There are two types of mountain bikes, and five different styles or disciplines of mountain biking. Knowing which mountain bike is best depends on your budget, the type of riding you will do, and your experience level. We will cover all of this and more in Your Guide To The Best Ride.
Hardtail vs Full Suspension
The two types of mountain bikes are hardtail and full suspension. Due to the vast difference in price, many beginners start on a hardtail. A hardtail mountain bike will have suspension in the front fork only, while a full suspension bike will have both front and rear shocks.
A hardtail mountain bike will cost less, but it will also limit you in many areas. Your stability and control are much better on a full suspension mountain bike when riding at higher speeds. A hardtail bike will be less forgiving if you land short on a jump or land with bad form on a drop.
Where hardtail mountain bikes have a big advantage over full suspension bikes is in their climbing ability. The lack of a second shock makes most hardtails lighter. They are also more efficient because energy transferring from your body to your bike isn’t wasted compressing those rear shocks.
Cross Country Mountain Bikes
XC or cross country mountain biking is a style, or discipline, that involves riding mixed terrains. Roads, singletrack and trails are all common terrain types an XC cyclists may face. Cross country mountain bikes will have less suspension travel than other riding disciplines. This is because XC mountain bike designs favor endurance speed.
Many hardtails are considered XC mountain bikes. They will have 60-100mm of travel in the front fork. When upgrading to a full suspension XC bike you will keep that 100mm of travel in the front fork, but also gain 60-80mm of travel in the rear suspension.
The most popular type of mountain bike is without a doubt the trail bike. Trail bikes are do-it-all, good at everything bikes. They will have 100-150mm of travel in both the front and rear suspension. For mountain bikers that ride a lot of different terrain a trail bike is usually the perfect fit.
There are also trailbikes of the hardtail variety, but they are far less popular. The good hardtails made to ride like a trail bike are a lot more expensive. It is easy to understand why mountain bikers prefer an entry level full-suspension bike over a high-end hardtail. One of my favorite biking experiences came on an awesome hardtail trail bike. If you get a chance to ride a Trek Roscoe, I’d highly recommend you do it!
Enduro Mountain Bikes
Where the hardtail mountain bike can no longer keep up is with Enduro mountain bikes. There are no hardtail options because this riding discipline requires a lot of suspension travel both upfront and in the rear. An Enduro mountain bike will have 160-180mm of travel in both front and rear.
Enduro mountain bikes are great at downhill riding. They are nowhere near as efficient as a trail bike or cross country mountain bike when it comes to climbing. An enduro bike will allow you to get back up the mountain, but you’re going to earn it.
Without a doubt, the fastest and best bike for getting down steep terrain quickly is a downhill mountain bike. Downhill bikes cannot climb so these bikes are best reserved for those trips to the bike park where you can take a lift to the top of the mountain. This is another riding discipline where there are no hardtail bike options.
Downhill mountain bikes will have 200mm of travel or more in both front and rear. The terrain downhill mountain bikers face will include large chunky rocks, big jumps and drops, and sharp switchback turns. Like the other riding disciplines, you will find downhill bikes with both carbon fiber and alloy frames.
Fat Tire Mountain Bikes
Another riding discipline that has exploded in popularity is fat tire mountain biking. The common feature among fat tire bikes is there extra wide tire size. Fat bikes start at a minimum tire width of 3.8″ and go up as wise as 5′ or more. Fat bikes are great for other types of cycling besides mountain biking too. They make excellent beach cruisers, and riding street when there is snow on the ground is a blast on a fat tire bike
What makes fat tire bikes so amazing? First, they run over anything. Those large tires allow you to plow through tree roots and other common terrain on the trails. Fat bikes come in full suspension options, hardtail options, and even rigid frame (no suspension) bikes.
If the different types of mountain biking aren’t for you, read Types of Road Bikes.