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What Is a Cross Country Mountain Bike?

cyclists ride a cross country mountain bike

Cycling is a fantastic sport, and within it, we have a lot of different disciplines that you can try, such as gravel biking, road cycling, mountain biking, time trail riding, and many more. That’s what makes cycling so special. Riding a bike can be precisely what you want it to be.

Typically each of these disciplines has its own type of bike that you would use with its own unique characteristics. Reasonably straightforward until you get to mountain biking, then you realize there are quite a few different types of mountain bikes.

In this article, we will be telling you all about what a cross country bike is and what makes it unique compared to other types of mountain bikes.

What Are the Other Types of Mountain Bikes?

cyclist riding one of the other types of mountain bike leaping
Image by Randgruppe on Pixabay

To understand what a cross country bike is, it’s important to know about the other types of mountain bikes available on the market.

There are a considerable amount of different kinds of mountain bikes, but these are the main types we can categorize a bike in.

Downhill bikes

Downhill bikes are exactly what they say in the name. They are designed to go downhill and fast. Not only are they made to get down a hill fast, but they are capable of the roughest and most challenging terrain.

They have suspension front and rear, which can travel up to 210mm. They have wide handlebars for control and typically sport a dropper post so the user can get as low as possible.

Generally, downhill bikes are pretty heavy, and you don’t worry too much about weight as it can be an advantage. Downhill courses are short, so the geometry is very aggressive on these bikes.

Enduro bikes

Enduro bikes are made to be very capable off road bikes but are designed not just to go downhill fast but uphill fast too. They typically are full suspension, which can travel up to 180mm. Wide handlebars for control and a dropper post, just like the downhill bikes. Enduro bikes also have fairly aggressive geometry as, again, enduro courses are not typically very long. Unlike downhill bikes, enduro bikes need to be much lighter, and the challenge for companies to make great enduro bikes is they need to be light and capable.

Trail bikes

Trail bikes basically are a lighter, less aggressive version of an enduro bike. They can come in either a full suspension or a hardtail but typically full suspension.

The suspension will travel up to about 150mm, and you can expect a good trail bike to feel remarkably agile and light. The geometry will be a little less aggressive than the enduro bike, as these bikes are made for long technical rides out.

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What are Cross Country Bikes?

cyclist rides a cross country bike
Image by Lingarto on Pixabay

Cross Country bikes are exactly what they say in the name, and they are designed to go cross country. They are also known as XC bikes and are probably the most popular types of mountain bikes on the market. They are not made for crazy off road riding. As far as mountain biking goes, they are actually designed to be capable enough for light trails.

Cross country bikes are made to be very light, fast, and you should be able to sit on these bikes for hours without feeling uncomfortable. One thing very unique with a cross country bike is that, unlike the other types of mountain bikes, they can look completely different between themselves and come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. This does make an XC bike harder to pick out of a crowd, but don’t worry. We will tell you what makes a cross country bike. The best way to explain this is to break the bike down into parts.

What Exactly Is XC Mountain Biking?

cyclist on an xc mountain biking
Image by Simon on Pixabay

Unlike downhill or enduro racing, cross country racing is designed to be about endurance more than technical terrain. It’s smooth racing on forest roads and gravel tracks. The routes are easy enough to do on a basic hardtail mountain bike, and it requires a good level of fitness. Some races are very short, and others are very long. It differs depending on the level you are racing at. If you are looking into racing, I would highly recommend joining your local cycling club and seeking information there.

What Makes a Cross Country Bike?

cyclist on a comfortable cross country bike
Image by GioeleFazzeri on Pixabay

Frames

Typically cross country bikes will be made of either aluminum, carbon fiber, and steel. Carbon fiber is the most expensive but typically the lightest and stiffest. Steel is the heaviest but the most flexible and comfortable. Aluminum sits between the two.

Rigid, hardtail, or full suspension

You have three different types of cross country bikes, rigid, hardtail, or full suspension. A rigid mountain bike will be a bike with no suspension on at all. They are very lightweight and fast, but as far as capability goes, they are not good on very technical terrain and are pretty uncomfortable on a trail.

A hardtail bike is a cross country mountain bike with suspension on the front. This comes in the form of suspension forks, and typically you will get a very light bike that can take you on some challenging off road trails. 

A full suspension bike is a cross country bike with suspension on the front and rear. These are the most capable XC bikes, and you will see many of these in cross country racing, and advanced cross country riders will use these.

Geometry

Cross Country riding isn’t all about going fast and the bikes being aggressive. Cross country races tend to be longer races, so we need to think a lot about comfort.

Not all mountain bike riding is about being the fastest. It’s about enjoying the ride, and this is what XC bikes are fantastic at. They are typically designed to be much more comfortable and better for a long day out than the other mountain bike disciplines.

Suspension

On a cross country bike, you will have will either have front and rear or just front suspension. The suspension will give you about 130mm of travel and will be capable of moderate off road riding. Cross country riding is typically not as technical as the other disciplines, so you don’t require suspension travel generally above 130mm.

With less travel, it means the forks are much lighter, making the bike overall much faster and more agile but still with off road capability. Forks can sometimes be the most expensive part of the bike ranging from $200 to $1700, and require regular maintenance.

Wheels and tires

Cross Country bikes will have usually have either 29” or 27.5” wheels, older models 26″. They will be designed to be light and robust. Budget wheels will be aluminum, and high-end wheels will be made of carbon fiber. They have to be very strong as they will be getting knocked about on trails often.

Modern tires on XC bikes are generally around 2” to 2.3” in size. This is so they are capable of off road terrain and will keep you planted to the ground but also are not too laggy and won’t slow you down. They will also not be as rugged and knobbly as an enduro bike or a downhill tire, as the terrain for XC riding is much less technical.

Gearing

The gearing on an XC bike differs significantly. The front chainring can be a single, double, or triple. The rear can have a small cassette or a large cassette. No matter what it looks like, an XC mountain bike will always have very low ratios to help you get up steep hills and let you spin up your legs easily.

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How Much is a Cross Country Bike?

mountain bikes for sale in a bike store
Photo by David Hertle on Unsplash

Cross country mountain bikes are an entry level bike for mountain biking, so you will find them not expensive to buy at all on the low end market. You can be looking at spending as little as $300, which will get you started.

You can also get cross county mountain bikes on the high end of the market, and you can be looking at as much as up to $6000 for a very light, fast, and capable bike. This is what a semi-professional will be using, and it will be incredible.

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How much should you spend on a cross country bike?

It depends on how serious you are about getting into the sport. If you just want a ride on the weekend, then a budget of $600 is more than enough for a good XC bike. If you plan on racing and riding it every day, you will want to spend a little more and maybe look at $2000+.

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Conclusion

Cross Country bikes are mountain bikes designed to be fast and excel on light off-road terrain. It is the most common mountain bike you will see on the market and a great entry bike into the world of off road riding. They have a massive community around them, and I feel every cyclist could benefit from riding a cross country bike. It helps improve your cycling skills and gets you into nature. What’s not to like.

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Robbie Ferri

Robbie Ferri

Robbie Ferri is a cyclist living in Norfolk in the UK. From breaking World Records to competing in some of the hardest Bikepacking races in the world he is not shy of riding the miles. He has been lucky enough to work at some amazing shops and with some big cycling brands. Alongside this he even had input in designing bikes and has also been a tester for unreleased products. He absolutely loves cycling and believes everyone should have a bike.