There are many different types of mountain biking. For speed enthusiasts you have downhill mountain biking. For a combination of speed and distance you have trail mountain biking. Finally, you have cross country mountain biking that sits on the moderate end of both riding disciplines. So what is cross country mountain biking, and how is it different from other forms of the sport? We are going to cover that and more.
First, cross country, also known as XC, mountain biking is a type of riding that allows you to travel great distances across many different types of paths. An XC mountain biker may ride rough path through wooded areas, singletrack, hard-packed dirt roads, and even some paved paths. It differs from Cyclocross because XC mountain bikers do not complete laps on a short course. They usually race from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ which extends over a long distance.
If you are a beginner looking for a decent XC bike to get started on then check out our Trek Marlin 6 review.
Which Mountain Bike Is Best For Cross Country?
XC, or cross country mountain bikes come in varying shapes and sizes. There are cross country bikes as light as 16 lbs. and increase in weight up to 30 lbs. or more. Mountain bike weight is determined by the suspension. Many cross country enthusiasts believe the best XC mountain bike is a hard tail because of the weight savings from removal of rear suspension components. That being said, some professional XC racers still ride full suspension bikes. They make up the weight savings by using lighter components and a carbon frame.
Wheel size is also an important factor when considering an XC mountain bike. The 29 inch wheel has taken the mountain bike industry by storm the last 10 to 15 years. However, cross country bikes are one class that is sticking with the 27.5 inch and 650b wheel sizes. With 29 inch wheels you can ride a hardtail bike because the larger wheels act as your suspension. The larger wheel size also has a faster rolling speed. Shorter riders (under 5’5″) will have a hard time fitting on a bike that supports 29 inch wheels.
If you choose a full suspension, or even a hardtail, keep in mind the XC bike will not have as much travel in that suspension as other mountain bikes. The more travel in your suspension, the more efficiency you lose while riding. You don’t grab big air or plow through chunky terrain with XC racing. Because of this, having a lot of suspension travel is not a priority. Most XC race bikes have 60-100mm of travel both rear and front. In comparison, a downhill bike will have 160-200mm of travel.
Cross Country Mountain Bike vs Trail Bike
The biggest difference between a cross country bike and a trail bike is the amount of travel in the suspension. A cross country bike has less travel, making it more efficient when climbing hills and traveling longer distances. Trail bikes have larger brakes, which adds weight to the bike. Many trail bikes will weigh more than cross country mountain bikes. This is because there is less focus on weight savings and more focus on durability.
There are a lot of bikes that ride the line between XC and trail. If you are looking for a versatile bike that can be an efficient XC race bike as well as capable of handling what the trail throws at it, look for a bike with 100mm of travel in the front and 60-80mm of travel in the rear suspension. Alternatively, a hardtail mountain bike with 100mm of travel can make a great dual purpose bike too.
With the ability to quickly lockout your suspension we are seeing more bikes with increased travel in the suspensions. If both your front and rear suspension can be locked out, it won’t be uncommon to see a 100/120mm suspension travel split between rear and front, respectively.
Types of Cross Country (XC) Mountain Bike Racing
There are three main types of racing disciplines in the cross country world. They are Eliminator, Olympic and Marathon. Each racing type rides for a different amount of time and different distances.
Cross Country Eliminator racing runs in heats. If you are one of the last two people to finish in your heat you are eliminated from the race. Each race consists of a single lap that lasts roughly 2-3 minutes.
Olympic racing consists of multiple laps around a short race course. As the name implies, Cross Country Olympic is a discipline in the Olympics. This style of Cross Country racing features the most elite riders in the world. Skilled riders with technical riding ability are required, otherwise injuries will occur.
One of the fastest growing and most popular cross country mountain biking racing disciplines is Marathon. These races feature a route that is 40-60 miles in length (65 to 100 km) and allows anyone to participate. Stamina is far more important than technical riding ability for marathon racing. This makes it a great discipline for beginners.