The extreme variety of trails present not only in the US but everywhere around the world puts enthusiast cyclists face to face with a difficult choice: what bike to use? Is there a perfect bike for trail biking?
The challenges of trail biking are majorly given by the characteristics of the trails, that usually mix up stretches of asphalt road with gravel roads and dirt paths. So, what characteristics should you look for when choosing the bike?
Let’s see what is the best bike for trail biking.
Trail Bike Features
Despite the geographical and organizational differences of the various trails, the vast majority of the trails range from 300 to 600 miles, with a few exceptions. Because of the nature of the trails that, as already mentioned, change path characteristics seamlessly, it is easy to understand that a perfect bike for trail biking cannot exist.
Nevertheless, there are a few features a good trail bike should meet.
- Driving ease: a trail bike must be convenient and easy to drive, it must be able to absorb vibrations and they must be equipped with high-quality bike seats that allow the cyclists to stay in the saddle for several hours without accusing knee, back or neck problems.
- Versatility: an essential characteristic. The trail bike must be as versatile as possible, allowing cyclists to handle safely dirt tracks in the woods while, at the same time, it must be able to deliver good performances on the road. For this reason, the choice of the trail bike should be studied in the smallest details.
- Comfort: apart from a good saddle and other essential technical features, the trail bike must be able to provide you as much comfort as possible. This includes the existence on the bike of a luggage basket able to accommodate your cycling backpack or other luggage you might want to carry with you.
Since many trails run on mountain paths and dirt roads, most cyclists believe that a mountain bike can be the perfect bike for trail riding. As a general thought, this might be true. However, there are a few things to consider.
The main thing is the metric development; a perfect metric development for a trail bike can usually be achieved with a 29-inch wheel, while the tires should have a small footprint of maximum 2.1 inches. It is also recommended to consider a double front transmission.
Gravel bikes are also often associated with this discipline, mainly thanks to their increased versatility and shape that allows maintaining constant pedaling rates on all terrains. However, gravel bikes also have their limits, mainly due to the rigid fork.
If you decide to invest in a gravel bike for trail biking, you should consider a bike with tubeless conversion or one that uses reinforced air chambers. The choice of the frame is subjective, but steel is the most recommended, as it has a high resistance yet it is elastic enough to provide smooth rides.
The main problem of the gravel bikes is the classic racing handlebar that might limit you on the off-road stretches.
Travel Bikes For Trail Biking
On the market, there are some models of travel bikes with off-road settings, such as Salsa Fargo bikes, that are very popular among trail riders. Despite the rigidity of the fork of these models, the steel frame provides a superior comfort and vibration absorption, while overall, the bike is strong.
The saddle position of the travel bikes is more erect and stable compared to mountain bike saddles, resulting in less fatigue for the back and neck muscles.
If you decide to opt for a travel bike, remember that the footprint of the tires should not exceed 2.1 inches, therefore pay attention to how you inflate the tires. You should also choose a high-quality braking system, such as hydraulic or mechanical disk brakes that offer an increased braking power and more manageability on mud or slippery surfaces.
The luggage basket or baskets should be carefully studied to distribute the weight evenly, to help you maintain balance even in the most critical situations.
Fat Bike For Trail Biking
One of the latest trends is to use the fat bikes for trail biking. As weird as it might seem, the truth is that thanks to their generous tires, the fat bikes have excellent performances on the off-road, overcoming obstacles with ease both uphill and downhill.
However, fat bikes are harder to manage and decrease their performances on asphalted roads, where you will have to consume a lot of energy to keep your bike going.
Although it is a trend, we believe that the choice of a fat bike for trail biking is dictated majorly by the passion of the model than by the real needs of having a reliable bike during trail riding. Nevertheless, if you still want to give it a go and invest in a fat bike for trail riding, at least try to choose a model with a frame as lightweight as possible.
You should also try to maximize the metric development of the bike by inflating the tires as much as possible when cycling on asphalted roads, to then deflate them when you hit the off road again.
Choosing A Trail Bike: General Advice
Regardless of the type of bike you consider choosing to hit the trail you’re planning to ride on, there are a few things to consider to avoid transforming trail biking into a nightmare.
- Get used to your bike: the most important advice is to get used to your bike before planning a journey. Never start a trail with a brand new bike or with one on which you are not used to riding on. Before planning your following adventure, take the time and test the bike in various situations and on different terrains. That will not only help you test the reliability of the new bike in various circumstances, but it will also help you get used to the position on the saddle, and it will give you the possibility to learn how to use your potential on the bike or know your limits.
- Before departure, run a full checkup of the bike: it might seem trivial, but many cyclists usually skip this passage before departing on a trail adventure. Make sure your bike is in its best conditions to avoid exposing yourself to useless hazards.
- Make biomechanical adjustments: the main thing to remember before departing on a trail expedition is that the bike has to adapt to your needs, and not vice versa. For this reason, before starting the trail, check all the biomechanical adjustments and see if the features of the bike match with your body structure. Among the things to check is the height of the saddle and also the distance between the saddle and the handlebar.
- Give preference to upright positions: if you are a trail biking veteran, you probably already know why. If you are just approaching this sport, know that an upright position with your back straight will limit the load on the lumbar and neck muscles, reducing fatigue.
- Choose SPD pedals: SPD pedals are the most indicated for trail biking, mainly because they allow you to maintain a full control over the bike. In fact, by always placing the foot in the same position you will avoid inflammation and pain. Apart from this, SPD pedals can also improve your pedaling performances. If you are not used to SPD, before departing, make sure you learn how to release the shoe from the pedal with ease.
- Choose comfort: when choosing the bike for trail biking, remember that you will have to ride for a long time, usually several consecutive hours. For this reason, your main goal should be that of maximizing the riding comfort with the minimum impact on performance and speed. As such, it is recommended to choose high-quality components that provide a good resistance and shock absorption against the vibration. On the other hand, choose the most lightweight bicycle model that satisfies the necessities exposed above.
The charm of the trail biking is that it is a flexible discipline that allows everyone to choose the bike they prefer. There isn’t a right bike to use for trail biking. And as a matter of fact, there isn’t a wrong bike either. The advice is to plan your itinerary in advance and choose those trails that pair more with your biking preferences. After all, it is hard to believe that you will enjoy long stretches of dirt paths if you usually prefer riding on the road.
Once you decided what trails are the best for you, you can decide what features to look for in the bike and adapt it to the needs. Lastly, don’t forget that you will have to test the things and see what bike setup works the best for you on any type of trail, so be patience and you’ll eventually find the perfect bike!