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XC vs Trail vs All Mountain - what's the diff?

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XC vs Trail vs All Mountain - what's the diff?

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Old 03-23-15, 11:25 AM
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t595
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XC vs Trail vs All Mountain - what's the diff?

Help needed - long time roadie going to be in the rocky mountains this summer and need to get a mountain bike. I know all about road bikes and could easily spec build and ride what I want there, but know nothing about the mountain bike scene. So what is the difference between all of these types of bikes? I am looking at the diamondback website and they have like 14 different 29ers (and that is not counting the 27.5 and 26 models) with lots of glowing copy but don't really tell the difference between what the bikes are supposed to do.

I will be doing mostly single track and cat trail access on Vail mountain and the vicinity. Not really into the straight downhill thing. I assume that I would get a full suspension bike and spec it out as best the budget would allow. Budget is about $2k. Oh and I am 59 and been riding dirt bikes (KTM 450) for years so I know a lot about off road riding - although now with a very different power plant.

Thanks in advance for educating me.
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Old 03-23-15, 12:22 PM
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They are fairly vague terms especially trail vs all mountain. Generically it refers to the amount of suspension travel.

XC = 3-4" suspension travel although now some 5 inchers can also be called XC. These are usually meant to be lighter weight racing type bikes but most heavy beginner bikes are also XC bikes. Generally they are going to climb better than the other two but be a bit more sketchy going downhill do to their geometry.

All mountain 5-7" again though that isn't set in stone. These are usually setup stronger and heavier than XC bikes, more downhill friendly geometry, worse climbing geometry(not that they are bad), they can go off drops and jumps that it wouldn't be smart to take an XC bike on.

Trail is in between with a lot of overlap. They can be more XC oriented or more all mountain oriented, just depends on the bike.

Again they are vague terms. There are plenty of 6" travel all mountain bikes that climb like a beast and weight very little and plenty of XC bikes that can take a beating.

I have a diamond back sortie 29er 5" travel bike. If I had to call it something I guess it is a trail bike, it is just a nice do it all bike. I also have a surly rigid 29er with NO travel that I guess is an XC bike and anything I can do on the DB I also do on the surly, just slower on the rough stuff.
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Old 03-23-15, 02:44 PM
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Vail and Keystone have some really good lift service downhill that doesn't require a true downhill bike, you know, with a 8" dual crown fork and coil shock. It's the green and blue trails, and they're nowhere near straight downhill. Rent a bike at Keystone and try it.

Anyway, I wouldn't ride less than a 5" bike if Vail is your base of operations.

What's your budget?
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Old 03-24-15, 12:22 AM
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Obviously there's a big spectrum of bikes with different design priorities, but basically XC usually means optimized for XC racing, where the majority of the lap time is honestly on the uphill, so they are foremost optimized for that. Aside from lightness, they handle better at slow speeds for technical climbs. The disadvantage is less suspension travel and potentially squirrelly handling at speed downhill. Usually 120mm or less of suspension travel and relatively steep angles.

Trail could really mean anything from what is essentially an XC bike with more travel to an enduro race bike, optimized to go down but still get up in most situations. "Trail" implies that the bike is intended to be fun in varied terrain. Typically 120-150mm of suspension travel, with handling geometry all over the place.

All mountain typically means more clearly that downhill performance is strongly emphasized, but that it pedals well uphill. Sometimes this might mean that the handling is a little sluggish at low speeds. Typically 140-165mm of suspension travel with somewhat or very slack geometry.

For your needs you probably don't want an XC bike, but it's hard to tell what you'd want beyond that. I bet you have some great opportunities to demo bikes at Vail this summer--that's what I'd recommend you do.
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Old 03-24-15, 07:47 AM
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Originally Posted by cpach View Post
For your needs you probably don't want an XC bike, but it's hard to tell what you'd want beyond that. I bet you have some great opportunities to demo bikes at Vail this summer--that's what I'd recommend you do.
Great post and even better summary.

Prices are better now because some sales from last Fall may still be had, but buying the wrong bike isn't helpful. So, I would suggest demoing bikes this summer and buying what works best for you.
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Old 03-24-15, 03:10 PM
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As always, BF comes through with good answers. I think that I get it now. XC is lightweight and less suspension travel. Trail is heavier with more suspension travel. Can probably take a better beating and All Mountain is heavy duty, most suspension and just short of a downhill bike. I have the ability to get some pretty good deals on Diamonback bikes so will probably look at the Mason FS and Sortie 2.

Thanks for the education!
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Old 03-25-15, 03:21 PM
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Op, look at it from the side,, the bikes... the ball parks, the range,, below is a mostly applies thing, not an absolute
But generally below will apply with a $2,000 budget


Less travel=
Better climber, You will work less,
Goes up hill better than down hill.
better slow speed handling,
better tight switch back handling.
More,,,nimble and can become twitchy as things get rougher and faster
Often with sharper head tube angles...

Less travel bikes are a bit more suited to staying in the saddle and pedaling.

Longer travel=
You will work a bit more on the long climbs,
Goes down hill better than up hill,, (less effort)
better high speed handling,
Cornering ,, the faster the better,
A Little more work in tight switchbacks
More stable the faster you go and does rougher safer, smoother,,obviously
Often with slacker head tube angles,,this makes slow speed handing a bit harder..

Longer travel bikes need you out of the saddle more to give you what they do so well...

Trail bikes,,,well IMO they are the fun bikes,,,,
Like the middle wheel size (27.5")
They are the do it all pretty good bikes

If your taller and stronger,, a 29er full squish definately,,,

I didn't have the engines,, I am faster on my 27.5" everywhere I was told the 29er would be faster.. Yeah I had 29er,, not for me..

OP your a roadie,, remember this,,
Bike fit as you know is EVRYTHING..

On a mountain bike, it takes several rides to adjust,, no many many rides...

Also If your riding with people and they are all on a certain wheel size or class of bike,,,get what they ride..
Out In the open with a pack of 29ers will be a little extra work of your on a 27.5
If they are all on hartails,,go that route..

Last edited by osco53; 03-25-15 at 03:29 PM.
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