Freeride vs. Downhill Mountain Bikes

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Modern mountain bikes come in wide variety of models and sizes, and with so many choices available it’s not easy to choose a particular type that best fits your preferred cycling style and the terrain around your area.

If you believe this means a choice between downhill and freeride bikes, but can’t determine how they differ enough to affect your decision, you can further narrow it down by thinking about how you will be spending most of your riding time. Most people who aren’t into cross-country or XC events tend to select all-mountain or freeride-style mountain bikes. They ride mainly to have fun on smoother trails or to commute or just tool around town. A niche group of cyclists are more focused on faster descents in more technically-challenging circuits, and these use downhill mountain bikes.

Freeride is a label first used by snowboard enthusiasts who were enthralled by the many potentials of mountain recreation and invented and named new techniques for transiting hard ground with their boards. Mountain biking enthusiasts picked up on the practice and followed many of its similarly technical conventions.

Bikes designed for freeriding vary in a number of ways from those built for downhills, which offer much the same capabilities.

Riding Styles

Both ways of riding share many things as freeriders were initially created as offshoots of downhill-style bikes.

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  • Full front and rear suspensions are common on both types with the occasional front-only suspension which can be popular on some trails.
  • Full-suspension frames feature front shocks integrated into their forks as well as rear coils or shocks added beneath the seat, for insulation from bumps and for more comfortable rides over rough or uneven ground.
  • Either type may feature a frame built with various rigid materials such as aluminum, steel, and carbon-fiber.

Downhill Bikes

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Downhill-style mountain bikes are purposely designed and constructed to handle the challenges of moving across downward sloping trail segments. Much technical skill is required to master this field and many events are frequently involved with races and other timed competitions.

For this reason, these bikes are meant for cyclists who are willing to exploit their designed capacity to go faster down steep hills and roads at still-controllable speeds.

  • To withstand the rigors of the punishing terrain found in many trails and mountain bike parks, their frames are more built to be more rugged.
  • Owners usually specify robust wheel rims which won’t warp or bend on hard contact with large rock when on fast downward roll or hard ground after tall drops.
  • Downhill-style frames usually feature heavy-duty suspensions of between 7 to 10 inches of travel to absorb the huge and frequent bumps encountered in difficult terrain.
  • All are designed with various types of frame geometries which aim to offset the rider’s saddle further to the rear.
  • The seat can usually be set at a slack angle which allows the rider to maintain as upright a stance as possible on sharply declining slopes and when tipping forward into drop-offs.

Freeride Bikes

Freeride is a kind of mountain bike riding which emphasizes meeting hard-hitting challenges on diverse trails, such as tall drops and jump and ramp stunts. Freeriding parks are usually reached via wheeled shuttles or ski lifts, but many trails but can accessed by bike as well.

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  • A freerider is a downhill-style bike design that’s been redeveloped to provide more versatile riding and handling on such a variety of trails.
  • Their shifters normally offer a range of gearing which enables the biker to move up and down hills and smoother level terrain with more comfort.
  • Freeriding bikers prefer frames which locate their sitting position nearer to the bike’s geometric center while maintaining a normal seating stance.
  • As they are intended for more flexible use and aren’t focused on downhill performance and endurance, these bikes utilize less robust frames and wheels in order to lighten their total mass. For this reason they are easier to pedal up a hill than downhill-style models.
  • Freerider suspensions are normally designed with less travel of between 6 to 8 inches in their front or rear shock assemblies, which offers more precise handling and power transmission from pedaling. The type allows greater flexibility in more situations than downhill-optimized suspensions.

Which Bike?

Each type has its advantages and weaknesses which makes it better suited to a particular style of riding. The frame designs most preferred by freeriding enthusiasts are built to flexibly yet competently respond to most trail conditions instead of just focusing on a particular set of performance characteristics as in the case of downhill-style models. The freerider’s versatility is close to that of similar all-mountain or trail-bike designs and approaches that of the original mountain bike concept. The more informal riding style which this type affords is well-liked among beginners and casual mountain bikers.

That said, the specialized nature of downhill-style bikes enable their riders to better meet the fast yet controlled racing requirements of downhill events. The added suspension travel, heavier weight, slacker geometry, and greater ruggedness of downhill-style bikes make them a better choice for tackling steep and very technical trails.

Your purposes and terrain near you will determine whether a freeride or downhill mountain bike fits your needs, as all frames and parts are built and specified according to particular mountain biking styles of riding. Choose the bike which best reflects the type of riding you're interested in, knowing that both types of bikes make for great outdoor experiences.

About the author

Lisa

Hey there, I'm Lisa, founder and editor in chief here at Recreation Space. We found fitness through recreational activities. And we want to share it with you. We believe in empowering people with knowledge to make smarter, healthier choices in their lives.

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