If you’re in the market for one of the estimated one hundred million mountain bike styles manufactured worldwide, it can be tempting to just pick up the first cool paint-job you see on the rack.
But, if you’re looking to get a mountain bike that truly serves your needs for years to come, you’ll need to know the tips and tricks of picking the right style and function.
Unlike the bicycles most people grew up on, mountain bikes are designed specifically to address certain needs in the rider.
This difference is most identifiable through the bicycle’s suspension, which can be tested by pushing on the seat with both hands.
You’ll also want to consider head tube angles, which can seem relatively unimportant but makes a big difference in the way your bicycle climbs.
If you’ve been mountain biking before, these are the bikes you’re probably familiar with. Trail bikes are relatively all-purpose, designed to navigate most terrains with relative ease, but they suffer in speed and handling compared to their cross-country cousins.
As an equivalent to cross-country bikes meant for comfort rather than racing, this is the right choice for mountain bike enthusiasts who are just starting out.
These bikes can be expensive, but in choosing the right trail bike you’ll want to look for something with between 120-140 mm of suspension yield and a less steep head tube.
Unlike trail bikes, cross-country mountain bikes are made for speed. They’re designed to go up and down hilly terrain with ease and often carry more complex drivetrains than their less specialized relatives.
On this type of bike, you’ll find it easy to navigate less complex trails and both climb and descend, although the more generalized purpose of these bicycles makes them less effective in either area.
You’ll want a suspension between 80-120 mm for a typical cross-country bike, giving you slightly less yield than trail bikes but lending efficiency and a lighter frame.
Suspensionless bikes, like their name suggests, are mountain bike styles with a fully rigid frame. Then, this makes them cheaper and lower in upkeep than other bikes, with the tradeoff that they’re only suited for flat terrain.
These are great park bikes or bikes to ride as the substitute for road bikes – however, the lack of suspension means that jumps and drops can be dangerous and damaging to the bike.
If you’re looking for a cheap and easy bike to start out with and you live in an area with relatively flat terrain, suspensionless bikes are an excellent choice.
All-Mountain / Enduro
To fully understand the functions of Enduro or All-Mountain bikes, you’ll need to understand a little about Enduro racing – one of the fastest growing niche communities in the mountain biking world, Enduro racing emphasizes climbing ability and wicked downhill slopes.
Enduro bikes are best to ascend steadily and then turn on a dime during the descent, and on All-Mountain courses, it’s not uncommon to see obstacles that require precise handling.
You’ll want a much higher suspension sitting around 140-170 mm to absorb drops and jumps, both of which are common in Enduro racing.
All-Mountain bikes are pricier but also more specialized than other types of mountain bikes, often geared up with more complex elements like dropper seats and powerful drivetrains which let you climb hills with ease.
Downhill / Gravity
For true adrenaline junkies, there are downhill or “gravity” bikes. Gravity bikes have much in common with Enduro bikes but substitute the climbing ability for increased downward speed, usually packing a heavier frame and wider tires to increase your balance on treacherous slopes.
Unlike Enduro bikes, this style often lacks climbing gears entirely, and you’ll find that their specialization makes them best to the new downhill courses opening around the world.
These courses implement ski lifts and separate ascending trails to allow the rider to easily reach the top and then descend at breakneck paces.
Downhill mountain bike styles are best to carry between 180-220 mm of suspension and lowered head tubes that make turning easier.
When keeping with the riskier nature of this style of riding, gravity bikes are best for safety equipment – in downhill racing, full protective gear is often the difference between a rough tumble and a visit to the hospital.
Hardtail mountain bike styles are a category that shares members with the cross-country and trail styles, but they have a lack of suspension on the back end of the bike and a suspension fork on the front.
This makes them well-suited for drops and jumps where the rider may be able to tilt their body forward to absorb the force of a landing, but the lack of suspension at the rear means that bumpier trails can hamper your ride.
They’re cheap comparing to styles like the Enduro bike but generally run more expensive than suspensionless models.
Dirt Jump bikes are beefy, hardy BMX models are best for making jumps and landing hard.
They’ve generally got lower tilts on their head tubes than other bikes and high suspensions that allow them to absorb big impacts.
These mountain bike styles are best to manmade courses and have popularly been ridden in indoor skate parks for years.
That side, unlike a BMX bike, the Dirt Jumpstyle has a heavier frame.
So, if you’re expecting to be able to pull flips, it may be a better choice to simply choose a BMX model.
Freeride bikes are quite similar to downhill bikes, but they are best for more technical jumps and courses.
They use steeper head tubes to grant greater stability at lowered speeds while sacrificing some of the high-speed stability.
Specialized courses use most Freeride bikes quite similar to those in downhill racing, but the number of obstacles and jumps have increased.
When Freerider racers use outdoor courses, their focus is often improvisation to further the adrenaline rush of the high-speed courses.
The gearing system of Freeride bikes is also different than those used in their gravity bike cousins. Then, it often adjusts with more climbing gears to allow the rider to easily traverse hilly courses.
When picking mountain bike styles, arguably the most important decision is what you’re going to use it for.
But, once you’ve decided that, it’s easy to pick a style and model of the mountain bike.