So, you’re thinking about getting a mountain bike. With so many options, brands, components and geometries on the market it can sometimes feel all too overwhelming. Here we’ll break down the basics you should consider when deciding how best to spend your money.

First of all, what is a mountain bike? Simply put, a mountain bike is designed for off-road riding. But there are also plenty of options for more versatile, general riding. Now let’s take a look at some of the details.

Full Suspension vs Hardtail Mountain Bikes

What’s the difference?

Designed to cater for off-road riding, the suspension system is one of the main components to decide when choosing a mountain bike. These components act as a cushion for those lumps, bumps and jumps you’ll endure on rougher terrains by compressing the suspension system.

Hardtail Suspension (also referred to as front-suspension) systems consist of front suspension forks only. Full Suspension (also referred to as dual-suspension) systems consist of front suspension forks in addition to a rear shock absorber system.

Hardtail Mountain Bike VS Full Suspension Mountain Bike | Cube Mountain Bikes | Pauls Cycles
Hardtail Suspension vs Full-Suspension

Alternatively, there is also the option of fully rigid forks. Rigid forks provide no suspension whatsoever and don’t carry the weight of a suspension system therefore are more commonly featured on Road and Hybrid Bikes – so we suggest those are better reserved for smooth, flat terrains if you want to keep your Mountain Bike versatile (and comfortable!).

Which is better for me?

Your decision on whether to go for a full suspension or hardtail mountain bike will largely be down to your style of riding, terrain and budget which will explore further in this guide.

Looking for more detail on suspension options? Read our complete Full suspension vs Hardtail guide.

Types of Mountain Bike

Let’s take a look at some mountain bike riding styles. Every mountain bike is tailored towards a specific type of riding in its design – from those that are £300 to those that are £6,000+. The most common mountain bike types are:

  • Cross Country (XC) – Short travel: 80 – 120 mm
  • Trail – Mid-travel: 120 – 140 mm
  • All Mountain/Enduro – Long travel:140-180 mm
  • Downhill – Long travel: 180 mm+


What does ‘travel’ mean on a mountain bike?
Travel’ is the maximum depth the suspension system can compress to absorb impact before it hits bottom. Riding on certain terrains with inadequate suspension travel can be dangerous for you, and your bike.

It’s important to understand the type of riding that suits you. This will help you consider how much you should expect to spend (without overspending!), as well as guide you in finding the right bike, for the right purpose. Below, we’ve given you a description of each bike type, and then summarised it all in a handy comparison chart.

Cross Country (XC) Mountain Bike

Cross Country (XC) Mountain Bikes | Pauls Cycles

The most common mountain bike discipline you’re likely to come across. XC mountain biking is popular in competitive sports and the Olympic games. Leaning toward racing and longer, smooth trails, the slimline Cross Country Mountain Bike is not built for hard-hitting jumps and landing but instead designed for weight reduction, manoeuvrability and speed. As such, hardtail suspension systems are popular amongst this mountain bike type, with suspension travel typically between 80-120mm. 

Trail Mountain Bike

Trail Mountain Bike | Pauls Cycles

The most versatile and broadly capable type of Mountain bike, and therefore the most popular! Featuring mid-range suspension travel (120-140mm) and a lightweight, efficient design that is more robust than the Cross Country (XC) Mountain Bike. A trail mountain bike is focused on comfort over performance. This means it will handle the climbs as well as the descents without making it too cumbersome, which is great for singletrack trails and general mountain bike riding. 

All-Mountain/Enduro Mountain Bike

Rocky Mountain Slayer Mountain Bike | All-Mountain & Enduro Mountain Bikes  | Pauls Cycles

All-Mountain/Enduro Bikes are designed to be sturdy, hard-hitting bikes for an intermediate to experienced mountain bike rider. Although similar to a trail mountain bike in its capability for longer distances, the Enduro mountain bike caters to faster and rougher descents with moderate drops and jumps. Its 150-180mm of travel softens the bumps that your trail bike couldn’t, with a blend of efficiency and toughness. Whilst very similar and therefore often classed in the same category, you’ll generally find that an All-Mountain bike has shorter travel, whilst an Enduro Bike tends to have a more aggressive end.

