29er cross country bikes

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Buyer’s guide to cross-country bikes | How to buy the best XC bike for you

Cross-country is one of the most exciting disciplines within mountain biking. Races are often close, with elbow-to-elbow action right until the line, and the best XC bikes combine everything we love about mountain biking – riding fast, uphill and downhill.

Cross-country race bike technology has advanced quickly in the last few years. XC bikes are now lighter, faster and more capable than ever, while many cross-country race tracks have become more demanding at the same time.

If you’re thinking about buying a cross-country bike, then read on. We’re going to run through everything you need to know about cross-country bikes, so you can find the best XC bike for you. Otherwise, if you’re tempted to start riding competitively, we’ve got a separate beginner’s guide to cross-country racing.

Simon Wilkinson / SWPix.com

What is a cross-country mountain bike?

A cross-country mountain bike is designed to cover a variety of off-road terrain as quickly as possible. It needs to be equally capable of climbing on the ups as it is on the descents, while also being efficient when pedalling on flatter terrain, or picking a line through tight, twisting singletrack.

Russell Burton / Immediate Media

Cross-country bikes are usually the lightest type of mountain bike you can buy for a given price and are often made from carbon fibre, although more affordable aluminium options are also widely available.

XC bikes have less suspension travel than trail bikes and enduro bikes, so won’t be as adept on very steep, rough and technical trails. That being said, in the right hands – for example, a professional rider – a cross-country bike is surprisingly capable.

While cross-country bikes are mainly designed for racing, they’re equally at home on mellower trails, or a big day out in the hills when you’ll value the all-round capability of an XC bike on varied terrain.

What about downcountry?

Before we go any further, we need to quickly mention downcountry bikes. 

Downcountry is a fairly new term within mountain biking. In essence, it refers to bikes that blur the line between dedicated cross-country race bikes and more forgiving trail bikes. 

A downcountry bike will have a little more suspension travel than a cross-country race bike; normally in the region of to mm at the front and to mm at the rear.

It will also have geometry that leans more towards descending performance than pedalling efficiency. For example, a slacker head angle, longer reach and longer wheelbase. 

Finally, the componentry will be chosen with descending in mind, with more powerful brakes, larger/grippier tyres and a dropper post. 

For riders who want a fast, versatile bike for a variety of terrain, downcountry bikes fill that gap. If this sounds like the type of bike for you, then check out our buyer’s guide to the best downcountry mountain bikes.

Hardtail vs full-suspension for XC racing

Tom Marvin / Immediate Media

The first decision you need to make when buying a cross-country bike is whether you want a hardtail or full-suspension bike?

A hardtail only has suspension at the front through the fork, while a full-suspension bike has suspension at the front and rear.

There are pros and cons to each for cross-country riding, and this will influence what option will be best for you.

Hardtail bike for XC riding

Harookz

For a given spec, a hardtail will nearly always be lighter than a full-suspension bike. So if you live somewhere hilly, or just prioritise climbing performance above all else, then a hardtail could be a good option.

With suspension only at the front of the bike, a hardtail is simpler in its design, making it easier and cheaper to maintain than a full-suspension bike.

Finally, for the same cost, a hardtail can often come with a better spec than a full-suspension bike, so may require less, if any, upgrading in the future.

Full-suspension bike for XC riding

Tom Marvin / Immediate Media

While a hardtail will typically be lighter, more affordable and simpler to maintain than a full-suspension bike, when it comes to descending performance, a full-susser will win every time.

They’re also more comfortable than a hardtail, which is especially important for longer rides or races.

Svoboda Jaroslav/BSR Agency/Getty Image

On rough, flat terrain, full-suspension bikes will often allow you to pedal more efficiently because the rear suspension soaks up any bumps on the ground.

As we’ve already mentioned, they will usually be heavier. However, this gap has narrowed over recent years, and at the high-end, they may only weigh a kilo or two more than a hardtail.

For many riders, the relatively small weight penalty of a full-suspension bike is worth the benefits of better descending, more comfort and increased pedalling efficiency on rough terrain.

What to look for when buying a cross-country bike

Now you’ve decided between a hardtail or full-suspension bike, here’s what else you need to look out for when buying a cross-country bike.

Geometry

Jérémie Reuiller / BMC

Cross-country bikes have traditionally had ‘steeper’ geometry figures than trail or enduro bikes. The logic here was that the ‘quicker’ handling made cross-country bikes better in tight singletrack and elbow-to-elbow racing.

However, modern cross-country racing now takes place on much tougher courses, which are equal parts tricky descents and lung-searing climbs, so geometry has had to keep up with this trend.

Head angles as slack as 67 degrees and reach figures once only seen on trail bikes are not uncommon to see on modern cross-country bikes.

They will also have steeper seat angles of around 74 to 75 degrees, which puts a rider’s hips in a better position over the bottom bracket for pedalling efficiency.

Prime examples of modern cross-country geometry are the Specialized Epic or the BMC Twostroke.

If you want to learn more about geometry, and how any of the figures we’ve mentioned affect fit and handling, we’ve got an in-depth explainer to mountain bike geometry.

Frame material

Orbea

There are two main frame materials to choose from: carbon fibre and aluminium.

When it comes to professional racing, every rider will use carbon fibre; it’s lighter than aluminium and can be designed to be stiffer, so makes perfect sense if all you’re worried about is going as fast as possible, with little concern for budget.

On that note, the downside of carbon is that it’s more expensive than aluminium, and in certain situations, more susceptible to crash damage.

Aluminium is more affordable and better at resisting damage from certain impacts. This makes it ideal if you’re looking to save money or want your bike to be as durable as possible. The latest aluminium frames can be impressively light, too.

Titanium and steel cross-country bikes do exist, but these are in the minority.

How much does a cross-country mountain bike weigh?

Alex Whitehead / SWPix.com

Your power-to-weight ratio is important for success in cross-country, so naturally riders want the lightest equipment possible, while still being able to withstand the demands of hard riding or racing.

At the high-end, you might find a top-spec hardtail weighing in at under 8kg, which is incredibly impressive considering what these bikes are capable of. More affordable models typically weigh anywhere from 9 to 11kg.

When it comes to full-suspension bikes, a top-spec model could come in just under 10kg, with more affordable bikes weighing anywhere from 12 to 14kg.

While overall bike weight is a factor, especially if you’re an elite racer, there are much better and cheaper ways to get faster when you’re starting out – such as training!

So try not to get too hung up with weight early on. There’ll be plenty of time to start counting those grams and emptying your wallet as you gradually progress through the ranks.

Wheel size

BikeRadar

On modern cross-country bikes, nearly every model will feature 29in wheels.

While 29ers took a while to truly catch on, they’re now considered a smart option for many riders, thanks to their ability to roll over obstacles more easily, and arguably provide better pedalling speed.

In some circumstances, e.g. a particularly short rider, it may be best to go for smaller in wheels, but for most people, 29ers are the way to go for XC bikes.

If you want more information, we’ve got a guide to mountain bike wheel sizes, covering the pros and cons of 26in, in and 29in wheels.

Tyres

Tom Marvin / Immediate Media

Tyre choice comes down to a balancing act between rolling resistance/speed and grip, so the best cross-country tyres will usually have smaller tread blocks than trail or enduro tyres.

XC tyres may also have thinner sidewalls to save weight, and in some cases be made out of a slightly harder compound, which can roll faster.

However, remember a harder compound will, in theory, provide less grip, and thinner sidewalls offer less puncture protection. As we said, there’s always a compromise to be made somewhere.

Cross-country tyres were traditionally much narrower than trail/enduro tyres – but again, as the sport has changed, tyres have become wider, so you’ll now find cross-country tyres in the in to in range.

How much travel do you need?

