For a at least a couple of decades one kind of bicycle dominated the cycling scene: racing bikes. With their narrow seats, downward curved handle bars, and sleek look, they were the majority biking choice which everybody rode. Now things have changed and mountain bikes in their various designs and permutations are everywhere.

There are key factors attributable to this growth in popularity, not least the fact that mountain bikes provide a different biking experience for cyclists. To assess how they have come to dominance, lets take a quick snapshot tour of some of their unique design features.

Not in the too distant past the term ATBs or 'All Terrain Bikes' were an unknown quantity. Not so anymore with their appeal of a bike that offers go anywhere biking in the form of: dirt trails, rough mountain paths and more. This go anywhere capability is partly made possible by the use of large knobby tires fitted on wider rims. In addition, in recent years the introduction of front and rear suspension designs has extended the appeal of these bikes.

Suspension designs come in four basic design types nowadays.

Totally rigid models are just straight forks with no cushion or shock absorbers.

A hard tail is not fitted with rear suspension.

A soft tail, is different in that it has a suspension shock mounted in the frame which allows for vertical flexing

Dual suspension offers front and rear cushion, along with a rear shock that permits wheel pivot.

Aside from the totally rigid models, other suspension designs have improved how the rider controls the bike on uneven surfaces. And where even the fittest of cyclists experience fatigue, they can extend their riding time and range on a mountain bike thanks to full or partial suspension designs. The Suspension is designed to provide a range of movement, known as suspension travel from 2 - 8 inches and is the prime reason for reducing stress on the joints of the rider.

Wider, knobby tires are another important element. The inner dimensions of a racing bike's tires may be as small as 18mm (0.8 inches). On Mountain bikes the tires are typically 35-50mm (1.5-2.2 inches) or more. That extra width of the tires helps increase control and reduces the abuse on the frame. Both factors combined to provide a smoother ride over rough terrain.

In addition, the handlebar design is quite different from its racing cousin. The wide, flat, straight geometry provides better control of the bike on bumpy, sharply curving roads or paths. Greater control can be achieved by fitting riser handlebars.

Higher clearance from the ground is another major difference between the models. Sprockets and other gear on racing bikes can be positioned low enough to the ground that the pedals clearance is only an inch or two. Mountain bikes are designed with much more ground clearance for both the pedals and the frame. The greater ground clearance allows mountain bikes to be ridden over rocks, uneven ground, vegetation, and is necessary for true off road -all terrain riding. A 33 cm clearance is not uncommon.

Furthermore, some modern designs have eliminated the chain, which can be more of a problem on mountain bikes than racing models. On both types there is the potential to experience greasy trousers. But on mountain bikes the issue is compounded by exposure to dirt, gravel and plants on rougher terrain which can work their way into chains and sprockets. Thankfully, Chain less models have solved that problem.

Mountain bikes have really developed since their widespread introduction in the 1980s. But they still provide in abundance the one thing that is essential in any bike: a fun ride in terrain away from the crowds, plus the choice of going on or off road. 

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