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Loppet 101: Types of Mountain Bikes

Back in the early days of mountain biking there was basically one kind of mountain bike. It had 26 inch wheels, no suspension, and it was most likely made from steel or maybe aluminum. Simpler times. Today, not only do we have categories, we have categories within categories with more appearing every season. If you’ve just recently joined the mountain bike world and are contemplating investing in a new ride, simply knowing all the categories is hard enough, much less knowing which of those categories might be best for you. 

Well, we’re here to help! Keep reading for our attempt at describing the main categories of mountain bikes you will hear about.

Cross Country (XC)

In the world of mountain bikes, models that fall into the XC category are designed to maximize the pedaling efforts of their riders. They usually have 29 in wheels, less suspension travel,  and are lighter than bikes in the other categories. They also typically have the quickest handling of all the categories and, combined with their shorter travel, reward riders that are deliberate with their line choices through rough terrain.


Technically speaking, all mountain bikes are trail bikes but, as defined by the bike industry, trail bikes generally have a greater variety of suspension travels, anywhere from 120 to 150 mm, and similarly a greater range of frame geometries and wheel sizes than XC. Their handling isn’t designed to be as responsive as their more race-oriented cousins nor are they as sharply focused on channeling pedal strokes into speed. Still, they cover ground pretty well and descriptions of trail bike ride characteristic frequently employ the words fun, forgiving, and playful to describe them.


By comparison to Trail, this category is lower on the pedaling efficiency spectrum and higher in descending ability. They are designed for Enduro competitions where riders pedal to the top of the descent on smoother dirt roads but are timed only on their descents. To withstand high speed and rougher descents, beefier frames and components and more suspension travel, (160-180 mm) are combined with even more relaxed geometry in this category. 


Of the mountain bike categories, Downhill may be the most narrowly focused. The bikes in the other categories we’ve described are designed to be pedaled, but bikes in this category are purpose built for, you guessed it, going downhill. Sure, they have pedals, but most often they are seen going uphill on the back of a bike park shuttle or chairlift. 200mm of travel isn’t uncommon in this segment because these bikes are designed for barreling down rough, technical downhill courses with big drops and jumps at high speed. They are highly capable descenders but would be the proverbial bull in a china shop on our local trails.

Final Thoughts

MTBers love to talk about them almost as much as they love to ride them so it’s only a matter of time before you find yourself doing it, if you haven’t already. Hopefully, these descriptions will give you an entry point into talking MTBs whether it’s with your ride partners or at the bike shop dreaming about your next bike.   

Some resources we like:

Get involved with MORC, the volunteer organization that keep our metro trails awesome! 

Get Trailbot for the latest MN trail conditions. 

Find a mountain bike trail anywhere in the U.S. with Trail ForksDownload Team App to stay up-to-date on Loppet MTB rides and clinics. Search for LCW and request to join.

Loppet 101: We created the Loppet 101 series to provide helpful tips and information for people just joining our community of runners, skiers, mountain bikers and outdoor adventurers. If there is a topic you would like to see covered, we’d love to hear from you! Send us a note at