Your Ultimate Guide to Mountain Bikes

Riding a mountain bike can be a great way to get exercise and clear your mind. With so many different types of bikes out there, it can be hard to find which one is perfect for you. Below you’ll read all about the health benefits of riding a mountain bike, different bikes and what they do, along with everything you need to know about bike design and geometry. 

Let’s start out talking about the different types of bike riding you can do with a mountain bike! 

Different Types of Bike Riding

Different types of bikes are meant for different types of riding. This can be found in their frame weight, the amount of suspension a bike has, the type of tires and more. It can be intimidating when searching for a mountain bike, so I wanted to break down the different types of riding to help you find out which bike you’ll need! 

Cross Country

The most common form of mountain bike riding is also the original! Cross country riding is done on trails that have naturally been make, or ones that have been made specifically for bike riding. The terrain can range quite a bit. 

You’ll see cross country trails that are made of gravel, plant roots, dirt and more. Sometimes when you’re on cross country trails you’ll find yourself having to cross obstacles. These are usually things like bridges, a river or large fallen trail. 

Some trails even have fun things added like seesaws and jumps to add some spice to your bike riding adventure. People have made a ton of changes to cross country trails over the years. There are different levels of trails you can ride.

Green trails are made for families, beginners and those just wanting an easy ride. Blue trails are a little harder than green, but pose no huge obstacles to get through. Red trails are for more experienced riders and have a handful of large obstacles. Lastly, you have black trails. This is  the most challenging level of cross country bike trails and are made for the most serious riders, and can be quite dangerous if you’re ill equipped. 

There is also cross country racing. You’ll see a few different acronyms when it comes to cross country racing, including the following: 

  • XC
  • XCM
  • XCO

XC is short for cross country while XCM stands for cross country marathon. These races have several different types of terrain and are usually 30 to 100 miles long. On the other hand, there is XCO which stands for cross country olympics. These races are usually an hour to two hours long and have man-made courses that have built-in obstacles. 

You can use just about any mountain bike to hit the cross country trails, it just depends on the level of trail you’re planning on riding. Hardtail bikes are best used when you’re tackling green and blue level trails. 

But on trails that are red and black levels, you’ll need more suspension to take on all of the obstacles. This is where a dual-suspension mountain bike will come in handy. A lot of these trails also need a bike that is easy to pedal, so find something that is lightweight and easy to maintain. 

All Mountain

Next we have all mountain riding, better known as Enduro. This is a unique type of mountain biking where it’s all about whether or not you’re biking up or downhill. When you are biking uphill, you’re not being timed, while on downhill slopes, you are. 

This race format is made for endurance and quickness of the rider. It’s becoming more and more popular and is a perfect way to get in some practice that’s different from anything you’ve done before. 

Enduro, or all mountain biking is for experienced athletes that aren’t scared of large drops or intense obstacles. Bikes that are made for enduro riding are built to make riding uphill a bit easier and are really quick when it comes to going downhill. 

If this sounds like a type of bike riding experience that you want to take part in, look for bikes that have a suspension of 140mm to 170mm. You also want to make sure the tires are at least 2 ⅓ inches wide. 

Downhill

If you enjoy an adrenaline rush, you may want to look into downhill biking. When you’re downhill, or gravity biking, you’ll generally get taken up to a specific spot on a mountain to begin your descent. Sometimes riders will even walk to the point they want to start off on. 

Picture a ski-resort, but for biking and that will give you gravity or downhill biking. The point of this riding style is to get to the bottom of the mountain as fast as possible. This riding style can be quite dangerous, since you’re not only going fast but you’re taking on rough terrain and unknown slips. 

If this sounds like something you’d like to take part in, make sure your bike has a suspension between 170mm to 210mm. You’ll need tires that are near 2 ½ inches wide and plenty of protection such as a helmet, knee pads and eyewear. This type of riding shouldn’t be done unless you consider yourself an experienced mountain bike rider. 

Trail

Lastly we have trail riding. You’ve most likely taken part in trail riding a time or two in your lifetime, especially if you’re reading this guide. Trail riding is also just called mountain biking and is similar to cross country, but a bit more difficult. 

Trail biking is somewhere between all mountain biking and cross country. Bikes that are made for trail biking are specifically designed with balance and traction. Some trail bikes can be used for things like cross country riding, but they’ll slow you down a bit on hills and slopes. 

When you’re shopping around for trail bikes, you’ll want to look for a suspension range of 120mm to 140mm.  Also try to find either 27 ½ inch or 29-inch wheels. 

