Competitive mountain biking includes a wide variety of disciplines. Downhill mountain biking, in the most general sense, refers to any type of mountain biking in which the rider travels downhill. Still, specific disciplines have emerged within downhill mountain biking, adding to the versatility of the sport and requiring different skills from the athlete. However, all disciplines require endurance, core strength, bike-handling skills and balance to maneuver through rough terrain and difficult obstacles.
DH (Downhill Games)
DH refers to competitions in which athletes race top to bottom over extremely steep terrain. As downhill-specific mountain bikes are heavier than typical mountain bikes, they are not meant for uphill climbing; thus, the riders usually travel to the start of the course by other means than cycling--such as an automobile or chairlift. But don't misjudge the strength of the athletes for getting a lift to the top of the course. DH courses are one of the most dangerous and technical venues for mountain biking. Within DH courses, extremely steep terrain is peppered with jumps of up to 40 feet, drops of 10-plus feet, and natural obstacles such as boulders, trees and creek beds. The terrain is rough and steep from top to bottom and requires a combination of physical strength, fitness and mental strength to maneuver through the obstacles at race speeds of up to 100 mph.
XC (Cross-Country) Games
Cross-country mountain biking is the most popular type of mountain biking and an essential part of training for any type of mountain biker. XC events are similar to downhill, consisting of similar terrain and obstacles, but also require the athlete to climb steep hills. Due to the combination of steep ascents, downhill rides and flat drags inherent in an XC course, XC requires an enormous amount of endurance. XC courses are either ridden in a loop on a man-made course or point-to-point, covering a grueling distance of natural climbs, descents and obstacles.
Freeride mountain biking is a discipline that encompasses every type of mountain biking from downhill racing to XC riding and BMX style tricks. In contrast to DH and XC events, freeriding is a judged sport in which athletes attempt to impress a panel of judges by showing off unique and polished tricks. The courses and stunts seen in freeriding are typically more aggressive and/or dangerous than seen in DH or XC competitions. "Slopestyle" riding is becoming increasingly popular in the freeride mountain biking circuit. Slopestyle courses are most commonly constructed at an already established mountain bike park, including natural and man-made obstacles. This genre of freeriding consists of big-air stunts, large drops and quarterpipe kicks.