Different bike types
Back in the early days of the MTB, the bikes weren’t really very good at doing what they were meant to do. Sure, they were fine by standards of the day, and by the vague standards of the comparisons we had – beach cruisers and cyclo-cross bikes. But MTBs back then are miles apart from those of today. Fast developing rider skills meant that we got by and we learnt from mistakes. Bit by bit, though, the bikes improved, but it took a good 20 years or so to fettle and tune the species, at least to where we are now. Who knows what the next 20 years will bring.
The development of the species – and its confusing array of sub-species – has resulted in the mountain bike becoming a thoroughbred do-anything multitool. Downhill bikes have evolved to a degree where untrained eyes simply see them as motorbikes without engines, while most other MTB genres have become totally accessible to mere mortals. From town bikes to jump bikes to cross-country (XC) race bikes, the tool the MTB has become somehow manages to satisfy its multitude of users as perfectly as an adjustable spanner.
A ‘hardtail’ has front suspension only and is the ‘traditional’ enthusiasts off-road bike. It was only about 10 years ago that the suspension fork made its mark and now it’s on almost every MTB. Even low budget XC bikes are hard to find with a rigid fork. At the top end, hardtails are being out-hyped by full suspension bikes, but lots of riders still love the relative purity of the lightweight hardtail. It’s a very relevant speed option and it still attracts riders at every price point.
With average generic aluminium frames (most are made from alu) weighing well under 2kg (4.5lb) and the lightest weighing less than 1.5kg (3.3lb), it’s no surprise that the weight wary usually ride hardtails. The lightest suspension frames tip the scales at about 2.5kg (5.5lb) and most are a fair bit heavier. It’s not unusual to find a racer on a hardtail that weighs less than 9.5kg (21lb), but an average mid-range bike still weighs about 11.5kg (25.5lb). It’s the parts that makes the difference. Top end parts are nearly always quite a lot lighter than moderately priced ones. For example, a pro race level XC fork will often weigh 0.5kg less than a fork on a mid-range bike.
Steel frames have fallen out of favour over the last five years or so, but they still have their fans, as they’re often said to have more ‘feel’ than alu frames. ‘Feel’ is hard to quantify, but there’s no doubt that alu frames usually feel harsher over bumpy ground, relying on bigger tyres and well padded saddles for comfort. Titanium and carbon-composite hardtail frames also offer a superb ride feel (like steel, titanium and carbon have more shock absorbing qualities than alu), but they’re costly. Tubular magnesium frames are gaining favour in some quarters, mainly because they offer a low-vibration ride feel and they’re very light, but it still hasn’t been generally accepted as a frame material.
It’s the build simplicity and riding ‘purity’ of the hardtails that’ll ensure their survival in a market increasingly dominated by suspension bikes. Many riders love the fact that hardtails put you more directly in contact with the terrain and pedal power. You may feel the bumps more, but you learn to ride with a level of grace and finesse that helps you to tame the terrain. Learn to ride difficult terrain on a hardtail and you’ll be a better rider in the long run.
The ‘ordinary’ mountain bike is the bike most people buy. Okay, there are all sorts of sub-genres like hybrids, comfort bikes and adventure bikes, but most of them are simply comfortable non-specialist machines that encourage you to have a go.
This is the bike that has made the MTB into a mainstream bike for every man, woman or child. It’s the generic entry-level MTB that’s given birth to all manner of sub-categories for those who really don’t want a thoroughbred, fat-tyred off-road bike. The ‘ordinary’ MTB ranges from the perfectly adequate suspension fork-equipped trail bike to the commuter bike that simply borrows the best aspects of MTB technology.
Adjustability and adaptability is the key to the ideal starter MTB. Not everyone wants a handlebar, stem and saddle in the same position, so look for a long seat post, fore/aft saddle rail adjustment and height adjustment in stems. When a stem bolts straight on to the steerer, look for washers on top of the fork steerer. These can be placed over or under the stem for height adjustment.
The majority of entry-level MTBs will be fitted with a suspension fork. If you want a bike for urban use only, look for one of the few with a rigid fork. Suspension offers more comfort and damage limitation on pot-holed urban streets, but you’re better off saving a bit of weight and money and investing in better tyres, mudguards and a rack.
This entry was posted on Friday, July 23rd, 2010 at 9:02 am and is filed under Buyers Guides, What Mountain Bike. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.