Alex Evans

When it comes to suspension travel, nearly all cross-country bikes will have mm of front and rear travel.

As we’ve already mentioned, downcountry bikes up this travel a little, with around mm at the back and mm on the front.

That said, it’s also worth bearing in mind how the all-new Scott Spark, a pure XC race bike, now has mm at both the front and rear. Like we said, XC race bikes are changing!

Scott knows a thing or two about making great cross-country bikes – the outgoing Spark was hugely popular on the XC scene – so it’ll be interesting to see if longer travel on dedicated race bikes will start to catch on.

Gearing

Harookz

Just like the best trail mountain bikes, cross-country bikes have almost exclusively moved to one-by (1×) gearing, with Shimano and SRAM mountain bike groupsets dominating the market.

1× gearing means one chainring at the front (removing the need for a front derailleur), with a wide-ranging or speed cassette at the back to still provide a big spread of gears.

Super-strong professional riders have been known to run up to a tooth chainring at the front. However, at the amateur level most riders will normally go for a or tooth chainring instead.

Cassette sizes usually range from a or tooth sprocket for the hardest gear, and a or tooth sprocket for the easiest climbing gear.

This is a pretty big spread and should keep those legs turning up the steepest of climbs.

Brakes

Tom Marvin / Immediate Media

Cross-country bikes will commonly be fitted with lightweight disc brakes. These will have smaller rotors, with most riders opting for mm front and rear.

Some particularly powerful riders may pop a mm rotor on the front, and super-lightweight riders may go for a mm on the rear, but in general, mm is what’s seen most commonly.

XC disc brakes won’t be quite as powerful as the brakes you’ll find on an enduro bike, but they’re more than capable for the job at hand.

On the most affordable bikes, these may be cable-actuated disc brakes, but from the mid-range and up, you’ll find hydraulic mountain bike disc brakes on all cross-country bikes.

Dropper post

Sours: https://www.bikeradar.com/advice/buyers-guides/best-cross-country-bikes/

The best cross-country (XC) mountain bikes are about raw speed, making them lightweight, efficient and ideal for fast, flowing singletrack as well as racing.

A lean, mean collection of the best cross-country mountain bikes built for speed and put through their (race) paces as chosen by our expert team of reviewers. While all these bikes bring distinctively different approaches to what makes an XC race winner, there is a thread that ties them all together: all are rolling on 29in wheels. Time to don the Lycra and remove our helmet peaks to find out which one really is the fastest.

In many ways, XC racing is the foundation upon which our sport has been built. Yes, new styles and disciplines come and go, or morph in the way that mm-travel all-mountain bikes transformed into enduro rigs. Cross-country racing, however, has weathered the storms of fashion and remains ingrained in UK riding culture to this day and there are plenty of British bikers on the lookout for the best mountain bike for XC riding and occasional racing.

Like all survivors, XC racing has prospered by evolving. Long gone are the three-hour mud-fests on non-challenging terrain. Courses are now shorter and more demanding, challenging riders and equipment, 
while pushing the visual aspect to make it more appealing for spectators.

A typical XC race loop now features punchy climbs, descents worthy of any EWS stage plus more purpose-built features for the TV cameras. It&#;s this increasingly tech aspect to XC that is making some riders peruse the best down country mountain bike options too (slightly longer travel bikes with more progressive geometry). XC riding and racing is exciting and no longer purely a test of raw fitness; it’s about pushing skill levels and bike handling as much as your heart rate.

Best crosscountry mountain bikes: hardtail

Best crosscountry mountain bikes: full suspension

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Best crosscountry mountain bikes: hardtails

trek procaliber studio pic

Trek Procaliber

Trek Procaliber

21st century soft-tail with amazing acceleration

Price: £2, | Frame: OCLV Mountain Carbon | Weight: kg (lb)

Pros: Comfortable as well as speedy
Cons: Lacks a dropper post for modern XC courses

Given that Trek’s XC race hardtails top-out where most other brands begin, the Procaliber can, and should be, considered top of the range. Not least because it possesses the ride quality of a flagship product too. The specification is standout, so the Procaliber is also the lightest bike on test, albeit by the slimmest of margins. But just like in racing, sometimes that’s all it takes to win. This was no photo finish though, as Trek’s IsoSpeed de-coupler genuinely offers a smooth, fast ride that’s incredibly efficient yet very forgiving.

Read our full test review of the Trek Procaliber


Scott Scale studio shot

Scott Scale

Scott Scale

Not many bikes with more World Cup XC heritage

Price: £2, | Frame: Scale 3 Carbon | Weight: kg (25,29lb)

Pros: A rapid all-rounder without any weak links
Cons: Redundant front mech apparatus spoils the aesthetic

Some brands use race teams for marketing, others focus on product development; Scott clearly does both. As such, the Scale is a finely tuned XC race machine with a huge trophy cabinet to prove it. When efficiency matters, the Scale transforms every watt of available energy directly into speed. Whether that’s grinding up a climb with your nose glued to the stem, exiting a corner, or simply changing gear. And direct power delivery isn’t the Scale ’s only trump card, it&#;s equally adept at turning its hand to even the most technical trails.

Read our full test review of the Scott Scale


Mondraker Chrono Carbon R white background

Mondraker Chrono Carbon R

Mondraker Chrono Carbon R

For fans of muscle-twitch response

Price: £2, | Frame: Mondraker Stealth Carbon | Weight: kg (lb)

Pros: A surgical scalpel that rewards fit and skilled riders
Cons: Not very forgiving of tired pilots

When every second counts, the Mondraker Chrono R delivers. It’s light, fast and focused, with the sole purpose of being ruthlessly efficient. With Mondraker’s XC Forward Geometry, the weight distribution of the bike is superbly balanced too, so the Chrono R rails turns like no other, and you never have to second guess what the front tyre is going to do. It’s not the most forgiving race bike however, even with the slender mm seat post, so the Chrono R’s real calling card is short-course racing, on smoother tracks.

Read our full test review of the Mondraker Chrono


specialized s-works epic in the wilds

Specialized S-Works Epic HT AXS

Specialized S-Works Epic HT AXS

For the uncompromising XC racer with deep pockets in their lycra

Price: £7, | Frame: S-Works FACT 12m Carbon | Weight: N/A

Pros: Power delivery that doesn&#;t beat you death
Cons: Cutting edge costs money

Imagine our surprise when we discovered that the new Epic HT wasn&#;t some nervy, neurotic race bike that you need all you wits about you just to navigate a straightforward trail. Sure it&#;s crazy light, the frame alone weighing g. And let&#;s pause to think about that for a minute. That makes the S-Works Epic frame lighter than the average thin-walled trail tyre. More impressive still, the frame used for the Expert, Pro and regular Epic is only g heavier.

Read our full test review of the Specialized Epic HT


yeti arc t1 studio pic

Yeti ARC T1

Yeti ARC T1

Channels the spirit of &#;90s XC legends like Furtado and Tomac

Price: £ | Frame: Yeti TURQ Series Carbon | Weight: kg (25,11lb)

Pros: It&#;s hard not to feel special when you sling a leg over the iconic ARC
Cons: Not really a pure cross country race rig with its mm fork

Bear with us here. We know this isn&#;t really a XC race hardtail but for some riders (of a certain age maybe) the Yeti ARC will be the bike that gets them around the XC race course the quickest. This is purely an emotional attritibute. You can feel John Tomac and Julie Furtado watching you as you pilot this blue baby along the trails. What exactly is this bike for? Truth be told, it has no logical place. Which is why we love it. If push came to shove we&#;d call it a dreamy Down Country hardtail.

