The very name gives the game away – mountain bike riding is off-road. It’s all about taking the bike away from the village and into the big wide expanses, the bush scrub, the lush forests, down rocky slopes, up hard-slog ascents, over obstacles… It’s off the beaten track. But just how beaten a track are we talking? When it comes to mountain biking, there’s not a single square peg to fit the round hole. On the contrary, as mountain biking has evolved, so too have the niche types of mountain bike riding that can be done.
First, let’s check out the different types of mountain bikes on the market
Rigid mountain bikes
Rigid mountain bikes have no suspension, which means they are lighter, more affordable and need less maintenance than their suspension co-orts!
What are hardtail mountain bikes?
These are mountain bikes that only have suspension in the front of the bike, so the name comes from the fact there’s no shock absorption in the back. Hardtails are more affordable than full suspension mountain bikes and will be lighter as well.
The majority of riders tend to prefer hardtails for less challenging terrain as well as paths with uphill riding.
What is full (dual) suspension?
Basically mountain bikes with suspension in both the rear and the front. Because of the rear suspension, these bikes are able to perform a lot more efficiently downhill.
What about wheels?
You’ll hear a lot of talk about numbers when it comes to mountain bikes and their wheels. Basically the numbers refer to the size of the wheel.
The original MTB wheel size – this wheel size is strong, nimble and light.
27.5" (or 650B)
You’re going to sit on one side of the fence or the other with these sized wheels – they’re either great in that they deliver a bit of the best of the sizes either side (26” and 29”), or they’re frustrating because they don’t work nearly as well as either of them!
It checks out that 27.5 will perform slightly closer to the mark of 26ers.
29" (or 29ers)
More and more new mountain bikes are turning to 29ers. They’re proficient climbing wheels, they have more traction due to a greater footprint with the terrain, and they make it easier to balance in the sweet spot. Their increased stability also means they’re good on the descent. They do however, weigh more than 26ers and are slightly limited in the amount of suspension that can be incorporated into them.
What are the different types of mountain bike riding?
Trail riding/ Cross Country (XC)
This is mountain bike riding on naturally occurring trails or trails that have been purpose-built. The terrain can be almost anything – hard-packed, muddy, rocky, gravel, tree roots, soft from vegetation. Along the way you might come across naturally-occurring obstacles, or in the case of trial centres you’ll also encounter man-made challenges (seesaws, bridges, jumps etc) specifically placed along the path to make things really interesting!
Trail centres, which have either been enhanced, altered, maintained by human influence, may be graded as per the degree of technical proficiency required to ride the course. Green gives you a pleasant family-style journey, blue indicates the path is rollable (no major obstacles to get over). Red is for more technical riding and black is for way more challenging paths – bigger drops, obstacles in your path, gaps, etc – the stuff for serious riders.
What kind of mountain bikes do trail riding/ XC riders use?
Once upon a time, it was unspoken tradition to cut your teeth mountain biking on a hardtail, and then graduate to a full suspension. Current thinking is less rigid – check out the types of mountain biking for more information.
Enduro / All Mountain
Enduro is much like trail riding at the pointy end. The jumps are more challenging, the drops are bigger, and the trails are more likely to be black level.
What kind of mountain bikes do Enduro/All Mountain riders use?
As a result, bikes tend to be designed to take the rider uphill, but then handle the hairy descent. Enduro riders will usually opt for more body armour protection.
As the name suggests, this type of mountain biking is all about flying down. Riders will either get a lift up to a certain mountain point, or they’ll sometimes even walk up with the bike. Overseas you’ll find lifts operate throughout the year – not just during the snow season – which makes downhill riding a little more accessible. Once at the top, it’s all about getting down on the bike, and handling the drops and jumps, gaps and rocks, slips and slides as you go.
What kind of mountain bike do downhill riders use?
For this type of riding you’re looking at a mountain bike with more sloping top tube, which is all about helping with the descent. Chunkier tyres to grip the surface, awesome brakes for rapid stopping and fewer gears (you’re basically going down!) will be the top features for downhill riding bikes. There will also be a heightened sense of body protection for this type of cycling – so expect full face helmets, eye masks, and core body plates, etc.
Welcome to a dirt park packed with dirt jumps. Depending on the technical level, jumps will be set at different heights; the whole idea being that riders approach the jump at speed to get enough air before landing. As they are airborne riders will usually start learning tricks that can be performed. Taking dirt jumping to the next level is slope style riding – where cyclists head out into mountains and hit crazy jumps.
What kind of mountain bike do dirt jumpers use?
Dirt jumping bikes are usually somewhere between a BMX and freeride – around 4-6 inch suspension, hardtails, not many gears.
What kind of mountain bike to four cross riders use?
Short chain stays, low bottom brackets (helps with the corners and with acceleration), gears on the back.
This riding is all about berms, skinny ladders, bridges, big drops – technical riding!
What kind of mountain bike do freeriders use?
Dual suspension, 5" - 7" of front fork travel, front chain guide, wide tires and large disc rotors.
The terrain for pump track riding is all about continuous rollers so riders can easily gather and maintain momentum.
What kind of mountain bike do pump track riders use?
Mountain Bike Gear
OK so we’ve determined that the type of mountain bike riding you do will dictate the type of bike you need; and it’s a similar situation with what you wear and the accessories you need.
Obviously at a base level the mandatories will be helmet, knicks, jersey, cleated shoes, socks and sunglasses. From that point on however, and things start to get interesting.
The more technical and risky the mountain biking, the more ‘armour’ is usually worn. This can include full head and face helmets, googles, upper armour plates, limb plates, reinforced gloves, etc.