Off-road biking has made very significant progress since the expedition of the buffalo soldiers from Missoula, Montana to Yellowstone in August 1896. The adventure sports of mountain biking has evolved since 1990 and through the first decade of the 21st century, from a minor activity into a mainstream sport. The manufacturing of mountain bikes are no longer restricted to custom made versions but are now manufactured in their numbers to meet the demands of enthusiasts of the sport who seek the thrills of mountain biking. These bikes are specially designed to be durable in order for them to withstand the steeps and ridges of dangerous terrains. Unlike regular bikes, the mountain bike is built with large, knobby tires, heavy duty wheels that are typically more durable, more powerful braking systems, lower gear ratios which are needed for steep grades with poor traction as well as a more robust suspension on the frame and fork.
Before a rider decides on which mountain bike to purchase, he/she must be familiar with the design and the features of the bike as well as take into consideration the level of his/her ability and skills. This will prevent such buyers from choosing a bike that requires skills which they currently do not possess. This precaution will also ensure that an extremely skilled biker does not choose a bike that is far below his skills as this could create a dangerous outcome of injury or even fatality. Also while the decision of a mountain bike is to be made, the terrain in which the biker wishes to use the bike should be considered. The bike which would pose no problems going through flat and pedal-able trail would be highly inadequate when used on a gnarly terrain and steep descents. The riding style of the mountain biker should also be put into cognizance. A biker who prefers to defy gravity would be getting a poor deal if he got a bike whose wheels were made to be continuously connected to the ground.
The reason why mountain bikes are manufactured with such extra features of durability and performance is based on the fact that they are usually ridden on non-conventional terrains which are in most cases dangerous. These bikes, as implied by the name, are ridden on and are more suitable for mountain trails, fire roads, logging roads, single tracks as well as other environment which are unpaved. These terrains mostly include rocks, loose sand, roots washouts, ruts, loose gravel and steep inclines and declines. With the features of the mountain bikes, they are able to handle the obstruction posed by these kinds of terrain. Many riders have learnt to be self-reliant enough to manage situations that could occur while they are biking in an isolated environment all alone. For instance, they always move with their very own first aid kit so they can administer first aid treatments on their injuries. Also, most riders have learnt to repair their bikes in case of slight damages or flat tires. This prevents them from being stranded thereby steering clear of avoidable threats on their lives while in the wild.
Suspension on the mountain bike is basically the system, or in some cases, systems used to suspend the rider or the bike in order to protect them from the roughness of the terrain. Based on suspension configuration, mountain bikes are divided into four categories. The first is “rigid”. In this case, the bike does not possess either rear or front suspension. The “hard tail” on the other hand is equipped with a front suspension only and a rigid frame. The “soft tail”, just like the “rigid”, possesses neither front nor rear suspension. It however, has a built-in flexibility in the frame and sometimes in the front fork which enables it to absorb the effect of small bumps. The “dual or full-suspension”, as the name implies, is usually fitted with both rear and front suspensions. The suspension system of the mountain bike not only provides comfort to the rider but also provides improved traction as well as safety by helping to keep one or both wheels of the bike on the ground.
As earlier implied, in the process of choosing a mountain bike, the rider should consider the terrain in which the bike is to be used. There are different kinds of mountain bikes categorized by the terrain in which they are to be used. Mountain bikes have evolved continuously up until the present time which has brought about the following types of bike generations.
The Cross Country (XC)
This generation of mountain bikes is used to ride point-to-point which include riding and descending, on varying terrain. This type of bike, among the mountain bike family, has the most in common with the road bikes. The cross country bike is lightweight, making it perfect for endurance climbing. It is also perfect for riders who seek excellent pedal performance and speed. Even though this is an off-road bike, it does not possess the durability required in a bike to be used in steep and downhill terrain. The cross country bikes have evolved to being made with aluminum frames that are lightweight and 65 to 110mm short travel suspension forks. Dual suspension designs have also grown to be more popular among racers and manufacturing a dual suspension design which weigh less than 10kg has become possible as a result of the use of advanced carbon fiber composites. The wheel size of this bike has evolved from 26″ to 29″, also known as 29ers. The tires of the XC bike are known for their reduced weight (which enhances climbing), efficiency and fast rolling resistance but not for traction control and durability. The riders of this bike have emphasized that it is manufactured for uphill use and flat riding for approximately 80% and 20% for downhill use.
