Today, the mountain bike is definitely one of the best-selling bicycles in the world, if not the best-selling one. From the 80s, however, it has come a long way. Sports disciplines and competitions revolving around these bikes have been developed from all points of view in terms of technicality, innovation and design.
Tyre is obviously still the heart of this bicycle, but before talking about which is the most suitable, let us try to understand a bit better how this faceted world is articulated.
XC, Trail, All Mountain, Enduro, Freestyle or DH?
When the first mountain bike competitions were being held in the 90s, the bikes ridden by athletes were more or less the same, with a few small technical differences. Today, it would be unthinkable, yet a return to its origins, to the simplicity of these first bikes, is the current trend.
But, let us proceed in the right order. There are basically six disciplines and consequently six types of mountain bikes: XC (or Cross Country, with the XCM version for marathons), Trail, All Mountain, Enduro, Freestyle and DH (or Downhill).
Cross Country is the only form of mountain biking practised at the Olympics. Riders race on a circuit of at most 10 km, which is repeated several times and, for marathons, at most 120 km for a single lap. Cross Country competitions are short, while XCMs either last one day or are divided into stages, and really test the bikers’ stamina, given the tears, technical descents and continuous climbs. Generally, one races with bikes from 100 mm of travel (front suspended, i.e. with shock absorber only in front, or with full suspension). The XC World is the competition enthusiasts of this discipline must watch, while for marathon lovers there are a number of events around the world, more or less demanding and all equally spectacular, such as the fascinating Cape Epic mountain bike stage race held in South Africa.
Trail riding is not a real discipline; there are no competitions. It is a different way of practising mountain biking and the bike is a variant of the XC. This bicycle is not used in competition and offers greater travels than cross country, usually between 110 mm and 130 mm. It is a bike for having a great time, designed for non-technical outings and for venturing just about anywhere in comfort.
Technical descents and impervious climbs
Between the Trail bike and the Enduro bike, the All Mountain bike boasts full suspensions and even greater travel (130 mm -150 mm). The All Mountain bike was designed for harder and more demanding terrains, generally on mountains, especially for technical and impervious descents, which is why it is always equipped with a telescopic seatpost, so the rider can better shift his or her weight backwards on steeper slopes.
A little like car rallies, the Enduro discipline involves competitions with special tests and transfer stretches. These are the sturdiest bikes, because they have to withstand extreme downhill stress, but are light enough to be pedalled uphill. The travels of the suspensions go up to 160 mm -180 mm, the geometries of the bicycle frames are designed for stability on descents and efficiency during climbing. Of the various tests, the Enduro World Series is definitely the one many enthusiasts watch.
Freestyle is not just for a great time, it is extremely technical. Generally, races are held in bike parks, mountainous areas designed and equipped for this sport, with trampolines, ramps and parabolic curves to allow track changes, somersaults, jumps, in jargon, tricks. At the other end of cross country there is downhill or DH, a competition involving only descent, like what happens in alpine skiing. Designed to go fast on slopes and on very rough terrain, DH bikes look a lot like motocross bikes without an engine, with sophisticated suspensions that exceed 200 mm of travel, wide tyres and double-plate forks.
Lycra or shorts?
After bike styles were defined, over time even the way to dress has been defined. Today, if you practice Cross Country, it is necessary to wear Lycra jersey and shorts that are not a hindrance but help to go fast. Shoes are stuck to pedals, like on road bikes, to make pedalling efficacious. If you do Trail or All Mountain, you should choose more comfortable clothing, bigger jerseys and jackets, slightly longer at the back. You would wear technical baggy-shorts and vary your clothing depending on the type of outing and climate. Shoes have more outdoor styles, with sculpted soles that integrate pedal clips. For Enduro, Freestyle and above all for DH, it goes without saying you have to get protections and wear full-face helmets that not only protect against impacts, but also protect your face from lower branches. Especially for freestyle and at times for DH, shoes do not have to be secured to the pedal (in fact the pedals of these bikes are flat without any clips), because the feet must be free to touch the ground at any time for the rider's safety.