When it comes to all-out singletrack speed, there's nothing like a short-travel cross-country (XC) mountain bike.
Cross-country mountain biking has gone through somewhat of a revolution in the last decade. Racecourses have become more technical, with massive rock gardens, fast turns and plenty of jumps.
While XC was once all about hardtails and narrow tyres, pros now tend to favour full suspension bikes, beefier (but still very fast rolling) tyres and even telescopic dropper seatposts.
What to look for in a cross-country mountain bike
Cross-country bikes have aggressive angles that put the rider in a forward position. The seat is positioned directly over the cranks for maximum power through the pedals and there’s a focus on lightweight componentry for maximum efficiency.
These bikes are made to be sprinted around racetracks and to haul up hills. Key attributes include stiff, light frames, 29” wheels, remote suspension lockout, and the minimum possible suspension travel to take the sting off rough courses without impeding forward propulsion. Bikes usually have around 100mm travel, although some have less. Racers also opt for rigid hardtail frames for less technical courses, although we’ve only included full-suspension bikes in this article.
Many pro racers are now using dropper seatposts so they can get the saddle out of the way, and no matter what level your riding, you’ll be wanting plenty of water bottle storage.
Below are some of the best full suspension cross-country mountain bikes, and each has been chosen for its speed, desirability, practicality and credentials (most brands also have a hardtail/front suspension-only model for less technical racecourses).
If you are looking for XC speed and efficiency but aren’t aiming to hit any races, you might want to check out our favourite downcountry bikes instead.
1. Scott Spark RC
Scott claims its Spark RC is ‘the winningest full suspension XC bike to date’ — this might seem a dubious claim if any other brand were involved, but the Swiss brand only needs to mention the name ‘Nino Schurter’ to, er, schurt up the doubters. Not only does the multiple Swiss, world and Olympic champion ride a Spark, but so does American phenomenon Kate Courtney.
It’s a popular choice for striving cross-country racers and weekend Strava chasers alike; Scott provides a wide range of build options, including a number of Contessa women’s models. While the bike is predictably nifty on the gas, it’s also reasonably forgiving and deploys a 110mm-travel fork to help you guide it through the rough.
2. Canyon Lux
German brand Canyon has made its mark on just about every cycling discipline in recent years, not least cross-country. It has arguably the fastest and most exciting male and female riders in Mathieu van der Poel and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot – both who have dished out some of the most impressive race wins of the last couple of seasons on-board Canyon’s Lux and Lux WMN bikes.
Expect a stiff, fast frame kitted out with components of higher spec than many other brands manage for the budget – Canyon is a direct-sales company and its prices reflect the pared-down business model.
3. Trek Supercaliber
Trek’s all-out XC race bike is piloted by the likes of Jolanda Neff and Evie Richards on the World Cup circuit. It is built around the mantra of minimum material, minimum travel and maximum stiffness, which it chases through its unique IsoStrut suspension system that provides just 60mm of rear-wheel travel via flexible chainstays but promises ‘knock-out, drag-out speed and capability’.
Whichever model you opt for – whether it’s the £3,500 Supercaliber 9.7 or £10,000 Supercaliber 9.9 XX1 AXS – you’ll get the same full carbon frame, with the componentry getting more high tech (and lighter) the more you spend.
4. Specialized Epic
Specialized has always been a big player on the cross-country race circuit. For decades its full suspension Epic has won titles at the highest level and has morphed throughout the years into its latest incarnation: a sprightly but highly capable machine with a roomy cockpit and relatively relaxed head tube angle (67.5º) aimed at the rigours of modern racing. That means tackling a variety of technical terrain, crushing climbs and sprinting to the finish line.
The bike’s fully carbon frame claims to be 100g lighter than the previous Epic while increasing stiffness; Specialized claims its reworked Brain rear shock automatically stiffens when you are pedalling and becomes suppler for rough terrain. Smart.
5. Orbea Oiz M
Orbea is a brand from the Basque Country that has risen to fame in the last decade thanks to its carefully thought-out, capable and high-quality mountain bikes. The Oiz, its full-suspension cross-country bike, is no exception, as World Cup podium challenger Victor Koretsky has proved by not only smashing top results but also hauling through the most technical sections.
The Oiz M is the 100mm XC bike (there are several other 120mm-travel downcountry/trail options in the range) and promises a lightweight carbon frame with top-quality components at every price point. Orbea also offers a personalisation option so you can choose the colour scheme of the frame and logos – ensuring you look as fast as you think you ride.