Best XC Race Bikes

In your opinion, what technology defines a winning XC race bike?

Of course most people answer weight first and then they begin listing many other technical advances they wish to have incorporated into their XC race bike / Cross Country Mountain Bicycle.  If your an XC racer of simply a big fan of reducing weight, don’t miss our article on 8 of the Smartest Ways to Reduce weight on your XC mountain bike.

Since you are going to be the one mounting, and spinning the pedals on this valiant steed, it is important for you to understand some of the technology available.

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First Carbon vs. Aluminum on XC Race Bikes

Carbon has come along way, and these days most who can afford it opt for it.  I have found on both road and mountain the Carbon does absorb a lot of small vibrations generated from the trail.  If you choose to go with a hardtail, the carbon will certainly help, absorb vibrations.  It will be slightly less noticeable with full suspension.

However the carbon frame will reduce the weight of both a hard tail and a full suspension xc mountain bike by about a pound (454 grams) over aluminum..

Obviously some carbon components like XC carbon wheels, handlebars, stem, etc will also provide additional dampening.

There are several different types of Carbon weaves used for the wrap to construct an XC mtb frame. If you understand basic fiberglass, then carbon is obvious.  If not, understand that the tighter the weave, the stronger, but it takes more material and glue to lay up.  Most cross country mountain bike frames are made with t700 or t800, while t1000 is the strongest and only available on select high end Carbon frames.  Go for the Team bikes when your pocket bike allows you, as this will ensure you are always riding the best bicycle money can buy!

Carbon is still much more prone to damage from rock dings, than aluminum.  Many aluminum frames are just as light, and much more affordable, and might be less likely to incur trail damage, especially for those who push it real hard.

Remember the PROs get a new bike every time they break one in a race.  This might be a bit pricey for the average riding / racing Joe.

Click here to read more about the Carbon vs. Aluminum XC Mountain Bike Showdown.

Full Suspension vs. Hardtail on XC Race Bikes

Both can be an effective choice when racing.  Most XC mountain bike racing courses at the national and local level are not as challenging as the UCI World XCO & XC race courses.  Thus the full suspension downhill bike may not offer a super advantage in the race, if other superior riders are on hardtails.  This is evident if you actually enjoy watching the XCO mountain bike races.  There is a lot to be learned from even just watching, and listening to the experts who were once successful racers commentating.

FS cross country bikes will however be much more enjoyable, and comfortable every other day you are not racing.  So if you can only own one bike, and prefer more training / recreation than racing, a full suspension bike might be the ticket for you.

Obviously having an XC mountain bike rear shock is going to add to maintenance costs along with the pivots.  One nice thing you do not have to worry about with XC mountain bike hardtail frames.

Most racers run a 100mm 4″ front Cross Country mountain bike fork, but a lot of frames support a 125mm 5″: front fork, and the difference in weight penalty is only like a 1/3 – 1/2 of a pound (160-255 grams).  It’s not much, and if you like to attack real steep descents, this is a great XC mountain bike fork choice.

Do you want to learn more about the differences between an XC full suspension bicycle vs. an XC MTB aluminum hardtail.

Drivetrain on XC Race Bikes

These days, 2 ring cranksets are in, or even 1 like Cannondale and other manufacturers run gets the job done nicely.  This allows for a chain guide to be run, which solves so many problems and headaches. Learn more about why should ride with an XC chain guide.  Plus with 10 and 11 speed cassette options, there is plenty of gear when needed.  The largest ring will usually be a 32.

Read more about the best choice 1x vs 2x vs 3x drivetrain for XC mountain bike racers.

You can skimp a little on the front dereailleur, but go big on the rear, either XTR, the best or top of the line SRAM.  You can alway upgrade later.

26″, 27/5″ or 29″ Wheel Size on XC Race Bikes

Riders have a lot of options currently with the varying selection of wheel sizes.  29″ has been relegated to XC mountain biking, while 27.5″ (650B) can be found not only in XC mountain bike racing, but also in Endurio and DH racing.

Sadly enough, we are seeing in end to the 26″ mountain bike wheel on higher end more competitive models.  For riders, it is important to match yourself up with the correct wheel size, so you can maximize not only your performance, but also your riding enjoyment.

Read more about the battle between the 26″ vs. 27.5″ vs. 29″ mountain bike wheels.

Quick Release vs. Thru Axles on XC Race Bikes

XC  mountain bicycles are a true engineering feat and even the our axles have improved allowing us several options.

The QR (known as the quick release) use to be the only choice for XC mountain bike racers.  It is a 9mm solid metal rod that lives in side an XC hub, acting as an axle for both the front and rear XC mountain bike wheel to spin on.

Now we have a second option, and that is a thru axle which is hollow tube axle.  It is typically 15mm in the front and 12mm in the rear for XC bikes.  While it add some weight from the axle and increased fork and frame reinforcement, it add great strength.

While a 9mm QR set up is lighter, it also has a degree of noticeable flex in the front and rear that is evident when riding aggressively or in case of a large rider on a lightweight bike.

Read more about making the right choice of QR vs. Thur axles on your XC mountain bike.

XC Mountain Bike Reviews on XC Race Bikes

Let us help you make the smartest purchase on your next XC racing mountain bike.

Clck here for 2013 – 2015 XC Mountain Bicycle Reviews or  2016 – 2018 XC Mountain Bicycle Reviews on popular brands like Intense Cycles, GT Bicycles, Jamis, Niner, Diamondback and more.

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