Types Of Mountain Bikes Explained: Ultimate Guide

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Prior to the 1970s, mountain bikes as a concept didn’t really exist at all.

However, nowadays, a whole plethora of different types of mountain bikes exist, with different types tailed to specific riding styles, terrain, and categories of race.

The key differences between types of mountain bikes can include the type of suspension they have, the weight of the bike, and the shape of the frame. These features determine how well suited a bike is to riding uphill vs downhill, how fast it can go, and a whole host of other factors.

But what exactly are the different types of mountain bikes, how do they differ, and how do you know which one is right for you?

To help you get to grips with all the different types of mountain bikes, we’ll be covering:

  • The 3 Key Mountain Bike Families: Rigid, Hardtail, and Full-Suspension
  • The 5 Most Important Types of Mountain Bikes

Ready for the lowdown on all the most important types of mountain bikes?

Let’s get started!

Different Types of Mountain Bikes Explained: Title Image

The 3 Key Mountain Bike Families: Rigid, Hardtail, and Full-Suspension

All the different types of mountain bikes can be separated into three key groups based on whether they have suspension on both wheels, only the front wheel, or no suspension at all.

#1. Rigid Mountain Bikes

A woman stands by a red rigid mountain bike on a sandy beach.

Rigid mountain bikes have no suspension and are more commonly found as beginner or low-end mountain bikes.

Though they’re often better for offroading than gravel bikes or hybrid bikes, if you try to do some proper trail riding on one, you’ll likely struggle. This is because the bike will be jolting around with every bump you hit, due to the fact that they have no proper shock absorption.

Whilst most modern hardtail and full-suspension bikes tend to have disc brakes, rigid frame mountain bikes are more likely to have rim brakes due to their lower cost.

#2. Hardtail Mountain Bikes

A black hardtail mountain bike sits on a pebbly beach.

So-called because they only have front suspension and no rear suspension (hence a ‘hard tail’), these bikes tend to be more affordable than full-suspension mountain bikes, whilst still offering some shock absorption.

Hardtail bikes also tend to handle better than full-suspension bikes and are also lighter, making them better for climbing.

Hardtail bikes are better suited to those looking to do some casual cross-country riding rather than steep downhill terrain. In this way, they are also more suited to beginners who are looking to get into mountain biking but aren’t yet ready to commit to the cost of a full-suspension bike.

However, you can get some hardtail bikes that are meant for more hardcore riding. For example, you can get some high-end hardtail bikes made with a very lightweight carbon-fibre frame, which may be used in races that have lots of uphill sections and terrain that isn’t too intense, as the lighter weight of the bike allows for faster speeds.

They’re also popular with off-road bikepackers for similar reasons,

#3. Full-suspension Mountain Bikes

Close-up of the rear of a black full-suspension mountain bike.

Sometimes known as “fullies”, full-suspension mountain bikes have both front and rear suspension.

This means they can offer a more comfortable ride than hardtail or rigid mountain bikes, as they absorb the impact of rough terrain much more, meaning that less shock is felt by the rider. They’re ideal for tricky, technical trails and high-speed descending.

However, full-suspension bikes are generally more expensive, and the additional components add extra weight, making the bike heavier. This means that full-suspension bikes are less suited to beginner riders, and are generally less suited to uphill riding.

The 5 Most Important Types of Mountain Bikes

#1. Downhill Mountain Bikes (park bikes)

A rider pulls a stunt on a green downhill mountain bike.

These bikes are designed to handle the most challenging of downhill rides and allow the rider to tackle them as fast as they can by absorbing as much shock as possible and keeping as much traction as possible.

In order to hold up to this, they are always full-suspension, have wide wheels, low seats, a heavy frame, and a slack head angle (i.e. the front forks point more forwards and are less vertical).

They’re pretty weighty and tend to have a massive 200mm+ front suspension, which is generally the maximum you can get. They have big knobbly tyres suitable for some serious downhill sections, but which add a lot of weight. Their heavier design also makes them more stable during treacherous descents.

Whilst they can handle downhill, their heavy weight and massive suspension make them more difficult to cycle uphill.

Due to their highly specialised nature, these bikes aren’t cheap. In fact, brands often make components specifically designed for these types of bikes due to their specific nature and durability.

Downhill bikes tend to have dropper posts with a big travel, allowing the saddle to be completely out the way during steep descents, drops, and jumps.

#2. enduro Mountain Bikes (All-Mountain)

A burgundy enduro mountain bike sits in front of a forest.

