Mountain Bike Types Explained: Where to Begin


Welcome, fellow bike lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, to the wonderful and wild world of mountain bike types. Whether you're a newbie itching to hit the trails for the first time or an experienced rider looking to review the basics, this guide is your ticket to two-wheeled adventure, Mongoose-style!

As the brand that was born in dirt, we’ve been putting riders on two wheels and encouraging them to push their limits for five decades and counting now. Dirt’s in our DNA, so we’re stoked to share some of the knowledge we’ve built up over the years. There’s a lot to cover, but it’ll be well worth it. Now get ready hit the trails!

How to choose your mountain bike type

Alright, let's kick things off by talking about the most important piece of equipment for any mountain biker – the bike itself. With so many options out there, choosing the right mountain bike can feel like navigating a jungle of jargon and technical specs. Fear not though, as we’re here to guide you through the madness.

The biggest question you’re likely to face is the eternal debate: hardtail or full suspension? The difference between these mountain bike types is simple, but it’s a huge difference in price and technology. While there’s a ton of arguments for and against both, your choice will pretty much depend on the style you want to ride.

Consider your riding style and terrain. Are you looking to ride downhill descents or long cross-country trails? Do you dream of ripping through rocky terrain or cruising along smooth singletrack? This is the biggest thing to consider when it comes to hardtail vs. full suspension since they each excel on different kinds of trails.

Hardtail Mountain Bikes

Hardtail mountain bikes feature a rigid frame without rear suspension, relying only on the suspension fork (and the rider) to soak up bumps and improve handling. With a rigid frame, hardtails offer the advantages of greater climbing and pedaling efficiency, more speed on smooth terrain, and good ole simplicity as well. Since they don’t have a rear shock, hardtails are less expensive than full-suspension bikes and easier to maintain. They perform well on the less rugged terrain and trails, making hardtails the far more common choice for mountain biking newbies.

Full-Suspension Mountain Bikes

A full-suspension mountain bike, also called a dual-suspension mountain bike, features both a suspension fork and a rear shock that smooths out bumps to the frame and improves stability even further. If you’re going for rough, rocky terrain, then a full-suspension bike is the way to go.

That additional suspension not only makes riding on rough terrain way more comfortable, but it also drastically improves handling, allowing you to tackle technical trails without getting thrown. On the other hand, full-suspension bikes are more complex than hardtail bikes, which makes them more expensive and a little trickier to maintain. There’s also a slight loss of climbing efficiency when compared to hardtails. Still, for riders who want to hit the most technical trails and terrain, full-suspension bikes bring a lot of benefits.

More to Consider

After deciding on the type of bike you want, consider your budget. Mountain bikes come in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges, so it's important to find one that fits both your needs and your wallet. Determining your budget will help you narrow down the possibilities to just those that are within your price range.

Another thing to consider is if the bike is set up to be upgraded later. Even if a bike doesn’t have a dropper post or a high-end suspension fork, look for features like dropper post routing and a tapered headtube that allow you to make these upgrades later. The Mongoose Switchback is a perfect example of a bike that’s been futureproofed in this way, making it a ride that can truly grow with you as you elevate your skills.

Complete guide to the different types of mountain bikes and MTB disciplines

Now that you've got your bike sorted, let's dive into the world of mountain bike disciplines. From cross-country racing to downhill shredding, there's a style of riding for all outdoor enthusiasts.

Cross-Country (XC)

Picture yourself pedaling through pristine forests and rolling hills for miles on end. That's cross-country riding in a nutshell – long, scenic trails with a focus on endurance and technical skill. The Switchback Expert is perfect for this kind of riding.


If you're looking for a bit more excitement, trail riding might be more your speed. These intermediate-level trails offer a mix of climbs, descents, and technical features to keep things interesting. When you hear the term “singletrack,” this is where your mind goes.


Strap on your full-face helmet and get ready to let gravity do your dirty work. Downhill riding is all about bombing down steep, rocky trails at high speeds. It's not for the faint of heart, but it sure is a rush!