Read our full test review of the Yeti ARC T1


Best crosscountry mountain bikes: full-suspension

Specialized Epic Comp Evo studio shot

Specialized Epic Comp Evo

Specialized Epic Comp Evo

Capable enough to be classed as Down-Country as well as XC

Price: £4, | Frame: FACT 11m Carbon | Weight: g (lb)

Pros: Ditching the chainstay pivot has only improved its speed
Cons: No everyone likes auto-adjusting The Brain suspension

The Epic Comp Evo, with no uncertainty, retains its XC roots thanks to the Brain shock and race geometry. For weekend racers who want to have fun on the trails midweek it&#;s a great choice. Yes, the Brian shock still has a quirky response, but if you&#;re transitioning from a hardtail to your first full-suspension race bike you&#;ll love how efficient it is. The increased fork travel isn&#;t enough to transform it into a trail bike, but it stops the Epic Evo feeling too nervous at speed and increases the versatility of the Epic well beyond the confines of the race tape.

Read our full test review of the Specialized Epic


Cannondale Scalpel-SI Carbon 3 cut-out

Cannondale Scalpel-SI Carbon 3

Cannondale Scalpel-SI Carbon 3

The purest &#; and best &#; version of the legendary Scalpel

Price: £3, | Frame: Scalpel-SI BallisTec Carbon | Weight: kg (lb)

Pros: Proprietary frame and fork design makes for an awesome pairing
Cons: System integration will always be rather restrictive when it comes to upgrades and maintenance

There’s no mistaking the Scalpel for anything other than a Cannondale. Thanks, in no small part, to the unique single-sided Lefty fork and the unmistakable, bean can sized headtube. The ‘Si’ in the name stands for System Integration and whether you like it or not, Cannondale ploughs its own furrow when it comes to a lot of the technology found on the Scalpel. The frame gives you power and stiffness in spades and with the short wheelbase and stays, makes it a pleasure to slam through the turns. The rear shock’s supple action gives the bike great traction and small bump sensitivity.

Read our full test review of the Cannondale Scalpel


Giant Anthem Advanced 29er 1 white background

Giant Anthem Advanced 29er 1

Giant Anthem Advanced 29er 1

Ideal mile-muncher for longer distance marathon events

Price: £4, | Frame: Giant Advanced Grade Composite | Weight: kg (lb)

Pros: A very nice place to be for hours on end crossing country
Cons: Very active suspension may irk some efficiency-obsessed watt-counters

The Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29 has to be one of the most versatile race machines on the market. The mix of trail-bike handling and XC weight makes it a real blast as a short travel, every-day use machine. But its versatility is also its downfall. As a true race bike, the Anthem lacks a bit of the upper-end urgency to truly be the best.

Read our full test review of the Giant Anthem Advanced 29er


Merida One-Twenty RC white background drop shadow

Merida One-Twenty RC

Merida One-Twenty RC

Impressively light yet capable bike that straddles XC and fast trail

Price: £7, | Frame: One-Twenty RC CF4 Carbon | Weight: kg (lb)

Pros: Genuinely lightweight XC race bike that doesn&#;t throw you over the bars if you sneeze
Cons: Spoiled by a couple of sub-optimal component choices

Yes, you&#;re right. This isn&#;t technically Merida&#;s XC race bike. They have the Merida Ninety-Six for World Cup duties. BUt for our (entry fee0 money, the One-Twenty is better bike for speed freaks. The Ninety-Six just has geometry that is outdated for modern race courses. The One-Twenty is a slightly longer travel mm bike but it is still insanely light and responsive under pedal power. It&#;s not a marathon marshmallow. This thing still wants to win bike races.

Read our full test review of the Merida One-Twenty RC


Scott Spark RC WC AXS

Scott Spark RC WC AXS

Scott Spark RC WC AXS

Ruthless in its efficiency

Price: £7, | Frame: RC Carbon HMX, 0/80/mm | Weight: kg (lb)

Pros: Super clean lines reflect the bike&#;s rapidity
Cons: Suspension could be a touch more supple in Descend mode

Fast, efficient and responsive, the new Scott Spark RC is an outstanding XC race bike. With mm of travel, it has the suspension to tackle the toughest courses, but reserves a sharpness to its pedaling response that won’t leave you languishing in the finish-line sprint. It’s stiff too, so if you’re not under 65kg dripping wet, you’ll still have the confidence to charge hard. Scott has missed a trick with it’s TwinLoc remote though, as we think the Spark RC would be even faster if the suspension was a touch more active in the mm Descend mode.

Read our full test review of the Scott Spark RC WC AXS


Santa Cruz Blur XC CC X01 AXS RSV

Santa Cruz Blur XC CC X01 AXS RSV

Santa Cruz Blur XC CC X01 AXS RSV

Punches well above its weight

Price: £8, | Frame: CC carbon, mm | Weight: kg (lb)

Pros: Borderline trail bike territory
Cons: Rear suspension is not the firmest under power

This is no average XC race bike. Yes, the Blur XC is light, only has mm travel and all of the components have been selected with durability and compatibility in mind. Stand up to sprint and it’s tight and reactive. Bomb down the descents and it’s remarkably composed. Spin along the flat or grind up a climb, however, and the rear suspension is, how do we put this, overly active. So unless you use the remote lockout, the Blur XC feels slightly laboured on the climbs. It’s the bike’s only shortcoming. But in XC racing, you can’t afford to show any weakness. If you&#;re not racing however and just want a fast bike for trails&#;

Read our full test review of the Santa Cruz Blur XC CC X01 AXS RSV


Pan shot of bike tester

We had to borrow Lycra from our sister publication for this test

Best crosscountry mountain bikes: hardtail advice

We love hardtails at mbr. XC race bikes have never been in a better spot, the bikes rising to the challenge of modern courses and the demands of the next generation of racers.

And while most of the racing elite have smoothly transitioned to 29er full-suspension bikes, if you’re just getting into XC racing, a trusty 29er hardtail is a much more affordable way to get your hands on a lightweight, efficient bike. Which is why we have XC 29er race hardtails lined up on the grid for this test.

Here we have bikes cut from exact same cloth — probably Lycra — and all designed with one goal in mind: getting to the finish line first. We’ll want to see which of these bikes offers the best power delivery without leaving you battered or broken. And to uncover which bikes can handle technical terrain when your legs and brain are both starved of oxygen, we’ll be razzing around the woods in an ultra-fatigued state to replicate the intensity of racing.

Best XC race bikes: hardtail and full suspension

You can still wear baggy shorts on crosscountry rides

Best crosscountry mountain bikes: full-suspension advice

As XC courses have evolved, so too have the bikes. As such, modern XC races will probably see very few races won on a hardtail, with lightweight full-suspension bikes proving to be the most efficient over the majority of race courses. Even at the highest level of World Cup racing, the pros have realised that effective suspension and confidence-inspiring geometry can bring bigger gains than just weight saving and efficiency alone.

To reflect these changes, we’ve assembled full suspension XC race bikes for this guide. All come from the new breed of race bikes based around carbon fames with mm travel. Most enjoy a plethora of carbon components, as well as on-the-fly suspension adjustments to make them every bit as efficient as a hardtail when the terrain demands it.

Best crosscountry mountain bikes verdict

Best hardtail XC race bike: Trek Procaliber .

This test wasn’t decided on price though, even if the bike with the best specification won. Weight wasn’t really a consideration either, yet it was the lightest bike that reigned supreme. No, the Trek Procaliber crossed the finish line first because it’s the fastest hardtail here. And in XC racing, that’s all that counts.

Best full suspension XC race bike: Specialized Epic Comp Evo.

We were won over by the urgency of the new Specialized Epic Comp Evo. And even if the Brain shock isn’t quite as sharp as Specialized would have you believe, there’s no denying that the Epic Comp Evo feels like it is running on high-octane fuel when you step on the gas.

