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Types of Mountain Biking: Wich Ridding Style is for You?

If you are new to mountain biking you may be wondering what is the difference between mountain biking disciplines because you will find a lot of discussions online around them. As a general rule, there are 5 main types of mountain biking.

XC which means racing on smoother trails with the lightest bike possible, Trail riding allows you to enjoy riding smooth or technical mountain trails, Enduro which are timed downhill rides but you still need to climb the hill, Downhill which focuses only on downhill riding, and Freeride which involves big jumps and tricks.

While these 5 are the main types of mountain biking when it comes to popularity, there are still more mountain biking disciplines that are less well known. In this article, we will analyze them all!

Cross-country Mountain Biking

Cross-country Mountain Biking
Cross-country Mountain Biking

XC mountain biking events are fast and exciting. Racers race against each other over a set course. The races may last as little as 20 minutes for a fun race, or as long as two hours for elite events. Cross-country riding is a popular form of competitive mountain biking and has even gained Olympic status.

XC courses are often made up of a combination of flats and rocky uphills. Course marshals are responsible for marking gear changes so you can pass competitors. Usually, the cross country trails are smoother than on other mountain biking disciplines and the main focus is speed and pedaling cadence.

You can also join a cross-country mountain biking club to meet other riders and swap stories. Whether you’re a newbie or an old pro, you’ll enjoy the social aspect of this sport. There are some great mountain biking clubs in Queensland. There’s also a coach on hand to help you overcome your weaknesses and improve your technique.

Cross-country characteristicsDescription
Risk levelLow
Minimum skill level required to startBeginner
Fitness level required to startLow
PopularityMedium
Terrain difficultyLow
Adrenaline levelLow
Main focusPetaling efficiency and lower bike weight
Cross-country requirementsRecommended
Minimum financial commitment1000$
Minimum equipment to startMTB Helmet
Type of mountain bikeHardtail or full suspension
Type of MTB brakes2 piston hydraulic brakes
Minimum suspension travel80mm
Cross-country Mountain Biking characteristics and requirements

Trail riding

Trail Mountain Biking
Trail Mountain Biking

Trail Mountain Biking is one of the most popular non-competitive forms of mountain biking similar to cross country but it’s usually more technical with bigger obstacles and you need to overcome more challenging obstacles like rock gardens, big drops, uneven surfaces, and jumps.

Therefore, you should select trails within your comfort level and fit for you. Likewise, you should maintain the bike to its peak mechanical condition.

You can find trails on every skill level, from beginner-friendly trails (green) to veteran black diamond trails. The main advantage here is that you can ride at your own pace and slowly increase the speed when you become better.

Trail riding characteristicsDescription
Risk levelMedium
Minimum skill level required to startBeginner
Fitness level required to startLow
PopularityMedium
Terrain difficultyLow-High
Adrenaline levelMedium
Main focusTraction and climbing performance
Trail riding requirementsRecommended
Minimum financial commitment3000$
Minimum equipment to startMTB Helmet, MTB Glasses
Type of mountain bikefull suspension
Type of MTB brakes2 piston hydraulic brakes
Minimum suspension travel120mm
Trail Mountain Biking characteristics and requirements

All-mountain/Enduro

Enduro Mountain Biking
Enduro Mountain Biking

While most types of mountain biking require some level of fitness, enduro is particularly challenging for those with less experience. Enduro riders carry a backpack and take responsibility for any mechanical problems they encounter.

Transition stages are a great place to rest and refuel. Enduro is a social sport, where riders meet new friends and have fun together. Although this type of biking is a bit more difficult than a traditional race, riders will find the event to be a lot more challenging than a normal mountain bike race.

Enduro is a fast and demanding form of mountain biking. Enduro mountain bike races are typically timed and consist of three to six stages. Stages consist of downhill and an uphill section, but only the downhill section is timed. A lot of riders love the challenge of riding downhill, but this sport can also be frustrating if you’re not prepared.

Practically you need to be at the top of your game when it comes to downhill riding but still be able to climb the hill so you can start the current stage. An Enduro event can last a whole day so your fitness level needs to be well above average.

Enduro riding characteristicsDescription
Risk levelHigh
Minimum skill level required to startExperienced
Fitness level required to startHigh
PopularityVery high (most popular MTB discipline)
Terrain difficultyHigh
Adrenaline levelHigh
Main focusTraction and stability
Enduro riding requirementsRecommended
Minimum financial commitment6000$
Minimum equipment to startFull-face helmet + full set of armored protective gear
Type of mountain bikefull suspension
Type of MTB brakes4 piston hydraulic brakes
Minimum suspension travel130mm
Enduro Mountain Biking characteristics and requirements

Downhill

Downhill Mountain biking
Downhill Mountain biking

Downhill mountain biking is a sport for advanced and extreme riders alike. In competitions, riders tear down gnarly single-track descents with massive drops and gnarly root sections. The downhill races are intense and feature only one rider at a time. The winner must complete the course in the fastest time possible.

