Buyers guide to mountain bikes

We bust through the jargon and give you the essential info about mountain bikes and mountain biking. There are a few different genres and some are more specific than others.

A mountain bike is any bicycle designed to be ridden off-road. There are as many different types of mountain bike as there are different types of terrain and tracks.

You can get mountain bikes with front suspension, bikes with rear suspension, bikes with 26in wheels, bikes with 29in wheels, bikes made from aluminium, bikes made from carbon, bikes with 30 speeds, bike with 11 speeds and so on and so on and so on.

mountain biking

The huge variety of different mountain bikes available is both a blessing and a curse.

On the one hand it can make it difficult to know where to start when drawing up your shortlist. This is true even for riders who have been mountain biking for a number of years.

This vast choice however does mean that it is possible to buy a bike that will be ideally suited to you and where you want to ride.

What sort of riding do you want do?

You just need to ask yourself a few questions. The answers will tell you what sort of mountain bike will suit you best.

When choosing a mountain bike it’s a good idea to start with thinking about the sort of riding that you mostly want to do. A bike that’s ideal for XC racing is not going to be ideal for dirt jumping, for example.

What sort of riding genres are there? There’s a degree of overlap between adjacent genres (‘XC’ can blend into ‘Trail’, ‘Enduro’ can blend into ‘Downhill’ etc) but some genres are mutually exclusive. You shouldn’t go for a Downhill bike if your typical riding is actually ‘Trail’.

The main genres of mountain biking

There are four main genres of mountain biking: XC (cross country), Trail, Enduro and Downhill.

xc riding


Derived from ‘cross country’ racing, XC is usually limited to smoother trails with no so much technicality to them.

This doesn’t mean that XC riding is easy. Instead of roughness and fun, the emphasis is placed on velocity, gradient and distance instead.

Think road racing but on dirt rather than tarmac.

trail riding


This is what the majority of regular mountain bikers do. Woodland singletrack, fells, valleys and so on.

Terrain that is lumpy, bumpy, challenging and fun but isn’t overly extreme in either roughness or distance.

If you’re not sure what sort of riding you want to do, or you want to leave your options open, go for Trail.


enduro mtbThe latest mountain bike genre to come along but it’s a genre that is here to stay. Enduro is a type of racing. Enduro courses are a number a timed stages linked up by neutral (un-timed) linking sections.

Think of it as like rally car racing but on mountain bikes.

The riding can vary but the timed sections are generally at the more technical end of the Trail riding spectrum, with some tough enduro stages bordering on Downhill.

The timed stages have minimal, often no, climbing involved and are focussed on being fast over technical terrain. A good level of fitness as well as all-round bike-handling are required. Enduro is like ‘Trail’ riding but on steroids.


downhill mtbHurtling down steep, usually purpose-made, tracks. Tracks full of features such as jumps, berms, rock fields and slippery roots. Plenty of danger and potential for crashing. Downhillers wear full-face helmets and body armour. Downhill riding involves little or no uphill. The way back up to the top of the tracks is either done on foot, in a trailer or a chairlift.

Which of the above riding genres best fits you? Be honest with yourself. You will have so much more fun on an appropriate bike as opposed to one that you’ve bought because of fashion or looks. No genre is ’better’ or more capable than any other genre. It’s all about using the right tool for the job.

Once you’ve chosen your genre, you’ve done the important bit. The pressure’s off. Any bike in your selected genre will be broadly similar to any other bike in that genre. They can look wildly different – and they will be different – but they will perform fairly similarly. It’s a matter of fine tuning and narrowing things down depending on where you wish to place your priorities.

Here are the current mountain bikes we have on sale at Merlin Cycles.

Click on the links below to read more about the types of bike available within your chosen genre.

Buyers Guide to XC bikesBuyers Guide to Trail bikes

Buyers Guide to Enduro bikes | Buyers Guide to Downhill bikes


  • Benji Haworth

    Benji has been around the cycling industry for over ten years now. He started in ad sales for magazines before jumping the fence over into editorial. He writes words and takes pics about pushbikes, both for his day job and in his spare time too. Bike addict. Benji’s interested in all kinds of cycling but has a particular obsession with mountain biking

One comment to “Buyers guide to mountain bikes”
  1. Pingback: Race Guide – Enduro World Series Rd4, La Thuile, Italy | Merlin Cycles Blog

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