Mountain Bikes For Dummies

Imagine for a moment you are a fish. Okay, you’re swimming along and BOOM. You run into a mountain bike. What is this thing? How am I supposed to use it? Can I eat it?

This palpable bewilderment is what I feel when I see a mountain bike. I vaguely know how one is used, but if you put me alone in a room with one and shut the door, you might come back to me having a nervous breakdown. Are you like me? Fantastic! I have given myself a crash course and can give you all the major things you need to know about mountain bikes. Never again will you avoid certain neighborhoods for fear of armed mountain bikes.

The first thing you need to know is that they are not trying to hurt you.

I know you might be thinking “That sounds exactly like something a mountain bike would say” and you’re right, except I can promise you I’m not a mountain bike. I guess you have no way of verifying this, just trust me.

Mountain biking can be very good for your health. According to, mountain biking can improve your brain power, decrease your risk of disease, and even reduce stress.

It’s true that any kind of consistent aerobic exercise can improve your health, but mountain biking specifically has all the right components for getting your body into peak physical condition. In fact, just 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week on a bike can mean you are taking literally half the sick days your colleagues are!

Which brings me to my next point – Mountain biking literally makes you better than everyone else. In addition to having thighs that would make a Clydesdale jealous, you now get the added bonus of superiority. You’re healthier, more balanced, and more in tune with yourself than almost everyone around you. All that hard work and exercise is helping you reach the ultimate human goal: making your old high school flame want you back. The levels of confidence you will attain are truly staggering.

The final and perhaps most important reason to get into mountain biking is all the nature. Biologist Edward O. Wilson actually coined the term “biophilia” to describe the deep need for connection with nature. I think normal people would just call that “an outdoorsy person” or “Every single person who lives in Santa Cruz”, but then we are not biologists, so the term still stands.

Mountain biking is one of those things that you absolutely have to be out in nature to do. You can’t ride your bike in circles around your kitchen, or your mom will take away your Xbox. You can’t ride your bike to the mall, because merging onto the freeway is very difficult when you’re unable to match the speed of traffic. You must go far out into nature, to a place where only a few people have gone. Basically, a place where enough people have been through that there is a trail to follow, but not enough people have gone through to require a Pinkberry.

These types of places are often notable for their breathtaking views. According to a study from Stanford University, walking in nature for 50 minutes can reduce anxiety and produce more positive emotions, so how much more is that true when you are struggling to push a bike between two fallen logs while all the squirrels are watching and judging you?

It’s no secret that nature can work wonders on our psyche. Take, for instance, Walden Pond, by Henry Thoreau. He lived in a cabin for two years and became so peaceful that he wrote an entire chapter of his book describing what it’s like to watch ants. If that isn’t a man at peace, I don’t know what is.

So now that you know all of the ways that mountain bikes can be beneficial, we need to talk about all the different varieties and uses for mountain bikes.

The first place you have to start (apparently) is with the suspension.

If you are truly an amateur, you might not even know what a suspension is, so I’ll explain it this way: it’s the bingy-boingy parts that keep you from going bump-bump. Okay, so I may have dumbed that down just a bit too much. The suspension is all the springs and hydraulics that help give you a smoother ride. There are three basic types of suspension in mountain bikes: hardtail, full suspension, and rigid. Hardtail bikes have shocks at the front, the Full suspension has shocks at the front and back, and rigid have no shocks at all. So it’s your basic small, medium, and large scenario but instead of french fries, we’re dealing in smoothness.

Then there is wheel size to consider. There’s some science behind which size to choose and why, but that goes beyond “Mountain bikes for dummies”, so I’m going to pretend it doesn’t matter. You also need to consider your gender. Women’s bikes are, on average, lighter and shaped slightly differently. You don’t have to subscribe to gender bike norms though. Do whatever you want.

Okay so those are the basics, and now there are roughly Five different types of mountain bikes (according to I say roughly because each of these five categories can be further divided into several other categories, but I am not about to get into all that.

1. Cross Country Bikes – the most common type of mountain bike. Usually pretty lightweight and built for smoother paths and longer distances. Think Forest Gump running across the country.

2. All Mountain bikes – these are like cross country bikes, but with wider tires and a sturdier frame. They’re you after you put on the Freshman 15 your first semester of college.

3. Downhill mountain bikes – you’re not going to believe this, but these are for riding downhill. Usually, you would walk your bike to the top of the hill and ride down super fast like some kind of kombucha chugging Sonic the Hedgehog.

4. Freeride mountain bikes – These more closely resemble stunt bikes. You’re going to the X Games, baby.

5. Dirt jump bikes – these are trick bikes also, but for more aerial stunts. You’re going to the X Games in the sky, baby.

 So there you have it! All (or most) of the bike basics for those who are not really into them. As you can see, the different types of mountain bikes really tend to overlap, and some aficionado is probably rolling his eyes into the back of his bike helmet at me, but at least now you can hold a halfway decent conversation with your boss who has a frequent buyer punch card at REI. You’re welcome.

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