Choosing all wrong in the name of more fun


“Overbiked” is a new slang term that refers to a rider who’s using a bike with more suspension travel, geometry or other generally “gnar-capable” components than needed for the trail he is on. Whether cruising down smooth singletrack on suspension that could gobble boulders or burning super-soft downhill knobbies to ride tame flow trails, overbiking is all about using more technology than you need in the name of comfort and control.

By sharp contrast, “underbiking” refers to riders looking for an extra challenge by taking things the opposite direction. Underbikers use a more spartan approach to tame trails and scoff at creature comforts like extra inches of travel, wide and soft tires, or slack and stable geometry.

Underbikers prefer to use a minimalist setup, typically in the name of weight savings and extra efficiency, but sometimes simply as a way to spice up familiar trails or to add a challenging element to a ride. Whatever version of under- or overbiking you prefer, the idea presents a way to fine-tune your experience. We’ll show you the most fun ways we know.

“Underbiking” refers to riders looking for an extra challenge by choosing a less capable bike in the face of a more gnarly trail.



A good time to “overbike” is when you are riding unfamiliar terrain. Having extra forgiveness via suspension travel or stable handling comes in handy when you come up short the first few times you attempt a jump line or come across an unexpected drop.

If you’re planning a trip to a bike park for the first time, consider renting a bike with longer travel or more aggressive features than you normally ride. Even if you only spend your time riding the green and blue lines, you’ll be able to enjoy more trail features with your overbike setup.

Riding a lightweight XC hardtail on any moderately aggressive trail requires more skill than it does on a trailbike, but it also makes climbing easier and the bike will feel faster overall.



A cure for feeling bored on the “same old trail” is to ride with new parameters on your equipment choice. Terrain that feels easy on a fully suspended trailbike will feel challenging and fresh on a setup with less suspension, or fewer gears, or both. Whatever you give up in your underbiking quest, the mantra must be “less is more.”

Riding a lightweight XC hardtail on any moderately aggressive trail requires more skill than it does on a trailbike, but it also makes climbing easier and the bike will feel faster overall.

“Overbiking” is all about using more technology than you need in the name of comfort and control.



Nearly 100 percent of the time, you’re better off riding the bike you have on the trails that are available to you rather than skipping or shortening a ride simply because you have “too much bike.” When feeling overbiked, learn to utilize the settings on your bike to make it suit the ride better. This can be an ideal time to tinker with suspension settings to make things feel more efficient.

It can also be a good time to experiment with different geometry by adjusting shock mounts and flip chips. Riding a bike with geometry that’s just a hair quicker can make the difference between an “All right, that was fun” ride and a death march.

Gravel bikes on mountain bike trails is normally a little extreme, but riding XC trails on them can be a blast.



Riding a shorter-travel, lighter-weight bike can be fun on gnarly trails, but you still have to keep from crashing to have any fun at all. Moreover, finding yourself atop a trail feature you’re not sure you have the skills to ride is a terrifying moment for any rider. Be aware of your bike’s shortcomings and understand that when you’re out for an “underbike” ride, you may not be able to ride every feature the same way. There’s no shame in riding slower on technical sections or walking them. If your setup is actually lighter and faster than what you normally ride, you’ll make up the few seconds you lost anyway. Heck, you can even use the fact you’re not riding your “normal” equipment as an excuse, although you don’t really need one.


A common way to twist the traditional over-/underbike argument is to associate it with how much a bike costs. Sure, nobody needs a $10,000 mountain bike to ride an easy green trail—or any trail for that matter. But, if you’re one of the lucky ones who can afford to ride the best equipment, you know how amazing the experience is. We try not to use the term “overbiked” as a pejorative for somebody who has a sicker ride than we do; however, spending a boatload of cash to conquer nature with technology is arguably a good example of exactly what we’re talking about here. For all those gainfully employed rocket scientists, dentists and lawyers out there, enjoy your S-Works bikes and Rapha kits. We’ll see you at the year-end bike shop swap meet to haggle over your leftovers.

Whether you choose to overbike for a wider trail selection or to underbike for more of a challenge, choosing the right bike for you is always important.



We’ve seen talented riders do amazing things on entry-level equipment, because it was what they could afford, not because they’re intentionally underbiking. You don’t need a $10,000 bike to ride any trail, period. Choosing to ride a less expensive bike you can afford is always better than having no bike at all. And even if you can afford more, riding a less expensive bike means you’ll feel less anxiety about wear and tear. You should respect and care for your equipment, but scratches and dings happen to even the most carefully ridden mountain bikes. We understand why some riders don’t feel the need to take out a second mortgage to buy a delicate piece of machinery with a fancy paint job that will immediately depreciate as soon as it tips over in a rock garden. That’s the most fiscally responsible form of underbiking we can think of.

The modern eMTB is an incredibly capable bicycle.


Is using an ebike considered overbiking? Not really. If you ride your electric bike on the same trails where others ride pedal bikes, you’re obviously using a more powerful machine than what’s normally required for the trail; however, every rider is different, and some may really need the motor to overcome their body weight on a given climb or go the distance on a long trail. In that case, you may actually be using the perfect machine for the job. There are arguments on both sides here, but please follow local regulations. Or better yet, ride with exceptional courtesy to other trail users as a way to avoid controversy altogether. Using high-powered e-bikes on multi-use trails and using throttle-only models on any trail that’s not HOV is not what we’d consider overbiking. It’s just plain rude. Yeah, we’re looking at you on the Surron electric motorcycle.

The legacy French road brand Look has been playing in the dual-purpose sandbox for a few years now and offers the 765 Gravel at four different price points starting at $3000.


If you’ve ever been tempted by the prospect of riding a road bike but always preferred the feel of knobbies, a gravel bike may be your ideal version of underbiking. New gravel bikes are more off-road capable and durable than ever and use component technology similar to their mountain bike counterparts. While you won’t see any of these “curly bar” bikes tested on our pages, you can always head over to our sister publication Road Bike Action Magazine to check out what’s cool. These days, gravel bikes often blur the lines between mountain and road and can ride the same trails, only faster.


The original mountain bikes undoubtedly had less technology than anything we ride today, and yet the trails they rode were in the same mountains and over the same terrain we ride these days. Despite having no suspension, abysmal brakes and tubed 26er wheels, these bikes were so fun to ride that they started a revolution. While technology has made riding easier in nearly every way, it can also make it feel mundane if you are only riding the same trails over and over. If you have an old vintage 26er that’s been collecting dust in the corner of the garage, it can be an easy, low-cost way to experience the fun of underbiking. It may also give you a new appreciation for how great our bikes ride today compared to just a few short years ago. 

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