Ready to take things up a notch? All-mountain and enduro riding is all about pushing your limits on steep descents and technical terrain. It's like downhill racing meets cross-country adventure – the best of both worlds.

Freeride/Dirt Jump

These styles are all about big air and tricks on specially designed courses. Daredevils in this discipline ride specially-designed bikes on trails consisting of a series of sculpted dirt jumps, berms, and rollers set in a natural or purpose-built bike park that can also feature ramps, bridges, or other structures.

Fat Bike

For riders who want to tackle the sketchiest of terrain, there’s the fat bike. With extra-extra-wide knobby tires, these hardtail mountain bikes not only look monstrously rad, but they also float easily over sand and snow without help from a suspension fork. Check out our Hitchhiker's Guide to Fat Biking to learn more.

Tips for beginner mountain bikers

Now, here’s some sage advice for all you newbies out there. First off, safety first! Always wear a helmet and protective gear – we're talking knee pads, elbow pads, and maybe even addition protective gear if you're feeling extra cautious. Trust us, those rocks and roots can be unforgiving.

Next, start slow and build your confidence. Don't go tackling that double black diamond trail on day one unless you've got a secret superhero alter ego. Start with easy trails and work your way up as you improve your skills.

If you can, ride with a buddy or two (or five). Not only is hitting the trail way more fun when you’re riding with the pack, it’s also safer and a good way to learn from riders who might have more miles under their belts.

Oh, and one more thing – fueling your body before, during and post-ride is crucial. Always make sure to hydrate before you ride and to pack a water bottle or two. It’s never a bad idea to pack a few snacks too. A protein bar, packet of trail mix, or some beef jerky are all great options to fuel a mountain bike ride.

More beginner mountain biking tips from the pros

Alright, now that you've got your bike and you've picked your poison, it's time to hit the trails. But before you go charging into the great unknown, take a moment to soak up some wisdom from the pros:

Practice Makes Perfect: Don't be afraid to spend some time honing your skills on easy trails before tackling more difficult terrain. Mountain biking is special, but in this way, it’s like any other sport.

Stay Loose: Keep your body relaxed and loose on the bike to absorb bumps and maintain control. While the bike’s suspension provides a baseline for this, keeping your body loose and learning to respond to the trail is key.

Look Ahead: Always keep your eyes on the trail ahead to anticipate obstacles and choose the best line.

Brake Smart: Use both your front and rear brakes to control your speed and maintain traction. You’ll be able to handle technical terrain and turns much better as you develop sharper braking instincts.

Have Fun: Remember, mountain biking is supposed to be fun! Don't get too caught up in trying to be the fastest or the gnarliest rider out there. Enjoy the ride and soak in the scenery.

Beginner mountain biking skills you can master    

Finally, let's talk about some basic mountain biking skills that every beginner should master:

Body Position: Learn to keep your weight centered over the bike with your elbows and knees bent to absorb bumps and maintain control.

Braking: Practice using both your front and rear brakes independently to control your speed and maintain traction. Like we said before, you’ll be able to handle technical terrain and turns much better as you develop sharper braking instincts.

Cornering: Master the art of leaning your bike into turns while keeping your body upright to maintain balance and control.

Climbing: Get comfortable shifting gears and moving your body weight forward to keep your front wheel tracking straight. It’s tough at first, but don’t give up! You’ll learn to love the burn and then the relief of cresting down the other side of that slope you climbed.

Descending: Learn to trust your bike and let it do the work as you navigate steep descents with confidence and proper weight distribution. You’ll want to shift your weight towards the back of the bike so your front wheel can float over the bumps with ease.

Now get out there and ride!

And there you have it, future mountain biking pros – the Mongoose intro to the exhilarating world of mountain biking. Whether you're a beginner just dipping your toes into the sport or a seasoned rider looking to take your skills to the next level, there's always something new and exciting to discover on the trails. So grab your bike and let the adventure begin. Just don’t forget to have a blast and get dirty doing it!