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Best Short-Travel Full-Suspension Mountain Bikes – 100 to 130mm

ibis ripley bike

Ibis Ripley – One of the most iconic short-travel playbikes available.

Trail and Cross-Country mountain bikes offer limitless fun on various terrains. There are quite a few different mountain bike types out there, but in this review – we’ll be focusing on the lighter end of the spectrum, bikes that are considered as short travel full-suspension mountain bikes.

  • You may also like:   15 Best Full-Suspension Mountain Bikes to Consider

Best Short-Travel Full-Suspension Mountain Bikes

1 . orbea – oiz h20.

Best XC Full-Suspension Mountain Bike

Orbea OIZ H20 Bike

Aluminum / 12-Speed Shimano Deore  / 29×2.35″

MSRP: $3,599 Jenson USA

Fork : Fox 32 Float Rhythm, 120mm travel Shock : Fox i-Line DPS Performance, 120mm travel Wheels : Orbea OC1 25c

The Orbea Oiz H20 is a sleek full-suspension XC bike built for speed and efficiency. With a premium aluminum frame, quality components, and World Cup geometry, you’ll be smashing your PRs with the Oiz in no time. 

It’s ideally suited to cross-country or long-distance trail riding, with a 12-speed Shimano Deore/XT groupset that includes a 10-51T cassette.

Fox provides both the I-Line DPS Performance shock and the 32 Float Rhythm fork. To complement the lightweight Orbea OC1 rims, you get 29×2.35″ Rekon Race EXO tires.

Head tube angle: 68º / Seat tube angle: 74º / Chainstay: 435mm

Buy on Jenson USA

2 . Santa Cruz Bicycles – Blur C S

Santa Cruz Blur C S

MSRP : $5,549 Evo.com

Fork: RockShox SID SL Select 100mm travel Rear Shock: RockShox SIDLuxe Select+ 100mm travel Wheels:  RaceFace AR Offset 29″

The Santa Cruz Blur is the famous MTB brand’s race-ready XC bike, designed to be lightweight, fast, and efficient. 

The Blur C S uses Santa Cruz’s more affordable carbon grade, which has excellent stiffness and strength characteristics that help maximize power transfer.

A 100mm travel RockShox SidLuxe Select+ shock is enhanced by a patented SuperLight suspension linkage that keeps the weight low but enhances rear-end traction on trickier sections. 

This build comes with a SRAM GX Eagle 12-speed, 10-50T drivetrain with Level TL hydraulic disc brakes. Other notable components include the fast-rolling Maxxis Aspen 2.4″ tires, an SDG Tellis dropper for extra descending control, and lightweight RaceFace AR Offset rims. 

Pick the Santa Cruz Blur C S if you’ve got lofty XC ambitions and the budget to match. 

Buy on evo.com

3 . Pivot – Mach 4 SL Ride

pivot mach 4 SL ride mountain bike

Carbon / 12-Speed Shimano XT/SLX / 29×2.2″

MSRP: $6,199 Competitive Cyclist

Fork : Fox Float 34 Performance Step-cast 120mm  Shock : Fox Performance Float DPS 100mm  Wheels : DT Swiss X1900 alloy

The Pivot Mach 4 SL Ride is a sleek full-suspension XC MTB by a lesser-know but high-end MTB manufacturer, perfect for racers who want top performance.

The full carbon frame is incredibly light and strong, built for 29″ wheels and DW-Link suspension that perfects anti-squat characteristics for a snappy, responsive feel and extra traction. This model comes with race-ready 2.2″  Maxxis Ardent Race EXO tires.

The Mach 4 SL Ride has 100mm rear and 120mm fork suspension. In addition, you’ll have ample gearing from the 12-speed Shimano XT/SLX drivetrain. Thankfully, Pivot includes a Fox Transfer Performance Elite  dropper post with 100 to 150mm travel depending on the size. 

Choose the Pivot Mach 4 if you want to take your XC riding to the next level with a bike that’s ready for aggressive riding. 

Buy from Competitive Cyclist

4 . Niner – Jet RDO 4-Star


Carbon / 12-Speed Shimano XT / 29×2.6″

MSRP: $6,799 Jenson USA

Fork : Fox 34 Float Factory GRIP2 EVOL 130mm travel Shock : Fox Float X Factory EVOL 120mm travel Wheels : DT Swiss XM-1700 Spline 30

One of the more expensive offerings on our list, this Niner full-suspension mountain bike is a burly trail/XC bike with modern trail geometry and top-quality parts.

The RDO Carbon frame features Niner’s CVA suspension platform, integrated protection, and 2.6″ tire clearance. The 130mm travel Fox Float Factory fork and 120mm Float X Factory shock provide a plush feel on rough trails while the CVA design improves the pedaling efficiency of the system. 

A 12-speed Shimano XT drivetrain comes with RaceFace Next R carbon cranks and a 10-51T cassette. 180mm rotor XT hydraulic disc brakes round out the groupset.

An unusual inclusion is the Schwalbe Nobby Nic Addix Speedgrip 2.6″ tires which are very versatile and tough but add a little more weight. Finally, you have a KS Lev SI dropper with 100 or 150mm of travel. 

Choose the Jet RDO 4-Star if you want a highly-capable trail/XC bike with innovative design features, solid components, and long-lasting quality. 

Head tube angle: 66.5º / Seat tube angle: 76º / Chainstay: 430mm

5 . Rocky Mountain – Element Alloy 30

Rocky Mountain Element Alloy 30

Aluminum / 12-Speed Shimano Deore  / 29×2.4″

MSRP: $3,089 Jenson USA

Fork : RockShox Recon Gold 130mm Shock : RockShox Deluxe Select+ 120mm travel Wheels : WTB ST Light i27 TCS 2.0 TR 29″ (27.5″ on XS frame)

The 29″ Rocky Mountain Element Alloy 30 is a cross-country/trail MTB with a do-it-all personality.

The FORM alloy frame has relatively aggressive trail geometry which pairs well with a RockShox Recon Gold 130mm fork, Deluxe Select+ 120mm shock, and Toonie Drop dropper post for confident riding on most trails. 

The groupset includes Shimano’s Deore M6100 drivetrain with a  10-51T cassette with MT4100 hydraulic disc brakes. This setup and Maxxis Rekon 2.4 makes climbing easier and descending safer. 

Head tube angle: 65º / Seat tube angle: 76º / Chainstay: 436mm

6 . Yeti – SB120 T1

yeti sb120 cross-country mtb

Turq-Series Carbon / SRAM X01/GX Eagle / 29×2.5/2.3″

MSRP: $8,200 Jenson USA

Fork : Fox Factory 34 GRIP2 130mm  Shock : Fox Factory Float DPS 120mm Wheels : DT Swiss XM1700

The SB120 is a Yeti full-suspension MTB focused on cross-country and trail riding. This bike has an eye-watering price but has the spec and performance to match.

The Yeti SB120 T1 is built for speed and versatility with 29″ wheels and modern trail geometry. This is balanced by confidence-inspiring and premium 2.5/2.3″ Maxxis Minion DHF/Aggressor EXO tires. 

A blended SRAM groupset consists of a 12-speed, 10-52t X01/GX drivetrain that provides reliable and durable performance and G2 RSC four-piston hydraulic disc brakes. The wide gear ratio allows for easy hill climbs while powerful brakes ensure safe descents.

Consider the SB120 T1 if you want a high-end trail bike for tackling a wide variety of trails. 

Head tube angle: 66.5º / Seat tube angle: 76.5º / Chainstay: 433-443mm

7 . Co-op Cycles – DRT 3.3

A reliable, affordable XC bike

co-op cycles drt 3.3

Aluminum / 12-Speed Shimano SLX / 27.5 or 29 x2.4″

MSRP:   $3,299 REI

Fork : RockShox Revelation Motion Control RC 120 or 130mm Shock : RockShox Deluxe Select+ 120 or 130mm Wheels : WTB ST Light i30 TCS

The DRT 3.3 is a cross-country bike with plenty to offer beginner or intermediate XC mountain bikers. It features progressive wheel sizing and suspension travel based on frame size, Airsprung RockShox suspension, and premium Maxxis High Roller or Dissector tires. 

This bike has a lightweight but strong aluminum frame that helps keep the price down without sacrificing too much performance. This is boosted by a Shimano SLX 12-speed with a 10-51t climbing cassette and powerful Shimano SLX disc brakes for controlled descending. 

Head tube angle: 66/67°   /   Seat tube angle: 75°   /   Chainstay length: 433/441mm

Buy on REI.com

8 . Juliana – Wilder C R TR

Juliana Wilder C R TR Mountain Bike

MSRP : $4,899 Evo.com

Fork: RockShox SID RL 120mm travel Rear Shock: Fox Float Performance DPS 115mm travel Wheels: RaceFace AR Offset 

Julianna’s Wilder is a race-ready trail bike designed to tackle the toughest trails with confidence. As Santa Cruz’s women-specific brand, Julianna takes advantage of its VPP suspension system to provide the Wilder with unbeatable suspension performance.

Large 29″ RaceFace AR rims and slack geometry allow you to roll over any obstacle on the trail. In addition, female-tailored geometry and a Carbon C frame ensure the Wilder is painless to maneuver.

Finally, this bike is built on an SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain and paired with grippy Maxxis Rekon Race tires and powerful SRAM Level T hydraulic disc brakes to ensure smooth climbing ability and controlled descending. 

Buy on Evo.com

9 . Marin – Rift Zone 1

Best value full-suspension mountain bike

marin rift zone 1 short-travel mountain bike

Series 3 Aluminum / 11-Speed Shimano Deore / 29×2.3″

MSRP: $1,899 Jenson USA

Fork : RockShox Recon Silver RL 130mm Shock : X-Fusion O2 Pro R 125mm Wheels : Marin Aluminum Double-Wall

The Rift Zone is a 29-inch trail mountain bike designed for speed over fast, flowy trails.

Multi-Trac suspension improves big hit absorption and delivers a more efficient pedaling platform for the 130mm RockShox Recon Silver RL fork and a 125mm X-Fusion O2 Pro R rear shock.

Vee Tire Crown Gem 29×2.3″ tires are durable but lack some grip in the corners and are slightly slow for this type of bike.

The Rift Zone 1 runs a typical 11-speed Shimano Deore drivetrain with Shimano MT201 hydraulic disc brakes and is finished off with a budget alloy seatpost instead of a dropper.

This is a solid XC/trail bike that offers excellent value for money in the entry-level category of full-sus bikes. 

Head tube angle: 65.5º / Seat tube angle: 76º / Chainstay: 425mm

  Buy on JensonUSA.com

10 . Norco – Fluid FS 2

norco fluid FS 2 mountain bike

MSRP: $2,499 Jenson USA

Fork : RockShox 35 Silver R, 130mm travel Shock : RockShox Deluxe Select, 120mm travel Wheels : Stan’s NoTubes Flow D 

The Norco Fluid is a full-suspension mountain bike with an innovative progressive frame design for enhanced fit and performance. It features 130mm of front travel and 120mm in the rear, with a reliable Shimano Deore 12-speed drivetrain and matching Shimano MT420 hydraulic disc brakes.

Norco chose Stan’s NoTubes Flow D rims with Maxxis Dissector 2.4″ tires for their excellent grip and durability. For a seatpost, you can rely on an X-Fusion Manic dropper. Every detail is accounted for on the Fluid FS 2, making it an excellent value trail bike.

Head tube angle: 66º / Seat tube angle: 76º / Chainstay: 431mm

Buy from JensonUSA.com

11 . GT – Sensor Sport

GT - Sensor Sport

Aluminum / MicroSHIFT Advent X, 10-Speed / 29 x 2.3″

MSRP: $2,300

Fork : RockShox Recon Silver, 140 mm Shock : X-Fusion 02 Pro RL 130mm travel Wheels : WTB Aluminum rims

The GT Sensor Sport is a full-suspension trail mountain bike designed to handle almost any trail out there .

This bike can smash climbs and thunder down descents with ease thanks to GT’s LTS rear linkage technology which soaks up trail chatter and improves traction.

The lightweight, durable aluminum frame is fitted with a RockShox Recon Silver RL 140 mm fork and an X-Fusion 02 Pro RL 130 mm shock which offer decent performance for this price range. 

This bike takes rolls along smoothly and corners confidently with 29″ wheels wrapped in WTB Breakout 2.3″ tires. Finally, you can rely on a MicroSHIFT Advent X  10-Speed drivetrain for smooth shifting and powerful but inconsistent Tektro HD-M275 hydraulic brakes. 

Head tube angle: 65.5º / Seat tube angle: 76º / Chainstay: 435mm

Buy from Jenson USA

12 . Alchemy Bikes – Arktos 120

alchemy bikes arktos 120

Carbon / 12-Speed Shimano XT / 29×2.3″

MSRP: from $4,699 Alchemy Bikes

Fork : Fox 34 29 Factory Kashima 130mm travel Shock : Fox DPX2 Factory Kashima EVOL 120mm travel Wheels : Industry Nine 29 Enduro S Hydra

The Alchemy Bikes Arktos 120 is a full-suspension XC/trail mountain bike that’s perfect for riders who enjoy charging uphill and thundering down descents.

The Alchemy carbon frame is ultra-lightweight and laterally stiff, and the seat tube allows longer dropper posts like the stock Fox Factory 175mm Transfer dropper.

The Arktos runs on Alchemy’s patented Sine Suspension dual-linkage platform. This system provides next-level performance through enhanced efficiency on climbs and improved handling and traction on chunky descents. The 130mm and 120mm Fox Factory Kashima suspension soaks up all but the most aggressive hits.

The Arktos 120 comes with a choice of three 12-speed groupsets (Shimano XT or SRAM GX/X01). Each has a hill-crushing cassette and 180mm-rotor hydraulic discs. Finally,  burly Industry Nine enduro rims are fitted with Maxxis Minion DHF and DHR 29×2.3 tires, providing plenty of capability but adding some extra weight. 

Consider the Arktos if you want high-end performance and an award-winning carbon frame at a reasonable price. 

Head tube angle: 65.75-66.5-º / Seat tube angle: 77.75-78.5º / Chainstay: 437mm

Buy on Alchemy Bikes

13 . Pivot – Trail 429 Pro

pivot trail 429 pro mountain bike

Carbon / SRAM X0 Eagle / 29×2.4″

MSRP: $9,900

Fork : Fox Factory 36 GRIP2 140mm travel Shock : Fox Factory Float X, 130mm travel Wheels : Reynolds Blacklabel carbon

Pivot Cycles is a relatively new bicycle company that has already won awards for its innovative design.

This can be seen on its Trail 429 Pro 29er full-suspension trail/XC bike, a lightweight carbon beast with top-level parts. It’s a professional XC bike for advanced riders, with modern trail geometry in the low flip-chip setting that provides confidence on steep descents. 

The suspension is tight, with a Fox Factory 36 140mm fork up front and 130mm Factory Float X shock on the rear. The DW-Link platform and carbon fiber build kit allow you to get more power from each pedal stroke, making this a highly efficient climber. 

Using the 12-speed SRAM X0, 10-52t drivetrain you get perfect shifting every time and plenty of gears for steep grades. In addition, the Trail 429 has powerful four-piston SRAM G2 RSC hydraulic disc brakes. 

Don’t miss out on the Pivot Trail 429 Pro if you’ve got a huge budget and want unbeatable trail performance to match. 

Head tube angle: 66-66.5º / Seat tube angle: 75-75.5º / Chainstay: 430-432mm

Buy from Mike's Bikes

14 . Santa Cruz Bicycles – Tallboy R

Santa Cruz tallboy r trail bike

Aluminum / 12-Speed SRAM NX Eagle / 29×2.4″

MSRP: $4,199

Fork : FOX Rhythm 34, 130mm travel Shock : Fox Float DPS Performance, 120mm travel Wheels : Race Face AR Offset 30

The Tallboy is of the most popular Santa Cruz full-suspension Mountain Bikes and this version has a tighter, more grounded feel, perfect for attacking bumpy terrain at high speed.

With the Santa Cruz Flip-Chip upper link, you can fit 29″ or 27.5″ rims and tires, although it comes standard with 29×2.4″Maxxis Dissector/Rekon EXO tires on Race Face AR Offset 30 rims.

The 12-speed SRAM NX Eagle groupset runs a wide-ratio 11-50T cassette for easy climbing and includes SRAM Guide T four-piston hydraulic disc brakes.

It’s finished off with a Burgtec Enduro MK3 stem, handlebar, SDT Tellis dropper, and Cane Creek 10 IS integrated headset.

Head tube angle: 65.7º / Seat tube angle: 76.8-76º / Chainstay: 436mm

15 . Juliana – Joplin 4 C R

Juliana Joplin 4 C R Mountain Bike 2023

Carbon C / 12-Speed SRAM NX Eagle /  29×2.4″

MSRP: $5,299 Evo.com

Fork : RockShox Pike Base 130mm Shock : Fox Float Performance DPS 120mm travel Wheels : Raceface AR Offset 30

The Juliana Joplin is a women’s full-suspension trail/XC mountain bike built for speed.

The premium Santa Cruz Carbon C frame is fitted with a RockShox Pike Base fork with 130mm of travel and a Float Performance DPS 120mm rear shock. These components are enhanced by the tailored lower-link VPP suspension that improves pedaling efficiency and traction. 

The drivetrain is a 12-speed SRAM NX Eagle with an 11-50t cassette for steep climbs and for braking you have SRAM Guide T hydraulic discs.

Finally, the Juliana Joplin 4 C R has an SDG Tellis dropper and 2.4″ Maxxis Dissector/Rekon 3C MaxxTerra EXO tires to provide confidence when descending on fast, chunky trails. 

Choose this women’s mountain bike if you love days on the trails with lots of elevation gain and a variety of trails. 

Head tube angle: 65.7º / Seat tube angle: 76-76.7º / Chainstay: 430-433mm

16 . Ibis – Ripley AF

🏆 Best all-around mountain bike for every terrain

ibis ripley af deore mountain bike

Aluminum / 12-Speed Shimano Deore / 29×2.4″

MSRP: $3,799 Jenson USA

Fork : Fox Float 34 Performance, 130mm travel Shock : Fox Performance Float DPS, 120mm travel Wheels : Blackbird Send Alloy Max Clearance 2.6″

Coming in at just under $4,000, this is one of those bikes that outperforms its price tag. Straight off the bat, the 12-speed Shimano Deore groupset is impressive with hydraulic disc brakes. 

Naturally, it has a premium quality aluminum frame with superb DW-Link suspension technology, offering 120mm of rear travel from Fox Performance Float DPS shock. With a similar kit upfront, you get 130mm of travel on the Float 34 fork, and it’s all rounded off with Blackbird rims and 2.4″ Maxxis  DHR II and Dissector tires. 

 Head Tube Angle: 65.5º / Seat Tube Angle: 76º / Chainstay length: 432mm

17 . Yeti – SB115 C2


grey yeti full sus mtb

Available in 3 designs

Carbon / 12-speed SRAM GX Eagle / 29×2.5″, 2.3″

MSRP: $6,200 Competitive Cyclist

Another top-class mountain bike from Yeti , this combination XC and trail bike attacks both the hills and the drops with equal vigor and aggression. The lightweight carbon frame combined with the 12-speed SRAM GX Eagle 10-52T cassette makes easy work of hills, while the Switch Infinity rear suspension technology combined with 130mm travel on the Fox Performance fork makes downhills a breeze.

You get added support from a thick 2.5″ Maxxis Minion DHF front tire and 2.3″ Aggressor on the rear, wrapped around DT Swiss rims. Oh and let’s not forget the Fox Transfer dropper seat post for added ease and enjoyment!

Head tube: 67.6 / Seat Tube: 74.1 / Chainstay: 437mm

Buy on Competitive Cyclist

18 . Santa Cruz Bicycles – Blur

santa cruz blur mountain bike

Carbon C / 12-Speed Shimano XT / 29×2.4″

MSRP: $6,599

Fork : RockShox Sid SL Select+ 100mm travel Shock : RockShox SidLuxe Select+ 100mm travel Wheels : Race Face ARC Offset 27

The race-ready Blur XC bike from Santa Cruz is designed for fast riding on cross-country trails.

The SuperLight suspension linkage combined with a 100mm RockShox Sid SL Select+ fork and SidLuxe Select+ shock provides plenty traction on the rougher stuff.

Fast-rolling 29er wheels, Maxxis Aspen 2.4″ XC racing tires, a stiff and lightweight carbon frame, and agile geometry give the Blur its high-performance personality. 

The groupset is a 12-speed Shimano XT with four-piston hydraulic disc brakes and plenty of gearing from the 10-51t cassette. 

Consider the Santa Cruz Blur if you’re ready to take your XC rides to the next level. 