Sours: https://www.mbr.co.uk/buyers_guide/best-crosscountry-mountain-bikes
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Marathon, BCXC, light trail—this is the one genre that has resisted industry-standard (excuse the oxymoron) nomenclature. But we like ‘down-country.’ It’s just so much fun to say. The short-travel XC/trail crossover category is one of the few flavors of bikes that aren’t meant for racing or going fast down a hill. Usually adapted from XC platforms, these micro-enduro machines blend the ‘long, low and slack’ geometry moniker with efficient, firm suspension platforms and a sprightly exuberance not found on their longer-legged siblings. 

So, what the heck are they for? You might call them the downhiller’s XC bike, or the XC nerd’s downhill bike. They go cross- country, backcountry, up-country and, yes, down-country. Some are very nearly XC-thoroughbreds. Others can get into terrain warranting a full-face. All of them, however, are simply a lot of fun.

While there’s a great abundance of options on the market to choose from, we’ve gathered this list of 10 of our favorite non-directional-country bikes. 

In no particular order:

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Rocky Mountain Element A50 | $3,

millimeter rear / millimeter front 

Spandex optional.

Yes, the Element is technically a race bike. There’s even an XCO edition with a millimeter fork and all the go-fast Gucci bits. Most of the builds come with a millimeter front end though, and are what you might call “BCXC” bikes. Not yet subscribing fully to the current industry manta, the Element’s geometry is on the steeper side, built for aggressive pedal hammering, but with enough leeway to let the experienced rider open up the brakes on the descents. Most of the models come with a dropper post too, and along with the stock mm/mm rotors, that hints at what this bike is for.

Rocky Mountain’s RIDE-9 flip chips allow you to tweak the Element’s geo and leverage curve quite a bit as well, with a full degree in both the head and seat angle, as well as 10 millimeters in the reach. In the neutral setting though, you’ll be sitting behind a degree head angle, atop a degree seat angle and across a millimeter reach on a large. There are XL and XXL sizes, which maxes out at millimeter reach, so don’t be fooled by the seemingly short reach on a large.

Available in either an alloy, alloy rear/carbon front, or full-carbon frame, the Element starts at a reasonable $2, and ends at a eye-watering $7, The A50 build strikes a neat balance in the middle, with a quality alloy frame hung with dependable and sensible components. You’ll get a Fox 34 Step Cast and DPS (both Performance-level), Shimano SLX speed shifting and brakes, a Race Face Aeffect dropper and Sun Helix TR25 rims.

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Kona HeiHei CR/DL | $4,

millimeter rear / millimeter front 

OG XC, only better.

The Hei Hei is nearly an institution at this point—this ain’t its first rodeo. Originally, and currently, Kona’s XC machine, the Hei Hei is build to tackle serious miles efficiently, but also comfortably. Rather than beat you to death with ‘pedaling efficiency,’ the Hei Hei is made to take some of the brunt of trail chatter to save you energy on long epics or on rougher trails. Or both, if that’s your cup of tea.

The Hei Hei’s geometry is fairly conservative by today’s marketing slogans, but still far more capable than traditional XC bikes. A degree head angle is plenty slack for capable riders, and the millimeter reach (size large) with millimeter chainstays will keep things lively and maneuverable on tight and twisty trails.  Don’t think it can’t hang in the rough either— Spencer Paxson clocked over 32, feet of climbing and descending in one day on this bike, lapping one of the steeper and gnarlier trails in Bellingham, Washington.

The Hei Hei comes in either alloy or carbon, and with either SRAM NX- or GX-level shifting. On the carbon Hei Hei CR/DL you’ll get that GX shifting, Guide Rs, a Reverb dropper, WTB KOM Light Team i29 rims and Fox suspension, namely a 34 Performance and DPS Performance.

Ripley4 black xtr

Ibis Ripley NX | $4,

millimeter rear/millimeter front 

Go fast, play hard.

On paper, this bike might not seem like a good fit for this list. But on dirt, it’s got the quickness of an XC bike. And for those seeking a bike that’s just outside the XC category and has a little trail-category meat on its bones, the Ripley should not be overlooked. The original version was one of the first bikes in this category to turn heads and make people rethink their life choices. A millimeter 29er that actually goes up and down hills well? Radical. The current generation of the Ripley shares the same roots as the OG, but quite a bit has changed over the years in the geometry department to make the Ripley the short-travel menace it is. Longer, slacker and, wait for it, steeper is the name of the game with the latest Ripley. A degree head angle is mated with degree seat angle and a millimeter reach on a large.

The Ripley, despite being as long and slack as some enduro bikes, remains as light and nimble as ever. If the Ripmo is a point and shoot (up or downhill), the Ripley is a choose-your-own-adventure kind of bike. Go ahead, climb your favorite descent, or descend your favorite climb. That’s the sort of shenanigans the Ripley is meant for.

The NX-level build of the Ripley offers great value, even though it’s technically the budget build. For your cash-money, you get a carbon frame with tubed internal routing, Fox Performance suspension, SRAM NX Eagle, Level brakes with mm rotors and a KS E30i dropper. You can upgrade your fork, shock, wheels, tires (which have room to stretch to inches), handlebars or dropper for extra, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Read our first impressions of the new Ripley here.

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Intense Sniper Trail Expert Build | $4,

millimeter rear / millimeter front 

Not even XC, seriously.

Upon first glance, you may think the Sniper Trail is an XC pureblood. Then you see the dropper post, the degree head angle and mm/mm brake rotors. Clearly, the Sniper Trail is meant for bigger and badder things than lapping XC loops. Granted, you can lap the loops if you really want to, but the Sniper Trail is probably happier smashing rocks chasing your buddies around on an after-work trail ride or weekend epic.

The VPP suspension is one of the better designs in this travel bracket for rough terrain. Traction can be found in shades, but the bike also has that stand-up-and-hammer attitude that most good short-travel bikes do. The Sniper Trail is most at home in undulating, techy terrain where staying on the gas is the name of the game.

There are a couple builds of the Sniper Trail, but the Expert will get you some bang for your buck. A Fox 34 and DPS Performance come stock, as does a SRAM GX drivetrain, DT Swiss Spline wheels and Shimano XT brakes. Of course, you’ll get a full carbon frame, as well as a torque wrench, shock pump and tools for set-up because, of course, Intense has a consumer-direct sales model now, in addition to brick-and-mortar sales.

Check out Jonathon Weber’s review of the Sniper Trail here.

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Yeti SB GX | $5,

millimeter rear / millimeter front 

Go fast, go really fast.

If there’s a bike that defines this category, it might just be the SB Up and down, you’d be hard-pressed to beat out the SB As one of our testers in this year’s Bible of Bike Tests put it, “The SB is an XC bike without the suppressed rage.”

Yeti’s Switch Infinity linkage climbs like you’d expect a hard-core millimeter travel XC bike should—damn quick. Once the gradient turns the other way though, the SB descends with the prowess of bikes much bigger. That said, millimeters can’t magically become millimeters, but the SB uses its travel quite effectively.

So what the catch? Well, have you noticed that price tag? Yeti’s don’t come cheap, but you do at least get great quality for your money. The base level carbon frame comes with a SRAM GX drivetrain, Fox Performance suspension DT Swiss M Spline wheels and Guide R brakes. You also get Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR tires, which pretty much sums up what the SB is for.

Check out Kristin Butcher’s review of the SB here from the latest Bible of Bike Tests.

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Spot Ryve 29 4-Star | $4,

millimeter rear / millimeter front 

It’s like the Mayhem, only smaller.

