Mountain biking has gone from an adventure activity reserved solely for adrenaline junkies to a fitness or leisure activity even that just about everybody seems to enjoy.
A few years ago, people wouldn’t have dreamt of riding on anything other than smooth urban trails and are now riding up the Rocky Mountains as if it was a neighborhood grocery run.
With this sudden surge in popularity, manufacturers have started to produce all-purpose bikes that can be used to ride in the city and on dedicated mountain trails.
In most cases, these multipurpose bikes suffice to keep the rookie rider invested.
But, the more experienced you become, the more likely you it is that you’ll start to yearn for a more specialized bike.
Unfortunately, shopping for specialized mountain bikes is no cakewalk. You’ll be bombarded with tons of sales-jargon and tech specs that will only add to the confusion.
That’s where we step in.
This brief guide will separate the chaff from the wheat and help you navigate through the complex world of different types of Mountain Bikes.
The Primary Difference – Suspensions
Often, you’ll find mountain bikes advertised or described by the type of suspension that they have. While the suspension doesn’t necessarily make it a distinct category of bike, it is important that you are aware of the difference and the type of terrain that each one is best suited for.
#1 – Rigid:
Rigid Bikes do not have a suspension. While that might seem outdated at first read, these bikes are quite effective in urban settings and on even trails. Some of the newer ones are light and fast to boot. If you don’t plan on heading out to rocky trails, one of these might be a great fit.
#2 – Hardtail:
Mountain bikes defined as Hardtail or Hard Tail have just one front suspension. Believe it or not, if you plan to ride on uneven trails, a hardtail bike is the bare minimum you should aim for.
Your upper body will thank you, as the suspension minimizes fatigue and reduces feedback on the handlebars. If you only have the funds for one bike that can go most places, we would recommend a hardtail.
#3 – Full Suspension:
Also called Dual suspension, full-suspension mountain bikes, have one suspension on the front and one on the rear. These bikes are perfect for various trails, including rocky mountain paths, and will ensure that you have a comfortable ride. The caveat is that most of these tend to be heavier than hardtails and rigid bikes.
The Different Types of Mountain Bikes
Now that you have a fair understanding of different types of suspensions, let’s quickly go through the different types of mountain bikes that you will come across.
#1 – Downhill Bikes
If riding for you means racing downhill at high speeds, then a downhill bike might be just the thing for you.
These bikes are designed to maximize control at high-speed descents. Subsequently, the design and the accessories are tailored to that end. Think large gears that are set high for easy pedaling over rough surfaces, wide & knobby mountain tires with wider rims, a solid (heavy) metal frame that can take an absolute pounding, full suspension setups with air shocks or coil shocks, and disc brakes that will allow you to stop in the blink of an eye.
While all of those features make these bikes one of the most durable ones, these are not made for uphill riding. They are heavy, and you are better off walking uphill with them.
#2 – Enduro Bikes
Also called All-mountain bikes, these bikes are very versatile and well suited for both urban trails and rocky ones.
These are slightly lighter weight than downhill bikes but are also full suspension with a little less travel in the suspension.
Enduro bikes feature tough frames, wide tires, and disc brakes. The one major difference between downhill bikes and Enduro bikes would be that these are a little more forgiving when you ride uphill.
#3 – Cross Country Bikes
Cross Country Mountain bikes are also called XC Bikes and are designed for fast, all-day pedaling in the backcountry. These are the all-purpose bikes that we spoke about at the beginning of this article.
Light weight frames, flexible suspension setups, normal-sized tires, and more affordable price points make these a great starter bike. These bikes can further be divided into two sub-types.
XC Race Bikes:
XC race bikes are designed for speed and control on reasonably rough terrain. They have lightweight frames, flexible suspensions that can easily tackle a boulder or two, and excellent control while making sharp or deft maneuvers. Having said that, these won’t sustain the impact of jumps and steep landings.
XC Trail Bikes:
XC Trail bikes are the perfect middle ground between an XC Race bike and an Enduro bike. These are slightly heavier than the racers but will tackle most of the surfaces you ride them on.
#4 – Fat Tire Bikes
If you ride on icy, snowy trails where you need extra traction to stay stable, fat bikes are your friend. These typically have strong, heavy frames and extra-wide tires that are designed to grip the surface. Do not expect the bells and whistles that you will get with the other types of mountain bikes on this one. But if you ride in all four seasons, these might be your best bet.
#5 – Freeride Bikes:
If you are looking at mountain biking as an adventure sport (ensure that you have good insurance), then Freeride Bikes will be a great pick.
Freeride bikes are lightweight bikes with an added emphasis on frame weight, suspensions, maneuverability, and control. In a nutshell, these have single speed gears, large handlebars, tiny frames, and mostly, just one brake.
While they are not ideal for uphill rides, they are perfect for learning and/or performing aerial stunts and for high impact landing. They are very similar to BMX bikes but have heavier duty frames to tackle the terrain.
Different types of mountain bikes are suited for different riding styles, terrains, and genders (yes, there are specific MTBs for women and men). Many seasoned mountain bikers have more than one type of mountain bike, especially if they ride on a variety of terrain and trails.
But if you have your mindset on any one type of terrain or riding style, then use this guide as a starting point for your research.
By the way, did you check out our recommendations for the best budget mountain bikes yet?