Head Tube Angle: 65.7-65.4 / Seat Tube Angle: 77.5-76.8 / Chainstays: 423-433mm

Buy on Mike's Bikes   

19 . Cannondale – Habit Carbon 1 

cannondale habit carbon 1

MSRP: $5,500 Planet Cyclery

Every XC rider comes across an unexpectedly steep descent every now and again, leaving them in a precarious situation with an inadequate bike. The Cannondale Habit Carbon 1 rises to this challenge, offering an XC-specific bike that can tackle steep downhills with confidence.

It achieves this with the addition of a Cannondale DownLow dropper post combined with Cannondale’s Proportional Response Tuned suspension system. The RockShox Pike Select+ 140mm fork has slightly longer than usual travel for an XC bike, with the 130mm RockShox Super Deluxe Select+ rear shock to match. A wide-range SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain with a 10-52t cassette and SRAM G2 RSC hydraulic disc brakes make up a solid mountain-ready groupset that can tackle climbs and descents with ease.

HT: 66° / ST: 74.5° / Chainstay: 435mm

Buy on Planet Cyclery

20 . Evil – Following LS GX

Evil Following LS GX Mountain Bike 2023

MSRP: $6,450 evo.com

Evil Bikes is known for making high-quality mountain bikes that push the boundaries of design and innovation. The ‘Following’ is its versatile XC offering – a high-speed MTB with 29″ wheels, semi-compact geometry, and mid-range travel that can tackle unusually harsh conditions 

The proprietary DELTA suspension system and RockShox Deluxe Ultimate RCT shock are both highly tunable to adapt to varying conditions so if you feel like doing some downhill riding, simply adjust it to your needs and hit the trails. On this version of Evil’s Following, SRAM provides decent 12-speed gearing and instant braking with its mid-level GX Eagle groupset and G2 RS disc brakes.

Where Can You Ride a Short-Travel Mountain Bike?

Short travel mountain bikes are ideal all-rounder bicycles for fast and zippy trails, whether it is flat or hilly.

Downhill mountain bikes with lots of travel are ideal for extremely rough terrain with big drops and large obstacles but provide a disadvantage on flatter terrain. 

The less stiff your suspension is, the more speed you lose when riding fast on flat terrain. So you need to choose a bike that best suits the type of riding you intend to do. For most All-mountain, Cross-country, and Trail riding, you shouldn’t need more travel than 100-130mm. MTB bikes with travel between 140-180mm are intended for intense downhill and enduro-style riding.

Of course, many of these bikes have adjustable suspension, so in some cases, you can change it for the terrain of that day. However, if you don’t intend on ever tackling extreme downhills, big jumps, or huge drops, then there is no need to spend the extra on advanced suspension with unnecessarily long travel.

Other Factors to Keep in Mind

Carbon vs. aluminum: which is better.

Which is better: Carbon or Aluminum for a full-sus. MTB? Well, carbon has taken over the whole cycling industry for a while by now, and it is not different from the mountain bike scene. As carbon-tubing gets better each year, there is a reason why mountain bikers prefer carbon over aluminum. Carbon simply has the right ‘feel’ to the whole ride, while providing enough durability and ways to form a bike.

Tires & Tire Pressure

It is recommended to use more air in the rear tire when on trails.

  • 29″ – 18-28 psi. Plus-size tires or on wider wheels (Ibis) can be run on lower,11-18 psi range
  • 27.5″ (650b) – 16-30 psi.

Lowering your tire pressure means you create more contact with the ground so if you have thin tires, less pressure will provide more grip. However, while this may be a bit more comfortable offroad it comes at the sacrifice of speed on flatter ground. Depending on your weight, you should try to find a perfect balance that isn’t too low or too hard.

Tubeless tires can usually run lower pressure since there is no tube to pinch. Similarly, wider rims can also accommodate lower tire pressure. These are all factors to consider when pumping your tires.

Suspension set-up

You should always tune your suspension correctly to accommodate your weight and riding style. This can be done by rocking up and down on the bike to measure your ‘sag’ rate and then adjusting the air or spring pressure accordingly.

If you’re going to be hitting big jumps or drops, you’ll need a wider, looser suspension to take heavy impact. If you’re riding mostly flat trails, you’ll want it stiffer so you don’t over-compress and lose speed on each little bump.

Compression / Sag / Rebound

The Sag, as mentioned earlier, is important to measure and set accordingly before heading out on the trails. Once that’s done, set the rebound damping by pushing on the front suspension and seeing if you get any ‘bounce’. Tighten it until it only rebounds once, doesn’t bounce up and down.

For the compression settings, you’ll need to specify them according to your riding style. Different shocks have different settings, so it’s down to your style and preference. Basically, add more compression damping if you want tighter traction on corners, or less if you want more absorption on big drops.

Rider Weight

It’s important to get the correct weight distribution on a full-suspension bike otherwise you could injure yourself on the trails. The longer wheelbase a bike has, the more stable it will be, so heavier riders should consider this factor. 

Bottom bracket height is also important, as the higher the less stability you get but it can’t be too close to the ground either for obvious safety reasons. Generally, these measurements can all be perfected for you in-store when you buy a new bike. It’s always a good idea to have a professional fit your bike for you.

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short travel xc bikes

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ENDURO Mountainbike Magazine

The Best Short-Travel Trail Bike – 6 Mountain Bikes in Test

short travel xc bikes

Bikes are growing increasingly versatile, lines are blurring and long-travel bikes are climbing more easily and faster than ever before. But does that mean that short-travel trail bikes are growing more potent on the downhills too?

short travel xc bikes

Our trail bikes are changing. We now have suspension kinematics that minimise pedal bob, while maximising big-hit fun. Seat tubes are growing steeper so we can climb better and bikes are growing increasingly lighter. The latest generation of 140–150 mm trail bikes have become the holy grail of do-it-all machines. So why do manufacturers still offer short-travel trail bikes? Is there a benefit to bikes with 130 mm or less travel? Are we missing something? So many questions. It’s time for some answers.

short travel xc bikes

Does short-travel mean less fun?

Does short-travel mean less fun? No way! If your local mountains are more like molehills, and your Sunday ride involves long connections between the trails, a short-travel bike will be a quick-riding passport to adventure and endless fun. On flow trails, a short-travel bike will pump faster through compressions and stay higher in its travel, rewarding you with more smiles and heaps of excitement. On many rides, carrying extra travel only dulls the sensations and feedback from the trail, meaning less agile and engaging handling than a well designed short-travel bike can provide. While a 140–150 mm trail bike is a great choice for many riders, the best bikes in this test show it’s important to choose a bike based on where and how you want to ride, rather than just numbers on a spec sheet.

short travel xc bikes

Imagine driving a Dodge V8 and a stripped out rally hatchback down a tight-twisty road. We can guarantee you’ll have more fun in the lighter, more agile rally car.

The short-travel trail bikes in this group test

For this group test, we wanted to include a diverse selection of bikes at a range of prices. On paper, all six bikes share similar geometry (with one exception) and range of application. All are 29ers, a wheel size that best suits the kilometre eating, corner railing nature of a good short-travel bike. The Specialized Epic EVO and Trek Top Fuel both mark a step up in versatility from dedicated XC race machines. They essentially take a racing platform but slack and stretch it out. The Whyte S-120C enters from the opposite end of the spectrum, packaging an enduro bike ethos in a short-travel chassis. Sitting in the middle, the Canyon Neuron, Merida ONE-TWENTY and Yeti SB100 are purpose built to be good at everything from marathon epics to fast laps of your local loop.

short travel xc bikes

Suspension kinematics are important

The saying “It’s not about the size, it’s about how you use it” has never been more apt. With short-travel bikes, progressive suspension kinematics are essential. With less to play with, the suspension needs to maintain control and can’t give up all its travel too quickly. For active riders, the Merida ONE-TWENTY, Trek Top Fuel and Whyte S-120C excel with a supportive kinematics that give just enough travel to smooth out big hits and almost always retaining some reserves. The result is that these bikes provide massive support for pumping to generate free speed from the trail and also provide lots of feedback from the trail. In contrast, the Canyon Neuron and Yeti SB100 have more linear kinematics, sacrificing a little mid-stroke support in pursuit of comfort and control through rock gardens, as well as boosting comfort and reducing fatigue on longer rides.

short travel xc bikes

Be suspicious of a low weight on the spec sheet

If you think that less travel equals less weight, you might have to reconsider. Given how hard we ride our bikes, both short- and long-travel bikes will actually require very similar components and in turn, it becomes hard to cut down weight without significant compromises in performance.

No matter if you have 100 or 150 mm of travel, you’ll still be riding effectively the same suspension units, need the same high-performance tires and will want to be able to brake just as quickly. Many brands make compromises to lower their bikes’ weight, saving a few grams on the scales by fitting inferior components. Brakes are often an easy and not immediately obvious downgrade. Fitting delicate 160 mm rotors on the rear and specifying smaller callipers might save 200–300 g, but the brakes still have to slow down the mass of a hard-charging 80+ kg rider. Do you ride a flow trail slower than an enduro trail? We don’t. Merida is the only brand to get this right, fitting powerful SRAM Code RSC brakes to their ONE-TWENTY. Tires are the next place to cut weight. While short-travel trail bikes do not need to come fitted with super heavy downhill casings, we still expect to see a versatile, capable and above all durable tire.

short travel xc bikes

Carbon vs Aluminium Wheels

You can have a lighter bike without performance compromises but it will come at a cost. Spending more allows manufacturers to fit better components that reduce weight while maintaining or even improving performance. We are generally big fans of aluminium rims, especially on harder hitting bikes where they are more affordable if damaged and offer a smoother ride feel. However, lightweight carbon rims accelerate quicker and give the bike a more lively and agile feel, properties that in our test enhance the ride of our short-travel bikes. The Merida ONE-TWENTY 8000 scores well here, saving over 400 g on the combined wheel weight (4.38 vs 4.79 kg) when compared to the Yeti SB100 fitted with similar all-round tires. The Trek Top Fuel and Specialized Epic EVO both have very lightweight wheelsets, but also ‘cheat’ a bit by fitting lighter but less durable and versatile tires for combined wheel weights of 3.94 and 4.02 kg respectively.

short travel xc bikes

These bikes are made to climb fast so why don’t they have steep seat tubes?

This is a great question and one that consumed our team during much of our testing. The bikes in this group test have an average seat-tube angle of 74.8° , making them slacker than the latest geometry trends in trail and enduro bikes. The Merida again takes the win with a 75.5° seat tube angle, but still falls short when compared to the latest enduro bikes. Take the Yeti SB100: its 74° seat tube angle is far slacker than the newer and longer travel SB130 and SB150 which both have 77° effective seat tubes. It’s true that short-travel bikes sit higher at sag than long-travel bikes, reducing the effective seat tube angle less, but could they learn a lesson in efficiency from their bigger brothers? Yes, they could. All the bikes in this test climbed better with the saddle far forwards on the rails, indicating that slightly steeper seat tubes would benefit overall pedalling efficiency. We hope that short-travel bikes follow the steep seat tube trend that is sweeping through the trail and enduro sector.

Tops & Flops

Often small details can make a huge difference: seamless integration, first-class ergonomics and carefully selected parts. Easier said than done – here are some of the tops and flops from this grouptest.

short travel xc bikes

How we tested the bikes and where?

We packed the bikes into the back of a van and headed to the amazing trails of Ballater in the Scottish Highlands. Ballater is the hidden gem of Scottish riding, offering long flow trails, gruelling ascents and an iconic fast and furious ridgeline descent that is the perfect test of a short-travel ripper. We braved the Scottish midges and challenging weather conditions to push the bikes hard. Parts broke, tires were slashed but great fun was had. For a more thorough test of the bikes’ downhill performance, we also challenged them hard on shuttle assisted runs in the notorious Innerleithen bike park.

short travel xc bikes

The test team

short travel xc bikes

Six bikes with six very different personalities left us with many surprises. After extensive testing, the biggest surprise has been just how versatile short-travel bikes have become. Yes, many of the tires lacked grip and the brakes were weaker, but we soon found ourselves effortlessly straying onto full-bore enduro trails. The second surprise is just how much fun short-travel bikes are to ride. After-work rides become longer and big climbs are relatively speaking effortless. Staying high in their travel with supportive suspension, they turn even the most boring trails into a playground. Every compression is the opportunity to pump for more speed and every bump becomes the lip of a jump. If your trails are more flow than gnar, you’ll have more fun and smiles on a short-travel bike.

short travel xc bikes

When it came to choosing our favourites, it was a tough call. With an XC oriented build kit, the Specialized Epic EVO was a beast on the climbs but it felt least at home on variable terrain. We also weren’t completely convinced by the Micro Brain shock, especially the noticeable delay before the inertia valve opens the compression damping under compression. The Canyon Neuron is the polar opposite: linear and efficient it would make a perfect bike for comfortable long tours but lacked spark when pushed to the limit. As is usual for Canyon, it does represent excellent value for money though. The Whyte S-120 C is the fastest bike on challenging terrain, where its progressive geometry and capable build kit give it an advantage that can be measured in seconds on the descents However, the uncompromising enduro specification and heavier wheelset is noticeable on the climbs when chasing the best in this test.

short travel xc bikes

It was almost impossible to separate the top three bikes with all of them receiving high praise from the testers. The Trek Top Fuel is a testament to a new way of thinking. Potent, versatile and fiercely competitive, we can’t think of many situations where it would not excel. It was only the increased complexity of the TwistLoc (a grip shifter style suspension lockout) and the weak brakes that pushed it off the top spot. The Yeti SB100 was also a team favourite, blending effortless ground-covering efficiency with an easy-going playfulness that delighted all our testers. With a beautiful frame that deserves upgraded components, it’s a bike that we would be proud to own. For the first time ever, a Yeti takes our Best Value award. That leaves the Merida ONE-TWENTY : a versatile trail rocket that happily went everywhere and anywhere we took it. With a faultless build kit, great brakes, great suspension and an agile and engaging ride that will delight riders of all experience levels, there is nothing to fault, giving it the well-deserved Best In Test award.

short travel xc bikes

All bikes in test: Canyon Neuron CF 8.0 | Merida ONE TWENTY 8000 | Specialized Epic Expert Evo | Trek Top Fuel 9.9 | Whyte S-120C RS | Yeti SB100 C GX

If you’re looking for a bike with more travel you should definitely check our test about the best enduro bike of 2019: The best enduro bike you can buy

This article is from ENDURO issue #040

ENDURO Mountainbike Magazine is published in a digital app format in both English and German. Download the app for iOS or Android to read all articles on your tablet or smartphone. 100% free!

short travel xc bikes

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Best cross-country XC mountain bikes: Thoroughbred racing steeds

Alan Muldoon

  • Alan Muldoon
  • April 16, 2024

The best cross-country (XC) mountain bikes are all about raw speed. But their light weight and excellent efficiency also makes then ideal for fast, flowing singletrack as well as racing.

XC Race Bike Test opener

XC Race Bike Test opener Credit: Mick Kirkman

Welcome to a lean, mean collection of the best cross-country mountain bikes built for speed, all put through their (race) paces by our expert team of reviewers. Lighter and faster than the more versatile bikes from our list of best mountain bikes , these whippets are not for the faint-hearted.

While all these bikes bring distinctively different approaches to what makes an XC race winner, there is a thread that ties them all together: all are rolling on 29in wheels. From hardtail to full-suspension options, some feature traditional XC geometry, while others are a little slacker in the head angle with more suspension to take on the increasingly technical modern cross-country tracks, and also thanks to the growth in popularity of down-country bikes .

Best cross-country mountain bikes: hardtails

Trek Procaliber 9.7

The latest Trek Procaliber 9.7 keeps the same comfortable frame but gains a SRAM wireless T-Type transmission.

1. Trek Procaliber

Best xc hardtail for a compliant ride.

Frame: OCLV Mountain Carbon | Frame sizes:  S, M, M/L, L, XL, XXL  | Suspension travel:  110mm f  | Weight: 11.01kg | Rating: 10/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Comfortable as well as speedy
  • Wide size range

Reasons to avoid:

  • Lacks a dropper post for modern XC courses

We tested the Trek Procaliber 9.7 a few years ago and it blew the competition away to take the top step of the podium in our group test. The current model hasn’t changed significantly – it still uses the same OCLV carbon frame with effective, trail-smoothing IsoSpeed decoupler, that lets you save energy and channel more into effort into reaching the finish line first.

When we tested it we were blown away, writing: ‘From the first pedal stroke the Procaliber took the lead in this test and never faltered. We were instantly won over by its effortless turn of speed, in part thanks to the carbon wheels, but it’s also about the more forgiving ride quality of the frame. Bumps just didn’t chip away at our speed as much as they did on the other bikes on test. And even when we were out of the saddle, the Procaliber was still the smoothest bike here.’ High praise indeed.

Read our full test review of the Trek Procaliber 9.7

Giant XTC

Giant’s XTC SLR 29 1 is dressed to impress.

2. Giant XTC SLR 29 1

Best budget xc race hardtail.

Frame:  ALUXX SLR aluminium  | Frame sizes:  S, M, L, XL  | Suspension travel:  100mm f  |  Weight:  12.29kg | Rating:  10/10

  • Giant Crest forks adds accuracy
  • Needs lock-on grips
  • Tall top tube height

A light frame, precise fork, and stellar handling ensured the Giant XTC emerged out in front when we tested four budget XC race hardtails. There’s an obvious pedigree bred from years of racing development, and the result is a bike that we described as “startlingly fast yet totally forgiving”.

Whether you’re planning to dip your toe into XC racing, have a crack at a marathon event, or fancy the challenge of a long-distance trail such as the South Downs Way, the Giant XTC SLR 29 1 is up for the fight.

Read our full test review of the Giant XTC SLR 29 1

Voodoo Bizango Pro

The Voodoo Bizango Pro won our hardtail of the year test in 2022, and carries so much pace that it would make a superb starter XC bike.

2. Voodoo Bizango Pro

Best budget mountain bike for racing and long rides.

Wheel size:  29in |  Frame sizes:  S, M, L, XL |  Weight:  13.2kg |  Suspension travel:  130mm front |  Rating:  10/10

  • Good geometry and superlative spec choices
  • Low weight and comfy ride feel
  • BB could be a finger’s width lower
  • Fatter tyres and more standover clearance would be welcome

The Voodoo Bizango has smashed pretty much any test it’s ever entered, winning our Hardtail of the Year award multiple times, earning regular podium places on our list of  the best hardtail mountain bikes , and impressing everyone who rode it. It must have been very tempting for Halfords to stick with the old frame, add a modern colour, fettle the spec and keep mixing up that winning mix.

We’re extremely glad they didn’t then. For Halfords’ sake, standing still in the ultra competitive hardtail market is suicide. And for our sake, the new Bizango Pro is much the superior bike to anything Voodoo has made before, and ultimately more fun to ride. Great brakes mean you can go faster in the happy knowledge you can stop when you need to, while the 12-speed shifting means you can cruise the hills faster than plenty of full-sus bikes out there. And then there’s the fork, it’s hugely superior to anything we’ve tried before on a £1k hardtail: air-sprung so you can set the sag to your weight, effective rebound dial for control, and a really smooth feel.

Read the full Voodoo Bizango Pro review

Scott Scale 965

Scott’s Scale has an enviable racing pedigree.

3. Scott Scale

Best chassis for upgrade.

Frame: 6061 Custom butted aluminium | Frame sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL | Suspension travel:  100mm f  | Weight: 12.97kg | Rating: 9/10

  • Composed ride
  • No tubeless-ready tyres
  • Basic fork gets overwhelmed easily

Some brands use race teams for marketing, others focus on product development; Scott clearly does both. As such, the Scale is a finely tuned XC race machine with a huge trophy cabinet to prove it. It’s a light bike for the money, and with a stance and fit that will appeal to performance-minded riders, it will come as no surprise that the Scott feels quick straight off the mark. In our review, we explained this was “assisted no doubt by the wide 92mm bottom bracket shell and boxy, flattened chainstays”. Which meant that “putting the power down out of the saddle feels both natural and rewarding”.

Unfortunately the fly in the ointment is the basic RockShox Judy fork. It doesn’t have the damping control to match the speed you can generate from the chassis, so you end up using more energy to stay on line and maintain that valuable momentum. Given that the frame deserves it, we’d recommend stepping up to the Scale 960 at £1,699 which runs a stouter Fox 32 Rhythm.

Read our full test review of the Scott Scale 965

Best cross-country mountain bikes: full-suspension

Epic WC

The new Specialized Epic WC is as much brain as brawn.

1. Specialized Epic 8

Techno tour de force.

Frame:  FACT 12M Carbon | Frame Sizes: XS, S, M, M/L, L, XL  | Suspension travel: 120mm f, 120mm r | Weight: 10.49kg | Rating: N/A

  • Superlight yet impressively controlled and practical frame
  • Automatic Ai suspension leaves you with more mental capacity for tactics
  • Perfect race componentry
  •  Premium performance comes at a premium cost
  • Flight Attendant auto-suspension is bound to be an opinion divider

Specialized always likes to be one step ahead of the competition, whether it’s on the race track or the shop floor, and the new Epic 8 is the most advanced XC bike on the planet. Of course, that also means that the price tag is out of this world.

