- The Trek Supercaliber is the best purebred XC race mountain bike
- The Scott Spark 900 is the best XC trail bike or downcountry bike
- There are many highly capable and desirable XC bikes on the market today
Curious about the best bikes for MTB XC? There are so many fast, light, quality mountain bikes out there these days, and it's hard to pick which ones are best.
We recommend 10 bikes below, but the best mountain bikes for XC are:
- BMC Fourstroke
- Scott Spark
- Trek Supercaliber
As a former high-level amateur XC racer, I've owned many bikes and know what to look for in a good XC machine. This list is based on my own internet research and comparison of bikes using 99spokes.com, as well as my knowledge of these bikes' performance records in elite competition.
Best Bikes for MTB XC
The Orbea OIZ is one of the lightest full suspension bikes out there with a claimed 1740 gram frame weight, and it utilizes various frame technologies to achieve this. Orbea’s powerspine frame structure removes material from anywhere it is not absolutely necessary and adds stiffness in critical areas.
One of the OIZ’s suspension design features is its pivotless rear triangle, which saves weight by handling some of the suspension work with frame flex alone. Several bikes on this list use a similar design. The OIZ’s shock provides 120mm of travel and is paired with a 120mm fork up front.
Orbea has been around for a long time in the xc world, with Team KMC Orbea dating back to 1998. Multiple olympians and world champions have ridden for the team including Victor Koretsky and Annie Last.
Overall the Orbea OIZ is a very attractive, light, and fast bike that would make a great choice for a recreational or competitive XC rider. It is available in a wide range of specs to suit different budgets.
- Ultra lightweight frame
- Attractive Looks
Santa Cruz Blur
The Santa Cruz Blur is one of the few mixed travel full suspension bikes on this list, with 120mm up front and 115mm in the back. It is also available in a pure 100mm front and rear setup if so desired. It's design utilizes Santa Cruz’s Superlight suspension system, in contrast to the classic VPP (virtual pivot point) suspension that Santa Cruz has used on their bikes since 2001.
According to Santa Cruz, the new suspension design is nearly 300 grams lighter than VPP. Additionally, Superlight is designed to preserve pedal efficiency, ensuring that every ounce of energy you put into the bike is translated into forward motion.
Santa Cruz is a legendary mountain bike brand that was founded in 1993. They are a highly respected player in the industry, however they have historically not been known for their cross country bikes. Santa Cruz has always been associated with their downhill and enduro bikes, such as the V10 and the Nomad. Although they’ve always offered solid XC options, they’ve never had a presence on the world XC stage.
This all changed in 2019 with the introduction of the Santa Cruz-FSA Team to the cross country MTB World Cup series. And at the 2022 World Cup race in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, Italian rider Luca Braidot rode the Blur to victory for Santa Cruz’s first ever World Cup XC race win.
The Blur is available in a wide range of specs and even two different tiers of carbon fiber frame material, so you can find a Blur to match your needs and budget. The Santa Cruz Blur is certainly one of the best XC bikes out there and would make a great choice for any racer or recreational rider.
- Downhill DNA
- Mixed travel suspension setup
Canyon Lux World Cup
The Canyon Lux World Cup is an ultralight 100mm cross country race machine produced by the German brand Canyon Bicycles. Canyon is a leading brand in the direct to consumer bicycle market, which means you can buy their bikes and have them shipped directly to you, rather than having to go through a bike shop.
This business model helps Canyon achieve something really special with the price point of their bikes. The highest spec Lux World Cup is thousands of dollars less expensive than every other bike on this list in their respective top specs. But despite being so much more affordable, the bike offers all the same features and does not compromise on performance at all. The only thing it does not come with is a dropper post, but at the price point I am not too bothered by it, and you could always add an aftermarket one.
Canyon has a record of success in bicycle competition, including XC racing. From 2017-2020 the legendary Pauline Ferrand-Prevot raced for Canyon and claimed two French XC National Championships, multiple cross country World Cup race wins and podium finishes, two XC World Championships, and XC marathon racing rainbow stripes. Canyon is also the bike sponsor of UCI World Tour team Alpecin–Deceuninck, which is represented in cross country racing by multi-time cross country World Cup race winners Sam Gaze of New Zealand and Mathieu van der Poel of The Netherlands.
