The wheelbase on a mountain bike is one of the most essential measurements when finding a bike that fits you. However, not many people know what a wheelbase is. It leads us to the question — what is a wheelbase, and how does it affect your MTB?
The wheelbase is the horizontal distance between the front and rear axle’s center point. It is essential on bike geometry as it helps measure how responsive and stable a mountain bike will be. This measurement can also indicate the bike’s steering speed.
Moreover, the wheelbase is crucial as it indicates your bike’s dynamic characteristics. Mountain bikes with a long wheelbase provide better ride comfort than those with a shorter wheelbase. The reason is that bikes with a long wheelbase are less likely to pitch and roll. (source)
The wheelbase determines the ride quality of the frame. So different wheelbase size means a different ride quality.
That said, you need to measure the wheelbase to (indirectly) find out the ride quality of your mountain bike’s frame. Measuring the wheelbase on a mountain bike is relatively easy if the fork positioning is correct. But it is worth noting that you will get an incorrect measurement if you do not set the fork straight.
When getting your wheelbase’s measurements, you only need to measure the distance between the front and rear axle. It is ideal to repeat the measurement multiple times. This way, you can ensure that you are getting the correct size.
In addition, you can get better accuracy when you measure the wheelbase on both sides of your mountain bike and then take the average. This way, you will get the correct wheelbase on a mountain bike even if the fork is not too straight. (source)
The geometry of a mountain bike may be overwhelming to understand. You need to know different measurements, as these measurements can indicate your mountain bike’s performance. However, taking one step at a time in learning the basics can go a long way.
That said, one of the essential points to understand in a bike’s geometry is the wheelbase.
You can consider a mountain bike as a long-wheelbase if the measurement between the front and rear axle exceeds 1270mm.
A long wheelbase on a mountain bike provides natural flex and compliance. For this reason, riders will feel comfortable pedaling at a fast speed while riding a stable frame. This stability is also noticeable when your bike is carrying an increased load. Due to the long wheelbase, the terrain’s condition and braking changes will less likely affect the rider’s weight distribution.
Moreover, large bike frames generally mean long wheelbases. A long wheelbase on a mountain bike also provides cyclists with a larger area to comfortably sit without being too close or too far from the front set.
A longer wheelbase requires more pedal force from the rider when cycling at lower speeds despite the added stability. Such is especially true when climbing uphill on technical trails.
Cyclists who are flexible and have long torsos will benefit the most on mountain bikes with a long wheelbase. (source)
DIY MTB Tip: Learn a bit more about axles in this article -> What’s the difference between Quick Release and Thru Axles?
Mountain bike wheelbases are becoming longer than ever. The reason is that people’s way of riding evolves, so MTB geometry needs to keep up. Modern-day mountain bikes have features designed for competitions, so they are dedicated to improving speed.
This demand for fast mountain bikes prompts manufacturers to design longer and slacker mountain bikes.
Mountain bikes with a short wheelbase are not very stable. They may sway and shake when driven at high speeds or when carrying heavy loads. Despite having less stability, a mountain bike with a short wheelbase is easier to maneuver on trails, so they turn faster and smoother. On the other hand, a long wheelbase requires cyclists to turn the handlebar at a greater angle when following a corner.
If you prefer riding on technical trails, you may want to opt for a mountain bike with a short wheelbase as it will feel more agile. This way, you can quickly turn left or right fast whenever the trail is swerving.
But regardless of your wheelbase’s measurement, you should remember that it is only one of the many factors you need to consider when getting a mountain bike.
The build of your body plays a huge role in recognizing whether or not a short wheelbase on a mountain bike will suit you.
If you have a short torso, you may want to opt for a mountain bike with a short wheelbase. The reason is that long wheelbase bikes tend to be high, making it difficult for you to pedal.
Sprinters are also better suited on short wheelbase bikes. This way, they can lean further forward on your MTB, allowing you to get the best power output. (source)
You can do mountain biking leisurely or daringly. Regardless of your ride type, mountain bike manufacturers have a suitable MTB for you. But it is worth noting that each mountain bike type has different wheelbases, apart from other geometries and features that you need to compare.
