In our how to start mountain biking series we are going to start at the very beginning, and explain what mountain biking is.
To anybody looking into the sport from the outside, you realise that there are lots of types of mountain biking. It is not just one sport but rather niche after niche of different disciplines with one common factor, the bike.
A little bit more research will show, that even the bikes between the disciplines can be very different and specialised for the tasks they need to perform. Some of these differences can be the amount of travel the suspension has, how the bike is geared and the strength of the materials used in the bike, the list can go on.
The first thing we will do is explain how the bikes are referred to. A bike with suspension only at the front and a solid rear end is referred to as a hardtail. A bike with suspension on the front and the back is referred to as a full suspension, FS or full squish. You will be glad to know that this is the same across all the disciplines.
So what types of mountain biking are there?
Breaking down the categories you will find that mountain biking consists of several disciplines that can require different skill sets.
Cross-country Mountain biking
The course takes advantage of a variety of terrain from tight trails with obstacles to navigate such as rock gardens (rocks laid on the ground across the track) to wide open spaces and includes both climbs and descents. Cross-country Mountain biking is an endurance sport so more emphasis is placed on fitness than technical skill although technical skill can help navigate some of the obstacles.
It usually takes place on a looped track, with multiple laps and is televised on Redbull TV and is also a great spectator sport to watch in person.
The bikes have a short amount of travel in the front (110mm) and sometimes a small amount of rear suspension.
At the moment, cross-country is the only mountain bike discipline to be found in the Olympic games.
This is the most popular discipline and is a casual fun day out. In our next article we will focus on trail riding to help you understand the trails, the kit needed and whether to buy or rent.
This type of riding usually takes place at trail centres and is a mixture of climbs and descents over a purpose-built hard-packed surface, you may find that all the roots will have been removed and there will be options (chicken runs) to avoid any obstacles should you not feel comfortable riding over them yet.
There are trails specific bikes available. These can have full suspension or only front suspension (hardtail) ranging from 130mm-150mm travel. If you think of them as a midway bike between a cross country bike and an enduro bike. Although it is very common to find people riding enduro bikes and the odd cross country bike at trail centres too.
Enduro Mountain Biking
Taking its name from the race discipline enduro could also be referred to as all mountain biking, however, trail riders sometimes also use the term as well.
It consists of both climbs and descents (in a race format, climbs aren’t timed as long as you reach the top within the time limit and descents are timed. usually the races appear over several stages with the fastest time overall winning.) The climbs take place on forest roads and descents are usually on steep natural trails with little preparation where roots and rocks are still in place.
The bikes have both front and rear suspension ranging between 160mm-180mm. They are a lot burlier than their XC counterparts but still geared to be able to climb hills.
Downhill Mountain Biking
A discipline that is usually found in ski resorts during the summer. There is no uphill here. You literally ride from the top to the bottom along a marked trail as fast as you can. It is all downhill.
Due to the terrain, which is, steep natural rooty, rocky tracks filled with jumps and drops, this is without a doubt one of the most dangerous disciplines in mountain biking and requires a high level of both strength and fitness. Just because your going downhill doesn’t mean its relaxing.
The bikes are long and low. Built for strength, geared for descents and usually have around 200mm of suspension. The downhill world cup and world champs give some of the most exciting action found in any sport and can be watched for free on Redbull TV.
So, those are the main disciplines within mountain biking and the types of mountain biking you will hear about most often. There are also some smaller disciplines that are less well known but also a lot of fun.
A competition-based over a variety of obstacles including jumps, drops and wooden features where the riders are given points based on the tricks or areal manoeuvres they do. Points are rewarded for the difficulty and not repeating the same tricks and the highest score wins. The most extreme version of this is the Redbull rampage competition. The competition takes place down the side of a mountain where riders build their own trail specifically for the competition and very closely related to the old type of freeriding riding which involved going out and finding or making big drops and jumps.
The bikes for slopestyle can be full suspension short travel but very small and manoeuvrable but for the larger terrain and freeride obstacles can be more like DH bikes but with more sympathetic gearing for the hills and stiffer suspension to absorb the big jumps and drops.
4x or Dual Slalom
A race discipline where 4 or 2 riders race down a short purpose-built track. The tracks contain berms (built-up corners to go around faster) and jumps with gaps. The bikes are similar to dirt jump bikes, they are also sometimes found racing as support to the downhill world cup.
Taking place in woods and forests on tracks made by the riders, that consist of a variety of jumps such as tabletops, hip jumps, and double jumps. There is usually a selection of different lines to ride down for variation and skill level. The riders are quite secretive about where their jumps are located due to the amount of work that goes into them and questions over landowner permissions. The bikes are small for manoeuvrability, only have one gear and a short amount of travel on the front.
A very slow and technical and is the art of trying to get through a purpose-built obstacle course without putting your feet down. It requires phenomenal balance and bike skill to make some of the manoeuvres. The bikes are very small, have no saddles and high handlebars.
We hope we have now answered the question, what is mountain biking? Most start with trail riding and love trail riding so much they then branch off to specialise in some of the other types of mountain biking. It is also very common for a mountain biker to ride more than one discipline within their sport and the skills cross over too, so a good Enduro rider can apply their skills to downhill and a good dirt jumpers skills would cross over into slopestyle to help other areas of your riding.
In our next article, How To Start Mountain Biking we will talk about trail riding and how to get started in a safe way. How to understand the trails, trail etiquette, and essential mountain bike gear.