Does the do-it-all mountain bike exist or is it a hopeless dream?
Is there such a thing as an all-rounder mountain bike? If so, what is it? And would such a bike actually be desirable to own anyway?
In the modern mountain bike era of niche creation (trail, enduro, xc, downhill) it’s tempting to think that things were simpler in the old days. Back when all mountain bikes looked the same and pretty much handled the same. Back then, you could have one mountain bike for everything but that was because there weren’t any other types of mountain bike available. People raced downhill with bar ends.
The golden age
You know what, things were simpler back in the day. They were also massively frustrating and restrictive? Didn’t want a XC race bike with terror-geometry and awful brakes? You’re out of luck mate.
There is much more genuine choice these days. Although choice is better than no-choice sometimes it can lead to confusion and frustration. What if you just want a ‘mountain bike’. What should you get?
Before we get into the nitty gritty of assessing each different type of mountain bike, I’d like to propose something radical…
Don’t just have one bike. Have two.
Split your bike buying budget into thirds. Spend two thirds on your main mountain bike, spend one third on A.N.Other mountain bike.
If you aren’t willing or able to have two bikes, or your storage space and/or budget doesn’t really allow this ‘two-bike theory’, read on.
The worst mountain bike
First of all, there is no ‘best mountain bike’. Sure, we mention such ideals, and even publish buyers guides called this, but these are a starting point. A taking off point to help those who really need advice.
Second of all, you can’t really buy a ‘bad’ or ‘worst mountain bike’. Not easily anyway. Even the briefest bit of Googling will give you a purchasing result that will see you fine. Mountain bikes are inherently versatile. You can ride cross country on an enduro bike. You can take your trail bike to a downhill race and be fine.
The key thing is to find the type of bike that suits you – and you alone – the best.
But please expect (and budget) to be perusing for a new bike within two years. Be very wary of signing up to finance deal that lasts longer than 18 months. And it is a very good idea to factor in resale value. Search around to see what brands are popular on the secondhand scene. Even if it means spending a smidge more up front compared to other cheaper brands, you’ll be better served long term with a desirable marque.
With a couple of dozen rides under your belt, you’ll find little chinks in your bike’s armour. You’ll also find out more about the type of mountain biker you yourself actually are.
My best mountain bike is not your best mountain bike.
What part of mountain biking do you enjoy most?
Do you want a bike that helps you terrain you struggle with? Or do you want a bike that plays to your existing strengths?
Do you resent being ‘underbiked’ more than you can be put up with being ‘overbiked’? Or do you like being under-gunned and seeing what you can get away with?
Do you ride for fun and feel? Or do you race against the clock (whether on Strava or in The Real World)?
Are you a pumper or pedaller?
Are you tall, short, heavy, light, young, old, injured, fit..?
Are you all about function and performance at the expense of aesthetics? Or would you rather be seen dead than be seen riding an unpretty bike?
None of these questions can be answered incorrectly.
By all means listen to other riders’ and writers’ opinions about good mountain bikes. Just remember that mountain biking is a broad church. It encompasses everything from luggage-laden bikepacking to Red Bull Rampage cliff hucking.
The ‘best mountain bike’ doesn’t exist.