There is nothing like a short-travel XC mountain bike for full-throttle singletrack speed. When XC racing is involved, you will need nothing but the best.
In the past decade, cross-country mountain riding has undergone an inevitable revolution. Racetracks now have significant rocky grounds, sharp corners, and many jumps, making them more complex. However challenging the course is, you can be sure that manufacturers are one step ahead.
The following are some of the best XC racing bikes available:
- Scott Spark RC World Cup EVO AXS
- Specialized Epic EVO Expert
- Niner AIR 9 RDO 2-Star
- Canyon Lux World Cup CF 6
- Giant Anthem 29 2
- Rocky Mountain Element Alloy 50
- Trek Procaliber 9.7 Hardtail
- Norco Revolver FS 2 120
- Merida Ninety-Six RC 9000
- Santa Cruz Blur
The world's best racers use the best full-suspension XC bikes to offer them an advantage over the competition. Therefore, when selecting a top-notch XC bike for racing, geometry and frame construction are two of the most crucial things to consider.
As a cross-country enthusiast, I have come across some top-performing bikes for every budget. In addition, I explored countless reviews for the best results, researched various sites, including RedBull.com and Bicycling.com, and spoke with various experts and dealers to keep up with the top-performing models. That said, this is what you should know.
10 Best Bikes For XC Racing
One of the most thrilling types of mountain riding is cross-country. The best XC bikes combine everything we love about mountain biking—riding quickly, uphill, and downhill—into one package. Races are frequently tight, with elbow-to-elbow action right up to the finish line.
Choosing between a hardtail and a full-suspension bike is the first choice when purchasing a cross-country bike. Some of the best recommendations on this list boast full-suspension XC bikes for the best racing results.
However, while a full-suspension XC bike will always perform better when descending, a hardtail will generally be lighter, cheaper, and easier to maintain. As a result, I have included two top-performing hardtails in this list. So, starting with the bike with the most victories, the Scot Spark, here's what value these steeds bring to XC racing.
1. Scott Spark RC World Cup EVO AXS
The brand new Spark RC EVO AXS World Cup strikes the ideal balance between exceptional carbon engineering, previously unheard-of levels of combination, and just the perfect amount of secret sauce. Cross-country racing victories for the Scott Spark have a long history, and the RC World Cup EVO AXS variant continues that trend.
Scott's claim that the Spark is "the ultimate complete suspension XC bike to date" may seem questionable if a different manufacturer were involved; however, the Swiss company just has to reference the rider "Nino Schurter" to silence the skeptics. Along with the numerous Olympic champions, American sensation Kate Courtney also rides a Spark.
Go-getting XC racers favor it because of the brand's extensive selection of build choices, including many Contessa women's versions.
The bike has a predictable sprightly stroke, but it's also forgiving and equipped with a RockShox 120mm travel fork to assist you in maneuvering it around obstacles.
The full-suspension cross-country mountain bike is fast. Like, really fast! And with the SRAM Eagle XX AXS 12-Speed derailleur, you have access to all the stopping power you want, thanks to the XTR Shimano Disc Brakes.
Designed to provide racers the edge they need to win in World Cup competitions, the Olympics, and mid-week training events, or just to give them the resources they need to create new personal records (KOMs).
With cutting-edge technology and premium components, Scott's best offers performance that is only constrained by the rider.
The RC World Cup EVO AXS has Scott's revolutionary new Suspension Integrated Technology, which covertly hides the rear shock inside the frame and provides an unmatched degree of performance and potential. As a result, it has never been easier to race up and down hills, fly through rock gardens, and send it through berms and jumps.
- Excellent technical climber
- When it comes to descents, it's one of the best full-suspension purebred XC bikes around
- Top-notch components
- Some riders may not find the TwinLoc system best for them
2. Specialized Epic EVO Expert
The Epic has served as Specialized's premier cross-country bike for several years. This year, the company unveiled the Specialized Epic EVO Expert for riders seeking a bit more travel and handling prowess.