The trail bike is what comes to the minds of most people when mountain biking is mentioned. The bikes have evolved to become not only great climbers but also capable decenters. They are an upgrade of the Cross Country bikes. They are built to be more durable so as to handle rougher terrain than that handled by the Cross Country bike. Their slacker head angles of 69–68° make provision for better stability for the task of descending. There is a balance between durability, traction and rolling efficiency in the tires of the trail bike unlike those of the XC bikes. Their wheels come in all the available sizes, from the 26″, 27.5″ to the 29″. They usually have about 120-140mm of suspension travel, weighing 11-15 kilos. Examples of this type of mountain bike are the Giant Trance, the Trek Fuel EX Series, the Specialized Stump jumper FSR, Polygon Colossus T series among others. Designed for approximately 60-70% uphill and 30-40% of downhill riding, a trail bike is an improvement of the Cross Country bike if the rider is much more interested in durability rather than speed.
Enduro /All Mountain (AM)
This bike can be referred to as the big, strong and heavy cousin of the trail bike. It is suitable for uphill and downhill racing in technical terrain while also making provision for some time in the air. The gap between the Cross Country and the free ride bike is bridged by the All- Mountain bike for they weigh between 13 to 16 kilograms (29 to 35lbs). Majority of the trail AM bikes are fitted with the medium 27.5″ wheels but also come in all the available sizes like the 26″, 27.5″ and 29″. Suspension of the AM bike ranges from 5.5″/ 140mm to 6.7″/ 170mm of travel while the build is less than 30lbs. The configuration of the All- Mountain bike is more suited for descending than climbing as the head angles ranging from 65°- 67o will require more skills while climbing up steep trails. The tires have aggressive knobs for cornering and traction. The separation of the Enduro from All-Mountain bike in recent times has led to the Enduro laying more emphasis on descent as a result of the increased preference on timed downhill runs in Enduro racing unlike in the more typical All-Mountain biking.
As the name implies, are mostly designed for steep terrain, big drops, descents, speed and jumps. These bikes are simply not designed to climb. The biker has to seek some other means of going up the trail rather than cycling. The biker would have to carry the bike uphill rather than riding it. Its inability to climb is as a result of it high gear ratio, soft suspension and aggressive geometry. The carbon fiber which is used in the manufacturing of the Cross Country frame is also used for the downhill bike as this bike has to be both durable and lightweight for the purpose of speed and safety while racing. Typically, the weight of a downhill bike remains below 40lbs (18kg) as a result of the advancement made in frame and component designs in recent years. This makes the weight of the downhill bike similar to that of the Trail and All-Mountain bikes even in that of the budget model. Downhill bikes have recently started making the switch from the 27.5″ wheel size to the 29″ wheel size. The frames are big and strong and fitted with 6.7″/ 170mm- 10″/250mm of suspension travel in the rear and 7″/180mm- 8″/200mm in the front with dual-crown forks resembling those one might see on a motorcycle. The tires of the downhill bike are fitted for the purpose of traction as well as durability. They possess double-thick casings and full spiked tread patterns that enhance traction and can shake off slashes from sharp rocks.
Similar to the downhill bike is the Free Ride (FR) mountain bike. This bike is also less concerned with reduction on weight but is more concerned about sturdiness. It is designed for trails with adequate air time including jumps and drops as well as for general riding trails or stunts that require more skills and aggressive techniques. As a result of these, they are sturdily built and are adequately suspended. They are also heavy and designed to handle the impact of crashes and landings. In order to make this possible, manufacturers do not make use of carbon fibers for frames but make use of aluminum. Even though the Free Ride mountain bike becomes heavier, it also means that the material used in making it will likely be able to withstand heavy use. The suspension system of the of the Free Ride bike is top-notch and typically has at least 7 inches (180mm) of travel. However, like the downhill bike, it is difficult to maneuver the Free Ride bike while making a climb uphill. However, some Free Ride bikes can be ridden uphill more easily than in the case of the downhill bike. As expected, the Free Ride bike is heavy, with its average weight ranging from 14- 20 kilos (31 to 44lbs).