The UCI Mountain Bike World Championships took place in Ciocco, near Lucca, in 1991. While the sport has evolved greatly in recent years, the adrenaline rush that is associated with downhill mountain biking remains unchanged.

Learning how to balance yourself and control your speed in corners is vital to riding downhill. As with any sport, proper technique is crucial. While riding downhill, remember not to let yourself go over the edge. You don’t want to plunge through the earth. You’ll want to be relaxed and know the proper technique to stay upright. Marc Ross is famous for carrying great corner speed. Learn how to keep your momentum into the next straight.

Downhill Mountain biking requires a constant awareness of the trail and surroundings. Wherever you’re looking will change the direction of your bike. Look around you to ensure that you can make the turn, avoid roots and avoid unweighting your front wheel.

Downhill riding characteristicsDescription
Risk levelHigh
Minimum skill level required to startExperienced
Fitness level required to startHigh
PopularityHigh
Terrain difficultyHigh to Extreme
Adrenaline levelVery High
Main focusTraction and stability
Downhill riding requirementsRecommended
Minimum financial commitment6000$
Minimum equipment to startFull-face helmet + full set of armored protective gear
Type of mountain bikefull suspension
Type of MTB brakes4 piston hydraulic brakes
Minimum suspension travel170mm
Downhill Mountain Biking characteristics and requirements

Freeride

Freeride Mountain biking
Freeride Mountain biking

Freeride mountain biking has been a high-level sport for over 20 years, with men typically dominating the competitions. Yet, women are taking over some of the world’s most challenging tracks and pushing the limits of their abilities. The Red Bull Rampage, which took place in the mountains of Utah in the United States, has been the reference competition for the sport for 20 years.

Freeride mountain biking competitions are held around the world. Much like downhill mountain biking, it focuses on speed and style on difficult trails. It’s a sport that fosters self-expression and pushes the limits of your riding skills. There are many competitions in this sport, and the most famous ones include Red Bull Crankworx, Red Bull Joyride, and Red Bull District Ride.

While being very similar to downhill, freeride trails are much more technical and are filled with bigger jumps than the typical downhill trail.

In freeride mountain biking, the bikers attempt to perform unique tricks and stunts on the mountain. The term “freeride” is used by snowboarding fans as well. It gives bikers the opportunity to show off their uniqueness, as well as their skills, in this sport.

It is important to wear helmet lights, as well as headlamps, as these are essential for safety. When freeride mountain biking, the focus is on the biker’s style and trickery, rather than on the trail features.

Freeride riding characteristicsDescription
Risk levelVery High
Minimum skill level required to startVeteran
Fitness level required to startHigh
PopularityMedium
Terrain difficultyHigh to Extreme
Adrenaline levelVery High
Main focusTraction and stability
Freeride riding requirementsRecommended
Minimum financial commitment6000$
Minimum equipment to startFull-face helmet + full set of armored protective gear
Type of mountain bikefull suspension
Type of MTB brakes4 piston hydraulic brakes
Minimum suspension travel170mm
Freeride Mountain Biking characteristics and requirements

Four-cross/Dual Slalom

Four-cross Mountain Biking
Four-cross Mountain Biking

While many people don’t realize it, Four-cross/Dual Slalom is a sport of sorts. Unlike traditional XC racing, which involves a long, hard run, Four-cross tracks require a much shorter race length.

BMX inspired the sport’s four-cross format. Four riders compete on a course that features bumps, jumps, and other technical trail features. The goal of this competition is to win the race in the shortest time possible.

The event is judged on technical ability, synchronized execution, originality, and flow. Unlike the BMX discipline, four-cross is played at an international level and is contested on both the UCI World Cup circuit and NORBA World Cup.

Dual slalom and four-cross are spectator events. Neither of these sports has a professional classification, and the UCI has had trouble qualifying 64 athletes for four-cross over the last two seasons. In contrast, the UCI has no official ranking system for the dual slalom and downhill, but four-cross and dual slalom is wildly popular.

Dirt Jumping

Dirt Jumping Mountain biking
Dirt Jumping Mountain biking

Dirt jumping has its origins in BMX racing and is an activity that combines BMX riding and dirt jumping. While the two sports are similar in their execution, dirt jumping differs in its approach. BMX racing involves riding on a pile of soil at the end of the rider’s jump, while dirt jumping involves a higher elevation. And unlike BMX racing, the competition is not about the fastest time.

