If you’re just now getting interested in Mountain Biking, you may be surprised to find that it’s come a long way since the 80’s.
In this day and age, there is a Mountain Bike to suit just about any rider who wants to get out on two wheels.
With so many Mountain Bikes to choose from, we decided to make a list of the different types of Mountain Bikes available today.
From Downhill beasts to Cross Country featherweights, here is everything you need to know about the different types of Mountain Bikes.
First thing’s first – we need to start by classifying the 3 main types of Mountain Bike; Hardtails, Full Suspension, and Rigid Mountain Bikes.
A Hardtail Mountain Bike is arguably the most popular Mountain Bike you will come across.
They are popular among racers and beginner riders alike and offer an affordable way for you to enjoy a variety of Mountain Bike trails.
You can classify a Mountain Bike as a Hardtail if it has a front suspension fork and a rigid frame in the rear.
Hardtail Mountain Bikes are perfect for beginners, as they offer a simplified experience without sacrificing capability.
As well, being one of the lightest types of Mountain Bike in the market, Racers often prefer them for their speed and maneuverability.
With a Hardtail, you can safely ride even the roughest of trails.
But don’t get too excited about hitting any huge jumps or drops any time soon.
If you plan on riding at any of the world’s top Downhill trails, you may be better off with a Mountain Bike in the next category.
Dual suspension / Full suspension
Dual or Full-suspension Mountain Bikes are the ultimate bike for just about any riding style.
Distinguished by their front and rear suspension assemblies, the full-suspension Mountain Bike offers the most comfort and capability of all Mountain Bikes.
And with the recent advancements in carbon and engineering, full suspension Mountain Bikes have been giving Hardtails a run for their money when it comes to weight reduction.
Most people prefer full suspension Mountain Bikes for their comfort, and some require them for their style of riding. Regardless, the addition of the rear suspension makes full suspension Mountain Bikes a lot more costly than most other types of Mountain Bike.
For that reason, you will often see more dedicated and experienced cyclists riding around on full suspension.
But if you plan on riding for a long time and your wallet can afford the extra costs, you should definitely consider a full suspension.
Rigid Mountain Bikes are slightly different than the two other classifications of Mountain Bike.
Rigid Mountain Bikes feature no suspension whatsoever and are often specialized to certain styles of riding.
I know what you’re thinking, a rigid frame doesn’t sound too fitting for what most consider a Mountain Bike.
And you’re right, Rigid Mountain Bikes are not really used for riding on Mountain Bike trails.
Instead, you will see Rigid Mountain Bikes used in two popular styles of riding; Dirt Jumping and Trials riding.
The lack of suspension allows for a more refined maneuverability and feel to the bike, allowing riders do some pretty amazing things.
Just check out this video of Mountain bikes on YouTube.
Starting in the 80’s, Mountain Biking has continued to grow and change. With that, many manufacturers have built bikes more specific to each riding style
Now that we have the basics down, we can dive a little further into the more specific types of Mountain Bikes you can buy.
If you watched a lot of Mountain Biking in the 80’s and 90’s, there’s a good chance you saw riders on Cross-Country Mountain Bikes.
Cross-Country Mountain Bikes are built for long distance riding and are often built to be light weight for racing.
For these reasons, most XC bikes are Hardtails, with added features to accommodate comfort and speed over longer distances.
Here are some common characteristics of XC Mountain Bikes:
- Larger wheels sizes like 29ers. Larger wheel diameter allows for faster rolling resistance.
- Lightweight material and frame design.
- Typically, Hardtails, although full-suspensions have gained popularity
- Longer wheelbases to allow better pedaling on climbs
- Lighter wheels that favor speed over traction
Although XC bikes seem to be specific to XC riding conditions, most Cross-Country Mountain Bikes can handle a variety of trails.
Just don’t expect to do too much jumping on one.
What most would consider the ultimate Mountain Bike,
Trail bikes are the total package when it comes to Mountain Bikes.
Built to handle just about any riding style, Trail Mountain Bikes typically feature a full suspension design.
If you’re in the market for a Trail bike, there’s a good chance you plan on riding just about anything.
This is because Trail Mountain Bikes offer a solid balance between Downhill and cross-country features.
Meaning, you can ride just as well on the downhill sections as you can on the uphill sections.
Further supporting that balance, here are the characteristics of a Trail Mountain Bike:
- Balanced Wheel Sizes, often opting for the 27.5”
- Lightweight suspension and frame geometry
- Neutral riding angles for unbiased positioning
- Tires that balance traction and rolling resistance
While Trail Mountain Bikes may seem like the perfect bike for any riding style, there are still a few more types of Mountain Bikes you may be interested in.
3. All Mountain/Enduro
All Mountain or Enduro Mountain Bikes have gained a considerable amount of popularity in recent years.
