ability, now is a great time to get into mountain biking. The purpose of this article is to help you figure out which bike is right for you.
Trail bikes are what most people picture now when they think of a mountain bike. They blend many of the great features found in other categories to form a “happy medium.” These bikes are ideal for the rider that wants to tackle a variety of terrain and trails, both up and down, and rates their rides based on fun rather than podiums. Whether you’re looking to hit your local trail after work for a quick lap with friends or are planning an epic multi-day adventure, trail bikes have you covered.
Trail bikes will typically feature front and rear suspension. The suspension will have between 110mm to 150mm of travel. (In other words, the fork and/or the rear suspension has 10-15 centimeters of give.) Both 27.5 (650b) and 29er wheels are commonly found on these bikes. The geometry on a trail bike is neutral to give the bike predictable handling over a variety of terrain. The “neutral” body position means you won’t be leaning as far over the handlebars as you would be on a cross-country bike.
Cross Country Bikes, (also known as XC bikes) are commonly equated with speed and efficiency. These bikes are perfect for the rider that wants to be able to be the first up the most challenging climbs and might be thinking about adding some races to their summer plans. These bikes are typically lower in weight and are designed for efficiency.
Cross country bikes can be found in both hardtail (front suspension only) or full-suspension setups. They will typically have suspension travel in the 80mm to 120mm range. 29er wheels are most commonly found on these bikes. The geometry of a cross country bike is set up for quick handling and to put the rider in efficient pedaling positions, especially on the climbs.
Fat Bikes have tires 3.8” inches to 5”+ wide. The width of the tires allows for very low air pressure and more traction. (These tires can be run as low as 3 PSI.) This means the tires can easily float over snow and sand while also providing incredible traction on dirt.
Fat bikes are usually found with no suspension, especially if the intent is to run the bike in the snow. These bikes are also popular on singletrack. Most riders find that the low pressure and high volume of the tires provide enough suspension to absorb bumps in the trail. Fat bikes with front suspension and full-suspension are available. The geometry on a fat bike is neutral to give the bike predictable handling over a variety of terrain.
All-Mountain, or Enduro Bikes, can be thought of as the big brother to trail bikes. These bikes have received more attention as the enduro race format has grown, and as local trails have started to feature more technical options. In enduro events, you still have to climb to the top of the hill or mountain, but only the downhill sections are timed, and these sections are often steep, fast, and technical. These bikes are also popular for riders that want a bike to take laps in the bike park, hitting technical terrain, drops, and jumps, while enjoying the luxury of a chairlift to get up the hill one day, and pedaling up it the next.
All-Mountain bikes typically feature front and rear suspension with 140mm to 170mm of travel. The 27.5 (650b) wheel size is now the most common, though 29er wheels are also found. The geometry on an All-Mountain bike favors descending with slacker headtube angles to slow the steering, and longer wheelbases and low bottom bracket heights to add stability. (A slacker headtube means the wheel is further out in front of the rider.)
Downhill Bikes, also called Park Bikes, serve one particular purpose, and that’s going downhill fast. These bikes are designed for extremely technical, downhill terrain that often features big drops, large jumps, and manmade obstacles. One thing they aren’t designed for is pedaling uphill. These are for the person that will be taking a chairlift or shuttle up every time.
Downhill bikes will have burly front and rear suspension in the 170mm to 250mm range. Wheel sizes will include both 27.5 and 29er options. The geometry of these bikes includes extremely slack headtube angles and very low bottom brackets for confidence on the trickiest terrain.
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