Cross-country mountain bikes often feature some of the most exciting developments in bicycle design; the bikes must be light enough to handle lung-bursting climbs while also being capable enough to handle increasingly gnarly descents.
So, in no particular order, here is our pick of the top five cross-country bikes of 2021 that we think are pushing the envelope of bicycle design.
1. Mondraker Podium
We’re starting out with an absolute sucker punch of lightweight claims. Feast your eyes upon the 2021 Mondraker Podium.
Now, it may look like a fairly ordinary hardtail, but where the Podium differs is with its extreme, and we really mean it when we say extreme, lack of weight. To give you some context, any road frame that weighs under 800g is considered light. For example, the new Giant TCR frameset weighs a very respectable 765g.
So imagine our surprise when Mondraker dropped the lightweight mic by releasing an XC bike with a claimed frame weight of 775g.
It’s worth mentioning this startling number doesn’t include the hardware, so out in the real world your Podium carbon may weigh a little more. But it’s still amazing to see bike brands pushing the boundaries in featherweight design.
Elsewhere you have a relatively slack 68.5-degree head angle and a steep, for XC, effective seat-angle of 74.5 degrees.
This all brings the Podium Carbon bang up to date with the latest trends in XC geometry, and we’re looking forward to seeing how it performs in 2021.
2. Specialized Epic
There are very few guarantees in life, but one thing we can guarantee with almost 100 per cent certainty, is every year there’s going to be a Specialized in our Top 5 XC bikes list.
We suspect there’ll be plenty of comments saying it’s because Specialized secretly pays us to include its bikes, but as you hopefully know by now that’s not the case.
Specialized has been at the forefront of making class-leading cross-country bikes for a long time; last year it was the new Epic hardtail, the year before was the Epic full-sus. And, if you go to a cross-country race anywhere in the world, chances are you’ll see one of these bikes.
So, it came as no surprise when Specialized released its new 2021 Epic full-suspension platform. It still has Specialized’s love/hate Brain suspension technology, which as you’d expect has been made more sensitive and supposedly more reliable, but we think it’s the geometry that really stands out.
A head angle of 67.5 degrees and a huge reach of 470mm in a size large means the Epic is starting to approach trail bike geometry. If you want to go radder still, Specialized has also updated its Epic EVO model, which has 110mm of suspension at the back, 120mm at the front and even more trail-friendly geometry.
In fact, we’ve just thought of another guarantee, Specialized’s top spec S-Works models are always incredibly expensive. So, it was comforting to see the new S-Works Epic costing £10,499.
3. Cannondale Scalpel
Another XC classic receiving a full update in 2021 is Cannondale’s Scalpel.
Other than being a little slacker, it doesn’t look too different from the outgoing model. But, on closer inspection, there are some interesting features that set it apart.
Traditionally, full-suspension XC bikes would have flex built into their seatstays to replace the rear pivot, but Cannondale has flipped the idea on its head with the FlexPivot.
The FlexPivot is a flattened section of chainstay that sits just ahead of the rear axle. Cannondale says this system is stiffer, lighter and more durable than a regular pivot.
Elsewhere you still get its AI (Asymmetric Integration) offset, which shifts the rear wheel 6mm to the right. This supposedly creates a stiffer rear wheel due to the neutral spoke bracing. However, it also means you’ll have to re-dish any standard wheels if you want to use them in your Scalpel.
Just like Specialized, Cannondale offers a more trail-friendly SE model, which loses the striking one-sided Lefty Ocho fork in favour of a more traditional dual-crown model.
At the time of writing, Cannondale’s top-spec Hi-MOD 1 Scalpel is listed on its website for £6,800. Now, that’s pretty expensive, but when you consider the new S-Works Epic costs £3,700 more, the Scalpel almost seems like good value?
4. Orbea Oiz
The Orbea Oiz was updated back in 2019, so an update for 2021 was unexpected from the Basque brand. However, with the Oiz apparently being Orbea’s best selling mountain bike, keeping it bang up to date starts to make sense.
Somehow, Orbea’s managed to save a whopping 250g off the frame by using its OMX carbon, which is claimed to bring a size medium down to 1,740g, and that’s including the shock!
The chainstays have also been shortened by 5mm, again helping to reduce weight and hopefully making for a snappier back-end.
Finally, if you really want to stand out from the crowd, Orbea offers its MyO programme on the bike. This enables you to customise areas of the spec and paintwork on top-spec models. Interestingly, while switching the components will cost you, paintwork doesn’t, you’ll just have to wait longer for your bike.
We reckon you’ll have to be very fast to pull off this bling metallic gold model at the local race league, though.
5. Canyon Exceed
With so many full-suspension bikes on this list, it would be a real shame if we couldn’t include another hardtail in 2021. Fortunately, direct-sales giant Canyon came to the rescue with its updated Exceed.
Apart from the, dare we say it, old-school looking frame shape, perhaps the biggest news is Canyon’s new top CFR carbon being offered on the Exceed. So now you have three levels to choose from: CF, SLX and CFR carbon.
As you’d expect, the frame is light, with a medium claimed to weigh 835g with hardware.
Canyon is known for its fairly conservative geometry figures, so it’s no surprise to see a 69-degree head angle and 455mm reach in a size large.
Another cool feature is the all-new one-piece bar stem combo, which makes things look very neat at the front. Although we suspect it won’t be the most forgiving of handlebars.
The Exceed is competitively priced, being from a direct brand, with a XTR-equipped CFR model going for £5,349. Not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but remember you could almost buy two Exceeds for the cost of one Specialized S-Works Epic.
So, there’s our list. And before you say anything, yes we haven’t included the Scott Spark. It’s been around for a number of years, we’ve included it before and we suspect there’ll be a new model coming next year.