It’s not often we wonder how bikes would ride with a little less travel, but that was the case with Spot’s Living Link suspension bikes, the Mayhem and Rollik. The Ryve, which comes in either or millimeter flavors, is essentially a shorter-travel version aimed for the aggressive XC/marathon crowd, or really just anyone who wants a fun-loving bike with heaps of get-up-and-go.

The Living Link suspension is a tricky one to put a finger on. It feels like it has both more and less suspension than it does, with supportive anti-squat numbers and a linear leverage curve that ends with a sharp ramp up. This is what makes the sprightly nature of the suspension platform, and why we pondered how it would be in a short-travel package. With its degree head angle, degree seat angle and millimeter reach in large, the Ryve looks to make use of that responsive suspension design, but still keep enough party in the tank when mashing pedals gets old.

Available in four builds, including the 6-star, $8,, top-tier build with SRAM AXS, each with a full carbon frame. The base level 4-star build will get you a Fox 34 Step Cast and DPS, both Performance, a SRAM GX drivetrain, Level TL brakes and a BikeYoke Revive dropper.

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Giant Trance 29 Adv Pro 29 0 | $8,

millimeter rear / millimeter front 

Mini-enduro.

Before you keep scrolling, there are three more models of the Trance 29 that aren’t nearly $9, In fact, the alloy version starts at $3, However, the 0 model comes with something special, and it rhymes with DVO Suspension. More on that later though. Like the Ibis Ripley, the Trance 29 is, perhaps, a bit of an outlier in this travel category. While most of these bikes will be busy hammering out miles, the Trance 29 is more likely to be hammering out laps on the local gravity track.

If the degree head angle, 1, millimeter wheelbase or millimeter bottom-bracket drop don’t catch your eye, the Truvativ Descendant bars and stem and Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR tires should clue you in on this bike’s preferred terrain. Sure, the Maestro suspension is efficient and provides plenty of traction climbing, but the Trance 29 hungers for the gnarliest of terrain, preferably of the downhill flavor.

What makes the 0 model special is the custom DVO Saphire D1 and Topaz 2 T3 that come stock. Giant formed a partnership with DVO not too long ago, and some of the top tier builds from Giant come with the boutique, highly adjustable suspension. DVO is primarily a gravity-oriented brand, and if there was ever a short-travel bike that deserved capable, gravity-oriented suspension, it would be the Trance

Check out Mike Ferrentino’s review of the Trance 29 Adv Pro 0 from the latest Bible of Bike Tests here.

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Specialized Epic Expert Evo | $5,

millimeter rear / millimeter front 

The Epic, only more epic.

The Epic is the quintessential XC bike, and then there’s the Epic Evo. It’s like the regular Epic, but after it’s had a few vodka Red Bulls. The Evo gains an extra 10 millimeters of travel in the front, loses a degree in the head angle (degrees)  and consequently 10 millimeters in reach ( for a large). It’s not really the longer, lower, slacker treatment, more like the crazier, shorter, more fun treatment.

It’s still an XC marathon machine, sure, but if you were to accidentally wander onto the enduro course you’d probably survive and maybe have a little fun. Hammer up whatever you want, the more technical the better, reverse and repeat. Your hammering will be aided by Specialized’s refined but still polarizing Brain suspension technology. The mechanism, now way back by the rear axle, comprises a cylinder in the compression damping circuit that is closed off at rest by a tiny heavy brass ingot, but opens up when an impact knocks the ingot out of place.  That definitely helps put it on the nerdy XC end of the short-travel spectrum, but not so much that it comes with a strict spandex dress code.

The Epic Evo comes in a few models from the base Comp level to the top-tier S-Works build. The Expert level is the middle-of-the-pack build, complete with a SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain, a Fox 34 Step Cast, Specialized Brain shock and an X-Fusion Manic dropper.

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Tallboy R Carbon | $3,

millimeter rear / millimeter front

Not cross-country. Trail country. 

Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without the Tallboy. You may have expected to see the Blur here, but it’s just a tad too conservative for this club. Instead, we chose this high-heeled, short-traveled machine, which has been inhabiting that no-man’s land between XC and trail bikes for a long time and has proven to be pretty jacked at all trades. Santa Cruz’s VPP linkage is time-tested and over the years they’ve dialed in a good balance that gives the Tallboy some pep in its step while also taking the worst out of that high-speed chatter and chunkage. Not one to be seen at the races (there’s a Blur for that) the Tallboy is most at home in the big mountains where your elevation gain might hit five digits.

Santa Cruz is one of the brands that offering from small to XXL sizing, so you can expect to be able to really dial in your fit. Reaches range from to a full millimeters, but across the board, you’ll get millimeter chainstays, a degree seat angle and a degree head angle.

The Tallboy is offered in three frame materials: alloy, C carbon or CC carbon. The CC carbon is the top-tier fancy plastic, but you have to pay for it. The C carbon is going to give you the best bang for your buck, especially in their R, middle-of-the-road build. You’ll get a Fox 34 Rhythm and DPS Performance, a SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain, Level T brakes with millimeters rotors and WTB ST i25 TCS rims.

Check out Brice Minnigh’s review of the Tallboy here.

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Scott Spark |

, 85 or 0-millimeter rear / millimeter front

Win races, throw whips. 

You know which rider we’re talking about, the one who usually crushes all competition and throws a little XC whip into the mix before the finish. That particular rider has ridden the Spark RC frame to more than a few victories. This Spark drops the RC and adds a little attitude while staying more than capable as an XC racer. That being said, its head angle, millimeter chainstays and a millimeter reach on a large trend toward trail-bike numbers—as long as you’re not running a silly negative rise stem, the Spark should be able to handle some pretty gnarly trails. Just look at the current XCO World Cup courses.

An interesting feature that we don’t see much these days is Scott’s TwinLoc system. This remote system adjusts both the front and rear suspension at the same time, with three stops from open to fully closed. The stop in the middle will firm things up and actually adjust the travel in the rear to be only millimeters—perfect for smoother terrain. We’re back and forth on the whole remote lockout thing, but we have to say that it does make a lot of sense for a bike like this.

Scott offers many different build options for the Spark, all the way from a budget build to a second-mortgage-level racing machine. The alloy falls somewhere in the middle, offering good value for your money. More important though, it’s the first in the Spark lineup to spec a Fox 34 instead of a With a minimal weight penalty, you get a lot more smashy-smashy capabilities up front with the Rounding out the build is a mix of SRAM GX and NX shifting, Shimano SLX brakes with millimeter rotors, Syncros/Formula wheels and Maxxis Rekon tires.

Editor’s Note: Purchasing from our linked retailers gives Bike a commission from the sale. This helps us keep doing what we do best–bringing you thoughtful and objective reviews, telling you stories of our sport’s greatest people, places and events, and showing you photos of impossibly huge landscapes populated by one tiny, tiny rider.

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Top 5 Affordable 2021 Cross Country (XC) Mountain Bikes

Five of the best all-out cross country mountain bikes you can buy in

Mountain biking has always been a sport of innovation. Technology and trends are upended as often as the seasons change. Recently, bigger wheels, improved (and tubeless) tyres, lighter and stronger materials and refined suspension tunes have allowed a new breed of bike to enter the market.

At first these were jokingly named ‘downcountry’ – somewhere between a cross-country (XC) and downhill bike – but the name stuck and now even major bike manufacturers have entire ranges devoted to, well, whatever downcountry is. Which brings us to:

What is downcountry mountain biking?

The improvement in materials and technologies has enabled cross-country bikes to become more than just super lightweight racing machines. Now, they are all that, but they can also hold their own in technical terrain and will stand up to plenty of abuse. Just look at the technicality of courses on the Mercedes-Benz UCI Cross-Country World Cup circuit and you’ll understand how robust modern race bikes need to be.