This epic expert genuinely soars, and dashes don't cost both your arms and legs – and are almost half the price of their S-Works Epic model that has claimed victories in over 48 XC races.
The suspension has been increased to 120mm front and rear, and a RockShox SID combo is used to manage it. A 150mm dropper post from X-Fusion is also included to keep the seat out of the way. Roval rims shod on Specialized tires are complemented with an SRAM groupset and brakes.
The EVO's kinematics and XC Rx Tune modified suspension front, and rear was painstakingly concocted to retain as much of the Epic's precedent-setting efficiency as possible while still offering improved anti-squat features for enhanced pedaling efficiency. This ensures you can make the absolute most out of every inch of available travel.
The Epic Evo is a down-country bike that is on the lighter side and can compete on challenging racing courses. However, if you're searching for a deal, the Comp version of this bike is even better valued while not shaving away too much of the trail-shredding capabilities.
- Excellent handling
- Capable climber and excels on the downs.
- Agile, well-balanced, and contemporary.
- Progressive XC Geometry
- Heavier riders may need to set suspension on the firmer side to avoid any pedal bobbing
3. Niner AIR 9 RDO 2-Star Hardtail
The Niner AIR 9 RDO 2-Star is an excellent performing hardtail bike with all the bells and whistles to be a competitive XC racer.
The Air 9 RDO, which costs roughly $3,000, combines an excellent racing frame with cost-effective components for a 2-star build. For 100mm of travel, the Fox 32 Float Rhythm fork is a wise option.
For a bike of this construction level, SRAM's SX Eagle components and Level brakes are fairly standard, and Niner's 25mm wheels come with a Schwalbe Racing Ray and Racing Ralph pair for lightning-quick rolling straight out of the box. In addition, Niner's high-end Race Day Carbon fiber that has been optimized has more strength, greater stiffness, and less weight.
The Niner Air 9 RDO, like many contemporary XC bikes, can use tires up to 2.4 inches, which is convenient for higher-volume casings both on and off the racetrack. As a result, the Air 9RDO 2-Star is ideal for XC racers who prefer a hardtail.
- Exceptionally lightweight RDO carbon frame
- Various versatile builds to choose from
- Effective XC race geometry
- Single-speed compatible
- Lifetime warranty
- You get the same tires with all the builds
4. Canyon Lux World Cup CF 6
Canyon's World Cup-level performance DNA is now available in a more affordable package with the fast Lux CF 6 XC race bike. The Lux World Cup 6 is built to win, thanks to its high-end carbon frame, an aggressive geometry, and reliable components.
Canyon, a German manufacturer, has recently imprinted nearly every cycling discipline, including cross-country. It features probably the swiftest and most exciting female and male riders, including Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, who have ridden Canyon's Lux and Lux WMN bikes to some of the most fantastic race wins in recent seasons.
Routing the brake and shifting cables and lines from the handlebar through the frame offers a super-clean aesthetic while shielding everything from the weather and keeping your bike functioning smoothly.
On the Lux, Canyon has gone a step further, channeling them straight via the headset. In addition, they exit the frame through the rear triangle rather than the bottom bracket, which means the bike gathers less dirt and stays lighter in muddy situations. All of these minor touches add up to save you seconds.
This fork was designed for racing and is at home on even the most difficult XC courses. For the ambitious rider, FOX's Step-Cast technology ensures a superb weight-to-performance ratio, and both high- and low-speed compression can be changed individually while the fork is swiftly locked out using a handlebar-mounted remote.
Expect a rigid, quick frame outfitted with higher-spec components than many other manufacturers can achieve on a budget - Canyon is a direct-sales firm, and its pricing reflects the company's leaner business approach.
- Snappy acceleration
- Striking climbing performance
- Competitive kit list
- Excellent value
- Requires sharp handling skills
- Non-adjustable bar
5. Giant Anthem 29 2
After a complete overhaul for 2022, the Giant Anthem 29 2 is an excellent all-around handling competent XC race-ready bike.
In addition, the new Anthem frame has dropped a significant amount of weight by switching from its traditional Maestro suspension system to a more straightforward single-pivot setup, making it one of the lightest alternatives on the market.
