Mountain bike


Rigid framed mountain bike set up as a utility bike

What is a mountain bike?

A mountain bike is a strongly built bike designed for riding off-road, Mountain bikes are supplied with wide, knobbly tyres, flat handlebars and wide-range derailleur gears.

Other names for mountain bikes

Mountain bike is often abbreviated to MTB, particularly on the web.
When the mountain bike was first introduced, during the 1980s, it was known as the ‘all terrain bike’ or ATB.

Different types of mountain bike

There are three basic designs of mountain bike frame: rigid; front suspension and full suspension. Rigid frames are the simplest and most reliable. They are the easiest type of mountain bike frame to add mudguards and a rack to.

Front suspension bikes are designed around a shock-absorbing fork. Some suspension forks can be temporarily ‘locked out’ with the turn of a dial, switching off the suspension and making them work like a rigid fork. This can stop the forks from bobbing up and down under hard pedalling, transferring more of the rider’s energy through to the rear wheel, which can be useful when climbing hills. On more sophisticated suspension fork, the amount of suspension is adjustable by the rider. Front suspension mountain bikes are sometimes referred to as ‘hardtail’.

Full suspension mountain bike frames have shock absorbers at the rear wheel as well as the front. They are not suitable for carrying a pannier rack because of the rear suspension.

Mountain bikes were traditionally designed around 26” (559mm) and this remains the most common mountain bike wheel size. Mountain bikes with 29” (622mm) wheels are now available too. These are known as ’29ers’, although the rim diameter is the same as the standard for road bikes and hybrids.

The market for mountain bikes is evolving and new types of mountain bike are being created. For instance, a cross country (or XC) mountain bike is designed for racing across varied terrain, a downhill bike is specifically designed for descending and a trials bike is, like a BMX, intended for stunts.

What kind of journey is a mountain bike suited to?

A mountain bike is suited to off-road cycling. A mountain bike can be adapted for road use by substituting the knobbly tyres for smooth ones, and it is usually possible to fit full mudguards and a rack to a rigid frame mountain bike, though it will be less efficient on road than a hybrid of equivalent quality.

Typical components

Frame: aluminium, medium wheelbase Read about wheelbase
Wheels: 27.5” or 29″ with disk brakes Read about wheel size
Tyres: wide, knobbly
Handlebar: flat or riser Read about flat handlebars
Brakes: disk
Gears: derailleur, wide range Read about derailleur gears
Mudguards: not included, may be difficult to fit
Chainguard: not included
Lights: not included
Rack: not included, incompatible with rear suspension
Lock: not included


Advantages of mountain bikes

  • Knobbly tyres have good puncture resistance
  • Suitable for loose surfaces including dry leaves or snow
  • Short riders may find it easier to find a mountain bike frame that fits them, thanks to the slightly smaller wheels (559mm)
  • If the bike has a rigid frame (without suspension), it will be suitable for carrying cycle luggage on a pannier rack

Disadvantages of mountain bikes

  • Inefficient on road
  • Not particularly capable of climbing steep hills due to upright posture
  • Can be tiring on long journeys
  • Limited choice of riding postures due to flat handlebar
  • If there is front suspension, a full front mudguard cannot be fitted
  • If there is rear suspension, neither a rack nor full mudguards can be fitted

Examples of mountain bikes used for transport

Rigid framed mountain bike fitted with mudguards, chainring guard, rack and panniers

Rigid framed mountain bike with rack, mudguards and chainring guard

Front suspension mountain bike fitted with short mudguards and rack

Front suspension mountain bike fitted with short mudguards and rack


Other types of bike