Dirt Jumping Bike
Dirt Jumping, Urban and Street mountain bikes are either designed with front suspension of 3 to 4.5 inches (76 to 144mm), or “rigid”, that is, without suspension, with frames that are durable and have low bottom brackets as well as short chain stays which make them easy to maneuver. The dirt bike is mostly suited for stunts and tricks and for these purposes, is equipped with low seat posts and handle bars that are oversized. Because the rider will need to spin the handlebars multiple of times, an extended rear brake cable is fitted at the back with usually no front brake so as not to get the brake cables tangled.
The slope style (SS) bikes have the properties of both the Free Ride and Dirt Jump bikes. This bike has the same geometry as the Dirt Jump bike. It is however, equipped with suspension travel in both the front and rear of approximately 4″ (100mm). Designed for extremely large jumps and high speeds, which biker are faced with in competitions, this bike is mostly used by professional slope style riders. They are built to be durable enough to handle the high speed and harsh impacts that are associated with their use. The durability and the sophistication of this bike makes it more versatile than the Dirt Jump bike and as a result of this, it is also used for light downhill or trail riding.
The trial bike is made solely for the purpose of bicycle trials. Because this is a bike made for trials only, the modern ones are mostly made without saddles since they are usually not needed during trial races. The 26″wheeled trial bike is known as the “stock” while the 20″ wheeled trial bike is known as the “mod”. Trial bikes are usually not equipped with suspensions. During competitions, the rules state that stock trial bikes should possess multiple gears while the mod trial bike can be used without gear. In order to ensure easy maneuvering of the bike, they are made to be extremely more lightweight than the others. They weigh 7 to 11kilos (15 to 24lbs)
Single Speed Bikes
The Single-Speed (SS) mountain bikes are usually void of suspensions and are described as being fully rigid. They also have steel frames. This bike has one set gear ratio and the chosen gear ratio is based on the kind of terrain where the bike is to be ridden, the fitness and skill of he rider as well as the size of the bike. It depends also on the size of the bike because a 29″ wheeled bike requires a different gearing from a 26″ wheeled bike.
The Mountain Cross, also known as the “Four Cross” (4X) is usually categorized under the Dirt Jump or Slope style design. The major advancement being that the Four Cross makes use of derailleur instead of single speed setup. Since this is a bike meant for racing downhill while also maintaining the purpose of increased stability while on speed, the 4X makes use of slightly slacker head angles than the typical Dirty Jump bikes. This bike is specifically used by four bikers raving downhill on a prepared BMX style track. However, since the UCI removed this sport from the world cup due to the effects of erosion caused by the prepared tracks, it has become less popular. These bikes are either equipped with full suspension with 3 to 4 inches of travel or hard tail and they also typically possess strong frames.
Northshore bikes are similar to both the downhill bike and the free ride bike. They have the same geometry as the Free ride while their component makeup is similar to that of the downhill bike. The North shore bike is designed to foster easy maneuverability as their trails include high speed descents, complex bridges and large drops. For this purpose, it is equipped with as much suspension as the Free Ride and the downhill. It is however, more lightweight with a very flexible frame to aid maneuverability.
Cannondale Bad Habit
The Cannondale Bad Habit with plus-size tires are the hottest trend in mountain bikes presently. The tires are usually between 2.7 and 3 inches wide. It is a full suspension bike with a 120mm of travel front and rear. The wheels are of a measurement of 27.5 inches. The plus size wheels provide adequate traction for both climbing and descending, taking the sting out of technical trails. The frame is made with carbon and with a 60 degree head tube angle. Due to the plus size tires of this bike, it can easily get a spot on the list of best new mountain bikes of 2016.