While weight has been reduced, suspension travel has been increased by 10mm at both ends, with complete bikes using a 110mm Fox 34 SC fork. Each model also includes a dropper post and 2.4in Maxxis WT tires, increased reach dimensions, and a modern 67.5° head angle.
Giant has increased its support for Fox Live Valve for 2022 by including the upgraded Live Valve 1.5 technology into two of the three Anthem models.
While an exterior battery pack protrudes from the underside of the top tube, the electric wires make the cockpit more cluttered. The Anthem is one of the rare new XC bikes on the market that won't fit two bottles because of the overall package.
The improved Live Valve system's performance, which provides a smoother but still swift transition between Open and Firm settings, has really pleased me.
The solid foundation gives groundbreaking efficiency during XC racing, and the availability of plush and active suspension on the descents makes it particularly beneficial. As a result, turning off remote lockouts is unnecessary; instead, comfortably concentrate on the route ahead.
- Lightweight frame
- Excellent all-round handling
- Its Live Valve is a great addition to XC racing
- Almost perfect right out the box
- Excellent value
- Live Valve may feel like clutter to some
- Heavier than competitors
6. Rocky Mountain Element Alloy 50
The Rocky Mountain Element Alloy 50 offers the best of both worlds and more since it was explicitly designed to find the ideal balance between technical accuracy and lightweight cross-country climbing power.
Even an XCO variant is available, complete with a 100-millimeter fork and all the fast Gucci parts. However, most of the XC race-ready models have a 120-millimeter front end and are what you may refer to as "BCXC" bikes.
The Element's geometry is on the sheer side, created for aggressive pedal pounding, but with enough wiggle room to enable the experienced rider to free up the brakes on the descents.
However, it does not yet entirely subscribe to the current industry mantra. Along with the essential 160mm or 180mm rotors, most models also have a dropper post, which gives away the bike's intended use.
With a full degree in the head and seat angle and 10 mm in the reach, Rocky Mountain's RIDE-9 flip chips also let you make significant adjustments to the geo and leverage curve of the Element.
Furthermore, in the neutral position, you will be seated on a large-sized model with a 445 mm reach, behind a 69.2° head angle and above a 74.7° seat angle. Don't be deceived by the large size's seemingly limited reach; XL and XXL sizes have a maximum reach of 495 mm.
The Element has frame options in an alloy, alloy rear/carbon front, or full-carbon, with prices ranging from a fair $2,500 to an exorbitant $7,100.
The A50's construction achieves an excellent middle ground, with a sturdy metal frame supported by reliable and practical parts. You will receive a DPS and Fox 34 Step-Cast (both Performance-tier), Race Face Aeffect dropper, Sun Helix TR25 rims, and Shimano SLX 11-speed shifting and brakes.
- It offers perceptible shifts to dial in the geometry
- Excellent handling on descends
- Bikepacking capable
- Reasonably priced
- Not the best climber on the list
- The build could have better components
7. Trek Procaliber 9.7 Hardtail
The Trek Procaliber 9.7 is the second Hardtail recommendation that meets the competition head-on in various XC racing. With this bike, Trek did a fantastic job of saving money while spending where performance mattered.
The XL model weighs only 21.6lbs, thanks to the carbon frame's lightweight. If you bounce on the saddle, you can really see the seat tube moving thanks to the IsoSpeed decoupler at the connection of the seat tube and top tube.
When fitted with (stock) 2.2-inch Bontrager XR2 Team Issue tires, tubeless-compatible Bontrager Kovee Elite 23 carbon wheels also rapidly reduce weight and roll. Warning: These are race day tires for dry weather and are not recommended for regular trail riding or muddy terrain.
The aluminum Truvativ Stylo crank and NX Eagle drivetrain from SRAM keep costs down while withstanding a lot of wear and harsh riding. However, they significantly increase the bike's weight, making its small weight more remarkable.
However, the thin 720mm handlebar on this bike surprised specialists who were assessing the bike. Reviews claim that it felt unusual initially, but after a few minutes of riding, they no longer noticed it.
