What is Singletrack Mountain Biking?

Ever come across some terms in mountain biking that throw you off?  Well, today we're answering the question of what singletrack mountain biking is (and isn't) as well as some more details around like like the kinds of bikes suited to different types of trails and some good skills to have.

What is Singletrack?

Singletrack trail

Imagine yourself ripping through the woods on your mountain bike. What you likely have envisioned is a singletrack trail. Singletrack is a broad term used to describe any trail that only a single rider can fit on. It’s just that, a single track. The width of the trail may be limited by the space between trees and rocks or may simply just be a beaten path through the grass. These trails could be easy, beginner level routes or the hardest downhill course you can imagine complete with jumps, rock gardens, and drops.  

Now, not everyone entirely agrees on the definition of singletrack, and some would say that singletrack in its purest form are trails that are fast and flowy with minimal obstructions like tight squeezes between trees or rock garden.  No matter the definition you want to stick with, one thing is for sure, it's meant to be ridden and isn't for cars!

Singletrack vs Doubletrack: What’s the difference?

Doubletrack trail

Generally in mountain biking, singletrack is the destination. Doubletrack, or trails where two bikes can fit side by side, is often used to connect other trails. Doubletrack could be a dirt road through the woods or a Jeep or ATV trail that can be used by four wheeled vehicles. What may seem like a tight trail on these vehicles can seem very straight and maybe a little boring on a bicycle. That being said, doubletrack can give you the opportunity to work on fitness by giving you open space to pedal and is also a ton of fun on a gravel bike. Different types of trail riding can be fun depending on the type of bike used.

Why Ride Singletrack?

Singletrack is the essence of mountain biking. Whether you’re in the woods or the desert, singletrack is what most mountain bikes are meant to do!

Singletrack can mean just about anything, but you’re sure to find the types of trails for you. Some are very natural-surface trails cut into the forest and can be ridden by most mountain bikes. Other trails will have manmade berms and jumps for those wanting to test their ability on their fancy rig with lots of suspension travel. The main reason to ride singletrack is that on all trails you’ll find some combination of roots, ruts, rocks, jumps and turns to keep you engaged and always testing your skills.

Essential Skills for Singletrack Cycling

The skills needed to ride singletrack are the general skills every mountain biker should be working on. Cornering technique is important for every cycling discipline, but on singletrack you’ll be changing direction a lot and with varying amounts of traction depending on the conditions. Proper weight distribution while navigating corners is hugely important. It also helps to practice looking where you want to go, as your bike will likely follow. Braking ahead of the corner, weighting the outside pedal, and looking ahead to the exit of the corner are just some of the necessary techniques to employ.

Once you start to ride tougher trails, you’ll need to learn to navigate rocks and roots. Maybe you’ll begin to hit the jumps you find out on the trail. You may also find manmade, wooden features on the trail that require a new skillset to navigate. One great aspect of mountain biking is that you can constantly learn new skills and explore different ways to ride your bike. There is no reason to remain stagnant in your skillset or your experience while on a mountain bike. There will always be a new technical section of trail to hit!

Singletrack Mountain Biking Etiquette

It is important to keep in mind that while riding singletrack you’re sharing a narrow trail with other users. It’s always a good idea to make some noise and give a warning to other trail users that you’re coming, especially when your location isn't obvious. Try to be on the lookout for other trail users as you navigate corners. 

Some trail systems will have their own set of rules. Maybe the trail has a designated direction of travel. Be sure to look at maps and ask questions if needed. If your trail is open to hikers, horses, etc. be courteous. The general rule is that bikes will yield to hikers and other trail users, but we find that communicating and being friendly with the other people goes a long way in making each interaction positive.

One way to be friendly to your fellow cyclists is to yield to any rider going uphill. It can be tempting to fly down a hill and make those traveling in the opposite direction stop, but remember they now have to start pedaling again while pointed uphill!

Key Features of a Singletrack MTB

You can ride some form of singletrack with any mountain bike. Modern bikes do come with many great features to make the experience more enjoyable. 1x drivetrains are standard on most mountain bikes now. These reduce chain slap and mechanical problems while hitting roots and rocks; they also give you a wide range of gears so you can tackle both the uphill and downhill sections of trail.

Suspension is another feature on a singletrack bike. You can choose between fully rigid, hardtail, or full suspension bikes depending on the types of trail and level of comfort desired. We suggest looking at our guide to Types of Mountain Bikes

Another feature of mountain bikes that will vary depending on the type of trails you plan to ride is the brakes. Most mountain bikes will have hydraulic disc brakes, but the size of the rotor will change depending on the type of MTB you choose. Cross country bikes will have smaller, lighter rotors. All-mountain and downhill bikes will have larger rotors meant to have more power and dissipate more heat while pointed downhill at high speeds. 

The Best Singletrack Mountain Bikes

If you haven't already, check out our post Types of Mountain Bikes Explained and you'll see that the variety in mountain bikes is huge. For a beginner level hardtail mountain bike, we love the Marin Bobcat Trail. Marin makes a great hardtail bike that corners well and is built to last at a great price point. The Marin Bobcat Trail 3 will get you out on the trail without breaking the bank.  If you're looking for a bit more performance oriented bike look at the Marin Team Marin 1 or the Niner AIR 9

If you’re looking to hit some harder trails and think you’d like a full suspension bike, we have had great success with the Marin Rift Zone. The 27.5” models are great for maneuverability, particularly if you are a smaller rider, while the 29” model provides a little larger wheel to get you over roots and ruts and is just a tad faster in certain sections of trail. We also really like the Diamondback line of bikes. The Atroz is a great entry level bike, and the Release is ready to full-on send it down any trail!

So, there you go, now you know all about singletrack, and doubletrack, and some of the nuances around those terms.  Get out there and have a blast!

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