The Canyon Lux World Cup is a great pure XC race bike that is available for a great price. It’s available in a wide range of specs like all the bikes on this list. It can totally hang with the best cross country bikes out there and is a good choice for racers and casual riders alike.
- Great value for money
- Direct to consumer business model
The Giant Anthem is a classic full suspension cross country bike from Giant Manufacturing Co, the world’s largest bicycle designer and manufacturer, based in Taiwan. It features 110mm of travel up front, 100mm in the back, and is one of the few bikes on this list with a vertical rear shock placement. Giant released the Anthem in 2007 and have been using a vertically placed shock since 2009.
Giant calls the latest Anthem’s suspension system Flexpoint Pro, and it utilizes a single pivot design with a fully composite swingarm to achieve lightweight, responsive, and controlled suspension performance. It allows the Anthem to tackle technical terrain, rough trails, and race courses with maximum efficiency and as little pedal bob as possible.
When I raced cross country mountain bikes in college, several of my teammates were members of the Giant factory or co-factory off road teams. These guys dominated our division on their Anthems. Many of my other teammates and competitors also rode Giant Anthems. The Anthem is clearly a very popular bike among American XC racers, despite little presence at the World Cup level.
The Giant Anthem comes in many specs, including some that feature carbon wheels, like every other bike on this list. It is worth looking into for both recreational riders and racers.
- Lightweight and efficient suspension design
- Proven in competition
The Cannondale Scalpel is the only bike on this list with a single sided front fork. Cannondale has used their infamous Lefty fork design for nearly 25 years, claiming that it reduces weight without sacrificing performance, and they recently upgraded it to make it even lighter.
The latest version of the one sided Cannondale fork is called the Lefty Ocho, and it utilizes a single crown design which means that the fork is only braced below the head tube. Traditionally, downhill bikes have been the only mountain bikes to use dual crown forks, which are braced both above and below the head tube. But until 2019 with the release of the single crown Lefty Ocho, the Lefty was always supported by a dual crown as well.
Cannondale is an absolutely legendary cycling brand which has been around since 1971. They have been in the MTB scene since 1984 with their SM-500 All-Terrain Bicycle. Throughout the mid 1990s and early 2000s, Cannondale was the most dominant brand in MTB racing with riders such as Tinker Juarez, Alison Sydor, Cadel Evans, Christoph Sauser, and many more winning numerous Olympic medals, World Cup races, and World Championships for team Volvo Cannondale.
The Scalpel came to market in 2002, originally with only about 65mm of suspension travel front and rear. In 2008 Cannondale debuted the carbon fiber Scalpel, with modern geometry and 100mm of suspension travel to take on technical trails. Since then the bike has been a popular choice for racers and casual riders alike, even though its one sided fork continues to evoke gawking and confusion from everyone around it.
In the late 2010s Cannondale Factory XC was one of the best teams on the World Cup circuit, with Manuel Fumic, Henrique Avancini, and Maxime Marotte claiming many top results aboard the Scalpel and the FS-I, Cannondale’s XC hardtail. Today the Scalpel is available in a variety of specs and price points, but one thing that is surprising is that not a single version of the Scalpel comes equipped with a dropper post. The top tier Scalpel costs nearly $13,000 USD, and yet it does not include a feature that is considered by many to be necessary for today’s rougher XC courses.
The Cannondale Scalpel is certainly never a bad choice for someone looking for a top tier XC mountain bike. Cannondale is a legendary brand with a decades long reputation for quality and success on the world stage of mountain biking.
- Unique and super light one sided fork
- Proven legacy of victory at the world level
The Specialized Epic is one of the most legendary mountain bikes of all time. It debuted in 2002 along with Specialized’s Brain technology, a system that senses whether the bike is climbing or descending, and adjusts the suspension firmness accordingly.
The Epic has utilized the Brain in every iteration since its inception, and today the bike features 100mm of suspension in the front and back. Its ultra lightweight frame continues the legacy of one of the most iconic designs in mountain biking.
Specialized is perhaps the most well known brand in cycling. The American company has been around since 1974, and they created the first mass produced mountain bike, the Stumpjumper, in 1981. The original Stumpjumper is now on display at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.
According to Specialized, the Epic is the winningest mountain bike in World Cup competition history. This is hard to verify exactly, but what is not up for debate is that the Epic has been one of the most dominant platforms on the scene, and has been ridden to World Championship victory and Olympic gold by riders such as Christoph Sauser, Kate Courtney, and Jaroslav Kulhavy.