But you do get a mind-bendingly fast machine that’s now in its 8th iteration – hence the name. Perhaps the most impressive part of this bike is the way it blends old-school know how – excellent handling, efficient pedalling, capable suspension – with a fork and shock that work together under the control of a sophisticated brain to make sure you’re always in the optimum mode. Which lets you get on with the job of showing your competitors a clean pair of wheels.

Read our full review of the Specialized Epic 8 WC

Trek Supercaliber

Trek’s Supercaliber SLR 9.9 XX AXS Gen 2 builds on a winning formula.

2. Trek Supercaliber Gen 2

Best money-no-object xc race bike.

Frame: SLR OCLV Mountain Carbon | Frame Sizes: S, M, L, XL | Suspension travel: 100mm f, 100mm r | Weight: 9.75kg | Rating: 9/10

  • Conventional frame configuration
  • Predictable handling and suspension
  • Race-ready build
  • Press-fit BB servicing sucks (but you’ll find them on most XC race bikes)
  • Narrow tyres and no power meter on the top spec

Don’t be fooled by the dropper post; Trek’s new Supercaliber is still a pure-bred XC race bike that thrives on speed and success. The latest frame design is a subtle evolution of the original, which means it’s more about ironing out the creases than starting from scratch. The proprietary IsoStrut suspension minimises weight while maximising stiffness, so you get a smoother, faster ride, without losing forward momentum in a sprint or on the climbs. 

As we said in our review, “ the stiff frame, progressive suspension and increased anti squat all boost ego when you’re putting the effort in”. And while the dropper post adds a tiny bit of weight to the sub-10kg package, it lets you attack on the descents as well as the climbs. 

Read our full review of the Trek Supercaliber SLR 9.9 XX AXS Gen 2

short travel xc bikes

Integrated suspension system conceals the RockShox NUDE 5 shock inside the full carbon frame.

3. Scott Spark RC

Best xc bike for on-the-fly suspension optimisation.

Wheel size:  29in |  Frame sizes:  S, M, L, XL |  Weight:  11.12kg |  Suspension travel:  120mm f/120mm r |  Rating:  9/10

  • Ruthless in its efficiency
  • Hidden shock should need less maintenance
  • Remote suspension adjust
  • Suspension could be more supple in Descend mode

Scott’s Spark has won more trophies than any other race bike, with double Olympic gold back in 2016. This latest version gets a sleek new frame and more modern geometry, meaning that while the Scott Spark has lost none of its potency, it has now become even more versatile. It also gets a hidden shock for reduced maintenance, and remote suspension control for uphill efficiency without compromising on downhill confidence. It’s also one of the sleekest, cleanest designs on the planet.

Read our full review of the Scott Spark RC WC AXS

Santa Cruz Blur

Santa Cruz Blur is not the stiffest race bike, but it’s one of the lightest and a lot of fun to ride.

4. Santa Cruz Blur

Punches well above its weight.

Frame: CC carbon, 100mm | Frame Sizes: S, M, L, XL | Suspension travel: 100mm f, 100mm r | Weight: 10.41kg | Rating: 8/10

  • So light it barely needs any human propulsion
  • Rear suspension is not the firmest under power

The Santa Cruz Blur barely makes an impression on the scales, weighing a scant 10.4kg in size large with the build kit shown above. But it certainly makes an impression on the trails, with a comfortable ride and effortless momentum over sections that would have most XC bikes tensing up and slowing down. There’s no shortage of urgency to the acceleration, and it’s surprisingly capable downhill, but there are better climbing XC bikes.

We found the suspension tune gave loads of grip, but absorbed some of our energy on the climbs. Luckily there’s a remote lockout to compensate, but it’s not as sophisticated as Scott’s TwinLoc system.

Read our full test review of the Santa Cruz Blur XC CC X01 AXS RSV

How we tested

Each of the bikes above was put through its paces in a rigorous testing process, ridden hard over many miles by experience bike testers. Judged on performance when sprinting, climbing, descending, riding features such as drops, jumps, root sections and rock gardens, only the bikes which scored highly in reviews have been included here. These are the best of the best.

short travel xc bikes

Evie Richards performs at UCI XCO World Championships in Glentress, Scotland on her Trek Supercaliber // Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool.

What is XC racing and what makes a good race bike?

In many ways, XC racing is the foundation upon which our sport has been built. Yes, new styles and disciplines come and go, or morph in the way that 160mm-travel all-mountain bikes transformed into enduro rigs. Cross-country racing, however, has weathered the storms of fashion and remains ingrained in riding culture to this day, and with the success of the Olympics and stars such as Evie Richards, Tom Pidcock and Mathieu van der Poel now couldn’t be a better time to try one of these addictively fast machines. If you want something more versatile, check out our buyer’s guide to the best down-country bikes as these bring a little bit more suspension travel and allow you to broaden your riding horizons.

Like all survivors, XC racing has prospered by evolving. Long gone are the three-hour mud-fests on non-challenging terrain. Courses are now shorter and more demanding, challenging riders and equipment, while pushing the visual aspect to make it more appealing for spectators.

A typical XC race loop now features punchy climbs, descents worthy of any EWS stage plus more purpose-built features for the TV cameras. XC riding and racing is thrilling to watch because it is no longer purely a test of raw fitness; it’s about pushing skill levels and bike handling as much as heart rates.

Pan shot of bike tester

We had to borrow Lycra from our sister publication for this XC hardtail test.

Full-suspension Vs hardtail: which makes the best XC race bike?

We love hardtails at mbr. XC race bikes have never been in a better spot, the bikes rising to the challenge of modern courses and the demands of the next generation of racers.

And while most of the racing elite have smoothly transitioned to 29er full-suspension bikes, if you’re just getting into XC racing, a trusty 29er hardtail is a much more affordable way to get your hands on a lightweight, efficient bike. Which is why we have several XC 29er race hardtails selected for this list.

short travel xc bikes

The Scott Spark RC is one of the most iconic race bikes of modern times.

Which bike should I choose for cross-country mountain biking?

As XC courses have evolved, so too have the bikes. As such, modern XC races will probably see very few races won on a hardtail, with lightweight full-suspension bikes proving to be the most efficient over the majority of race courses. Even at the highest level of World Cup racing, the pros have realised that effective suspension and confidence-inspiring geometry can bring bigger gains than just weight saving and efficiency alone.

So for most riders, a full-suspension XC bike will reduce fatigue on a modern race course, allowing you to use that saved energy to attack the competition. And when you’re not between the tape, a full-sus race bike can also hold its own as a trail bike, giving extra versatility.

Tom Pidcock riding the new Pinarello Dogma XC mountain bike

Riders like Tom Pidcock are bringing a fresh injection of style and excitement to XC racing.

However, if you’re toying with trying a few XC races, but also fancy the idea of a gravel bike, an XC hardtail would make a better tool. Why? Well, they’re likely to be just as fast as a gravel bike on most actual gravel roads, but with the right cockpit and geometry for bombing off-piste when the opportunity arises. And who wants to spend their life grovelling along a gravel road when you could be ripping some prime singletrack?

Specialized Epic 8 Review | The all-new 120mm travel Epic is Brainless, but all the better for it!

The not-so-minor details.

Specialized Epic 8



From $7,500 AUD ($24,000 AUD as tested)

- Active & highly capable suspension - Contemporary geometry with nifty Hi/Lo flip chip - Same brilliant SIDLuxe custom shock tune on all models - Flight Attendant system on S-Works Epic is a genuine game changer - New generation SWAT storage is fabulous - Lightweight & practical frame design

- The S-Works bike is eye-poppingly expensive - SRAM Level brakes have too much dead stroke - No alloy models

Wil reviews the Specialized Epic 8

Cast your mind back 22 years ago, when the Specialized Epic debuted on the race scene with its iconic Brain shock. The clever inertia valve formed an integral part of the bike’s automatic-lockout schtick and it’s been a defining feature of the Epic ever since.

Two decades and many revisions later, Specialized is launching the latest version of the Epic and, for the first time ever, there is not a Brain damper in sight. In fact, this is the first Epic where most models will come with a remote lockout. Sacre bleu!

To get to grips with this change in attitude, I’ve been putting in a load of saddle time aboard the new Specialized Epic and Epic EVO over the past two months. We wrapped up testing with a few days at the Buxton MTB Park in Victoria’s High Country, which allowed us to ride both bikes back-to-back and really dig down into the details.

So what exactly are the differences? How does the new Epic compare to the short travel Epic World Cup ? And where do they all sit amongst the best XC bikes on the market?

Watch our video review of the Specialized Epic & Epic EVO:

2024 specialized s-works epic 8

I gotta say, we are absolutely loving this new trend for 120mm travel XC bikes, and the Specialized Epic is arguably the best example yet.

2024 specialized s-works epic 8

An overview of the Specialized Epic 8

All new for 2024, the latest Specialized Epic represents the 8th generation of the race bike platform. As part of the launch, Specialized is adopting a new naming system that moves away from traditional year models. Instead, the new bike will simply be known as the ‘Epic 8’. Expect other models to follow this nomenclature in the future.

Also noteworthy is the fact that there are three distinct variants of the Epic platform. These are;

  • Epic World Cup – 110/75mm travel, smooth course XC race bike
  • Epic – 120/120mm travel, all-round XC & marathon race bike
  • Epic EVO – 130/120mm travel, XC and trail riding

2024 specialized s-works epic 8

Here we’ll be covering the Epic, which features an all-new frame for 2024 along with an increase in travel to 120mm front and rear. It’s pitched as a versatile XC race bike that’s ready for marathon and multi-day stage racing. And in a lot of ways it’s the logical successor to the previous Epic EVO that had become the favoured race bike for the World Cup XC team. With its dedicated 120mm travel platform, the new Epic 8 moves further inline with the latest Scott Spark RC & Orbea Oiz .

Brainless, but better?

Aside from its longer legs, one of the biggest stories for the Epic 8 is its distinct lack of a Brain damper.

2024 specialized s-works epic 8

In its place is a mostly conventional RockShox SIDLuxe shock. There’s a relatively straightforward single pivot suspension platform that uses flex stays with a rocker link and yoke to drive the shock. The layout is pretty similar to the previous Epic EVO, though the link is longer and it sits at a flatter angle to lower the initial leverage rate.

Furthermore, the main pivot has been lifted up to increase anti-squat, which sits at around 100% at sag. As a result, the new Epic is claimed to offer 20% less pedal bob on smooth climbs compared to the old Epic EVO. And since the new kinematic keeps the bike riding higher in its travel, the dynamic head angle is pretty similar when climbing even if the on-paper head angle has gotten slacker.

short travel xc bikes

The end result is a bike that’s purported to be both more efficient and more compliant than its predecessors, making it “ the most capable 120mm bike on the planet. ” Fighting words indeed!

Specialized has got a whole bunch of fancy graphs and illustrations to back up its claims and prove how much testing went into the new bike. Prototype mules were developed with angle-adjustable headsets and flip chips, as well as an eccentric BB to change the height and rear centre length. Accelerometers were then used at the wheels to measure bump response, and strain gauges were employed throughout to record frame deflection. The end result is a bike that’s purported to be both more efficient and more compliant than its predecessors, making it “ the most capable 120mm bike on the planet. ” Fighting words indeed!

Standard-ish shock

Each Epic model comes equipped with a RockShox SID and SIDLuxe suspension package. The shock’s 190x45mm size is standard, though the internals have been custom-tuned by Specialized’s in-house Ride Dynamics team specifically for the Epic.

2024 specialized s-works epic 8

A key component is the high volume air spring. There are no Bottomless Tokens inside, and even the plastic eyelet spacer has been removed to maximise air volume, creating a flatter and more consistent spring curve.

To help cushion the end of the travel, Specialized has brought over the big rubber jounce bumper that was originally developed for the SIDLuxe WCID shock on the Epic World Cup. It’s a simple but highly effective solution for preventing harsh bottoming out.

Specialized has also tuned the shock’s damper to provide three distinct modes; Wide Open, Magic Middle and Sprint-On-Lock.

Wide Open is similar to a regular SIDLuxe shock and is exactly as it sounds. Sprint-On-Lock is designed to provide a super stiff lockout, which is supported by the flatter leverage curve of the new kinematic.

ALL-NEW Specialized Epic vs Epic EVO Review | Brainless, But All The Better For It!

Magic in the Middle

The Magic Middle mode is where things get interesting. This deploys a custom valve that features a digressive compression tune. It’s not a dissimilar concept to the old Brain damper, where the shock delivers more low-speed compression damping at lower shaft speeds to provide pedalling support. Hit something hard and fast however, and the damping drops off quickly to let the shock absorb the impact in a similar way to the Wide Open mode.

Specialized takes this concept further by implementing the digressive compression tune into the Epic’s SID fork as well. That means in the Magic Middle mode you get an efficient pedalling platform at both ends of the bike, which Specialized says is ideal for racing. In fact, it turns out the World Cup race team has been using the new custom suspension tune all throughout the 2023 season.

To switch between these three suspension modes, on most Epic models you’ll be using a RockShox TwistLoc remote . Yep, a remote lockout on an Epic, who woulda thunk it!

Move up to the S-Works Epic, and you do get automated suspension courtesy of the new RockShox Flight Attendant system. More on that in a bit.

2024 specialized epic 8 s-works pro

SWAT storage

Another exciting addition to the Specialized Epic 8 is its in-frame storage. This is a curious decision for an XC race bike where weight is a high priority, though Specialized says it only adds around 75g of extra carbon to reinforce the big hole in the downtube.

It is neatly executed too with a new generation hatch that features a lower profile and an ergonomic lever mechanism. The snug fit is claimed to be watertight and rattle-free, and the underside of the hatch incorporates a holster for carrying a Dynaplug and CO2 cylinder. A dry bag is included with the bike, allowing you to store a spare tube and levers inside the frame. Along with the SWAT tool that sits underneath the main bottle cage, you’re pretty well covered for tools and spares.

2024 specialized epic 8 s-works

Specialized Epic frame weight

Despite the addition of downtube storage, the new Specialized Epic 8 frame is supposedly 76g lighter than its predecessor. Getting rid of the Brain no doubt helps, but there are some more subtle weight-saving details throughout.

The shock mounting tabs are said to be 24g lighter as they’re now moulded into the frame rather than being stuck on. Along with titanium pivot hardware and a new carbon shock yoke, the S-Works Epic FACT 12m carbon frame is claimed to weigh just 1,795g including a SIDLuxe remote shock.

2024 specialized epic 8 s-works

All the other Epic models utilise a cheaper FACT 11m carbon frame that features an alloy shock yoke and steel pivot hardware, resulting in a 170g weight penalty.

Here’s how those claimed weights stack up against the competition;

  • Specialized S-Works Epic World Cup  – 1,712g
  • Cervelo ZFS-5 – 1,718g
  • Giant Anthem Advanced Pro  – 1,735g
  • Specialized S-Works Epic 8 (FACT 12m) – 1,795g
  • Orbea Oiz OMX  – 1,798g
  • Scott Spark HMX SL  – 1,870g
  • Canyon Lux World Cup CFR  – 1,894g
  • Cannondale Scalpel Hi-Mod  – 1,910g
  • Santa Cruz Blur 4  – 1,933g
  • Trek Supercaliber SLR – 1,950g
  • Specialized Epic 8 (FACT 11m) – 1,965g
  • Merida Ninety-Six RC  – 2,064g
  • Pivot Mach 4 SL  – 2,087g

2024 specialized epic 8 s-works

Specialized Epic geometry & size chart

The new Specialized Epic 8 continues to push the boundaries of modern XC geometry.

There’s a 66.4° head angle, a 76° seat angle and a 450mm reach in the size Medium. You might also spot a discreet two-position flip chip in the lower shock mount. Complete bikes will come from the factory set up in the High position, and switching to Low will drop the BB by 5mm and slacken the angles by half a degree.

Rear centre length sits at 435mm across the size range. I asked Brian Gordon, the Epic product manager, whether a size-specific approach had been considered. He said they did test longer chainstays on the bigger frame sizes, but feedback from the Specialized Factory Racing team (including a 1.85m tall bloke called Christopher Blevins) indicated that athletes wanted the back end to be as short as possible. So there you go.

2024 specialized epic geometry size chart

Specialized Epic 8 price & specs

There will be four models in the Specialized Epic 8 lineup, with prices starting at $7,500 AUD for the Comp.

Regardless of price, all models feature a RockShox SID fork and SIDLuxe shock. Each bike comes standard with a dropper post (woohoo!) as well as the same Specialized Fast Trak and Renegade tyre combo.

Our test bike is the all-singing, all-dancing S-Works model. This is the only bike to feature the premium FACT 12m carbon frame, and it’s also the only one to come with RockShox Flight Attendant. Brand new for 2024, the XC version of Flight Attendant has some seriously cool stuff going on that includes powermeter integration. We’ll be talking about that a bit in this review, but given most folks will be looking at one of the cheaper models, I feel it’s important not to get too lost in the weeds. For those who really want to nerd out, see our separate Flight Attendant XC feature for everything you need to know.

2024 specialized s-works epic 8

2024 Specialized S-Works Epic 8

  • Frame | FACT 12m Carbon, Single-Pivot Suspension Design, 120mm Travel
  • Fork | RockShox SID Ultimate, Flight Attendant, 44mm Offset, 120mm Travel
  • Shock | RockShox SIDLuxe Ultimate, Flight Attendant, 190x45mm
  • Wheels |  Roval Control SL, Carbon Rims, 29mm Inner Width
  • Tyres | Specialized Fast Trak T7 Control 2.35in Front & Renegade T5 Control 2.35in Rear
  • Drivetrain | SRAM XX SL Eagle AXS Transmission 1×12 w/34T Carbon Crankset & 10-52T Cassette
  • Brakes | SRAM Level Ultimate 4-Piston w/180mm Front & 160mm Rear Rotors
  • Bar |  Roval Control SL Cockpit, 760mm Width
  • Stem | Roval Control SL Cockpit, 60mm Length
  • Seatpost | RockShox Reverb AXS, 30.9mm Diameter, Travel: 125mm (S-M), 150mm (L), 170mm (XL)
  • Saddle |  Specialized S-Works Power, Carbon Rails
  • Claimed Weight | 10.24kg
  • RRP | $24,000 AUD

2024 specialized epic 8 pro

2024 Specialized Epic 8 Pro

  • Frame | FACT 11m Carbon, Single-Pivot Suspension Design, 120mm Travel
  • Fork | RockShox SID Ultimate, Charger Race Day 3-Position Damper, 44mm Offset, 120mm Travel
  • Shock | RockShox SIDLuxe Ultimate, 3-Position Damper, 190x45mm
  • Wheels | Roval Control, Carbon Rims, 29mm Inner Width
  • Drivetrain | SRAM X0 Eagle AXS Transmission 1×12 w/34T Alloy Crankset & 10-52T Cassette
  • Brakes | SRAM Level Silver 4-Piston w/180mm Front & 160mm Rear Rotors
  • Bar | S-Works Carbon XC Mini Rise, 10mm Rise, 760mm Width
  • Stem | Specialized Pro SL, 60mm Length
  • Seatpost | BikeYoke Divine SL, 30.9mm Diameter, Travel: 100mm (S), 125mm (M-XL)
  • Saddle | Specialized Power Expert, Titanium Rails
  • Claimed Weight | 10.87kg
  • RRP | $14,800 AUD

2024 specialized epic 8 expert

2024 Specialized Epic 8 Expert

  • Fork | RockShox SID Select+, Charger Race Day 3-Position Damper, 44mm Offset, 120mm Travel
  • Shock | RockShox SIDLuxe Select+, 3-Position Damper, 190x45mm
  • Drivetrain | SRAM GX Eagle AXS Transmission 1×12 w/34T Alloy Crankset & 10-52T Cassette
  • Brakes | SRAM Level Bronze 4-Piston w/180mm Front & 160mm Rear Rotors
  • Bar | Specialized Alloy Mini Rise, 10mm Rise, 750mm Width
  • Stem | Specialized XC, 60mm Length
  • Seatpost | X-Fusion Manic, 30.9mm Diameter, Travel: 100mm (XS), 125mm (S-M), 150mm (L), 170mm (XL)
  • Saddle | Specialized Power Sport, Chromoly Rails
  • Claimed Weight | 11.1kg
  • RRP | $11,000 AUD

2024 specialized epic 8 comp

2024 Specialized Epic 8 Comp

  • Fork | RockShox SID Select, Charger RL 3-Position Damper, 44mm Offset, 120mm Travel
  • Wheels | Alloy Hubs & Specialized Alloy Rims, 28mm Inner Width
  • Drivetrain | SRAM GX Eagle 1×12 w/32T Alloy Crankset & 10-52T Cassette
  • Stem | Specialized Alloy, 60mm Length
  • Claimed Weight | 11.7kg
  • RRP | $7,500 AUD

2024 specialized s-works epic 8 review

With your feet hovering above the ground, stability at speed is outrageously good and you can properly bury the Epic into tight corners.

