Modern Mountain Bike Types
When I decided I’d get into riding the trails on Vancouver’s north shore I wasn’t sure what kind of bike to get.
I had a Trek 3700 hard tail that I used to commute to work with, but that was really sketchy to take on anything harder than a blue trail.
The advice of my crew was to get a downhill bike since we’d be hitting up the park eventually, and we didn’t do much pedalling anyways. They’re more open to it now but back then it was all about shuttle laps․․․until Whistler reopened.
So I bought a used 2012 Rocky Mountain Flatline.
I really wish I picked a better spot to take this photo.
Looking back I feel a downhill bike was a good choice because it had some very beginner friendly specs:
- Stability favoring, 64.6° head angle.
- Strong, confidence inspiring brakes.
- 8” of forgiving suspension travel front and rear.
As my buddy Matty says,
The suspension is what saves you.
For beginners getting into riding rough trails, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend trying out a cheap, used DH bike (if climbing isn’t a factor).
Today, my go-to bike is my Devinci Troy, an all mountain bike.
I had quite the internal debate before eventually settling on—and falling in love with—my 5” (suspension) trail bike.
You see, all of my riding buddies have enduro bikes (we’ll go over the differences in a bit).
5 of them have even have the Santa Cruz Nomad—a very nice bike. But I wanted to do rides that involved pedalling. Climbing. Technical climbing, even.
"Enduro bikes can climb, but they aren't mountain goats at it."
Interestingly, in 20+ rides on my all mountain bike with my gang of enduro bike buddies, I have yet to find a trail that I had to sit-out because my bike wasn’t capable enough.
In terms of bike choice, rather than follow the pack I chose something that better suits all of the kinds of riding I like to do. This is the general recommendation for maximizing fun on a bike.
Ok, Get To The Details
If you find yourself on the fence as to what kind of bike you’d like to buy next, I hope this guide can be useful to you.
Mountain Bike Types
Before we begin, I’ll state that there are no official classifications for mountain bikes. There is no regulatory board that mandates that a bike must fit into one of X categories.
There are no set rules, just general implications of what you might expect a bike to have when someone says downhill/enduro/trail/xc bike.
That being said, here’s what you can roughly expect.
- Easily spotted by their dual crown forks with stanchions extending up to the handlebars.
- Long travel suspension soaks up bumps and softens landings. These things are built for high speed and big air.
- Big brakes to control all that speed.
- Usually no dropper post. These things are meant for going down hill only.
- Limited gearing; often 7 speed. Just enough gears to get up to speed and give’r a few pedals to maintain speed on flat ground. Saves weight and a short deurailleur is less vulnerable to damage.
- Just about all manufacturers now make an “enduro” class of bike. Probably to make marketing use of the popularity of the Enduro World Series.
- Meant to be able to do it all. Downhill runs, shuttle laps, long epics. You name it.
- The EWS is almost entirely based on downhill times. Climbing is done just to get between courses. This is reflected in the design of these bikes. Enduro bikes can climb, but they ain’t no mountain goats.
- Jack of all trades, master of none.
All Mountain / Trail
This is where the naming can get a bit confusing.
Enduro bikes are arguably the “all mountain” bike, in spirit, and some bike makers market them as such.
But, other bike makers have an additional class actually called “all mountain”, that resides somewhere between enduro and trail (ie. Devinci, Santa Cruz). The trade-off is a bit less downhill capability for a bit more climbing capability. These could arguably be the true “all mountain” bike.
What one manufacturer might call an “all mountain” bike, another might call their brand’s equivalent an “aggresive trail” bike (Rocky Mountain).
Confused yet? Just ride more and you’ll get it later.
2018 Canyon Spectral, trail bike. Very similar in spec to the Devinci Troy, which they call their "all mountain" bike.
- The most popular class of bike according to sales figures (dangit, lost my reference to this).
- More weave vs. plough.
- Great for popping off of every lip and kicker you can find.
- Gladly capable of any jump or drop you’ll find on a trail. Bike park may be another story, but not according to Phil Kmetz:
- Climbs good. Maybe not as good as an XC bike, but good.
- Jack of all trades, master of fun.
Cross Country (XC)
I won’t go too much into these as I don’t ride XC.
- Most capable in terms of climbing.
- Least capable in terms of descending.
- Heavily favors long distance riding. XC races are often 30+ km in length.
These figures apply to 27.5” wheeled mountain bikes. In another article I’ll go over the changes with 29ers.
|MTB Type||Head Angle||Suspension Travel||Brake Rotor ⌀||Examples|
|Downhill||63° - 64°||Front & Rear: 200mm||Front & Rear: 200mm|
|All Mountain||66° - 67°||
|Front & Rear: 180mm|
|Trail||67° - 68°||
|Front & Rear: 180mm|
|Cross Country (XC)||68° - 70+°||
Read about what head angle does, here: Frame Geometry Explained
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I'm an avid mountain biker and web developer. When I'm not riding I'm daydreaming of riding. Being a technically minded person I extend my analyses of MTB related things to you through writing.
Riding Styles: Enduro, Downhill
Preferred Terrain: Steep tech
Current Steed: 2017 Devinci Troy
Location: Beautiful Vancouver, BC 🇨🇦