If you are after a bike that guarantees swoopy maneuverability through steep, twisty and technical trails then the Liv Lust Advanced 1 is what you are looking for. Just like bikes with bulky frames, the Liv Lust Advanced 1 features a carbon frame, for ultra-lightweight, and aluminum rear triangle. The suspension of the is dual with a 100mm of rear- wheel travel and a 120mm Rockshox SID RL fork up front. It is equipped with 27.5 inch wheels. This bike is perfect for a XC-style racing on the weekends. Due to its lightweight and efficient suspension, the Liv Lust Advanced 1 climbs well enough. Out of the several products trending in the market at the moment, we have taken the time to test and review a few mountain bikes thereby narrowing down the selection process based on the considerations made above.
Pivot Mach 429 Trail ($2,499) Good
Unlike most 29″wheeled bikes, equipped with full-suspension which ends up making them big and cumbersome, the Pivot Mach 429 Trail is different. It is a versatile bike which exploits the benefit of having a 29 inch wheel size. After the test of the Pivot Mach 429 Trail, the buyer is sure to notice the amount of attention that has gone into its development. The suspension is based on the Dave Weagle’s DW link design and like every other bike with similar structure, the suspension feels extremely crisp and efficient and with little unwanted movement. It has a 116mm of travel handling which is not only useful at absorbing bumps but also effective at pedaling. The Pivot Mach 429 Trail provides an impressive ride that makes it a bike for every situation.
Pivot Mach 429 Trail
Yeti SB5c BETI ($6,899)
The Yeti SB5c BETI, though a 5-inch trail bike, possesses the speed of a lightning-fast Cross Country bike. It has a lightweight carbon frame and high end parts, weighing about 25 pounds. The lightness of the bike however prevents it from being sure-footed on descents. The wheels are 27.5 inches and the 66.8 degree head tube angle is effective for both climbing up and steep descending. The Yeti SB5c BET has five inches of rear wheel suspension with a slack angle and a 140mm fork. The Yeti SB5c trail bike which won our Editor’s Choice award possesses the same geometry and unique switch infinity suspension design as the Yeti SB5c BET. This bike is more suited for smaller bikers. It has a handle bar that is narrow as well as a women’s saddle and lighter wheels.
Yeti SB5c BETI
Ibis Ripley 29 LS ($2899) Excellent
This bike was released in 2016 as an upgrade of the previous Ripley which won a Bicycling Editor’s choice award. As expected, the upgrade made it even better. The “LS” in “Ripley LS” stands for Long and Slack. The head tube is core slackened to 67.5 degrees. The seat angle is steepened and the seat mast dropped by 1/2. This is especially good news for those with short legs; it also accommodates more dropped posts. The frame of the Ripley 29 LS is made from carbon fiber Monocoque construction not only for the swing arm but also for the main triangle. This new model is also equipped with better tire clearance, nifty chain slap protectors, a threaded BB and a boost 148 option. In all, the Ripley 29 LS rates higher than the 2015 version.
Ibis Ripley 29 LS
Spot Rollik 557 ($5,199.99)
The Spot Rollik is a new model by Spot which has a nice outward look with a 140mm frame made with carbon. This bike possesses a Dave Weagle DW-Link suspension system. Though this is the same system used by Turner, Pivot and Ibis, the difference with the spot’s is that instead of the ball-bearing and axle used by the others, the spot’s makes use of a composite leaf spring. According to spot, the general suspension performance is improved by this design, needing less maintenance as well as being stiffer and lighter.
Marin Attack Trail 9 ($6,599) Good
This bike is equipped with a dual suspension system with a wheel travel of 150mm of rear and 160mm up front. The front triangle is made with carbon. The features of this Marin’s new model are the Enduro-Y parts, like a wide bar, short stem SRAM x01 1×11 drive train and KS LEV dropper seat post. It possesses wheels of 27.5 inches. The 66.5 degree head angle provides descending confidence while also climbing well with great dignity.
