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Can You Use a Downhill Bike for Trails? (The Truth!)

Many MTB riders reach a point where they want the biggest and the meanest bike for downhill riding and of course, a downhill bike will catch their attention. But can you use a downhill bike as an all-around mountain bike and take advantage of the trails near you?

Downhill bikes aren’t met to be ridden on mountain trails, they don’t perform on flatter trails and you will have a very hard time climbing. The main purpose of a downhill bike is to ride as fast as possible on technical downhill trails (downhill competitions) and a bike park is where they truly shine.

In this article, we will discuss if a downhill bike is any good for trail riding or climbing and we will examine what are downhill bikes good for. By the end of the article, you will know if you need to get a downhill bike or if there are better options if you like trail riding.

Are Downhill Bikes Any Good For Trail Riding?

Downhill riding
Downhill race

Downhill bikes are the most specialized mountain bikes on the market, they offer the best downhill performance by far but on the climbing side, the story is totally different.

Suspension is king when it comes to smashing very technical downhill trails, for this reason, downhill bikes are equipped with as much suspension travel as possible, a big plus for downhill but a minus when it comes to flat trails and climbing.

Not only the suspension travel matters but the type of suspension, on downhill bikes the suspension is optimized to absorb the biggest shocks and will have no or as little anti-squat build-in as possible. This means that the suspension will always compress and will absorb much of your pedaling power.

A downhill bike will feel very sluggish on flatter trails and will really make you struggle when climbing, so if you have long downhill trails in your area a downhill bike may be a decent choice if you are willing to really push yourself on climbs. Keep in mind that an enduro bike would be the best solution here, it has slightly fewer downhill capabilities but it makes up in the climbing department.

The reality is that downhill bikes aren’t a good choice for trail riding and you will not have a lot of fun riding trails on one, you will have a much better time with a trail or enduro bike, bike parks are where they truly shine (no uphill riding, only downhill adrenaline rush).

What Are Downhill Bikes Good For?

I think it is obvious that a downhill bike is a very efficient downhill, they are very specialized bikes used in downhill competitions.

A downhill bike is very good for whole day riding in a bike park, the bike geometry and suspension will allow you to have fun on any downhill trail that you can find in a bike park because you will not be forced to ride the bike uphill.

Long and technical downhill trails are a treat when you ride a downhill bike, landing those big jumps becomes less intimidating if you have the right bike for the job.

But let’s keep things simple, a downhill bike is good for:

  • Technical downhill trails: they are the most optimized bikes for downhill riding, even the cassette has only 7 speeds, a tough frame, a slacker geometry, and as much suspension as possible will make a downhill bike feel like a tank that can handle anything,
  • Landing big jumps: the extra suspension travel will soften big drops and landings and will give you the confidence to perform bigger jumps,
  • Overcoming bigger obstacles: bigger suspension means that you can ride faster over bigger rocks, more fun downhill because you don’t need to reduce the speed as often,
  • Downhill races: this is really the purpose of a downhill bike when you race you don’t want to be held back by your bike if you lose it should be because of you, not your bike.

A downhill bike will truly excel at these things but not much more, it is a very specialized bike and it is not going to be the right bike for everyone, if you are a big fan of downhill riding really consider if a downhill or an enduro bike would be the right choice for you.

Can Downhill Bikes Climb?

A downhill bike has very little climbing capabilities and you will find yourself struggling even if the climb is not stiff, this is the biggest drawback of a downhill bike, it is very good for what it is meant to do but nothing else.

Practically there are four reasons why a downhill bike is a horrible climber:

  • Weight: because they are meant to overcome the roughest of terrain they are very heavy (17 kg+), a big disadvantage on climbs,
  • Gears: only 7 gears optimized for downhill, too small of a gear range for climbing,
  • Suspension: very long travel suspensions add weight and will absorb much of your pedaling power (no anti-squat technology built in),
  • Bike geometry: the slackest head tub angle from all the mountain bikes on the market makes it terrible at climbing and a joy while descending.

Downhill bikes are the worst climbers of all the mountain bikes available on the market. If you are considering getting one make sure you don’t need to climb, drive uphill or just take it to a bike park.

Conclusion

A downhill bike is not a good choice for trail riding because it is too optimized for downhill and not anything else.

If you want to ride with your friends and you will be the only one with a downhill bike I guarantee you that you will fall behind on most trails and you won’t have as much fun as them.

Downhill bikes are great for riders that mainly ride in bike parks or that want to compete in downhill races.

If you aren’t sure if a downhill bike is the right choice for you it probably isn’t, if you want incredible downhill performance but still need to ride uphill consider an enduro bike, perfect for descents and can still get you up the hill.

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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.