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

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.

Just bought a Specialized Chisel - similar to you live in Southern UK where I find most off road is a bit too rough for gravel machines but not challenging enough to require anything particularly hardcore from a MTB perspective. Have to say very happy with it.

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You’re just not riding the right spots then :wink:

… or I am too scared to search for them!

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I’ve found a Topfuel to be perfect for riding around those Surrey Hills. With the exception of the steep jump lines off a couple of the hills I can’t imagine wanting any more bike. I think it’d make it boring.

Far from it. I did the whole “I don’t need more bike” right from a HT to a 140 27.5 and for the last 5 years a 160 27.5. Everything is faster, crazier and more fun, pedalling platforms are so good now the trade off between XC and trail is much smaller. :smiley: I’m very familiar with SH, riding them most Sundays, there are plenty of tame trails but there are also plenty of more gnarly ones, plus I like drops and jumps etc.

Being a short travel 29 and slack, the Top fuel is more of a trail bike than XC (its slacker than my 160 27.5!)

Definitely 29", 27.5" is good for very small riders (think 5’4" and under) or if you’re doing some jumping/DH riding. For XC, 29" is absolutely the way to go.

If you’re racing, you may look at the dedicated XC machines…Specialized Epic, Santa Cruz Blur, Trek Supercaliber. They’re going to all be 80-110mm rear, 100-110mm front travel. They’re going to be super fast and not the most comfortable daily drivers.

For daily usage I’d look more in the “downcountry” category. Modern geometry, lower travel…typically only 1-2lbs heavier than the XC race machines. Rocky Mountain Element, Specialized Epic Evo, Santa Cruz Tallboy are all great places to start. There’s varying levels of aggressiveness in geometry. Element is pretty much an “all mountain” geo with 120/130 travel. Epic Evo is much more racey.


Underbiking is the way to go.

I live in the US mountain west and find my HT plenty capable for both racing and general trail riding.

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I agree that its better to be underbike vs overbiked. I find riding my enduro bike on tamer, more XC trails very boring. It can also be really annoying when you are trying to find speed on trails with a big bike that is slower to accelerate and doesn’t hold speed as well.

But I will disagree on hardtail vs full suspension! I find my 120/120 way more fun than the hardtail it replaced. The hardtail certainly “felt” faster on a lot of trails, but I consistently put faster times on almost everything on the full suspension, even when there is a decent amount of road climbing I can lock it out and I am hardly losing any efficiency.


Maybe in your 20s and early 30s :slight_smile:

I rode hardtails for years and rode flowy/jumpy and techy trails on them. But I have switched to a downcountry bike with an Epic Evo. I wasn’t originally going to, but ended up selling my Ibis DV9 hardtail which was 1lb. heavier.

You can certainly build a light hardtail though - S-works Epics can be built gravel bike light. And of course, hardtails (within a comparable component level) are less expensive up front and over their lifetime than fullies.


Totally agree with @mailman!

I have the Epic Evo because is versatile and I know I can take it mostly anywhere.

My riding is more cross country oriented because that’s the terrain we have where I live, but let me tell you that bike rips on rowdies terrain!