What are mountain bikes?
Mountain bikes are incredibly versatile all-terrain bikes. They feature higher volume tyres and suspension – this allows them to gain traction, and provide comfort, even on rough off-road trails.
Within the mountain bike category there are numerous further variations; these include the level of suspension on the frame, the frame geometry itself, as well as the wheel size.
Choosing the right mountain bike for your kind of riding, will make a great difference to your comfort and performance.
What are mountain bikes made from?
Aluminium: The most common material for modern bike frame manufacture; aluminium is light and durable, and has good ride qualities; providing reliable all-round performance. View a range of aluminium framed mountain bikes.
Carbon fibre: This composite material is superlight, super strong, and has vibration absorbing properties. Carbon fibre bike frames are a relatively modern introduction for mountain bikes, but they offer the highest level of performance of all frame materials. View a range of carbon fibre framed mountain bikes.
Steel: Steel frames are renowned for their comfort, strength and durability. Steel is quite a heavy frame material though, and therefore despite its good ride qualities, it is used less commonly. View a range of steel framed mountain bikes.
Titanium: Titanium is the metal used in a lot of aircraft manufacture; it is expensive, but it has become a bespoke choice for bicycle frame manufacture. The unique look and outstanding strength are the main attractions.
Why are there different mountain bike wheel sizes?
Historically, mountain bikes had wheels that were 26 inches in diameter; it was the standard wheel/tyre size for all off-road bicycles. In the late 1990s though, people started to experiment with larger wheel sizes; namely 29 inch wheels (29ers), which is the same wheel size as a 700c wheel on a road bike. Larger wheels roll over obstacles more easily, and although they are slightly heavier and a bit less responsive, the new standard quickly grew in popularity; this was because of its ability to provide better traction and speed, particularly for cross country racing.
Although 29 inch wheels became popular with cross-country riders, downhill racers largely stuck with 26 inch wheels. This split was because of the nature of downhill riding, which demands ‘snappier’ handling; the smaller wheels and shorter wheelbase of the 26 inch wheeled bike still met these demands best. Then, in the mid-2000’s, bike manufacturers brought in a half-way-house option… the 27.5 inch (650b) wheeled bike. This new standard has become the most popular with Downhill, Enduro and Trail bikes; providing a good balance between straight-line speed and quick control; whilst 29 inch wheels remain the most popular for cross-country speed demons!
What kind of riding can I do on a mountain bike?
Mountain bikes can be used for all kinds of off-road and on-road riding, however specific frame designs are more suitable to specific terrain.
Below are the three main categories of mountain bikes.
Cross Country (XC) mountain bikes
Cross Country riding places more emphasis on fitness and endurance than trail riding; it comprises of extended climbing and riding fast rolling terrain.
To perform best on cross country terrain, these bikes are lighter weight and often just have front suspension (hardtail).
29er (29 inch wheel) bikes dominate this category, though 27.5 inch mountain bikes are gaining popularity.
Trail mountain bikes
A common trail riding mantra, is that you climb to the top at your own pace; then you race your friends on the downhill!
A good trail bike will have enough suspension to deal with fast technical descents, without compromising on climbing ability.
Another important feature of trail bikes is their geometry – while you don’t want the ‘super slack’ head angles of an all-out Enduro (Downhill) race bike, you will want a geometry that inspires confidence on the descents, and enables you to extract 100% enjoyment from the trails you are riding.
When it comes to wheel size, think 27.5 inches and 29 inches as being both ideally suited for trail riding.
Enduro mountain bikes
This is one of the most popular formats in mountain biking today. Enduro is a race discipline, which involves a combination of climbs and timed descents; it is the race-ready version of trail riding.
Enduro bikes are built with a bias towards descending; so expect slacker head angles and longer wheelbases, to maintain stability when riding aggressively.
Another stand-out feature of Enduro mountain bikes is their reach; these bikes have longer top-tubes, to specifically cater towards using shorter stems – providing more instant rider control.
When it comes to wheel size, 27.5 inch mountain bikes are the most popular platform for this style of bike.
Hardtail or full suspension mountain bike?
What is the best mountain bike suspension option for you?
Hardtail mountain bikes
Hardtail mountain bikes offer a lightweight bike, with just front suspension. These bikes have a fully rigid rear end, and are ideal for a wide variety of trails.
Full suspension mountain bikes
Full suspension mountain bikes offer the rider increased comfort and control. The front and rear suspension cushions the rider from the impacts on the trail.