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I'm somewhat new to the world of mountain bikes and I'm seeing various terms to describe different bikes. What is the difference between all-mountain, cross country, freeride, and downhill? Are they just marketing words or do they represent actual differences in the bikes (or maybe a bit of both)? Are there any other types of mountain bikes I missed?

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In Italy we also have "enduro", by which we mean something like all mountain, but faster and more aggressive (in downhill). –  bigstones Jul 26 '13 at 9:39
    
@bigstones: AFAIK enduro is a type of racing competition done with (usually high end) all mountain bikes. –  cherouvim Jul 26 '13 at 16:36

2 Answers 2

up vote 35 down vote accepted

The following list contains the basic characteristics and differences for the aforementioned types of MTBs plus 2 types of bikes that you didn't mention. Note that I've tried to summarise and "average" the characteristics of modern MTBs used today by amateurs and pros. So 9 kgs for XC bikes means that you can easily find 8 and 11 kg ones.

Cross country (XC) bikes:

  • 9 kgs
  • hardtail (front suspension only) usually 80-100mm front suspension (air)
  • very steep head tube angle
  • carbon or aluminium
  • gears: 1x11, 3x10
  • 29, 27.5, 26 inch wheels
  • will allow you do 80km rides across mountains and do incredible ascends. Sometimes these bikes are considered the "road bikes" for the mountain.
  • photo:

All mountain (AM) bikes:

  • 13 kgs
  • full suspension (air), usually 120-160mm
  • steep seat tube angle (good for pedaling), slack head tube angle (good for downhilling)
  • carbon or aluminium
  • gears: 1x11, 2x10
  • 26, 27.5, 29 inch wheels
  • will allow you do 30km rides on the mountains which will include bug ascents and very nice downhill-like descents. These have been marketed as "do it all" machines. They can actually do it all almost good but nothing very very well. Also marketed as "trail bikes" or "enduro bikes" with some minor differences.
  • photo:

Freeride bikes (FR):

  • 18 kgs
  • full suspension (coil), 180mm
  • slack seat tube angle, very low seat, slack head tube angle
  • aluminium only
  • gears: 1x7 - 1x10
  • 26 inch wheels only
  • will allow you to hit 2m+ drops to flat, hit burly lines, gap large jumps, descend on uncharted territory. To get to the top you usually push the bike or have someone get you there by car.
  • photo:

Downhill bikes (DH):

  • 15 kgs
  • full suspension (coil or air), 200mm
  • slack seat tube angle, very low seat, very slack head tube angle
  • carbon or aluminium
  • gears: 1x7 - 1x10
  • 26 inch wheels mainly
  • built for going downhill at high speeds. Used for racing.
  • photo:

Dirt Jump bikes (DJ):

  • 12 kgs
  • hardtail, 80-100mm or rigid (no suspension)
  • lowest seat possible, very stiff setup, rear brake only
  • steel or aluminium
  • gears: none
  • 26 inch wheels
  • built for groomed jumps, pumptracks, skate park riding
  • photo:

Slope style bikes (SS):

  • 15 kgs
  • full suspension (coil or air), 140-160mm
  • low seat possible, stiff setup
  • aluminium
  • gears: none or few (1x7) with lever on frame to allow spining of bars
  • 26 inch wheels
  • built for park competitions containing insanelly large jumps, wallrides and stunts. Can be used in 4X racing or dual slalom races.
  • photo:
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8  
The pictures are great (+1), but I disagree with your narrow definition of cross country. There are plenty of 26 inch wheel full suspension bikes that most would consider as being XC. –  Rider_X Jul 26 '13 at 4:58
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@Rider_X: Of course. You are right. I just tried to provide the mean (average) specs for the modern bikes of each category which are used by amateurs and pros. Edited my answer to include this explanation. Thanks. –  cherouvim Jul 26 '13 at 5:10
    
Downhill and later have mass units in "kbs". I'm assuming you meant "kgs". –  moshbear Jul 28 '13 at 13:03
    
@moshbear: Thanks. Fixed. –  cherouvim Jul 28 '13 at 15:51
1  
Awesome answer. I would concur with @Rider_X about XC bikes being much more diverse, but again I find your answer very informative. –  Gyom Jul 30 '13 at 8:49

If you can imagine a compromise between a mountain bike that is light weight and easy to pedal, versus one with that is strong and has lots of suspension travel to tackle rougher terrain you might get a diagram such as the one below.

As we go from category to category we get heavier bikes that are harder to pedal, but that can handle rougher and rougher terrain, bigger jumps, etc.

The diagram also shows overlap between the categories as depending on how the manufacturer set up the bike you can argue it could be considered to belong to one or the other category.

Caveat - I am sure some will take issue with the exact size and overlap of the different categories, but the figure is intended to be illustrative only.

enter image description here

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+1) Great answer - Not mentioned (but pretty obvious) is the third dimension - $$$$ and its effect on the two axis drawn. –  mattnz Jul 25 '13 at 21:47
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@mattnz Yes, price is a logical third dimension, but it wouldn't provide as much information to differentiate the different categories. There would be a lot of overlap on price, especially on the high-end, as you can find insanely expensive bikes in any of the categories. That said, the low end would be a better differentiator, with the cheapest being: cross country < all mountain < free ride < downhill. Finally, if I added another dimension I would have to create a dynamic widget to allow people could rotate the graph... too much work! –  Rider_X Jul 25 '13 at 22:16
    
I think price doesn't need to be on a 3rd axis. A low price would just put the "category" closer to the origin of the graph. This would probably be more evident on the weight/efficiency direction. –  bigstones Jul 26 '13 at 9:34

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