What Is a Mountain Bike? Pros & Cons Explained

A Scott hardtail mountain bike shot on a forest road.

Mountain bikes are among the most versatile bike types. They excel in terrain, but you can ride them on almost any surface.

The ability to tackle seemingly impossible terrain, the feeling of freedom, and the adrenaline rush make mountain biking so appealing.

Think of mountain bikes as hybrid bikes with wider tires, more relaxed geometry, and suspension.

A mountain bike is ideal for people who want to connect closer with nature, have the freedom to ride in rough terrain, and maybe push their limits.

Due to the wide knobby tires (high rolling resistance) and upright riding position (high air drag), mountain bikes are unsuitable for riding fast on paved roads.

Continue reading to learn more about their components, benefits, and disadvantages.

The Pros and Cons of a Mountain Bike

The following table summarizes the main features, benefits, and disadvantages of mountain bikes compared to other bike types.

FeatureRoad BikesGravel BikesHybrid BikesMountain Bikes
GeometryEndurance or performance orientedEndurance or performance orientedUsually endurance
Sometimes performance oriented
Usually more upright
Suitable forPaved roadsPaved, gravel, dirt, or forest roadsPaved, gravel, dirt, or forest roadsAll types of terrains
Unsuitable forMost terrains except paved roadsMTB-like terrainMTB-like terrainPaved roads
Sometimes 1X
1X or 2X
Sometimes 3X
3X or 2X
Sometimes 1X
1X or 2X
Sometimes 3X
SuspensionNo suspensionSometimes front suspension
Occasionally suspension seat post
Sometimes front suspensionFront suspension
Rear suspension
BrakesDisc or rimUsually disc brakesDisc or rimDisc or rim
Relative comfortBadBadGoodGreat
HandlebarsDroppedDroppedFlat or curvedFlat
TyresNarrowNarrow or wideNarrow or wideWide
Wheels diameter700c650b, 700c700c, 26″26″, 27.5″, 29″
BrowseRoad BikesGravel BikesHybrid BikesMountain Bikes
Comparison of different bike types, their features, benefits, and disadvantages.

Frame Materials and Geometry

The frame plays a crucial role in determining the bike’s performance and handling characteristics.

Red/black Specialized mountain bike on a bicycle path.
An example of a hardtail mountain bike

Mountain bike frames are typically made from materials such as carbon and aluminum. Steel and titanium MTBs are relatively rare.

Beginner mountain bikes are made of aluminum, while the higher-end ones are from carbon. Steel or titanium mountain bikes are usually custom-made.

The geometry of mountain bikes differs depending on the MTB type.

types of mountain bikes - cross-country, trail, enduro, fatbike, downhill
Basic types of mountain bikes | Product pictures were used with permission of canyon.com

For example, cross-country MTBs have the most aggressive geometry and short wheelbase, which makes them ideal for fast-paced riding and climbing.

On the other hand, downhill MTBs have a long wheelbase and lower center of gravity to provide extra stability when descending.

You can learn more about each mountain bike type in my How to choose a mountain bike guide.

The riding position of mountain bikes is more relaxed than hybrid bikes. You can read my comparison of hybrid vs. mountain bikes for more details.

Wheels & Tires

Mountain bike wheels are the widest of all bike types (excluding fat bikes). Low-end MTBs have clincher wheels (tires + tubes), while the more expensive ones almost exclusively use tubeless-ready wheels.

TIP: Learn the differences between tubeless, clincher, and tubular tires.

The high-volume, knobby tires run on lower pressures and allow you to ride through rough terrains, ranging from gravel, dirt, and forest roads to singletracks, downhill, etc.

They are also one of the reasons why mountain bikes have high rolling resistance, making them unsuitable for riding long distances on paved roads. Road bikes are much better for these purposes.

TIP: Here is an in-depth comparison of mountain vs. road bikes.