However, most people aren’t racing cross-country (but if you are, then this guide to race-ready XC bikes might help). That said, a bike that is supremely light and efficient (meaning an easier uphill, allowing you to conserve more energy for fun on the downhill) probably appeals to any mountain biker.

This is where downcountry mountain biking comes in. Add a little more suspension travel, especially to the fork (most XC race bikes use about mm front and rear travel, while downcountry bikes tend to be around mm or simply increase fork travel), beef up a few key components – tyres and wheels come to mind, widening the handlebar and maybe even adding a small chain device – and suddenly cross-country becomes downcountry.

Convinced you need one in your life? Here’s a selection of some of the best downcountry bikes for

1. Trek Top Fuel

Trek Top Fuel MTB
Price: from £2,
Sizes: S, M, ML, L, XL
Frame material: Aluminium or carbon fibre
Wheel size: 29”
Suspension travel: mm rear, mm front
Find out more information

Trek says its downcountry bikes are ‘both efficient and ready to party’, meaning they are ‘light and fast yet wildly fun when tackling burlier descents’. The Top Fuel is made for endurance racers and multi-discipline riders; it’s bigger than the Supercaliber raced at cross-country World Cup level by the likes of Evie Richards but smaller than the Fuel EX trail bike. A geometry flip-chip allows a choice of racier or more stable settings, while aluminium and carbon fibre models means there’s a variety of price points.

2. Santa Cruz Tallboy

Santa Cruz Tallboy
Price: from £2,
Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL
Frame material: Aluminium or carbon fibre
Wheel size: 29”
Suspension travel: mm rear, mm front
Find out more information

The latest Tallboy was launched in as ‘the downhiller’s XC bike’, in Santa Cruz’s words. It is a favourite among go-everywhere-fast-and-efficiently trail riders who probably need something a little beefier than a cross-country race bike with longer forks (Santa Cruz has the Blur in its range for pure XC duties).

Its mm rear travel and mm up front puts it in the short travel downcountry category; lazier geometry (° head angle, roomy cockpit, short chainstays) defines it as the bruiser among its peers.

Santa Cruz offers three frame options in aluminium, carbon or carbon cc (the brand’s highest level of carbon) and a number of build options.

3. Cannondale Scalpel Carbon SE

Cannondale Scalpel Carbon SE 2 MTB
Price: from £3,
Sizes: S, M, L, XL
Frame material: Carbon fibre
Wheel size: 29”
Suspension travel: mm rear, mm front
Find out more information

Cannondale says its Scalpel SE range is ‘World Cup fast and all-mountain fierce’, providing a little more squish than its purebred sibling, the Scalpel. It’s for ‘full-throttle’ trail riding, and every bike comes with a dropper seatpost as well as beefier tyres and a shorter stem than the full-on cross-country bike. Instead of a pivot point on the chainstays, the Scalpel saves weight through flexible carbon plates that form the basis of the bike’s 4-bar FlexPivot system.

Four Scalpel SE models are available, including a Scalpel Carbon Women’s SE and a Carbon SE LTD.

4. Specialized Epic EVO

Specialized Epic EVO Base MTB
Price: from £3,
Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL
Frame material: Carbon fibre
Wheel size: 29”
Suspension travel: mm rear, mm front
Find out more information

Specialized has been making innovative bikes since day one, and the Epic EVO is testament to the American company’s devotion to pushing the boundaries of singletrack slaying. It is based around the Epic – Specialized’s full-suspension XC race bike – but rear suspension travel is upped by 10mm to mm and a mm-travel fork ensures added confidence when ploughing through technical sections.

There are three price-point models in the range and also a frame-only S-Works (Specialized’s top-of-the-range) option.

5. Transition Spur

Transition Spur XX1 MTB
Price: from £4,
Sizes: S, M, L, XL
Frame material: Carbon fibre
Wheel size: 29”
Suspension travel: mm rear, mm front
Find out more information

Transition Bikes (company motto ‘It’s time to GiddyUp’) is based out of the trail-riding mecca of Bellingham, USA. With infinite technical singletrack on its doorstep, it should come as no surprise that its downcountry bike, the Spur, is often lauded as one of the very best in the category. Its mm front and rear suspension travel is complimented by what Transition calls ‘Speed Balanced Geometry’ – a relatively slack head tube angle (66º) paired with a short offset fork, aiming at bringing the rider’s weight central on the bike.

Rider-owned Transition is a smaller brand than some of the behemoths in this feature; its bikes are perhaps pricier as a result. Several builds and a frame-only option are also available.

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Country 29er bikes cross

Best lightweight mountain bikes under 10kg

Sub 10 kilos (22lb) has always been a benchmark for the best lightweight mountain bikes. However, with XCO courses becoming more and more technical and riders demanding bigger mountain bike tires and the best dropper posts to tackle them, 10kg bikes are rarer than ever. Our top ten proves that there are still some sweet rides out there if you know where to look. Whether you want an ultimate-spec full suspension bike like Scott’s Spark RC SL AXS, a road bike weight frame from Specialized or a super-unique frameset, there's something for everybody on this list. 

In reality, you’d be hard-pressed to tell any difference in the ride of a kg bike and a kg bike but the psychological/bragging rights significance of going under 10kg is massive. Developments and demands of riders mean it’s harder than ever to hit that target though. inch wheels, tires and forks will always be heavier than inch or inch (remember them?) but their smoother speed makes them an XC essential. Some top racers like Nino Schurter are routinely using in tires now too, while others are wide rim or wide handlebar fans.

Most of the world’s fastest racers are now using dropper posts for extra control on challenging courses despite a g penalty over fixed posts. Huge cassettes mean simpler 1x transmissions are often heavier than old double chainring setups too. Even remote control suspension adds significant weight, but again most racers won’t be without it for smashing smoother climbs.

Best lightweight mountain bikes under 10kg

Specialized S-Works Epic AXS HT

Crazy light but still hyper-fast fun on tastier trails

Weight: kg | Travel: mm/HT | Groupset: SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS

The lightest full production frame

Ultimate racer spec

BRAIN fork is an acquired taste

At g for a medium frame with rear axle and seat collar (averaging g/lb without), Specialized’s new S-Works Epic HT frame is the lightest mass-production mountain bike chassis you can buy. Not only is it available in a full range of sizes - unlike the Unno - each size gets a slightly different ‘Rider First’ layup to deliver the right ride-feel. Unsurprisingly that’s the cliched ‘compliant over bumps but powerful through the pedals’ character touted by most manufacturers. The super-skinny, blade top seat stays combine with a deliberately damped mm seatpost to deliver a genuinely forgiving in-the-saddle ride. The sculpted front uses a Brain-equipped, mm travel, RockShox SID Ultimate fork. The fork crown uses a short offset for extra stability and the head angle is relaxed at degrees. Add ‘short for XC’ mm stems and mm wide handlebars as standard and it’s a surprisingly composed charger on descents. The mm seatpost size gives you a full range of dropper options, too.

If you’re looking at a sub 9kg bike though you’re probably mostly about the acceleration kick and climbs, and Epic definitely delivers here. It’s not ‘Euro lab test’ rigid underfoot but there’s no trace of morale-sapping twist as the revs drop and the torque peaks. Specialized even fits a Quarq power meter to this flagship AXS spec as standard because it knows watts are as important to racers as weight. The automatic bump sensor built into the Brain fork lets you tune the rigid-to-flowing balance in a uniquely binary way and frees you up from fretting about remote levers, too. It’s got practical as well as podium-hunting detail with a threaded bottom bracket fit and clearance for up to in tires.

Decades of supporting many of the world’s top racers mean its own brand kit is seriously light, although its low spoke count (24 upfront) wheels can be a bit wayward when worked hard. If you can’t afford this flagship there are four different complete Epic HT bikes down to £2, and a frame-only option. 