Marin Attack Trail 9
GT Verb Export ($3,249)
The GT Verb Export is a full suspension bike with a 120mm travel and 27.5 inches of wheels. The rear suspension has a simplified of riff and GT’s independent drive train system. It has a Shimano 2×10 drive train and hydraulic disc brakes, Maxxis tires, WTB tubeless-ready rims as well as Rockshox fork with front and rear lockout. The GT verb is standard when it comes to performance while also remaining affordable, putting the action in your hands and turning the mountain into your playground.
GT Verb Export
Jamis Defcon 2 ($3,799) Our Pick
The Jamis Defcon 2 weighs about 29.5lbs and has the same frame as well as the exact same wheel set of the Defcon 1. Although lower cost and lower weight do not normally stand side by side, The Defcon 2 provides an exception to this norm. This bike provides a suspension that consists of a Rock Shox Pike RC 27.5 inches 160mm fork in front and a Rock Shox Monarch plus RC3 Debon Air Shock in the back. Perfect for trail riding and Enduro racing, the Defcon 2 has a 66.5 degree head-tube angle and short 17.1 Chainstay. If you are looking to save some cash and weight without bringing down your standard on component spec, then the Defcon 2 is what you are looking for.
Juliana Furtado Premiero ($5,999)
The latest Juliana Furtado of 2016 is an upgrade from the 2015 model. The new model embodies some new features which makes it even better than the previous model. Aside from its fiercer attitude and exquisite spearmint paint job, the bike’s suspension system has 130mm of travel. It possesses a head angle that is one degree slacker, a rear end that is shorter, a top tube that is longer and a handle bar that is aggressively wide by 760mm. This version of Furtado is capable of going up steep, high speed and rocky terrain while remaining fast enough to cover a reasonable distance within a short period of time.
Juliana Furtado Primeiro
Rocky Mountain Blizzard-50 ($2,559)
With a suspension-optimized design, the Rocky Mountain Blizzard-50 is a fat bike which leans toward the Cross Country or even the train category. As is the feature of fat bikes, the Blizzard can hold its own against slippery or slower technical sections of trail. The aluminum frame has a 100mm BB and 197mm rear-axle spacing and these provide clearance for the 4.7 inch tires. For the purpose of moving through mud, rocks and snow, the Rocky Mountain Blizzard-50 is equipped with a 120mm Rock Shox Bluto Fork. This bike also provides a frame bag by adding mounts to the main triangle. This makes it possible for the biker to enjoy overnight adventures. If you are looking for a bike that is capable of withstanding the adverse condition of winter and can also handle the extra burden of an off-trail explorer in the summer, the Rocky Mountain Blizzard-50 should be on your list.
Rocky Mountain Blizzard
Alchemy Arktos ($3,750)
This product has a unique suspension system known as the dual-link sine suspension which was designed by Dave Earle. It possesses a six-inch-travel. With a sleek plastic look provided by its internal cable routing, this bike has an extremely exquisite-looking frame. It has a 66.5 degree head angle, a 17.2 inch Chainstay and a bottom bracket that is 13.6 inch high. Its manufacturers provide the bikes in twelve varieties of color choices and also an option for custom paint.
Felt Decree 3 ($4,999) Good
The Felt Decree 3 is a trail bike which was made to attract attention with the combination of two fluorescent colors; red and yellow. This bike is light and agile with a wheel size of 27.5. The suspension design used is called the Felt Active Stay Technology, F.A.S.T. It has a modified single-pivot system which relies on flexing carbon seat-stays instead of a pivot. Because the F.A.S.T suspension system was originally designed for the Cross Country bike, it makes it possible for easy climbs even with an open shock. It climbs well also due to the efficiency of it rear end and the reasonable 66.5 degree head angle while its front wheel remains steady. The frame is 140mm. If you are looking for a lively trail bike which can handle most terrain and can pedal harder than the Felt Decree 3 should be on your list for consideration.
