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Trail Mountain Bike Frames

How to choose a trail mountain bike frame: The main ingredient of the quintessential mountain bike, a trail frame (also known as an all-mountain frame) will take you on epic rides, memorable descents, and up laborious climbs. Modern trail bikes are dual suspension machines with between 4 and 6 inches of travel, their geometry is playful enough to enjoy descents, yet efficient enough to take you anywhere, and they can even handle the odd venture to the bike park. Long story short, buying a new trail frame will put some spring in the step of your jack-of-all-trades mountain bike.


More than anything, the geometry of a trail frame determines how it will be categorized (travel also plays a part). There are two broad types of trail bike classifiable as light-duty and heavy-duty. Light-duty trail frames have slightly steeper angles and are designed to excel on climbs and sinuous singletrack rides, they are also lighter overall. Heavy-duty trail frames are slightly more beefed up, with more relaxed angles and heavier-duty tubesets. These frames allow riders to attack even the roughest sections of trail but are slightly heavier.


The most common way to size a trail bike is "standover" height, also known as inseam clearance. You want plenty of room between you and the top tube when you come to a stop, especially on uneven surfaces. As a rule of thumb, there should be at least four inches of clearance from the top of your inseam to the top of the top tube. Note that for some frame models the distance will be much larger than four inches due to a sloping top-tube. This is okay, provided the length and cockpit area of the bike fit you well.

Most manufacturers provide suggested sizing charts, and because models vary so much between categories, we recommend searching for the chart specific to the bike you're interested in. It's important to note that everyone has different riding preferences, so it's best to test out a variety of sizes before making a final decision.

Men's Trail Bike General Size Chart
Bike Size Small Medium Large Extra Large
Rider Height < 5'8" 5'7"-6' 5'11"-6'4" > 6'3"
Women's Trail Bike General Size Chart
Bike Size Extra Small Small Medium Large
Rider Height <5'3" 5'2"-5'7" 5'6"-5'11" 5'10"-6'2"


The overall feel of a bike is largely dependent on what material(s) the frame is made of, so this is an important consideration.

Aluminum - Aluminum is light, stiff, and affordable, making it the most commonly used frame material. Because it is so stiff, aluminum bikes are characterized by a slightly rougher ride than those made from chromoly or titanium.

Carbon Fiber - Carbon fiber is basically very thin strands of carbon that can be twisted and woven together, like cloth. To make carbon fiber take on a permanent shape, it can be layered over a mold, then coated with a stiff resin or plastic. It is among the lightest materials and is commonly used for high-end cross-country and all-mountain bikes. More recently it has found its way into some downhill and freeride frames. Because carbon technology is advancing very quickly, costs are being lowered and durability is increasing.

Chromoly Steel - Chromoly (a steel alloy) is lighter than high-tensile steel, strong, responsive, and offers a relatively supple ride. However, it is heaver than aluminum, carbon, and titanium.

Titanium - Titanium (also referred to as "ti") is very light and stronger than steel. It is also very expensive, and for this reason is only seen in very high-end or custom frames. Titanium also offers a smooth ride because it flexes well.

Material Combinations - If a frame is made of more than one material, it is usually carbon fiber and a metal - either steel, aluminum, or titanium. Material blends are not common, but constructing various parts of a frame from different materials is (ie - a carbon fiber front triangle with an aluminum swingarm). A frame made out of more than one material can help provide better stiffness, compliance, or damping in specific areas.

Wheel Size

If youre considering a trail bike, youll need to decided between 26-inch, 650b, and 29-inch wheels. For many years, 26-inch wheels were the standard on these types of bikes, but recently 650b and 29-inch wheels (commonly known as "29ers") have become increasingly popular. The larger diameter wheels roll over obstacles more easily and the tires can be run with less air pressure, providing better traction. On the other hand, larger wheels are heavier, more flexible, and there are fewer component

Things To Look For

When shopping for a new trail frame, it is wise to consider the type of riding you will be doing with it. If the frame will serve as a cross-country bike occasionally used for all-mountain rides, then a lighter model with less travel would be optimal. On the other hand, if your trail bike will occasionally become your freeride bike, or even a downhill bike, then choosing one of the longer travel offerings would be the best choice.

How Much To Spend

Trail frames range in price from $750 to $3500.

In the $750-$1500 range, models are available in heavy and light-duty versions that use four bar or single pivot suspension designs. These frames offer great value for riders looking to upgrade their trail frame to a modern design.

Moving up to the $1500-$2500 range, frames begin to incorporate more sophisticated, multi-link suspension designs, superior rear shock technology and reduced frame weight thanks to the use of carbon fiber. This range offers a balance of value and performance for more dedicated riders.

Finally, the $2500-$3500 price range offers top of the line models, many in with carbon fiber tubesets. Both types are offered with every suspension design in an extremely lightweight and carefully constructed package.

Product Reviews

Before buying, be sure to do your research and read product reviews. Reviews are a great way to find out specifics about a particular model, user impressions, and things to watch out for. After you've purchased a product and had enough time to thoroughly test it, we encourage you to leave a review for other people to see when they are researching bikes and parts on the web.

We hope you've found this information to be helpful. If you have a question that isn't answered in this guide, our mountain bike forums are a great place to get advice from knowledgeable riders. Your local bike shop is also a great resource.

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