Fifteen years ago, downhill and cross country bikes dominated the sport of mountain biking. When a rider decided to buy a mountain bike, there were two styles to choose from. Today the sport is far more popular and complex.
New types and crossbreeds of bikes offer more diverse options. Mountain bikes are designed for extremely different applications and perform best for specific riding styles. Here’s a look at the types of mountain bikes.
Freeride / Downhill
Freeride mountain biking has quickly become a leading discipline. Downhill is an earlier style, mainly using the same type of bike. Freeride / downhill incorporates a ride-anwhere / anything feel. Bikes are designed to take huge drops and hits while bombing down hills at high speeds.
These very durable, heavy bikes can weigh as much as 40 to 50 pounds. Freeride/downhill bikes offer full suspension, incorporating maximum amounts of travel (6 to 10 inches) and tend to have a limited selection of gears, with only 1 front gear (7-9 total).
Freeride bikes are best geared toward riders looking to go big all the time, spending most of their time in parks or gunning down hills. The bikes are not designed to ride uphill for any length of time and shuttling via lift or vehicle is ideal.
Freeride/downhill bikes are among the most expensive mountain bikes, costing anywhere from a few thousand dollars to over ten thousand.
The cross country bike is the most traditional, versatile and well-known mountain bike. Cross country bikes are designed for all types and grades of terrain and are as ideal for climbing up hills as going down. They incorporate a full selection of gears (generally 27) and are the lightest bikes available (between 20 and 30 lbs.).
Cross country bikes can be rigid (no suspension), hardtail (just front suspension) or full suspension, depending upon the specific make and model. Suspension systems offer much less travel than freeride bikes, up to 4 or 5 inches.
Cross country bikes are well-suited to the average mountain biker who is looking to ride mountain bike trails up hills and mountains, as well as down. Prices range vastly depending upon suspension, components, weight, etc.
Many companies offer various performance/price levels such as race, trail and entry level categories (high to low).
Splitting the difference between cross country and freeride mountain bikes, many companies offer an in-between category that compromises the advantages of both styles. The name may vary, but all mountain is pretty common.
All mountain bikes offer full-suspension with medium travel (around 5-6 inches front and back), a full gear set and a slightly sturdier, heavier frame than a cross country.
Dirt jumping is a subcategory of freeride and entails riding parks, hitting jumps and dropping tricks, similar to BMX. These bikes are smaller than the other types of mountain bikes and are designed with the sole purpose of hitting jumps.
They have few gears and will not perform well for other styles of mountain biking. Unlike BMX bikes, dirt jump bikes have front suspension. They are best suited for serious dirt jumpers who already have another mountain bike or who just intend to dirt jump.
To make life more difficult, nearly every company out there has their own names for the aforementioned categories. Names such as backcountry, gravity and out of bounds are some such examples. Regardless of label, the characteristics are the same and with some quick background it’s easy to tell what the bike was designed for.