There exists a special breed of mountain biker, whose M.O. is to cover ground as quickly as possible. These riders crush climbs, blast down flow trails, and sometimes, they even wear lycra (though it’s not required!). Their weapon of choice? The cross-country (a.k.a. XC) bike. These hardtail and full-suspension trail missiles are designed to keep weight low and speed high. For riders who love to pedal hard and explore faraway trails, these are the XC bikes they need to keep on their radar.
Best XC Hardtail Mountain Bikes
For minimal weight and maximum efficiency, nothing beats the XC hardtail. The rigid rear end makes sure every watt goes from the pedals into the ground. They are perfect for less technical trails, flow trails, and rides that mix in fire roads, gravel, and even some pavement. These are our favorite fast hardtails.
Specialized Epic HT
Specialized replaced its long-running Stumpjumper Hardtail with the new Epic Hardtail in 2017, which takes its name from the brand’s ultra-successful full-suspension XC bike. Weight weenies loved it because, at the time of its release, the 895-gram Epic HT frame was the lightest frame Specialized had ever produced, road or mountain. In 2020, it received a geometry update with a slacker head tube to enhance its downhill capabilities.
Trek took a traditional hardtail and added extra comfort with its IsoSpeed Decoupler technology to create the Procaliber. First used on the Domane endurance bike, IsoSpeed fully decouples the seat tube from the top tube. A set of bearings and elastomers allow the seat tube to flex independently so it can absorb bumps and vibration without the extra weight of rear suspension.
Cannondale F-Si / Scalpel HT
Supposedly, “F-Si” means "For those with Serious Issues.” It’s a joke, but it gets at the core of what the Cannondale F-Si is all about. XC racers obsess over having the most efficient, agile, and lightest race bike possible. They’re the type to ride the F-Si. Its party piece is Cannondale’s distinctive single-sided Lefty Ocho fork. For 2022, the F-Si was replaced by the Scalpel HT, which has dropped seat stays and a slacker head tube angle.
With the DV9, Ibis wanted to create an affordable cross-country hardtail for racers on a budget. But just because it’s affordable, doesn’t mean it’s a slouch. It has a lightweight carbon frame with clearance for wide 2.6” tires. It’s compatible with 100mm-120mm forks and has a nice, slack 68.5-degree head tube angle that makes it easy to transition from fast and flat short track races to steep and gnarly downhills.
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Carbon fiber isn’t for everyone, and some just prefer aluminum. You can pretty much think of the Specialized Chisel as a slightly slacker aluminum version of the Epic HT. To increase stiffness and strength while reducing overall weight, the frame uses the same D'aluisio Smartweld technology found on Specialized’s ultra-popular Allez Sprint. The Chisel is perfect for a budget race rig or newer XC riders building their skills.
Best XC Full-Suspension Mountain Bikes
XC racing has evolved over the last decade, favoring gnarlier courses with technical features and big descents. To keep up, modern full-suspension XC bikes have taken geometry cues from trail and enduro bikes, while maintaining efficient pedaling platforms for uphill assaults. Full-suspension bikes provide more traction and comfort on rough trails. Here are our favorite fast full suspensions.
In the cross-country world, the BMC Fourstroke is kind of a big deal right now. It’s the bike of choice for multi-time XC world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, and most recently, it was piloted to Olympic Gold by rising star, Tom Pidcock. The Fourstroke is pretty progressive too, with long and slack geometry for tackling downhills, and a sleek BMC RAD integrated dropper post that looks like a standard seatpost.
The Supercaliber is Trek’s lightest, most efficient full-suspension XC bike, and it too recently won Olympic Gold under Jolanda Neff. It uses Trek’s unique IsoStrut suspension system with a frame-integrated shock that provides 60mm of travel. That is just enough to take the edge off bumps and harsh impacts while maintaining hardtail-level weight, stiffness, and efficiency. It’s the perfect compromise for those torn between a hardtail and a full-suspension bike.
Scott Spark RC
The Scott Spark is a modern XC legend thanks to the exploits of Nino Schurter, current world champion and one of the greatest XC racers of all time, and his teammates, Kate Courtney and Lars Forster. The Spark received a massive overhaul in 2022, switching to Bold’s hidden-shock suspension with 120mm of travel, but the previous generation 100mm bike is still a threat in any race and perfect for riders not ready to commit to a new school 120mm bike.
No list of XC bikes would be complete without the Specialized Epic, one of the most popular and successful XC race bikes of all time. The Epic’s suspension uses Specialized’s proprietary Brain damper. An inertia damper keeps the suspension stiff and efficient for pedaling but during impacts, it opens up instantly to allow the suspension to move. This means you never have to think about locking and unlocking the suspension while riding.
Cannondale’s Scalpel has been in production for nearly 20 years and it has always prioritized low weight and efficient rear suspension. Of course, the Scalpel also comes equipped with Cannondale’s trademark single-sided Lefty fork, which really helps it stand out from the crowd. It’s not all for show though. The Lefty’s unique design provides more fore-aft stiffness than traditional forks so you can charge harder into technical terrain.
Canyon Lux CF
The Canyon Lux is all about efficiency and agility, and its 100mm of travel is stiff and well-controlled so the bike leaps forward whenever you get on the gas. Of the bikes listed here, it has the steepest and most traditional geometry numbers, so it will appeal to riders who want their mountain bike to fit and feel like their road or cyclocross bike. That’s exactly why Mathieu van der Poel chose to ride the Lux to his multiple World Cup victories.
The Orbea Oiz (pronounced like “Oy-eth”) was developed in the mountainous Basque Country in Northern Spain. It features a rear shock that is neatly recessed into the top tube to create a sleek silhouette and free up space to fit two water bottles. It also has an impressive race pedigree with several World Cup XC wins and a win at BC Bike Race. For riders who are a bit more downhill-focused, the Oiz TR beefs things up with 120mm of travel front and rear.
Santa Cruz Blur
Santa Cruz doesn’t just make downhill-shredding freeride, enduro, and trail bikes. The Blur brings Santa Cruz attitude to the XC world, and it’s sure to appeal to the cool kids on the trail. The first generation Blur used Santa Cruz’s tried and true VPP suspension system. Then in 2022, it got updated to the same single-pivot flex stay system seen on nearly every other bike on this list. Either way, the Blur is a bike that goes fast uphill and shreds back down.
I’ve had the pleasure of riding most of the bikes on this list. Among my favorites have been the Santa Cruz Blur, Cannondale F-Si, and Orbea Oiz. I’m currently riding a Specialized Epic (albeit the Evo version) and absolutely loving it. For my future bike, I’m incredibly curious about the Trek Supercaliber. I often find myself wishing I could own both a hardtail and a full suspension, but I don’t have the space or funds. The Supercaliber could be the perfect solution because it manages to split the difference. Ultimately, if your goal is to beat your personal bests out on the trail, you can’t go wrong with any of these bikes.
Which XC bike would you choose? Or do you think there’s some other XC bike that belongs on this list instead? Let me know in the comments!