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

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!


Yeah, low 30s here.

My next bike will almost certainly be a FS downcountry bike. But I’m in no hurry.


Underbiking has its place. I really enjoy riding my old Niner Sir 9 hardtail on local green trails. It’s nimble and light (compared to my Fuel EX). Especially set up single-speed.

But, on just about every trail, my Fuel is faster. It might not feel it. It climbs slower. It feels like I’m riding a dump truck at times. But the stopwatch almost always shows it being faster.

Of course, the Fuel is 140F/130Rmm bike, so far from the burliest of modern trail bikes, which tend to be 140-160mm travel.


As you get older, your body, especially your back, appreciates the bike soaking up the hits instead of your knees and elbows. Hardtails are awesome when you’re young and limber though!

I was in the same boat with a 20 year old mountain bike: Cannondale with upgraded front shocks. I tried my friend’s Stumpjumper and it climbed so effortlessly that I was astonished. I immediately ended up buying Specialized Camber FS.