26″ ain’t dead yet — at least in the world of pump tracks and dirt jump parks. Speak with any marketing manager at a US bike company and you’ll find it doesn’t sell well, and the market for the OG MTB wheel size is limited to MTB freestyle and slopestyle bikes and the occasional repair for what now is becoming a “vintage” bike. (to use Apple’s wording)
Though one can ride a regular MTB at the bike park, the dirt jump bike — AKA the Freestyle MTB — is a hybrid combining the DNA from BMX and MTB is the optimal tool for developing skills. Often equipped with a single rear brake and one speed, they’re built for durability and reliability, requiring a minimal amount of maintenance – simply top off your tire pressure, then go out and ride. As a bonus, they’re also great for testing the waters at your local NBA/ ABA BMX Track, lined up in a class of their own or in the cruiser class.
The most common frame materials utilized for dirt jump bikes are chromoly (steel) and aluminum. Both are common, with steel models prioritizing durability over weight. Less expensive steel models may substitute chromoly tubes with a lower grade material.
26″ Dirt Jump Bike Geometry
Most dirt jump bikes stick to a tried and true formula, but like BMX, sizing is determined by length or reach. The biggest change in recent years has been the lengthening of top tubes, mirroring the evolution of modern mountain bikes, though many models are simply offered in one size.
The rule of thumb is shorter top tubes (and chainstays/ wheelbase) are better for street riding, with longer bikes more stable in the air and better for pump tracks, BMX tracks and dirt jumps. Riders accustomed to modern trail bike geometry will likely be more comfortable with a longer reach, as the shorter wheels and wheel base can take some time to become accustomed to. The trade-off (there always is one) is maneuverability, which is key for riding concrete parks and ramps.
Hardtail or full suspension
The advent of modern slopestyle resulted in rear suspension being added to many dirt jump models to better handle the scale of the massive jumps found at events like the Joyride series. Most riders are better served with a less expensive hardtail while starting out.
Suspension fork or rigid?
Some manufacturers offer a model with a rigid fork at lower price points, and this can be a good option for riders with the “upgrade bug.” We run lightweight forks on our bikes, as they’re considerably lighter weight than most dirt jump forks, which feature simple internals and are designed for durability and to a price point. Lightweight means easier to throw around, but it also means giving up durability, which can result in additional maintenance and creaky forks down the road.
Another item to consider is that most run the suspension quite stiff, with the suspension primarily there to take the edge off of hard landings.
Complete bikes you can buy
Both Inga and myself are currently riding the Jackal from Santa Cruz. While we’re fans, the Jackal is only available as a frame.
Though we’ve taken distinctive pleasure in assembling our dirt jumpers piece by piece, buying a complete bike is the way to go. Not only can you hit the jumps right away, but it is even more difficult than usual to source 26″ wheels in the midst of the covid era. Plus, with frequent get-offs (assuming you’re pushing your limits and learning the fine points of bailing) one can upgrade their bikes piece by piece along the way.
Here are a few of the options currently available at your local bike shop or accessible to us riders in the US.
Haro Steel Reserve – $900+
Haro is a heritage brand most known for BMX, and they’ve packed that BMX DNA into their line of freestyle dirtjump MTBs. A base model that forgoes a suspension fork starts at $609, but most riders will appreciate a suspension fork, found in the next model up.
It’s not the nicest frame available with a focus on bang for the buck, but it’ll more than get the job done is a good option for starting out.
GT La Bomba — $1300
Available in two different frame sizes, the 6061 alloy dirt jump frame features a threaded BB, tapered 1 1/8″ – 1.5″ headtube and horizontal adjustable dropouts with integrated chain tensioners. The complete build includes an air sprung Manitou Circus Expert fork with 20mm thru axle, GT tubular cro-mo 170mm cranks, Promax hydraulic rear disc brake, Spank Spoon alloy bars with 40mm of rise and a host of other GT house components.
YT Industries Dirt Love — $1300
The YT Dirt Love is available in size regular and long, available direct from YT. Parts across the board are dialed, though we’d swap out the SRAM brakes for a Shimano SLX or
With a reach of 399mm its in the middle.
Check it out at YT-Industries.com
Kona Shonky — $1400
The Kona Shonky is a cromoly frame updated for the times with a tapered headtube and integrated dropout tensioner system. Available in a small and large frame option, the small features a 415mm reach and the large a 428mm reach. The budget parts should work well enough to get you started and keeps the price down, while giving you lots of options for personalization later.
Transition PBJ — $1600 complete
Available in a single frame size, the alloy Alcatraz frame features a 401.84mm reach.
Transition’s PBJ is as new school as it gets for dirt jump bike geometry. (that is, with longer lengths available – it stays true to the classic BMX angles and DNA) The PBJ is now available in three different lengths — a 415mm reach for the small and 440mm reach for the long, and an X-Long for those blessed with height with a 465mm reach. Made to take a beating from chromoly steel.
Specialized P.3 — $1800
Specialized has offered the P series bikes for years now, and although the line has been trimmed back to a single offering that costs a bit more than some of the other options, it does feature an integrated chain tensioner/dropout system that is much more sophisticated than many of the other options. It’s available in a single size with a 423mm reach.