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With a wide variety of bike types available, it’s no wonder that finding the perfect one can be a bit overwhelming.
Every time you look, there’s a new type of bike to fit some niche. There’s no shortage of categories, from cyclocross to track, cargo to hybrid. But sometimes, some distinctions are not as clear as others. One question that often arises is: what is the difference between an all-terrain bike (ATB) and a mountain bike (MTB)?
This article will explore the nuances and highlight the critical distinctions between these two popular bike categories. We’ll also look into what defines an ATB and give a list of our top five ATBs on the market.
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What is “ATB” in Cycling?
ATB stands for “All-Terrain Bike,” and it is precisely what its name suggests: a bike designed to conquer all types of terrain. Whether you’re navigating gravel paths, urban streets, or even rough off-road trails, ATBs are built to handle it all with ease.
The all-terrain aspect refers to the ground that can be covered. While some bikes are really built for paved surfaces (road), some for the velodrome (track), and some for the poorer surfaces (fat tired), the ATB is a jack of all trades. It’s designed specifically to be a good choice for almost all terrains.
They are versatile bikes that boast a balance of durability, agility, and comfort, making them ideal for riders who crave adventure and want to explore, regardless of the surface.
ATB Bike Meaning
An ATB bike is specifically engineered to tackle a wide range of terrains, from paved roads to unpaved trails, and everything in between.
ATBs usually feature robust frames and tires with a tread pattern that provides excellent traction. Additionally, ATBs are equipped with components that enhance their versatility, such as suspension forks that absorb shocks, wide-ranging gearing systems for different speeds, and reliable brakes for optimal control.
When it comes to a flat surface, they aren’t the fastest, but they definitely don’t try to be. What they lack in straight line speed they more than make up in versatility.
All-Terrain Bike vs Mountain Bike
While both ATBs and MTBs share a love for conquering diverse landscapes, the two have several notable differences.
All-terrain cycles are actually pretty self explanatory; they are made to handle all terrains without prioritising one over another.
On the other hand, Mountain bikes, whilst often seen on the roads, are really made to handle off-road conditions. Just because they’re seen more frequently doesn’t necessarily mean they are the most appropriate. In fact, in many instances, an ATB would actually be more suitable.
Despite being trendy as of late, the story of the ATB really dates back to the 80s, where the term was actually introduced to refer to a generic ‘off-road’ bike. Since then, the name has largely been replaced by ‘mountain bikes’, which has become more of a household name (despite actually originating from a brand name).
These days, ‘mountain bike’ is really used as an umbrella term to cover many types of bike that have at least some off-road capabilities. Arguably, the ATBs that are sold today fall under this umbrella.
Is an All-Terrain Bike a Mountain Bike?
At this point, you’d be right to ask whether an all-terrain bike is just another term for a mountain bike.
The answer is both yes and no. While all-terrain bikes can handle similar terrains as mountain bikes, they often prioritize versatility and comfort over the sheer performance-focused design of mountain bikes. This distinction impacts the bike’s overall geometry, components, and intended use.
Whilst they can both be used in similar ways, where people often use an MTB as a ‘serve-all’ bike, it would actually be more appropriate to use an ATB if you were to only have one bike.
An ATB sits somewhere between an MTB and a modern gravel bike. If a gravel bike is an off-road bike with roots in road-racing, then an ATB is for all-terrains but with its roots in ‘mountain biking’.
What is the Difference Between ATB and MTB?
Let’s explore the key differences between ATBs and MTBs that set them apart from each other:
ATBs might have only front suspension or even no suspension, offering a more rigid ride suited for a mix of on-road and off-road adventures.
On the other hand, Mountain bikes typically have more advanced suspension systems, with both front and rear suspension, providing excellent shock absorption on challenging mountain trails.
Mountain bike frames are designed to optimise stability and manoeuvrability in rugged terrains, often featuring a slacker head tube angle and longer wheelbase.
Conversely, ATBs prioritise a more upright riding position and a frame geometry suitable for both on-road and off-road riding.
Mountain bikes commonly employ wider and knobblier tires that provide superior traction and grip on loose or muddy surfaces.
ATBs tend to have tires with a less aggressive tread pattern, allowing for a smoother ride on paved roads while still maintaining traction on gravel or light off-road trails.
MTBs are not normally designed for extended trips, but are usually an excellent choice for vigorous off-road rides.
ATBs on the other hand are generally adorned with attachments, such as panniers, bottle racks and frame bags, so there’s usually mounts for these. This makes them an excellent choice for bikepacking or as a trekking bike.
When it comes to handlebars, ATBs are surprisingly diverse. They come in a range of shapes and sizes, from drop all the way to flat, and can easily be customised for personal preference.
On MTBs however, the overwhelming majority of bars are either flat or risers.
Best All-Terrain Bikes: Top 5
Diverse ATB that can handle a month of bikepacking or a trip to the shop.
A stripped-back bike that’s suitable for all conditions.
All-Road Touring Bike
Surly Bridge Club
A bike that’s great on all surfaces and perfect for bikepacking.
Yaupon Steel ATB
ATB with big tire clearance that can keep you comfy in the saddle for longer.
Black Mountain La Cabra
Drop-barred ATB that’s light and fast but still feels solid.
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