When I started mountain biking in the late 80's there were far fewer choices when buying a mountain bike. Most bikes were fully rigid and made of steel and did not have much that made one different than another. Today the opposite is true; a customer has many more choices when deciding on a new bike. To help make your new mountain bike purchase I have tried to loosely define four major categories of mountain bikes on the market today. The definitions given here are general and will challenged by new ideas and progression in the sport. When you are ready to purchase your new mountain bike come and speak to someone on our staff who can provide the help and information you will need.
Cross Country/General Recreation
This type of mountain bike will be ridden everywhere from the street to fire roads to singletrack. This bike could be a hardtail with or without front suspension, or full suspension with four inches of travel or less. It could have gears or not, and 26 inch or 29 inch wheels. These bikes try to be as light as they can be without sacrificing durability.
The rider for this type of bike will be found riding local technical singletrack and/or going to a downhill lift-access mountain as well. Mountain bikes that are marketed to this segment will most likely be full suspension with four to seven inches of travel. This is the broadest cross-section of mountain bikes.
The freeride or downhill rider will ride in the same places as the trail and all mountain rider but will look for more technical trail challenges and stunts. The bikes in this segment can be hardtails to full suspension bikes that resemble motorcycles with up to 10 inches of travel. All bikes will be built with durability in mind and geometry appropriate for freeride or downhill riding.
These bikes are the skateboards of mountain bikes, built for doing tricks. The bikes in this category will mostly be hardtails.
Len Meserve of Belmont Wheelworks says: