Equipment Mountain Biking

What are the different types of mountain bikes?

4 types of mountain bike, downhil, cross country, electric, trail

We used to just call a mountain bike a mountain bike.  Improvements in technology has resulted in a range of incredible machines that are purpose built for particular riding styles.  Now we’re faced with choices like: Full suspension, Hard trail, Gravity, XC, Downhill, 650B, 29er, Fatboy.  What do these all mean?  And more importantly, what should you choose for your next mountain bike ride?  We explain the different types of mountain bikes to you simply:

Type of Bikes:

While there are plenty of different terms manufacturers use to describe their bikes, there are 4 basic types: Cross Country (XC), Trail, All Mountain (Enduro), and Downhill (DH).


Cross Country:

These bikes are suitable for more gentle off road trails or orientated for speed over cross country courses .

  • Hard tail general.  
    • What many people know as a mountain bike”.  This is probably the most common type of bike, typically ridden by beginners and intermediates largely due to low cost to hire or buy.
  • Hard tail performance
    • A lean mean machine designed for speed.  Advanced riders use these for mountain bike races.  Today they typically ride on 29” wheels due to the benefit of momentum and hence speed the wheels bring.
  • Full suspension XC
    • A relatively new type of full suspension bike, for racers or those favouring speed and encountering some rough terrain. 


Modern full suspension bikes can ride anything.  There’s a comfortable range of full suspensions, they’re well placed riding down most downhill sections and speedy uphill.  That’s in part due to rugged construction and nifty features like doing away with the front derauiller and riding 1×11 or even 1×12 group sets.  These full suspension bikes are the second most common bike you’ll see available for hire or buy.

  • Full suspension.  

All mountain/Enduro

These bikes are orientated for the downhill but still with gearing, dropper post for saddle, and suspension stiffness for the rider to comfortably ride uphill. These are a fairly new breed of bike and not as common.

  • Full suspension Enduro
  • Gravity


Downhill beasts.  There is nothing delicate about these, they’re tough machines designed for speed and control on downhill descents.  They’re not designed for riding up hill, in fact you’ll often see downhill riders pushing these up!  As a result you’ll only really have opportunity to ride these on Shuttle assisted, gondola or lift assisted bike parks.

Wheel size:

Chances are you grew up riding 26” wheels however in the last 5 years or so a few variations have appeared on the market:  27.5” (aka 650B) and 29”.

Why ride on bigger wheels?

  • Larger wheels mean they go over bumps easier due to the angle of attack”.  That is, a bump will hit the wheel lower down, because of the wider angle to the ground, which helps it roll over easier. 
  • Larger wheels have more momentum which helps maintain speed.  Racers love this.

Why ride on smaller wheels?

  • Smaller wheels are more nimble.  This is key for control through technical trails.
  • Acceleration less mass and radius aids acceleration.  This is great for exiting corners.

The end result?  Go in the middle 27.5” wheels are becoming the new standard size and versatile for everything.


For a long time 24 or 27 speed was the norm for mountain bikes, that meant 3 gears up front and 8 or 9 down back.  However, Downhill mountain bikes have had just had one gear up front and 8 or 9 at the rear to avoid the dreaded chain slap and largely because they’re only designed for going downhill!

Modern Trail and Enduro bikes are moving to 11 or new in 2017 12 speed.  That is a single gear up front and 11 or 12 at the rear.  This helps solve the problem of chain slap (making noise) for downhill sections, as well as avoiding front gear difficulties such as the chain coming off.  The rider still has a full range of gears required for up and downhill.  New clutch’ technology for the rear derailleur has enabled this.  


Your bike will probably come out of the box with flat pedals, however there are a few altneratives.  When you’re hiring a bike it will come with flats by standard however most mountain biking focused bike providers will have other pedal types and be happy to install them for you.  Just BYO shoes.


  • Clips SPD, Crank Brothers, etc.
    • Clips are great for riding cross country and single track trail riding.  They enable efficient transition of power and control of the bike. The main types in New Zealand are produced by either Shimano or Crank Brothers.
  • Downhill MTB spiky flats.  
    • The spikes on these can shred shins if you’re not careful so wearing knee protection and suitable flat shoes is highly recommended.

Human powered or electrically assisted:

That’s a whole other topic, here’s a story from two different riders trialling an electric mountain bike.

Best tools for the job we match bikes to trails

Given there are a variety of bikes to choose from, then check out this article which will help you decide which one is best, link here.

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