10 Things You Didn’t Know About Mountain Bikes

Mountain Bike jumping in Utah

Think you know everything about mountain bikes? Think again! While these durable and rugged bikes are an excellent way to cruise down (or up!) a mountain, they’re also feats of engineering and innovation. Here are ten fun facts every dedicated mountain bike rider should know:

1. Mountain Bikes Date Back More Than 120 Years

Buffalo soldiers on mountain bikes

Riders of the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps, led by 2nd Lt. James A. Moss posing on Minerva Terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park, 1896

The first primitive mountain bike dates back to 1896 when the Buffalo Soldiers in Yellowstone County, Montana modified bicycles for “off road” use and to transport them to rugged places.

These soldiers were led by Second Lieutenant James A. Moss and used the bikes to cross the Rockies, cross the Yellowstone and Bighorn rivers, and overcome snow drifts that were more than 8-ft. tall.

All told, the men covered more than 1,000 miles on these first mountain bikes. How’s that for off-roading?

2. There are Many Categories of Mountain Biking

Cross-country mountain biking

There’s no “one-size-fits-all” type of mountain biking. Instead, mountain biking is divided into pursuits like downhill, trail, slopestyle, freeride, dirt jumping, and cross-country. While each pursuit is different, the bikes used for them are all durable, rugged, and capable of absorbing lots of shock during a ride.

To learn more about the different types of mountain biking, read this Hix article.

3. Modern Mountain Biking Got its Start in Northern California

Man on a mountain bike

While it’s true that the frame of the mountain bike dates back to Montana in the 1800s, the sport of mountain biking, in its modern inception, has roots in Northern California. Bike enthusiasts took a hint from those long-ago buffalo soldiers and modified cruiser bicycles for racing down mountains.

By altering the brakes, shocks, and gears, they managed to create durable machines that were suited for riding on nearby Mount Tamalpais in muddy, wet conditions. When it comes to the founding of modern mountain biking, many people credit Gary Fisher, Charlie Cunningham, Tom Ritchie, and Keith Bontrager.

4. Nepal is Home to the World’s Highest Bike Race

Nepal mountain bike race

The race is known as “The Yak Attack” and takes place in the Himalayas.

The bike race is organized into 11 different stages, which cover a collective 400 km. One participant is quoted as having said: “It is as much an adventure race as it is a mountain bike race.”

At its highest point, the race climbs to 5416m above sea level and features more than 15,000 meters of total altitude gain.

5. The First National Mountain Bike Championships Was Held in 1983

Mountain bike championships 1983


While the sport of mountain biking was gaining popularity, it took many years for it to reach a point where people wanted to celebrate it with a national championship. It eventually happened in 1983, when people from around the world came to participate in the U.S.’s first National Mountain Bike Championships.

Seven years later, the International Cycling Union held its first world championships.

6. The Olympics Welcomed Mountain Biking in 1996

Olympic mountain biking


At the summer Olympics in 1996, the world first enjoyed mountain biking as an Olympic sport. Bart Jen Brentjens, of the Netherlands, won the competition and succeeded in bringing the excitement and high-impact nature of mountain biking to the world’s stage.

7. One Man Mountain Biked Around the World

Fred Birchmore mountain biking around the world

Using a durable precursor of the modern mountain bike, a man named Fred A. Birchmore (who was a mere 25 at the time) circled the globe in 1935.

His trip took him through Europe, the United States, and Asia, and spanned more than forty thousand miles, 25,000 of which he pedaled. While the rest was covered by boat, Birchmore managed to wear out seven sets of tires in the process. His trip remains a source of inspiration for adventuresome mountain bikers everywhere.

While the rest was covered by boat, Birchmore managed to wear out seven sets of tires in the process. His trip remains a source of inspiration for adventuresome mountain bikers everywhere.

8. Mountain Bikes are Incredibly Efficient

happy mountain biker

Bikes are highly energy-efficient. In fact, a cyclist and a pedestrian who use the same amount of energy will have much different rates of travel – with the cyclist traveling three times as fast as the pedestrian. Even a pedestrian walking at a normal pace uses six times more energy than a cyclist.

9. Mountain Bikes Have Revolutionized Suspension

mountain bike going down trail

Suspension used to be critical for all bikes, until the 1800s, when the pneumatic tire came around.In the years following, suspension all but vanished from bikes. Until that is, the mountain bike rose to popularity.

Thanks to the fact that mountain bikes are meant for use in off-road environments, they almost single-handedly brought suspension back. Modern mountain bikes use either front-wheel suspension (these bikes are called hardtails) or front- and rear-suspension (in the case of full-suspension bikes).

Today, labs fully understand the importance of good suspension. In fact, one study found that front suspension reduces the vertical force of a 2.5″ bump by 37% while slashing horizontal force by 28%. How’s that for a comfortable ride?

10. Mountain Bike Tires Have Gotten Larger

Large mountain bike on trail

Today, it’s pretty standard for mountain bike tiers to come in a 29″ size. Before the modern inception of the sport, though, they came in tiny 26″ sizes, or the slightly bigger 27.5″. While those sizes are still available, they’re far less common than they used to be, thanks in large part to the fact that large wheels roll more easily and are better suited for absorbing shocks and bumps, which are commonly seen on mountain bike trails.

Mountain Bikes: Incredible Machines for Fun and Function

While mountain bikes are most popular for blazing down trails and pedaling up mountains, they are also symbols of engineering. Durable, sturdy, and fun, mountain bikes are used around the world. If you thought you knew everything about mountain bikes, adding these ten facts to your arsenal is a great idea. Impress your friends during your next ride or just beef up your mountain bike knowledge for your own purposes! No matter how you choose to use these facts, there’s no denying knowing them makes biking more fun.

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