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Coaches Blog

Getting Dirty

Updated: Apr 21, 2022

Kent Walter on an XC dual suspension bike at the Desert's Edge Triathlon (XTERRA)

“Bro, I totally cased it on the roller coming down zippity. I was totally flowing through the line, then it was just wha’irk chunk. I am so stoked I didn’t taco my rim” - Anonymous

This was said to me by a gentleman at a trailhead that I had never met. He then asked if I had any chips because he had some “pretty choice” salsa in his camelback.

I am always surprised when I talk to triathletes about mountain biking. Many seem to have little knowledge on the subject and, much to my shagrin, even less desire to participate. This is unfortunate. Mountain biking is not only really fun, but a good way to become a better cyclist.

Kent Walter and Coach Adam

I know mountain bikers can seem odd to a triathlete. They wear baggy clothes, their helmets have visors, and they can walk around without sounding like a tap dancer. But it is important to remember that we seem odd to them also. We think 140 miles is not only a reasonable distance to travel under our own power in a day but we pay to do it, our helmets have tails, and we think the best thing to do after swimming and riding is running.

Embrace mountain biking. It is fun! So let’s dip our toes into the world of the mountain bike.

The term “Mountain BIke” can be very confusing as there are more types of mountain bikes than most people realize. What started as a cruiser that a Joe Breeze and Gary Fisher put some knobby tires on so they could ride off-road, has turned into it’s own kingdom of bikes. So let’s look at the four general types:

The (Full) Rigid - This is a bike that has no suspension, like a tri bike. This is the original type of mountain bike, and while not as popular as the other two, is still used for specific applications.

The Hardtail - This is a bike that has a suspension fork, but no rear suspension.

The Softtail - This is a bike with a suspension fork, and shock absorber for the rear wheel but no linkage.

The Full/Dual Suspension - This is a bike that has a suspension fork and some sort of suspension linkage for the rear tire.

Fortunately for mountain bikers and unfortunately for someone learning about mountain biking those four types break down into many, many, many different styles of bike. For the sake of the Team MPI newsletter we will only go over the most popular ones to watch, and the most applicable for triathletes.

The Cross Country (XC) bike - This is the bike for Xterra racing, endurance racing, and basically an off-road road bike. They are light, fast and short travel (80-120mm). Travel refers to how much movement there is in the suspension, usually measured in millimeters. All four types of are represented in this category.

Cross Country Hardtail bike photo from

The Enduro bike - This bike intended for a specific type of race, the Enduro. An Enduro race is very spectator friendly. It is a stage race that takes place over a single day, or sometimes multiple days, but a stage is typically less than an hour long and usually only 10-20 minutes long. What makes the race interesting is that only the downhill section of the stage is the timed, while (in true enduro racing) the rider is required to ride to the top to get an official time. Therefore, the enduro bike is designed to be longer travel (140-170mm) to handle fast technical descents, but light enough to climb. While the Enduro bike is not as fast as the XC bike it is a fun bike,especially for a beginner, to ride due to the fact the longer is more forgiving on difficult terrain.

Enduro bikes bike are most commonly dual suspension, but a few hardtails do exist.

Enduro bike photo from

The Downhill bike - These bike are intended for only one purpose, going down a hill very fast. They are dual suspension, heavy and long travel (180-200mm). I include them on the list because they are the easiest to spot and really fun to watch. If you ever have the opportunity to watch a UCI downhill race in person, you should. It is incredible what these people do on their bikes.

downhill bike photo from

Fun fact: The early downhill bikes did not have a suspension fork, but had rear suspension. The idea behind the design was that a rider would be able to wheelie over any obstacle, so the rear was the only wheel that had to absorb shock.

And now another confusing tidbit of information. There are also Plus bikes and Fat bikes. These two bikes can fall into all the previously mentioned types and styles of bikes. The differences are:

A Plus bike has a tire that is between 2.5 and 3.4 inches wide

A Fat bike has a tire that is wider than 3.5 inches.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but a good place to start. If you want to learn any more about mountain bikes or mountain biking, please do not hesitate to contact me at

John Von Flue on an XC Plus hardtail at the Desert's Edge Triathlon (XTERRA)

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