2024 specialized epic 8 s-works buxton mtb park

Testing the Specialized Epic at the Buxton MTB Park

Following two months of riding on home trails, I took the Specialized Epic and Epic EVO to the Buxton MTB Park for three days of back-to-back testing as part of our Ride High Country Test Sessions.

We were joined by our pal Jo, who is an MTB skills instructor and a former World Cup XC racer. Jo also owns the previous version of the Epic EVO, which would prove to be a great point of comparison with the new bikes.

With 23km of flowy, purpose-built singletrack making up its network, the Buxton MTB Park is a terrific spot for a modern XC bike. It’s beautiful bush to ride through, and we especially love darting through the lush green ferns down the awesome Spider Gully trail.

Being just a 10-minute drive from Marysville at the foot of Lake Mountain, there’s a load of fantastic riding to be done in the region that makes it ideal for a long weekend away. For more info, check out our Destination Hub feature on the Buxton MTB Park .

2024 specialized epic 8 s-works review

Sizing & fit

At 175cm tall I’ve been riding a Medium size in the Specialized Epic, which fits like a glove. The riding position is fairly aggressive due to the steep 76° seat angle, short head tube and -12° stem that all serve to push you low and forward. I still found it to be comfortable though, with the 760mm wide bars opening up the chest nicely.

Touch points are excellent thanks to the snub-nose Power saddle and symmetrical SRAM AXS Pod controllers. I was also stoked to see a 125mm travel dropper post as standard.

2024 specialized epic 8 s-works review

Suspension & tyre setup

It’s recommended to set up the SIDLuxe shock on the Specialized Epic with 25-30% sag, a process that’s made easier with anodised gradients on the stanchion.

Initially I started at 25% sag, but soon learned I could run lower pressures and lean on the big bottom-out bumper to prevent any harsh bottoming-out. I ended up right at 30% sag, which required 145psi to support my 67kg riding weight. Rebound damping was set on the faster side at 7/10 clicks.

I set up the SID fork a little firmer and faster than what’s recommended in the RockShox Trailhead app, with 75psi and 11/20 clicks for rebound.

As per usual, I fitted a CushCore XC insert in the rear wheel and set tyre pressures at 20-21psi up front and 22-23psi out back.

2024 specialized epic 8 s-works weight

Specialized Epic weight

Our Specialized Epic test bike tips the scales at 10.32kg (without pedals and with the tyres set up tubeless), which is very close to the claimed weight. There are lighter XC bikes out there, but very few offer 120mm of travel.

Because I’m a total nerd, I decided to spend a Saturday afternoon stripping the Epic down to its bare frame to weigh it. This was surprisingly easy to do given the wireless controls and threaded BB, with no special tools required.

I was curious to see how the real-world frame weight would stack up against Specialized’s claims, and it turned out our frame was a fair bit heavier at 2,040g including the shock. There are several reasons for this.

roval control sl weight cockpit handlebar stem

Because I’m a total nerd, I decided to spend a Saturday afternoon stripping the Epic down to its bare frame to weigh it.

2024 specialized epic 8 s-works frame weight

For a start, the Flight Attendant shock is 90g heavier than the SIDLuxe remote shock that comes standard on the S-Works frameset. Specialized also states that the black and white frame saves 25g in paint, and it’s also weighed without the thick rubber downtube protector that adds 58g alone.

With those details factored in, our frame would theoretically tip the scales at 1,867g, which is much closer to the claimed weight. To put it into perspective with the other XC frames I’ve been able to weigh, it’s lighter than the Canyon Lux World Cup CFR (1,941g confirmed), but heavier than the Giant Anthem (1,807g confirmed).

While we’re nerding out on frame weight, here’s a list of all the other parts I put on the workshop scales;

  • S-Works Epic Frame & Shock – 2,040g
  • RockShox SID Flight Attendant Fork – 1,1616g
  • RockShox SIDLuxe Flight Attendant Shock – 342g
  • RockShox Reverb AXS Dropper Post – 617g
  • S-Works Power Saddle – 161g
  • Roval Control SL Cockpit – 247g
  • Roval Control SL Wheelset – 1,293g
  • Fast Trak Control T7 Tyre – 716g
  • Renegade Control T5 Tyre – 726g

2024 specialized epic 8 s-works review

What do we dig about the Specialized Epic?

I gotta say, we are absolutely loving this new trend for 120mm travel XC bikes, and the Specialized Epic is arguably the best example yet. Its longer legs give it a significantly plusher and more active ride quality compared to the likes of the Supercaliber and Lux World Cup .

By employing a shock extender, sealed bearings can be used at all pivot points with the exception of the forward shock mount. Specialized has also spec’d a lighter lockout tune, which leads to less damping restriction in the Wide Open mode for greater bump-swallowing performance. Combined with the superb SID and SIDLuxe, you’re treated to well-balanced traction and sensitivity front to back.

Push the Epic on more challenging terrain, and its reactive suspension reveals impressive big-hit support. That big bottom-out bumper works wonders at cushioning the last few millimetres, with only the ugliest landings resulting in you hitting full travel. This gives more confidence to let it hang out on the descents, and it makes the Epic a fun and natural bike to jump with.

2024 specialized epic 8 s-works review

Future-forward geometry

The contemporary geometry plays into the Epic’s confidence too. While the aggressive position puts you low and forward in the cockpit, I’ve rarely encountered any nervousness when pointing it down a steep chute. The stout 35mm fork chassis certainly helps, as does the capable suspension and long front centre.

Things get even better when you flip the geometry chip into the Low position. This pushes the Epic further into trail bike territory by slackening the head angle to 65.9° and dropping the BB by 5mm. I measured the actual BB height as 323mm, which is quite low indeed.

2024 specialized epic 8 s-works review

With your feet hovering above the ground, stability at speed is outrageously good and you can properly bury the Epic into tight corners. Traction is plentiful, with the supple tyres and sensitive suspension keeping you thoroughly connected to the terrain.

There’s also a nice degree of springiness to the frame itself, which you can feel when slinging the Epic through successive turns. It’s worth acknowledging Specialized’s size-specific approach that sees unique carbon layups and tube profiles employed across each frame size. The idea here is to hit the same stiffness targets based on the expected average rider weight. As such, heavy folks on larger frames won’t end up on a wet noodle of a bike, and lighter riders on smaller frames won’t suffer from an excessively stiff and harsh ride.

2024 specialized epic 8 s-works review

Pert pedalling

Pedal response has also stepped up on the new Specialized Epic, offering noticeably greater efficiency compared to the previous Epic EVO.

Part of this is due to the elevated anti-squat, which sits at around 100% at sag compared to 90% for the old bike. It doesn’t sound like much, but it leads to more neutral pedalling performance that ensures the Epic is plenty responsive under power even in the Wide Open mode. Along with the welterweight carbon wheelset and quick-rolling tyres, acceleration is rapid.

It only gets better in the Magic Middle mode, which stabilises the suspension on the climbs and lifts the overall ride height. Even with the ground-hugging BB, pedal strikes have been a non-issue.

2024 specialized epic 8 s-works review

There’s still enough movement to provide grip on hardpack surfaces. And the suspension can break through its low-speed threshold when you encounter a reasonable impact, with a nice clean breakaway that does well to mitigate incoming trail feedback. This makes the Magic Middle mode ideal for most racing scenarios where efficiency is paramount and comfort is less of a concern.

Flight Attendant XC

Now I did say I didn’t want to talk too much about Flight Attendant XC, but I’m so jazzed on it that I’m finding it difficult not to.

Compared to the existing enduro version of Flight Attendant, the hardware isn’t all that different. Indeed the modules and AXS batteries are all identical, and the system still automatically adjusts the suspension between three preset damping positions. In the case of the Epic, those are Wide Open, Magic Middle and Sprint-On-Lock.

2024 specialized epic 8 s-works review flight attendant

Along with the powermeter, the system records all of this information and stores data from your previous seven rides to help build a visual of the terrain and your riding style.

What is new for Flight Attendant XC is its powermeter and AXS derailleur integration. This allows the system to factor in your power output into its trail-tweaking algorithm. The idea here is that when you’re sprinting for your life the suspension is more likely to lock out. If you’re just cruising however, it’ll default to the open setting.

The modules otherwise maintain their bump sensors and pitch detection, so it knows when you’re going up or downhill, and whether the trail is smooth or bumpy. Along with the powermeter, the system records all of this information and stores data from your previous seven rides to help build a visual of the terrain and your riding style.

2024 specialized s-works epic 8

In use, Flight Attendant XC is an absolute game-changer. The wireless setup is super neat, removing two cables and a remote lockout from the cockpit. And with the automated suspension, there’s one less thing for you to think about so you can concentrate on the trail ahead.

There is an Override mode, which I’ve set to the Sprint-On-Lock setting to provide an instantaneous lockout at the push of a button on the Pod controller. You can also switch the system into Manual mode and use the same Pod controller button to scroll through the three suspension settings. It’s much the same as using the TwistLoc remote, though it is much faster and takes less effort.

2024 specialized epic 8 s-works review rockshox flight attendant xc

Really though, it’s all about the Auto mode and the benefits it brings to the riding experience. I particularly like when it engages a split suspension state, where the shock moves into a firmer mode compared to the fork. This is one of the key benefits over a manually-operated system, and it means the back end of the bike rides firmer and higher to improve pedalling efficiency, while the fork remains open so it can freely absorb impacts.

It’s clever stuff, and it only gets better the more you ride it. The system learns your riding style and power zones, allowing it to make more nuanced decisions. The beauty though is in its simplicity. You just get on the bike, ride and let the suspension adjust to the terrain as needed.

Curious to know more? See our separate Flight Attendant review for the full story.

2024 specialized epic 8 s-works review

What don’t we like?

That’s easy, the price!

Honestly, $24K is an insane amount of money for a mountain bike that doesn’t have a mid-drive motor. It puts the S-Works model well out of reach for most riders, but then these have never exactly been cheap bikes.

Obviously the Flight Attendant system adds a lot to the price tag. While Flight Attendant XC is yet to be available aftermarket, RockShox sells the current enduro kit (fork, shock and pedal sensor) for $5K alone. Add a powermeter into the equation, and you’ve get a rough idea of how much extra you’re paying for the electronic integration.

And ultimately, it does lead to the S-Works Epic being the highest performing XC bike I’ve ever tested. If you want the very best, I’d honestly struggle to recommend anything else.

2024 specialized epic 8 s-works review

Most folks won’t be able to justify spending that kind of money though, and the good news is that you don’t have to. Personally I’d be looking at the Epic Expert, which at $11,000 AUD hits the sweet spot in terms of the performance-per-dollar ratio.

Its FACT 11m frame is only a little bit heavier, and it still gets a lightweight Roval Control carbon wheelset and a wireless GX AXS Transmission. More importantly, it shares the same high-end fork and shock dampers as the S-Works model. It’s also claimed to weigh just 11.1kg, making it lighter than the Trek Supercaliber 9.8 GX AXS (11.62kg), Orbea Oiz M10 (11.57kg), and the Cervelo ZFS-5 120 X0 AXS (11.52kg) we’ve tested previously.

2024 specialized epic 8 expert

Price aside, I’m otherwise struggling to come up with other downsides for the Epic. Some may be turned off by the headset cable routing, but it’s worth pointing out that it only features on the FACT 12m frame on the S-Works model. And with only a single brake hose passing through the headset, it’s a total non-issue. In fact, I prefer it as it provides a super clean cockpit.

I did get some creaking from the headset on our test bike, which was easy to pull apart for cleaning. Following a re-grease it’s been silent ever since. I also like the subtle steering limiter, which does its intended job without ever being noticeable on the trail.

2024 specialized s-works epic 8 review

Component highs & lows

With the Specialized S-Works Epic being the most expensive mountain bike we’ve ever tested, you’d expect it to be absolutely flawless. And for the most part that’s been the case.

The RockShox SID fork and SIDLuxe shock are superb, and in many ways this combo is leading the charge in the XC world. Specialized complements the sensitive suspension with a cohesive and well-tuned build kit. There’s no harshness from the one-piece cockpit, and there’s decent compliance from the supple tyres and carbon wheels.

Despite the incredibly low weight, the Control SL wheelset have handled some serious whacks to the rims. I had a huge stick go through the rear wheel and get jammed up against the chainstays, though aside from a bent spoke there’s been no damage to speak of.

sram level ultimate brake 4p

The tyre combo has been similarly reliable, offering a good balance of grip, suppleness and durability. See our Specialized XC tyre group test for more detail about these.

One downside has been the SRAM Level Ultimate brakes. The levers feature too much dead stroke for my liking, irrespective of how many times you bleed them. Really your only option is to run the lever reach further out, or pair them with the thicker and heavier HS2 rotors like I have on my Lux World Cup .

And that’s kind of the story with the Epic as a whole, which puts a greater emphasis on performance and practicality over outright weight.

Speaking of weight, there are some areas you could drop grams. The Reverb AXS is 200g heavier than an equivalent Transfer SL , though the wireless setup is a big plus and so too is the light action and infinite adjustability. It’s the same deal with SRAM’s XX SL Transmission. Shimano XTR is lighter, but it’s hard to not be impressed by the shift quality and robustness of the hanger-less XX SL derailleur.

2024 specialized s-works epic 8 review

And that’s kind of the story with the Epic as a whole, which puts a greater emphasis on performance and practicality over outright weight. Specialized  could  have made it lighter by omitting the SWAT storage, thick frame protection, flip chip and internal guide tubes. Personally I’m glad they’re all here though, as it makes for a more versatile bike that’s easier to live with day-to-day. Speaking of versatility, I should point out that the frame will handle a 130mm travel fork, which is exactly how the Epic EVO comes set up. Check out our Epic EVO review for more.

Specialized Epic vs Epic World Cup

With the new Specialized Epic 8 joining the lineup alongside the Epic World Cup , no doubt there’ll be a number of folks trying to work out which will be the best XC bike for their needs.

2023 specialized epic world cup pro

Released a year ago, the Epic World Cup is a short travel full suspension race bike that represents an evolution of the previous Brain-equipped Epic. It’s built around a stunning full carbon frame with a proprietary SIDLuxe WCID shock that incorporates a tuneable negative air chamber. It’s designed to offer a very firm and almost locked out feel for maximum pedal efficiency, with a smooth breakaway that allows you to deploy the 75mm of rear travel on bigger hits.

That’s complemented by a Brain-equipped SID SL fork that offers 110mm of travel. Along with rigid carbon seatpost and smaller 2-piston brakes, the Epic World Cup is the lighter of two bikes, and by no small margin either. At a claimed 9.27kg for the S-Works model, it’s over a kilo lighter than the regular Epic. It’s also cheaper too at $19,200 AUD.

Despite coming from the same brand, on the trail these two bikes are very different.

specialized epic world cup

The Epic World Cup strikes the middle ground between a hardtail and a traditional full suspension bike. It’s seriously efficient and is ideal for smoother courses and short track racing where you don’t necessarily need a plush ride. The steering is wicked fast and, much like a hardtail, it loves being whipped through tight and flowy singletrack. However, its slack head angle and low BB means it is surprisingly stable at speed, even if there is more feedback through the contact points.

In comparison, the Epic 8 is for sure the more versatile bike of the two. It’s significantly plusher and is far more comfortable over rough terrain, which sees it drawing a stronger connection with the previous Epic EVO.

It’s no slouch though, with the Magic Middle and Sprint-On-Lock modes providing plenty of pedal response when needed. The difference is that you’ll be throttling the TwistLoc remote on a regular basis to tweak the suspension to the trail, and of course the extra cables will add some clutter to the cockpit compared to the beautifully clean setup on the Epic World Cup. That is unless you’re considering the premium S-Works model with its Flight Attendant system.

Outside of racing, I’ve simply found the Epic 8 to be more fun to ride. It’s a ripping XC bike that offers remarkable capability on fast and technical terrain. It’s also the better technical climber when things get choppy, as it delivers considerably more grip and comfort. If I was to choose out of the two, hands down I’d pick the Epic 8.

2022 scott spark rc

Specialized Epic 8 vs Scott Spark RC

Given it’s also built around a 120mm travel platform, the Scott Spark RC is a logical competitor to the new Specialized Epic 8.

The frame design is quite different, with its highly integrated approach and hidden rear shock creating a distinctive silhouette that stands out from the crowd. It also incorporates modular headset cups for adjusting the head angle independently, but otherwise the geometry is pretty similar to the Epic.

Comparing price and specs isn’t straightforward, since at the time of writing Scott is still yet to update the Spark range with any SRAM Transmission models. However, it’s worth acknowledging that the Spark is available in a wide variety of options including models with alloy frames, which means the starting price is much lower.

2022 scott spark rc

As for ride quality, both the Epic and Spark are at the forefront when it comes to modern XC race bikes. They’re surprisingly plush and offer a load of traction across rough and technical terrain. Each comes with a nifty 3-position damper for the fork and shock, with a middle setting that’s designed to elevate pedalling efficiency and climbing performance.

The Spark goes about it differently with its proprietary Nude shock, which limits rear travel to 80mm in the middle Traction Control mode. It also features the unique TwinLoc remote that incorporates the dropper lever and suspension paddles into a single unit. It’s all very neat and works well, with the integrated cockpit and internal shock giving it a sharp aesthetic that will appeal to certain riders.

The Epic takes a less radical approach with its external shock, guided cable routing and threaded BB making it an easier bike to work on. Its slimmer and more conventional frame profile also provides a greater degree of compliance when riding over rocky terrain, while the SWAT downtube storage gives it another tick in the practicality department.

2024 specialized s-works epic 8

Flow’s Verdict

No doubt about it, the new Specialized Epic 8 is up there as one of the most fun and versatile XC bikes I’ve ever tested.

In the past, race bikes have always been sharp, efficient and very business-like machines. But having ditched the Brain and boosted its travel, it’s clear the Epic 8 is far more than just a dedicated racer.

Yes it’s light and fast, and it can deliver powerful responsiveness when needed thanks to its svelte carbon frame, neutral pedalling behaviour and clever shock tune. Flip the suspension into the Wide Open mode, and you’ve got a plush and active ride quality. Combined with its well-balanced handling, it offers a calmness at speed that allows you to push it surprisingly hard on technical terrain.

This is important because while races have traditionally been won or lost on the climbs, these days they’re increasingly being decided on the downhills too. And the Epic 8 is a seriously good descender.

Along with its relatively straightforward frame layout and practical amenities, it’s a versatile and pragmatic bike to live with day-to-day. If I was choosing the ultimate XC bike, I’d be hard-pressed to think of anything as capable as this.

2024 specialized epic 8 s-works review


Bendigo, Victoria

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2023 Revel Ranger Review

short travel xc bikes

By Neil Beltchenko

Associate Editor & YouTube Host

The 2023 Revel Ranger was just revamped and rereleased, and we had the chance to put this short-travel full-suspension 29er through its paces before today’s launch. Find out what’s changed and dig in to the full review here…

PUBLISHED Apr 11, 2023

Initially released in 2020, the Revel Ranger integrated the Canfield Balance Formula (CBF) suspension linkage into a short-travel cross-country bike, promising efficiency and high-level performance. We didn’t test the original version, but we heard good things from a handful of people who did. One bit of feedback that stood out was that its capability went well above what its relatively conservative geometry might lead you to believe. The new 2023 Revel Ranger got several significant changes, so I’m glad we waited until now. We’ve been testing the revamped Ranger on trail rides and loaded up during a bikepacking trip in Moab. Watch the detailed video review of the new Revel Ranger below, and scroll down to find specs and details about what’s changed and more.

What’s New?

