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How To Choose A Mountain Bike

Drop into mountain biking with the perfect bike that’s ready to take on your favorite trails and terrain. 

The huge range of options available can seem like a lot to navigate through, so we’ve created this helpful guide on how to choose the right mountain bike. 

This article covers the basics of narrowing down your search and explains more advanced considerations to arrive at your dream mountain bike!

Table of contents

choosing the right MTB is easier when you follow our guide

Beginner considerations

Nailing down the basics is crucial to finding the correct trail-ripping bike for you. 

Even if you’re new to mountain biking, we’re kicking off this guide with the most important initial considerations when choosing a new MTB. 

Easily kick off your search by defining your riding style and identifying the kind of suspension and components that fit the bill— dive into the details below!

RecreationalCross-country (XC)TrailEnduroDownhillFat bikes
TerrainBike paths, mixed-surface routes, gravelModerate singletrack, 4x4, gravelTechnical singletrackExtreme singletrack, freeride terrainBike parks, shuttle-serviced areasSnow, sand, off trail
What it excels atComfortable exploringClimbing and pedaling quicklyClimbing/descending efficiencyExtreme singletrack descentsExtreme descents, jumps, and dropsTraction and floatation
Front suspension60-100mm100-120mm120-150mm130-180mm180-200mm+Optional, 100-120mm
Rear suspensionNoneOptional, 60-100mm 120-150mm130-170mm160-200mm+None
Wheel sizes
27.5" or 29"29"29", 27.5" or Mixed29", 27.5" or Mixed
29", 27.5" or Mixed
26" or 27.5"

Start with riding style

Different mountain bikes are optimized for certain riding styles and terrains to extract the most performance and comfort out on the trail. 

For example, bikes designed for recreational routes feature lighter, more comfort-oriented parts compared to competitive downhill mountain bikes built for high-speed descents.

To find the mountain bike that best suits where and how you love to ride, learn more about the most common riding disciplines below:

Recreational MTBs have everything you need to explore some mellow off road terrain

Recreational MTBs

Perfect for bike paths and light off-road terrain, recreational mountain bikes are a versatile and budget-friendly option. Take on gravel roads, commutes, dirt tracks, and more to kick off your mountain bike journey.

XC bikes feature limited or no rear suspension and are designed for fast-paced pedaling on relatively tamer terrain.

Cross Country (XC) MTBs

XC bikes feature limited or no rear suspension and are designed for fast-paced pedaling on relatively tamer terrain. These models are the most efficient climbers of the bunch but can still hold their own coming down.

Trail bikes are efficient climbers but have better downhill control than XC bikes.

Trail MTBs

Trail bikes are the happy medium of MTBs. They’re efficient climbers but have slacker angles and increased suspension for better downhill control than XC bikes.

Enduro MTBs are the most downhill-oriented bikes that can still climb efficiently

Enduro MTBs

Enduro MTBs are the most downhill-oriented bikes that can still climb efficiently. Long full suspension specs and aggressive geometry lets you send it in bike parks, drops, and challenging obstacles all across the mountain.

downhill MTBs feature the longest suspension travel and most aggressive geometry for ultimate traction and speed while pointing down the mountain and landing huge jumps.

Downhill MTBs

The biggest and baddest of the MTB disciplines, downhill MTBs feature the longest suspension travel and most aggressive geometry for ultimate traction and speed while pointing down the mountain and landing huge jumps.

fat bikes are designed for loose or soft surfaces like snow, sand, and off track adventures

Fat bikes

Designed for loose or soft surfaces like snow, sand, and off track adventures, fat bikes rely on their oversized tires for huge amounts of grip and “floatability” over tricky terrain.

Decide on suspension options

Once you have a riding style in mind, deciding how much suspension you need is one of the next steps

Mountain bikers decide between full-suspension or hardtail setups depending on the terrain they’re expecting. Generally speaking, the bigger and rougher the riding, the more suspension you’ll need. The choice is a balance— suspension allows bikes to absorb impacts and maintain traction on the trail while opting for less suspension on lighter terrain can bring gains to pedaling efficiency and save weight.

  • Full suspension MTBs: Front and rear suspension opens up the world of steeper, chunkier terrain with jumps, drops, and big obstacles. Trail, enduro, downhill, and some XC bikes feature full suspension.
  • Hardtail MTBs: Named after the rigid rear triangle with no rear shock, hardtails absorb trail impacts via the front suspension fork. The lighter weight and rigid rear end are excellent for XC riding and smoother terrain, and they’re typically less expensive, too.
  • Rigid MTBs: These bikes have rigid frames that lack any suspension system. The most common example is fat bikes with their wide, high-volume tires that provide sufficient shock absorption and traction.

