After a few years in the doldrums, cross-country mountain bike racing is back to its nail-biting, jaw-dropping best.
In order to deal with the rigours of modern cross-country racing, the bikes are more capable than ever, but still place a focus on low weight, with every gram watched in the pursuit of all-out speed and winners’ glory.
This year, we’ve seen no shortage of new releases – with bikes from newcomers such as Pinarello through to established players including Specialized.
Here are five of the latest lightweight cross-country bikes to keep an eye out for through the rest of the season and beyond.
Pinarello Dogma XC
Not many bike brands can say they have won three gold medals in a single mountain bike World Championships. This is especially impressive for a brand that has only just returned to mountain biking after dominating the Tour de France for years.
Pinarello saw huge success in this year’s cross-country races in Scotland, with its Dogma race machines claiming three of the four elite gold medals in the short-track and Olympic-distance events.
While Tom Pidcock raced the full-suspension Dogma XC to golden glory in the men’s elite Olympic-distance event, he used the new Dogma XC hardtail to take bronze in the short-track race, while team-mate Pauline Ferrand-Prevot did the double on the hardtail.
Who says hardtails are dead?
Just like the full-suspension Dogma, the hardtail features a distinctive bottom bracket with an additional strut between the shell and the seat tube, giving a smaller triangle within the main front end.
Pinarello claims this is to boost stiffness.
It’s not just the BB that turns heads. The rear triangle features visible asymmetries in the seatstays and chainstays, in typical Pinarello style.
The non-driveside of the rear triangle is reinforced, which, according to Pinarello’s claims, enables the bike to counter-balance the forces put into the drivetrain for a more balanced energy transfer.
Pinarello has been pretty coy on the bike’s geometry, specification and pricing. All we really know is it’s designed around a 100mm fork, is compatible with dropper posts and features a one-piece integrated handlebar and stem with internal cable routing.
Does the new Dogma prove there’s life in the old hardtail yet? Let us know what you think in the comments.
As expected for the final World Championships before next year’s Paris Olympics, many brands were rolling out new bikes for their racing debut in Glentress.
Trek was one such brand, with a revised 2023 Trek Supercaliber appearing underneath its riders.
The unusual-looking frame – that’ll leave you wondering whether it’s a hardtail or full-suspension bike – has had the usual longer and slacker treatment, as well as being sent to boot camp to shed some weight.
Coming in around 200 grams lighter than the old bike, according to Trek, and with weights for complete bikes starting at approximately 9.45kg for the range-topping model, it definitely meets the lightweight criteria that racers demand.
However, with a boost in rear-wheel travel up to 80mm, and 120mm up-front compared to the previous model, as well as having 1.5 degrees lopped off the head angle, the new Supercaliber should also be more than capable on techy terrain.
The reach has been extended by 10mm, up to 465mm on a size large, and the chainstays are now 5mm longer in a bid to boost stability in the high-speed rock gardens that litter modern XC courses.
You may notice we’ve made no mention of a lower bottom bracket, because the bump up in travel means Trek has raised the BB height by 7mm in order to maintain adequate ground clearance.
The IsoStrut rear suspension remains though, with a specially designed Rockshox SIDLuxe shock doing the business, rather than having a choice of Rockshox or Fox rear dampers, as was the case on the old bike.
All but two bikes in the range come with RockShox forks. The range starts at £3,780/$4,199.99, and tops out at a cool £10,800/$11,699.99.
We have a head-to-head test coming up between the Supercaliber and a bike that shares a very similar silhouette, the Specialized Epic World Cup.
Ibis may not be the first name that springs to mind when you think of World Cup cross-country machines, but the Exie is already proving its ability on the circuit – Jenny Rissveds rode the Exie to a host of World Cup podiums in 2022.
Ibis claims the Exie is a bike that flat-out shreds and, with geometry that wouldn’t look out of place on a downcountry or trail bike, we can start to see why.
With a 67.2-degree head angle and a rangy 478mm reach on a size large, the Exie can certainly claim to have some of the most progressive numbers of any XC race bike out there.
Using a 120mm fork as standard, to go with 100mm of travel out back and short seat tube lengths for longer dropper posts, only emphasises Ibis’s fast but fun intentions for this bike.
Originally released only as a boutique hand-made option, made in the USA, Ibis has added a more affordable, and heavier Exie made overseas, to bring the price down.
If your budget doesn’t stretch to the $7,999 XT-equipped Exie USA, let alone the $12,299 XX SL range-topper, Ibis offers a Vietnam-made Exie Deore for $4,999.
While all the bikes here are established World Cup contenders, none can claim to have a trophy cabinet as stacked as that of Scott’s Spark.
Originally introduced in the 2000s, the current iteration of the Spark is still doing the business under Nino Schurter, close to two-and-a-half years after its release.
With its attention-grabbing hidden-shock frame design, progressive geometry and Scott’s signature TwinLoc system, the Spark ticks all the boxes the best cross-country bikes should.
As one of the first cross-country bikes designed around today’s rougher, more technical courses, the Spark RC features 120mm of travel front and rear, and progressive geometry to give riders such as Schurter the confidence to charge head-first into descents and jumps.
With an adjustable head angle to tailor the geometry to a rider’s preference, room for two water bottles in the front triangle, and space for big 2.4in rubber, it’s also a versatile machine that can be used outside the race tape as well, making it a popular choice with privateer racers.
You can use the sub-2kg weight of the lightest frame option to go full Dangerholm and build one of the lightest bikes on the starting line.
Few can match that, and few can match the Spark’s price tag either, with the range-topping RC SL costing £14,999/$14,999.
Thankfully, with the RC range starting at £4,299 for the base Comp model, you don’t have to have quite such deep pockets to get your hands on a Spark.
Specialized Epic World Cup
We promised to bring you the Trek Supercaliber’s main rival and here it is: the new Specialized Epic World Cup.
The Brain-equipped full-suspension Epic has been around even longer than the Spark, and has racked up multiple wins over the years.
Indeed, Specialized’s proprietary Brain rear shocks, and later forks, have been key features throughout its lifespan.
For 2023, though, the Epic treads a new path.
It had already ditched Specialized’s famed FSR Horst-link pivot for flexstays with the previous generation, and the new bike takes things to the next level as – shock horror – the Brain is now dead… in the rear shocks at least.
Not only that, the SIDLuxe WCID rear shock, co-developed with RockShox, moves into, rather than under the top tube.
The integrated shock has no form of on-the-fly external pedal adjustment like other shocks on the market.
Instead, you adjust the negative air pressure in the shock to provide your pedal platform.
Specialized says there are three settings; No Gulp, the firmest, most efficient mode; Half Gulp, a balance of efficiency and traction; and Full Gulp, the softest setting for soaking up the roughest descents.
Unlike the Supercaliber though, where the extended seatstays actuate the shock, the Epic still uses a small rocker link, so is arguably more of a full-suspension bike than a softtail.
Whereas other bikes, such as the Spark, are getting bumps up in travel, the Epic World Cup has less travel out back than its predecessor, sporting just 75mm of bounce, down 25mm from the previous model.
It does see a boost in fork travel though, now sporting a custom 110mm Rockshox SID SL fork up-front.
Which bike would you choose to swing a leg over, ready for the start line? Let us know in the comments.