Mountain Bike Design & Geometry 

Later on in this ultimate guide you’ll read everything there is to know about suspension, geometry and features such as a dropper post. You may have noticed that mountain bikes are designed with different angles than your standard bicycle. 

These designs change the way you’re in control of the bike and it’s why you should be paying attention to the geometry of a mountain bike as much as any other feature. If you’ve shopped around a bit for mountain bikes already, you’ve probably seen the word “longer” is used often. 

The reaches are longer on mountain bikes, as are the angles. These longer features make the bike more stable, gives you more control and keeps the ride as smooth as possible, even on rough terrain. This doesn’t mean that longer features automatically mean a better bike. 

Types of Mountain Bikes & Suspension

You may think that there is one one type of mountain bike, but there are actually three. We’ll be talking all about dual suspension, rigid and hardtail mountain bikes. There are different types of mountain bikes because they’re used for different terrains and riding styles. 

You’ll find that some bikes on the market will have a lot of suspension on both ends, which makes them perfect for intense terrain. Other mountain bikes need to be light and quick, without needing much suspension at all. Of course, there are mountain bikes that fall somewhere in between. 

There are new types of mountain bikes all the time, but we’ll be covering the main three. But first, I wanted to share with you a bit about suspension in bicycles so that it’s easier to understand each of the types we’ll be discussing. 

All About Suspension

When it comes to mountain bikes, there is front and rear suspension. The front suspension is much easier to understand than the rear. You can find the front suspension in the forks, while the rear suspension can be in a plethora of forms. 

Front suspension is provided due to a spring that bounces open and closed when you’re riding along and hit any sort of obstacle. These springs can be made of things like air, coil or a combination of both. You’ll find that air springs are a lot more light and you’re able to easily tune them to your preferences. 

Coil springs on the other hand are much cheaper. You’ll find them on downhill and gravity bicycles. They’re usually made from steel or titanium. They’re much more durable than air springs and give you power that you can actually feel. 

Now that you know a bit about front suspension, let’s talk a bit about rear. Rear suspension can be found in several different forms. The rear suspension is made to help with braking and pedaling. One thing you’ll see a lot amongst mountain bikes is a four bar system.

This is a suspension system that has a chainstay pivot, another pivot found behind the bottom bracket and the last one on the bicycle seat that connects to a leveraged shock linkage. There is also a faux bar suspension system that is comparable to the four bar. The main difference is the pivots that are on the bike seat stay in place.

Another type of suspension is the single pivot system. This is easily the most simple option and all it is is a swing arm and one pivot that can be found near the bracket at the bottom. You’ll find great and not-so-great things about each of these suspension systems. 

It really boils down to your preferences and needs. When you’re riding the bike, what do you like when it comes to suspension? It’s something to think about when shopping around for a new mountain bike. Now that you’ve learned a bit about suspension, let’s talk about the different types of mountain bikes available.

Dual Suspension Mountain Bikes

I think it’s fitting to start off by talking about a type of bike that has suspension right in the name. Dual suspension is pretty interchangeable with full suspension mountain bikes. These bikes are best for more intense terrain. 

This is because the suspension will help to absorb any impact from the terrain and will make it so you don’t feel the bumps quite as much. This type of mountain bike will also give you better traction and is really comfortable. One rule of thumb when it comes to dual or full suspension mountain bikes is the rougher the terrain, the more suspension you need.

You need a lot less on a paved road than you would biking on a dirt trail. You’ll find that downhill bikes are designed to go down steep hills, while not sacrificing any speed. Suspension bikes are comparable in that they’re designed with the suspension in mind. 

Some full suspension mountain bikes will give you the option to lock out the suspension, which can come in handy when you’re just travelling down a paved street or sidewalk. This will also be convenient for when you’re travelling up intense terrain, rather than down. 

Hardtail Mountain Bikes

This type of mountain bike gets its name from having all the suspension in the front and none in the back. Hence why it’s called “hard tail”. You’ll find that this type of bike is much more friendly to your wallet and are a lot lighter to move since there are less moving parts. 

Because hard tails are more lightweight and stiff, they aren’t great for super intense trails, or those who are looking to go incredibly fast. One thing that they do offer is comfort. This is one of the most comfortable bicycle options on the market.

You can use them on regular city streets, or on off-road trails. Another thing that sets hard tail mountain bikes apart is that they can take more maintenance than other types of bicycles. Just like dual and full suspension bikes, you’re able to lock out the suspension which will make your hard tail bike a rigid bicycle. 