The Specialized Epic is a fantastic XC bike that has a strong legacy of victory behind it. It would make a wonderful bike for any racer or recreational cross country rider.
- Brain automated suspension system
- Legendary history
The BMC Fourstroke is a full suspension cross country mountain bike that is designed and manufactured by the Swiss company BMC (Bicycle Manufacturing Company). BMC has a long history as a powerhouse in the cross country MTB racing scene, and the Fourstroke is a testament to the company's legacy of achievement in this field.
The Fourstroke features a lightweight carbon fiber frame, paired with a 100mm front and rear suspension system that allows for smooth and efficient movement over rough terrain. In 2023 BMC’s twin-link APS (Advanced Pivot System) is still the platform driving the shock. However, for the first time since the Fourstroke’s introduction nearly 15 years ago, the shock is now placed horizontally below the top tube instead of vertically.
BMC says it updated the system to provide more traction and more efficient suspension performance on climbs and descents. I must say it is a bit strange seeing a BMC Fourstroke with a horizontally mounted shock, but in fact there are fewer and fewer XC bikes out there these days that utilize vertical shock placement.
In terms of components, the Fourstroke can be equipped with a variety of top-of-the-line components, such as Shimano XTR or SRAM XX1 Eagle mechanical or electronic shifting, and top of the line hydraulic disc brakes. The bike also comes in a wide range of other lower end but still high-quality specs that are less expensive.
One of the most notable riders who has achieved great success on the BMC Fourstroke is Julien Absalon. He is a French cross-country mountain biker who has won 2 Olympic golds, 7 World Cup overall titles, 5 World Championships, and 5 European Championships. He is one of the greatest of all time and shares the record for the most World Cup XC race victories (33) with the legendary Nino Schurter, who only tied it recently in April of 2022. He has been a key rider for BMC Racing Team and went on to lead his own team, Absolute Absalon, before becoming the current head of BMC MTB Racing.
Another rider who briefly rode for BMC is one of the greatest multi discipline cyclists ever, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, who became the first person in the history of cycling to simultaneously hold the World road title, World cyclo-cross title and World XC MTB title in 2015. She won the World MTB XC Championship with BMC in 2022, her 4th rainbow jersey victory in cross country.
The decade-long success of BMC at the pinnacle of XC MTB racing is a testament to the quality and performance of its bikes. The Fourstroke’s lightweight carbon frame, advanced suspension, and top-of-the-line components make it a top choice for competitive riders and enthusiasts alike.
- Lightweight advanced suspension and frame design
- Proven legacy of world class performance
Scott Spark RC
The Scott Spark RC is a full suspension cross country mountain bike that has a similar elite racing pedigree to the BMC Fourstroke. Scott has a long history of victory in men’s and women’s cross country MTB racing, a testament to the speed and efficiency of their machines.
The Spark RC features a lightweight carbon fiber frame, paired with a 120mm of suspension travel front and rear. Starting in 2022 the suspension was redesigned and now the rear shock sits inside a closed compartment, protected from dirt and grime. A small access door can be opened in order to get to the shock for maintenance.
The Spark RC is one of the only XC mountain bikes out there today with a vertically mounted rear shock. Scott switched from a horizontal shock placement to the current vertical setup back in 2017.
In terms of components, the Spark RC can be equipped with the top-of-the-line equipment, such as Shimano XTR or SRAM XX1 Eagle mechanical or electronic shifting, and top of the line hydraulic disc brakes. The bike also comes in a wide range of other lower end but still high-quality specs that are less expensive.
One of the most notable riders who has achieved great success on the Spark RC is Nino Schurter. He is a Swiss XC mountain biker who is considered by most to be the greatest of all time with an Olympic gold, 8 World Cup overall titles, and 10 World Championships. In April of 2022 he tied Julien Absalon’s record of 33 World Cup race victories, and won his 10th World Title later that season. He has been a key rider for Scott MTB Racing for over a decade.
Some other legendary racers who have ridden the Scott Spark to victory are former World Champion and Cape Epic Winner Kate Courtney, one of the greatest American MTB racers of all time, and Jenny Rissveds, the Swedish former Olympic gold medalist and multi time World Cup race winner.
The unmatched success of Scott at the pinnacle of XC MTB racing speaks to the quality and performance of its bikes. The Spark RC’s lightweight carbon frame, advanced suspension design, and top-of-the-line components make it a top choice for competitive riders and enthusiasts alike.
