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Everything you need to know about MTB

At Swinnerton Cycles, we like to think we know a thing or two about mountain bikes and can help answer any queries that you may have about MTB. This is our master guide to mountain bikes, and we will cover everything from the basics such as sizing, wheel types and brands to more complex subjects such as which brakes to choose and suspension.

What is a mountain bike?

Mountain bikes are typically designed for off-road cycling; they can cover everything from mountainy and rocky terrain to your regular off-road tracks. The design features incorporated into the design include components that help with rider performance and durability in bumpy and rough terrain.

Features of a mountain bike

• Front or full suspension 

• Lightweight frame

• Powerful brakes 

• Durable wheels 

• Lower gear ratio for climbing 

• Large, knobbly tyres

Why do mountain bikes need to be durable?

When riders tackle mountains, rough terrain and steep descents, they need to make sure that their bike can handle the pressures and shocks that come with the ride. The components of an MTB are designed for rough terrain and have better shock absorption and have greater traction to ensure that riders are comfortable and in control. Their frames are also a lot more durable than other bikes as they need to be able to handle the vibrations, impact and stress of off-road biking.

Types of mountain bikes

There is more than just one type of mountain bike, and each different variation is designed to be able to cater to various terrains. So what are the different types of mountain bikes?

Trail Bikes

The most common MTB on the market is the trail bike, and as the name suggests, it is a mountain bike that is designed for general usage and one that you can take on trails. Often a good all-around bike, they are low in weight, can handle rough terrain and high speeds, and you will find models that are available in full and front suspension.

Fat Bikes

We’re not being rude, honestly. Fat bikes are a relatively new style of mountain bike, and they are becoming more popular due to their ability to handle versatile terrain. The model gets its name from the fat tyres of the model, which helps create low ground pressure that in turn provides comfort and stability on unstable surfaces such as snow, sand and mud. Often a bike that is brought out in the winter for snowy rides, the wide stance and low ground pressure makes it the perfect choice for colder climates.

Cross Country Bikes

These models are designed primarily for competitive cross country rides, and even though they can handle rough terrain, they are geared towards flatter off-road routes. For cross country MTB models, the focus lies in creating a bike that is lightweight and can provide comfort over long distances. Usually, cross country mountain bikes have front suspension and carbon fibre frames.

Downhill Bikes

This is one for those who like a downhill thrill. As the name suggests, these downhill bikes are suited to descents and are constructed in a way that provides the rider control and comfort whilst travelling at high speeds. Downhill mountain bikes have full suspension that allows them to absorb shocks and impacts on the descent from any jumps that arise.

Anatomy of a mountain bike

Now that you know the various types of mountain bikes, you’ll need to know what parts a mountain bike has. The anatomy of a mountain bike is important to know for any cyclist, as they need to be able to identify components that may need attention, fixing or sourcing to create their own MTB model.


Arguably, the most important component of the mountain bike is the MTB frame. The frameset needs to be able to withstand high force but also be lightweight. MTB frames are shaped in a way that encourages the rider to sit in an upright position to ensure they are more comfortable whilst riding and are in a position of control over the bike.


MTB tyres need to be very durable and often feature knobbly treads for greater traction. The front tyres of MTB often have an angled tread which helps the rider with the accuracy of their steering, and rear tires are designed with a horizontal tread that help dig into the ground when the rider is accelerating. Even though tubeless tires are becoming more popular in mountain bikes, the standard tube system is what you will find in most models.


The general gear systems of mountain bikes allow the rider to choose from multiple speeds to ensure that they are equipped for fast speeds and flat sections of your ride as well as more difficult and steep sections. Controlled by shifters that are located on the handlebars, the gear system is operated with your thumbs whilst the rider grips the handlebar.


MTB handlebars are flat all the way across (with some exceptions having delves and curves where the stem connects). The stem connects the handlebars and the fork together, and the shorter the stem, the closer they are to the front of the frame.