One of the most popular dirt jumping courses on the world tour is on Vancouver Island. The Vancouver Island dirt jump course is permanent, and it has even won gold at the FMB World Tour. Dylan Bibbins, the owner of Evil Bikes, says he got interested in dirt jumping when he was a kid riding his mountain bike. Originally, the BMX cats were not that keen on mountain bikes sharing their tracks, but he rallied his crew and started building dirt jump lines for his mountain bike. Soon, the BMX cats were more than impressed and became friends.

While mountain bikes made for dirt jumping usually have smaller frames and single-speed rear brakes, they are not as stable for demanding descents. Single or dual-disc brakes have replaced the single rear V-brake. Dirt jumping mountain bikes also have 24 or 26-inch wheels, and 80-100mm travel forks. In addition, dirt jumpers have a lower bottom bracket drop than hardtail bikes. Shorter bottom bracket drops are perfect for hops, but longer ones are more stable.

For more experienced riders, the best dirt jump bikes usually have a suspension fork. Mountain bikes also tend to be easy to maneuver. BMX bikes aren’t designed for dirt jumping. Dirt jump bikes, on the other hand, have gears and can easily handle the rough terrain. These bikes are often lightweight and easily maneuverable. As long as you’re able to find a good ride and practice with it, you’ll be a winner in the sport.

While BMX bikes can perform dirt jumps, they won’t soar as high. Dirt jumpers are better suited to rocky terrain and pump tracks. However, some riding enthusiasts like to perform dirt jumps on BMX bikes, but they won’t soar like a dirt jumper bike. Furthermore, BMX bikes won’t soar, which makes long high jumps more difficult. So, you’ll probably need to purchase a dirt jumper bike.

Trials

MTB Trials
MTB Trials

Unlike road cycling, trials mountain biking does not involve competitions. Players must pass obstacle-filled courses without touching the ground. It has its origins in the Catalan region of Spain, where it was originally called trials.

Trials, or motorcycle trials without an engine, were introduced by Pere Pi, the father of Ot Pi. He wanted his son to learn motorcycle trials while riding a normal bicycle. These events are now held around the world and are very popular.

There are several differences between mountain biking and trials mountain bike riding. Trials bikes have a longer and wider stem than most mountain bikes, which are narrower in design. Because of this, trials bikes are typically heavier.

The gear ratio of a trials bike is different than most mountain bikes’ gear ratio, which is generally lower. A trials bike’s gear ratio is selected to provide power and acceleration. It is also different from other mountain bike gear ratios, which are generally higher.

Marathon (Mountain Bike Touring)

Mountain Bike Touring
Mountain Bike Touring

If you’re interested in getting away from it all and exploring the world by bike, mountain biking is the ultimate activity. Mountain bikes are designed to withstand multiple-day trips and can handle the extra gear.

They feature braze-on to attach extra gear, such as panniers, bottle cages, and handlebar bags. Touring bikes can pull a trailer and can handle heavy loads, like a family or a pet cart.

Bikepacking

Bikepacking
Bikepacking

Bikepacking is a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of urban life and spend time with nature. While the term bikepacking is not a strict definition, it is a common practice for many cyclists. The concept of bike packing allows for long trips and more scenic destinations, with less effort than normal cycling. Many bikepackers focus on a few primary obsessions when planning a trip. One of them is the ability to pack gear without sacrificing comfort.

Cycling with bikepacking gear requires a special set-up and kit, as it requires more space and can’t carry as much as a touring cyclist with panniers. Bikepackers also use narrower bikes and bags, so they don’t have to worry about bag strikes and other issues while riding. These bikes are also more aerodynamic, which makes them ideal for mountainous terrain. Bikepacking bikes are also more suitable for riding singletrack than touring bikes with panniers.

For bikepacking, a variety of cargo bags are available. Panniers attach to the front rack, while saddlebags and top tube bags fit between the bike’s handlebars. You can research which pack is best for your needs. For best results, use common sense when choosing the bags. For instance, long slender handlebar bags are better than short fat ones. Regardless of the type of bike cargo bag you choose, make sure to use a zipper tie to repair straps or carabiners if necessary.

Final thoughts

Now you practically know all the mountain biking disciplines that are worth mentioning so you can choose which riding style is for you.

The most popular mountain biking discipline is Enduro because it is very challenging and the downhill portions will really make your heart pump faster.

Knowing your preferred riding style is very important because it helps you to determine what is the correct type of mountain bike for you.

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I started mountain biking many years ago to improve my overall health state. After my first ride, I fell in love with the sport. Now I spend dozens of hours a week researching and training to compete in local XC and Enduro events.