The Modern Mountain Bike – Which bike is right for me?

With the constant evolution of the mountain bike and the increased capability of these sleds to hit even the gnarliest terrain without skipping a beat, the every day rider is finding it harder and harder to choose the right bike for them. Is it the 200mm travel full on downhill sled that tickles your fancy? The lighter weight 140mm trail weapon that feels like a bird in the air, or somewhere plumply inbetween with the modern-day ‘enduro’ weapon?

Finding the right bike for your riding style can be an arduous task and can take time, money and a few wrong choices. The best way it was put to me is to imagine your ride fantasy, that is the place you see yourself being able to ride in your dreams, and equip yourself with the bike that would tame that trail. Easy right? Not really, there are many factors that come into play and some of those we will dive head first into.

Garry Wellman going large on his Specialized Enduro 29er

Where do you ride all the time?

The mainstay of any bike selection needs to be where you ride the most, where are your local trails and what do they consist of? There is little point buying a downhill sled if your local trails are dirt footpaths and fire roads, particularly if it is the only bike you can have. Life gets simpler when you have a stable of trusty steeds, but many of us cannot afford to have multiple bikes and if we can, generally speaking our wives put a cap on the amount of bikes we can have!

Equipping yourself with a bike that rides well at your local trails is a good place to start, but it is not the only factor. do you ride elsewhere (I sure hope so) and do you have aspirations of progressing your skills and hitting more technical terrain, if so then you need to factor this into account.

Mike Branch pinning along the Commonwealth Games Loop at Nerang

The cross-country bike

The modern cross-country bike can be a lot of fun in the right circumstance, that is if you wear lycra, enjoy lattes in your spandex, like to climb hills and chew goo and you are by and large scared of technical terrain. Whilst I am more than aware that this is a biased dig at our ‘dirt roadie’ brethren, I really couldn’t help myself and am more that happy to receive the backlash. If you are contemplating a cross-country bike as your main steed then perhaps you best type in a different web address and search for something more genre-orientated (just for laughs).

You can’t do that on an XC bike in Lycra! Nathan Kennedy of Diall’d Industries getting rowdy at NV Gravity Park

The all-mountain steed

When we talk about all-mountain we are really looking at a wide range of bikes from the 2019 Giant Trance 29er with 130mm front travel and 115 rear, to the trail capable Trek Remedy with 160mm front travel and 150mm rear. This is by and large the most popular group of bikes that most riders will throw a leg over and by all means these bikes are ridiculously capable. The modern trail bike is by far the most fun and versatile bike and will serve you well in the vast majority of trail centres, even the odd day at a bike park or a slower run down a DH track. If this is you then perhaps this is the bike of choice….

Jimmy Dawson of Spoke and Trail putting his Specialized Stump Jumper through its paces

The Enduro Race Machine

There are many people out there that refuse to use the term ‘Enduro’, but the reality is that it is here to stay and is replacing the modern DH bike in the majority of rider’s stables. With long, low and slack geometry these downhill focused steeds can pin down the mountain in the most challenging and technical terrain, then climb back up the mountain under the power of the rider’s steam. Generally speaking the modern Enduro bike is 160+mm of travel front and rear and built to pin fast with gravity assistance. Whilst many riders chase the wonders of these magical beasts, they are not for everyone. if you are not pushing the limits of technical terrain, riding gravity-focused black diamond trails, or slamming DH runs at a bike park, these bikes may not be right for you.

Demon Team Rider Mike Branch hitting the technical terrain of Tamrookum Creek Bike Park on a Giant Reign

So which bike is right for me?

There is no one answer for every rider, every rider has a different skill level, different style, different ride fantasies and different needs. One needs to take into account where they ride all the time, where they plan to ride, where they see themselves riding in a months time, a years time and two years time. Progression is the key for many riders and having a bike that allows you to grow into it is always a wise move, so does this mean you will be over-biked? The answer should always be yes in a way, the bike should be capable of everything you are capable of and more. So pick a bike you can grow into…

Like the trails we ride, every bike is different….

There’s always sacrifices

Some brands and shops will tout the one bike for all your needs, but the truth is that you will always make compromises. If you want the bike to rip downhill and soak up big drops whilst railing corners like Aaron Gwin, then the bike isn’t going to climb as well as Nino Schurter’s XC race bike. If you want a bike that climbs well then you will sacrifice technical terrain capabilities and downhill stability. Obviously there will always be sacrifices and the only way to overcome those sacrifices is to follow the golden rule of bike ownership….. N + 1. N is the number of bikes you need and add one, this will give you the minimum requirement to achieve most of your ride fantasies….

As always, get out there and shred the gnar!


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