I want an XC mountain bike, school me in what's what these days

Hi Everyone,
I used to ride MTB 10-15 years ago, mostly DH so i’ve got good bike handling skills, I used to have a Specialized SX, and a Ti 456 Hardtail, both on 26" wheels. I gave up, sold them both and I’ve been a roadie for the last 5 years. I have now got a decent FTP and really love doing solo 90 minute fast loops and long threshold climbs and genuinely love being on the trainer. My worry is that it will one day be summer again and i’ll feel the need to go outside… I have really had my fill of near misses, close passes, near death experiences and near fight situations. I am 50, i have 3 kids, i can’t afford time off work and i can’t afford court cases from scrapping on the roadside with some idiot. Riding outside just doesn’t seem to be a good risk profile for me anymore. So maybe i really should buy another MTB…

I’m happy to never do another jump and i can’t be bothered with downhill craziness so i’m thinking XC.

What does a good XC bike look like these days? What’s the 27.5" or 29" choice mean? I’ve got a decent budget (the wife won’t agree) so Is hardtail good enough or should i 100% go full suss? How much travel is needed? What’s what with gears these days? What’s a good example of a fast, fun, capable XC machine?


Lol! That’s a loaded question!
Your terrain will have an impact in that decision, but I’ll keep it short.
I’m 44 and I raced HT for years. Bought my first full squish for my 40th birthday. The hardtail only gets ridden for winter or certain races now.
Santa Cruz Blur TR for the win!


I ride a hard tail trek superfly 29er. Good mid level bike. I don’t really see the point of dropper post, FS, and all the other bells and whistles but that’s just me. I ride XC

There’s a couple XC bike threads worth looking at the latest options.

With regards your other questions, unless you’re really short I think 29er every time. Full suspension is so sophisticated and light now there’s little reason to go HardTail and there’s a better than average chance you’ll want to upgrade anyway. 1x12 is awesome and changes the way bikes use their gearing.

Great options are the Epic/Evo, Spark, depends a little where you live and what’s available.


Unless you are very short I would go with 29" wheels. They roll over stuff better and are generally faster. In 2019 I went from a 2015 Specialized Enduro (155 mm travel trail/DH bike) to a Canyon Neuron CF (130 mm travel fast trail bike). The Canyon is definitely faster around my local forest trails, which have a few technical DH sections, but nothing very scary. I chose the Neuron trail bike over an XC bike for a bit more comfort and versatility. It’s not a heavy bike or ridiculously slackened out like some modern trail bikes. It rides very well over a lot of varied terrain, basically anything short of full-on DH. If my local trails were less technical then I might have been tempted with a full-suss XC bike, but I’m very happy with this choice. Do be aware that a lot of modern trail bikes are now very long and slack, even longer and slacker than DH rigs from 15-20 years ago! So it’s very easy to over-bike yourself for average trail/XC riding. Then again you might like that style of bike. You just need to be aware of the BIG changes in mtb geometry over the last decade.


Loaded question for sure. I’m also 50-something and an XC racer. I’m in New England with roots & rocks as the dominant trail features. I ride a 2016 Scalpel Si - 100mm travel front and back.

Generally speaking - 29’er, 100-120mm travel, and relatively quick handling. The current trend is for slacker geometry, but your need for that is really terrain dependent. The chunkier it is the more benefit you’ll get from a slacker geometry. Smooth & twisty will favor steeper head angles.

Hard tails are theoretically more efficient, especially climbing, but in my experience the fatigue reducing nature of suspension far outweighs the small pedaling gains of a HT.

If you can, check out what the racers in your area are riding. Odds are there will be a dominant type of bike if not a particular brand/model. Maybe most are on 100mm travel, or more are on 120mm and slack because your area is really technical. Wide tires with meaty tread, or narrow and smoother, will also be terrain/course dependent. All should give you a clue which bikes to look at.


Are you actually looking to race? You don’t mention.

I got a 29er hardtail (currently rigid fork too but will put a 100mm on at some point) last summer for similar reasons - allows me to do more of my riding off the roads… we have a surprising amount of gravel riding nearby most of which I didnt even know about before I got the bike (nothing compared to US standards I think but a lot of disused railway lines and so on).

Obviously a full sus will be better for actual MTB riding on the whole but it depends what you’re going to be doing each day. I don’t have good MTB on my doorstep so most rides from the house are gravel-ish or with only a little bit of MTB included at the furthest point. Although as it turns out I’m now faster on the downhills at the local trail centres than I was when I was renting 150mm trail bikes - the advantage of riding every week rather than renting once every few months I guess.

The bike I got (on-one whippet) does make a good HT race bike so I’m told.

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Start here

Then pick your favourite colour.

You honestly can’t go too wrong with any MTB these days so it really is getting down to colour choice.

As an ex DH rider I think you would enjoy the slacker head angles of some of the tested down county bikes. Can xc race em, but also ride pretty much anything pointed down too. Personally I’d pick the Rocky out of this lot, but then I do have the previous Element which I enjoy thoroughly.

