Types of mountain bikes

Types of Mountain Bikes

First, a note about wheel sizes:

There is still nothing wrong with a 26″ wheel bike, 26″ wheels are strong, light, and make for a very nimble bike.  That being said there are almost no new bikes being sold with 26″ wheels anymore though wheels and tires will be available for repairs for many years.  One exception is that Trek is making a couple of kids bikes in 26 inch wheels to mimic the feel of big adult bike wheels but in a smaller fitting package.


650B rims are closer to the 26″ size (25mm bigger) than they are to the 29″ rim size (38mm smaller) so it stands to reason that they will handle closer to a 26″ bike. So like anything you have a trade off, so depending on your perspective, they are either the best of both worlds or they don’t do anything that great.   A 27.5″ bike is not as smooth as a 29″ bike with the same travel, but a 27.5″ is quicker handling in super tight corners.   The medium wheel size does allow bigger travel bikes (like DH or freeride) to get some of the rolling advantages of 29r’s and that is where a lot of the buzz is.  We now have demos in both 27.5″ and 29″ so you see what works for you on the trails you ride.


This is currently the most common for Mountain bikes (at least the newer ones) on our local trails, and for good reason. They have won gold at the last XC Olympics, The first World Enduro series (Tracy Mosley), and they have even won pro downhill races (albeit not one on a World Cup course). They climb better, one because of traction of the bigger contact patch, and secondly it’s easier to keep your  balance in the sweet spot on steeper climbs. They descend more confidently  because of their increased stability, and they don’t dive into low spots like smaller wheels. Because of the lower “angle of attack” of the wheels they roll over rough terrain much easier conserving momentum on the flats and keeping you in control. A general way to think of the big wheel bikes is that they are usually 1 notch more capable than their stated category than a equivalent 26″ wheel bike. For instance a hardtail 29’r and easily hang with a 26″ XC dually and the 130-140mm travel trail 29r’s can easily take anything that a 26″ all mountain bike can handle.

They do weigh more of course (around  2 lbs more than a 26, and 1 lb for a 27.5), they are somewhat limited on the amount of suspension travel that can be designed into them, and they take a little more body English from the pilot.  Because of the second item they are not used a lot in the freeride and Downhill bike realms. The third item is sometimes talked about in terms of playfulness or nimbleness and leads those who like a lot of airtime to use 26″ wheels so they can more easily throw the bike around, like a lot of dirt jumpers using BMX bikes so that they can do more rowdy tricks.

Tire Widthphoto(2)

Until recently there was basically only one mountain bike width range 2.0-2.3. Then the first fat bikes came out with 3 inch tires and quickly grew to 4″ and up to 5″ wide tires, and now the 29+ and 27.5 +  3″ tires are making waves.  The graphic (thanks to QBP, the people behind the Surly brand) at the right illustrates that because the tire height grows as the width grows, a regular 26″ fat bike tire, a 29’r tire, and a 27.5 plus tire all have very close to the same diameter.   So this means that as you go up a notch in width you not only  get traction benefits but also ease of rolling over trail obstacles.

4-5 inch  So anything with a nearly 4 inch or wider tire is considered a fat bike tire and is great for fairly packed snow, beach riding, and regular trail riding where acceleration and speed are not a priority.  You still can’t paddle through 6 inches of untracked snow, but you can rail through packed trails or crusty styrofoam snow with ease that wouldn’t be possible with regular 2 inch tires.

3inch  The plus size width is meant to blend the characteristics of fat tires and traditional 2 inch tires.  It’s not targeted at snow and sand so much, though it can take on a fair bit more of that than 2 inch tires.  It’s real benefit is giving a lot of the traction benefits of 4 inch tires without feeling sluggish or being as heavy.  The initial plus tire equipped bikes that we have had in stock like the Trek Stache and The Specialized Stumpjumper 6 fattie have been a blast to ride and make us think that this tire type will be a popular option for many mountain bikers around here.

2-2.4  This is the original mountain bike size, much more traction and control than the balloon tires they came from but they still roll relatively smoothly and quickly, especially when combined with a smoother tread.  This will continue to be the XC standard width going forward for sure as the weight and resistance savings are significant.

No Suspension

Until Fatbikes got popular in these last few years the rigid mountain bike was almost extinct, at least here in the northeast with our rocky and rooty trails.  There are now some plus bikes (3 inch wide tires) available without any suspension as well.  Even with the big shock absorbing tires these bikes are still best appreciated on less burly terrain.


Bikes that are equipped solely with front suspension forks are called “hardtails,” the name arising from the absence of a rear shock (as in a full-suspension bike). The models we sell are priced between $400 and $2500, covering everyone from the casual dirt road rider to the Vermont 50 racer. If you compare a hardtail to a dual-suspension bike outfitted with a similar parts group, the hardtail is always less expensive and of a lighter weight. Though they are quite capable of tackling technical, rooty and rocky terrain, most people prefer to ride them on trails that are less rugged. Their weight and quick handling characteristics make them fast on the climbs. All but the very least expensive mountain bike are now coming with disc brakes and the front fork has 80mm – 120mm of suspension travel (3 to 4.5 inches).


Cross-Country This category has a similar attitude to its hardtail neighbors; in design, both are light-weight, stiff and quick on the uphills. The addition of rear suspension allows the bikes to perform significantly better on the downhills without much of a weight penalty. XC bikes weight in between 25-28 lbs and are the bikes of choice for XC (cross-country) racers, or anyone with a competitive streak. They will generally have 4 inches (100mm) of front and rear travel.

Trail Built for trail riding. They have more suspension than cross-country bikes, a slightly more relaxed upper body position (for more stable descents) and are equipped to make riding natural trail features fun. Still very light (between 28-31 lbs), they make short work of both the ups and the downs. 120mm-140mm (5 inches) of travel front and rear is the norm and it is smoother and more plush than the stiffer cross-country setups.

All-Mountain/Enduro These are moderately beefed-up bikes but still worthy to wend through our typical New England trails. These are made for people who enjoy trail riding (both up and down) but ride more aggressive terrain, including built features like drops and jumps. Though the frames are designed to create a more relaxed, upright position that favors descending, the bikes still climb well and thus still have wide range of gears.  All-mountain rigs are built with around 6 inches of suspension travel (150mm) and tip the scales at 29-32lbs.

Freeride With these bikes the balance tilts firmly away from the cross-country side of the equation as they are primarily used for lift serve riding–climbing performance is bluntly traded for the ability to absorb bigger hits on the downhill. They usually come with just one or two smaller chainrings so you can still climb a hill (when you’re not taking the chairlift), but the primary design goal is to have a bike that does not break and rides well through the burliest terrain, including huge man-made airs. They come with bigger disc brakes and 7-9 inches of travel. Any decent freeride bike will weigh over 35 lbs.

Downhill These bikes do just what the category implies: They go downhill fast, and that’s it. One big chainring, 8 to 9 inches of travel, the biggest brakes available, 4 pound tires, and a fork that would look good on a motorcycle make for a confidence-inspiring machine.