In summary, the Revel Ranger is a true short-travel 29er with a full carbon frame built around 115mm of rear travel and a 120mm fork. For 2023, the Carbondale, Colorado-based company reworked the Revel Ranger with increased tire and chainring clearance and a one-tool linkage system for easier serviceability and longer bearing life. They didn’t change any geometry numbers on this version, but they updated the rear triangle with an improved carbon layup ​that they claim achieves 20% more stiffness with no added weight. They also added all new linkages, made the bike Universal Derailleur Hanger (UDH) compatible, and replaced the shock mounting hardware with fancy titanium bits. The frame continues to come with an integrated headset, a threaded bottom bracket, and chainstay and downtube protectors. Revel also introduced a new color and made some changes to the build kit. Here’s the full spec list with changes from Revel:

  • Updated Paint and Decals: Now available in “Tang” which is borrowed from the Rail 27.5, and the classic “De La Coal” color, with new copper/gold decals.
  • New Rear Triangle on the new Ranger has an improved carbon layup that achieves 20% more stiffness with no added weight!
  • All New links
  • All New hardware package: Titanium shock mounting hardware
  • SRAM UDH derailleur hanger and Electronic Transmission drivetrain compatibility
  • Custom shock tune from RockShox
  • Bolstered Frame Protection: A rear triangle debris guard now comes standard on every New Ranger frame along with robust chainstay protection, as found on Rail29, which makes for a quieter ride
  • Threaded Bottom Bracket
  • Integrated IS 52/42 standard headset
  • Fully guided internal routing
  • Multiple bottle and accessory mount options: 3 sets (2 on size small)

Revel Ranger Review

Canfield Balanced Formula (CBF)

Like all of their full-suspension bikes, Revel uses the Canfield Balanced Formula pivot and linkage design on the Ranger. The brainchild of Canfield Brothers, CBF was created to perform well though the entirety of the bike’s travel, as opposed to having a sweet spot for a particular point in the travel, as some other designs claim. They approached this by aligning the pivot with the center of curvature instead of the instant center while also dialing in the anti-squat and anti-rise characteristics. Through all this, they claim that the CBF design balances the bike, providing efficient pedaling capabilities but not at the expense of quality descending.

2023 Revel Ranger Review

It’s an interesting design, but there’s no way to fully understand it until you ride a CBF bike. I was excited to test out the bike to try to understand what the hype was all about. Even after my first ride on the 2023 Revel Ranger, it was clear that CBF offers a unique set of ride characteristics. Most importantly, it pedals very nicely in a wide variety of conditions. The key word here is pedal . The bike seemed to encourage me to keep pedaling through obstacles and tricky sections where I might normally get hung up. It’s like it kept pushing me forward and helping me maintain momentum. The Ranger kept me on top of the pedal stroke instead of working behind it, so to speak.

2023 Revel Ranger Review

All that said, this isn’t a defining feature of CBF, as I’ve also had the same experience with some Split Pivot designs and other full-suspension platforms. Still, with the Ranger, I found that I almost always preferred keeping the shock fully open. It’s a much more comfortable ride but still extremely efficient. It almost felt like I was able to exit technical bits with as much momentum as I entered. And when out bikepacking all day, that efficiency goes a long way, saving you fatigue and time. I’ll add that the Ranger is very stiff when locked out—paired with the RockShox SID Luxe and a medium frame. I occasionally flipped the lockout on well-graded gravel roads or pavement.

Revel Ranger Geometry

There’s nothing too surprising in the Ranger’s geometry numbers. With a conservative 67.5° head tube angle, 436mm chainstays, and a 1170mm wheelbase (on the medium), it’s clearly an XC or “downcountry” bike. The 453mm reach was a touch shorter than I would like, but it complemented the 75.3° seat tube angle, putting me in a pretty good position for most of my riding. However, I found myself on the front end of the saddle or standing up when I needed to tackle a steep uphill section of trail.

2023 Revel Ranger Geometry

As a 5’ 9.5” rider, The bike actually fit me very well despite the fact that I find myself in between Revel’s sizes. I sized down to ensure I wasn’t losing any of those cross-country characteristics while also having a slightly smaller bike to maneuver. Something you might notice right off the bat is the relatively short standover numbers; 699 millimeters on the medium looks a little strange when you see that it has a lot of exposed seat tube. But the seat tube comes in at 403mm and has plenty of space to run a pretty long dropper post. The medium came with a 150mm post, but I could go bigger if I wanted.

Revel Ranger Review

2023 Revel Ranger Build Kit

This test bike was specced with the Eagle X0 Transmission build kit. Find the components list below and some thoughts on the kit underneath.

  • Frame: Revel Ranger 29″ 115mm Travel
  • Fork: RockShox SID Ultimate 120mm
  • Shock: RockShox SID Luxe Ultimate
  • Wheelset: Revel RW27 28H Rims, Industry Nine Hydra Hubs
  • Headset: Cane Creek 40-series
  • Tubeless: Stans No tubes Single shots x2
  • Front Tire: Maxxis Dissector 29″ x 2.4″ EXO
  • Rear Tire: Maxxis Rekon 29″ x 2.4″ EXO
  • Bars: RaceFace NEXT R 35 800mm x 20mm Rise
  • Stem: RaceFace Turbine R 35 x 40mm
  • Dropper: Crank Brothers Highline 7SM, 31.6mm x 150mm
  • Saddle: WTB Volt CroMo Black
  • Brakes: SRAM Level Silver
  • Rotors: SRAM HS2 6-Bolt 180mm Front / 160mm Rear
  • Shifter: SRAM AXS Shifter Pod Ultimate
  • RearDerailleur: SRAM X0 ET
  • Chain: SRAM X0 ET T-Type
  • Cassette: SRAM X0 ET T-Type
  • Crankset: SRAM X0 Eagle T-Type 170mm 32t
  • Bottom Bracket: SRAM DUB BSA Wide
  • Grips: Lizard Skins Charger Evo Grip Black
  • Seatpost Collar: Revel 34.9mm Dia

As mentioned, the Revel Ranger is now built around the SRAM Universal Derailleur Hanger, and this particular XO build came with the new Eagle Transmission reviewed here . After 150 more miles on the driver, I’m not only more amazed by its ability to shift under load, but I’m surprised how well it worked in really crummy conditions.

Revel Ranger Review

I was impressed with the SID fork and shock, and not just because of their minimal weight. The fork is nothing like an older version I tried, which I found to be a bit of a noodle. Rather, it felt similar to my Fox 34. Both the lockouts on the shock and fork make the bike impressively rigid too.

The Ranger builds have a few wheelset options, but the bike we tested came with Revel’s own RW27 wheels made with epoxy-free, recyclable carbon. The bike as a whole felt very comfortable, and I assume the wheels have something to do with it. Still, I would love to see the 30mm rims on this bike, because, yeah, more volume, please! I’ve been on a 2.6” tire kick over the last two years, and anything smaller feels weird these days. That said, I love the tire choice Revel made here. Not only are the Dissector and Recon beefier than most tires typically specced on shorter-travel full-sus bikes, but they’re also a testament to what the bike is built to handle. And despite the beefy-looking front knobs on the Dissector, this thing rolls surprisingly well, and I love the Rekon’s predictability as a rear tire.

Revel Ranger Review

Finally, the bike comes with the lovely new bikepacking-friendly SRAM Level brakes, though in an interesting turn of events, it appears we now need to be concerned of cable rub on the bar itself. I’ll have a full review on these brakes soon. The bike also comes with a 31.6 Crankbrothers Highline 7 dropper, with a highly adjustable lever that I came to enjoy. It comes with a 40mm stem across all sizes and a Race Face Next 800mm carbon bar. Overall, I really love the components, and there’s not much I’d change beyond wider rims and tires.

On the Trail

I felt quite comfortable on the Revel Ranger from my first ride. And while it doesn’t feel exactly like a short-travel XC race bike, it’s not too far off. It’s clear that the relatively safe geometry, in combination with the CBF, results in a quick and efficient ride. I had a blast climbing on this thing and putting the hammer down on a flat stretches of singletrack. It also handled tight corners very well, at least compared to my bigger trail bike. Still, the highlight was the uninterrupted pedal feeling over chundery terrain. Even when I had the rear shock in a faster rebound setting, it seemed to handle things well without wanting to buck me off the bike. I ended up tweaking the rebound on the SID Luxe and found it most comfortable in the middle setting, five clicks from turtle.

2023 Revel Ranger Review

The Ranger felt right at home on the descents, too. It doesn’t have quite the confidence of a bigger trail bike, but it’s much more than a standard XC bike. It wants to go fast and still manages to eat up chunky, steep terrain surprisingly well. I ended up setting the suspension sag at 30%, and it was perfect; I used up all the stroke on larger hits but never bottomed out. This may have been a coincidence, but I’ve never had an easier time setting up the suspension on a bike. The SID Luxe isn’t too complicated, and it just felt perfect right out of the gate.

While Out Bikepacking

The Ranger felt grounded and predictable when loaded up with gear. It might sound funny, but when I pack up a full-suspension bike, I often find that it becomes even more capable with the extra weight. The Ranger was no exception. Like other bikes, it’s more planted on descents and climbs with the added weight. The front triangle space is a bit tight on the size medium frame, but another Colorado brand, Bedrock Bags, made a great custom frame bag that maxed it out and fit a cook kit, some water, and a few other odds and ends. The triangle has two pairs of bottle mounts and another on the underside of the down tube for an additional bottle or accessory.

2023 Revel Ranger Review

As mentioned, the new SRAM Level brakes make for easy handlebar bag installation. I opted for a rear rack with the Old Man Mountain fit kit and the Old Man Mountain Elkhorn rack . I was a little hesitant to mount anything to the seat stays, but it worked well and didn’t scuff up the bike at all with the included thick frame tape. Stay tuned for more on that in a rack guide in the coming weeks.

  • Model Tested: 2023 Revel Ranger, medium
  • Sizes Available: S, M, L, XL
  • Colors Available: Tang and De La Coal
  • Actual Weight: 26.25 pounds (11.61 kg)
  • Place of Manufacture: Taiwan
  • Price (as tested): $8,499 + carbon wheel upgrade
  • Price (frame only): $3,599
  • Manufacturer’s Details: RevelBikes.com
  • Efficient suspension maximizes momentum to power through challenging situations that might otherwise cause a hang-up
  • Very lightweight; better than most in its class
  • Climbs exceptionally well
  • Descends better than you’d expect from the geometry and weight class
  • Great components selection, albeit expensive
  • Despite the claimed 2.6” tire clearance, it’s really tight (I had some rub during a death mud encounter with 2.6″ tires)
  • A slightly larger frame triangle space would be preferable
  • 30mm rims would be more versatile than the specced RW27s
  • The techy/industrial design might not be for everyone

There’s no denying that the 2023 Revel Ranger is a high-end full-suspension bike, and the reasons are clearly evident. They’ve invested in a great suspension design, for starters. And while I’m not the biggest fan of the technical aesthetic as a whole, I do love the two-tone Tang colorway. Plus, it’s hard to beat the impressive weight, coming in at 26.25 pounds (11.61 kilograms) with a GPS mount, bottle cage, and some dirt. If you’re looking for a quick bike that rides like a trail bike on the descents, is agile like an XC bike on the climbs, and can be comfortably pedaled all day over multiple days, the Ranger is a fantastic option.

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short travel xc bikes

  • Cycling Magazine

XC trail versus short-travel trail bikes: what’s the difference?

Parsing out the distinctions between micro-categories.

short travel xc bikes

Bike categories have never really been concrete, clear divisions but, with some recent developments, they are getting more confusing. What makes the difference between a cross country trail bike and a trail bike with short travel? How about the difference between XC and XC Trail? Or long-travel and short-travel trail bikes? And why are there so many categories now?

Brands try to put bikes in categories to make it easier for riders to understand what bike is best suited to their riding. But as the basic categories proliferate into endless micro-categories, the picture gets blurry. Especially when some cross country bikes, like the latest Rocky Mountain Element, have the same travel as some short-travel trail bikes, like the Giant Trance 29. These two bikes have quite different purposes.

So how do you tell them apart if suspension travel is no longer an easy guide? More importantly, how do you find the right bike for you? Below, we’ll break down the differences between categories and how to decide which one suits your style of riding best.

short travel xc bikes

Trek Supercaliber is 100 per cent focused on XC racing

short travel xc bikes

Ibis Exie is a 100-mm travel XC race bike, but with the option to run a 120-mm fork.

short travel xc bikes

Cross country (XC)

Cross country bikes are designed to be fast and efficient, especially while pedalling. They have geometry that makes them comfortable for spending long hours in the saddle, typically have faster steering for winding through tight, technical trails and aim for a lower weight to aid in easier acceleration and climbing. They can be hardtails or dual suspension with just enough travel, up to 100 or 110mm of rear wheel travel, to take the edge off of roots and rocks and improve speed and control on descents. XC bikes usually use 29″ wheels for efficiency, though some brands still offer 27.5″ wheels in smaller sizes.

Cross country bikes are usually thought of as race bikes since they put such a strong emphasis on pedalling and climbing efficiency. They are, though, a great option for anyone who tends to ride flatter, smoother trails or anyone who enjoys climbing as much as they do descending.

Examples: Ibis Exie , Trek Supercaliber , Canyon Lux World Cup , Norco Revolver FS 100, Scott Spark RC.

short travel xc bikes

2022 Rocky Mountain Element pushes the limits of XC with 120mm rear travel, 130mm forks and aggressive geometry. Photo: Margus Riga

short travel xc bikes

Canyon Lux Trail builds off of the brand's World Cup bike for a race-focused take on XC trail

short travel xc bikes

Norco Revolver 120 similarly builds off the Revolver 100 platform to blur lines between racing and riding for fun.

short travel xc bikes

Scott Spark is a slightly longer-travel version of the Spark RC

short travel xc bikes

A newer category of bike that’s really gained momentum over the last few years is “XC Trail” bikes. Some brands have made tougher builds of their cross country bikes for years, sometimes with slightly more travel. Now, more brands are making separate XC Trail models. These bikes typically have between 110 and 120mm of rear wheel travel and either 120 or 130mm forks, though that’s just the start of the differences.

These don’t just have more travel than their XC counterparts. They also tend to have different geometry, often slightly more balanced between descending capability and climbing efficiency, and tougher parts. XC Trail bikes are great if you’re aiming for a more technical cross country stage race (like BC Bike Race or TransRockies), or if your everyday riding includes lots of climbs but also more technical descents. These bikes are still very focused on efficiency but open the door to taking on (or having fun on) harder or more challenging descents than a pure XC bike.

Examples: Rocky Mountain Element , Canyon Lux Trail , Norco Revolver FS 120 , Scott Spark .

short travel xc bikes

2022 Giant Trance only has 120mm rear travel, but it's much more focused on fun than climbing speed. Photo: Nick Iwanyshyn

short travel xc bikes

Norco Optic really pushed the burly short travel trail bike idea with 125mm rear travel.

short travel xc bikes

Canyon's Spectral 125 is a zesty take on its 150-mm travel Spectral bike

short travel xc bikes

YT Izzo is a balanced 130-mm front and rear, but designed around trail fun more than XC speed.

short travel xc bikes

Trail bikes (short travel)

Another newer category that is really coming into its own lately is the short-travel trail bike. These scaled-down trail bikes answer rider’s call for bikes that are designed to attack descents but aren’t bogged down by too much suspension travel. Why would you want that? Well, if you want the confidence and control of a trail bike going downhill but your local trails don’t warrant a 150mm/160mm bike, these bikes give you proper geometry and just enough travel. Alternately, if you want a challenge, want a more responsive or precise bike but still want to hit bigger things, short-travel trail bikes back up a little travel with burlier parts.

These bikes can range in travel from roughly 115mm to 130mm of rear wheel travel with forks adding another 130 or 140mm up front. More important than travel is the frame design. Short-travel trail bikes are tougher, and therefore often heavier, than XC bikes. With a focus on descending capabilities, they use geometry that puts you in a more forward position than a cross country bike so you can attack descents in a more aggressive riding position. They often use longer dropper posts to get the seat fully out of the way on descents. The seated position is often more upright, for comfort climbing. The tradeoff is that it’s not as comfortable as a cross country bike when rides stretch beyond a couple of hours or when riding on flatter terrain.

Examples: Giant Trance , Canyon Spectral 125 , Norco Optic , Commencal TEMPO , YT Izzo .

short travel xc bikes

Trek Fuel EX uses all kinds of geometry adjustment chips to make it work on any kind of trail.

short travel xc bikes

Specialized Stumpjumper was one of the earlier bikes to add geometry adjustments and a MX wheel option.

short travel xc bikes

Knolly Fugitive 138 is just shy of 140mm rear wheel travel, but uses a big 150-mm fork

short travel xc bikes

Norco Sight takes the Optic design and adds travel

short travel xc bikes

Canyon Spectral CLLCTV is a dedicated mixed-wheel bike

short travel xc bikes

Giant Reign always toes the line between trail fun and enduro speed

short travel xc bikes

Rocky Mountain Instinct.Photo: Margus Riga

short travel xc bikes

Trail bikes (mid-travel and long-travel)

Trail bikes are the broadest category of mountain bike. They cover all kinds of riding styles and all manner of different trails. Basically, anything that’s not a cross country bike or specifically designed as an enduro race bike can be a trail bike. As the average travel numbers have grown, short-travel trail bikes have split off as a specific niche within the broader trail bike category. But mid- and long-travel trail bikes remain as the do-it-all mountain bike. Trail bikes can still be reasonably good at pedaling, but they also have enough suspension to let you hit basically any trail you want, including larger jumps and features. They have bigger tires, 27.5″ or 29″ wheels (or one of each), tougher suspension, bigger brakes and longer-travel dropper posts.

Examples: Specialized Stumpjumper EVO , Trek Fuel EX , Rocky Mountain Instinct , Canyon Spectral , Norco Sight , Giant Reign , Knolly Fugitive 138

short travel xc bikes

XC Trail vs. Short-travel trail? Look to the components

So, what is the difference between an “XC trail” and “short-travel trail” bike? They both approach a similar travel range, but from opposite directions. XC trail makes a cross country bike more capable, without losing efficiency. Short-travel trail bikes take the idea of a trail bike and make it more efficient without losing toughness.

One feature that sets XC trail and short-travel trail bikes apart is to look at the components. While drivetrains are now relatively universal, Shimano XT will work as well on an enduro bike as it does on a XC race bike, other components are more specific. Trail bikes will use forks with wider stanchions (like the Fox 36 on some Norco Optic and Canyon Spectral 125 models) versus lighter forks on XC Trail bikes (like the RockShox SID on a Norco Revolver 120 or Fox 34 on a Rocky Mountain Element). XC trail bikes may use smaller brake rotors or two-piston calipers instead of four-piston brakes and may also use shorter-travel dropper posts compared to trail bikes. Tires are also likely to be heavier and have more aggressive treads on short-travel trail bikes versus the fast-rolling tires on an XC trail bike.

Which you prefer will depend on how you approach your riding. If you like the idea of a cross country bike but want something tougher, XC trail is probably the way to go. It will still be fast and efficient, but more fun to ride on more aggressive trails. On the other hand, if you like to hit jumps and bash through rocks but you want something more precise, or your local trails don’t demand 150mm of travel, a short-travel trail bike could be right for you. It’ll still be tough, and it’s still designed to put descents first, but it will likely be a bit heavier and have slower tires than an XC trail bike.

short travel xc bikes

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  • Bike of the Year 2024

Best cross-country mountain bikes 2024 | 13 top-rated XC mountain bikes and our buyer's guide

The top cross-country bikes as rated by our expert reviewers, plus our buyer's guide for everything you need to know

Andy Lloyd / Our Media

Joe Norledge

Cross-country is one of the most exciting disciplines within mountain biking. Races are often close, with elbow-to-elbow action right until the line, and the best cross-country mountain bikes combine everything we love about mountain biking – riding fast, uphill and downhill.

Cross-country mountain bike technology has advanced quickly in the last few years. Cross-country bikes are now lighter, faster and more capable than ever, while many cross-country race tracks have become more demanding at the same time.

If you’re thinking about buying a cross-country bike, then read on for our pick of the best bikes reviewed by our expert testers.

We’ve also put together a buyer's guide so you can learn everything you need to know about cross-country bikes at the end of this article .

If you’re tempted to start riding competitively, we’ve got a separate beginner's guide to cross-country racing .

Best cross-country mountain bikes 2024, as rated by our expert testers

Lapierre prorace cf 9.9.

Lapierre Prorace CF 9.9 hardtail mountain bike

  • Fast, fun, comfortable and good value
  • Frame compliance adds speed
  • £5,999 / €6,799 as tested

The Prorace is Lapierre's top-end carbon race hardtail and uses its 3D Tubular concept that the brand has employed on its road bikes since 2015 to boost compliance. This is effectively a triple-triangle design, which sees the seatstays separated from the seat tube.

We found this really helped when climbing because the frame reduces the amount the bike skips and slips around and it smoothes out the trail when descending, too. That said, don't expect it to tame the trails to the extent of a full-suspension bike.

The Prorace handles well and the geometry gives it a fun and engaging ride, even if it's not the most progressive.

This SRAM-heavy build features a RockShox SID SL Ultimate fork up front, a wireless AXS drivetrain and a set of Level TLM brakes.

We really rate the Maxxis Rekon Race tyres, their low-profile, densely packed tread rolling fast on smooth surfaces, balanced with their suppleness.

  • Read our full Lapierre Prorace CF 9.9 review

Trek Supercaliber SLR 9.9 XX AXS Gen 2

Trek Supercaliber SLR 9.9 vs Specialized S-Works Epic World Cup - 02

  • Direct feel with capable geometry
  • One-piece bar and stem plus narrow tyres
  • £10,800 as tested

The Trek Supercaliber SLR 9.9 XX AXS Gen 2 is a thoroughbred cross-country race bike, delivering razor-sharp handling and a direct feel under power. 

