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Choose the right bike for your riding style

By Brian Lopes and Lee McCormack


There are as many types of bikes as there are types of riding. If you can’t collect bikes the way some people collect shoes or golf clubs, then you need to pick one that suits your typical riding style. Every bike manufacturer has a unique interpretation of mountain bike categories, but some universal types exist.

 

Hardtail bikes. Hardtails cover the entire performance spectrum, from entry-level rides to high-end racing machines. The layout and geometry have been perfected over the years. If you’re a smooth-course racerhead, a hardtail is the weapon of choice. If you ride lots of pavement with occasional smooth trails, a hardtail will work for you, too.

 

 



 

 

Cross-country race bikes. Do you want to cover off-road miles as fast as possible? With 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 cm) of travel, steep angles, and a weight-forward riding position, cross-country race bikes track well on moderate terrain, handle quickly, and pedal like the dickens.

 

Cross-country trail bikes. Cross-country trail bikes are hot tickets for all-around trail riding. They climb well and cover distance with maximum comfort and efficiency. Travel ranges from 4 to 5 inches (10 to 13 cm); 5 inches has become the standard. If you want to enjoy a wide variety of rides, this is your bike.

 

All-mountain bikes. If you’re willing to climb a mountain, but only if you get a rad descent, sign up here. Compared with the geometry of trail bikes, all-mountain bikes’ slacker geometry and more rearward position provide greater stability in the steep and rough. Travel is usually about 6 inches. All-mountain bikes can handle light stunt work, and they truly excel on rough natural terrain. They work well for downhillers and freeriders who want to ride trails.

 

Freeride bikes. More travel and greater durability qualify heavy-duty freeride bikes for mega stunts and punishing flat landings. Precise low-speed handling helps you stick to skinnies and nail narrow lines. Travel ranges start at 6 inches (15 cm) and go up from there. Many freeride bikes have dual front rings so you can pedal, rather than push, to the top.

 

Downhill race bikes. Downhill race bikes want to flow down rough trails. They’re perfect for riders who prefer speed rather than violence and jumping to backside rather than landing flat. You can certainly sprint to clear a gap, but think twice before you tackle that 10-mile (16 km) climb. Burly frames with 7 or more inches (18+ cm) of travel handle speed well and endure a decent pounding, but they won’t endure stunts as long as purpose-built freeride bikes.

 

Dirt-jump hardtails. Dirt-jump hardtails—the unruly cousins of XC hardtails—are burlier and slacker, and they have more front travel than XC hardtails. Their go-for-it handling traits make these the bikes of choice for dirt-jump varmints, urban cowboys, purist bikercross racers, and pump trackers. For many urban-based riders, especially those on budgets, a dirt-jump hardtail is an affordable, versatile all-around bike.

 

 


 

Slalom suspension bikes. Slack geometry, 3 to 5 inches (8 to 13 cm) of travel, and low bottom brackets make slalom suspension bikes corner like they’re on rails. You sacrifice some burliness and efficiency over hard-core dirt-jumping hardtails, but the increased traction and error margin serve racers well.

 

Not sure what to get? Throw a dart at the chart on the facing page. Hopefully, you’ll hit near the middle, which is perfect. A trail or all-mountain bike with a 4- to 6-inch (10 to 13 cm) travel will climb as well as it needs to, and it’ll treat you right on a wide variety of terrain. These bikes are very adaptable. If you want to ride epic, run a long stem and light tires. For a more downhill feel, run a short stem and sticky meats. If you’re more concerned with climbing and covering distance than ripping descents, go for a trail bike. If you climb only to earn your turns, go for an all-mountain model.

 

29ers

Most mountain bikes have 26-inch (66 cm) wheels. Twenty-six is not a magical number handed down from Zeus on a strip of sweet Mt. Olympus singletrack. It just happens to be the diameter of the wheels that were widely available when mountain bikes started crawling out of the primordial road bike/cruiser ooze.

 

Twenty-six-inch wheels have proven themselves to work fine. Rim manufacturers make them strong and light and in every style and price range to fit everyone from weekend bike-pathers to World Cup downhill racers. But can bike wheels be better?

 

Many say, “Yes, bike wheels can be better!” and their answer is the 29-inch (74 cm) wheel. As you might guess, a 29-inch wheel has a 3-inch greater diameter than a 26-inch wheel. Just a few years ago, 29ers were found only on niche bikes; today every major bike maker offers at least one 29-inch model—and the 29-inch trend has solidified into a viable category all its own.

 

Advantages of 29-Inch Wheels

Bigger wheels roll more easily over rough terrain than smaller wheels do. To be more precise: On a rough trail, a 29-inch wheel rolls about 6 percent more easily than a 26-inch wheel.

 

With 29-inch wheels, you can pedal at the same speed as with 26-inch wheels with less effort, or you can pedal faster with the same effort, or you can just coast faster than with 26-inch wheels.

 

Bigger wheels are more stable than smaller wheels. Depending on your riding style, you might love this or hate this. Keep reading.

 

This is an excerpt from Mastering Mountain Bike Skills, Second Edition.



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Mastering Mountain Bike Skills 2nd Edition eBook
With firsthand advice from world champion Brian Lopes, this book includes high-quality photos, detailed instruction, and techniques and tips for every skill level and riding style.
£14.16
Mastering Mountain Bike Skills-2nd Edition
With firsthand advice from world champion Brian Lopes, this book includes high-quality photos, detailed instruction, and techniques and tips for every skill level and riding style.
£16.99


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