The saddle of a mountain bike is often wider than road bike saddles and offer more padding for comfort. You will also find that some seats include shock absorbers for even more comfort.


Over the last few years, the MTB community has seen a rise in disc brakes, and they are now the norm for anything other than entry-level riders. The advantage of disc brakes is that they are more reliable and work better in muddy and wet conditions.


The pedals of an MTB depend on the preference of the rider, but the most common type of mountain bike pedal is clipless. Clipless pedals require the rider to use special shoes that clip into the pedal and attach themselves to the bike. They provide the rider with more control and precision with pedalling.

Mountain bike suspension

Different models have varying suspension types, but the most commonly used type of mountain bike suspension is front suspension which is known as a hardtail bike. 


Advantages of hardtail bikes 

Lower weight

If your bike has rear shocks, you can expect it to be heavier. If you are searching for a model that is lightweight, then a hardtail bike is the choice for you. 

Less expensive

If you are conscious about the cost of your model, it is best to know that hardtail bikes are usually cheaper than full-suspension models. 

Pedal efficiency

With all types of suspension, you can expect a reduction in pedal efficiency due to the shocks absorbing the movement. Having more suspension means that your pedal efficiency will be reduced, therefore having front suspension only is better for pedal efficiency. 

Less maintenance

If you are searching for a bike that is low maintenance, a hardtail bike is the choice for you. With fewer parts, you will have less to worry about and having shocks on both the front and rear is double the number of parts to clean, replace and lubricate. 


Disadvantages of hardtail bikes


Only having shocks at the front of your bike means that comfort will be reduced in comparison to having a bike with full suspension. 


Other components of the MTB such as bike wheels, bike frames, and bike tyres won’t be protected from the impact of a descent.

Rim brakes vs Disc brakes

You will also have to decide whether you want to choose disc brakes or rim brakes for your model. Even though they are more expensive and can be more complicated when it comes to maintenance, disc brakes are the better option. They offer more control with braking and give the rider greater precision when tackling steep terrain.

Mountain bike sizing

When it comes to mountain bike sizing, each brand will have its own size chart that you can consult, and usually, brands come in standard sizes: small, medium and large

Sizing is often correlated with height, but if you think that you may be between sizes, it is usually best to go for the smaller size. It is easier to make adjustments in other areas that will help compensate instead of having a large frame that can’t be controlled. There are a few things that you can test when it comes to determining if a bike is the right fit for you. Measuring the Effective top tube is a great way to show how long a bike will feel when you are sat on it. You should measure the horizontal distance from the seat tube to the head tube. 

Measuring the reach is also a good indicator of size for an MTB. To do this, you should measure the distance from the centre of the bottom bracket to the centre of the head tube using a horizontal line. This will help you measure the length of your bike and will give you an indication of what it is like to ride when out of the saddle.

Seat height

This is important to get right and can make a world of difference when it comes to comfort and performance. Ensure that you adjust the height of the seats to a point where your legs are 80-90% extended during pedalling in the saddle at the bottom of your pedal rotation.

Key mountain bike brands

At Swinnerton Cycles, we have a range of mountain bike brands for you to explore. 

Giant are a bike manufacturer that has been creating models since 1972, and their mission from the very start prioritised innovation, and their manufacturing expertise sets them apart. Giant mountain bikes win world championships, design awards and the trust of cyclists across the world who are ready to take on tricky terrain.

Since 1983, Ridgeback has been creating bikes that match the needs, specifications and demands of their customers. Ridgeback mountain bikes are designed for those who want to prioritise comfort whilst riding, and the range of Ridgeback MTB available at Swinnerton Cycles includes the Terrain 1, Terrain 2, Terrain 4 and Storm models.

The vast range of Trek MTB at Swinnerton include models that are designed for high-performance and comfort. Trek define themselves as leaders in mountain bike technology, and their products showcase the excellent attention to detail and precision included in their creation.