Like downhill bikes, enduro mountain bikes are designed to withstand even the roughest of terrain.

Again, this means that they nearly always have full suspension, with an average front suspension of 150mm.

However, they are also designed to handle some uphill sections too. This doesn’t mean they are optimized to ride uphill, as the sturdy frame and beefy tyres mean that you’re carrying a lot of extra weight compared to trail or XC bikes.

Uphill sections are partly factored into their design, however – unlike downhill bikes. They have a stronger, heavier, longer, and lower frame than cross-country or trail bikes, and also have wider tyres.

These bikes used to be known as “all-mountain” bikes. However, since the advent of enduro races, they’ve become known as “enduro bikes”.

Enduro is a type of race where riders race against the clock when going downhill, but are not timed on mandatory uphill sections – so requires a bike that can be ridden uphill, but that prioritises downhill performance.

As they are designed for both uphill and downhill, they tend to have a wide gearing range. They also have a special device to prevent the chain from falling off when the bike is taking heavy impacts on a big descent.

They have a slightly steeper head angle than downhill bikes, which makes them a little bit harder to handle going downhill, but gives a bit more comfort. However, the head angle is not as steep as trail or cross-country mountain bikes.

Similar to downhill bikes, enduro bikes tend to have dropper posts with a big drop length to offer the rider maximum manoeuvrability.

#3. Trail Bikes

A rider jumps off a lip on an orange trail bike.

Trail bikes are the most common type of mountain bike, and they’re often the bike of choice for less-experienced riders.

Trail bikes are designed to be durable and stable to offer good control when descending, whilst also remaining light enough that climbing isn’t too difficult. They can be either hardtail or full-suspension.

They have a more upright, higher frame than enduro bikes, which makes for a comfortable ride. However, this also means a steeper head angle (i.e. the front forks of the frame are more vertical), which results in the bike being less suitable for steep downhill descents. However, the frame is still slacker than on cross-country bikes, and the tyres tend to be wider.

Trail bikes can be considered as midway between cross-country and enduro bikes, with around 120mm to 150mm front suspension.

Similarly to enduro bikes and downhill bikes, high-end trail bikes tend to have a dropper post. However, the drop length tends to be shorter.

#4. cross-country (XC) Mountain Bikes

Two riders on cross-country mountain bikes take a break on a rocky hillside.

Cross-country (or XC) mountain bikes are designed for speed and quick cornering.

They’re lightweight and sometimes have a carbon fibre frame to keep the weight as low as possible. This light design means they are often used by riders in trail racing competitions when they need to travel as quickly as possible.

Due to their low weight and good gear range, XC bikes are also more optimized for climbing and comfort, meaning they are often the bike of choice for riders who prefer longer, smooth rides. They are more commonly hardtail, although they can sometimes be full suspension.

They tend to have a relatively short front suspension of 90-120 mm, which also helps to save weight and thereby increase speed. The suspension is designed to stay relatively stable when the rider is pedalling, meaning that the rider and frame aren’t always bopping up and down.

They also have a steeper geometry than trail bikes, as well as a shorter wheelbase, which improves the comfort of the riding position.

Cross-country mountain bikes may or may not have a dropper post. When they do have a dropper post, they tend to be more effective at downhill sections as the rider can get lower. However, the drop length tends to be shorter than that of other types of mountain bikes.

Often, the bike won’t come with a dropper post when new, but riders may custom install them.

#5. Fat Bikes

Close-up of the tires of a fat bike on a woodland path.

With their humongous tyres, fat bikes certainly don’t look like any of the other bikes on our list.

They are designed for leaving the trails behind completely, allowing the rider to cycle in sand, snow, or anything else mother nature can muster up.

The tyres can sometimes be up to five inches wide and tend to be low-pressure to enable them to easily pass over rocky terrain. Fat bikes can be either full-suspension or hardtail.

A rider in a yellow jersey holds up her mountain bike in front of a cloud-filled valley.

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Hailing from Brighton, UK, Felix is a lover of running, cycling, and all things active. When he's not exploring a remote corner of the globe on a bike-packing trip, Felix enjoys meditating, making music, and running as far as his legs will let him!

2 thoughts on “Types Of Mountain Bikes Explained: Ultimate Guide”

  1. I’m very much an ammeter cyclist who enjoys both off road and road cycling I, therefore have an MTB and an all round road bike. Both are entry level Giants of which I’m very happy with as they suit where and how I ride. Your tips are enjoyable and easy to read and quite informative.
    Thank you


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