When I started riding back in the early 1990s, there was basically just one flavor of mountain biking but today MTB categories can get a little confusing. I found this helpful chart over on the Turner website and I think it does a good job illustrating some of the divisions you’ll find in mountain biking find today. The arrows and text below the chart were added for the purposes of this post.

Right off the bat you can see the spectrum of riding from XC to Downhill and everything in between. Notice how the plot gets higher and more jagged as you move to the right, representing technical difficulty (not necessarily climbing or aerobic difficulty). It’s also cool to think of this as a progression chart – beginners can move from XC to AM and beyond as skills improve.

I really like how this chart can be used to show ranges rather than discreet points along the spectrum. In this particular chart, the shaded green area represents recommend usage for the Turner 5.Spot. Notice how it isn’t just a Trail or All Mountain bike. Based on the geometry and travel (5.5″ rear) this bike works well for XC, Trail, and AM riding.

The spectrum approach is also helpful for classifying riders. Most of us enjoy a variety of terrain and saying someone is strictly a Freerider or Downhiller usually doesn’t tell the whole story.

But wait, this chart has one more trick up its sleeve! Most mountain bike trails themselves can’t be readily classified into one type or another. A mellow XC trail may have 5 foot drops in places or even a freeride area that’s 5 miles into the trail. Other trails may have short bursts of All-Mountain style terrain with XC-type fireroads connecting sections. In fact I imagine some trails could cover the entire spectrum from XC to Downhill while others fit more neatly into a single category.

Some generalities about mountain bikes can be made from this chart and I’ve added arrows describing just a few trends you can expect to see when purchasing a new mountain bike. As you move from left to right, travel (front and rear) should increase while weight will follow roughly the same trend. Price, on the other hand, isn’t so easy to classify. For example, remember this $7,000 XC hardtail from Interbike? Finding a DH bike that costs half that amount wouldn’t be too hard (nor would finding a DH bike costing 50% more).

Now, if it were possible to create a mountain bike that could cover the entire chart from XC to DH that would be the holy grail. Maybe the Cannondale Simon will deliver on that dream one day 🙂

# Comments

  • spazjensen

    hey the new coil air from kona does a pretty dang near job of covering the whole spectrum. i hvae been seriously looking at it as my next bike to buy. It changes from like 6 inches (i think) to more than 7.5 inches. And it offers lockout on the suspension parts so you could potentially use it as a XC bike as well as maybe the lighter side of DH

  • ChiliPepper

    Man am I getting tired of all this bike discipline stuff. It has spiraled way out of control by all means. What happened to the basic and simple bike disciplines like I have posted in the Singletrack.com forums? I remember the days of taking my bike and doing just about all of these “Todays Disciplines”. Granted I never took a road bike and did the things I did on my BMX, well sort of anyways, but I did take my first ever MTB (a HT) and did just about everything I do now, and it was a rigid. It is just getting crazy with all these categories and disciplines we have now. I’m sorry, but if every one just sticks to the basic frame categories and bike disciplines and rides what they want and how they want to ride, we would not need all this mumble jumble in todays MTB’ing world we live in. Maybe I am speaking out of place here, but this is how I feel about all this mumble jumble, and it really takes all the fun out of true MTB’ing.

    Either get a bike for XC riding, a bike for FR to DH riding, or just get a bike that fits into both of those disciplines, like a trail bike/slopestyle. The latter half will do all! Jeez, its real simple, if all you want to do is race a MTB or just ride some off-road trails, then stick with a lighter weight weenie XC bike, but if you want a beefer bike that can still climb but take on some FR or some real DH runs, then stick with a trail bike/slopestyle. Now, if you want a full blown bike that can take the punishment of FR or gnarly DH runs, then stick with the beefer FR/DH bikes, but remember, they are not a climbing bike (unless you have legs of superman), but made to be shuttled up. I will say one thing, and I do not have anything against 29ers, but the 26ers and 29ers do not have a place together racing. They need to be a separate class of bike racing. Just my two cents…..Peace Out!

    • Hofe2234

      Bud, a trail bike and a slopestyle bike are two completely different things. a slopestyle bike is a 110mm travel full suspension dirt jump bike, and a trail bike is a 130-150mm travel full suspension bike. a slopestyle bike is a single speed, while a trail bike has a 1×10 or 1×11 speed drivetrain.

    • Jeff Barber

      The question is, did those types of bikes even exist in 2009? FYI, you’re replying to a comment from 10 years ago. 🙂

  • element22

    I think what trek7 was saying chilly is that the manufactures make these “guidelines” more for the less educated consumer as a guide..It gives the person who is looking into purchasing something that they can quickly gauge for themselves what the bike is most suitable for…Just like you said however there could be some people who would want to do more on a bike. But this guide will also cover the manufactures bottom when someone comes back and complains when they crack their frame when going over a 10ft drop on a XC hard tail one to many times. Or when they have to climb ever slope due to the excessive weight.

    There are folks out there like your self that would rather have a bigger bike and ride it all the time for example and then people who are like myself who like to both go big and who like to also enjoy the climb up a hill…Although I do like mostly pointing down…he he … Shhhhh don’t tell my wife.

    And if you look at the line up this year there are going to be many bikes that really will blur the lines. Such as the Giant Trance….Which could almost be considered a racer for some folks as well as a great trail bike. Or the Specialized enduro which I have seen folks do 20 – 30 foot expansions as well as climb decently enough to hang with the dude with the Trance..If you look at a lot of the new FR and DH bikes they are even coming down in weight, under 40Lbs.


  • trek7k

    Yeah, the whole point is that bikes can cover the spectrum and don’t have to be put into a single category like Trail or All-Mountain. Of course there are limits as element mentioned – you don’t want to huck a 10 foot drop on a hard tail 🙂

  • ChiliPepper

    Ahh, I am not giving Trek a hard time or jumping your posting, but all these new disciplines are just confusing to newbies. It tends to be a bit confusing to many newbs and by adding even more disciplines and categories only confuses it even more. Yes, they really need to build a bike designed for all bike disciplines, minus the big hucks and gnarly high speed DH, thats what they have beefy bikes for that purpose. Of course they will always have the weight weenie class of bikes for racing, like with road bikes, but most riders want a bike that can handle all, a “Do All” kinda of bike. Of course you will pay the penalty in the climbing scenario with the more beefy bikes, but thats why you get your legs in shape and why they have lifts or shuttle service for these beefy bikes. I will admit they are getting much closer to building that “Do All” kind of bike, especially when the weights of most bikes are getting down lower.

    Jeff, they huck HT bikes off of 15′ plus drops all the time. I see them all the time at Santos and at our local FR trail. I am getting a progressive HT at the end or beginning of this year and I will be hucking it of 10′ plus drops. Now there are HT bikes and FS bikes that I would not recommend hucking off a 10′ drop by no means.

    • Hofe2234

      There is a type of bike called a superenduro bike that does all of that.

  • trek7k

    Confusing to newbies? These division are confusing to me! 🙂 I honestly hadn’t heard of “Trail” riding before Interbike this year – I always just lumped that stuff in with XC.

  • element22

    Chilly once again the progressive HT bikes your talking about are purpose built for that and are a bit on the heavy side…Now can you imagine someone doing that 15 to 20ft on a box store special or a true XC bike. I wouldn’t dream of trying that with my XC bike, I could see it now ….Pretzels where I used to have wheels..LOL

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