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What Is a Single Track Mountain Bike?

Dr. Penny Pincher founded the popular personal finance blog Penny Pincher Journal in 2013 and has published two books about saving money.

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Single Track Mountain Trail

Single Track Mountain Trail

What Does Single Track Mean?

A single track describes a type of mountain trail. A single track is only wide enough for a single bike or motorcycle. The wider mountain trails are known as double track and are wide enough for a 4 wheeled off-road vehicle. Single track trails are easier to make since they are not very wide. A single track can be formed when cyclists ride over the same path repeatedly.

What is a Single Track Bike?

A single track bike is a mountain bike that is designed to be able to ride on single track mountain trails. There are a wide range of bikes that can be considered single track bikes. Any bike with wide, knobby tires and low gearing for riding up hills can be considered an entry level single track bike.

Mountain Bike Tires are Wide and Knobby

Mountain Bike Tires are Wide and Knobby

Features in Single Track Bikes for Mountain Biking

Mountain Bike Tires

The most obvious distinguishing feature of single track bikes or mountain bikes is that they have wide, knobby tires. Mountain bikes have wide tires to prevent the tires from sinking into mud and soft areas of single track trails. Mountain bike tires are typically about 2 inches wide.

The tread on mountain biking tires is knobby to add traction for both hill climbing and braking. Mountain trails are often steep and slippery, making traction especially important.

Some bikes, called Fat Bikes, have extremely wide tires. Fat bike tires are 4 inches wide- as wide as motorcycle tires. These bikes are designed for riding in sand,snow and mud.

The wider the tire, the more rolling resistance it has. This is the reason that street bikes have narrow tires. Wide tires only help if you are riding on a soft surface. I put slightly wider, knobby tires on my street bike so I could ride on crushed rock trails in wet weather without sinking in. Wider tires make a huge difference for trail riding.

Single Track Brakes

Brakes are an important feature in single track mountain bikes. If you think about riding down a mountain trail, you will quickly appreciate having good braking ability. The higher end mountain bikes feature disc brakes in front an back. The disc brakes on a single track bike work like disc brakes in a car. A brake caliper grabs onto a metal disc to provide friction to stop the tires when the brakes are applied.

Disc brakes have holes in the metal disc to increase cooling capacity. Disc brakes can provide more stopping power than rim brakes.

Disc Brake on Single Track Bike for Mountain Biking

Disc Brake on Single Track Bike for Mountain Biking

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Front BikeShock Absorber

Some mountain bikes also have a shock absorber on the front. The front shock is apparent by looking at the fork on the front. Front shocks are pistons that move up and down when you push down on the front of the bike. This allows the ride to be smoother and less stressful on your wrists, shoulders, and back when riding on rough mountain trails.

Mountain Bike Fork with Shock Absorbers

Mountain Bike Fork with Shock Absorbers

Rear Bike Shock Absorber

Some trail bikes also have rear shocks for the back tire. These bikes allow the back tire to move up and down with the trail, and use a piston. A bike with a rear shock absorber will have a piston near the middle of the bike to take up shock from the back tire as it moves over a rough trail.

Rear Shock on Single Track Mountain Bike (see piston just above pedal in photo)

Rear Shock on Single Track Mountain Bike (see piston just above pedal in photo)

Mountain Bikes Have Low Gearing for Climbing

Mountain Bikes Have Low Gearing for Climbing

Low Gear Range for Hill Climbing

Single Track trail bikes also have a low gear range for hill climbing. When riding up a hill, it is really nice to have lower gears available. This allows you to continue riding slowly up very steep hills. Street bikes are geared too high to ride up mountain trails- you would end up getting off of the bike and pushing it because it would be too hard to pedal.

Single Track Trails and Mountain Biking

With the right bike, you can ride a single track trail up a mountain and ride back down. A street bike won't work well- you'll need wide tires to keep you from sinking into the trail. You'll need tires with good traction for climbing and braking. Braking power is important for stopping or slowing down on when riding downhill. Shock absorbers are useful for riding on rough trails and allow your bike to take a lot of the abuse instead of wearing out your body. If you want to ride up mountain trails, you will need a single track bike with low range gearing so you can keep pedaling even up steep hills.

© 2013 Dr Penny Pincher


Dr Penny Pincher (author) from Iowa, USA on November 21, 2013:

Kidscrafts, the Dutch bike looks like it would be good for commuting or hauling a few items from the store. I like riding on unpaved trails, but I don't like steep climbing or descent. Luckily, it's pretty flat here in Iowa...

kidscrafts from Ottawa, Canada on November 21, 2013:

Great information about mountain bikes! A colleague of my husband is an avid biker and has several kind of bikes for different terrains. I prefer hiking and be in control of the ground below me ;-) I suppose you have to be quite fearless to bike in those steep little trails!

I don't know if you ever saw a traditional Dutch bike... you understand right away that Holland is flat! With this link you can see a picture... it's quite an heavy bike :

Have a great day!

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