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Choosing a Mountain Bike

Choosing a mountain bike can be difficult without a general knowledge of disciplines and terms. Read on to learn the definitions of mountain biking’s most popular sects.

Cross-country (XC)

A cross-country mountain bike is ideal for everyone from beginners, to athletes looking to cross-train, to adventuresome outdoor enthusiasts, all the way to World Cup level racing.

Think XC: think adventure, aerobic exercise, quick, outdoor, race, lightweight, efficient use of energy

  • Hardtail: Pure and simple, the hardtail XC lacks rear suspension which allows for ultra-low maintenance and high efficiency, but it sacrifices on the comfort side
  • Full Suspension: Three to four inches of rear suspension travel absorbs shock to take the edge off of rough trails so you feel less fatigued, but it sacrifices weight and complexity
  • 29er bikes: Large wheels easily roll over obstacles (retain momentum) and provide a greater tire-contact patch for improved traction, but they sacrifice weight and reduce stand-over height

A cross-country mountain bike can capably tackle 76.32% of off-road trails. With 30 years of evolution, the XC mountain bike balances strength and efficiency (leaning more toward efficiency) and can handle rugged terrain without overexerting the rider—the perfect bike for just getting outside.

All-mountain (AM)

An all-mountain bike is ideal for fast-learning beginners looking to push the limits of their riding and for experienced riders looking to cut the quiver down to one do-it-all fun-machine.

Think AM: think backcountry, shuttle rides, aggressive terrain, adjustable travel, seat dropper


  • All-Mountain: Ready to tackle any trail short of double-black-diamond nastiness, this bike assertively takes you wherever you desire

Taking advantage of the latest tech, the all-mountain bike expertly juggles cross-country efficiency with downhill strength and stability so it’s perfectly capable on 90% of the trails out there. The latest in suspension and frame-material technology give the AM bike the efficiency, agility, and comfort needed to climb and descend all day. The all-mountain bike is also great for gravity-oriented shuttles ... but, it’ll be referred to as ‘cute’ when you’re riding lifts.

Downhill (DH) and Freeride (FR)

A downhill or freeride bike is ideal for intermediate to advanced riders looking to take advantage of gravity assistance for adrenaline-fueled rides.

Think DH: think high speed, body armor, big air, full-face helmet, lift access, steep, black diamond

  • Downhill: Gravity-fueled bikes ready for aggressive, high-speed riding including jumps, drops, and steep terrain
  • Freeride: Like a DH bike but focused more on playful riding—less straight-line, more jump-and- stunt oriented

Designed to go down and not up—the gravity-focused bike features a reinforced, heavy-duty frame and long-travel suspension for the ability to tackle aggressive terrain. Since the gravity-assisted bike sacrifices cross-country efficiency for durability and high-speed stability, riders gain elevation from a pickup-truck shuttle, lifts at a popular resort, or by their own power (walking up the side of a mountain).

Dirt Jump (DJ)

Dirt jump bikes are built for riding man-made terrain including jumps, parks, and cityscapes—so they have super burly construction and simple components to take the extra abuse from mid-air bailouts and tricks.

Think DJ: think amplitude, tossable, urban, park, jump-building, tricks, technical

  • Dirt Jump: Compact, maneuverable bikes intended for jumping

Once you’ve figured out what style mountain bike appeals to your personality and riding goals, pick one up, and hit the dirt.

Hardtail XC, Full Suspension XC, 29er, All-Mountain, Downhill, Freeride, Dirt Jump