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Choosing the Right Mountain Bike

Posted: Thursday 29 Dec 2016. Category: Cycling

MTBs: Big Five  

In this article, I’m going to briefly explain the differences between the five most popular types of mountain bike – and run through their intended uses. 

XC: Fast and Nimble

First up is the XC or Cross-Country bike. These bikes are designed to be fast and nimble with peddling efficiency a priority. Suspensions are usually 100 – 120mm upfront with an 80 – 100mm on the rear, if it’s a full suspension. Frames are built with speed and agility in mind, so they are light with steep headtube angles for climbing effciency and lower speed control. Wheel sizes are either 27.5s or 29ers, with most riders choosing to run 2.0 – 2.2 tyres for lower rolling resistance. The gearing of the XC bike is generally 1 or 2 rings upfront with 10 – 12 on the rear to give a broad selection of gear ratios.

The XC is the closest thing to the original mountain bike and it’s a great machine for off-road recreational use, longer distance intermediate trail or at the very top-end, full cross-country racing. Most would agree, it’s the perfect type of bike for riders just getting into MTB. 

Trail: Tough but Versatile


Second on the list is the Trail bike. Trail bikes are essentially beefed-up versions of XC bikes. Stronger and heavier than XCs, they are designed to handle the demands of the more aggressive, downhill orientated nature of trail riding. The frames also have slacker headtube angles and longer wheelbases than XCs to give riders better control on the descents. You can find some hardtail Trail bikes, but generally dual-suspension with 120 –140mm of travel are the go. Wheel sizes are the same as XC (27.5s – 29ers) but with wider rims to accommodate the chunkier 2.3 and 2.4 tyres preferred by most trail riders. More often than not, Trail bikes come with dropper seatposts for fast saddle height adjustments. Gears are either single or double rings upfront with the standard 10 – 12 on the rear.

Although heavier than the XC, the trail bike will still climb well, plus take you safely over pretty much anything a trail centre or the great outdoors can throw at you. This type of bike will suit both the beginner and the trail hardened weekend warriors.

Downhill: Fast and Furious

At the far end of the scale is the DH or Downhill bike. As the name suggests, a DH bike is designed for going very fast down hills – not up them! Big jumps, tight corners and general adrenalin inducing stunts are all par of the course with DH, so huge travel at around 200mm upfront and rear are standard. Wheel sizes are generally wide rimed 26ers with some manufacturers now experimenting with 27.5s. Pedaling is not a big part of DH so gearing is fairly simple with one upfront and 7 – 10 on the rear.

These bikes are heavy, incredibly tough with exceptionally long wheelbases for optimum control on the descent. To get the most out of these bikes, you need a lot of experience, and of course, some downhill trails. 

ENDURO: Downhill Meets Trail

Next up is the Enduro. Enduros are tough dual suspension bikes, which are essentially a cross between Trail bikes and DH bikes. Suspensions are generally between 160 – 180mm both front and rear, so as you can imagine, they can take some very big hits. Frames are built to be pretty much bombproof and the slack headtube angles and long wheelbases offer riders optimal decent control. Standard wheel size is a 27.5 but there are some 29er versions available. Like Trail, Enduro riders prefer wider tyres with 2.3 – 2.4 being the general rule.

As Enduro has evolved from a mixture of DH and Trail, the gearing is generally single upfront with the 10 – 12 on the rear. All Enduros will have dropper seatposts to allow riders to quickly adjust their saddle heights for either climbing or descending.

A fantastic bike if you like to mix trail riding with aggressive downhill. These bikes are generally considered to be machines for the more experienced riders but they can also be a lot of fun for any newbie.

Fat bikes: Go Anywhere

And last but not least is the fatbike. Believe it or not, fat bikes have been around since the mid 80s with the first models being made by enthusiasts in New Mexico and Alaska. As you may guess, they came to life with the need for a bike that could be ridden in the snow and on sand. Today’s models are pretty much the same, sporting 4.0 tyres on 26er wheels with either a 100 – 120mm front suspension or a fully rigid fork. These bikes generally sport a single ring on the front with a standard 10 – 12 on the rear.

A great bike if you like to ride in the snow or if you have the opportunity to ride on beaches. A lot of people also use them for general trail riding and adventure/expedition type stuff. However, if you need to ride any tarmac to get to your trailheads or like to climb, they are bulky with obvious heavy rolling resistance due to the width of the tyres. 

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Posted by DL

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