Felt Decree 3
Turner RFX ($2,995)
Turner sticks to its external cable routing in making the Turner RFX. However, the use of Turner’s zip-tie free aluminum housing clips which makes for tidy routing was utilized. The second carbon model produced by the company, the RFX is equipped with two aluminum likes which mate the carbon front and rear ends to provide the bike’s 160mm of DW-link travel that is carefully tuned. Even though it was made for going downhill at an incredible speed, the pedaling works well without the racers need to flip on the Rock Shox Monarch plus’ pedaling platform. The frame’s weight, as claimed, is 6.5 pounds and it has a 49/62mm tapered head tube and head set cups which allow the rider to adjust the head angle by 1.5 degrees making 65 degrees its slackest setting. If you are a rider looking for an efficient ride from the bottom of the climb to the top, then the Turner RFX should make your list.
Rhyme FSR Comp 6 Fattie ($5,100)
For a rider looking for an opportunity to take her trail riding to the next level, the Rhyme FSR Comp 6 Fattie is the needed bike. This can be attained without making a deep hole in your pocket. Made by specialized, the FSR get more travel time for its frame, beefed up triangle for stiffness, rear end shortened for easy maneuverability and suspension system improved for efficient climbing. The women’s specialized bike released in April 2016, has parts that are suited for women like its myth saddle. It has a wheel size of 27.5 inches and a suspension travel of 150mm. It proved, on a test ride in New Zealand, to be capable of descents as well as whippy and extreme fun. Rather than the typical 2.1 to 2.4 inches tires, this bike uses the 3 inches tire which enables it to run on lower pressure. It provides the means of riding up steep trail rather than hiking up.
Rhyme FSR Comp 6 Fattie
“Specialized” terms it a “revolution” in trail bike making. The S-Works Stump Jumper FSR 6 Fattie, is arguably the best trail bike a rider could buy. On a test ride, the big and grippy tires were able to crunch through rocks that ordinarily would not have been that easy to pass through. It has excellent tire clearance, lightweight but burly carbon Royal Traverse SL wheels. The SWAT design of the bike makes provision for a down-tube hatch behind the bottle cage where a spare tube, tools and other necessities are stored. It also climbs well uphill.
Viral Skeptic ($4,995) Very Good
This bike is in a class of its own. It has a titanium hard tail frame which gives the feel of being stuffed with Tempurpedic foam. It is capable of being fitted with multiple wheel sizes. The small frame is capable of taking 26-plus or 27.5 plus while the other frame sizes can take 27.5 or 29 inches tires. These tires can cut through rough shag carpet. One of the most fascinating qualities of the bike is its pinion gear box. This German made 12 speed system is located at the middle of the frame and has a 600 percent gear range. The extra weight added by the pinion and tires was not outrageous during the test ride, though it is quite heavy and weighs more than 30 pounds. The bike does not require much maintenance. If you are after a bike that enhances traction and flotation provided by plus-sized tires, then the Viral Skeptic is what you are looking for.
Devinci Troy Carbo RR ($6,599)
The Devinci Troy Carbon RR is equipped with a 150mm travel of suspension. The 67 degree head angle requires the participation of the rider and does exactly as the rider wants. During the test ride, the head angle never felt like it was fighting the rider. The components of this bike include the 150mm Rock Shox pike RCT3, the SRAM X01 Crank and Avid Elixir 9 brakes. Even with all these components, the Troy is reasonably lightweight and makes possible the climbing and descent of hills. Because the stand over height is low, it is most suitable for women and short bikers who are looking for ride to play rough with.
Devinci Troy Carbo RR
The Cannondale Jekyll Carbon ($6,500)
Cannondale Jekyll Carbon was designed to perform like two different machines by equipping it with two faced capability. This is done through the kind of suspension system used. In the front, the bike is equipped with a unique lefty Supermax fork and in the back, there is a Dyad damper. These two features collaborate to transform it from and efficient and responsive peddler to an extremely fast machine. It also possesses slack head angles, 27.5 inch wheels, wide range 1× drive train, a dropper post, low bottom bracket, a short stem and wide bars planted on a cockpit that is spacious, all of which are features of a modern mountain bike.
Cannondale Jekyll Carbon
It is evident that there are varieties of mountain bikes to choose from. The biker has to decide which one matches his personality, skills, environment and style. This is not an easy choice to make but hopefully the above list can be of help in relieving you of some of the stress involved in buying a modern mountain bike.