trailbikes have become so good that riders who used to buy
cross-country race bikes for trail riding are no longer forced
to. One final note: there is no such thing as a great,
inexpensive race bike. If you are serious about racing, it
will cost you.
Beginner’s tip: Cross-country race bikes are a good choice
if your trails are relatively mellow without technical drops or
terrain that requires extra suspension.
Jump/pump-track bikes: Mostly hardtails crafted from
aluminum and steel, these bikes are more versatile than
you would expect. The majority sold end up in the hands
of younger riders who use them for daily transportation,
trail riding, pump tracking and jumping in dirt-jump parks,
skateparks and urban settings. They are heavy (to withstand
abuse), but that doesn’t seem to matter to a 15-year-old who
has energy to spare. Expensive jump frames are a luxury you
can live without, because they have not proven to last longer
than mid-priced frames (and the nature of the sport is to
break stuff). You can’t go wrong with a jump frame or bike
from Azonic, Giant, Scott or Specialized.
Beginner’s tip: The best bike for younger riders who want to
try everything from trail riding to downhilling.
Single-speeds: As the name implies, these are one-speed
mountain bikes, stripped down to the basics—although we
are seeing high-tech components like disc brakes being
incorporated into single-speedom. The majority are made
to more closely resemble a cross-country race bike than a
trailbike, because weight is a major factor and there is no
rear suspension. Most single-speeds are made by custom
frame builders (pricey), but production single-speeds like the
Redline MonoCog 29er sell for less than $800 (complete) and
are a blast.
Beginner’s tip: While we wouldn’t recommend a single-speed as your only bike, it is our first choice for the second bike
in your collection.
Black-diamond/park bikes: Unless you live in an area
where extreme technical riding is readily available (e.g.,
Santa Cruz, California; The North Shore in Vancouver,
British Columbia; Nelson, Canada; or Kamloops, Canada),
these heavy, long-travel bikes just don’t make sense. They
are too heavy for extended periods of climbing, and even
with stable-pedaling-platform suspension, they are a chore
for anything but downhill riding. These bikes are best left
for the four months that ski-resort bike parks are open in the
Beginner’s tip: If you live in an area with challenging
stunts and terrain, there is nothing that gets the job done better.
Just don’t believe you can press this bike into service for trail
Downhill racing bikes: Bike companies pull out all the
stops for downhill racing bikes. This means they are good for
one thing—downhill racing. If you don’t plan to race, pass
on these ultra-specialized race sleds.
Beginner’s tip: A good choice only if you are sending in an
application for a racing license at the same time.
Cyclocross: Although cyclocross courses include dirt, the
bikes are more closely related to road bikes than mountain
bikes. They will not withstand the abuse a normal off-road
trail throws at a bike. This is not a substitute for a
Beginner’s tip: Not a choice for mountain biking. ❏
Experienced only: Selecting a bike with a 1x11
drivetrain (one chainring up front and 11 cogs in
the rear) is better suited to the rider who is past the
beginner stage of mountain biking.
Big wheels, little bodies: Racers have proven you don’t need to
stand taller than 5 foot 10 to enjoy the benefits of 29-inch wheels.
The introduction of 27.5-inchers into the mix should silence any
big-wheel critic as far as sizing issues go.