Make sure you have a dropper post. The person further up that said they didn’t see the point mustn’t ride much beyond family loops if they’re still blind to how much of a game changer they are. Again, coming from a DH background you will appreciate having the saddle lowered and all that affords you in increased bike control.

Welcome back from the dark side too, btw.


Agree, if I were being budget conscious and looking to the future, I’d lean to the Aluminium XT Trek Top Fuel. (I’ve changed my tune on the Top Fuel since it came out)

The Canyon Lux TR CF6 and CF7 are incredible value and potentially more appropriate if the riding is less likely to progress to the technical stuff.

I was going to say the same thing. The Blur TR really is a great XC rig that can party too! My friend picked one up late last year. It’s on my short list now!!


One more that should be on the list is the Transition Spur

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In most cases, for someone over 40, you’re going to be happier with full sus (it’s a real back saver) and 29” wheels (they roll over roots and rocks easier). If you’re short, 27.5 is better for many. 27.5 also makes a bike more “flickable”, but you specifically said that’s not your jam.

A LOT of new riders who joined the sport post-COVID seem to be buying very slack big travel bikes and for XC it’s really not necessary. I say that because if you take the traditional advice to “just look at what other people in your area are riding”, you might think you need a super slack, big travel, full face helmet and full pads rig for simple XC trails.

In reality, 120ish is perfect for most XC applications. A dropper post really helps with those steeps and drops where you used to have to put your belly on the saddle and drag your butt across the rear tire. Most mtb’s today have 1x drivetrains with big pie plates on the cassette so you can stay seated and climb steeper and longer than in the past.

On a total tangent…you mentioned that you now love road riding but hate the traffic…that’s why so many people are going gravel. Something to consider if you have local gravel access and don’t truly want to get back into mtb.


Just get a modern short travel 29er and don’t look back. MTB is definitely safer than road bike and I enjoy both, just wish the curly bars were safer. Welcome back to the fun side


All great responses so far, but definitely answer some of the background asked earlier… like where do you live and if you intend to race. Would help to narrow down some choices.

I jumped back in XC after taking a 10+yr break since being a roadie for awhile, last MTB was a 26in and man it was a dramatic eye opener going to a 29er full sus (Epic Evo). Love how technology and improvements came a long way for MTB. Having so much fun again!


I’m in the southern UK. Lots of forests and fire roads. Fairly hilly near me but no good mountains. I’d have to drive 3 hours to Wales for that.

Thanks for the great answers everyone: 29er full suss sounds like where i should be looking…


Be sure to check out the XC bike thread here…

And there’s the tire thread when you get a bike and need some input on tires…

lots of good info! Hope to hear on what you find and go with!


I’m in pretty much the same situation as you, but a year down the line!

I just wanted to enjoy MTB again, so bought a Trek Fuel Ex8. It’s 29er with 140mm up front, 130mm at the rear. I was so blown away by the changes in geometry compared to my last MTB which was a Klein Attitude Comp. I was prepared to be impressed with the way the bike handled going downhill, but not for how well such a heavy bike climbed!!

I sold my TT bike as the itch to race returned and got a Trek Procaliber 9.5 as a donor bike and fully upgraded it to 1 9.5kg race bike. The geometry on this is again like night and day to the old XC bikes I was used to. It handles so well on the downhills, rolls over obstacles so easily and accelerates like my road bike! Dare I say that I have just as much fun on this than I do the Fuel Ex!!

(I’m in the UK too, but the north of Scotland so the mountains don’t need to be driven to!!)

Pick your budget, pick your trails, then pick a bike you like.

Regardless of jumping (I can’t NOT jump) if you are riding fire road, then a HT is more than fine. If you ride in rocks and roots, a FS might be preferred. Dropper is going to make the ride more fun, if you aren’t racing than you should have one.

If you have been out of the game that long, you might not actually know what kind of riding you really want to do. So the bike you want may not be obvious. I race XC competitively, but I don’t like to ride that bike for fun because it just isn’t burly enough for my preferred riding (and that is considered an aggressive bike for XC).

So to bring this thread to a happy ending: - I have bought a Trek Procaliber 9.7

I’m all stoked, It’s been sunny in the UK for a few days and i’m looking forward to going out to ride (and not having to face the drivers/cyclists hate).

Thanks for the great advice everyone. This forum rocks!


I have a 2021 Norco Revolver FS 100. I think FS and 29er is definitely the way to go. Its my one MTB so find I get overwhelmed with it when I get into black diamond level trails and wonder if I would be fine if I had a Trail bike with more travel. Some of the XC races around here will have enough black diamond level features/sections that other racers will race their trail bikes (like a Stumpjumper) instead. I was advised to go for a 120mm bike but was worried about the extra weight, if I had to buy over again would look more at stuff like the Blur TR and other Downcountry bikes that have extra travel but not full on trail bike geometry that might impair their climbing ability.
From reading reviews, aside from the Blur TR, the Top Fuel also sounded good and given its similarity to the Blur, the 120mm Cervelo XC bike would probably be good too.