5 Types of Mountain Bikes: What Are The Differences?

Compared to the mass-produced mountain bikes of the yesteryears, todayʼs mountain bikes are much more advanced and uniquely designed. Whether you prefer to go on leisurely rides in the mountains or on more aggressive and daring trails, you can rest assured that thereʼs a bike suitable for that specific terrain. 

There are numerous types of mountain bikes on the market, with each type having a different tire size, rigidity, weight, head tube angle, suspension, bike geometry, and seat post.

Now, choosing a suitable mountain bike from the plethora of mountain biking options can be challenging, to say the least. The difficulty level increases further when you arenʼt familiar with the basics of mountain bike design. 

Fortunately, Iʼm here to guide you and help you understand which mountain bike suits you best.   

In essence, mountain bikes are commonly grouped into the following categories:

Full Suspension 

A full-suspension bike, as you must have deduced, is equipped with a front suspension and a back suspension. 

As a result, dual-suspension bikes are great at absorbing shocks and vibrations felt during tough rides, making them perfect for jumps and big drops on challenging and steep terrain. 

Unfortunately, such bikes generally weigh a ton and can cost you a pretty penny. Plus, they are pretty maintenance-intensive.

Hardtail

A hardtail mountain bike, unlike a full-suspension MTB, doesnʼt have rear suspension. So, it doesnʼt absorb shocks as efficiently as a full-suspension bike. 

On the bright side, hardtail mountain bikes, like road bikes, are much lighter and cheaper than full-suspension bikes. Plus, hardtails tend to have much better handling than entry-level full-suspension bikes. 

Since hardtails are quite fast and agile, they are particularly good for those who ride mainly on flat tracks and forest roads.

Rigid bikes

Rigid mountain bikes don’t contain any type of front fork suspension or back suspension at all. Therefore, these old-school bikes aren’t that popular. 

It wouldn’t be far-fetched to call them “outdated” even. However, I will say this—a rigid bike does make you a better rider as you’d need to negotiate past various obstacles on your trails, unless you want a sore behind. 

Different Types of Mountain Bikes

Any mountain biking expert will be keen to address the different challenges of mountain biking on different trails. While some may be better at climbing, others may be better at negotiating loose and slippery surfaces. 

So, the mountain bike a rider ends up choosing all depends on his mountain biking style and the surfaces/trails/terrain heʼs most likely to consistently ride on. 

As a result, mountain bike types can be further divided into the following categories:  

Cross-Country Mountain Bikes

Cross-country mountain bikes (XC bikes) are ideal for those who prioritize pedaling performance (climbing) over everything else. Usually constructed of carbon fiber to minimize weight and with around 100-mm of suspension travel, sometimes less to maximize efficiency, these bikes have excellent maneuverability and can travel through forests, fields, dirt trails, gravel paths, and meadow paths at a blistering pace. 

You see, a cross-country mountain bike has been solely engineered to get around a race course as fast as possible. And, as far as geometry is concerned, you could say that a cross-country bike looks similar to a road bike.

Unfortunately, it doesnʼt offer the most comfortable of rides as it has steep head angles.

Trail Mountain Bikes

Trail mountain bikes are what most people are referring to when they think of and talk about “mountain bikes.” Trail mountain bicycles are extremely versatile in the sense that they not only climb well, but also descend smoothly. 

Compared to cross-country bikes, trail mountain bicycles tend to have more suspension and gravity-oriented components—think chunkier tires for better traction. Additionally, trail mountain bicycles donʼt use uncomfortable, aggressive geometry either. 

As a result, they are quite easy and comfortable to ride.

Who should go for a trail mountain bike you ask? Well, trail bikes are suitable for those who find biking uphill as enjoyable as riding downhill. 

Plus, the fact that a trail bike is sturdy/stable enough for the occasional drop/jump or two, also adds to its charm.

However, keep in mind that trail bikes aren’t for you if youʼre into racing or a very specific type of riding. You see, trail bikes, though decent all-rounders, aren’t superior in any way.  

All-Mountain or Enduro Mountain Bike

Ever wondered what a trail bike on steroids would look like? Well, wonder no more as youʼll see the results in an all-mountain or enduro mountain bike. 

This bike has been specifically engineered for the race format known as enduro, where climbs are necessary, but where you only score points during the downhill sections. Of course, an enduro mountain bike is also perfectly capable of performing well at the bike park too.

To make things easier for you, letʼs compare an enduro with other types of bikes. 

An enduro bike performs much better than downhill-specific bikes when it comes to going uphill. However, enduro bikes arenʼt as versatile as XC or trail bikes. 

So, you canʼt bank on an enduro to offer comfortable rides on all types of terrain. Additionally, the tires on enduro bikes are much wider than the tires on XC or trail bikes. 

Plus, enduro bikes tend to have more travel in the front suspension too, making them great for fast and technical trails.

Downhill and Freeride Mountain Bikes

Downhill mountain bikes, as you may have deduced, are perfect for large drops, jumps, gnarly terrain, technical trails, and steep descents (downhill riding). In a nutshell, they are meant to go down rapidly.

Downhill mountain bikes, compared to other bike types, are much easier to notice. They have wide handlebars, thick knobby tires geared for maximum durability and traction, and a low saddle to optimize the center of gravity. 

And, since a downhill bike is designed to handle the stress of big jumps, it is usually on the heavier side of things. As a result, it is next to impossible to ride uphill on a downhill mountain bike. 

To absorb the vibrations and shocks of big jumps, downhill bikes come equipped with maximum suspension in the front (200 mm+) and the rear end.

Meanwhile, there are only slight differences between downhill bikes and freeride bikes. Relatively lighter than its downhill counterpart and thus, more suitable for uphill rides, a freeride mountain bike can be considered a hybrid of cross-country bikes and downhill bikes.

Fat Bikes

Last but not least, we have fat bikes. A fat bike, as its name suggests, is the fattest bike out there.  

On average, youʼll find that fat-bike tires measure anywhere between 3.8- to 5.2-inches wide. On the other hand, standard mountain bike tires come in the 1.9- to 2.6-tire width range. 

To accommodate the fat tires, almost everything on a fat bike is wider and larger (think bike frame, hydraulic disc brakes, rims, crank spindle, and bottom bracket, etc.).

So, when is a fat bike more useful than most mountain bikes? Well, fat bikes are better than all mountain bikes at riding through muddy, snowy, and loose terrain owing to their large tires. 

You see, the fat tires, instead of digging in, float through the loose, muddy, and snowy surfaces. Additionally, fat bikes offer exceptional grip/traction and are versatile enough for every type of season and terrain.

Conclusion

Now that youʼre aware of the different types of mountain bikes available for purchase in the bike shop, itʼs time for you to make a decision and choose a new mountain bike that suits your riding style, fits your budget, and goes well on the type of landscape youʼre most likely to be consistently mountain biking. 

There will always be that one bike that just feels right the moment you get on.

Before leaving you, I’d like to mention one more thing—if you’re into bike tricks, I’d recommend dirt jump bikes. They perform similar to BMX bikes, only they’re much sturdier.