Best MTB for confidence but also racing - the unicorn

Alright, I am in analysis paralysis and decided to turn to the community - :phone: a :people_holding_hands:. I’m looking for the best bike for racing (all types, likely a lot less multi-stage) to inspire confidence in riding slightly technical terrain - the :unicorn:. I’m east coast (DC area) and can have fast and flowy or rocky and technical within a drive. I want to be able to climb somewhat technical stuff with confidence and descend without white knuckling. I’m seriously considering the 120mm echelon of bikes but will that really take me out of contention for those 45-60 minute races when up against a 100mm? And not to brag (I don’t know if you heard me counting, I did over 1000… name that line and instant BFF), I am fast-ish which is to say if we’re talking about multi-minute differences in a race, that would be the difference of me winning or coming in top 20ish. BUT, I ain’t made of money and don’t want to rule out heading down to Brevard to tear up Pisgah or Dupont. Lots of new bikes this year and my head is spinning…

And a quick about me - I race primarily road but also MTBs and have won some races. But as I move up, I know the easiest get is in handling and confidence.

I just picked up an Epic EVO (110/120) hoping it’s the unicorn. Won’t know how it fares in the shorter races until next year (hopefully?), and I definitely prefer XC marathon type stuff, but it was a blast this weekend. Fast, fun, and punches above its weight class.


I recommend reading here:

In general based on what you have said, I’d look for a full suspension with 120mm front and 100-120mm in the rear. You’ll want a modern XC bike with head tube angle under 69 degrees. You’re in the market for what’s referred to as “down country” XC bike, which actually that is where the trend is going for 2021 XC models. There are lots of good bike choices at the moment so you’re in luck.

A few weeks ago I was just riding trails near you; Fountainhead, Lake Fairfax, Rosaryville State Park and W&OD. I had my Scott Spark RC 900, which could be an option for you as well, but I’d wait to see what their 2021 model looks like.


I recently got the Epic Evo for those same reasons. Loving it so far. Fast like an XC bike, but a more confidence inspiring setup then a pure XC racer.

I have last years model, the new one that just came out looks pretty sweet!


Santa Cruz Blur TR would also fill those shoes. It’s 120 out front and 100 in back. It’s agile, descends well and still climbs like a machine.


There’s always this question of whether you should have bikes like golf clubs, or go for the quiver killer.

I think the best approach would be to get a good race quality carbon hardtail, 29’er with good, wide modern wheels.; if you’re tech or flexability challenged put a dropper on it. Those bikes are relatively cheap to buy and maintain(compared to a cutting edge quiver-killer), they’re probably faster on any race that starts where it ends and is less than 90 minutes long. Its not the most fun bike in the world, but they’re super fast, cheap, easy to maintain, etc.

When you’re ready add a full suspension trail or racer. Now you’ve got a backup to take to a big event. You’ve got choices depending on the course. You’ve got a bike to ride while one is in the shop. bike to loan, etc.

Bottom line the HT race bike is just a terribly versatile machine; you can put on narrow tires and gravel grind or a dropper and a longer fork and ride at 80% of a FS trail bike. Its often the best choice and rarely a bad choice.


Sworks epic evo all the way. Sold my hard tail and 6in trail bike after a few rides on the epic definitely the best of both worlds.

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I have a few friends on this bike and they are very happy with it for what you describe.


Basically what @JMickel says. My goto MTB is a Cotic Solaris - (actually the original version) It’s just FUN :tada: :tada: :tada: I’ve used it for everything from trips to the Alps with big downhills to multi-day ITT races like the Highland Trail It may have not been the “best” for DH in the Alps but I wasn’t too far behind the young turks on their mega DH machines.

I’ve also got a Salsa Spearfish which is a short travel (100mm front/80mm rear) XC racing bike. Definitely faster on downhills but a bit slower on road so it depends on the ride as to whether I take that or the Solaris. Stateside I’d use it for something like the Colorado Trail or Arizona Trail Races but like me it’d be out of its depth on a world cup DH course.

I’ve five bikes and of them all the one I’d keep above all others is the Solaris.

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@maggie08mae I’d pretty much agree with the recommendations here. I recently updated my old Scalpel and put a Fox 120SC on it and the slight extra travel up front was a good change. It’s 100mm out back so I’m on-trend with downcountry :slight_smile:

One of those new Epic Evos or Scalpels with the longer fork (SE??) would be where I’d be looking if I was buying a bike today. Or maybe even a Transition Spur as a left field option, I heard Mike Levy on a recent Pinkbike podcast talking about it. Whatever you get I’d suggest going with a dropper post.

As for HTs… not even pros ride them in XCO any more. Not saying they aren’t fun, but I’m guessing that’s not the style of bike you’re looking for.

Good luck with the analysis paralysis!

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Agree with @JMickel and @bobw, the latest HT’s are very capable and versatile.

I mentioned on the XC Race thread that last year I test rode a number (at a Demo day) and the main thing I discovered was sizing. At 6ft 2’ I usually ride a L, however Canyon recomended an XL size and the confidence I had on that compared to the L was night and day, due to less of a drop between seat and bars (I’ve since added a shorter stem.)

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Based on the mix of goals you describe, sounds like a modern geometry full sus XC bike with 120mm travel, a suspension lockout and a dropper is what you’re looking for.


full sus or hardtail?

How does it climb?

Oh I’m familiar with the down country catalog. I had a whole spreadsheet with all the stats and prices and colors and reviews and and and… :crazy_face:decided to go out there and talk to folks that are riding them. Thanks for the thread link and advice. I’m feeling like that 120 is the direction.

@benmcduff - I was looking at that Transition but they’re a bit heavier than something like the Epic Evo. Weight isn’t everything but… I’ll watch some reviews. All about that dropper post!

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Check out the BC Bike Race bike check from last year on pink bike. All the pros are on 120mm down country bikes, lots of good food for thought in there.


Full sus. Only reasons IMO to get a hard tails is for budget reasons, or if you really prioritize weight and are on the pointy end of races.


It climbs well but I’m definitely more of a seated climber, so the lack of brain and additional suspension doesn’t hurt as much. I’ve only had 1 long ride on it so far, but it was 3.5hrs climbing / 1.5 hrs descending. This bike is replacing a 2018 Epic Pro and happy so far with the decision.

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Checkout the Transition Spur. BTW, I ride an Epic, and I like the pure XC feel. No down country for me. But, I don’t ride scary downhills anymore, and I got to scars to remind me why I don’t.