Everything You Need to Know About Mountain Bikes
Do you love the idea of riding all day in the mountains with your friends? But maybe you’re a beginner and the fear of crashing and embarrassing yourself holds you back. We know mountain biking can be intimidating but as long as you know what you’re getting into and you understand the basics then you have nothing to fear. This article breaks down the fundamentals of mountain biking including a glossary of commonly used terms, mountain bike anatomy, the different types of mountain bikes and their parts, as well as frame and wheel sizing. It’s never too late to shred and with this guide, you’ll be looking like a pro in no time.
Terms to Know
Drivetrain: The drivetrain is composed of the cassette, rear derailleur, chain, front derailleur and chainrings. This entire system works together to help you pedal efficiently and allows you to shift easily between gears.
Suspension: A suspension system is most common to mountain bikes and is included to help absorb some of the impact of rough trails. It makes things smoother for riders and overall more comfortable on aggressive terrain.
Travel: This is the full distance a bike’s suspension can compress when it hits bumps along the trail. If your travel is a higher number, this means that there’s more length for the suspension to move and therefore it can absorb more impact as you ride. A lower number means less distance, so you’ll feel the track a little bit more.
Gearing: You’ll often see gears listed as a 1x11 or 2x10. The first number is the number of chainrings, or the crankset, on the front drivetrain. The second number is the number of cogs on the rear cassette. These combine to determine how much power goes into your pedaling. A lower gearing system is best for less technical terrain and stronger riders, while a higher gearing system lets you adjust your ride to be more or less difficult and provides assistance when pedaling gets tough.
Single Speed Mountain Bikes: These only have one gear setting. Because of this, there is no way to change the tension during your ride, and therefore it relies entirely on man-power to get through steep climbs. Strong pedalers or those who want a challenge may enjoy this bike for the simple, no-frills attitude it has on the mountain.
Multi-Speed Mountain Bikes: These have at least two gear settings that can be changed depending on the terrain. It makes uphill climbs easier as well as helps you conserve your energy over long distances. This is great for those who like to have the option between easier rides and a challenge.
Trail: For inexperienced mountain bikers, a trail bike is a great place to start. They tackle single tracks and dirt roads with ease but can climb when they need to and take downhills in stride. These are great if you ride along rocky terrain but aren’t in need of a specialized bike.
Enduro: Built for speed, enduro bikes can handle the same type of terrain as a trail bike but are best for racing or overall quick descents. They are efficient options for riders who want to focus on routes that have inclines and declines from start to finish.
Cross Country: Long rides are inevitable, but cross country bikes are built for the longest of them. They’re fast and usually lightweight, meaning that you can go the distance on trails even if there are hills along the way.
Hybrid: These are a mix between a touring bike and mountain bike, meaning that they’re great over long distances but are able to handle slightly rough terrain. They are ideal on paved bike trails, hard packed dirt and gravel. They are not recommended for steep, complicated trails.
All-Mountain: Any type of mountain terrain is easy for an all-mountain bike. The tires are often larger for extra traction but not so large that they weigh you down. This is a great do-all bike for those who want to explore the mountain but not get pigeonholed into a certain type of ride.
Fat Bike: These are bikes that feature fat tires for extra grip and stability on the mountain. If you're into riding snow, sand and loose rock, this is the bike for you. Its contact patch is wide, meaning that you track better on the trails even when the terrain gets a little rough and crumbly.
Hardtail: Hardtail mountain bikes are lighter and have a front-only suspension. These are best on trails and tracks that aren’t too intense, but they work just fine if you want a budget-friendly bike to take you up the mountain.
Full: Full suspension mountain bikes have both front and rear suspension, meaning that they efficiently absorb the impact from rough terrain and keep you moving faster (and more comfortably) along the trails. These thrive on technical routes.
Rigid: Less common, this type of bike lacks a suspension system entirely. It’s the cheapest option, but you’ll definitely feel bumps along the trail more than if you were to have a hardtail or full suspension.
Carbon fiber: These lightweight frames are durable on a long term basis. If they take a hit, they can usually be repaired so you can get back on the trails ASAP.
Aluminum alloy: The least expensive frame option, aluminum frames are stiff and can handle rough terrain, but are best on inclines and two tracks due to their lightweight body. One thing to be aware of is that, when badly damaged, aluminum frames cannot be re-welded or patched as they’ll then be unsafe for future rides.
Steel: As the heaviest option, steel frames are strong, durable and more than happy to take you down even the toughest of trails. Because they’re so heavy, however, these frames can make uphill treks a little more intense without the proper conditioning.
24 Inches: Tires this small are found primarily on kids bikes. They’re meant for overall smaller riders and are generally paired with simple bikes to get kiddos started on mountain biking.
26 Inches: Also better for smaller riders or less aggressive mountain biking, these are on the lower end of tire sizing. Though originally a standard in biking, this size tire is more and more often traded out for larger sizes to give riders more traction and maneuverability on the trails.
27.5 Inches: A true mid-range option, this size offers added efficiency from the 26 inch because of its ability to tackle larger obstacles and accelerate quickly. It accommodates riders of essentially any size while still being agile on the trails.
29 Inches: These tires are larger and therefore harder to maneuver and get up to speed, but once they get going they’re hard to match. They’re great for larger riders or those who will be on rough terrain and need something that can steamroll right over obstacles on the trails.
Plus: Take a 27.5 or 29-inch tire, make it wider, and you have a plus tire. These are ideal for riders who want to add a little extra traction on the mountain. Because they’re so large, these tires have a wider contact patch with the ground and therefore aren’t as shaken up by rough terrain.
Though there are a lot of things to know about mountain biking before you get on the trails, if you have a good idea of the basics you’ll be ready to rip it in no time.