The Ultimate Guide to Mountain Bike Styles

It is a common misconception among beginners that all mountain bikes are created equal, and if you’re looking into buying your first bike or even entertaining the idea, you should take a look at the different kinds offered in order to decide what will be the best choice for you.

A good place to start is by considering the terrain you will be riding on. If I, for example, was looking for a bike that could handle all types of terrain with a strong frame, I’d look into an enduro/all-mountain bike. The name really does say it all. If you’re looking for something to suit more specific needs, have no fear! I will personally walk you through the different types of bikes and what they are built for so you can feel as confident as possible in your investment (some can cost as much as a used car, ya know).

Before you start shredding the gnar-gnar you’re going to want to check this out.

Cross-country

A cross-country bike (often referred to as XC bikes) is going to be the most common bike and style of biking you come across in the industry. Cross-country biking involves riding through trails for extended periods of time and while it doesn’t typically involve the extreme obstacles you will encounter in other styles, it will require a great amount of endurance and control when it comes to maneuvering the bike through trees and turns.

Most of the cross-country trails you encounter will involve long periods of climbing and descending. These bikes are equipped to handle those aspects well and also account for winding paths, bank turns, mud, and narrow gravel paths.

Pros

  • Single suspension makes for an easy-to-maneuver ride
  • Quick moves and with better precision
  • Attain faster speeds without exerting too much energy

Cons

  • Full-suspension bikes offer better control and more stability
  • Not built for high-impact jumping and landing

Enduro/All-mountain

All-mountain/enduro bikes are designed to handle more difficult and varied terrain. This style bike also allows you to take on more challenging obstacles that are a by-product of the mountain’s natural terrain. Think- jumps and drops. This type of riding is going to require more focus and intention from you when it comes to staying safe and successfully navigating those obstacles.

You may not be considering jumps and drops at the moment if you are a beginner, but, if I were you, and there was any thought that obstacles would be of any interest to me in the future I would purchase an all-mountain bike.

Pros

  • Highly stable due to full-suspension
  • Robust tires
  • Most come with a guide chain for better head control and more precise riding
  • Good for multiple styles of biking

Cons

  • Harder to control on the downhill
  • Slower speeds as a result of the full-suspension systems

Downhill

Calling all speed demons, this one is for you! Downhill biking is all about the speed and unlike cross-country trails, they are typically running straight down the mountain terrain. Most downhill riders won’t even use a trail. They rely on their focus, skill, and the speed of their bike to get them down the hill as quickly as possible. You can liken it to a sprint in running. Spectators love this style- it’s insanely thrilling to watch and full of action if you want to take a walk (or ride) on the wild side.

In this style of biking, you won’t be riding up the mountain. Instead, you’ll be walking or shuttled up through some sort of lift system. It’s common to see many resorts shuttling up bikers on the ski lifts during biking season. This is a style that requires an immense amount of skill, guts, and control- not for the faint of heart as there are big jumps and rough tracks ridden at high speeds.

Pros

  • Will keep you stable on a steep hill
  • Acute angle heads allow for better control through rocky terrain
  • Higher suspension than any other type of bike making the ride way more comfortable
  • Fewer gears so you can stay focused on making it down the hill

Cons

  • The bulkiness of the bike can make for a harder ride
  • This is a risky style to pursue therefore you must invest in the proper protective gear

Want to see some crazy footage of a downhill ride? Then check out this GoPro vid of Rachel Atherton’s Record-Breaking ride at the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in 2016:


Dirt jump

As implied by the name, dirt jumping is a style of bike that allows you to jump dirt obstacles big and small, but, instead of taking this bike on a mountain trail, you will take it onto a track in a dirt park.

This style is about tricks and air-time, with ramps varying in height and placement to add to the challenge of performing cool stunts before you (hopefully) land safely on the other side. If you have an obsession with catching big air, this style may be for you.

Pros

  • Extremely light and agile
  • Simple in design but open for high customization
  • Easily absorb shock from landing those epic jumps

Cons

  • More expensive than other bikes
  • Takes more time and discipline to learn this style of riding
  • Can result in major injuries if the proper training isn’t acquired

Here is a nice little vid from GoPro of folks doing dirt jumps with mountain bikes:


Freeride

Freeriding is closely related to downhill biking and dirt jumping because it emphasizes both tricks and mountain biking. I consider freeriding to be the style that gives you a little taste of everything- varied terrain, obstacles, and trails.

There are typically no rules when it comes to freeriding and you will be able to let your creativity and skill serve as the driving force behind how you choose to navigate the trail. It is common to find ladders, ramps, and beams that are mixed into these trails so it will be required of you that you are always prepared for what’s around the corner. 

Pros

  • Made with average sized wheels and lighter statures
  • Can accommodate many applications
  • Better at ascending and climbing in dirt
  • Can allow you to dip your toe into a dirt jump course without totaling your bike or having to invest in a dirt jump bike
  • Very agile

Cons

  • Due to the increased agility, accidents happen more easily on this bike
  • Generally not as durable as other bikes such as an all-mountain bike

If you want to see some awesome free-riding, check out this vid from The Loam Ranger:


Wrapping Up

Now that you have all the information you need, consider the terrain you will be riding on most frequently and start to tailor your taste. Go to a shop and take potential bikes on test-rides. If you have additional questions, the sales associates there should be able to answer them for you. Remember to ask about the protective gear that will best suit your rides. All forms of mountain biking carry with them certain risks and it is important that you are taking every step possible to ensure your safety.

If you want to see the styles in action, get onto youtube and look up some videos of the pro’s giving it their all. Based on what appeals to you most and the terrain you have access to, you should be able to decipher pretty easily the type of bike you will need.

Investing in a mountain bike is a big decision to make so don’t settle for one that you aren’t particularly excited about. Keep looking until you find the one!

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