Orbea Alma M-Ltd

Orbea’s fully rigid racer stands out on the scales and on the start line

Weight: kg | Travel: Fully rigid | Groupset: SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS

Forgiving frame

Customisable buying options

Rigid descending suits those with finesse and strong wrists

In terms of frame weight, Orbea’s carbon fiber Alma OMR race hardtail isn’t crazy light at over 1kg, but they’ve done something radical to get complete bike weight low enough to kill on the climbs. Depending on what fork you run, Orbea’s g Spirit Rigid fork will save you g over a mm suspension unit to bring complete bike weight well under 9kg. The kinked, super-flat top tube is designed to help dissipate the extra shock coming through from the front end too, although the long, tapered, carbon legs deliver a smoother ride than you’d expect. The super-slim stays are designed for extra flex but there’s still plenty of meat around the cranks and chainstays for kicking hard and making that low weight count. The fork is also the same length as a mm travel unit so swapping around won’t disturb the agile, short wheelbase handling.

The same OMR frame appears on the top four Alma models with another four Alma models using the slightly heavier OMP frames. Whatever your starting point, Orbea’s ‘MyO’ customization program lets you pick and mix from a range of components to tune cost, weight and character. You can even choose from multiple color options (fully custom on the top models) so that you get a truly personalized Alma built for you in Orbea’s Basque factory. The direct sell model means they’re generally very good value too although you will have to wait longer for delivery than if you pick an off-the-shelf bike from your local shop.

Mondraker Podium Carbon RR SL

Forward Geometry isn’t as rad as it was, but Podium still looks amazing and rides like silk

Weight: kg | Travel: mm/HT | Groupset: SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS

Incredibly light

Leaf sprung ride feel

Price

Mondraker has redesigned the Podium hardtail for , so it has a more conventional look but keeps its light weight and 'Forward Geometry.' The brand claims that it has created the world's lightest production frameset. 

Born on DH race tracks thanks to the work of Unno’s Cesar Rojo and others, Forward Geometry was the spark point for the current trend for super-short stems on extended reach frames. Mondraker was the first mainstream brand to be ballsy enough to use the concept right across its range from gravity bikes to cross-country machines. The Podium was designed a while ago now but the model's geometry has been refreshed, bringing a mm reach, degree headtube angle, and a 70mm stem on a size large. 

If you can afford the price tag for this beast of a hardtail, then you'll be smashing the climbs in no time. 

Santa Cruz Highball X01 Carbon CC 29 Reserve

Shock-shrugging, grip-boosting comfort and guaranteed trail toughness but hefty weight

Weight: kg | Travel: mm/HT | Groupset: SRAM X01

Super-smooth ride feel with practical features

Lifetime warranty frame

Wheel toughness

High weight for a race frame

No electric shifting

Santa Cruz’s original Highball race hardtail was so stiff it could make your feet numb in under an hour in the wrong shoes and rattle teeth out on rocky descents. That meant we weren’t expecting an easy ride when we met its new race rod. Santa Cruz has completely flipped priorities with the new Highball though, realizing that fighting fatigue and preserving performance is more important than ultimate power punch. While the degree head angle is still pretty snappy the mm reach (large size) is long for an XC bike, which helps calm control on flat-out fast sections. The frame compliance also noticeably improves the bike’s ability to conform to the trail for traction as well as reducing the chance of you being rattled offline or ricocheting randomly off rocks and drops. The threaded bottom bracket and three bottle cage mounts are designed for the long haul. Despite removing over g from the old frame it gets a no weight limit, no questions asked, lifetime frame warranty.

Riders can also opt to equip their Highball with Santa Cruz’s Reserve carbon wheels. They’re covered by a similarly no-nonsense lifetime warranty and again the ride feel is obviously damped and shock smoothing rather than skittish and sketchy. That means you can hit stuff hard without worrying about comfort levels or construction quality and it’ll work great as a daily driver.

Unsurprisingly, power delivery definitely isn’t as taut as some pure racers, but trail connection and rollover performance are excellent. 

Trek Supercaliber

Trek’s ‘under sock secret’ is super neat and impressively punchy but pricey and not quite as light as you might expect

Weight: kg | Travel: mm/60mm | Groupset: SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS

Unique short-travel suspension design with impressive accuracy

Unique ‘Isostrut’ tech is not for everyone

A couple of years ago now, Trek created an all-new type of full-suspension bike, using what it calls ‘Isostrut,' a tiny but full feature remote control Fox air shock, hidden inside a Kashima gold stanchion that bolts into the cutaway top tube. The flat flex stays then stretch forward to a tube that slides along the stanchion, connected to the shock via top and bottom slots that also stop twist. Add a main pivot just above and in front of the chainring and you’ve got 60mm of travel with all the usual shock rate, pressure and damping adjustments plus a remote control lockout. Fewer pivots and linkages mean reduced mass and maintenance and it also gives a very clean frame look with room for two bottle cages if the race/ride is long or hot. 

Trek has certainly committed hard to the concept too, with no carbon-framed, purely hardtail bikes in its XC lineup. ProCaliber and below use its road-bike-derived ‘IsoFlex’ scissor frame. Meanwhile, the new Trek Top Fuel beefs up from its previous super-light and twangy incarnation, getting mm of travel out back with slacker angles, longer reach and a much stiffer power and precision-friendly ride.

While we personally have not tested the Isotrut-equipped Super Caliber yet, the top racers in the world seem to have no problem making it go fast on the trails. This is a very "XC" bike, so the unique design certainly won't be for everyone. 

Scott Spark RC SL AXS

Scott’s all-conquering full suspension racer/raver gets the ultimate component package

Weight: kg | Travel: mm/mm | Groupset: SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS

Ultralight race weapon

Still seriously fun on technical trails

The sickest build means a sickeningly high price

The current Spark RC SL rolls on 29er wheels and, despite the fact it’s a relatively old frame geometry, is still more progressive and tech trail-ready than most. It’s more than accurate enough to get really aggro with too, although singletrack speed fiends should check out the non-RC Spark models which get mm of travel and are still lighter than most race frames. Either way, the latest iteration also has the best Spark suspension by far, with proper chunder-calming, speed-breeding performance in its ‘Open' mode. Push the TwinLoc trigger on the bar though and you can toggle into a tauter, reduced travel ‘Traction’ mode for feisty climbs or fully lock it for sprinting, and that response is matched by the front fork, too. 

A sub-1,g chassis weight complete with shock and all the trimmings still makes the lightest, mass-production, full-suspension frame around. With multiple Olympic Gold, World Championship and World Cup wins under its belt there’s no disputing the Spark’s podium-dominating pedigree either. 

This year's SL version truly is the ultimate Spark spec, complete with Syncros carbon spoked wheels, integrated Fraser cockpit, Fox SC33 forks and a full suite of SRAM’s game-changing AXS wireless groupset. 

Cannondale F-SI Hi-Mod World Cup

Unique features build an ultra-fast racer but top-dog spec has a sharp bite

Weight: kg | Travel: mm/HT | Groupset: SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS

Amazingly accurate single leg fork

Super-light frame

Enve kit is unforgiving

Steering can be snatchy

Cannondale is another brand that has always had racing close to its maxed-out heart and the F-SI Hi-Mod is loaded with typically left-field features.

Most obvious is the Ocho fork, the latest version of a left-leg-only suspension family that’s now 20 years old. The cantilevered single crown carbon fork (old Lefty forks were double crown) makes it the lightest Cannondale fork yet and it’s also competitively smooth once you find the set-up sweet spot. Even after a double decade on the faceted, inset needle-bearing leg technology, the tracking is still a head bender but you’ll soon learn to make the most of it on aggressive overtakes or tire ripping turns. The 55mm fork offset and short stems as standard make for very fast steering despite a balanced looking degree head angle. The comparatively short reach (mm on a large) and wheelbase make it an incredibly responsive ripper that needs a steady nerve if things get nasty rather than a naturally confident ride.

