Understanding different bikes – how do you decide what you need?

Home Forum Bike Forum Understanding different bikes – how do you decide what you need?

Viewing 29 posts - 1 through 29 (of 29 total)
  • Understanding different bikes – how do you decide what you need?
  • Premier Icon teamhurtmore

    Ok – so I am relatively new to MTB so go easy on the numpty question here!

    I want to understand the real differences between various types of bike and to understand how to make the correct choice as a next bike (once I find my new job!). At the moment, I ride everything on a fairly basic Trek 6500 aluminum hard tail. I have hired a few bikes in Wales and the Lakes but really have no terms of reference to compare bikes with or to understand what makes them suitable to what type of terrain.

    So I understand that there are the following basic types:

    XC – according to WMB these are: designed to pedal fast and efficiently on all terrain but are not meant for nerve shredding trails. What does the last bit mean in numpty terms – for Southerners, does that mean not suitable for harder trails on Surrey Hills?

    Trail/All Mountain – again WMB says: basically ride anyway, more hard hitting than XC (what does this mean?). But why do they add a category for aggro trail/AM (eg, a Whyte 146 works)?

    Free-ride/Downhill – full suspension, intended specifically for “big fun” downhill terrain. Limited gearing vs XC. OK – so rel, clear here. For one purpose – not for generally all day riding with up and downhills

    Ok – so I guess for most people it comes down to choosing between XC, trail and all mountain. My rides tend to be either 2-3 hours including some more technical singletrack stuff, the odd Adventure Race/Trail Plus event, XTT triathlon or simply messing about around the Surrey Hills. Happy on most well-known trails but I am still developing skills on tighter bomb holes, drops and off-camber stuff. But most days, I am going up and down one of the Surrey Hills (Leith, Hombury, Pitch or Winterfold, Gibbet Hill, Puttenham etc) riding singletrack. Tend to leave the more agressive jumps (Quarries, J&J) to the youngsters. I also go to the Lakes for the occassional longer day on the Fells.

    I have been reading the WMB tests across all categories but still find it odd that they are all tested in the same place (The Lakes) and all seem to cope reasonably well with the same conditions.

    For simplicity lets take the Specialized range:

    XC – something like the EPIC sounds good: ” super lightweight, efficient and ultimately fast, for explosive climbing and nimble handling. Though the Epic is an ideal bike for racers, it’s also appealing for riders who want a short-travel bike that shreds rugged singletrack.” I guess perfect for AR/XTT tri’s – less so for other things?

    Trail – then you get the Stumpjumper: “balanced bike that performs well on everything from steep climbs to flowy singletrack to technical descents… be lightweight, durable, and stable for efficient climbing and high-speed descending.” Sounds even better, or am I missing something?

    All Mountain: the Enduro: “Climbing or descending. No matter the location or terrain, Enduro riders just like to rip it up. They’re happy climbing winding singletrack as long as it leads them to where they can fly—often literally—down a deep forest, North Shore-style trail. Five-foot drops, huge baby heads, and mossy log bridges, all satisfy their never-ending craving for All-Mountain terrain.” Again sounds even better (although am I good enough?)

    So they all sound good to me. In Noddy and Big Ears terms, how would you choose between the types.

    p.s. sorry for the long winded intro!

    p.p.s. I know I haven’t talked about sizing/fit yet!!


    Orange 5 is what you need.


    1. What/where do you ride or style of riding you do.

    2. which looks coolest

    Premier Icon teamhurtmore

    1. What/where do you ride or style of riding you do.

    Tried to explain that – but obviously too long. Most of the time, I am riding Surrey Hills. So lots of singletrack, messing about in bombholes, climbing and descending. Either a 2-3 hours round trip or up and down the same hill. After that, the Lakes occassionally and increasingly some AR (bored with triathlon)/ Trail Questy type stuff.

    I guess there’s not a lot to choose between trail and AM but more of a choice between them and a XC?

    Premier Icon teamhurtmore

    Enduro looks the coolest but also like the stumpjumper (evo?)


