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Many Methods of Mountain Biking

Many Methods of Mountain Biking

Published: 08/15/2014 by David Mills

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So, you already enjoy the fun and freedom of cycling and want to spend more time riding the dirt. Walking into a bike shop to see what’s available may be bewildering. “What kind of riding do you want to do?” is often the first question. While there used to be only one type of off-road riding, these days there are several different sub-genres in the sport.


Cross Country

Cross Country (XC) is the most popular type of mountain biking. The bikes are lightweight, with up to 100mm of front and rear suspension travel, or only front suspension. Designed for speed instead of jumping, they are geared to maximize the distance a rider can travel. Forest service roads, gravel paths and smooth singletrack trails are all well within the realm of XC.


Trail and All Mountain

Trail can be thought of as “XC+”. The singletrack trails will have more rocks and roots to negotiate, perhaps even smaller jumps and drop-offs. Descents are steeper, the bikes often boast 100-140mm of travel and full-suspension is the rule.  Still, anywhere the XC bike can go, the Trail bike can go that much further, but perhaps not quite as quickly.


The All Mountain (AM) experience is a step up from the Trail ride; rougher, bigger, faster! Extended steep descents require the rider to drop their seat lower to get their weight farther back on the bike to allow for more maneuverability on tricky technical terrain. The bikes feature wider, aggressive tires with more grip, more suspension travel (120-160mm) to soak up bigger impacts and landings, and are more durable to resist the inevitable spills of riding a bicycle at high speed in the woods.


In North America, the concept of Enduro is relatively new, but it has been an option in Europe for almost a decade as a specific type of racing.  The concept is simple – the race is all about the descent, but you pedal all the way up instead of taking a chairlift or catching a ride in a truck. The bikes are a blend of Downhill  capability and AM weight, with suspension designs that will pedal well enough up a dirt road and reward you with a quick trip to the bottom of the hill. 


Downhill and Freeride

High speeds, big air and even bigger crashes are the hallmarks of Downhill (DH) riding. Full-face helmets, goggles, body armour and 200mm of suspension travel are der rigueur.  These bikes, typically close in on 19kg, and their design emphasizes fast travel down very rough terrain.

Freeride was born out of Vancouver’s North Shore in the late 90s, and could be thought of as a subset of DH riding.  Elevated wooden bridges, see-saws and drops – all with significant consequences for mistakes – reward slow-speed bike control and excellent balance.  Freeride isn’t dead, but its popularity has been dwindling over the last few years as more cyclists gravitate toward more flowing trails.


Dirt Jumping

Dirt Jumping (DJ) is exactly what it sounds like; riding your bike off jumps made from dirt. These special mountain bikes  are designed to get maximum height and spin whilst doing tricks. Most riders will be happy to get a few feet of air under their tires, but the truly adept will move on to flips, whips and spins that appear to defy physics. DJ bikes are often simple machines, with front or no suspension and few gears.

Fat Biking

Exploding in popularity over the last few years, fat bikes are so named for their voluminous tires – at 4” or more, often twice as wide as a normal mountain bike tire. This allows them to ride on very soft surfaces such as sand and snow without being bogged down. They are desirable for cyclists who want to extend their riding season into winter, and are sought-after in Canada and the northern USA for that purpose.  The large tires also provide tremendous grip and built-in cushioning on normal dirt trails, making them great options for year-round riding.


Get Riding

While divisions within mountain biking are shades of grey, the vast majority of trails can be ridden on any modern mountain bike. Suspension travel of 130-160mm appears to be the sweet spot for someone wanting to ride a XC trail one day and an easy DH trail the next. Regardless of what you ride, autumn is an excellent time to hone your skills; the weather is cooler and the trails are less crowded.




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