There is a lot of jargon around mountain bikes and it changes all the time as brands invent new classes of bike and mountain bikers find new types of riding. If you are new to mountain biking, or looking to buy your first bike, it can be hard to work out what is being talked about. Below we run through some of the most common questions we get asked about mountain biking jargon.
What's a 29er mountain bike?
What are 650b mountain bikes?
What are enduro mountain bikes?
What are all mountain bikes?
What are xc mountain bikes?
What are hardtail mountain bikes?
What are downhill mountain bikes?
What are trail mountain bikes?
What is technical mountain biking?
What are fat mountain bikes?
The 29 in 29er refers to the wheel size. Mountain bikes used to all come with 26” wheels but many now come with 29” wheels instead. Using 29” wheels will make the bike roll faster once it is up to speed and as a result they are used a lot for mountain bike racing. If you are interested in going fast then you should consider a bike with 29” wheels. Trek use 29er wheels on nearly all of their mountain bikes and other manufacturers like Specialized and Whyte use them on selected models.
650b refers to the wheel size on a mountain bike. 650b is the same size as 27.5” (different brands call it different things). A 650b bike sits between the traditional 26” wheel mountain bike and the race orientated 29er. A 650b bike will be faster than a 26” wheel one but will handle low speed riding over and around obstacles better than a 29er. This makes the 27.5”/650b bikes a versatile choice for UK riding. The Specialized Pitch Women's bike pictured above is a good example of a 650b mountain bike.
Enduro is a style of mountain bike racing. In enduro races there will be a timed downhill sections and then flat or uphill transition stages which have to be completed in a set time. So the ideal bike for enduro racing is one that is super fast downhill but will be reasonably efficient on the flat and going uphill. Enduro bikes normally have around 150 or 160mm of suspension travel but will often have a means of locking down, or dialling back that travel for the climbs. Most Enduro bikes use a 27.5” wheel but a few, including the award winning Trek Slash (picutred above) use a 29” wheel.
All mountain bikes are designed for big mountain riding in the alps, or for riding in Wales or on other challenging terrain. All mountain bikes are designed for tackling the full mountain, that means riding uphill and downhill quickly and efficiently. As a result they will have a decent amount of suspension travel and will be engineered to handle big downhills, jumps and drops. As a result all mountain bikes will tend to be fairly heavy and can be a bit overkill for a lot of UK riding. Most all mountain bikes currently use a 27.5” wheel but an increasing number are switching to 29”. The Cannondale Trigger above is a classic all mountain bike.
XC is short for cross country and it usually refers to cross county racing. XC racing bikes will be as light as possible, have short, stiff suspension travel and 29er wheels to make them quicker. An XC race bike will accelerate and climb fast and will have super quick handling. The downside of XC race bikes is that they are harder to ride fast downhill and less forgiving on tough terrain. However, if you have the skill, and you want a really fast mountain bike this is where you should be looking. The Cannondale Scalpel pictured above is a classic XC race bike.
A hardtail mountain bike is one without any suspension at the back. Hardtail mountain bikes will still normally have a suspension fork at the front. Hardtail mountain bikes are generally cheaper than full suspension bikes. As there is no suspension at the bike they will give a harsher ride but they will also accelerate more quickly and let you put your power down more directly. The 2018 Whyte 905, pictured above, has been called the best hardtail ever by MBR magazine.
Downhill mountain bikes are used for downhill racing, they are not designed to be ridden uphill or on the flat and you will often end up having to push them if you want to get to the top of a hill. Downhill mountain bikes will have the most suspension travel of any bikes on the market to handle the big jumps and drops of modern downhill mountain biking courses. Most downhill mountain bikes currently use a 27.5” wheel. The Trek Session pictured above is a world beating downhill bike.
Trail mountain biking is a relatively new definition but it’s one that describes most UK riding. Trail mountain bikes tend to sit between XC race bikes and enduro bikes. They are designed to be quick uphill and on the flat but to be capable of handling tricky downhills and getting you over most obstacles efficiently. If you are going to be riding in the UK and are not sure what type of mountain bike you want this is where you need to look. The Whyte T-130 range of bikes (pictured above) are currently our best selling full suspension trail mountain bikes.
Technical mountain biking is where you have really tough terrain, often with lots of rocks, roots and drops. We will often talk about a bike being good for technical riding. This means it will be good at handling tough terrain. This often means sharp handling, quick acceleration and stability at slow speeds. Many mountain bikers favour a 27.5” wheel for technical riding as they are more stable at slow speeds and quicker to accelerate to get over obstacles.
Fat, or plus, mountain bikes are the latest trend in the mountain bike world. Fat, or plus, bikes have extra wide tyres on them. They will often be 2.8” or 3.0” wide compared to 2.1” or 2.3” on a standard bike. This extra width gives the bike a lot more grip, especially on soft and loose terrain. The Extra tyre volume also makes them feel like they have an extra bit of suspension. The downside of fat and plus bikes is that they will be a lot slower on roads or hard tracks. So if you are purely riding off-road and on soft or loose terrain fat bikes are good, if you are going to be using your mountain bike on the road then you may want to stick with normal tyres.