    Ride as many different kinds as you can, borrow mates bikes etc.
    Decide which is most fun/fastest/’feels right’/etc.
    Different bikes within one of you classes can feel very different though, eg Spec Epic and Pace RC300 are both XC-race bikes, in the same way that an F1 car and LeMans racer are both racing cars…

    Premier Icon teamhurtmore

    “Slacker angle” – what is that about when riding?


    Slack head angle = longer wheelbase + lower BB = bike more stable at speed

    Premier Icon Pawsy_Bear

    140mm do it all trail bike, light fast and enough travel for AM and everything in between. Remember the bike isnt a crutch. You need to add skill and ability to get the most out of it. I would say its 80% rider 20% bike. Zesty 714 here. Above all you must enjoy riding it whatever it is.


    Don’t buy anything too expensive at first. Find your feet and decide what you like most (descending tech, fast flowy, climbing, long distance etc).
    Get a neutral trail type bike, the canyons are particularly good value and have a model to suit all riding styles. Alternatively, look for a second hand bike.
    A 120-140mm travel bike will be plenty.
    DONT believe everything the mags tell you, they are notorious for bias.


    great choice of your first bike there 😉

    If you’re happy with the 6500 and considering sticking with the brand, it sounds like I’d be steering you down the Fuel EX route to start with. 120mm travel full sus, aimed at general trail riding. These things eat up twisty single-track and are capable enough in the more technie natural stuff you may stumble upon in the Lakes.

    In “Spesh” terms this would be Stumpy territory.

    Get a few demos in if at all possible, and sus out where you get your “kicks”. Depending on what aspect of mtb’ing you enjoy most, may mean you’d prefer a hardtail to full-susser. wrecker touched on this in the last post.

    We could probably hook you up with our demo if you fancied a trip to Milton Keynes.

    Premier Icon kennyp

    Wrecker said pretty much everything I was planning too. You won’t go far wrong with a Stumpjumper. They aren’t the coolest or trendiest of bike makes, but are great all-round bikes.


    this might sound dismissive, so apologies in advance as it’s really not meant to be.

    If you don’t know what sort of bike you’re after, you’re perhaps not really at the stage to start spending the kind of money where things are so specialist.

    I’d recommend ignoring the sub genres as it’s all little more than marketing speak. Go to your local Giant Stockist and test ride something of theirs with about 5 inch of travel, about a grand and a half or whatever. Treat this as your benchmark bike, as they’re well built, well specced, good value and just about the most sensible purchase out there.

    If you don’t like it, decide why and then adjust your sights accordingly. More travel, less travel? Burlier, lighter, higher, lower? It’s your call. All the reviews, tech specs and marketing claims won’t tell you anything. You need to decide what you feel comfy on, and what you can afford.

    But bear in mind you really can spend too much. Just because you have the money doesn’t mean it’s best to spend it all. A none riding mate of mine a few years ago decided he wanted a bike, out of the blue, so tasked me with researching for him. He’s got more money than he knows what to do with, so it was a cost no object job. I tried telling him for some time that the more he spent, the more specialist a machine he’d be getting, but when I suggested anything remotely sensible for a man of his size, fitness, talent and ability, he dismissed it as cheap tat somehow beneath his pay check. He wanted something posh simply because he could afford it.

    So in the end he got something posh. Some uncompromising, highly strung carbon bling, more bike than he knew what to do with, he found it uncomfortable and it sat unused in his garage because he couldn’t get on with it.


    Or perhaps look at second hand?

    Don’t be fooled into thinking this years model is 100x better than the last.

    My frame’s 10yrs old….. but I still prefer the way it rides to the ‘modern’ equivalent…. ( Orange Five )

    Premier Icon teamhurtmore

    Thanks for the comments so far.

    Trek Fuel EX and Spesh stumpy seemed to fit the bill, but at the moment I am trying to narrower the field down to a manageable group to try.

    jackthedog – Memberthis might sound dismissive, so apologies in advance as it’s really not meant to be.If you don’t know what sort of bike you’re after, you’re perhaps not really at the stage to start spending the kind of money where things are so specialist.

    I understand what you mean, and thanks for the comments, But really trying to understand exactly what the difference is between an XC bike (say Giant Anthem X1) and a trail bike (eg, fuel EX, stumpy) or an AM (enduro etc). Watching an XC racer video and looking at pictures looks plenty robust enough for Surrey Hills singletrack, but where do the limits come in?

    Maybe it is trial and error – but in reality hard to trial more than a handful.

    (it is always fun to ride a fairly basic bike next to the other trail warriors though!!)

    Premier Icon johnnystorm

    While I wouldn’t want to now, I try not to lose sight of the fact that in 1991 I had fun riding a 32lb Claud Butler rigid bike. All the different genres, particularly things like aggro XC make me cringe and only serve to muddy the waters. FWIW as a born again MTBer I plumped for the Spesh Camber comp. Good end of season sale price for a fun all rounder bike.

    As above, ride a few bikes to get a feel but really, I don’t think there are the real duffers around like their used to be.

    Premier Icon Angus Wells


    One of the problems you have identified with your research is that magazines end up having to test bikes when and where they can, sometimes local to their offices and sometimes where they are researching other articles. That can mean that bikes are not tested in the areas they are designed (or marketed) to be ridden, hence some of your confusion. And not many tested in Surrey.

    Not too long ago we rode generic mountain bikes like your Trek on anything and everything but the improvements in suspension design have led to more pigeon holing of bikes. Given the type of riding you are doing/considering I would look at trail bikes with 120 mm front suspension, either hard tail or full suspension. Not the fastest on flattish smooth trails or the most accomplished down hill but good jack of all trade bikes that will (usually) handle well and be comfortable on the longer rides and events.

    Visit you local bike shop for more advice. Find a good one and your relationship with them will become important as you get sucked into the vortex of upgrades and improvements no matter what you choose.

    Best of luck.


    Another thing that I have found is whatever frame/bike I start with they all seem to end up with a similar style of spec. On the face of it, my current 2 mountain bikes look closer to the all mountain genre when I actually do the same riding as you. This is because I like the position and comfort it offers.

    What I’m trying to say is that a frame aimed at one genre can be built up or down to you liking. Therefore, go for middle road, generis trail and change it over time as you see fit.

    Your aim (stumpy, fuel ex etc) is spot on. Go for a low end model and save some cash to upgrade as you like.

    Edit: to answer your Q, the way I see it, the shorter the travel the longer the stem = xc. Long travel, short stem = DH. Anything in between is grey.

    Hi teamhurtmore,

    You are spoilt for choice! 120-140mm is perfect for riding around Hurtmore. I ride around there on a 140mm bike. It suits me fine for around Wales as well.

    If you want advice just go and sit at the top of Leith Hill or Holmbury Hill and ask a few people. It seems that most people are on 120-140mm bikes up there. You won’t look out of place oggling everyone elses bike. Everyone does it!

    Personally, I think that geometry is the most important factor as it has so much bearing on comfort, whether that front wheel stays down going up the hills and whether you are in danger of going over the handlebars on the way down! Suspension travel is probably secondary up to a point.

    I’d welcome talking bikes with you but I fear I would be accused of spamming if I left any contact details on this forum.

    Best of luck with your search and maybe we’ll pass each other in Yogurt Pots some day:)


    The whole subject is a bit of a can of worms as above, but my take is:

    XC bikes tend to have steeper seat and head angles ie the seat tube and fork will be more in a vertical plane. They may have narrower bas, thinner tyres etc, smaller discs. They tend to be very quick steering ie can change direction very quickly. They climb very well and dont waste the energy you put in. The trade off is that some find the steering twitchy, but thats a matter of opionion. Downhill you can feel as all the weight is over the front end.

    Bascially then as you go up in travel length you get in to All Mountain/Freeride etc. You get more travel, slacker seat and head angles ie more diagonal than vertical. They are harder work uphill, the front wheel will lift on steep climbs but easier downhill. Bigger discs, bigger tyres, stronger (heavier) frames.

    Persoanlly I ride a 100mm Anthem X bike. Its great for all the riding I do which is riding the Pennines, Dales, Lakes, Trail Centres etc etc SOme people would say its not enough bike for that type of riding, others would say they can do it on a fully rigid.

    From what your saying, any bike in any category would do, you just need to decide what you want from a bike.

    Oh and suspension travel can be seen as a skill compensator too 🙂

    Premier Icon ampthill

    I think the main see is to see huge overlaps betwen catagories.

    Looking at say the trek range

    Top fuel, fuel ex, remedey

    they could for the most part all do the same rids but with small differnces

    An xc race on the remedey would feel a bit silly really challenging terrain in the top fule less comfortbale and fast

    but they are more similar than different

    I think people don’t buy for one sort of riding but the bit of the ride they want the bike to work best for.

    Premier Icon teamhurtmore

    Thanks everyone for the interesting comments, observations and jokes!! Very helpful.

    Trekmk – thanks for the offer. May well think about a trip up! BTW – what in practice is the real different between singletrack and technical trail bikes in your range

    Paula – thanks for the ideas. Does you forum name indicate that you are in the bike trade? I was wondering if you were the lady from Smithbrook but it looks like she is Jackie. I do have a look at people’s bikes – leading to a moment of bike envy – and then feel happy doing the stuff on my reliable Trek!! I rarely ride in H itself, other than to get to other places. More likely SH or the other way towards Hankley/Puttenham etc. Hope to meet you one day (sorry that is not meant to sound creepy!!). What type of bikes would tend to have the problem of front wheel staying down, and danger of going over handlebars (I guess the latter is XC?)?

    FuncyDunc – thanks for the specific answers. Very helpful.

    Again thanks all – just off now on my trusty old stead and will be using in the Lakes next week. Which are the best bike porn shops in S Lakes – I know theres a place near Ings/Staveley and perhaps a couple in A’side.

    Cheers again – happy riding!

    b r

    and the comments you quoted re. Specialized were probably written by their Marketing Dept – consequently need to say everything they sell is the best at everything.

    Best thing to do is go on demo day, or look at demo-ing bikes from your LBS (probably need to pay but’ll get it back on a purchase).

    For what you describe, you couldn’t go wrong with a 120mm FS.

    While in the Lakes see if you can book a couple of demo’s from Wheelbase?

    Premier Icon teamhurtmore

    Thanks b r will certainly have a look in that shop. Unlikely to have time to buy there, so £50 a pop seems too much. Otherwise, I would definitely do it.

    Again silly question possibly – but why would you choose between 120m and 140m. When would less be more, if that makes sense?

    Yes comments re spec’s were from website – just to illustrate th extent to which they say the same thing!!

    Premier Icon BigDummy

    In all seriousness: if I had my time again I wouldn’t spend money on new bikes[/b]!

    Does the Trek work OK? If yes, save the money you’re thinking of spending on an upgraded bike and go on a riding holiday somewhere sunny and challenging instead. Ride the bike. Ride it some more. Replace the worn out bits with slightly better bits. Don’t replace anything that’s not worn or broken unless you are absolutely confident that it is actually holding you back.

    If I had done this instead of buying and selling on dozens of bikes in 10 years I would be richer, more content and a better rider. Absolutely convinced of it. 🙂

    Premier Icon teamhurtmore

    Big Dummy – there’s more than an element of truth in what you say!! I throw my old Trek at everything and it is incredibly reliable. I am learning to use skills not the bike – which is a good thing – and I guess HT is less forgiving. But it is still nice too dream!!!

    Premier Icon epicyclo

    Stop reading the magazines – it’s mainly advertorial. Try out your mate’s bikes and anything else you can get your hands on and form your own opinion.

    Remember the more features a bike has the more costly the maintenance.

    Unless you are racing, you don’t need to get too picky.

    Lots of truth in what Big Dummy is saying.

    It’s mostly about technique rather than the bike – keep riding your bike and the pros and cons of different types of bike and which will best suit you will become clearer in time. I enjoyed thrashing a 100mm XC HT around and after about 18 months I could see what would suit my riding better (a slacker stronger longer travel HT). You have to read between the lines of what magazines write otherwise you’d think you need about a dozen different bikes!

Viewing 29 posts - 1 through 29 (of 29 total)

The topic ‘Understanding different bikes – how do you decide what you need?’ is closed to new replies.