- Extremely lightweight
- IsoSpeed decoupler system
- RockShox Reba RL 100mm remote lockout fork
- Excellent Bontrager Kevee Elite 23 carbon rims that are tubeless-ready
- Some riders may find the handlebar a bit narrow
8. Norco Revolver FS 2 120
The Revolver FS 2 120 full-suspension model is Norco's "all-day" bike and is perfect for marathon racing. However, because they are likely to face a more extensive range of terrain than standard Olympic-style cross-country bikes, marathon bikes need to be a little bit better at descending.
The Revolver offers adaptability that makes it ideal for races that go all day. Because of its adaptability, it's also a fantastic choice for someone who wants to attempt XC racing but still needs good suspension and the appropriate geometry for extended days of trail riding.
With 120mm of front and rear suspension, the Revolver offers a slight advantage over other XC bikes for this type of riding.
Additionally, it has more room for 2.35′′ tires than other XC frames. Finally, the construction kit for the FS 2 reveals its XC-trail crossover goals. The trail side has a dropper post, Forekaster tires, and G2 brakes.
However, the SiD fork is entirely cross-country. So also are Stan's Arch D rims with a 26mm internal width. It is one of the most adaptable combinations you can discover.
- Reasonably priced and low maintenance
- Excellent stability at high speeds
- Versatile performer
- Great climber with superb pedaling efficiency
- Some riders claim the seat tube to be on the longer side
9. Merida Ninety-Six RC 9000
With the Ninety-Six RC9000, Merida demonstrates that it isn't afraid to take risks and create a very innovative bike in the cross-country world. Merida's XC race bike lineup's RC9000 model has enhanced handling, tuned suspension, and a robust frame.
The groupset is a Shimano XTR, and the suspension is a Fox Factory line with Kashima coating in the front and back. The brakes are Shimano XTR also; however, according to one review, they occasionally experienced squeaking.
This bike has faster, race-focused geometry than top-tier rivals while being a little heavier, and the construction kit offers excellent value. However, the Ninety-Six is still very much a racing bike in terms of steering feel, even if many bikes are trending toward down-country trends.
You can feel the well-organized suspension by lengthening the reach and adjusting the fork offset for stability. As a result, whether tackling quick, challenging XC circuits or long marathon distances, there is ample traction to carry pace while also lowering fatigue.
- It has a solid and smooth seated climbing performance
- Excellent handling between sharp corners
- Outstanding spec selection
- Quality suspension and stiff frame
- Some riders may not prefer the narrow bar
10. Santa Cruz Blur
Of course, the Santa Cruz Blur is a necessary addition to this list. The Santa Cruz Blur has been completely reworked to become an XC race bike that offers fierce competition. The new model has generated buzz on the world cup stage and is now being introduced to customers.
The new Blur is intended for professional cross-country racers, FKT seekers, mountain kings and queens, and everyone who enjoys blazing trail speed.
Your input will translate into performances that outperform the competition thanks to the slim frame and incredibly effective SuperlightTM suspension. The Blur, however, is not limited to the short track. Chuggers should be content, thanks to the front triangle's two water bottle mounts.
In addition, multi-day racers can live worry-free thanks to the excellent fit, finish, and carbon construction since there are no tricky proprietary parts that may leave you stuck at a Cape Epic or Breck Epic campground.
Despite being lightweight, the carbon frame is built to last, and as always, the renowned Santa Cruz lifetime guarantee and Rider Support staff have your back. In addition, the Reserve MTB carbon rims from Santa Cruz are the lightest available for the 2022 Blur RSV versions.
Furthermore, weighing in at 385g (1367g total), the Reserve 28 XC rims are shallower and broader to fit the bigger volume tires that professional racers want. Overall, the Blur has all the tools you need to savor the flavor of first place, from start to finish.
- Superb geometry that provides swift and dependable handling
- Capable and active ride
- The comfy suspension absorbs trail chatter easily
- Remarkable spec list
- Some riders may not like the Fox Transfer SL dropper
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