With its IsoStrut rear shock partially hidden in the top tube, the Supercaliber is intended to offer the efficiency of a hardtail with the comfort of rear suspension.

Pair this with the updated and more capable geometry and you have a bike that balances efficiency and composure. 

If you want a top-spec race bike for more demanding trails, the Supercaliber would be a great choice, but you might want to swap in some wider tyres. 

  • Read our full Trek Supercaliber SLR 9.9 XX AXS Gen 2 review

Vitus Rapide FS CRX

Photograph of the Vitus Rapide FS CRX

  • Balanced modern geometry and smooth suspension
  • Excellent spec for the money
  • £3,999.99 as tested

Vitus’ Rapide FS CRX is a great performing full-suspension cross-country bike that packs a punch with its value-for-money spec.

The unidirectional carbon frame utilises a four-bar linkage system and a flexstay design to deliver 100mm of suspension travel.

One look at the geometry sheet tells us Vitus has drawn from its experience in the trail and enduro market for the Rapide’s design – the reach comes in at 500mm in size large. The head angle, at 67 degrees, is also rather slack and the 77-degree effective seat tube is bang on trend.

The Vitus is decked out with some of the best components on the market, including a RockShox SID SL Ultimate fork and Shimano XT brakes.

On the trail, the Vitus Rapide FS CRX is quick to pick up speed and efficient under power. Pointed downhill, the capable suspension and geometry make for a confidence-inspiring ride.

  • Read our full Vitus Rapide FS CRX review

YT Izzo Uncaged 7

YT Izzo Uncaged 7

  • A riot of a descender that still climbs like the best of them
  • Makes the most of YT’s signature value for money
  • £6,299 / $6,499 as tested

With the Izzo, German direct-to-consumer brand YT has entered the world of XC with a bang.

Packing 120mm of suspension controlled by a four-bar linkage, the Izzo Uncaged 7’s carbon frame also features adjustable geometry.

A flip chip offers 0.4 degrees of adjustment to the head and seat tube angles and a 5mm bottom bracket height adjustment, enabling riders to set their bike up to suit a variety of trails.

The Izzo’s geometry is very progressive, with a 66.5-degree head angle and 77.5-degree effective seat tube angle in the slack setting. The reach comes in at 475mm in size large.

As we’ve come to expect from YT, the spec offers incredible value for money. The Izzo is equipped with top-of-the-line RockShox SID and SIDLuxe Ultimate suspension, SRAM G2 Ultimate brakes and a wireless XX1 AXS drivetrain.

On the descents, the YT’s balanced suspension and capable geometry make it a riot to ride fast and it comfortably takes on trails well above its pay grade.

Despite packing more travel than most other XC bikes, the Izzo also excels on the climbs, offering a supportive pedalling platform and fast-rolling performance.

  • Read our full YT Izzo Uncaged 7 review

BMC Fourstroke 01 Two AXS

BMC Fourstroke three quarters

  • Decent geometry and an eager climber
  • Great suspension feel
  • £8,300 / $8,999 / €8,499 as tested

BMC’s Fourstroke piloted Tom Pidcock to Olympic Gold . On our trails, it made for a fairly poised race-ready ripper.

The Fourstroke’s geometry is up-to-date and it climbs with near-impeccable pedalling manners. It pumps through rolling terrain well and the bike eggs you on to accelerate and push yourself towards your limits on a wide variety of trails.

The SRAM GX Eagle AXS drivetrain performed flawlessly and the Fox suspension package felt supple.

However, it does require a tyre change to fully unlock its potential because the stock Vittoria Barzo tyres made the ride feel nervous and skittery. We’re not fully sold on BMC’s RAD integrated dropper seatpost, but admittedly it looks aesthetically pleasing.

  • Read our full BMC Fourstroke 01 Two AXS review

Cannondale Scalpel HT Carbon 4

Cannondale Scalpel HT Carbon 4

  • Impressive all-round capability
  • Good spec for the price tag
  • £2,600 / $2,300 as tested

The Scalpel HT Carbon 4 is the most affordable bike in the Scalpel line-up, aimed at the gnarlier end of cross-country.

Cannondale has evolved the typical XC race geometry by offering slacker head angles, giving the Scalpel HT handling character similar to an enduro bike. Steeper seat tube angles retain climbing ability and we were impressed by the traction provided by the zones in the rear triangle.

The Scalpel HT Carbon 4 features a RockShox SID SL fork and uses both Shimano XT and Deore drivetrain and brake components.

  • Read our full Cannondale HT Carbon 4 review

Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29 1

Pack shot of the Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29 1 full suspension mountain bike

  • Excellent modern geometry
  • Agile yet confident handling
  • £6,999 / $7,500 / AU$9,099 as tested

The Giant Anthem saw a refresh in late 2021 with updated geometry, a longer 110mm-travel suspension fork, and flexible seatstays and chainstay to simulate the articulation of a pivot point.

This particular model uses the Fox Live Valve suspension system . The system has electronic link sensors on the fork and frame, which automatically open and close the fork and shock’s compression circuit when a bump is detected.

With its modern geometry, the bike climbs reasonably well, although there is some bob. Heading downhill, the bike feels stable and secure over loose surfaces with supple suspension (Live Valve settings-dependent).

The Anthem is equipped with a Shimano XT drivetrain and brakes, which offer next-to-identical performance to Shimano XTR. The bike has own-brand carbon wheels and handlebars.

  • Read our full Giant Anthem Advanced Pro 29 1 review

Intense Sniper XC Expert

Intense Sniper XC

  • Composed on climbs and descents
  • A carbon-everything frameset
  • £3,699 as tested

Although Intense is best known for its gravity-oriented bikes, the Sniper XC has an engaging ride quality that’s fast around a cross-country race course.

The geometry is nice and modern, with a long 468mm reach and a 67.5-degree head tube angle, which is slack for a cross-country bike.

The Sniper climbs well, bearing in mind there is no remote lockout. There is some pedal bob though, especially when sprinting.

The bike descends assuredly, offering a smooth ride on rough descents while maintaining stiffness.

Shimano’s third-tier SLX drivetrain performs excellently, as does the Fox Performance suspension. The bike comes with a dropper seatpost.

  • Read our full Intense Sniper XC Expert review

Merida Ninety-Six RC 9000

Pack shot of the Merida's Ninety Six RC 9000 full suspension mountain bike

  • A classic-feeling race bike with inspired handling manners
  • Solid spec choices
  • £7,300 / €8,900 as tested

Although Merida’s Ninety-Six seems conventional with its 100mm of suspension travel front and rear, it features trail-friendly geometry with a 68.5-degree head tube angle and a steep 76-degree seat tube angle.

The bike features a Shimano XTR groupset, Fox Factory-level suspension and own-brand finishing kit.

We found it to be a rocket ship up the climbs, with the active suspension helping you maintain speed up rough and loose climbs. It has plenty of character through corners thanks to its reactive steering.

On descents, the Ninety-Six is slightly more nervous than the long reach would suggest.

The rear shock can lurch deeper into its travel than expected.

  • Read our full Merida Ninety-Six RC 9000 review

Pivot LES SL 29 Pro XT/XTR

Pivot LES SL 29 Pro XT:XTR hardtail mountain bike

  • Geometry inspires confidence
  • Fast and fun
  • £6,750 / $6,199 as tested

Pivot's LES SL is a carbon race bike with clean lines and an innovative carbon construction, in that the frames are moulded from the inside out to reduce imperfections. The carbon frames have also been optimised to provide the same ride feel, whatever the size.

The bike climbs well, with the frame feeling stiff but not to the point of being harsh. The winning geometry also means there's room to shift your weight around to maintain traction.

Heading down the other side, the LES SL handles well, thanks to its moderately long reach, head tube angle and 60mm stem. It holds its speed well over chattery trails and the handling feels precise.

The LES SL is adorned with a host of Pivot-branded kit, a Factory-level Fox 32 StepCast fork and a Shimano XT groupset, with an upgraded XTR rear derailleur.

The only real criticism we can level at the bike is the spec doesn't represent the best value for money when compared to its competitors.

  • Read our full Pivot LES SL 29 Pro XT/XTR review

Santa Cruz Blur C X01 AXS RSV

Pack shot of the Santa Cruz Blur XC X01 AXS RSV full suspension mountain bike

  • The brand’s lightest cross-country bike yet
  • Inspired geometry with dependable handling
  • £8,099 / $9,149 as tested

This Santa Cruz Blur is a bang-up-to-date cross-country mountain bike, with 100mm of suspension travel both front and rear. The Blur's geometry is just right – not so long and slack to feel sluggish, but stable enough for descents.

The bike offers a precise and composed ride, descending with plenty of confidence. It’s comfortable, fast and reactive, making it ideal for short races or marathon events.

Our only major reservation is that the TwistLoc lever-based lockout is not as intuitive to use as others. We found we needed to twist it quite far around the bar to lock the shock and it’s not the lightest either.

  • Read our full Santa Cruz Blur X01 AXS RSV review

Scott Spark RC Team Issue AXS

Scott Spark RC

  • A radical but modern XC bike with an internal shock layout
  • Bang up-to-date geometry
  • £4,699 as tested

Scott’s latest Spark RC underwent quite a radical update, getting a new internal shock suspension layout and upping the travel to 120mm at both ends.

Despite the shock not being visible, setting up the Spark was incredibly easy and there’s a sag meter printed on the non-driveside seat tube and seatstay junction for guidance.

The updates result in a bike that’s dominant on the descents, despite not being specced with a dropper seatpost or particularly wide handlebars. Grip is excellent uphill and Scott’s TwinLoc remote lockout lever is incredibly easy to control from the bar.

The bike is specced with a SRAM GX Eagle AXS wireless electronic groupset, which impresses all who test it, and the suspension comes courtesy of RockShox, with Scott’s in-house brand, Syncros, featuring heavily for the rest of the build.

  • Read our full Scott Spark RC Team Issue AXS review

Specialized S-Works Epic World Cup

Angled shot of Specialized S-Works Epic World Cup mountain bike

  • Reacts to pedal input like a hardtail
  • Performance comes at the cost of versatility
  • £12,000 as tested

The Specialized S-Works Epic World Cup is unapologetically XC race-focused.

The bike is an exceptional climber, thanks in part to the tyres and Roval Contact SL wheelset. Pedal bob is virtually eliminated when you run the rear shock in its ‘No Gulp’ setting, making the Epic feel a lot like a hardtail.

The 75mm of rear travel takes the sting out of descents rather than flattering your skills, but with a bit more thought, the bike can certainly compete against 120mm-travel XC race bikes.

This isn’t a hugely versatile bike. The suspension and harsh cockpit will leave you wanting a more forgiving ride when cruising around. But if you’re heading off to a race, this bike will reward your full-gas efforts. 

  • Read our full Specialized S-Works Epic World Cup review

Cross-country mountain bike buyer's guide

What is a cross-country mountain bike.

Rob Weaver and Tom Marvin riding cross-country mountain bikes through woods.

A cross-country mountain bike is designed to cover a variety of off-road terrain as quickly as possible. It needs to be equally capable of climbing and descending, while also being efficient when pedalling on flatter terrain, or picking a line through tight, twisting singletrack.

Cross-country bikes are usually the lightest type of mountain bike you can buy for a given price and are often made from carbon fibre, although more affordable aluminium options are also widely available.

XC bikes have less suspension travel than trail bikes and enduro bikes , so won’t be as adept on very steep, rough and technical trails. That being said, in the right hands – for example, a professional rider – a cross-country bike is surprisingly capable.

While cross-country bikes are designed mainly for racing, they’re equally at home on mellower trails, or a big day out in the hills when you’ll value the all-round capability of an XC bike on varied terrain.

What about downcountry?

Before we go any further, we need to quickly mention downcountry bikes.

Downcountry is a fairly new term within mountain biking. In essence, it refers to bikes that blur the line between dedicated cross-country race bikes and more forgiving trail bikes.

A downcountry bike will have a little more suspension travel than a cross-country race bike; normally in the region of 120 to 130mm at the front and 110 to 115mm at the rear.

It will also have geometry that leans more towards descending performance than pedalling efficiency. For example, a slacker head angle, longer reach and longer wheelbase.

Finally, the componentry will be chosen with descending in mind, with more powerful brakes, larger/grippier tyres and a dropper post.

For riders who want a fast, versatile bike for a variety of terrain, downcountry bikes fill that gap. If this sounds like the type of bike for you, then check out our buyer’s guide to the best downcountry mountain bikes .

Hardtail vs full-suspension for XC racing

Cannondale Scalpel shock

The first decision you need to make when buying a cross-country bike is whether you want a hardtail or full-suspension bike .

A hardtail only has suspension at the front through the fork , while a full-suspension bike has suspension at the front and rear.

There are pros and cons to each for cross-country riding, and this will influence which option will be best for you.

Hardtail bike for XC riding

Specialized Epic pack shot

For a given spec, a hardtail will nearly always be lighter than a full-suspension bike. So if you live somewhere hilly, or just prioritise climbing performance above all else, then a hardtail could be a good option.

With suspension only at the front of the bike, a hardtail is simpler in its design, making it easier and cheaper to maintain than a full-suspension bike.

Finally, for the same cost, a hardtail can often come with a better spec than a full-suspension bike, so may require less, if any, upgrading in the future.

Full-suspension bike for XC riding

Orbea Oiz

While a hardtail will typically be lighter, more affordable and simpler to maintain than a full-suspension bike, when it comes to descending performance, a full-susser will win every time.

They’re also more comfortable than a hardtail, which is especially important for longer rides or races.

Mathieu van der Poel going over a jump at the UCI cross-country world championships in May 2021

On rough, flat terrain, full-suspension bikes will often enable you to pedal more efficiently because the rear suspension soaks up any bumps in the ground.

As we’ve already mentioned, they will usually be heavier. However, this gap has narrowed over recent years, and at the top end, they may only weigh a kilo or two more than a hardtail.

For many riders, the relatively small weight penalty of a full-suspension bike is worth the benefits of better descending, more comfort and increased pedalling efficiency on rough terrain.

What to look for when buying a cross-country bike

Now you’ve decided between a hardtail and full-suspension bike, here’s what else you need to look out for when buying a cross-country bike.

The BMC Twostroke

Cross-country bikes have traditionally had ‘steeper’ geometry figures than trail or enduro bikes. The logic was that the ‘quicker’ handling made cross-country bikes better in tight singletrack and elbow-to-elbow racing.

However, modern cross-country racing now takes place on much tougher courses, which are equal parts tricky descents and lung-searing climbs, so geometry has had to keep up with this trend.

Head angles as slack as 67 degrees and reach figures once only seen on trail bikes are not uncommon on modern cross-country bikes.

They will also have steeper seat angles of around 74 to 75 degrees, which puts a rider's hips in a better position over the bottom bracket for pedalling efficiency.

Prime examples of modern cross-country geometry are the Specialized Epic and the BMC Twostroke.

Frame material

Orbea Alma pack shot

There are two main frame materials to choose from: carbon fibre and aluminium.

When it comes to professional racing, every rider will use carbon fibre; it’s lighter than aluminium and can be designed to be stiffer, so makes perfect sense if all you're worried about is going as fast as possible, with little concern for budget.

The downside of carbon is it’s more expensive than aluminium, and in certain situations, more susceptible to crash damage.

Aluminium is more affordable and better at resisting damage from certain impacts. This makes it ideal if you’re looking to save money or want your bike to be as durable as possible. The latest aluminium frames can be impressively light, too.

Titanium and steel cross-country bikes do exist, but these are in the minority.

How much does a cross-country mountain bike weigh?

Evie Richards riding the women's elite XCO cross-country race at the 2020 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships

Your power-to-weight ratio is important for success in cross-country, so naturally riders want the lightest equipment possible, while still being able to withstand the demands of hard riding or racing.

You might find a top-spec hardtail weighing in at under 8kg, which is incredibly impressive considering what these bikes are capable of. More affordable models typically weigh anywhere from 9 to 11kg.

When it comes to full-suspension bikes, a top-spec model could come in just under 10kg, with more affordable bikes weighing anywhere from 12 to 14kg.

While overall bike weight is a factor, especially if you’re an elite racer, there are much better and cheaper ways to get faster when you’re starting out – such as training.

So, try not to get too hung up with weight early on. There’ll be plenty of time to start counting those grams and emptying your wallet as you progress gradually through the ranks.

29in, 27.5in and 26in mountain bike wheel sizes

On modern cross-country bikes, nearly every model will feature 29in mountain bike wheels .

While 29ers took a while to truly catch on, they’re now considered a smart option for many riders, thanks to their ability to roll over obstacles more easily, and arguably provide better pedalling speed.

In some circumstances, such as for particularly short riders, it may be best to go for smaller 27.5in wheels, but for most people, 29ers are the way to go for XC bikes.

If you want more information, we’ve got a guide to mountain bike wheel sizes , covering the pros and cons of 26in, 27.5in and 29in wheels.

Cannondale Scalpel SE rear tyre

Tyre choice comes down to a balancing act between rolling resistance/speed and grip, so the best cross-country tyres will usually have smaller tread blocks than trail or enduro tyres.

XC tyres may also have thinner sidewalls to save weight, and in some cases be made out of a slightly harder compound, which can roll faster.

However, remember a harder compound will, in theory, provide less grip, and thinner sidewalls offer less puncture protection. As we said, there’s always a compromise to be made somewhere.

Cross-country tyres were traditionally much narrower than trail or enduro tyres – but, as the sport has changed, the tyre sizes have increased, so you’ll now find cross-country tyres in the 2.2in to 2.4in range.

How much travel do you need?

2022 Scott Spark RC Team Issue AXS cross-country mountain bike

When it comes to suspension travel , nearly all cross-country bikes will have 100mm of front and rear travel.

As we’ve already mentioned, downcountry bikes up this travel a little, with around 110-115mm at the back and 120-130mm on the front.

That said, it’s also worth bearing in mind how the Scott Spark, a pure XC race bike, now has 120mm at both the front and rear. As we said, XC race bikes are changing.

Scott knows a thing or two about making great cross-country bikes – the outgoing Spark was hugely popular on the XC scene – so it’ll be interesting to see if longer travel on dedicated race bikes will start to catch on.

sram axs eagle mech

Just like the best trail mountain bikes , cross-country bikes have almost exclusively moved to 1x drivetrains , with Shimano and SRAM mountain bike groupsets dominating the market.

1x drivetrains have one chainring at the front (removing the need for a front derailleur), with a wide-ranging 11- or 12-speed cassette at the back to still provide a big spread of gears.

Stronger professional riders have been known to run up to a 38-tooth chainring at the front. However, at the amateur level most riders will normally go for a 32- or 34-tooth chainring instead.

Cassette sizes usually range from a 10- or 11-tooth sprocket for the hardest gear to a 51- or 52-tooth sprocket for the easiest climbing gear.

This is a pretty big spread and should keep those legs turning up the steepest of climbs.

Hope XCR caliper and rotor

Cross-country bikes will commonly be fitted with lightweight disc brakes. These will have smaller rotors, with most riders opting for 160mm front and rear.

Some particularly powerful riders may pop a 180mm rotor on the front, and the lightest riders may go for a 140mm on the rear, but in general, 160mm is what’s seen most commonly.

XC disc brakes won’t be quite as powerful as the brakes you’ll find on an enduro bike, but they’re more than capable for the job at hand.

On the most affordable bikes, these may be cable-actuated disc brakes, but from the mid-range and up, you’ll find hydraulic mountain bike disc brakes on all cross-country bikes.

Dropper posts

Orbea Oiz fox dropper post.

The best dropper posts enable you to lower your saddle height at the touch of a button or lever mounted on your handlebar. This helps with descending because you’re able to move the bike and your weight around more easily.

Droppers were once unheard of in cross-country racing because most riders thought they were too heavy and unreliable. But as the sport and dropper technology has progressed, they’ve become more popular, with many pro riders making the switch.

Dropper posts aren’t necessarily cheap, but if you can afford one, or your bike already comes with one, they can be a great addition for a relatively small weight penalty (around 400 to 500g).

Anna Terpstra racing at the UCI women's cross-country world championships in May 2021

For many riders, adding a dropper post can really increase the descending capability of a bike, which is why it’s one of the smartest mountain bike upgrades you can make.

How much should you spend on a cross-country bike?

You can spend anywhere from £500 all the way up to £10,000 on a cross-country bike. While elite riders may want the best money can buy, most keen amateur racers will usually spend between £2,000 and £5,000 on their XC bike.

That said, more affordable bikes in the £750 to £2,000 range are still excellent options for beginners or riders looking to save money.

As ever, it’s a case of weighing up your priorities when it comes to price, component choice, weight and so on, before taking the plunge.

