When I first got into cycling, I never knew how many different kinds of bikes I’d find on the market. I knew there were road bikes, gravel bikes, tandem bikes, cyclocross bikes, fat bikes, and even recumbent bikes. It was pretty straightforward to tell the difference between each.
Then it comes to mountain bikes. It’s an entirely different story. Mountain bikes come in many shapes and sizes, and they can be very challenging to tell apart. You have four main types of mountain bikes, and they each do different jobs. Before we start, let’s talk about the other types of mountain bikes.
They are made for light trails and off road riding, which isn’t the most technical. Typically run light suspension, will often be a hardtail bike or rarely a light full suspension bike and they’re are made to be lightweight and fast.
All Mountain bikes are made for more technical riding than cross country mountain bikes. They are typically either hardtail or full suspension and made to be fast but to ride technically. Slightly heavier than cross country bikes but more capable.
Enduro bikes are made for very technical riding and are very good for aggressive mountain biking. They will be full suspension and be very capable when it comes to very rough ups and downs. They are relatively heavy as far as mountain bikes are but very technically competent.
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What Is a Downhill Bike
A downhill bike will look very similar to the other types of mountain bikes, but it is very different, and downhill bikes are incredible at their job. As in their name, downhill, they are designed to go downhill and fast. A downhill bike will be full suspension, meaning it will have suspension on the front and the rear. It will have small wheels, and the technical capability will be amazing.
Downhill bikes are not light, they are actually very heavy, and they need to be for many reasons. A downhill bike being heavy is not a bad thing as it can send it down the trail quicker. You will also find that everything on a downhill bike is quite exaggerated. For example, the handlebars are much broader, the tires will be much bigger, the front fork will be giant.
What Is Downhill Mountain Biking
Downhill mountain biking is an incredible sport. The key to downhill mountain biking is to get from the top of a hill down a course to the bottom as quickly as possible. Typically downhill trails are not simple, and riding downhill is extremely difficult. The potential obstacles are very steep rough terrain declines, rock gardens, massive drops, big jumps, and jumps as large as nearly 40ft.
Downhill mountain biking doesn’t involve climbing up hills often. Usually, you will use a chair lift or a ski lift to get to the top of the course. Most downhill riders will typically go to a bike park or a ski resort for downhill races. Downhill mountain bikes and downhill riding are not just about fitness, but technical ability and strength.
Typical Characteristics of a Downhill Mountain Bike
Downhill mountain biking requires the bike to have unique characteristics to give the downhill bikers more capability when going down trails. Downhill mountain bikes have particular parts, and in this next section, we’re going to speak about what makes a downhill mountain bike unique.
Downhill bikes have an aggressive geometry. They are made to keep the rider very low down so they can control the bike better. Most downhill bikes will be aggressive due to the nature of having to keep the weight so low down to the ground for control.
You typically won’t be riding for a long time, most courses at two to five minutes, so you will be able to hold the position. Downhill bikes geometry is not made for long distance riding or spending a long time in the saddle without a break.
The parts of downhill bikes are very different from traditional mountain biking. To enhance their capabilities, everything has to be much better and more capable to help you get down to the bottom of a trail as fast as possible.
The frame has to be much stronger than a standard frame. When downhill mountain biking, you and the bike will be thrown around everywhere, and it needs to be able to take multiple knacks and bangs. You will find them in typically steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber. They will need to be very robust as quite often they are crashed.
The suspension on downhill mountain biking is incredible. Unlike suspension on a typical traditional mountain bike, in which you will have 110mm to 130mm travel, with downhill mountain biking, you have 200mm travel. You will need all of this travel for a very technical course.
Modern mountain bikes usually have 27.5″ wheels or 29″ wheels. Downhill mountain bikes use 26″ wheels. This is not often seen in any other kind of bike, and it gives the bike a fantastic technical ability. You will be able to work around obstacles much easier, and the bike will be super agile.
The tires on downhill mountain bikes are usually much more significant than usual mountain bikes. Usually, a mountain bike will have 2.2″ tires, and a downhill bike will have 2.5″+. The tires will be very knobby and rugged and look like tractor tires.
They will also be run at very low pressure meaning the tires will have less air in them, and they will feel spongy, which is to provide lots of extra grip.
There are a lot of other parts you will see on bikes, such as dual crown forks, 780mm wide handlebars, and as technology advances, you will see a lot of new things on downhill trails.
Downhill mountain biking is a dangerous sport, and downhill riders require protective equipment to make sure they can stay as safe as possible. The riding style of downhill racing is risky, and to give us the best possible chance of being ok, we highly advise using protective equipment, but what equipment is used?
Unlike a standard road bike helmet, we will typically use either what they call a half lid or full face helmet. A full face helmet will give complete protection of the head from nearly all angles, and a half lid will be a lid that wraps on the rear part of the head. You also have breakaway helmets that can do both.
As you can imagine, downhill biking will throw mud up everywhere, and making sure your eyes stay protected is vital. Many riders use goggles to make sure no mud or dirt gets in their eyes and also so if they were to come off, there’s less chance of anything hitting their eyes too.
Very often, you will see downhill riding be done with knee pads. The knee is a very complex part of the body, and falling off and hitting your knees is a very common injury for mountain bikers, so we use knee pads to protect ourselves. You have three main types, soft shell, hard shell, shin protection.
Not all downhill riders use elbow pads, but they can protect you from broken arms, cuts and scrapes, and plenty of knocks. They can feel a bit limiting of your movement, but they serve a great purpose.
Again, like elbow pads, torso armor offers considerable protection but can feel quite restricting. It is fantastic at protecting your torso but does take some time to get used to.
It’s not uncommon to see riders using a neck brace. They are very restricting, but they keep the neck stable in even an accident. I would highly recommend these if you’re doing a lot of jumps and drops.
How Much Are Downhill Bikes?
Downhill bikes are not cheap, and you will find with all the parts that go into a downhill bike that they are on the higher end of the price range. For a cheap downhill bike, you could be looking at $2000. For a full blown new out the showroom build with top quality parts, we’re looking at $10,000 or even more.
Downhill riding is a dangerous sport. Make sure if you buy a second hand bike but make sure it is in complete working order and hasn’t had a lot of crash damage, as this could make it unsafe to ride downhill trails and bike parks.
Mountain biking is a fantastic sport, especially downhill biking, and a downhill mountain bike is a lot of fun. We highly recommend downhill mountain bikes to anyone but make sure you consider all the safety equipment when you hit the bike parks. Enjoy the miles and ride on.