If you’re looking for a bike that can handle the climbs and dominate on the descents, an Enduro Mountain bike may be for you.
You could identify Enduro Mountain Bikes as a more rugged version of a Trail bike. They focus more on Downhill performance as opposed to the balance of a Trail bike.
If you plan on riding downhill more often than up, you’re definitely going to need a bike that can handle the stress.
Here are some features of Enduro Mountain Bikes:
- Similar to Trail bikes, 27.5” seems to be the most popular wheel size
- More suspension travel than Trail bikes, allowing more controlled descents.
- Frame Geometry that supports Descents over Climbs
- Tires that focus more on Traction than Rolling Resistance
Although it can be a little laborious on the Climbs, Enduro bikes definitely deserve the title of All Mountain Bikes.
Now there is a little bit of debate going for these next three categories, especially when it comes to identifying their differences.
Starting off, we will mention Gravity bikes and how they’re used.
Some people say that Gravity Mountain Bikes are any bike that goes Downhill, regardless if it is a DH bike or not.
Others will say that a Gravity Mountain Bike is just a bike that’s specifically built for a Mountain Bike Park.
To better understand their features, here are some characteristics to expect:
- Intended for Bike Parks only, not built for climbs
- Suspension similar to DH bikes, possibly with slightly less travel
- Slack head angles and low bottom brackets
- 27.5” wheels are the popular tire size
- Knobby Tires that maximize grip overall
While there are plenty of Mountain Bikes you can identify as Gravity, there is a high chance the bike you’re looking for is in the next category.
Downhill Mountain Bikes have been popular for a while now.
If you’ve watched any Mountain Bike crash videos on YouTube, there is a good chance they were all done on a Downhill Mountain Bike.
Downhill bikes are built to handle the stress of Downhill riding and are most popular in the racing style of riding.
For that reason, this is not a bike you want to pedal uphill for any amount of time.
The riding positions favors descents and the suspension is beefed up to handle the speeds and jumps the bike was built for.
Similar to the features listed above, here is what to expect with Downhill Mountain Bikes:
- Popular with smaller wheel sizes, but 29ers have gained popularity
- Heavy and Rugged Frames
- A lot of Travel in the rear and front suspension
- Extremely slack geometry
- Knobby 2-ply tires
If you’re used to riding your everyday trail, a DH Mountain Bike can take some time to adjust to. However, once you’re speeding down a DH trail, you will definitely appreciate the increased stability.
Freeride Mountain Bikes are not as popular as the other types of Mountain Bikes we’ve mentioned so far, but they definitely have their place in the industry.
Known for their super solid frames and heavy overall weight, these full suspension beasts are built to take a beating.
If you plan on buying a Freeride MTB, prepare to spend a lot of time at your local Mountain Bike Parks.
That’s not to say that you can’t pedal uphill on one, its just not the easiest way to get around.
Very similar to the previous two Mountain Bikes on the list, you can expect Freeride Mountain Bikes to have the following characteristics:
- Smaller tire sizes to accommodate more suspension travel
- Often the heaviest type of Mountain Bike
- Quality and solid systems like brakes, forks and suspension
- Wide and Knobby Tires
- Between 7-8” travel
Freeride Mountain Bikes are not as popular as the others on the list, but that does not mean they’re not for you.
7. Dirt Jumper
Dirt Jump Bikes are a special case when it comes to Mountain Bikes.
Not necessarily intended for trails, Dirt Jumpers are a cross between Freeride Mountain Bikes and BMX.
Instead of a trail, these types of bikes are best suited for pump tracks and dirt jumps.
If you plan on spending most of your time doing tricks in the air, this type of Mountain Bike is your best choice.
You can easily identify a Dirt Jumper by its frame geometry and low seat height, but here are a few more features:
- Only front suspensions
- Single speed gears
- Over-sized handlebars
- Small Frames
- Low Seat Posts
- BMX style riding position
Dirt Jump Bikes can probably handle a beginner Mountain Bike Trail, but I would not recommend it.
If you thought Dirt Jumpers barely made the list, this last one will surprise you even more.
Trials Mountain Bikes were built for even more of a niche market.
Originally introduced as a modified BMX bike, Trials began to adopt more Mountain Bike characteristics as the sport changed.
Trials Mountain Bikes are known for their lightweight and often seat-less design.
This is due to the fact that they are thrown around crazy courses like this one on Youtube.
Trials Mountain Bikes will have the following characteristics:
- More of a BMX look
- Lack of a seat post
- Smaller wheel sizes
- Rigid frame design
- Minimalist design
If you plan on learning Trials, you have my utmost respect.
Electric Mountain Bikes
Now I know I mentioned just about every type of Mountain Bike available today, however, there are a few more things to address.