  • Best mountain bikes under £3,000
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yeti asr sedona

Yeti Returns to Cross Country Racing With the Speedy and Fun ASR

The 115mm travel ASR embraces simplicity and modern mountain bike geometry.

The Takeaway: After a few years away from the segment, Yeti returns to cross country racing with the light (22.5 lb. to 26 lb.) and lithe ASR. The frame offers 115mm of rear travel, employing a weight-saving single-pivot system instead of Yeti’s signature Switch Infinity suspension system. The ASR’s geometry (66.5 degree head angle) is suited to today’s challenging cross country circuits. the bike provides the superb efficiency and excellent handling needed for race efforts while offering a playful and speedy ride for everyday riding. Those attributes, plus an easy-to-live-with frame—two bottles in the main triangle threaded BB, two-piece bar and stem, and standard cable routing—make the ASR attractive for racers and trail riders.

Yeti ASR T5 Ultimate XX Transmission

ASR T5 Ultimate XX Transmission

Frame Features

Suspension details, frame and bike weights, asr geometry, yeti asr versus specialized epic 8, ride impressions, models and prices.

yeti asr

Yeti Returns to Cross Country Racing

While Yeti’s modern image is deeply tied to gravity racing and trail riding, it doesn’t take much digging to uncover the brand’s rich history in cross country racing. Legendary racers like Juli Furtado and John Tomac raced cross country on Yeti bikes. For a time, the Yeti A.R.C. hardtail (with its innovative Easton ProGram aluminum tubing) was one of the most desirable XC racing bikes on the planet.

a bicycle with a blue background

The XC-oriented ASR full suspension nameplate joined the Yeti line in 2000 as, in the style of the time, an aluminum frame with 26-inch wheels and rim brakes. For about 15 years this lightweight and XC race-focused bike was a feature of the Yeti product line. And along the way, adopting disc brakes, a carbon frame, and 29-inch wheels. But the ASR faded out of the lineup as Yeti focused on its Switch Infinity suspension system and longer travel bikes.

a blue bicycle with a black frame

The SB100’s direct descendant, the SB115 , got booted from Yeti’s line when the brand launched the SB120 in early 2023 and, once again, it seemed like Yeti was most interested in longer travel bikes. But behind the scenes, a new bike was already in the works—Something more appealing to the XC race crowd than the SB100. Something light and efficient, but capable of handling the technical and rowdy nature of today’s XC race circuits.

That bike is the reborn ASR.

The ASR’s most significant frame detail is one you cannot see. Yeti says the ASR represents “The most ambitious carbon project we’ve ever undertaken,” and required 36 iterations before the final layup was locked. The result is “The lightest full suspension bike in [Yeti] history.”

Building a light frame means less material and less material means (for the frame to remain adequately stiff and durable) greater care and precision with what material you use. Yeti states that its engineering team used new carbon-layup analysis software to help eliminate “redundant” carbon. And Yeti’s manufacturing partner employed a new, more precise, carbon-cutting table, and improved “draping” while laying the plies into the mold.

yeti asr

In its typical style, Yeti offers two carbon frame tiers: Turq (its best) and Carbon. Geometry, performance metrics, and features are the same, but the Turq uses more fancy (expensive-er) carbon making them about 175 grams lighter.

There are two frames within the Turq series: Wireless and “wired.” The Wireless frame can only fit a wireless drivetrain (which, for now, only SRAM offers), and has no provision for cable-actuated lockout. It has one clamping port on the non-drive side of the head tube, primarily for the rear brake hose, but it can also be fitted with a cable-actuated dropper.

The “wired” Turq frame has routing ports on both sides of the head tube. This allows compatibility with a mechanical shifting drivetrain, cable-actuated dropper post, and cable-actuated shock remote.

yeti asr

The Carbon frame is essentially the “wired” Turq frame rendered in lower-grade carbon. However, there is a noteworthy routing difference. The Carbon frame has full-length routing tubes for the rear brake, derailleur, dropper, and shock remote. The Turq frames do not have these tubes—a weight-saving decision. To keep the Turq frames quiet, the brake hose (and any cable housing) gets a foam sleeve to prevent rattle.

Continuing down the list of ASR’s features you will find, a threaded bottom bracket, integrated (and removable) upper chainguide, room for two bottles in the main triangle, clamping hose and housing ports, 2.4 inch/60mm (on 30mm internal width rim) rear tire clearance, and UDH.

The ASR also gets a suite of rubber frame protectors: Chainslap, downtube, and a small fender to keep grit from collecting around the main pivot. The downtube and fender are left off the T5 built to save grams but are included with the bike. None of the ASR frames employ routing through the upper headset bearing.

While Yeti’s Switch Infinity dual-link suspension system is superb, it didn’t make the cut for the ASR. It’s simply too heavy in its current form for a bike as weight-focused as the ASR. Instead, Yeti turned to a system familiar to everyone who has paid attention to short travel and lightweight suspension frames: Single pivot with a swing link and flex stays. It’s also familiar to Yeti; the brand first employed the system on the 2003 ASR.

yeti asr

While there isn’t as much of a tech story to the ASR’s suspension compared to Switch Infinity, there remain a few details of interest. One of the challenges of this style of suspension coupled with a lightweight shock is travel quality. often, it’s challenging to create a ride that offers suppleness and support and effective use of all the bike’s travel.

Yeti feels it hit a sweet spot by settling on a “nearly linear leverage rate” with 10 percent progression, and the work of their in-house suspension department to create custom damper and spring tunes.

Yeti also cites the decision to go with a shorter stroke shock as one of the keys to the ASR’s suspension performance. It states that a longer stroke shock has a higher air spring compression ratio which “can prevent the rider from using full travel”. In contrast, the 40mm stroke shock used by the ASR, “optimizes compression ratio to reduce end of stroke harshness inherent in small volume shocks.”

chart, line chart

The ARS’s anti-squat is a bit over 100 percent at sag with the stock 32-tooth ring and in the 52-tooth cog. Yeti states that XC racers’ preference for larger rings (which reduce anti-squat; the ASR fits up to a 36 38 tooth ring, frame size dependant) was considered when drawing up the ASR’s kinematics.

The ASR is the first Yeti in over a decade to get kitted with RockShox suspension exclusively. There are no Fox suspension options (though that may change with future Fox product introductions). All models get RockShox SID shocks and forks with three-position dampers. T-series models get TwistLoc remote lockout or (on the highest-end build) Flight Attendant. C-Series builds do not have remote lockouts as stock, but a remote is offered as an upgrade.

The ASR’s geometry was designed with a 120mm fork in mind. However, Yeti states that the fork is tested and approved for fork travel up to 140mm.

And now, the part you’ve been waiting for—frame and bike weights.

Frame weights (claimed):

Turq Wireless: 1,448g (no shock), 1,813g (with shock) Turq: 1,552g (no shock), 1,830g (with shock) Carbon: 1,727g (no shock), 1,985g (with shock)

Complete bike weights (claimed):

T5 XX SL Ultimate ($13,900): 23 lb. T4 XX1 with carbon wheel upgrade ($9,900): 22.5 lb. T4 XX1 ($7,900): 23.6 lb. T3 X0 T-Type with carbon wheel upgrade ($10,600): 22.9 lb. T3 X0 T-Type ($8,600): 24.3 lb. T2 X01 Eagle: with carbon wheel upgrade ($9,200): 22.7 lb. T2 X01 Eagle ($7,200): 24 lb. C3 ($6,600): 26 lb. C2 ($5,600): 25.8 lb.

Notice the interesting juxtaposition of prices and weights. A bigger number in Yeti’s usual model designations means a more expensive and lighter-weight build. But SRAM’s parts offerings turn that on its head a bit.

a green and blue bicycle

Consequently, the T4 which features a mechanical SRAM XX1 Eagle drivetrain, mechanical suspension lockout, cable-actuated dropper post, and upgraded with the optional carbon wheels, is the lightest bike in the line. It is lighter than the T5 (SRAM AXS Transmission, Reverb AXS dropper, Flight Attendant suspension) and cheaper than the T3 with its SRAM X0 AXS Transmission. The second lightest bike is the T2—SRAM X0 Eagle mechanical drivetrain—with a carbon wheel upgrade.

The T4 and T2 don’t have the nearly flawless shifting of SRAM’s AXS Transmission, nor the automatic suspension wizardry of Flight Attendant. But they also don’t have any batteries to keep them charged.

As we’ve seen from other recently launched race bikes—like the new Specialized Epic which has very similar geometry to this ASR—the ASR’s geometry is more descending-friendly than previous generations of cross-country machines. That’s manifested primarily by the 66.5-degree head angle. But also a longer wheelbase.


Seat tube angle is pegged at 75.5 across the board, though that’s measured to a typical saddle height for each frame size. Every size gets a unique chain stay length, though it is adjusted by shifting the position of the bottom bracket and not by using a unique rear triangle per size.

While riding the Yeti, I also had the new Specialized Epic 8 in-house for testing. So I can offer some comparison between two very similar bikes.

Big picture: They’re both great bikes—I don’t think they have any significant enough differences that would cause a rider to win, or lose, a race if they rode one and not the other. The only big difference is the Epic 8 has internal frame storage and a flip chip (to slightly alter the geometry).

specialized sworks epic

The biggest difference for me was the performance of the rear suspension. I preferred the tune of the Yeti’s rear suspension: I thought it was a smoother riding bike overall and the last third of the Yeti’s travel was more effective and useable than the Epic’s. Overall, although it has five millimeters less travel on paper, the Yeti felt and rode like it had more rear travel than the Epic.

There are a few little things I like about the Yeti as well. It doesn’t route the front brake through the headset bearing for one. I greatly preferred the adjustment offered by a two-piece cockpit over the one-piece cockpit on the Specialized. And I thought the Maxxis tires on the Yeti rolled just as well but were a little more surefooted, though that could be a region and condition-specific difference.

At $13,900 with an almost identical build, the Yeti ASR T5 XX SL Ultimate is $600 cheaper than the Specialized S-Works Epic 8. However, Specialized wins the weight war with its top-of-the-line build coming in—on my scale—at 22.4 pounds to the Yeti’s 23.2 lb.

test editor matt phillips riding the yeti asr

I said this in my review of the Epic 8, and I’m saying it here: Today’s World Cup XCO racecourses have bred a better kind of race bike. In years past, XC race bikes were optimized for smoothish trails and climbing resulting in super stiff hardtails with minimal fork travel and sketchy handling.

But new-school course design demands a more well-rounded full suspension bike that climbs efficiently but can also proficiently navigate very challenging descents and technical trail features. The result is light and fast bikes more suitable for everyday trail riding.

So, while the new ASR is a bike made for XC racing at the highest level, it’s also a goddamn-fun little mountain bike to shred on. Riding one is also a welcome relief from the bloat that has afflicted longer-travel trail bikes.

test editor matt phillips riding the yeti asr

However, be warned—If you step down from a bike with more travel and bigger tires, and onto an ASR—when you launch yourself into the rowdiest trails without thinking, you might, if you’re not careful, get over your proverbial ski tips. Picking good lines and riding smoothly is key, as is respecting the limits of the lightweight brakes and tires. But by applying extra brain power and precision—in contrast to how you can hold on and point a longer travel trail bike in the general direction you want to go—you’ll be surprised at just how capable this Yeti is, and how fast you can ride challenging trails.

yeti asr

Yeti supplied me with the top-of-the-line T4 (23.2 lbs., size medium) for this review. This model gets the new RockShox SID fork and shock with Flight Attendant. To a large degree, those parts define the ride of any bike they’re quipped on so I encourage you to read my review of the SID Flight Attendant parts here .

Because Flight Attendant is so defining, I rode the ASR with the automatic control turned off, flipping through the modes manually. While it’s not a big surprise, the ASR climbs superbly. In open mode, the pedaling response is, perhaps, slightly on the soft side of the spectrum for an XC bike. While it pedals efficiently, the anti-squat doesn’t feel super aggressive.

I prefer this tune, however, because the Yeti’s rear end is reactive and supple, it finds plenty of traction on slippery surfaces and yields slightly more when climbing tricky technical trails. Those traits are especially helpful when running a fast-rolling rear tire.

If you want the ARS to climb with more snap, bump the suspension into pedal or lock mode (or enable Flight Attendant’s auto mode) and the Yeti gets crisper and rides higher in its travel.

With the suspension locked, the Yeti’s frame feels, I’ll say, appropriately stiff when throwing down the watts. While it doesn’t feel like you’re stomping down on a concrete floor with each pedal stroke, I didn’t sense any wind-up or shivering in the frame even though I’m on the heavy side (about 180 pounds) compared to the high-level XC racer this bike is intended to satisfy.

test editor matt phillips riding the yeti asr

The cockpit is comfortably roomy, and the seat angle is (blissfully) not too steep so I felt like I was properly positioned for tough extended climbing. Yeti provides a healthy head tube spacer stack on the bike for riders who like to be more upright. But after some experimentation, I was happiest with two millimeters of spacers under the stem. This gave me the weight I like on the front tire, powerful cornering, and balanced climbing. It didn’t give me any trouble on challenging descents because of the bike’s poised downhill mannerisms.

Yeti's ability to descend well is expected, and it has defined their XC bikes dating back to the ARC hardtail. So, I was not surprised at all when I found this ASR to be a phenomenal descending bike. The rear suspension tune is masterful and makes what feels like comfortably more than the claimed 115mm of travel. I won’t say the ASR’s performance to millimeter ratio is as impressive as Evil’s Following. But the ASR’s ability to offer performance across the spectrum of bump sizes and speeds is (for this kind of bike with this style of suspension) notable.

I think there’s a bit more than suspension travel at play though. The ASR’s frame has a certain suppleness: I felt what I perceived as well-tuned elasticity in the right directions and in the right amounts to enhance this bike’s compliance and handling. Perhaps some riders who ride the ASR will interpret these sensations as softness in the frame. But I believe we’re long past the days where stiffer always equals better, and there’s a recognition that flex (when properly harnessed) can help elevate a bicycle’s performance.

And as far as the ASR’s handling goes, I think it balances many competing needs well. I found the steering sharp but nicely weighted, precise, and intuitive. This isn’t the darty XC bike of days gone by, but one that performs at medium to high speeds, and can dexterously slither down a tricky technical descent. Perhaps on the very steepest and tightest uphill switchbacks, this new-school geometry doesn’t work as well as old XC geometry, but compared to today’s trail bikes, it’s far more agile when navigating tight corners.

I also believe that, while 66.5° sounds slack for an XC bike, when you have that sort of head angle paired to a light bike and with light front-end components (wheel, tire, fork, bar, stem; all the stuff that turns when you steer a bike) it doesn’t feel as slow steering as a heavier bike with heavier front-end components. Lighter bikes are more reactive which makes slacker steering geometry feel less sluggish.

Yeti, overall, did an excellent job with this return to the short travel scene. The ASR is a fast bike that’s fun as hell to ride.

a blue and silver frame

The ASR arrives in six models priced from $5,600 (C2) to $13,900 (T5). The Turq “wired” frame is also offered for $4,000.

All bikes feature SRAM drivetrain and brakes (180mm front rotor, 160mm rear), RockShox suspension, DT Wheels with 30mm (internal width) rims, WTB saddle, and Maxxis tires (Rekon EXO 2.4 front, Rekon Race EXO 2.35 rear).

A couple of new parts debut on the ASR.

a close up of a bicycle wheel

One is DT-Swiss’s new XRC 1200 wheelset. This wheelset is stock on the T5 and is offered as a $2,000 upgrade to other T-series bikes. The weight on this wheelset is impressive: 1,303 grams (597 front, 706 rear). And that’s with asymmetric 30mm internal width rims. The hubs are DT’s lightest—the 180 with ceramic bearings—laced with new Revolite spokes designed for this wheelset.

Also debuting is WTB’s Solano, a new short-nosed mountain bike saddle that I found very comfortable. That makes it the second, after the Gravelier, new WTB saddle I’ve really liked sitting upon. The Solano will, for now, only be found as OE equipment, but it will debut in the aftermarket later this year.

The C2 and C3 models have an optional upgrade to RockShox Ultimate suspension with TwistLoc remote for $600.

T5 XX SL Ultimate —$13,900

a bicycle with a black frame

SRAM XX1 SL Eagle AXS T-Type drivetrain, with a power meter, SRAM Level Ultimate brakes, RockShox SID Ultimate fork and SidLuxe Ultimate shock with Flight Attendant, DT-Swiss XRC 1200 wheels, BikeYoke Barkeeper stem, RaceFace NEXT SL handlebar, RockShox Reverb AXS dropper post.


T4 XX1—$7,900

a green and blue mountain bike

SRAM XX1 Eagle drivetrain, SRAM Level TLM brakes, RockShox SID Ultimate fork and SidLuxe Ultimate shock with TwistLoc remote, DT-Swiss XM 1700 wheels, BikeYoke Barkeeper stem, RaceFace NEXT SL handlebar, Fox Factory Transfer SL dropper post.

T3 X0 T-Type—$8,600

yeti asr t3

SRAM X01 Eagle AXS T-Type drivetrain, SRAM Level TLM brakes, RockShox SID Ultimate fork and SidLuxe Ultimate shock with TwistLoc remote, DT-Swiss XM 1700 wheels, BikeYoke Barkeeper stem, RaceFace NEXT SL handlebar, Fox Factory Transfer SL dropper post.


T2 X01 Eagle—$7,200

yeti asr t2

SRAM X01 Eagle drivetrain, SRAM Level TLM brakes, RockShox SID Ultimate fork and SidLuxe Ultimate shock with TwistLoc remote, DT-Swiss XM 1700 wheels, BikeYoke Barkeeper stem, RaceFace NEXT SL handlebar, Fox Performance Elite Transfer SL dropper post.

yeti asr c3

SRAM GX Eagle AXS T-Type drivetrain, SRAM Level TL brakes, RockShox SID Select fork and SidLuxe Select+ shock, DT-Swiss M 1900 wheels, Burgtec Enduro MK3 stem and Ride Wide Alloy Enduro handlebar, Fox Performance Elite Transfer SL dropper post.

yeti asr c2

SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain, SRAM Level TL brakes, RockShox SID Select fork and SidLuxe Select+ shock, DT-Swiss M 1900 wheels, Burgtec Enduro MK3 stem, and Ride Wide Alloy Enduro handlebar, Fox Performance Elite Transfer SL dropper post.

Headshot of Matt Phillips

A gear editor for his entire career, Matt’s journey to becoming a leading cycling tech journalist started in 1995, and he’s been at it ever since; likely riding more cycling equipment than anyone on the planet along the way. Previous to his time with Bicycling , Matt worked in bike shops as a service manager, mechanic, and sales person. Based in Durango, Colorado, he enjoys riding and testing any and all kinds of bikes, so you’re just as likely to see him on a road bike dressed in Lycra at a Tuesday night worlds ride as you are to find him dressed in a full face helmet and pads riding a bike park on an enduro bike. He doesn’t race often, but he’s game for anything; having entered road races, criteriums, trials competitions, dual slalom, downhill races, enduros, stage races, short track, time trials, and gran fondos. Next up on his to-do list: a multi day bikepacking trip, and an e-bike race. 

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Vital MTB Test Sessions: Five Slack, Short-Travel 29er Mountain Bikes Reviewed 61

Want a bike that can pedal like crazy and maximize fun on smoother terrain in true vital mtb style, here's an in-depth look at a handful of 2020 bikes helping lead the charge - the banshee phantom, norco optic, ibis ripley, marin rift zone, and santa cruz tallboy..

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Is  the "downhiller's XC bike" upon us? And is this a good thing for your average rider? It very well could be. It's 2020, and there are a growing number of short-travel bikes with super slack head angles and steep seat angles that make climbing more of a joy.

We corralled five examples of this new-school ride to be ridden and scrutinized in Phoenix, Arizona. In this video we break down their strengths and weaknesses, what we think of this type of bike, and pick our personal favorites. Welcome to Vital MTB Test Sessions for short-travel 29ers. Click play and DIG IN!

For those who primarily ride fast, flowy, and pumpy trails with a sprinkling of tech, these could be the ones to rule it all.

Relative performance ratings.

With a wide variety of trail features and pitches under our tires, the areas where the bikes excelled or struggled really came to light. Considering how things felt on the trail, we rated them on various performance metrics relevant to the category.

Banshee Phantom - Average Rating: 4.2 out of 5

Side-by-Side Spec Comparison

About the testers.

Brandon Turman - Age: 33 // Years Riding: 18 // Height: 5'10" (1.78m) // Weight: 170-pounds (77.1kg)

"I like to have fun, pop off the bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when I feel in tune with a bike, and really mash on the pedals and open it up when pointed downhill." Formerly a mechanical engineer and Pro downhill racer, Brandon brings a unique perspective to the testing game as Vital MTB's resident product guy. He has on-trail familiarity with nearly every innovation in our sport from the past several years and a really good feel for what’s what.