Downhill Mountain Bike

Downhill Mountain Bikes | Pauls Cycles

As the name suggests, a Downhill (DH) Mountain Bike is designed to go in one direction – Down! It’s a niche Mountain Bike riding discipline and one that certainly requires confidence and experience. The aim of the game is to take on very technical, very steep and very gnarly descents, which makes DH Biking a popular competitive sport. As such, stability and durability are key so a full suspension shock system and 180mm+ travel come as standard. These bikes are not light work, so you may want to find another way back uphill rather than the punishing ride to the top.

Comparison Chart

Cross Country (XC) TrailAll-Mountain/EnduroDownhill
Suspension: Full Suspension or Hardtail Suspension: Full Suspension or HardtailSuspension: Full Suspension or HardtailSuspension: Full Suspension only
Travel: Short (100-120mm)Travel: Mid (120-140mm)Travel: Long (150-180mm)Travel: Long (180mm+)
Perfect for: Forests, Fields, Rural Paths, Commutes, Small Ups and Downs.Perfect for: Low-level Bike Park Jumps, Beginners looking to build confidence on rougher terrains, Undemanding uphills and Flowing trail descents.Perfect for: Mid-level drops and jumps, Challenging Terrain, Tolerable uphills.Perfect for: Steep descents at high speeds, Aggressive Terrain, Bike parks with uplifts, DH racing.

Other features to consider 

Wheel Size – 27.5 or 29er? 

There are two main wheel sizes commonly found in the Mountain Bike market, the 27.5-inch and the 29-inch wheel. Although now less popular, 26-inch wheels are also an option and are usually found on dirt jump bikes where quick manoeuvrability is key. The size of your wheel will not only affect the fit of your bike but also your ride. Some bike manufacturers will have varying wheel sizes across the frame size range of a particular model, whereas some bike manufacturers will offer the model in two variations with either wheel size for all frame sizes. We’ve taken a look at the most important points to consider when choosing which is right for you.

27.5 Inch/650b Wheel Size29 Inch/700c Wheel Size
Easier to turn, therefore better handling on tighter cornersSlower to accelerate due to increased weight
Lighter, so quick to get goingGood traction for a smoother ride
Fair amount of traction and rollFast-rolling when they get going
Great for shorter ridersGreat for taller riders

Both 27.5-inch and 29-inch wheels also come in a “plus” size. These wheels are wider than the regular wheel size, typically around 3 inches wide. You might consider a 27.5+ or 29+ wheel if you are riding over particularly rubbly, rocky terrains or if you are less technically skilled and need more confidence. It’s important to note, however, plus size wheels are likely to make your ride less agile and add weight to the bike (think, monster truck).

Frame – Carbon or Aluminium mountain bike?   

Frame material is something that will influence both the price of your bike and its suitability for the type of riding you do, with Aluminium and carbon frames being the popular options for mountain biking. While carbon is more expensive than aluminium, both make great frame materials with the main differences between either being down to weight and ride quality/performance. 

Carbon is typically lighter, stronger, and more rigid, resulting in greater speed and responsiveness. Its rigidity means a higher tolerance for frame bending and stress fractures, therefore, dampening vibrations when riding so it can make the ride seem smoother. Whilst rigidity also means that any catastrophic impact is likely to snap or crack the frame, under extreme stress any frame can inevitably break. On the upside, carbon can usually be repaired much easier whereas re-welding a cracked aluminium frame would be unsafe.

Aluminium, while relatively light, will be cheaper, stiffer, and still have good strength when compared to a carbon frame meaning better shock absorption for rough terrain and aggressive riding. Additionally, if a carbon frame is not within your budget, other components on your bike can also be upgraded to carbon to reduce weight and improve performance. However, unlike road cycling, the weight difference between carbon and aluminium is likely to be unnoticed. Equally, it’s unlikely an aluminium hardtail won’t still be lighter than a carbon full suspension bike so it’s important to consider several factors.

