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Mountain Bikes: Get The Right Bike for Your Riding Style

Aug 21, 2008
Ready to start mountain biking? Great choice. But first, you'll need a bike. And not just any bike. You need to find the right bike for your unique riding style. To help out, lets go over each of the major styles, and look at what kind of bikes they use.

Cross Country

Cross country mountain biking, often abbreviated as "XC", is probably the most popular discipline in today's mountain biking world. Cross country riding is simply riding on trails, with an emphasis on covering distance and gaining elevation rather than intense, technical downhill riding. Of course, this is not to say that cross country avoids thrilling downhill riding. To the contrary, the downhill portion of the ride is often the most anticipated portion. However, this downhill must be earned though strenuous and challenging climbing.

To facilitated this type of riding, cross country bikes are often lighter than most other mountain bike designs. A light bike is a fast bike, though this comes at the price of reduced durability. Additional, these cross country bikes are not as smooth on descents, and are not generally designed to take jumps. However, their light weight makes them ideal for the majority of riders simply looking to cruise the trails. Riders typically wear normal biking clothing, with nothing out of the ordinary required.

If you're the type of person who wants to simply get out on the trails and put in some miles while enjoying glorious views and thrilling descents, a cross country setup is probably for you. These bikes are generally versatile, and will serve you well in a variety of contexts.


Downhill biking is a very different discipline than cross country. Downhill biking focuses strictly on running the bikes downhill for maximum thrills. To allow this, the bikes are so heavy that they are almost impossible to ride for very long distances uphill. However, this beefy build allows riders to attempt things that those on cross country bikes could never dream of. A typical downhill run might have the riders screaming down a ski slope at 40mph, taking hairpin turns at high speeds, careening through fields of boulders, and flying high above the ground off of a jump. Downhill biking is about speed and flow, and those who master the necessary skills have access to an unlimited amount of thrills.

To allow for this type of riding, downhill bikes have overbuilt frames, long travel front and read suspensions, and a myriad of other components designed to take maximum abuse. Again, all this extra beef makes the bikes very heavy and thus difficult to pedal for any sort of distance. In order to ride, downhillers employ two major methods of getting up the hill. The first method, shuttling, involves filling a vehicles with bikes, driving to the top of the trailhead (or as near as is possible), and completing the run. Once at the bottom, the process can be repeated (assuming there is a designated driver), or the vehicle parked at the top can be retrieved later on. This method works well if the trail is road accessible. The other method is to buy a lift pass at a ski resort during the summer. These resorts offer specially designed closed course downhill runs accessible by ski lift, which offers an optimal riding experience for those fortunate enough to have access to them.

In addition to overbuilt bikes, downhillers also require extra safety equipment because of the high speeds and potential dangers involved. Full body armor and full face helmets are almost mandatory for the serious downhiller. These do not guarantee the riders safety by any means, but they are very helpful in reducing injuries due to crashes.

Overall, downhill is a very exciting and demanding discipline of mountain biking. Because of the risks, expense, and logistical hurdles involved, it is certainly not for everyone. However, if you are a thrill seeker by nature, downhill mountain biking is most certainly for you.


Freeriding is somewhat similar to downhill in terms of its focus on thrill seeking over covering terrain. However, the two disciplines differ in that freeriding is more oriented on jumps and stunts rather than speed down a course. Freeriders will find drops, jumps, skinny logs, and pretty much anything else to ride off of. Like downhill bikes, freeride bikes are overbuilt, but tend to be designed to by slightly quicker and more maneuverable than straight downhill bikes. Many riders who freeride also downhill, and vice versa, since much of the equipment and skillsets are the same.


A somewhat newish category, all mountain is for the rider who enjoys a bit everything. Light enough to take serious climbs, but beefy enough to survive rough downhills, all-mountain bikes take advantage of all the latest technologies to provide a best of both worlds experience. These bikes allow their riders to do epic XC rides one day, and lift served downhill runs the next. However, due to the compromising nature of these bikes, they will not be the fastest at all these various endeavors. However, for the all around recreationalist, these bikes are often an excellent choice.

So, this should help give you a good idea of what you can expect from each riding style, and what sort of bike is needed for each. Be sure to choose a style that suites your own needs and skills. Thanks for reading.
About the Author
David Wilson is the owner of Used Mountain Bikes. Visit today to get great deals on used Gary Fisher mountain bikes and many more brands.
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