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Cycling Types


Mountain biking is dominated by these major categories:

  • Cross-Country (XC) generally means riding point-to-point or in a loop including climbs and descents on a variety of terrain. A typical XC bike weighs around 9-13 kilos (20-30 lbs), and has 0-125 millimeters (0-5 inches) of suspension travel front and sometimes rear.
  • All-mountain (AM) bike category typically provides 125-180 millimeters (5-7 inches) of rear and front suspension travel and stronger components than XC models, while still providing overall weight suitable for climbing and descending on a variety of terrain.
  • Downhill (DH) is, in the most general sense, riding mountain bikes downhill. The rider usually travels to the point of descent by other means than cycling, such as a ski lift or automobile, as the weight of the downhill mountain bike often precludes any serious climbing. While cross country riding inevitably has a downhill component, Downhill (or DH for short) usually refers to racing-oriented downhill riding. Downhill-specific bikes are universally equipped with front and rear suspension, large disc brakes, and use heavier frame tubing than other mountain bikes. Because of their extremely steep terrain (often located in summer at ski resorts), downhill courses are one of the most extreme and dangerous venues for mountain biking. They include large jumps (up to and including 12 meters (40 feet)), drops of 3+ meters (10+ feet), and are generally rough and steep top to bottom. To negotiate these obstacles at race speed, racers must possess a unique combination of total body strength, aerobic and anaerobic fitness, and mental control. Minimum body protection in a true downhill setting is knee pads and a full face helmet with goggles, although riders and racers commonly sport full body suits to protect themselves. Downhill bikes now weigh around 16-20 kilos (35-45 lbs), while professional downhill mountain bikes can weigh as little as 15 kilos (33 lbs), fully equipped with custom carbon fibre parts, air suspension, tubeless tires and more. Downhill frames get anywhere from 170-250 millimeters (7 to 10 inches) of travel and are usually mounted with a 200 millimeter (8 inch) travel dual-crown fork.
  • Four-cross/Dual Slalom (4X) is a sport in which riders compete either on separate tracks, as in Dual Slalom, or on a short slalom track, as in 4X. Most bikes used are light hard-tails, although the last World Cup was actually won on a full suspension bike. The tracks have dirt jumps, berms, and gaps. Professionals in gravity mountain biking tend to concentrate either on downhill mountain biking or 4X/dual slalom because they are very different. However, some riders, such as Cedric Gracia, still do 4X and DH, although that is becoming more rare as 4X takes on its own identity.
  • Freeride / Big Hit / Hucking. Freeride, as the name suggests is a ‘do anything’ discipline that encompasses everything from downhill racing without the clock to jumping, riding ‘North Shore’ style (elevated trails made of interconnecting bridges and logs), and generally riding trails and/or stunts that require more skill and aggressive techniques than XC. Freeride bikes are generally heavier and more amply suspended than their XC counterparts, but usually retain much of their climbing ability. It is up to the rider to build his or her bike to lean more toward a preferred level of aggressiveness. “Slopestyle” type riding is an increasingly popular genre that combines big-air, stunt-ridden freeride with BMX style tricks. Slopestyle courses are usually constructed at already established mountain bike parks and include jumps, large drops, quarter-pipes, and other wooden obstacles. There are always multiple lines through a course and riders compete for judges’ points by choosing lines that highlight their particular skills. A “typical” freeride bike is hard to define, but 13-18 kilos (30-40) lbs with 150-250 millimeters (6-10 inches) of suspension front and rear.
  • biking_tour_3Dirt Jumping (DJ) is one of the names given to the practice of riding bikes over shaped mounds of dirt or soil and becoming airborne. The idea is that after riding over the ‘take off’ the rider will become airborne, and aim to land on the ‘landing’. Dirt jumping can be done on almost anything but the bikes are generally smaller and more maneuverable hardtails so that tricks e.g. backflips, are easier to complete. The bikes are simpler so that when a crash occurs there are fewer components to break or cause the rider injury. Bikes are typically built from sturdier materials such as steel to handle repeated heavy impacts of crashes and bails.
  • Trials riding consists of hopping and jumping bikes over obstacles, without touching a foot onto the ground. It can be performed either off-road or in an urban environment. It requires an excellent sense of balance. The emphasis is placed on techniques of effectively overcoming the obstacles, although street-trials (as opposed to competition-oriented trials) is much like Street and DJ, where doing tricks with style is the essence. Trials bikes look almost nothing like mountain bikes. They use 20 “, 24″ or 26″ wheels and have very small, low frames, some types without a saddle.
  • Urban/Street is essentially the same as urban BMX (or Freestyle BMX), in which riders perform tricks by riding on/over manmade objects. The bikes are the same as those used for Dirt Jumping, having 24″ or 26″ wheels. Also, they are very light, many in the range of 25-30 lbs, and are typically hardtails with between 0-100 millimeters of front suspension. As with Dirt Jumping and Trials, style and execution are emphasized.
  • Mountain bike trail riding or trail biking is recreational mountain biking on hiking trails (“hike on a bike”), dirt roads and unpaved tracks, forest paths, etc. (pictured at right); it’s also practiced in dedicated “trail centers”, such as the scenic Slickrock Trail. There are “trail bike” designs for this activity.
  • Mountain Bike Touring is long distance touring on dirt roads and single track with a mountain bike. With the popularity of the Great Divide Trail, the Colorado Trail and other long distance off road biking trails specially fitted mountain bikes are increasingly being used for touring. Bike manufacturers like Salsa have even developed MTB touring bikes like the Fargo model. Mixed Terrain Cycle-Touring or rough riding is a form of mountain bike touring but involves cycling over a variety of surfaces and topography on a single route, with a single bicycle. The recent popularity of mixed terrain touring is in part a reaction against the increasing specialization of the bike industry. Focusing on freedom of travel and efficiency over varied surfaces, mixed terrain bicycle travel has a storied past.