MTB frames are built for riding at speed off-road but there is a huge variety on the market, with types to suit every possible riding discipline and riding style – from lightweight carbon racing whippets to burly bruisers that can take on the toughest terrain. In the first instance, MTB frames fall under two main categories: hardtail and suspension frames. In this article, we will talk about hardtails xc MTB frames.
Hardtails: As the name suggests, hardtail (HT) MTBs forego rear suspension in favor of a fully rigid frame. They are generally lighter and less expensive than their full-suspension cousins so are commonly used as the basis for entry- or mid-level bikes, or else for lightweight top-end racers. Some people, however, just prefer to ride a hardtail. Some of the most common categories of hardtail frames are race, trail, and dirt/street/4X.
Race: These frames are aimed at cross-country (XC) racers, long-distance marathon-style events; less technically challenging trail center runs, and just generally covering plenty of off-road miles. They typically feature relatively steep head and seat angles (a seat angle of around 73 degrees and a head angle of around 71 degrees being considered ”classic’ XC geometry), placing the rider in the optimum position for seated pedaling, especially uphill. Top tubes will meanwhile be on the long side, allowing for the ”stretched’ riding position that enables riders and racers to get plenty of air into their lungs.
Race frames are typically made from aluminum allow (for low- to mid-level offerings) or carbon fiber (for high-end models). They are designed for 80-100mm travel forks and 26”, 27.5”, or 29” wheels, with the latter being increasingly common.
Trail: More and more hardtail frames have departed from the ”classic’ XC design above (steep angles, 80-100mm travel) in favor of slacker angles and longer-travel forks. These modern trail hardtails of 120-140mm front travel offer many riders the perfect balance between lightweight pedaling efficiency and rough-and-tumble high-speed fun.
Seat and head angles are a little slacker (head angles of 69 degrees or less being characteristic of the modern trail hardtail) so that riders can get their bodyweight well back on the bike on steep, technical downhill trails. Top tubes are generally shorter, giving a more upright riding position which is not optimum for all-day pedaling but gives much greater rider control on difficult terrain.
Frame materials are typically aluminum or steel, the lively and supple ride feel of the latter has made it increasingly popular among modern trail hardtail riders not overly concerned with the slight weight penalty involved, with 26” or 27.5” wheels.
Street, dirt, and 4X: Hardtails frames built for the demanding disciplines of dirt jumping (DJ), street riding, and four-cross racing (4X) are designed less with pedaling efficiency in mind than with the ability to take serious and sustained punishment, and live to tell the tale.
DJ and street bikes generally feature overbuilt aluminum or steel frames which are tougher and heavier than those found on their xc and trail counterparts, with smaller sizes providing increased agility in the air and ”clickability.
The frames are married to 26” wheels and around 100mm of suspension travel courtesy of stiffly-sprung front forks.
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