Consider wheel size

Choose a wheels size that compliments your riding style and preferred terrain

Mountain bikers have options when it comes to wheel size, which can help dial in the bike for your riding style. These days, the choice is between primarily between 29-inch or 27.5-inch wheels. However, there are a couple other options out there as well.

  • 29-inch wheels: Larger-diameter 29” wheels roll better over big trail obstacles and have faster-rolling momentum at higher speeds. These benefits make 29ers a popular size for XC and downhill mountain biking where speed is paramount.
  • 27.5-inch wheelsThe slightly smaller size provides more playful and nimble handling on technical terrain with tighter turns, including fast acceleration and similar rolling speed to 29ers. Many trail and recreational MTBs have versatile 27.5” wheels, as well as XS or S bikes for better overall frame geometry.
  • Mixed wheels: Mixed wheel setups have a 29er in the front and a 27.5" wheel in back. This design gives you the rollover capability of the 29" wheel with the added agility of the 27.5" wheel in back, making for a very capable, fun ride.
  • 26-inch wheels: While 26-inch wheels were the gold standard of mountain biking for decades, 26" wheels are largely found on youth bikes these days. That being said, you'll still see 26-inch wheels on dirt jump bikes and some fat bikes.

Select your frame size

The right frame size means you’ll be able to extract the most performance and comfort from your mountain bike. Too big and the bike can feel cumbersome while a frame that’s too small can cause a scrunched, inefficient riding position. 

Getting it right involves matching your height to the manufacturer’s frame sizes, typically listed according to Alpha sizing. For the most exact measurements, refer to the brand’s own size charts which are often optimized for each model. 

Find your recommended frame size with our helpful mountain bike size chart below. We also have more sizing tips on our Bike Sizing page.

Rider MeasurementsSuggested MTB Frame Size
HeightInseamAlpha SizeSize in Inches
135 - 145 cm
4'5" - 4'9"
64 - 68 cm
25" - 27"
XXS11 - 12
145 - 155 cm
4'9" - 5'1"
69 - 73 cm
27" - 29"
XS13 - 14
155 - 165 cm
5'1" - 5'5"
74 - 78 cm
29" - 31"
S15 - 16
165 - 176 cm
5'5" - 5'9"
79 - 83 cm
31" - 33"
M17 - 18
173 - 180 cm
5'8" - 5'11"
81 - 86 cm
32" - 34"
L19 - 20
177 - 188 cm
5'10" - 6'2"
84 - 89 cm
33" - 35"
XL21 - 22
188 - 195 cm
6'2" - 6'5"
89 - 91 cm
35" - 36"
XXL23 - 24

Balance your budget and goals

If you're a beginner mountain biker or you're hoping to start getting into the sport, the price tags on many MTBs can be a big turn off. The truth is, you don't need to spend a fortune on a bike to be able to ride trails. 

Entry level models are getting better every year and now often come with great tech like hydraulic disc brakes, dropper posts, and efficient 1x drivetrains that used to only be found on mid and upper tier models. Those entry level models will come with everything you need to get into riding trails.

That being said, for riders with serious goals of riding technical terrain, you might save money in the long run if you invest in a model that is built for the kind of terrain you aspire to ride.

The bottom line: if an entry level model is what makes sense for your budget then great! You'll have a blast getting into the sport, and if you decide one day you want a better bike to help your riding progress you can use your experience to find the perfect next model. But if your budget is more flexible and you know you want to eventually ride at a higher level, there's a lot of sense in buying a more expensive bike you'll grow into instead of out of.

For riders who want to dive deeper, advanced considerations like frame material, frame features, geometry, and component choice is how to really dial in the perfect ride

Advanced considerations

Riders looking to unlock the next level of performance can consider additional specifications such as frame properties, suspension design, and component tiers. 

Whether you’re planning an upgrade to your existing setup or simply peeling back the layers of MTB engineering, consider these more advanced options when searching for your next mountain bike.

Frame geometry is probably the most important factor to consider, as it's a great way to understand how the bike will handle

Frame geometry

Frame geometry is critical to how a mountain bike performs on the trail, especially regarding handling and stability. Distilled down to millimeter measurements and angles, geometry can be difficult to wrap your head around at first, but it offers crucial clues to the bike’s design and ideal terrain.

One of the most common terms is “slackness” which is the steepness (or lack thereof) of the headtube— a slack or low angle here means more stability at higher speeds. The distance between the two wheels is referred to as wheelbase and can also be lengthened to boost stability, in addition to extended chainstay length.

