If you’ve decided you need an off-road bike and that the mountain bike is the perfect choice for you, you still need to pick which type of mountain bike fits your needs. We’re not just talking about different brands. We’re going to give you the lowdown on each discipline, including endure bikes, downhill bikes, and cross-country bikes. But before we do that, let’s consider whether you need a hardtail or full-suspension bike.
If you opt for a basic mountain bike, as most people will, you’ll still have to decide if you want a hardtail or full-suspension bike. Hardtails are the simplest bikes to maintain as they only have suspension forks upfront. They’re also lighter than similarly priced full-suspension bikes. With full-suspension bikes, you get the fork, as you’d expect, but a rear-shock cushions the back of the bike. When traveling on the road, you won’t notice the difference, but go across roots and rocks, and the rear suspension will make your journey a lot easier. It will also be less skittish when riding over bumps, so you’ll have more confidence in your bike.
Mountain bikes are designed for the harshest terrain, but no bike can cover each of the four main disciplines – cross country, trial, endure, and downhill. The bikes made for each discipline tend to differ in the amount of suspension travel they offer. That adds weight to the bike. A bike with long suspension travel will be heavier, but it will allow you to cover rougher terrain. That means you need to select the right type of bike for the terrain.
Cross country or XC bikes cover both hardtail and full-suspension bikes. The forks on these bikes travel up to 100mm as they’re designed to be effective on climbs and across smooth descents. They have lower-profile tires than other mountain bikes, which makes them quick across smooth terrain. They have a wide selection of gears to help you climb uphill, and most have hydraulic disc brakes to help you descend with confidence. You get a more traditional riding position which makes them comfortable across smooth surfaces but less so across rough surfaces.
Trail bikes are mountain bikes for real enthusiasts. Whether you buy a hardtail or full-suspension bike, you’ll get between 110mm and 150mm of suspension travel, so you’ll be fast and confident on descents and across single-track trails. These lightweight bikes make climbing a joy, and if you opt for a hardtail, you’ll save even more weight. With wide handlebars and short stems, you’ll have plenty of control over the most challenging terrain.
As you’d expect, enduro bikes are built for all-day riding. Thanks to 160mm to 180mm suspension travel, this type of mountain bike’s ideal for steep and rough descents. Across easier terrain, they’ll feel a little sluggish until the gradient increases, but you’ll have a comfortable ride no matter how long you stay on the bike. Their brakes are more powerful than a trail bike, but the rest of the spec’s very similar.
The suspension travel on a downhill bike is around 200mm. You’ll need every millimeter to navigate the steepest descents. These bikes are the most extreme mountain bikes on offer. You won’t be able to ride them back uphill, so be prepared to carry or push the bike back uphill. With triple clamp forks, you’ll find the stability you need across challenging terrain. This bike’s great for bike parks and downhill racing but useless for anything else.
Once you’ve decided the type of mountain bikes you want, you’ll need to choose the tire size. Larger 29-inch wheels roll quickly when they get going, but they’re not as easy to turn as 27.5-inch or 26-inch wheels. They’re also slower on acceleration, but that might not matter too much if you’re spending most of your ride offroad. If you’re tall, buy the larger wheel. You’ll find the bike suits you more as long as you’re six foot or taller.
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