Mountain bikes are bicycles which have been specifically designed for off-road activities. This means that they require a more rugged build for dealing with dirt trails and other unpaved surfaces. Jumps, steep inclines, rocky surfaces and washouts are just a few of the rougher situations for which they are designed. Standard bicycles are not created with these situations in mind.
A mountain bike may be abbreviated to MTB. Another term which is used is ATB. This stands for all terrain bicycle.
The history of these more specialized bikes is of course intertwined with standard bicycle histories. The first reliable account is dated to the early 19th century. Earlier and less reliable occurrences had been noted previously, but discredited.
One of the first recorded instances of a bicycle being used specifically for off-road purposes was in August of 1896. This was during a Buffalo Soldier expedition. They traveled from Missoula, Montana to Yellowstone and back.
Cyclo-cross is another early example of mountain bikes. It was a means of keeping fit during the winter. Cyclo-cross involves dismounting the bicycle at times and carrying it over rougher areas. It became a sport in the 1940s and is still practiced today.
The first use of the term "mountain bicycle" is dated to 1966. It was used in reference to an off-road bike built in Oregon. It was created by a man named D. Gwynn who was part of an off-road biking club.
Designs optimized for the mountain cycling experience were not sold until the late 1970s and early 1980s. Before that, there were mostly just altered or retrofitted versions of conventional bikes. At that time, many people were assuming that off-road bikes would just be a short term fad.
It was not until the 1990s that mountain biking became a mainstream activity. Today, it is broken down into several categories. These include cross-country, dirt jumping, downhill, freeride, short cross / speed cross, and trials / street riding.
The use of mountain bikes encourages an ethnic of self-reliance. This is because bicyclists are often riding in areas that are far from cities or towns. Knowing how to repair equipment and fix flat tires is necessary to avoid being stranded miles from any help.