Rigid Mountain Bike

That brings us to the final type of mountain bike we’ll be covering today: rigid mountain bikes. These are bikes that don’t have any suspension. This does make it so that they can’t handle as tough of terrain as the other types you just read about. 

The majority of control and comfort on rigid bikes actually goes to the tires. These bikes are lightweight and have even less moving parts than hard tail bicycles. If you’re someone who doesn’t want a bike with a lot of maintenance, rigid mountain bikes may be the type for you. 

One big downside to this type of bike is that they’re becoming harder and harder to find. This means that people who are selling them can charge more for them. You’re best bet to finding a rigid mountain bike is a bike shop or online! 

Test Riding a Mountain Bike

Just like when you buy a new car, you have to take a new bike for a test drive. This is done for a number of reasons, whether it be to make sure the bike is comfortable, the characteristics are right or any other reason. 

It’s important to take your potential mountain bike on a decent trip when test driving it. You wouldn’t just want to go around a couple blocks and decide whether or not you want to buy it. Some places will allow you to borrow a bike for a couple days so you can get a feel for how it will truly be when it’s used. 

When shopping in person for a mountain bike, be sure to ask if they carry any testing bikes, and what their policy is on test driving mountain bikes before buying. 

You’ve read a bit about the different types of riding you can do with a mountain bike, and that’s why it’s important to test a model that you’d buy. If you’re going to be doing a lot of gravity or downhill biking, there’s no reason you should be test driving a cross country or rigid bike. 

Lastly, don’t get distracted while shopping for a new bike. Be sure to look hard at the parts it has, the material the frame is made out of, what features it comes with and anything else you may be particular about. 

Health Benefits of Mountain Biking

Over the years, riding a mountain bike has become more and more popular for exercise. There are over 40 million people that will ride a mountain bike every year, just in the United States. You may be wondering what health benefits come with riding a mountain bike.

Whether you’re worried about your waistline, heart health or other health concerns, you’ll be happy to hear that mountain biking is fantastic for your physical and mental health. Not only that, but it’s a fun activity that can be done with your friends or family. 

I wanted to share with you a few of the top health benefits that come with riding a mountain bike regularly. 

Better Heart Health

Since riding a mountain bike is considered cardio, that means it works your heart! When you bike 20 miles or more a week, you’ll lessen your risk of coronary heart disease by nearly 50%! That’s quite a bit! Riding a mountain bike uses a ton of muscles that use up oxygen. This helps to make sure that your heart is working at a steady pace and your heart health is increasing by 3 to 7%.

Improved Joints

If done correctly, mountain biking is a low impact sport. What this means is that it takes less of a toll on your muscles when compared to other activities such as running. Since you’re sitting the majority of the time, you’re taking pressure off your joints and you’re less likely to get injured! 

Less Chance of Diseases

When you work out regularly, you end up improving your immune system. When you do this, you’re much less likely to have any diseases, let alone something like the flu. People that regularly workout take half as many sick days as those who do not. Your body's better built to ward off things that can cause things like IBS, or cancer! 

More Brain Power

When you ride a mountain bike consistently, you’re actually building strength in your brain as well as your body! People that do this have shown to perform better on tests and tend to get scores that are 15% higher than those you don’t workout. 

Riding a mountain bike increases blood flow and oxygen to your brain, which can even fight off things like dementia and Alzheimer’s! If you’re looking to improve your brain function, start pedalling! 

Improves Your Mental Health

We all know that mental health is just as important as physical health. Since mountain biking can get pretty extreme, it can release natural endorphins that give you energy and make you feel better. When you exercise, you’re also releasing serotonin in your brain which can help with things like anxiety and depression. 

Some people even use mountain biking as a form of meditation and stress relief. You’ll be able to focus on your surroundings, rather than the troubles weighing you down in your daily life!  

Better Quality of Sleep

One thing that can make you feel tired and worn out is mountain bike riding. When you regularly bike, you’re decreasing the amount of cortisol in your body. Cortisol is a stress hormone that can keep us up tossing and turning all night. 

When you bike during the day, you’re exposing your body to vitamin D from the sun, and you’re body is setting itself up to have a better night sleep and get back to it’s natural circadian sleep cycle!

Bottom Line

There are a ton of benefits to riding a mountain bike! Whether you’re trying to relieve stress, build muscle, or see a smaller number on the scale, you’ll get a lot out of getting a mountain bike. 

They’re great for leisurely strolls, as well as adrenaline adventures. Do you already own a mountain bike? If so, get outside and take a ride!