Everything You Need to Know About Mountain Bike Disciplines

Everything You Need to Know About Mountain Bike Disciplines

Mountain bike riders are a hearty breed of riders. Each rider relies on their strength, speed, reflex responses, and bike to enjoy all aspects of time on the trail. Because mountain bikers are often a competitive bunch, specializing in your favorite style of ride can further increase your enjoyment of this sport. 

Keep in mind that you will need high-quality mountain bikes to participate in these disciplines, but today even some of the best budget mountain bikes are pretty good for some downhill and XC. 

Downhill (DH)

Downhill mountain bike riders love the rush of a rapid decline. To have fun, enjoy the thrill, and walk away from a fast slope, pay special attention to the weight of your body and gear. It’s easy to get air during an intense downhill. Can you physically handle the weight of your bike and your body after a hard drop?

Start with milder downhills when possible, so you know how much power it takes to control your rig. You may need to bump up your strength training. While working on these milder inclines, practice your fast maneuvers, your braking skills, and your ability to shift your weight quickly.

Cross-Country (XC)

If you love to race against other riders, the world of cross-country mountain biking may be your best riding option. While these rides happen on rough trails, you don’t have to be near mountains to get in a great ride as a cross-country specialist.

Cross-country mountain bikers tend to be lighter. If you stick with your older, heavier bike for your first few races, you may want to boost your suspension to give you a faster recovery after a hard drop or after slowing down on a rough or muddy patch. Your helmet needs to be lighter; for example, most cross-country riders don’t use a face shield, while some downhill riders use a full-face shield and body armor.


Slopestyle riders are the tricksters of this fantastic sport. If you love to get a lot of air and are learning to turn, twist, and spin while you’re in the air, you’re headed toward being a competitive slopestyle rider.

A slopestyle mountain bike will be lighter and have a higher tolerance for hard jolts. If you love your regular bike and can do some tricks on it already, keep building your skills. Pay particular attention to your body position in the air, handling the landing, and gearing up for a bit of flash. Elbow pads are a good investment, as are garments that will protect your skin against a concrete burn.


Enduro racers engage in multiple timed trials to get to the top of the mountain, then race down in another timed trial. One of the great things about being an enduro rider is that you can make up time on your specialty and build skills as you go.

Like any good competitor, you’ll be racing against yourself. If you’re great at downhill, build your climbing skills. If you’re used to short rides, learn to carry the right snacks and enough water to keep your muscles working efficiently. Finally, if you really don’t like the heavy pressure of riding with a lot of extremely competitive racers, you’ll find the enduro riders to be much more supportive and friendly.

Four-Cross (4X)

Many four-cross riders fell in love with BMX bicycle riding. If you love a hard ride on a track loaded with slopes, jumps, bermed corners and edges, increase your four-cross riding time. You will be racing against four other riders each time you get on this track. The winner is the one who crosses the finish line and will progress to the next race. There are also dual-slalom options that will require you to race against one other rider two times to determine the total riding time to determine the winner.

Four-cross riders generally don’t use the seat much; this is a standing style of riding. If your current mountain bike is a hard-tail, consider upgrading your front suspension forks to reduce chatter and vibration each time you land.

Teenagers love 4X discipline, and some use simple bikes suitable for teens for this one. 

A Word About Safety Gear

Depending on the style of riding you prefer, you may need to upgrade your safety gear. Goggles are always a good choice on a hard trail. You need to be able to see hazards and challenges so you can react quickly. If you’re racing, a face shield may be a better choice.

Gloves to protect your hands and reduce the damage of chatter are critical. Make sure your gloves fit tight enough to improve your grip and not get in the way of your braking ability.

As you get more specified in your riding preference, you may also want to add

  • ankle braces
  • shin protection
  • knee protection
  • elbow guards
  • a neck brace

Downhill riders tend to need the most gear; if chatter is a big concern, a mouthguard can save your fillings! Riders headed out in wet or cold weather will need to consider their warm weather gear fit carefully. A loose jacket can become hazardous if it gets in the way of a body shift or arm movement.

No matter your riding preference, look for milder trails to start. Your current mountain bike will likely work well as you build your skills, but if you are headed into competitive events, upgrading to a specialized bike can increase your safety and your chance of success.     

Sean Lockwood

Sean is a programmer with a passion for extreme sports. Favourite extreme sports discipline is biathlon. Started this blog because of the great love for nature and adrenaline which results in something extreme like Extreme Sports Lab (ESL).

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