There are many variables to choose from when deciding on the type of mountain bike you will use for jumping. Although you can use any type of bike you currently own, you may be limited in just how big you can go with your current rig. Things to think about when buying a mountain bike for jumping include your riding style, the terrain you plan to ride, and your skill level. You may also want to think about the type of riding you will do when you are not jumping and plan to get a bike that will meet the majority of your needs.
Do you plan to hit smooth, manicured jumps? Or do you plan to hit jumps found on your local trail? Are you a smooth, technical rider, maybe with a background in BMX? Or do you usually smash down a trail like a bull in a china shop? You should think about the size of the jumps you plan to do. You may also want to consider the number and style of bikes you currently own. If you want one bike to do it all, you'll make much different decisions than if you already have a stable full of bikes that each serve a particular niche.
Best Type of Mountain Bike for Jumps
Trails with Jumps
If you plan to hit jumps while out on a mountain bike trail, you will need to decide if you want a hardtail or full-suspension MTB. While a full suspension bike will provide a softer and more controlled ride it may add weight that you do not want. There is also more to break if you get a little too ambitious and ride obstacles that may be beyond what the bike is capable of.
Our opinion is that a full-suspension trail bike is fine for most jumps a beginner will be brave enough to hit. While the weight makes it a little less maneuverable, the rear suspension will allow the new rider to case (come up short) on landings without as much risk of crashing. The full-suspension bike will absorb more of the take off, so you won’t usually get as much air and you’ll need to preload the bike a little differently but the full suspension trail bike will be a forgiving starter for those looking to build their skills.
Once you’ve gotten good at jumping and know what you’re looking for, either a sturdier full-suspension mountain bike designed for jumping or a hardtail is going to be your best bet. If you’re going huge on downhill jumps, a full-suspension all mountain or enduro bike and maybe even a full-on downhill bike will be what you’re looking for. These bikes will have longer wheelbases designed for high speeds, more suspension travel, and much stronger components made to handle big hits. Keep in mind that comes with a weight penalty. If you’re riding trails that are a little slower and/or the jumps are more groomed with big landings, a hardtail is better suitedl. A hardtail will provide a lighter weight that makes the bike easy to move in the air, show off, and the durability that comes from not having linkage and suspension to maintain in the rear. Hardtails also tend to handle steep transitions on the face of jumps better as the geometry doesn’t change from the rear squatting as you go up the ramp.
Dirt Jumps or Bike Park
So you’ve spent way too much time on YouTube watching Matt Jones dirt jumping on his Marin Alcatraz or Marin San Quentin and you want to try it out. At a park with well maintained jumps, you’re almost certainly going to want to ride a hardtail. This could be a hardtail mountain bike with a little more suspension up front and a slacker head tube angle. It could also be a specific dirt jump bike. If you still want to ride trails, go with the hardtail MTB like the Marin San Quentin. If you’re only riding at parks, look into a dirt jump bike like the Marin Alcatraz. The smaller wheels, lighter weight, and increased maneuverability is well worth it. These bikes open up endless possibilities in creating new jump lines and learning tricks as you go!
Key Features to Look For
Besides deciding between hardtail and full-suspension, you’ll want to make sure to choose a bike with suspension travel suited to the type of riding you plan to do. If you plan on using the bike for everything, you may want less travel so that the bike is light and efficient while hitting the trails. What’s great while hitting gaps maybe isn’t so great on the average trail ride. If you plan to hit huge jumps, you’ll want more travel such as what an enduro or downhill bike offers.
While you can jump on any tire size, smaller size offers advantages here. Smaller wheels make the bike lighter and easier to flick through the air. Also, because smaller wheels have shorter spokes, they tend to be stronger and handle awkward landings better. If you’re buying a dedicated dirt jumper, 26 inch wheels are ideal. If you’re planning to have an all around great mountain bike that is ready for anything, 27.5 inch wheels are a happy medium. You’ll also see some downhill and enduro bikes that run what’s called a mullet setup. This is where the front wheel is a 29er while the rear wheel is 27.5”. This provides some of the ability to get over obstacles of the 29” wheel but also the cornering and clearance over jumps and drops of the 27.5” in the rear.
There are a few things to look for in the geometry of the frame you plan to use. If you plan to hit jumps at speed, a slack head tube angle offers greater stability. You want to be in control and have the bike stable when going up a jump face at speed! Bikes that are good at this will also likely have a little longer wheelbase that comes with the slacker head tube angle and will ultimately provide more confidence when hitting big gaps.
When choosing a bike for dirt jumps at a bike park, you’re looking for a bike that is a little less slack, has a short wheelbase, and short chainstays. All of these features are going to make the bike feel lighter, more “flickable,” and all more pop off the lip of a jump. These traits also make the bike great on pump tracks!
Although some downhill riders do clip in and it’s perfectly fine to do so, most people who are interested in jumping will prefer flat pedals. Flat pedals will allow you to move around more on the bike. If you get into throwing whips, you’ll want to be able to rotate your feet on the pedal to allow the bike to move under you. Plus, if you do miscalculate, it’s faster and easier to bail out on flat pedals! You can check out our post on mountain bike pedals here.
The Best Mountain Bikes for Jumping
Below are a few of the bikes we suggest you check out. We’ve broken these down based on where you would likely ride them, but there is some overlap. For instance, the San Quentin is a great bike for jump parks but can absolutely be used out on your local trail.
On the Trail
The Marin Alpine Trail is an enduro bike designed to tackle just about anything you can throw at it. This 29” full-suspension rig with a slack head tube angle and 160mm travel in the front and 150mm in the rear means you can hit almost any jump you’ll ever find on the trail.
The Diamondback Release is a great option for those wanting a fun all around bike. The Release is offered in both 27.5” and 29” variants with 150mm travel in the front and 130mm in the rear. We find the Diamondback to be capable of just about anything, and the bike feels surprisingly lively. The Release has relatively short chainstays and seems to have that “pop” off the lip of a jump that we’re looking for.
The Niner WFO is a super capable, high end enduro bike! 29” wheels and 180F/170R suspension travel means this bike can tackle every trail and big jump imaginable. Niner is one of the best at making a capable enduro bike.
At the Park
The Marin Alcatraz is a blast on dirt jumps and pump tracks! This bike comes with 26” wheels, a very nimble frame, and 100mm of travel in the front fork. Dirt jumpers come with varying brake setups; some choose to not use a front brake. This bike comes with both front and rear hydraulic disc brakes, and the rear line is left long so you can practice your bar spins! The Alcatraz is one of the best dirt jumpers out there.
The Marin San Quentin provides many of the great aspects of a dirt jumper and puts it in a package that’s also capable of tackling your local MTB trails. Short seatstays, 27.5” wheels, and a very sturdy aluminum frame make this bike perfect for hucking a big gap jump while still being enjoyable for general purpose riding.