Imagine that you were thinking about giving this whole 'mountain biking' thing a try, and walked into your local bike shop in search of a new bike. An overly-eager, pimple-faced shop employee emerges from a dimly lit corner, wiping the grease from his hands.
“What kind of bike are you looking for? A trail bike? XC bike? All-mountain? Enduro? Freeride? Downhill?”
“Umm... I just want a mountain bike.”
“Yes, but what kind of bike? What do you want to do with it?”
“Ride in the mountains?”
You get the picture – there are so many sub-categories of bikes these days that it can get pretty confusing trying to figure out the differences, especially for a newcomer to the sport.
However, even though all the labels might seem like an exercise in marketing (remember when Cannondale tried to trademark the word Freeride?), they do serve a purpose, similar to the way that taxonomy works in the science world. You may have slept through high school biology, but the terms ' kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species' probably ring a bell.
Yeti SB 4.5
Here at Pinkbike, there are six main terms that we use to categorize bikes: cross-country, trail, all-mountain, enduro, freeride, and downhill. As a quick refresher, here's a rough breakdown of each category:
Cross-country (XC): This is a bike designed for speed, where light weight and quick handling take priority over downhill prowess. Travel amounts typically vary from hardtails to 120mm. Examples: Specialized Epic, Scott Spark.
Trail: Realistically, almost every mountain bike could be called a trail bike – after all, they're meant for riding on trails, right? That being said, a trail bike is typically an all-rounder, with handling characteristics that make it suited for long days of riding that include a mix of climbing and descending. The geometry is more relaxed than an XC bike, but the travel amounts are a little less than an all-mountain bike, ranging from 120-150mm. Examples: Yeti SB 4.5, Trek Fuel EX.
Rocky Mountain Instinct
Nukeproof Mega 275
All-mountain: All-mountain is one of those terms that was likely dreamed up in a marketing meeting, but then stuck around and became an actual bike category. All-mountain bikes are still capable of climbing, but the emphasis is more on the descents. If a trail bike has a 50/50 bias between climbing and descending, an all-mountain rig is closer to 40/60 or 30/70. Travel amounts are higher, typically between 140-160mm, or more, and the geometry is slacker. Examples: Santa Cruz Bronson, Rocky Mountain Instinct.
Enduro: This is the newest category, a phrase that was used ad-nauseum when it first entered the North American vernacular, but luckily things have calmed down a bit. The line between all-mountain and enduro is very blurry, but the word does work well to describe a certain type of bike, one that was designed with racing in mind, or at least meant to piloted by rider who plans on riding as fast as possible through rough terrain. Because race courses vary depending on their location, the geometry and travel amounts of an enduro-oriented bike can vary between 140-170mm of rear travel, although the 150-160mm range seems to be the most common. Examples: Trek Slash, Nukeproof Mega.
The 'Freeride' label seemed to fall out of fashion for a few years (enter the term 'Superenduro'), but we've begun to see more long-travel (170mm or more) bikes with single crown forks that fit into this category. These are bikes that can be pedaled to the top of a mountain without a chairlift, but the focus is still mainly on the descent. Examples: Canyon Torque, Commencal Supreme SX.Downhill:
A dual crown fork, around 200mm of travel, and tiny cassette are all good indicators you've got a DH bike on your hands. There aren't typically any concessions made for climbing – this is a purebred gravity machine, one that requires a shuttle, chairlift, or some pushing to get it to the top of a hill. Examples: Trek Session, Scott Gambler.
Are all these terms truly the best way to go about classifying things? Why not just categorize bikes by how much travel they have? That's not a bad idea, except for the fact that not all bikes with the same amount of travel are created equal. A Scott Genius and a Trek Slash both have 150mm of travel, but the Genius rides more like a long-limbed trail bike, and the Slash is an enduro race machine. Or take a new Transition Smuggler and compare it to a Specialized Camber – they're both 120mm 29ers, but they behave very differently out on the trail. Is there an even better way to categorize bikes? I'm not convinced that there is, which brings us to this week's poll topic: