xc vs trail vs all-mountain vs enduro vs dh

Starting the search for a new mountain bike can be a little daunting. First of all, there are about 101 different categories of MTBs. Just trying to figure out what each one is can be challenging enough. Then, you have the complication of bikes that blur the lines between categories. Don’t worry, today, we are going to talk about what type of MTB you should buy to best suit your trails and riding style. We are going to define each category, and share where each one shines. Are you ready? Let’s talk about it.

Kinds of MTB Category Definitions

XC: <120mm of rear travel. Head tube angle 67° and steeper. Made for going uphill as fast as possible. Lightweight and less durable.

Trail: 120-140mm of rear travel. Head tube angle between 65°- 67°. Very balanced between uphill and downhill performance. Very versatile.

All-Mountain: 140-160mm of rear travel. Head tube angle between 64.5° – 66°. Slightly downhill focused while being versatile. Comfortable and confident.

Enduro: >160mm of rear travel. head tube angle between 63.5° – 65°. Very downhill focused. Heavier and more durable. Made for gravity racing on difficult terrain.

DH: >180mm of rear travel. Head tube angle between 62° – 64°. One trick pony. They go downhill.

What Kind of MTB Should You Buy? Category synopses

XC bikes are really made for doing one thing — going uphill quickly. To do this, they are built with lightweight components and geometry designed around uphill performance. As a result, they do a very good job of covering a lot of ground quickly. They aren’t the most capable descenders when the going gets rough. They aren’t the most versatile bikes out there either. While they handle smoother terrain very well, they can get outgunned quickly in rough terrain. XC bikes fall into two categories — race and trail. Race bikes generally have around 100mm of rear suspension and forgo the dropper post. Trail versions of XC bikes usually bring an extra 10-20mm of travel to the table and they’re usually equipped with dropper posts. These make great endurance race bikes. Most people looking to buy an XC bike are going to be doing some sort of racing, whether it be traditional XC or endurance/marathon events.

Who they are for: Best for people who want to race or only care about riding uphill quickly.

Suitable terrain: Greens, blues, and black diamonds. Most people will struggle to ride these on double black diamond trails.

Favorites in the category: Santa Cruz Blur, Cannondale Scalpel, Orbea Oiz

Trail bikes are some of the most versatile mountain bikes on the market. They are very balanced between uphill and downhill performance. Like the name says, they are made to ride trails — all of them. While they cover the widest variety of terrain, it will take a skilled rider to handle tough terrain on a trail bike. Trail bikes tend to come with slightly more durable tires and stiffer suspension. While an XC bike will almost always have lightweight suspension, trail bikes will usually have stiffer, bigger diameter forks designed for rougher trails and higher speeds. Trail bikes have a very responsive ride quality on the downhills. Trail bikes tend to feel very responsive and can help maximize the fun factor. A lot of trail bikes tend to blur the lines either between XC/Trail or Trail/All-mountain.

Who they are for: Most people

Suitable terrain: Greens, blues, black diamonds, and double black diamonds.

Favorites in the category: Santa Cruz Tallboy, Ibis Ripley, Transition Spur, Orbea Occam, Giant Trance & Trance X, Ibis Mojo, Santa Cruz 5010, Norco Optic

Like trail bikes, all-mountain bikes are incredibly versatile. An all-mountain bike takes the same principle behind a trail bike and shifts it slightly more towards a downhill emphasis. All-mountain bikes still climb well but tend to be a little more stout than their trail bike counterparts. They are more comfortable on rougher terrain due to their stiffer suspension, burlier frames, stronger brakes, and more aggressive tires. An all-mountain bike is a great option for people who like to ride difficult trails, but still do a fair amount of climbing. They’re also great for those looking for a little more comfort and confidence on their easier trails.

Who they are for: Most people, especially those that enjoy difficult trails.

Suitable terrain: Greens, blues, black diamonds, and double black diamonds.

Favorites in the category: Santa Cruz Hightower, Ibis Ripmo, Transition Sentinel, Yeti SB130, Norco Sight, Giant Reign

Enduro bikes land firmly in the gravity category. Sure, they can pedal uphill, but they are really designed for going downhill as fast as possible. They are designed with durability in mind. As a result, they are heavy. They tend to come with heavy suspension, durable tires, and overbuilt frames. They lack a little versatility when compared to trail and all-mountain bikes. They can be a little slow and sluggish, especially in easier terrain. They really thrive on steep, rocky, and rugged trails. Coil shocks are not abnormal on enduro bikes. They are great for enduro racing and bike park riding.

Who they are for: Gravity junkies

Suitable terrain: Some blues, black diamonds, and double black diamonds.

Favorites in the category: Santa Cruz Megatower, Yeti SB150, Yeti SB165, Norco Range

Much like XC bikes, DH bikes have one purpose. Although, DH bikes might be even more limited in their scope. DH bikes really only go downhill. In fact, they don’t go uphill at all. Flat ground isn’t even much fun on a DH bike.

Who they are for: DH Racers

Suitable terrain: Bike parks and DH race courses.

Favorites in the category: Santa Cruz V10, Norco Aurum, Transition TR11

What Kind of MTB Should You Buy?Conclusion

While this probably isn’t the answer you want to hear, the type of bike you should buy depends on how and where you like to ride bikes. The video above lays out a ton of good information about the subtleties and nuances between the categories. It will help you decide what type of MTB is be best for you.

Sit down and make a note of the trails you ride most of the time. The bike you buy should fit these trails. Don’t go buy a DH bike when all you do is race XC — That one’s pretty obvious. It gets a little trickier when you are trying to decide between a trail bike and an all-mountain bike, though. While both will do well on almost every trail you ride, there are some differences between them. For example, the trail bike is going to offer a more lively ride in addition to being a faster climber. The all-mountain bike will handle tough trails like Grafton Mesa, Portal and Captain Ahab with more confidence and speed.

Nothing beats first-hand experience when it comes to buying a bike. We have a huge demo fleet for this exact reason. We want to make sure that every one of our customers walks away happy with the bike they chose. Come in and demo a handful of bikes before you drop your hard-earned cash on a new MTB. If you know the exact category of bike you want, try a handful of similar bikes. If you’re newer to the sport and don’t know exactly what you like to ride, come in and try a few different bikes from different categories. As always, we are happy to help you find the right bike.

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