Brakes – Disc or Rim?

There are two main types of brakes: traditional rim brakes and the increasingly popular disc brakes. The rim brake applies its braking force directly to the rim of the wheel, between two brake pads, whereas the disc brake is simply a disc that applies its braking force directly to the hub, much like what is found on cars and motorcycles. What is the difference and why might you choose one over the other you might ask? We’ve taken a look below.

Rim BrakesDisc Brakes
Lighter when compared to more affordable disc brake optionsMore stopping power, making them ideal for racing and steep downhills
Generally cheaper than disc brakesAllows you to apply a gradual level of force, meaning less risk of sudden halts
Easier to maintain, change and service at home and in general due to being more exposedAllows for wider rims and more tyre clearance
However, won’t perform well in all weather conditions as water between the pads will affect performanceWorks well in all weather conditions
More difficult to apply a gradual braking force. Rim brakes are relatively “all or nothing” – meaning more risk of sudden haltsHowever, with the acceptance of hydraulic disc brakes which are less exposed, disc brakes are generally more difficult to change, and maintain making them more expensive to service

Seat post – Do I need a dropper post?

What even is a dropper post? The seat post is the connecting tube between your saddle and bike frame and can be adjusted for individual fit. Dropper Posts work the same as ordinary seat posts, but with the addition of a manual lever on the post or a remote lever on the handlebars. This lever allows you to operate and quickly lower your saddle when navigating technical terrains which makes them popular amongst mountain bikers. 

Dropper posts are available in short, mid and long travel ranges from <60mm to 200 mm+.  The range of travel that is best suited to you is dependent on the type of riding you are doing in the same way that would apply to your suspension system.

Should I go electric?

The Electric bike market is booming. Despite historically being a polarising subject, more and more riders are discovering the benefits (and fun!) of going electric. With so many brands offering electric bikes, an electric mountain bike should always be a consideration for riders looking for added versatility, as well as those seeking to save time and energy on the uphills.

For more information on Electric Bikes, check out our Electric Bike Guide or visit our E-Bike Centre in-store to try one out!

How much should I spend on a Mountain Bike?

The age-old question! Although based partly on the individual and their budget – our advice on what to expect/budget for when buying a mountain bike is based on componentry and specifications for beginners to get the best value for money. 

For an entry-level mountain bike, a quality hardtail bike will cost between £500 and £1,000, whilst beginners should expect to spend around £1,500 to £2,500 for a full-suspension bike. These price brackets will give you a quality specification that should offer you some longevity providing you keep up with proper maintenance (we recommend annual servicing as a minimum).

However, it’s also important to remember that there are factors other than the type suspension system that will influence the price, performance and ride of a bike such as componentry, groupset and frame material. If your bike is going to be well-loved and getting a lot of use, we’d recommend looking at the higher end of these spending scales where you should expect the bike to be of a higher specification overall.

Find your perfect mountain bike with Paul’s Cycles

These considerations will give you a good idea of what you can expect when buying a mountain bike, making the process of choosing your bike much easier. By getting to know these basics, you’ll be better equipped to simplify your search and invest your money wisely.

At Pauls Cycles, we offer a wide selection of quality bikes from top brands at great prices. With finance from 0% and pay later options, investing in the right Mountain Bike can be made easy. Why not save further? We support most major Cycle To Work schemes, allowing you to make pre-tax salary sacrifice savings. If you have questions about sizing, see our Bike Size Guide or get in touch with our team of experts.


Adam Cross is the Customer Care Manager at Pauls Cycles and specialises in all things related to cycling lifestyle, gravel/off-road riding & road cycling. In his role, he leads advice and support for cyclists of all levels, being well versed in the sport of cycling. Riding and racing bicycles for 15 years, Adam has competed in everything from short distance time trials to ultra distance gravel and 24 hour mountain bike races. When not at work, Adam will most likely be found on the sandy tracks and trails of Thetford Forest - Follow Adam on Instagram @ay_sea_