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Mountain Bike Types & Disciplines

Mountain Biking is one of the most diverse sports in the world, you can classify yourself as a mountain biker and ride a completely different discipline to another rider - using a bike which is completely different, but which still falls under the umbrella of being a mountain bike. The type of mountain biking you do, will completely define your experience, who you ride with, what competitions you enter, where you ride and how you ride - as well as what you wear.

Usually, mountain bike customers of ours have a number of different mountain bikes to ride different off road terrain and different disciplines, although ‘do it all’ mountain bikes are available which cover a massive range of capabilities.

In this post, we look at all of the different types of mountain biking, as well as the different types of bikes that are required for each discipline.

Mountain Biking First Steps/Trail Riding

Trail Riding is the first step into the world of mountain biking, and for most people - trail riding starts during childhood or teenage years. Trail riding covers riding on anything from rough tracks to forestry tracks and fire roads, bridleways too. 

Any sort of mountain bike can deal with trail riding, with hardtail mountain bikes providing plenty of performance for light duties. What usually happens is, the rider enjoys the buzz of trail riding and then pushes themselves to head down steeper, more technical trails - which inevitably leads them onto searching for a full suspension mountain bike.

Hardtail & Full Suspension Mountain Bikes

There are two main types of mountain bikes on the marketplace; full suspension mountain bikes and hardtail mountain bikes. A hardtail mountain bike has a solid frame, with no suspension at the rear, instead it has front suspension forks. Full Suspension Mountain Bikes have front suspension forks as well as rear suspension, in the form of a shock. Full Suspension bikes allow you to enjoy a more comfortable ride, and allow the average rider to tackle much more technical off-road terrain, than that which can be attempted on a hardtail bike.

Budget-wise, full suspension mountain bikes are almost always more expensive than a hardtail mountain bike, simply because there is more kit on the bike as standard. If you are looking for a cheap mountain bike, it’s better to choose a well spec’d hardtail bike over a budget and poor performance full suspension bike.

Singletrack Mountain Biking

Singletrack mountain biking is the natural step up to riding trails. Single Track refers to tracks, trails and paths that are only wide enough for a single bike to pass through. These paths can be very simple, or very demanding - depending upon where they are. An example of an easy to ride single track would be a flat path which runs parallel to fields or moorland, with more technical single tracks being found in forestry blocks running downhill and plenty of natural obstacles. Some single tracks have been built up by riders, so feature manmade berms, jumps and drops to negotiate.

Mountain Bike Parks

Those looking for a more structured riding environment, with different trails for different experience levels - should head to bikeparks. These bike parks have trails which are categorised in a similar way to how ski slopes are categorised, with green runs representing beginner trails, blue representing easier runs, red representing difficult runs and black representing expert levels of difficulty.

Downhill Mountain Biking

Carried out on full suspension mountain bikes 99.99% of the time, downhill mountain biking usually involves a dedicated mountain bike with big hitting, long travel suspension. These downhill bikes have been designed to navigate downhill terrain in mind, which makes them pretty poor at heading cross country, and especially poor at travelling uphill.

The rewards of riding downhill mountain bikes however, are huge - and it’s the most dramatic and adrenaline-fuelled version of mountain biking available in our opinion. Downhill bikes have been designed to make it as easy as possible to travel downhill, and it's surprising with a little practice, what riding can be achieved. As well as large travel suspension, downhill mountain bikes have been designed with a geometry which allows for the best possible downhill riding position and handling.

Cross Country Mountain Biking

Cross Country Mountain Biking is arguably the most common and popular mountain bike discipline - it’s not as exciting to televise as downhill mountain biking though, so it often misses out on a lot of attention. Cross Country riding encompasses all aspects of off road terrain, from ascents, flat sections to downhill trails. Cross Country bikes can be either hardtail or full suspension, with many cross country riders choosing to sacrifice rear suspension in order to save weight wherever possible.

All Mountain Biking

All Mountain Bikes bring together both cross country disciplines as well as downhill mountain biking. Think cross country cycling, but with more technical and challenging downhill routes. These bikes are normally heavier than cross country bikes, and their geometry sits between a cross country bike and a downhill bike. They still have large travel suspension, but are a jack of all trades VS a specialist bike.

Enduro Mountain Biking

Enduro Mountain Biking encompasses downhill and cross country again - with large ascents and timed downhill sections. It’s a tough and extreme form of mountain biking, and is testing for even the most seasoned of riders. Enduro Mountain Bikes again have to provide the right balance between cross country performance, and their ability to handle the trails.

Freeride Mountain Biking

Freeride Mountain Biking gets a huge amount of attention in the media and on the TV, thanks to high profile competitions which are run by the likes of Red Bull. Freeride Mountain Biking combines the excitement of downhill mountain biking, with jumps. Freeride Bikes are almost always full suspension, and have a heavy duty frame to be able to handle the impacts of jumping.

Mountain Bike Touring

Touring on a Mountain Biking is an excellent thing to do, mountain bikes are comfortable enough to be able to travel long distances on, and if you accessorise the bike correctly, you can take plenty of luggage and supplies to keep the adventure going.


Fatbikes are mountain bikes which use massive tyres that allow the rider to travel across all kinds of challenging terrain, such as snow, mud and sand. These tyres provide incredible levels of grip, meaning that these bikes can travel where other mountain bikes cannot. Fatbikes can be seen more and more, and are increasing in popularity. 

E-Mountain Bikes

Electric Mountain Bikes are massively popular, with plenty of customers making the switch from purely pedal powered bikes over to electric motor assisted mountain bikes. Almost every kind of mountain bike now has an electric version which has been developed, allowing the riders to ride faster and for longer. 

Do you need more than one mountain bike?

If riding very different cycling disciplines, then it is a good idea to have different bikes to suit each unique riding requirement. You do not, however, need a garage full of bikes to enjoy mountain biking - it’s surprising at the crossover that many bikes have, and if you buy a good full suspension mountain bike, or hardtail - you can negotiate challenging downhill terrain in an incredibly rewarding way. It is, however, very difficult to ride ascents and cross country on dedicated downhill machines, so it’s always best to choose an all rounder if only using one bike.