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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, 2013 at 9:39
  • @bigstones: AFAIK enduro is a type of racing competition done with (usually high end) all mountain bikes.
    – cherouvim
    Jul 26, 2013 at 16:36
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    @kjmccarx: The rider weight and travel do not necessarily correlate. You can find a 250lbs rider who really needs a 100mm travel bike, and a 140lbs rider who really needs a 200mm travel bike. Depends on what you want to do.
    – cherouvim
    Nov 11, 2014 at 3:13
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    But what about "Trail" and "Downcountry" bikes?
    – Benzo
    Jul 22, 2022 at 15:22
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    I see an answer was edited for purposes other than substance (move images away from Imgur). @Benzo made a comment that shows that language might have changed over time. Perhaps the answer writers could consider revising if they feel it's justified.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Apr 21, 2023 at 17:12

3 Answers 3

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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: XC bike

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: All mountain / trail / enduro bike

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: Freeride bike

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: Downhill bike

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: Dirt jump bike

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: Slopestyle bike
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    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, 2013 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, 2013 at 5:10
  • Downhill and later have mass units in "kbs". I'm assuming you meant "kgs".
    – moshbear
    Jul 28, 2013 at 13:03
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    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, 2013 at 8:49
  • @cherouvim when you say XC bikes allow you to do 80km rides and AM bikes 30km, what do you mean? Jul 30, 2013 at 15:08
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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, 2013 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, 2013 at 22:16
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    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, 2013 at 9:34
3

I love the diagram in Rider_X's answer. So much so I made one with more categories.

Weight vs Travel MTBs

Along with the change in weight and efficiency there is also generally a linear relation to headtube angle. An XC race bike may have a head angle in the 69° range while a downhill bike will be much slacker and possibly 63° or even lower. The steep angle will make the bike more responsive but twitchy on steep descents while a slack head angle will make it difficult to keep straight on a climb but composed and stable on a steep descent.

Bikes also tend to be longer as you move down from XC to downhill. This again helps with stability at a cost of weight and nimbleness.

The problem with this chart is it is a generalization. Good to help understand what is generally the case but there are definitely bikes that won't fit neatly into this chart. For example a Norco Optic has travel that would put it in the Trail category, weight more like a XC bike, but can descent more like something in the all mountain category. This is due to it's geometry which is more like an enduro bike than a a trail bike (slack and long).

Many manufacturers are making trail travel bikes claim to climb more efficiently than a trail bike would normally while descending like a bigger bike. Other bikes along these lines would be the Canyon Spectral 125 and the Transition Spur. Light mid travel bikes that can "do it all".

Things are also now blurred between the enduro and downhill categories as there are many bikes that are now considered "pedalable" downhill bikes. The advent of 38mm stanchion forks and carbon frames helped with this. You can now have a bike that is nearly as capable as a 200mm downhill bike (e.g. 180mm either end) that climbs as well as a 160mm bike. Previously freeride bikes and downhill bikes were mainly a push-up hill affair. Freeride bikes now come with 1x12 drivetrains and dropper posts with the assumption you'll be pedaling them uphill. Freeride bikes of the past made no such assumptions.

For your average rider it is now possible to have a "quiver of one" rather than a shed full of bikes for most disciplines.

On the topic of dropper posts (since it was brought up by Sam), nearly all midrange and higher mountain bikes will come with a dropper post. The exceptions being XC race bikes and downhill bikes. XC racers will often favor weight savings over the flexibility of a dropper post, doing their best to hang over their high saddle on steeps. Dropper posts are becoming more common (depending on the course) but they tend to be short travel (125mm) to compromise between weight savings and comfort (the seat gets slightly out of the way to get over the back more easily). In the case of a pure downhill bike it's expected if you are pedaling uphill, it will either be standing in a course/trail or on a fire road or similar, where you can simply drop your seat back down when you reach the top.

During trail rides you may often want to raise and lower your seat. Here's an elevation map from part of a ride: trail ride elevation

While it looks like one could simply ride up to each of the peaks then drop their seat, ride down, raise their seat and climb up the next peak, the reality is I dropped and raised my seat over 50 times during that ride.

When riding a feature like this: Trail roll

You need your seat full dropped so you can put your weight back. A full height seat would have you going over the bars. But right after this you could be faced with a tedious climb to the next feature where you need your saddle up to grind up the climb. This particular feature would be rated black diamond.

A green trail likely wouldn't require a change in saddle height so you'll find that entry level xc bikes don't often include a dropper post as they are geared towards smoother trails with less dramatic changes in elevation.

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    Nice summary, but why does a dropper post matter when pedalling uphill?
    – Sam7919
    Apr 22, 2023 at 10:21
  • Where I am downhill and uphill are very intermixed you want your seat up and the climbs and down on the descents without having to dismount and change your seat height. I can have my seat slammed for a rock roll then pop it up for a climb right after. Downhill bikes generally don't have droppers as it's assumes you are taking a lift or shuttling laps. You keep it low and rarely sit on it.
    – shox
    Apr 22, 2023 at 18:22

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