Mountain bikes use knobby, wide tires for better traction and stability. Many feature front suspension, shock absorbing forks on the front end to smooth out rough trails and terrain. Mountain bikes usually come with three chainrings in the front and eight or nine gears on the rear wheel, for a total of 24 or 27 speeds. The three chainrings on the front allow for more gear choices for easier pedaling on steep, difficult hills. Some mountain bike designs also use rear suspension, which allows the rear wheel to move and smooth out bumps for added comfort and control. Mountain bikes without suspension are available for less aggressive riding on smooth surfaces. These rigid bikes are generally lighter, and less expensive than their suspended cousins are. However, the more expensive suspension mountain bikes weigh even less than the cheaper “hard tail” version. Lower weight equals higher cost and that’s a decision you’ll have to be comfortable with.
Mountain bikes can be classified into four categories based on suspension:
- Fully rigid: A frame with a rigid fork and fixed rear, no suspension.
- Hardtail: A frame with a front suspension fork and no rear suspension.
- Soft tail: A frame with small amount of rear suspension, activated by flex of the frame instead of pivots.
- Dual or full suspension: A front suspension fork and rear suspension with a rear shock and linkage that allow the rear wheel to move on pivots.