Updated on August 18, 2022
A lean, mean collection of the greatest cross-country mountain bikes designed for speed and put through their (race) paces as selected by our expert review team.
While each of these bikes takes a unique approach to what makes an XC race winner, they all have one thing in common: they all ride on 29in wheels.
It’s time to don our Lycra and take off our helmet peaks to determine who is indeed the quickest.
In many ways, cross-country racing is the bedrock upon which our sport was created. True, new styles and disciplines emerge and fade away, much like how 160mm-travel all-mountain bikes evolved into enduro rigs.
Cross-country racing, on the other hand, has withstood fashion storms and is engrained in British riding culture to this day, with plenty of British bikers on the search for the best mountain bike for XC riding and occasional competition.
As with all survivors, XC racing has thrived via evolution.
Three-hour mudfests on uninteresting terrain are a thing of the past.
Courses have become shorter and more rigorous, putting riders and equipment to the test while increasing the aesthetic appeal for spectators.
A typical XC race loop now includes punchy hills, descents worthy of any EWS stage, and additional features designed specifically for television cameras.
This expanding technological aspect of XC has prompted some riders to look into the finest down country mountain bike possibilities as well (slightly longer travel bikes with more progressive geometry).
XC riding and racing are exhilarating and are no longer solely a measure of raw fitness; it’s about pushing skill levels and bike handling as much as it is about your heart rate.
You’ll notice a ‘View Deal’ link beneath each overview of the top cross-country mountain bikes.
If you click on one of these links and then purchase the product from the store, MBR may receive a small commission from the vendor.
Not to worry; this will have no effect on the amount you pay.
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Best xc Mountain Bike
1. Trek Procaliber 9.7 The 21st century’s fastest soft-tail
£2,250 | OCLV Mountain Carbon | 11.01kg (24.23lb)
Pros: Both comfortable and quick
Cons: Does not include a dropper post for use on contemporary XC courses.
Given that Trek’s XC racing hardtails end where the majority of other manufacturers begin, the Procaliber 9.7 may and should bike regarded the pinnacle of the line.
Not least because it rides like a flagship product.
Due to the Procaliber 9.7’s exceptional specification, it is also the lightest bike on test, albeit by the tiniest of margins.
However, just as in racing, sometimes that is all that is required to win.
This was not a picture finish, as Trek’s IsoSpeed decoupler truly provides a smooth, quick ride that is both efficient and forgiving.
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2. 920 Scott Scale
There are few motorcycles with a greater World Cup XC pedigree.
£2,199 | Scale 3 Carbon Frame | 11.47kg (25,29lb)
Advantages: A quick all-arounder with no weak connections
Cons: The presence of redundant front mech apparatus detracts from the aesthetics.
Some manufacturers market through race teams, while others focus only on product development; Scott plainly does both. As such, the Scale 920 is a perfectly tuned XC race machine, as seen by its massive trophy case.
When efficiency is critical, the Scale 920 converts every possible watt of energy directly into speed.
Whether it’s slogging up a hill with your nose pressed against the stem, rounding a bend, or just changing gears.
And straight power delivery isn’t the Scale 920’s only strength; it’s equally at home on even the most tricky trails.
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3. Mondraker Chrono Carbon R
£2,399 | Mondraker Stealth Carbon | 11.12kg (24.52lb)
Pros: A surgical scalpel that honors riders who are fit and talented
Cons: Not particularly forgiving of exhausted pilots
The Mondraker Chrono R excels when every second matters. It’s lean, fast, and focused on being ruthlessly efficient.
The weight distribution of the bike is also wonderfully balanced thanks to Mondraker’s XC Forward Geometry, which means the Chrono R rails bend like no other, and you never have to second guess what the front tyre will do.
However, even with the svelte 27.2mm seat post, the Chrono R’s true calling card is brief racing on smoother courses.
The best cross-country mountain bikes: advise on hardtails
At mbr, we adore hardtails. XC race bikes have never been in a stronger position, with the bikes evolving to meet the needs of modern courses and the next generation of racers.
And, while the majority of the elite have made the seamless move to 29er full suspension bikes, if you’re new to XC racing, a dependable 29er hardtail is a lot more inexpensive way to get your hands on a lighter, efficient bike.
That is why we have a grid of XC 29er race hardtails lined up for this test.
Here are bikes made of the same material — most likely Lycra — and all created with the same objective in mind: crossing the finish line first.
We’re interested in determining which of these bikes delivers the most power without leaving you damaged or broken.
And, in order to determine whether bikes are capable of handling challenging terrain when both your legs and head are depleted of oxygen, we’ll be razzing around the woodlands in an ultra-fatigued state to simulate racing intensity.
Hey, all I am Joe Marino I love to ride bikes and teach others how to ride them. Most of my articles are about which bike is best for others. I am passionate about cycling and it shows, whether I am writing about a $25 bicycle from any random website or a $5000 Santa Cruz.
I have always been the guy who gets calls from friends while at work asking which bike they should buy. I have written about the best city bike for commuting, the best folding bike for use on public transit, and even what to keep in mind when shopping for kids’ bikes.
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