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What Mountain Bike Is Best For You?

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Mountain bikes at first glance seem simple to pick one, but there are as many different types of mountain bikes as there are places to ride.  This is by design but which bike is right for you?

You like to ride on nice peaceful trails and dirt roads

If your ideal ride is on dirt roads and easy trails, then a XC bike, or cross country bike, is the one for you.

Cross country bikes are meant for riding on mild trails with perhaps even an occasional jump.  They work great on dirt roads wide enough for vehicles, and they can even work very well on paved roads.

XC bikes have both a front and rear suspension so that your ride is smooth even over sticks and stones.  They are lighter than trail bikes so it’s easier to pedal if you don’t need the rugged strength to ensure more intense trails.

The ride is fairly upright and choosing a XC bike is probably one of the most general use types of mountain bikes that can handle a good mix of terrain as long as it’s not too extreme.

You like strategic paths over rough terrain

For those who are a daredevil at heart who love adrenaline-inducing adventures on mountain trails, then a trail bike may be just your ticket.

Trail bikes are typically used on the more exciting terrain.  Usually this start with the top of a mountain or large hill and working down through the trails over rocks, trees, ditches, and quite often involving jumps.  While the ride typically is under 10 mph, there is a lot of skill involved in choosing the right path through the obstacles.

With up to 10 inches of suspension travel and a heavy-duty frame, trail bikes are meant to endure harsh stress from extreme biking and to isolate somewhat its riders from the shocks and bumps of the trail.

Trail bikes can be used on more mild trails and dirt roads, though not as efficiently as a XC bike or road bike.

You like jumping your bike

If you like jumping your bike in the still in the freedom that it gives you trail bike is right up your alley. Normally used on Trails coming down the mountains we have jumps over ditches, trees , rocks, and more.These are adrenaline inducing due to a hint of danger bring a level of fun that is unmatchable.

Trail bikes have a much stronger frame than cross-country or road bikes just to endure stress on the frame from the jumps. Most other bikes cannot do this without cracking the frame so this is one of the instances of having to choose the right bike for the trails you are going to ride on.  It is, however, possible to do more mild jumps with cross country bikes if you take it easy on the bike.

As part of this, I would suggest bringing the proper gear.  Getting the proper safety gear of a sturdy helmet, biking gloves, and shin guards as a starting point.

You like smooth pavement

If your preference is to ride on smooth roads then what you’re after is a road bike.   A road bike is typically used on paved roads in very good condition due to the lack of suspension and tires with minimal tread.  A road bike is built in this way so that it can excel at riding on roads.

These bikes are made to ride on the road with a minimum of effort, but they are completely inadequate if you were to take them on trails.  With a lack of suspension, any irregularity in the road can be felt very easily in the hands and arms, including potholes.  With a lack of even a minor suspension, you’ll want to ride in good conditions on very well maintained roads.

If you expect to ride quite a bit in the urban environment of a city, you may want to read a little more about using a mountain bike in the city to see if it impacts your choice of bikes.

Many times, people choose XC bikes so that they can ride on roads and over curbs that are not perfect.  An XC bike can handle roads as well as grass and potholes easily without overly affecting the fun of a road ride.

Riding on the road has its dangers yet it is quite fun with typical speeds of 30 to 40 miles per hour with the wind in your hair. some people even own both a road bike and the trail bike just so they can right on more than one type of trails. these bikes are different enough but you can’t just switch a few parts 

Read more on mountain bikes vs road bikes and the pros and cons over here on one of my other posts.

You prefer multi-day rides on smooth roads

If your preference is not just mainly on the roads it’s a go on very long rides that spin multiple days and what you’re really looking for is a touring bike.

Touring bikes are typically made to handle multiple days of traveling and as such, the ability to bring along gear necessary for the trip.  Often this is camping gear such as a tent and sleeping bag, clothing, a rain jacket, a medical kit, and more.  How much to bring really depends on the rider and length of the trip.

Where would you take multi-day rides?  There are lots of options.  Biking through somewhere like Yosemite National Park comes to mind along with many other national parks.  Usually these rides are in warm weather where it’s still warm enough at night for camping but not so warm during the day to overly affect enjoying the ride.

You Like To Ride In the Snow

Another aspect that isn’t always considered is the climate that you’ll ride in.  While the summer weather is always in mind, many people do like to bike in the snow in the winter.  With snow, you’ll want to either ride a fat tire bike or put studded tires on your bike so that you can get traction.  While you can adapt any bike to do great in the snow, it may be something to consider if snowy weather is fairly normal and you expect to bike in it.

What Bike is Best for You?

The best bike for you is one that allows you to be you and take the trails you want to take.

If you want to take big adventure trails, then a trail bike is going to be the bike that gives you the ability to tackle the obstacles.  If you want to take wilderness trails that aren’t so rugged, then a XC bike is going to give you the ability to tackle that terrain with ease and enjoy the wild life and nature.  If you want to just ride around on civil roads and offroad isn’t in your near future then a road bike is going to be your ticket.  If you want to take really long rides where you bring a trailer and full gear, then a a touring bike is going to be your best bet.

The key is to identify where you want to ride your mountain bike and then work backwards to find the matching bike.  The last step is pick that bike that is the right size for you.

No matter the choice, all biking has amazing health benefits and is good for you both physically and mentally.

Just remember that no matter where you go riding, always bring your backpack with your biking gear like a repair kit with you at all times so you don’t get stranded.

About the Author

Tony K

Senior Technical Writer,

Tony K is a technical editor at He has a focus on downhill bike riding but still loves xc bikes too.

With more than ten years of mountain biking experience and more than 5 years testing mountain bikes, Tony has ridden and tested hundreds of different bikes and products, everything from XC to enduro bikes. Tony regularly competes in mountain bike races while seeing how long those compontents can hold up which gives me a lot of insight.

When he isn't shredding down a mountain or camping out, he is writing reviews for Mountain Bike Experience.

Rides: Surly Lowside, Canyon Exceed