The variations are endless. But knowing an MTB’s wheelbase will help you figure out how fast, stable, and maneuverable it is.
Before going over the average wheelbase lengths of each mountain bike type, let us first discuss their features.
This type of mountain bike has features that allow it to conquer technical and steep trails quickly. Downhill mountain bikes generally have
- wide handlebars
- low saddle
- thick tires with excellent grip
These features provide the mountain bike with an improved center of gravity.
Downhill mountain bikes need to have a durable frame to withstand abuse when cycling downhill. So, these bikes are relatively heavy, usually at 18kg. It is also worth noting that you cannot ride uphill when using a downhill MTB.
In terms of wheelbase on a mountain bike, a downhill MTB has an extended wheelbase to ride fast.
DIY MTB Tip: Have you heard about BOOST wheels? Bike manufactures continue to make bike hubs bigger. Read this article to find out why and how to adapt. – READ HERE
Cross country mountain bikes focus on maneuverability since riders mainly use them for races. For this reason, this type of mountain bike generally has a short wheelbase.
This mountain bike is also sensitive when driven, making your riding experience more precise. It does not have a rear suspension, so it is lightweight and has increased efficiency on the terrain.
The weight of a cross-country mountain bike makes it an excellent bike for long-distance rides. And since it is lightweight, this type of bike can climb well on uphill paths.
Additionally, cross country mountain bikes focus on uphill rides, racing, and daily trail riding. For this reason, such cycles are usually lightweight yet sturdy.
Trail bikes are for everyday mountain bike riding. They usually have a dropper post and powerful brakes. You can say that trail bikes are the jack of all trades since you can enjoy riding them on any terrain. These bikes can also climb and descend smoothly, especially since technology has advanced trail bikes.
Moreover, trail bikes work excellently for cycling on terrains instead of fast and straightforward routes. Trail bikes provide riders with a comfortable biking position while maintaining the toughness of their frame and components. That said, trail bikes have a short wheelbase on a mountain bike.
This mountain bike type has a wide range of uses but is generally suitable for:
- easy, long tours on lowlands
- simple jumps and drops
- descends on easy and medium-difficult paths
All-mountain bikes are perfect for extreme adventures on technical trails. It has a relaxed geometry despite the size and durability of its components.
Additionally, this type of mountain bike is suitable for cyclists who want to have fun while going downhill while still pedaling efficiently. (source)
|Type Of Mountain Bike (Size Medium)||Wheelbase in MM|
|Downhill||1246mm – 1274mm|
|Cross Country||1180mm – 1158mm|
|Trail||1150mm – 1167mm|
|All Mountain (Enduro)||1212mm – 1219mm|
Is MTB Wheelbase Important?
A wheelbase on a mountain bike is one of the most essential measurements you need to consider when getting an MTB. The reason is that this measurement can help you identify the features that your chosen bike has. For instance, if an MTB has a long wheelbase, you can ride it faster and smoothly on challenging trails. On the other hand, mountain bikes with a short wheelbase work very well during fast turns.
To put it simply, people who have long torsos will benefit the most from long-wheelbase mountain bikes. On the other hand, sprinters and cyclists who find comfort in leaning forward while pedaling may want to opt for a short wheelbase.
Wheelbase length is part of getting your MTB to fit correctly. Being comfortable is going to allow you to pedal longer. I’ve got a couple resources to help customize the fit for you. A Complete Guide to Bike Stems and How to Make MTB Handlebars More Comfortable
Learn more about Pedals, Handlebars and Brakes
- Handlebars on MTBs are wide, find out why – Why are MTB Handlebars so Wide?
- Should you upgrade your handlebars? Read – Are Handlebars Worth Upgrading?
- Universal pedals? Read all about it here – 9 Universal Pedals for Your MTB
- Learning how to Jump? Learn more with – How to Jump a MTB with Flat Pedals
- Keep your disc brakes clean – How to Clean Mountain Bike Disc Brakes
- Is their a difference? – Mountain Bike V-Brakes vs Disc
David Humphries is the creator of DIY Mountain Bike. For me a relaxing day involves riding my mountain bike to decompress after a long day. When not on my bike I can be found wrenching on it or casting a fly on a small mountain stream. Read more about David HERE.
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