The Ballistec carbon frame shaves weight with a narrow shell 30mm press-fit bottom bracket and it was one of the first to adopt road bike style ‘Flat Mount’ disc brake fittings. It also uses a Cannondale-specific Ai wheel offset which you need to factor in when upgrading but, with ENVE carbon rims as standard on this World Cup replica, that’s unlikely to be an issue for power-and-precision fiends. It’s worth pointing out that this top-end Enve bar, post and rim-loaded build rides noticeably stiffer and more rattly over the rough stuff than lower-priced models with more compliant wheelsets. That makes the F-SI Carbon 2 our pick of the Cannondale pack at half the price of the Hi-Mod World Cup, although the gorgeous retro paint jobs of the limited edition ‘Throwback’ framesets will be hard to resist for those who remember the Tinker Juarez and Cadel Evans glory days of Cannondale.  

Merida Ninety-Six

Merida’s proven racer is still one of the lightest around if you can tame it

Weight: kg | Travel: mm/96mm | Groupset: Shimano XTR

Super-light frame

Smooth suspension

Dated detailing

Twangy ride can become a handful

Merida’s Ninety-Six is a totally proven machine, developed in conjunction with some of the most experienced top-level racers. It was also one of the first 29er full-suspension bikes to dip under the 10kg mark thanks to a 1,g claimed frame weight. If you like your handling fast and your frames whippy it’s still right up there in the fast bike rankings, too.

As the name suggests the CF5 carbon fiber frame gives 96mm of rear-wheel travel via a short-stroke Fox shock with a remote lockout lever. You get a full pivot bearing set-up, not just flex stays, so even at 25 percent sag you actually get a very plush ride if you run the compression damper fully open. That’s great for rooty/rocky traction and making the rear travel seem longer than it is, but we can see most racers defaulting to the middle Trail setting for a tighter, more pedal-friendly feel. 

An update to a mm Boost rear end has improved rear-end stiffness and the switch to a 44mm offset fork has also added some stability to the steering. That just means the degree head angle is now just fast rather than outright frantic and the skinny frame means it’s still more articulated than accurate in overall feel. To be fair the super-light, minimal tread Continental Race King Race Sport tires aren’t even going to give enough traction to tax the steering much anyway.   

The Reynolds TR wheels are a tight tracking set-up if you want to put something toothier on and the latest XTR on this version is similarly positive and punchy in feel compared to the previous vague version of Shimano’s flagship group. Unless you’re a diehard double chainring fan the unused front mech tab on the down tube does look a bit awkward though and definitely dates the frame. 

Canyon Exceed CFR LTD

Canyon’s top of the line Exceed hardtail

Weight: kg | Travel: mm/HT | Groupset: SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS

Excellent lightweight performance package

Reasonable price compared to other top specs on this list

Geometry and ride character is traditional rather than radical

Canyon has grown from a small trailer-based spares ‘shop’ at German XC races to a global bike-brand superpower with an ever-increasing number of World Cup and World Championship race wins under its belt. 

This top-line hardtail features a degree headtube angle, 1,mm wheelbase, and  mm reach on a size large. It also gets a sweet exclusive paint job, and the full build comes in at kg. 

For the build kit, the bike features a SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS drivetrain and a remote-controlled RockShox SID SL fork. SRAM also provides the braes with Level Ultimates bringing the stopping power. Reynolds Blacklabel XC wheels are paired with Maxxis tires to keep you rolling. 

On a budget? There are multiple other Exceed models to choose from with more wallet-friendly build kits. They feature the same frame geometry but will have different components and will be heavier. 

Unno Aora (frame only)

Ultra-light, sweetly-detailed, single-size, Barcelona-built, limited edition exotica

Weight: g | Travel: HT frame | Groupset: N/A

Super-light aggro geometry

Race/trail performance

Limited edition kudos

Unno hand-build 50 single sized frames a year and charge accordingly

Even if you’re never going to be able to afford the €4, frame price or the single size doesn’t fit you, it’s still worth checking out the Unno website as an art gallery of aspiration bike building and design presentation. It’s taken ex-World Cup racer and Mondraker collaborator, Cesar Rojo, and his team over four years to create the svelte carbon sculpture of the Aora. The company only makes 50 frames a year in its surgically clean Barcelona design and manufacturing facility. 

At g (fully equipped) it’s the lightest ‘production’ MTB frame available though and that’s not the only unique thing about it. A degree head angle with minimal 85mm head tube height and super-short mm chainstays give it an ultra-responsive kick but confidently progressive handling. The naked finish and flowing lines also give it jaw-dropping looks before you even pick it up. 

If you’re looking for the same handmade attention to detail and limited-edition exclusivity in a full suspension bike then Unno’s Horn has the same radical geometry but with mm of rear travel. At 1,g without rear shock and rear axle, it’s not the lightest FS option, but you are getting true twin linkage swingarm mobility rather than just a flexy seat stay design. It's available now but you might need some time to save up.

Best lightweight mountain bikes: what you need to know

1. Full suspension or hardtail?

The other big weight penalty that racers are now routinely paying is opting for a full-suspension bike rather than one of the best hardtail mountain bikes. Unless it’s a super-smooth or strength-sapping high-altitude course most of the men’s World Cup XCO field will be on a double-damped rig, and more and more women are lining up on full sus every race. They’re a lot more fun and forgiving outside the tape if you’re not a completely competition-focused rider. That inevitably means a roughly g rear shock plus pivot bearings, other mounting hardware and extra frame parts piling on the weight. As a result, even the ultra-light 1,g Scott Spark is still g heavier than the hardtail Scott Scale and most head-to-head, in-brand comparisons are significantly heavier. Softail bikes like Trek’s new Supercaliber or BMC’s TeamElite split the difference in weight and full suspension function to the point where neither brand now sells a conventional fixed frame pro-level bike.

2. Race Proven 

Speaking of race replicas, you’ll often find that brands sell premium versions that are even lighter than the bikes their team riders use. That’s generally due to sponsor demands (RockShox SID forks are heavier than Fox SC32, Shimano XTR is heavier than SRAM XX1 etc.) but sometimes they just fit cost-no-object component mixes to create a super-light show stopper like Scott’s Spark RC SL AXS.

3. Freaks and uniques

Some bikes like Orbea’s rigid forked Alma M-Ltd are lightened further than most of us would regard practical and Niner’s Air 9 RDO can be fitted with a chain tensioning eccentric bottom bracket so you can go single-speed and ditch gears altogether. Ultra-boutique brands like FRM produce complete ultra-light builds while Unno only hand-build its Aora hardtail in a single size. If you really want to see what’s possible then click on the infamous gram hating hangout weightweenies.starbike.com. Or check out how anti-gravity artists like Gustav Gullholm (Dangerholm on Instagram) get Scott Spark and Scale bikes down to 7kg with belt sanders, paint stripper and ultra-light carbon fiber cockpit and seating combinations.

NB: We’ve had to rely largely on manufacturers weights for this run down, so if you want to be sure of weights take your scales with you when you go shopping. Please contact us if any of the numbers are right off so we can update the feature for everyone else.

Guy has been riding mountain bikes since before they were mountain bikes and is right handy on an offroad tandem (of course he is).
Sours: https://www.bikeperfect.com/features/best-lightweight-mountain-bikes-underkg
Top 5 Affordable 2021 Cross Country (XC) Mountain Bikes

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