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.
- Which is faster: hardtail or full-suspension?
- Cross-country shoe showdown: Specialized S-Works XC vs Sidi Drako
- e-MTB vs XC — which is faster?
Trek Top Fuel 9.9 SL
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.
BMC Fourstroke FS01 XX1
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.
Look 989 SRAM XO1
Price: £2,275 / US$6,500 / AU$8,500
- Striking looks
- Expert blend of racy and refined character
- Very composed for an XC hardtail
The Look 989 is certainly one of the more distinctive hardails on the market. The way the stem blends into the arched top tube and the curved seat tube make this lightweight carbon racer hard to miss.
The Look’s looks are maybe love or hate, but there was no disagreement among our test team when it came to how well the frame rode. As soon as the chain tightens, the Look leaps forward down the trail, hassling for gear after gear of acceleration.
Focus Raven Max Factory 29
Price: £2,800 / US$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.
Norco Revolver 9.2 FS
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.
Scott Scale 960
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.
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
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.
Specialized Epic HT
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.