Choosing a bike
Should you pick a stock or mod as your first bike? What about 24”? With so many makes around, each offering stock and mod geometries, choosing a bike to start with is not necessarily easy.
If you don’t already have some experience in mountain biking or if you are quite small, then a mod (with its 20 inch wheels) is usually an easier platform to start with. If you are tall, then you can ride indifferently a stock or a mod bike without feeling stretched.
About mod bikes
Mods are very bouncy and more reactive than stock bikes. You can maneuver them and move your body around without ever feeling stretched. The integrated bash plate, the smaller frame and the stronger wheels make them sturdier than stock bikes so they can take more abuse. As a starter bike, a mod is easier to handle and more rewarding. The very short chain stay makes it comparatively easy to hop and balance on the rear wheel. The bike is more forgiving to side-hop with, even if it is to land randomly on the bash plate (with no derailleur or chain tensioner in the way).
Mod bikes are usually lighter than stock bikes (around 9 kg on average) and tend to cost less too. They have no other use than riding trials, the very small gear ratio and the absence of a seat means you can’t really use them to commute anywhere (like you could with a BMX), but they take less room than a stock bike if you are short of storage space.
About stock bikes
Stock bikes have come a long way since the first mountain bikes were adapted to ride trials. In the old days, riding trials on a mountain bike meant deliberately choosing a small frame and adjusting the seat to its lowest position. You could also take out the outer chain rings and add a bash ring. With a six-speed cassette, you could still use your bike for riding in the woods. This was the old-school approach. You can still perform a lot of trials moves on a regular mountain bike, and learning trials will definitely boost your overall skills for cross-country or to ride single-tracks. On the other hand, you will soon find that a inadequate frame geometry will limit your progression in this sport.
The new generation of stock trials-bikes have geometries so specific to trials that you can’t really use them for any other type of riding, but in a zone they will last you much longer than a regular mountain bike. Trials’ specific frames are built with reinforced tubing. The yoke accommodates larger rims sizes for stronger wheels (typically 47mm wide) and very thick tyres up to 2.5” or 3” wide for a good grip. The shorter chain stays also make a huge difference, especially to balance on the rear wheel.
With its 26″ wheels, a stock bike rolls more easily than a mod, giving a smoother riding experience over bumpy grounds. Also, the longer frame means you have more reach with the front wheel. Most modern stock bikes weigh around 10kg (down to 8 kg for competition bikes). The cool thing about stock bikes is that they look more like ordinary mountain bikes, especially if your frame can take a seat, and onlookers won’t confuse your stock bike with a BMX (like they often do with mods).
Some models are more geared towards urban trials riding, with stronger and heavier frames to withstand a harsher type of riding often involving big drops to concrete. Other stock bikes purely designed for natural trials or competition tend to be lighter, to give the advantage to climbing techniques and hopping around on difficult terrains. The lightweight design also means a compromise is made on strength, which is less of a concern for professional riders who can swap failing components at the expense of their sponsors.
Now what with 24″ bikes?
24” trials bikes are setting the trend as the optimum mix for street trials, offering more reach than a mod bike for front-wheel moves and hooking techniques, and more maneuverability than 26″ stock bikes. Their compact frame makes them more suitable for BMX-inspired riding too as they are easier to spin.
There are still relatively few manufacturers of 24″ trials bikes (so far you mainly find this size of wheels on dirt or jump bikes fitted with a suspension fork). But the choice is expanding steadily with more manufacturers jumping on the bandwagon with models specifically geared for street (with a seat post, BMX style) or purely designed for natural trials (lightweight, no seat).
A lot of interesting riders have adopted 24” bikes for their creative riding, mixing flatland BMX moves (such as tail-whips) with pure trials techniques, or bucking the trends by riding brakeless (definitely not a good idea for beginners).
Still undecided? Find out if there are some trials riders in your area and try different bikes to see what best suits your riding style.