Mountain Bike Disciplines


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 🙂