Types of mountain biking

Mountain biking isn’t one type of riding, but a term that encompasses a whole range of different styles. Riding up mountains, racing back down them or getting technical on trails, there are five main categories of mountain bike riding that you need to know about.

In this guide, we look at the most popular types of mountain biking and why they matter to you and your choice of bike.

Why does it matter what type of mountain biking I’m doing?

For every different type of mountain biking, you’ll find different types of mountain bikes. If you’re buying a new mountain bike, you should buy one that’s suitable for your type of riding.

We can break down mountain biking into five categories.

  1. Cross-Country or XC
  2. All-Mountain
  3. Trail riding
  4. Downhill
  5. Enduro

Here we delve into the details a little more!

Cross-Country or XC

Cross-country (also known as XC) riding is what most people would consider mountain biking in its purest sense. It’s also the only form of mountain biking recognised as an Olympic sport.

XC cycling typically involves forest paths, singletracks, fire roads and even paved pathways. Expect long ascents and descents, with a focus on fun and speed. Cross country riding is all about tackling what’s in front of you, riding up, down, over and under obstacles.

Cross country mountain bikes are competent all-rounders - comfortable off-road and smooth on it. You’ll find a lightweight frame, short-travel suspension forks and rear suspension on more expensive models. Whether you ride full-suspension or hardtail, you’ll have a wide variety of gears, with many XC bikes now having a single front chainset.

Modern XC bikes come in a range of wheel sizes, with 29” wheels increasingly popular all wearing big, knobbly tyres.

All-mountain

All-mountain riding is more technical than XC riding and basically means riding in the mountains. Expect steep rises, tricky descents and more technical obstacles that nature can throw in your way!

All-mountain bikes are hardwearing bikes, built for reliability and not necessarily speed. Most all-mountain riders choose hardtails because they’re better for climbing, with sturdy wheels and puncture-proof tyres, suitable for all-weather riding.

If you’re looking for adventure, all-mountain riding is the most extreme and exciting form of mountain biking there is. Just be careful!

Trail riding

Trail riding is a more technical and aggressive form of cross country mountain biking. We’re talking about tougher tracks, steeper rises and slippery singletracks. Expect fast flowing sections broken up by challenging technical sections.

The UK has some fantastic trail riding centres, with purpose-built tracks and trails that will test every rider.

Trails bikes need to be tough and enable the ride to confidently climb and descend. You can ride trails on a hardtail or full-suspension mountain bike, armed with a wide range of gears. Puncture-resistant tyres and a well-built wheelset are a must. To help with balance, trail bikes will often come with wide handlebars to enable faster descents and greater flexibility.

Downhill

Downhill bikes are built for one purpose: to get to the bottom of a hill or mountain as quickly as possible! You’ll find full suspension set-ups with high-travel suspension to soak up the lumps and bumps and smooth out the ride.

Downhill bikes will have low saddles, aggressive frames and a mean look. Expect smaller 27.7” wheels, performance braking systems and a low, low seat. Downhill bikes aren’t built for technical or trail riding, but speed so expect stripped back set-ups.

Enduro

Enduro riding is all about speed – the speed descending down a hill, and about quickly getting back up it again! You can think of Enduro mountain bikes as downhill bikes that can climb back up the mountain again.

Enduro mountain bikes are epic go-anywhere, ride-anything machines. Full-suspension is the order of the day, with super-strong 29” wheels. Look out for dropper seat posts too, which can transform your technical mountain bike into a downhill monster with the flick of the wrist. Frames can have an aggressive geometry, with a focus on speed, not comfort.

Choosing a mountain bike

It may be that you enjoy a bit of all these disciplines during your regular rides, and that’s OK. These classifications are basic and are meant to help you understand what some of the terms mean.

The most important thing is to find the right sized mountain bike that’s affordable, comfortable and a pleasure to ride - which is where Halfords can help. Check out our mountain bike buyers guide and video, or drop in to a local Halfords where you can view our range of bikes and speak to our expert staff.

It doesn’t matter whether you want to ride trails, mountains, up hills or race down them, we’ve got the right mountain bike for you.

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