- 120mm suspension travel front and rear
- One of the most dominant bikes in XC racing today
Scott Spark 900 - Best XC Trail Bike
The Scott Spark 900 is different from all the other bikes on this list. That’s because it is only sort of an XC mountain bike. The 900 is a slightly longer travel version of Scott’s cross country race bike that we detailed above. It is not designed for maximum climbing performance or with the intention to save weight; rather it is meant to inspire rider confidence and blur the line between the XC category and the trail bike category.
Trail bikes based on short travel XC bikes have become more popular in the last few years. Recently people have started referring to them as downcountry bikes. A downcountry bike or XC trail bike is basically just an XC bike that is beefed up with longer suspension, wider handlebars, and wider tires so that it can handle more diverse and challenging downhill terrain.
The Spark 900 may be the perfect do it all mountain bike. If you have the skills, you could ride this bike up or down pretty much any trail out there, and have fun while doing it. It features 130mm of suspension travel in the front and 120mm in the rear, and is built around the World Championship race winning Spark platform. This bike looks amazing and can do it all, and is a great choice for someone looking for an aggressive trail bike with XC pedal performance.
- Able to handle any terrain
- Derived from race proven XC platform
Trek Supercaliber - Best Pure Race Bike
If you haven’t noticed, I did not include any hardtails on this list of the best XC mountain bikes. This is because I believe that these days full suspension XC races bikes are so light and efficient that they have made hardtails irrelevant. Some people may argue that hardtail mountain bikes still have their place in XC racing because they will always be lighter and more efficient than bikes with rear suspension.
That’s where the Trek Supercaliber fits in, because it manages to blur the line between full suspension bike and cross country hardtail. The bike has only 60mm of travel in the rear and 100mm up front. The rear suspension is powered by a proprietary system that Trek calls IsoStrut.
IsoStrut was created in collaboration with FOX suspension engineers. Instead of being a shock that is independent from the bike and connected via a linkage, the IsoStrut is a structural part of the bike itself, eliminating extra hardware and moving parts that add weight and take away efficiency. This allows the Trek Supercaliber to sprint and climb faster than a full suspension bike, while having more control on descents than a hardtail.
The Supercaliber was highly praised for its innovative design when it came out in 2020, and multiple publications named it bike of the year. It has been ridden to victory in the Olympics and at the World Championships by Jolanda Neff, Evie Richards, and Mona Mitterwallner. Trek is a legendary and trusted brand, and I would highly recommend the Trek Supercaliber to anyone looking for the ultimate XC race weapon.
- Blends the line between full suspension and hardtail
- Super dominant on the world racing stage
What is an XC Bike?
Cross Country Mountain Bike
A cross country mountain bike (XC bike) is a type of bicycle designed specifically for off-road use on mountainous terrain, designed to be fast and efficient in all situations. These bikes typically feature a lightweight frame, short travel suspension, and steep geometry, making them ideal for long distance riding and climbing up hills. The tires on a cross country mountain bike are usually on the narrower side for a mountain bike with smaller knobs to provide low rolling resistance and good traction on hard-packed dirt, gravel, and rocky surfaces.
The geometry of XC bike frames is generally designed to provide a balance of power and efficiency, with a relatively high bottom bracket to clear obstacles and a relatively steep seat tube angle to provide a more aggressive climbing position. These days many XC mountain bikes also come with a dropper post which allows riders to lower the seat on the go easily for steep descents.
Perhaps the most important factor when it comes to cross country bikes is their weight, as lighter bikes are easier to handle and accelerate, which is crucial when climbing steep inclines. This is the reason why most of the top-tier cross country bikes are made from high-end materials such as carbon fiber, which is lightweight yet durable.
Cross country mountain biking is an Olympic sport, with many races and events held around the world. The most famous series is the UCI MTB World Cup, which features both a men's and women's tour that travels all around the globe every year. However, cross country mountain biking is also a popular recreational activity, with riders of all skill levels enjoying the thrill of exploring the great outdoors on two wheels.
About THE AUTHOR
Mountain biking is more than just a hobby for me - it's a way of life. I love the challenge and excitement that comes with it, and I'm always pushing myself to go faster and ride harder. Some people might think that mountain biking is dangerous, but I see it as the only way to live.Read More About Danny Lawson