Mountain Bikes, Suspension and Wheel Sizes

Everybody has to have a hobby, especially these days during the “Pandemic”. I for one of fond of riding my Mountain Bike. I own a “Cross Country Trail Mountain Bike”. I know I know, you have to take your frown off your head as there are a lot of “Kinds” of Mountain Bikes, and that’s what we will talk about here. The riding disciplines, Bike suspension classification and even three types of wheel sizes so you personally can adapt as to what “Specifics” you should put on your Bike.

Not all Bikes are created equal. If you ride your Bike on a regular basis, you’ll notice a lot of different looking Bikes. They are all created not just for looks, but for specific purpose or riding discipline. Most people, doesn’t really take time to have some research as to what kind of Bike to build, as long as they will have a “Fun” time riding their Bikes.

Well, let’s get to it then.

First Mountain Bike that we will show is the Cross Country Mountain Bike.

Cross Country Mountain bikes, or XC bikes as they are commonly known, are the most common bikes most people will come across. They are also the ones you will see most of in the shops. They tend to be, generally, lightweight and designed for speed.

Essentially you can sub divide XC bikes into a further 2 sub divisions:

XC Race bikes are fast, efficient, and as lightweight as possible. They are nimble and fast to accelerate on. Typically they will have about 80-120mm of travel in the front and rear shocks to deal with the occasional boulder or pot hole. They also tend to have weight forward riding positions, and go like the blazes over moderately rough terrain. They are not built for high impact jumping and landing, but instead for ascending and taking tight corners.

XC Trail Bikes are a slightly different animal. Generally they are slightly heavier than XC racers, but still not that heavy, and are built for doing pretty much everything from dirt roads to single-track trails. Most mountain bikes available in standard outlets will fall into this category. But it’s nice to know the difference. Not that most people will ever be able to tell the difference.

Next is the All Mountain or the Enduro Bikes.

This one does exactly what it says in the box. If you can’t decide what bike you want or need, then this is probably the best choice. All Mountain, or Enduro bikes, are very similar to XC Trail bikes, but will have stronger frames, and a bit more travel in the suspension. Most of these bike will be in the full suspension category, and will have around 140-160 mm travel in them. This is to help the rider go through harder and much more technical types of trail obstacles. These are best for taking on steeper more complicated trails.

As mountain biking trail centers have become more popular, The All Mountain category are all about going up, and then coming straight back down again. As a result they are heavier, because of the sturdier frame, and are a little bit harder to pedal back up again when your done.

In essence they are pretty much the same as Trail XC bikes, the difference is they will have wide tires for extra grip, and the type of rider you see on these will be going Hail Mary down Black Runs, and more often than not be sporting knee and elbow protection.

The Downhill Mountain Bikes

These bikes are designed for the riders who just want to go downhill, and fast, and either have no fear or really good health insurance. They are designed for speedy steep descents, and thus their efficiency and riding style are geared toward that end. The gears are set large and high for pedaling fast over the roughest of terrains. The tires will be wider, and have wider rims, and the gears and frame are more durable and will hold up extremely well under pressure. These bikes will also have disc brakes as standard, and a chain guard to keep that chain in place on rough descents.

It is not uncommon to find up to 170mm-254mm of travel in the suspension either. They also almost all have full suspension setups. They will have either air, or coils shocks. Coil shocks are heavy, but tend to be able to soak up a lot more punishment.

Most serious riders will not use clip in pedals on downhill MTBs, but instead use really sticky rubber soles so they can leave the bike in a hurry when things go wrong on steep descents at speed.

They are not built for climbing. Typically, riders will either walk their bike to the top of the trail or be dropped off by vehicle. They are not fun to ride uphill.

These kinds of Bike is most often expensive.

Freeride Mountain Bikes

Freeride bikes are fairly similar in many respects to Downhillers. The main difference here is purpose.

Freeriders have much less emphasis on weight. The frame is more compact so the rider can more easily maneuver. And they are built for jumping and doing technical stunts. The frame is designed to be more flexible. They typically have around 160-180mm of travel in the suspension setup.

To put it succinctly, freeride bikes are a cross between downhill and XC bikes, but are also not fun to push up hill. The frame tubes are thick.

Lastly, the Dirt Jump Bikes

Again, these bikes are a cross breed. This time though they are a fusion between Freeride and BMX bikes. They also sometimes known as urban, or street mountain bikes. They tend to only have suspension in the front.

Put simple, Dirt Jumpers are the bike best suited for the riders who like to spend their time in the air doing aerial stunts. Many of these bikes will have single speed gears, only one brake, oversized handlebars, small frames, and low seat posts for stunt riding. They will also be ridden by people with no fear.

When we speak about Bike Suspension, they can be categorized in three different flavors.

Hardtail: Shocks at the front

Full Suspension: Shocks at the front and back

Rigid: No shocks at all

Shocks on bikes generally also come in 2 flavors, being either a wound steel spring, or using air sprung forks. Air sprung forks will end to be lighter and easier to adjust.

Hardtail mountain bikes have shocks only in the front fork. Front suspension reduces upper limb fatigue, helps keep your hands on the handlebars, and makes steering easier on rougher trails.

If you’re looking for a reasonably priced first bike, or you have a limited budget, or after a one bike that can do most anything, then a hardtail is a solid good choice.

Full suspension bikes tend to not be very good below a certain price point, and will be heavier.

A good full suspension bike will cost more than a good hardtail, but will reduce fatigue and make riding more comfortable. It also offers a higher level of control on rough ground at speed.

If you want a bike that is dedicated to riding dirt trails at speed but is easy as it can be on joints and muscles, then this may be the one for you.

Rigid bikes are mountain bikes that don’t contain any suspension at all. They were almost seen as antiquated until quite recently, but these old school Cross Country bikes are making something of a comeback. The newer ones are incredibly light, and easy to pedal.

Rigid Bike Suspension

Finally, when we talk about wheel sizes, there are actually three categories.

26” wheels are the main size wheels for most mountain bikes. For a long time, they were the only size available. If you wanted a mountain bike, you wanted 26”wheel. Why? Because you had no other choice. Also, they are supposed to be faster on downhill sections. Why? Because science. Check out the video below.

27.5”wheels are newer still. Supposedly these combine the best elements of 26 and 29 inch wheels.

Whatever wheel size bike you choose, understand that the real limiting factor will come down to your and skill level and physical abilities on the bike.

29”wheels have become much more common in recent years. 29ers are supposed to be slower to accelerate, but are faster up hills, offer more momentum overall, and are supposed to be easier to roll over small objects on the trail. Either way, they are definitely worth considering for the taller rider.

These facts should only act as general guide for you while you build your own Bike or simply buy what's in the stores. Some of us go for Price as a basis of what to purchase, but if so happen that you have the means to buy, I suggest to go for the Full Suspension kind of Bikes for easier and smoother rides.