Factors such as reach, stack, and seat tube angle affect riding position for more or less aggressive posture, depending on what you’re after. Generally speaking, downhill mountain bikes have the slackest geometry for ultimate stability on fast-paced, chunky descents while XC race bikes embrace a more aggressive and steep geometry for higher pedaling efficiency.

Frame material

The most common mountain bike frame materials are aluminum and carbon fiber, but some specialty frames are made from steel or titanium. The chosen material affects a frame’s weight as well as the bike’s ride feel and overall price.

Aluminum or alloy frames are budget friendly and still quite light and tough


Aluminum frames offer excellent value because of their durability and strength, even though they are slightly heavier than their carbon counterparts. 

The metal alloy is used across the entire MTB spectrum, from entry-level to high-end bikes.

Carbon fiber offers a lighter frame option and is popular on higher end models

Carbon fiber

Carbon fiber is a popular frame material due to its impressive strength and lightweight properties. 

Carbon frames can be molded into different shapes compared to metal manufacturing, expanding the possible designs. 

Riders can expect a higher price tag on premium mountain bikes with featherweight carbon frames.

Steel and titanium bike frames are very tough and add a fun ride quality, but come at the expense of being heavier than alloy or carbon

Steel and titanium

Steel continues to offer great durability and a forgiving ride feel despite its increased weight. You'll see steel frames used for touring bikes.

Titanium is extremely lightweight and durable but comes at a significantly higher cost. Titanium is reserved for "dream bikes" and those who can afford them.

Upgrading to nicer components can make your bike ride better, but for beginner riders, you don't need the latest and greatest


If you're buying a complete bike that's ready to ride, component choice comes in the form of "build kits" that have different levels of tech upgrades.

While mountain bikers love to geek out on individual components, the end goal is to run a solid overall setup that works great for your riding style. 

It’s rare that a single part will make or break your ride, but it’s a good idea to decide on the specific components that are important to you.

Popular and worthwhile upgrades are tires, drivetrains, brakes, dropper posts, forks, and shocks.

Some bike frames have cool features that are worth considering like internal downtube storage that's popular on Trek MTBs

Frame features

Modern mountain bikes have revolutionized frames to include creative integrated features that enhance our experience out on the trails. 

Keep your eye out for details such as downtube guards, chain slap protectors, and internal cable routing that can extend your bike’s lifespan and reduce maintenance. 

Other helpful touches include internal storage compartments to keep small tools or nutrition at hand and frame mounts to carry additional bits and pieces.

Additional considerations

WSD or women specific design bikes include female friendly size and touch points

Women’s specific design

Women’s specific design (WSD) refers to bikes specifically tailored to the needs and anatomy of female cyclists. 

Hallmark WSD features include smaller frame sizes and measurements, lighter suspension tuning, and female-oriented saddles. 

Some brands offer separate women’s bikes while other brands such as Liv are fully committed to women’s bikes and apparel. 

Bike designs are increasingly unisex these days, but feel free to try out WSD and see if it works for you!

Electric mountain bikes help you ride more trails in less time.

Electric mountain bikes

Are you thinking of going electric? eMTBs can be the perfect trail boost you are looking for!

Electric mountain bikes, or eMTBs, boast integrated motors to assist in climbing up steep slopes before sending the descent. 

Many riders prefer eMTBs so they can access remote areas without depending on chairlifts or shuttles, saving energy for the thrilling ride downhill. 

Electric models cost significantly more than “analog” mountain bikes and come with additional weight from the motor and battery. 

Mountain bike FAQs

What are the different types of MTB?

Some of the most popular types of mountain bikes include cross-country (XC), trail or all-mountain, enduro, and downhill models. Recreational and fat tire mountain bikes are also well-represented categories.

What specs should I look for in a mountain bike?

Among the most important specs for a mountain bike include the frame design, suspension setup, components, and wheel size. There are plenty of options to choose from, so you’ll need to pick what best matches your riding style.

What is the difference between 27 and 29 mountain bikes?

29” mountain bikes— or 29ers— have larger wheels that can roll faster over bigger trail obstacles while 27.5” wheels offer slightly more responsive acceleration and handling.

Are full-suspension mountain bikes worth the money?

Opting for full suspension is a great investment for all trail, enduro, and downhill riders who expect chunky terrain and large drops. If you typically stick to lighter terrain, a hardtail mountain bike may still do the trick.

Can you still ride hardtails on rough trails?

Absolutely! Hardtails can handle plenty of challenging terrain, especially when matched with plus-sized tires and long front suspension. No rear shock may mean you need to take it easier on the steepest or bumpiest routes.