Best cross-country mountain bikes

Purebred race machines

Do you have a need for speed? Do you relish red-lining? If fast and light is your game, then you’ve come to the right spot.

Modern cross-country bikes are more capable than ever. As courses have got more technical the bikes have become long, slacker and better suited to barreling headlong through rock gardens while still remaining light enough to make short work of the climbs — provided you’ve been putting in the miles.

Here are our top cross-country mountain bike picks.

Trek Top Fuel 9.9 SL

BikeRadar score4.5/5

Trek's Top Fuel 9.9 SL has adjustable geometry
Trek's Top Fuel 9.9 SL has adjustable geometry

Price: £6,800 / US$9,449 / AU$9,999

  • Adjustable geometry
  • Fuss-free internal cable routing
  • Dual-lockout button for sprints

The new Top Fuel incorporates many of the technologies that the company has developed for the longer-travel Fuel EX and Remedy trail bikes into a race-bred package.

The Top Fuel’s geometry can be adjusted from high to low settings with Trek’s Mino link. The Control Freak internal cable routing system is designed to handle almost any combination of 1- and 2x drivetrains, brake, dropper seatpost and remote lockout combos.

When pushed hard into corners the Top Fuel holds a line and pops in and out of corners with ease. When it the time comes to stand and mash, the RockShox Full Sprint lockout firms up the front and rear suspension with the push of a single button.

Trek Top Fuel 9.9 SL review

BMC Fourstroke FS01 XX1

BikeRadar score4.5/5

The BMC Fourstroke FS01 XX1 can handle large hits
The BMC Fourstroke FS01 XX1 can handle large hits

Price: £4,800 / US$7,999 / AU$9,449

  • Stiff chassis
  • Refined suspension feel
  • Capable in rough terrain

The Fourstroke impressed us a couple of years ago, but World Cup tweaking has made it even more capable and controlled without dulling its rock solid, powerplay character.

BMC has softened the low-speed compression shock tune compared to the rattle and chatter of the original Fourstroke. The twin linkage design still means an efficient, rather than exaggerated suspension character, even if you flick the CTD damping adjuster to fully open for maximum traction on choppy terrain.

The naturally progressive suspension can take surprisingly large hits and decent sized drops in its stride too, and it’s easy to balance fork and shock response for a totally predictable ride.

BMC Fourstroke FS01 XX1 review

Look 989 SRAM XO1

The Look 989 is hard to miss
The Look 989 is hard to miss
BikeRadar score4.5/5

Price: £2,275 / US$6,500 / AU$8,500

  • Striking looks
  • Expert blend of racy and refined character
  • Very composed for an XC hardtail

The Look 989 is certainly one of the more distinctive hardails on the market. The way the stem blends into the arched top tube and the curved seat tube make this lightweight carbon racer hard to miss.

Look offers the 989 with 27.5in wheels in small and extra small sizes, with 29er wheels used on the medium and large sizes.

The Look’s looks are maybe love or hate, but there was no disagreement among our test team when it came to how well the frame rode. As soon as the chain tightens, the Look leaps forward down the trail, hassling for gear after gear of acceleration.

Read the full Look 989 review

Focus Raven Max Factory 29

BikeRadar score4/5

The Focus Raven Max Factory 29 is suited to short-track racing
The Focus Raven Max Factory 29 is suited to short-track racing

Price: £2,800 / US$TBC / AU$TBC

  • Fully ridged frameset
  • 1x specific frame design
  • Suited to short-track racing

Focus isn’t afraid to develop niche mountain bikes and the Raven Max Factory 29 is the proof. While hardtails are anything but rare on the XC circuit, it’s not often you see a fully-rigid hardtail of this caliber.

The Raven Max Factory 29 features a full carbon frame and fork. It’s intended to be a lightweight weapon for smoother courses or a very specialized weapon for short-track racing.

It’s a great bike for honing your skills, and if you decide you need a bit of suspension, the frame can also accommodate 80-100mm suspension forks.

Focus Raven Max Factory 29 review

Norco Revolver 9.2 FS

BikeRadar score4/5

The Norco Revolver 9.2 FS is available in 27.5 and 29er versions
The Norco Revolver 9.2 FS is available in 27.5 and 29er versions

Price: £2,699 / US$4,050 / AU$5,499

  • 1x specific frame
  • Available in 27.5 and 29er versions
  • Full carbon frame

Norco took a few years off from having a top-end cross-country full suspension in its line, but it appears the company is back and ready to gun for the holeshot. The Revolver is a 1x specific dually with 100mm of front and rear travel.

Our tester felt that despite just having 100mm of front and rear travel, the Revolver FS held its own on descents. The short stem and roomy top tube offer plenty of room to throw the bike around, while helping it feel perfectly stable at speed. Its handling allows the rider to be more aggressive than when astride more traditional race bikes.

Norco Revolver 9.2 FS review

Scott Scale 960

Scott's Scale 960 is lightweight for the price
Scott's Scale 960 is lightweight for the price
BikeRadar score4/5

Price: £950 / US$1,300 / AU$ 1,600

  • Relaxed handling
  • Lightweight for the price
  • Clean lines

Not every cross-country bike has to break the bank. If you’re just getting started, Scott’s Scale 960 is a great partner for your first cross-country race.

Scott’s carbon race frames are crazy light, but its alloy frames have never been far behind and are actually lighter than a lot of the composite competition from other brands. The multi-butted, subtly shaped frame gets internal cable routing for clean lines plus a post mount rear brake for easy adjustment and tapered head tube too.

Unlike some other companies, Scott offers its hardtails with 29 and 27.5 across all frame sizes, so you can choose which size is right for you. If you don’t like 29ers, consider this bike’s 27.5 analog, the Scale 760.

Scott Scale 960 review

On the horizon

There are some promising contenders in the cross-country category that we plan to get in for long-term test in the coming months.

Scott Spark 900 RC SL

Scott Spark 900 RC SL is one to watch
Scott Spark 900 RC SL is one to watch

The new Spark is hugely impressive. In this top-spec, race-specific RC model it's a no compromise machine that seriously undercuts all other rivals on weight, but manages to deliver a precise and confident ride. As you'd expect for the finery lavished on this top-end bike, there aren't any weak points in the spec either.

Scott Spark 900 RC SL first ride review

Specialized Epic HT

Specialized's Epic HT could make our list
Specialized's Epic HT could make our list

For 2017, Specialized has added a new premium level carbon hardtail to its range. The Epic HT line is race-focused and might give some of the hardtails on our list a run for their money.

Specialized Epic HT

Josh has been riding and racing mountain bikes since 1998. Being stubborn, endurance racing was a natural fit. Josh bankrolled his two-wheeled addiction by wrenching at various bike shops across the US for 10 years and even tried his hand at frame building. These days Josh spends most of his time riding the trails around his home in Fort Collins, Colorado.
  • Discipline: Mountain, cyclocross, road
  • Preferred Terrain: Anywhere with rock- and root-infested technical singletrack. He also enjoys unnecessarily long gravel races.
  • Current Bikes: Trek Remedy 29 9.9, Yeti ASRc, Specialized CruX, Spot singlespeed, Trek District 9
  • Dream Bike: Evil The Following, a custom Moots 27.5+ for bikepacking adventures
  • Beer of Choice: PBR
  • Location: Fort Collins, CO, USA

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