Steve Wentz - Age: 35 // Years Riding: 23 // Height: 5'8" (1.73m) // Weight: 174-pounds (78.9kg)

"Despite what it looks like, I'm really precise and calculated, which I'm trying to get away from. I'm trying to drop my heels more and just let it go." Steve is able to set up a bike close to perfectly within minutes, ride at close to 100% on new trails and replicate what he did that first time over and over. He's been racing Pro DH for 15+ years including World Cups, routinely tests out prototype products, and can squish a bike harder than anyone else we know. Today he builds some of the best trails in the world.

Courtney Steen - Age: 32 // Years Riding: 12 // Height: 5'7" (1.70m) // Weight: 150-pounds (68.0kg)

"Going downhill puts a smile on my face and I climb for beer." Courtney routinely shocks the boys with her speed and has experience in various disciplines. A silent force behind the scenes for Vital MTB, she's posted up in Durango, Colorado and has ridden dozens of women's bikes. Her technical background helps her think critically about products and how they can be improved.

Which type of bike should we test next? Are there any models that really interest you? What test location would be best? Leave your suggestions in the comments. We look forward to your feedback.

Video by Shawn Spomer, Brandon Turman, and John Reynolds

View replies to: Vital MTB Test Sessions: Five Slack, Short-Travel 29er Mountain Bikes Reviewed

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Best short-travel dropper posts: Descend faster with the saddle out the way

XC riders looking for the best short-travel dropper post to enhance their descending capabilities are spoilt for choice

Best short-travel dropper posts

Best short-travel dropper posts: What to look for

Dropper seatposts might have been popularized by enduro bike riders, but as brands have developed XC-specific options, the best short-travel dropper posts have now become increasingly prevalent on XC bikes, too.

As XCO and XCM courses become more technical, with significant rock gardens and drops on many descents, cross-country riders are recognizing the value of having the best short-travel dropper posts.

Mountain bike design has trended to a more progressive overall geometry of late, which has resulted in cross-country mountain bikes becoming slacker and longer. The result of this geometry evolution is superior steering responses, stability and confidence when speeding downhill on technical terrain.

The best dropper seatpost is crucial in extracting the best from your XC mountain bike’s geometry, as it allows you to be in a lower position, effectively descending 'inside' the frame instead of on top of it. 

XC riders initially resisted dropper seatposts, due to the weight burden, but demand will always father innovation. As a result, the best short-travel dropper posts are now feathery light, which might be short in terms of comparative travel, but ideal for gram counting XC riders.

Best short-travel dropper posts

Why trust BikePerfect Our cycling experts have decades of testing experience. We\'ll always share our unbiased opinions on bikes and gear. Find out more about how we test.

Fox Transfer SL Performance Elite

Fox Transfer SL Performance Elite

Our expert review:


Reasons to buy, reasons to avoid.

The Transfer SL dropper post from suspension manufacturer Fox is the ultimate lightweight dropper post option for XC and gravel riders. It features less travel and lighter weights compared to the standard Transfer that's needed more for trail and enduro riders. 

The internals of the Transfer uses a coil spring rather than an air spring, and the post is suited for multiple seat post diameters. Appealing to XC and gravel riders, the post has shaved off 25 percent of the standard Transfer's heft. 

If you're only looking for a little bit of drop then the 50mm option is perfect, though the Transfer SL is offered up to 100mm to get the seat out of the way on technical downhills. The Performance Elite model offers great value including almost all of the features of the more expensive Factory version. 

Read our full review of the Fox Transfer SL to see why we awarded it 4.5 stars. 

Crankbrother Highline dropper post

Crankbrothers Highline

Crankbrothers' existing dropper posts are super reliable, but they are heavy and not available in sizes suitable for XC and gravel riders. That's where the brand's new Highline dropper post comes in. Weighing in at 459g, the Highline offers 60-125mm of travel in a 27.2mm diameter. 

That smaller diameter is a crucial feature that allows the post to be used on gravel bikes. There is also the option of buying a remote lever that is able to be mounted onto drop bars. So far the Highline has proved to be a lightweight and smooth dropper option for XC and gravel use. 

Read more about why in our full Crankbrothers Highline review. 

Divine SL

Bike Yoke Divine SL

The German dropper post specialist Bike Yoke makes some impressive claims for its Divine SL. Construction and material composition is decidedly premium with titanium saddle bolts and forged clamping plates. Its tubing profile is also tapered.

All of these engineering features help the Divine SL to weigh only 385g, whilst still providing 80mm of drop. There are now 100- and 125mm options as well, which obviously will weigh a bit more. Bike Yoke’s industrial designers have also been mindful of compatibility for those who might prefer running 2x drivetrains.

The Divine SL features two remote options. The Triggy X remote is a left-side under configuration, whilst the 2x remote can be used on either side of the handlebar, using a push function to trigger.

KS Lev

Available in a generous selection of diameters, the Lev Ci is an XC racer’s dream seatpost. The entire design logic aims to reduce mass without sacrificing functionality, whilst delivering 75mm of drop. The Lev is also now available in travel stretching up to 175mm so there's an option for every rider. 

Loyal users of the KS brand droppers always comment on their exceptionally smooth actuation and return action. The company’s patented unidirectional roller clutch bearing system is responsible for this, making for buttery smooth movement of the saddle. 

Perhaps the clearest indication of its uncompromised design is the Ci’s remote (sold separately), shaped to be ergonomically intuitive to operate, even when you are nearly at your threshold. 

DT Swiss D 232

DT Swiss D 232

An outlier in terms of design, the DT Swiss D 232 is operated by a simple spring. Famed for the durability and mechanical excellence of its hubs, DT Swiss has applied much of that engineering focus to its dropper seat post design.

Part of the 232 system, which is a collection of DT Swiss components specifically developed for XC riders and racers, this dropper is exceptionally compact. It offers only 60mm of travel, operated by a spring, bearing and bushing system, removing the complexity of pressurized internals.

DT Swiss claims that a home mechanic should be capable of accessing and servicing the D 232's internals, in only five minutes. Maintenance merely requires some grease and is free of any propriety tooling. Best of all, it can be done without removing the D 232 from your frame. 


If appearance equals performance, the JBG 2 DPS is unrivaled. This Polish dropper seatpost looks fantastically exotic, with its 3K weave carbon fiber exterior.

There is no arguing its lightweight credentials, with the JBG2 delivering 60mm of drop and a total mass of only 240g. It features an encased design, with the seat mast sliding over the main post tube. 

Unfortunately, the striking aesthetic is somewhat undone by external cable routing, which can be an issue, as most contemporary XC frames are designed for internal stealth routing. For larger riders, the 95kg user weight limit might be problematic.

9point8 Fall Line R

9point8 Fall Line R

The Fall Line R is preciously light, at only 322g, whilst delivering 75-150mm of drop. Where this 9point8 product really shines is its handlebar ergonomics. With a choice of three remotes for the Fall Line R (sold separately), you'll never suffer handlebar control-management anxiety. 

There are over and underbar remotes, depending on your thumb action preference, but perhaps the most impressive Fall Line R feature is its Trigger option. This is effectively a compact right-hand brake lever to operate the dropper. 

Illustrating its product awareness and design logic, 9point8’s clamping system is shaped to accommodate whichever seat rails you might be riding: round or oval. The tension system also plays nice with more exotic titanium and carbon-fiber seat rails.

Hot Lap

TranzX Hot Lap Dropper Post

TranzX dropper posts are one of the most common specced droppers on budget and mid-tier mountain bike models and for good reason. They offer excellent performance at a fair price. 

Take for example the Hot Lap, the brand's dedicated short-travel dropper seat post for XC or gravel riders. It brings 50mm of travel to a package that's 430g for the shortest option. That's combined with a lightweight hydraulic cartridge and internal cable routing. 

The brand says that the Hot Lap also works for bikes that have odd shapes that other mainstream droppers have trouble accommodating, like those with horizontal top tubes or longer seat tubes. 

If you're looking for more travel, TranzX offers a number of other dropper options as well. 

Brand-X Ascend CX

Brand-X Ascend CX

If you need a dropper within narrow budget constraints, Brand-X always delivers. With its Ascend CX, you get 85 or 105mm of drop with an ergonomic paddle trigger and proven internals. 

It isn't the lightest sub-100mm dropper, but for the price, Brand-X's Ascend CX provides good value. The paddle trigger actuation uses a linkage mechanism at the dropper post's underside, which prevents cable pull. 

An honest product that is on-trend with current stealth cable routing requirements, the Ascend CX also has a micro-adjust clamping mechanism, to keep your seat angle exactly as you wish it to be. 

How much travel should a dropper post have?

This is entirely up to each rider, their riding style and the trails. Generally the more technical and steep the terrain is the more need you will have to drop the saddle low. That said the longer a dropper post is the heavier it will be and the more likely you are to experience incompatibility with frames. The biggest limiter on how long a dropper you can run is the insertion depth of your seat tube. 

Some frames, particularly hardtails, will have a full length seat tube so there will be no issues. That said other frames will have pivots or bottle cage mounts which limit how deep a post can be inserted in the frame so its worth checking before you make a purchase. 

Are dropper posts hard to maintain?

The same principles apply to all dropper seatposts. If you are not a skilled home mechanic, it is best to avoid droppers with high-pressure ratings and complex internals. 

Those mountain bikers with a modest discretionary spend on accessories should also consider how easily serviceable their short travel dropper will be and factor the cost into a yearly riding budget. 

Where the market for dropper seatposts below 100mm of travel differ, is their potential to be much simpler - and robust. Some of the very short travel droppers have mechanical internals, without any pressure chambers or seals - dramatically reducing the potential maintenance burden. 

By their very nature, shorter droppers apply less leverage to their seals and bushings whilst being ridden at full extension. This can translate to lower overall wear, compared to longer dropper seatposts in the realm of 150mm and beyond. 

What's the best dropper post lever?

Unlike enduro and trail riders, many XC mountain bikers mount one or two suspension lockout levers on the handlebar. If you are running a lockout, the best advice is to seek a dropper with multiple remote options, to ensure you can organize all your handlebar controls in a manner that is most ergonomically intuitive to use. In this regard, 9point8's different remotes and triggers are particularly good. 

Lance Branquinho is a Namibian-born journalist who graduated to mountain biking after injuries curtailed his trail running. He has a weakness for British steel hardtails, especially those which only run a single gear. As well as Bike Perfect , Lance has written for MBR.com , Off-Road.cc and Cycling News.

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short travel xc bikes

Canyon Lux World Cup

Cross-Country Bikes

Canyon Cross-Country Bikes

What is XC mountain bike racing?

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Lux Trail CF 8

  • Color: Chrome Level 1

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  • 625 Wh battery
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  • 750 Wh battery

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  • Color: Quick Silver

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  • Color: Podium Black

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We're confident that your new Canyon will exceed expectations. If not, we'll take it back within 30 days and pay shipping both ways.

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Mountain Bike Buyer’s Guide

Experience the thrill of pushing yourself to the limit as you climb uphill with ease or speed down the slopes with a cross-country bike . Discover the cross-country bikes from Canyon and take your riding experience to new heights!

What is a cross-country bike?

A cross-country bike, also known as an XC bike, is a specific type of mountain bike designed for intense uphill trails and safe descents at high speeds. Embark on long rides and experience the thrill of the great outdoors with your XC mountain bike from Canyon.

Are there different cross-country bikes?

Yes, there are different types of cross-country bikes. The specification varies depending on the riding style and the terrain you'll be riding in.

The most common types of cross-country bikes include:

Hardtail Bikes:

  • Suspension only on the front fork
  • Low weight for high-performance climbing
  • Ideal for racing on fast and less technical courses

Full-Suspension Bikes:

  • Front and rear suspension
  • Optimal suspension travel for challenging trails
  • Better absorbs bumps and compensates riding errors
  • Depending on the model, suitable for marathons and races
  • Designed for peak performance during races, maximizing your potential
  • Choose a hardtail for increased power during climbs
  • Choose a full-suspension bike for tackling more technically challenging routes

What types of cross-country bikes does Canyon offer?

With Canyon, you can choose from a variety of carbon or aluminum cross-country bikes, ensuring that you'll find the perfect XC MTB for your needs.

The Grand Canyon

If you're searching for an affordable and versatile aluminum hardtail bike with exceptional performance, look no further than the Grand Canyon . This classic XC bike is perfect for both beginners and ambitious hobby riders, offering a comfortable ride on long rides and leisurely trails alike.

The Exceed delivers exactly what you'd expect from a 29er hardtail built for optimal race performance: an ultra-lightweight frame with durable construction. With 100 millimeters of travel, the Canyon Exceed can crush even the steepest climbs and reaching high speeds on downhill sections, making it the ideal XC race bike for top-tier competitors.

The Canyon Lux is a nimble and lightweight full-suspension bikes that excels at high-speed descents. Its impressive chassis and sophisticated geometry provide optimal efficiency on steep climbs, making it an excellent choice for technically demanding XC races. For riders seeking a down-country bike, the Lux Trail offers the perfect solution by providing the ability to handle challenging downhill sections on longer rides, effectively bridging the gap between XC and trail riding.

Buy cross-country bikes online

With our online direct sales, you can enjoy premium quality cross-country bikes at an unbeatable price-performance ratio, complete with flexible payment options . Our intuitive Perfect Positioning System (PPS) enables you to easily determine the appropriate frame size for your new MTB in just two steps.

If you have any questions or concerns, our dedicated customer service team and partner workshops are readily available to assist you. Additionally, we provide added peace of mind through our 6-year warranty and 30-day return policy. Order your cross-country bike now - it will be delivered directly to your door.

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short travel xc bikes

Trail Bikes: Short vs Long Travel

Most bike companies are offering a wide assortment of bikes, but the lines between each model aren’t always clear. Bikes with different intentions, different travels, and different geometries exist in almost every manufacturer’s stable, but what’s the difference?  And does it matter?

Three of our reviewers, Noah Bodman , Marshal Olson , and Tom Collier , took on the topic of short travel vs long travel trail bikes —  what are they, when are they appropriate, and where do their personal preferences lie?

Q: What do you consider “short” travel? “Long” travel?

Noah : It depends a bit on the context, but for normal trail riding, I’d consider “short” travel to mean 120 mm and “long” travel to mean 160 mm.

Down around 100 mm is what I’d consider to be a bike more designed for XC racing, while 180 mm and upwards I’d call a Freeride / DH bike.

Marshal : It all depends on the trail.

Very steep and prolonged rough trail: short travel = 160 mm; long travel = 200 mm+.

Backcountry rooty and rocky trails: short travel = rigid; long travel = 140 mm

Wheel size dramatically affects travel. I am happy at 140-150 mm on 26″ wheels and 650b, and 100-120 mm on 29’ers on the same trail, though the bigger suspension and littler wheels don’t handle as well, and feel more twitchy to me at my somewhat lanky 6’2’’ build. I need a longer wheelbase, slacker geometry, and softer suspension with the little wheels to slow the handling down relative to bigger wheels.

Tom : For trail riding, I think of a short-travel bike as having somewhere around 120-140 mm of travel (this applies to forks and rear suspension). A bike with less travel than that probably ought to see time with a number plate attached and a spandex clad racer in the saddle.

A bike with 150-170 mm of travel falls squarely into the long-travel trail bike realm. Any more travel than that I think of as a DH or freeride-specific bike.

Q: How do hardtails fit into this schema?

Noah : Ummm, they don’t? Ok, around 120 mm for the fork is the sweet spot. Then, going either longer or shorter is obviously worthwhile for different situations.

Marshal : Unless the trail is super steep and technical / rough, causing the rear wheel to hang up on square edges, modern hardtails are wicked fun to ride — they certainly build skills and are very rewarding. For a hardtail, I have also settled on a 120 mm fork, but run it very stiff and set up more progressively to only use 90 mm or less of available travel. This keeps the front end up and well mated to the rigid rear end, and slows down the handling a bit.

Tom : I’d knock a bit of travel off for hardtails since they can be prone to feeling unbalanced without rear suspension to match. So I would call 100-120 mm “short” travel and 130-150 mm long travel. Plenty of people seem to like hucking off things on a hardtail with a 160 mm travel fork (or more), but I think that hardtails start diving too much in corners when they have more than 140 mm forks. (But maybe the huckers don’t turn.)

Like Noah and Marshal, I target 120-130 mm as being a balance between bump absorption and diving.

8 comments on “Trail Bikes: Short vs Long Travel”

Suspension tuning and style wasn’t mentioned much. I’m not an expert tuner or anything, but even with flipping through dials and playing with air pressure, bikes, just like skis, do tend to have a certain personality of sorts. For example, lively, poppy and playful vs plush, stable and planted. For example, I found SB66s to feel more like the former (and skittish) and Nomads to feel more like the latter (and sluggish). Some of this could be geometry, but I think suspension characteristics are definitely playing a large role in the personality of the bike. I’m surprised this wasn’t mentioned by anyone. As an aside, I think shorter travel bikes are better suited towards the former, and longer travel bikes better suited towards the latter. I haven’t really looked at 275ers, mostly because they seem like a really poor allocation of my dollars with so many good 26ers going for dirt cheap (2 good bikes for the price of 1 mediocre, anyone?).

Really enjoyed this article. Great insights all around. I’m just going to need to convince the wife that I need a minimum of 3 mountain bikes. I’m sure it will go over great (haha). Lindahl, they actually have multiple articles on suspension including one that goes into a decent amount of depth on tuning your ride. Just go back to mountain biking 101 and you can find all the links there. Completely agree with your comment on the low prices of 26ers – unreal.

I’ve basically been in cryo-storage for the last decade as far as mountain bikes are concerned so this might be a question with an obvious answer but why aren’t there more long travel 29ers out there? I recently bought a Niner WFO and while I’m very happy with my purchase, there definitely isn’t the same level of selection in this category as there is in the LT 650b category. For instance, why doesn’t Santa Cruz make a 29er version of the Bronson? Is this a VHS / Beta question where one type of frame won the day “because”? Did these bikes initially come out and no one bought them? Are long travel 29ers the mono-skis of mountain biking? I’m obviously missing something. Interested in your thoughts. Thank you!

When I first got onto a 29er this summer, my thought was that bigger wheels are to mountain biking what tip rocker is to skiing: they make the sport easier to do and therefore more accessible, more fun, etc. They’re not better than smaller wheels in every situation but in places where greasy roots and steep technical trails are common, I would imagine most riders would be happier on bigger wheels than smaller. So, when I started looking around for a new bike I was expecting to find lots of companies adopting them, across the spectrum of bike types, especially on enduro bikes. But what I found was that it’s mostly XC / trail bikes with less aggressive geometry and shorter travel (Santa Cruz Tallboy, Trek Remedy, Scott Spark, etc.) that have adopted 29″ wheels while the popular enduro (aggressive, long travel) bikes from Santa Cruz, Pivot, Devinci, Yeti, Norco, etc. are all 650b/27.5 – why is this? Maybe it’s because relatively short travel but aggressive 29ers like Evil’s The Following are facilitating the same kind of riding experience a LT 650b/27.5″ bike does (i.e. you don’t “need the extra travel because of the bigger wheels… but since when does that line of thinking apply to mountain bike manufacturers)?

Being short at 5’8″ and the lack of longer travel 29ers ruled wagon wheels out for me. I don’t buy the argument that the bigger wheel make up for 20mm of travel. Travel is travel. The real reason you don’t see long travel 29ers is that your already higher on them so longer travel would negativity impact the handling of the bike and create geometry issues. 140mm 27.5 hits the sweet spot for playful trail riding for me personally. I don’t care for flowy groomed trails so xc short travel bikes aren’t for me.

One more vote for the importance of the trails you ride: Sure, langer travel bikeswap with slacker head angles climb very well these days. So, out in the big mountains, you climb for 2 hours, then rip a sustained descent for 45 minutes, that’s a great set-up

On our Midwestern trails, much of the distance of a trail is spent on short rolling hills. Having a bike that is lively pedaling out of the saddle on a short rise, having geometry that is nimble for the tight turns at slower speeds on the flats, and having firm suspension to pump every little feature, even on the uphills, makes that bike a lot more fun on these sort of trails.

So I’d argue there IS STILL a penalty for longer travel, slacker bikes.

Great article, give me more insights. Written well. We need more article like this in different subjects Thanks

Beeson, I am just under 6′-0″ and I feel that the 29ers with long travel are just way to Tall. I do not like to maneuver on stilts, and I would need a Medium with 29 and anything over 130 mm travel. also at some point the suspension will tweak, bind, or feel like it is hanging up as you are flicking around corners or clipping rocks. I tend to use my dropper any time I see Technical or tight turns, and the high profile only helps for pedal strikes… not confidence in riding my outside lugs. We need a lower center of gravity without grinding down front cogs.

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short travel xc bikes


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