Can You Use A Downhill Bike For Trails? | PedalChef

Downhill bikes are great for downhill rides as they are very durable and offer great speed and flow. But can you use a downhill bike for trails?

In some cases, cyclists will buy two bikes, one for riding downhill and other for cross-country trails. However, not everyone can afford two different bikes.

Downhill bikes can be used on cross-country trails; however, it may take some extra work since downhill bikes are made of heavier material. The weight offers an advantage when you are traveling down but may slow you down when traveling cross-country. Still, some riders use downhill bikes for trails.

If you have a downhill bike and are concerned that you won’t be able to use it for uphill or cross-country sails, we can help you understand the bike’s pros and cons and how well it can handle cross-country trails.

As an avid biker who has ridden a variety of bikes all his life, I have used a downhill bike for trail riding and I can tell you it does not detract from the experience if you keep a few things in mind.



Why Would You Choose a Downhill Bike for Trails?

Downhill bikes are specifically designed for descending down mountain trails. They offer you a lot of confidence when riding on rough and steep terrain, on big drops and big jumps, and they are also more forgiving. That is because they are designed with more aggressive downhill-oriented geometry and have longer suspension travel than cross-country trail bikes.

Many new riders are unsure whether they can ride a downhill mountain bike on park trails. Truth be told, you can ride any type of bicycle you want anywhere if you have good skills. Ideally, you would want a bike that you are comfortable and confident riding downhill.

There are several reasons why someone would use a downhill bike for riding cross-country trails:

  • The rider owns only a downhill mountain bike and cannot afford to buy another bicycle.
  • The rider chose the downhill bike since its heavy duty frames can handle bigger and higher jumps better.
  • Since a downhill bike is made of heavier components, it forces your leg muscles to work harder and make them stronger.

A lot of time a person will buy a downhill bike because they prefer to ride down the mountains and less occasionally ride on dirt roads, single track, double track, or uphill trails. I have seen more than a few people train on heavy bikes like downhill bikes before they enter a race since their regular trail bike would feel lighter than normal, enabling them to ride harder, faster, and longer.

How Well Does a Downhill Bike Handle Trails?

Keep in mind that downhill bikes, although do not have any of the sacrifices made by trail bikes, are heavier than regular bikes. If you do not want to exert a lot of effort when biking and want a relaxed and easygoing journey, downhill bikes can pose a few challenges for you:


Downhill bikes are typically 40% heavier than cross country bikes. This means that the rider will have to exert 40% more effort when riding these bikes. If you are traveling uphill, even though the slope may only be a few degrees, it can slow down your speed and the weight of the bike itself may try to drag you down a bit. Hence, these bikes will require more work on your part.

Longer Suspension Travel

Downhill bikes have longer suspension travel that can reduce some of the power that you put in the pedals. Combined with the added weight, this will result in more effort in pedaling from you. If you have a rear travel lockout, it will make your ride easier.

Steeper Gears

Downhill bikes are usually equipped with steeper gears since they allow you to travel at a faster pace as you go down while still letting you apply some pedal pressure.

Spongy Feel

Trail bikes have a spongy fee at their rear end and some riders might feel they lose a lot of energy in the bounce than in transmitting the power to the wheels of the bike. This can happen because of the over eight inches of suspension travel at the front and back. This can make your downhill bike feel like the opposite of a hardtail bike, which means it may be difficult for you to handle on flatter terrain.

However, in my opinion, a downhill bike can work nicely if you can get a suspension lockout in the rear so that it performs more like a hardtail and won’t make you feel like you are pedaling on loose sand.

Can You Make a Downhill Bike Work Well as a Cross Country Bike?

If you have a downhill bike that you want to ride cross country, then there are a few things that you can do to make the experience more enjoyable. If you follow these simple tips, it can do wonders to cut down your fatigue and energy loss.

  • Add a pair of lighter wheels and thinner tires to the bike so that its overall weight is reduced
  • Raise the seat of the bike all the way up. This will allow you to fully extend your legs for pedaling which will deliver more power to the wheels.
  • If you think that your bike is slowing down on a trail, you can stand up on the pedals to ride. This will add some extra power to the wheels.
  • Invest in new rear shocks that have a lockout feature. This can be used to eliminate wasted energy when pedaling.
  • Switch to a lower gear when you are going uphill. If you invest in a better cassette, sometimes it can also deliver more power to the wheels.

You can do all of this if you want to have a smoother experience on a downhill bike. However, if you are operating under a budget, then getting a set of thinner and lighter wheels can also get the job done decently.

Hence, it is certainly possible to use a downhill bike for trails; however, it is not optimal. It really depends on your riding environment and riding style preference. For example, if I use a downhill bike 80% of the time going downhill and just 20% of the time cross-country, then I would really not change anything at all in it.

What Downhill Bikes are Better for Trail Riding?

Naturally, downhill bikes that are made of light but sturdy material are better options than heavier bikes. However, keep in mind that the lighter alloy is bound to be more expensive. Many downhill bikes that are light use carbon so if you opt for this material, be prepared to dole out an extra couple of thousand for your bike. It is a compromise and for some riders it is more affordable and easier than getting two different bikes for different purposes.

The Specialized SX Trail bike is an excellent downhill bike that weighs as low as 31 pounds and can offer you a good cross-country riding experience.

Are There Bikes That Can Work Well in Both Downhill and Cross Country Conditions?

If you want the best of both worlds, I would recommend that you invest in an Enduro bike. These bikes are specifically designed to travel long distances and to go down as fast as possible down a mountain on the hardest trail, but to also pedal back uphill and cross country in an easy and convenient way.

Enduro bikes can be compared to heavy-duty cross-country bikes and hence they can serve as general purpose mountain bikes for people who like to ride both downhill and cross country.

Should You Use a Downhill Bike for Trails?

If you have just one downhill bike, there is no reason why it can’t be used for cross-country riding if the above limitations are something that you can contend with. Riding heavy downhill bikes cross country or uphill can be tough because that is not the main purpose of their engineering. It can take some effort from you, but it can be done.

A lot of riders I know ride downhill bikes cross country because they say it builds endurance and muscle strength, which is very true.


Danny Lawson

Danny Lawson

Mountain biking is more than just a hobby for me - it's a way of life. I love the challenge and excitement that comes with it, and I'm always pushing myself to go faster and ride harder. Some people might think that mountain biking is dangerous, but I see it as the only way to live.

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