In recent years, manufacturers have integrated their electric motors into Mountain Bikes.
But don’t worry about taking off too fast. These bikes typically only offer “assistance” when pedaling and are limited to certain speeds.
With years of research and refining, there are a few solid Electric Mountain Bikes you can buy today.
And don’t listen to the people who say Electric Mountain Bikes are bad news, if it gets you out on two wheels, it is definitely worth the investment.
Just be prepared for a limited selection and a high price tag.
Women’s vs Men’s MTB
There are two common questions on the subject of Men’s and Women’s Mountain Bikes:
“Can women ride men’s Mountain Bikes?“
“Is there a difference between women’s and men’s bikes?“
To quickly confirm, the answer to both of these questions is “Yes”.
There are slight differences between women’s and men’s bikes, but women are still able, and even encouraged, to ride men’s bikes.
Identifying certain Mountain Bikes as men’s is actually not that accurate, in fact, most bikes are built to be unisex.
You will see Mountain Bikes with dips in the top tube, but that is more of an aesthetic than a rule. For more information on this topic, make sure you check out this article from REI.
With any type of Mountain Bike you buy, you will have the option to pick a few different wheels sizes.
Although Mountain Bikes can have tires as small as 20”, the most common tire sizes are 26”, 27.5” and 29”.
26ers were the standard for Mountain Biking through the 80’s and early 2000’s, however, recent years have seen the adoption of 27.5” and 29” wheels.
With the versatility of 27.5” wheels, some riders have worried that the 26er would be phased out, but there are still plenty of bikes manufactured with 26” wheels.
The main thing to keep in mind when it comes to wheel size, is how it affects the bike geometry and rolling resistance.
29ers will give you the fastest rolling resistance but will limit how much travel your suspension has. Not to mention the taller frame geometry and heavier weight.
26ers will be a little harder to pedal over long distances but offer a more in tune feel and maneuverability that 29ers can’t compete with.
27.5” wheels bridge the gap but come with their own drawbacks and rewards.
The best way to gauge the wheel size you need, is to try out a few different sizes on the trail. After a few rides, you will have a better feel for what you prefer.
Fat Bikes and Plus Bikes
Expanding a little more on the wheel sizes, there are two kinds of Mountain Bike that put a slight spin on wheel sizes; Fat Bikes and Plus Bikes
These types of Mountain Bikes are more for a niche riding style and are characterized by their over-sized wheels.
Just like I mentioned above, the size of the wheels will affect frame geometry and the travel of suspension. Therefore, Fat and Plus bikes will typically be in limited models.
How do I Choose a Mountain Bike?
Today, a quality Mountain Bike can run you anywhere from $500-$3000.
Therefore, you should really adopt the mindset that your first Mountain Bike will be an Investment.
Not just an investment for your future in Mountain Biking, but also an investment in yourself.
Make sure you take your time and really assess your wants and NEEDS. A solid Mountain Bike can last decades, and there’s a good chance you will be stuck with it for a few years. Make sure you pick something you can love for a long time.
With that said, here are a few questions you can ask yourself to really determine the best Mountain Bike for you:
- What style of riding do I want to try?
- What Bike best suits my current fitness level?
- What kind of trails are most available to me?
- What is my current budget for a Mountain Bike?
If you’re on a strict budget, why not start out with an affordable entry-level Hardtail? Hardtails are well built and versatile, making them perfect for beginners and easily upgradable.
Excited by Downhill riding but only have beginner trails in your local area? Why not buy a Trail bike so you can take advantage of your local trails and still tear it up at the occasional Mountain Bike Park?
While these questions can help you on the road to picking your first Mountain Bike, take your time and research all your questions fully.
As well, your Local Bike Shop would love to help you make a decision. They have the expertise and the latest news when it comes to Mountain Bikes.
For a great article on choosing a Mountain Bike, check out this resource from the experts at REI.
What is a Good Beginners Mountain Bike?
Touched on before, there are certain Mountain Bikes that are recommended for Beginners.
In general, a good beginner Mountain Bike should be affordable, versatile and comfortable.
As a beginner rider, you are still getting to know your riding style and preferences. At the same time, there is a good chance you will want to upgrade in the future. For those reasons, I would recommend getting a Hardtail Mountain Bike.
A Hardtail can ride every trail a beginner rider should be riding. As well, they help you learn solid skills in handling your Mountain Bike and weight distribution.
As an added bonus, Hardtails tend to be the most affordable bike you can buy, so it won’t break the bank if you decide to upgrade in the future.
In conclusion, there are plenty of different types of Mountain Bikes. When you plan on making your next bike purchase, make sure you assess your riding style, budget and interests. And a quick trip to you LBS couldn’t hurt!