You will encounter one of the following wheel sizes on mountain bikes:

  1. 26-inch
  2. 27.5-inch
  3. 29-inch

The larger the wheel diameter, the more stable the bike and the better it maintains its speed. However, the slower its responsivity and acceleration.


A bike drivetrain typically includes the cranks, chainrings, chain, cassette, and derailleurs.

Most modern mountain bikes use 1X chainring with an 11-spd or 12-spd cassette. However, exceptions like 2X or 3X groupsets apply (especially in the low-end spectrum).

1X mountain bike drivetrain detail (view from the rear).
1X mountain bike drivetrain

The 1X chainrings are simpler (you shift just the rear gears), lighter, and fewer things can go wrong (like a dropped chain). On the other hand, the jumps between gears are larger, and you have fewer gears to choose from.

Mountain bikes have easy gears to allow you to tackle steep climbs. You will often have to remain in the saddle to keep traction, so easy gears are handy. They share similarities with gravel bikes.

See the following table that summarizes mountain bike groupsets and their price range.

Entry levelTourneyMechanical
Entry levelAltusMechanical
Entry levelAceraX5Mechanical
Mid rangeAlivioX7
Mid rangeDeoreNX
Mid rangeSLXGX EagleMechanical
ProXT Di2X01Electronic
ProXTR XX1Mechanical
ProXTR Di2X01 Eagle
XX1 Eagle
This table compares mountain bike groupsets (from entry-level to pro) and their types of major manufacturers (Shimano, SRAM).

Did you know there are two types of groupsets? You can buy a mountain bike with a mechanical or electronic groupset. The electronic ones are more convenient but also more expensive.


Mountain bikes are hardtail or full-suspension. Hardtail mountain bikes have a suspended fork, while full-suspension MTBs also have a suspended rear triangle.

mtb bike icon
A hardtail mountain bike
full suspension mountain bike icon
A full suspension mountain bike

The suspension is what makes mountain bikes suitable for tackling demanding terrain. It absorbs bumps and vibrations, making your bike ‘flow’ over rocks, roots, and other obstacles.

I summarized the benefits and disadvantages of these two suspension types in the following table.

Hardtail• Lower weight of the bike
• Lack of rear suspension maintenance
• Lower price
• Lower energy loss when pedaling
• Better for climbing
• Right riding technique for rough terrain needed
• Not as comfortable as full suspension bikes
• Doesn't handle rough terrain as well as full suspension bikes
Full suspension• Better comfort in rough terrain
• More versatile (jumps, drops, rock gardens, roots...)
• Easier to ride in more difficult terrain
• Better for downhills
• Higher price
• Higher overall weight of the bike
• More parts that can break
• Rear triangle maintenance
The pros and cons of hardtail vs. full-suspension mountain bikes

Handlebars, Shifters, and Brakes

Flat handlebars are one of the main characteristics of mountain bikes. They allow easier handling but offer fewer hand positions.

TIP: See this comparison of flat vs. drop handlebars for more pros and cons.

Shifters and brakes are mounted on handlebars but are not integrated into a single unit as on road or gravel bikes.

The right mountain bike brake lever (Shimano) with a SRAM shifter (view from the top).
MTB brakes and shifters look integrated but are not

But both are easily accessible, so you don’t have to worry about not braking or shifting on time.

Mountain bikes usually have disc brakes, but entry-level models have rim brakes. The disc brakes are more effective in rougher conditions like mud, dirt, rain, etc. Read my comparison of disc vs. rim brakes for more details.

Mountain Bikes FAQ


This was just a quick introduction to mountain bikes. You can learn more about them in my How to choose a mountain bike guide.

It includes a detailed description of mountain bike types and the discipline they are suitable for.

Check out my mountain biking guide if you are interested in learning more about mountain biking as a cycling category. You will learn the basics of equipment, handling, nutrition, and clothing.

In case you already know what you are looking for, feel free to:

About The Author

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top