Most important components for an XC bike

I’m a road cyclist who is going to be riding more xc mountain bike races this year, both olympic and marathon. As I’m looking for a bike, I’m a bit overwhelmed by all the tech that goes into these bikes. What are the most important components? I notice there are $4000 bikes with “entry level” drivetrains, which has me confused. How would you rank the following six items when looking for a bike?

Other (bars, stems, seatposts)

I don’t think you should be breaking down a XC bike based solely on it’s components. A $4,000 bike, if that is your budget, should have decent components. What will likely be more of concern will be geometry, fit and feel.

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I too am always perplexed that anyone would buy a carbon frame bike with crappy gx/nx/sx drivetrain and super heavy oe wheels.

I’d much rather ride an aluminum bike with xt/x01 and at least some light/strong aluminum wheels like Stan’s crests or similar.

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There is a lot of good information out there but I’ll suggest a couple of things:

  1. A lot of road bike riders go with hardtails because they are the most “similar” to their road bikes, but the reality is they are less forgiving. If you don’t have a lot of XC experience I’d suggest a full suspension bike with about a 100mm of rear travel and 120mm up front. That’s going to be a lot more forgiving but still perform really well.

  2. Working out your budget will also be important. If you can find a good deal on a used bike, especially one that has been cared for, you will get a lot more bang for your buck. However being new to XC, you will want access to a good mechanic to help, so going through a shop might also not be a bad idea.

  3. Wheels. Wheels for me are one of the most critical components. You want something fairly light, durable, and easy to set up tubeless. Again budget plays a big role hear. I’m partial to ENVE, but their wheels new are very pricey. However some of their older wheelsets are still great. If you could get a set of ENVE AM’s with DT Swiss hubs, those are still excellent XC wheels today.


The bike industry has evolved (thanks to stiff competition) to the point where most bikes are well balanced with regards to spec. So if you buy a $4K bike, it’s going to have roughly the same tiered components throughout.

I don’t know of any $4K bikes that are spec’d entry-level. I know of plenty that are under spec’d for the price you pay, but we’re not talking about the MTB equivalent of Sora or anything like that. Instead, it’s usually the brakes, e.g. the base level SRAM Level or Guide, which admittedly are pretty damn crappy compared to the higher level version of the same brake.

If value is an important factor, Shimano XT will win by a mile. It’s the functional equivalent of SRAM GX on the drivetrain, but their brakes are light years ahead of SRAM Guide R or Level T.

Do you know the type of terrain you’ll be riding? What MTB(s) are you currently riding?

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  1. Frame
  2. Wheels
  3. Fork (and shock)
  4. Drivetrain
  5. Brakes
  6. Other (bars, stems, seatposts)

Frame geometry ranks highest, followed by pedaling characteristics (yes, get a full suspension)
Wheels, just like road bikes are the seconds most important part of the build
Suspension that helps smooth over the bumps and keeps you tracking forward and limiting fatigue
How the bike shifts is very important obviously, find what you like. Shimano typically over Sram but Sram has a lot more OE spec, don’t sweat that too much really, Sram is still fine.
Brakes are only for stopping for the podium, decent brakes are all you need for XC
The rest are incidentals items that don’t offer much in the way of performance gains, except a dropper. Get a dropper.

Have fun.

Agreed, but to be fair, the GX drivetrain is pretty solid and is the tier-equivalent of XT. The matching brakes, e.g. Guide R, are total crap. I think that’s where a full XT groupset really beats out GX.


Agree, it’s usually pretty balanced, but there are some differences. Like, I believe Trek and Specialized, because of their in-house component arms, will give you carbon wheels at a lower price point, but potentially at the expense of a worse fork (vs something like a Felt).

My view is, get the best frame within your price point, a Fox fork or Rockshox SID, and adequate drivetrain, and worry less about wheels because you can always buy new wheels later. And that’s a more realistic upgrade than swapping out the whole drivetrain.

I have zero complaints with my GX group, but I run XT brakes for just this reason. Money is much better spent on quality suspension, wheelset, dropper post, touch points, etc…

I rarely prioritize a top tier drivetrain. The parts are essentially consumables and in this day and age the performance gap between the top level and midrange kit is very minimal.


Agreed. I just moved from Deore to GX, not in the same tier but I really liked the GX drivetrain. The level TL though felt like they had zero stopping power. I don’t know if it’s the brake setup or if the TLs are just that crappy. I’m going to try to bleed before upgrading to XTs.

Regarding the original question, I bought a blur after riding a hardtail for years. The only thing I’m debating swapping are the wheels and brakes. The wheels on it though are light enough that entry level carbon rims are slight wash in weight, so I’d have to go to Enves I think to see a bigger benefit. After those anything else would be for fit.

Right now I have a 2019 Kona Honzo, its a hardtail trail bike with nx groupset and a recon fork. I am in Wisconsin, so we really don’t have a lot of crazy terrain. I’d eventually like to do the Lutsen 99er (maybe next year) then at some point Leadville. I bought this bike last year just to get into mountain biking and of course now I want to race. I did a 40 mile race last fall with this bike.

Here’s the bike.

That’s a pretty decent list. I’d probably swap wheels and suspension, but they are both up there. I think of suspension as almost part of the frame with pedaling efficiency, whether you have full lockout, etc.

Drivetrain brand/level isn’t that important, but gearing choice can be really important depending on where you ride. Dropper post could be pretty high as well depending on what terrain you are riding.

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It is usually pretty easy to see, when the components of a road/mountain bike are actually meant to be replaced by the buyer. For example, when a good bike has some entry level wheels, it is just because the bike cannot be sold without any wheels.

IMO, frame geo first, then dropper post, then tires and last bike touch points…

Tough to rank the components on a complete bike purchase but I would say you’ll end up wanting to upgrade the wheel set.

GX/XT level shifters & derailleurs are great but the cassettes at that level are heavy compared to XX1/XTR level. Shimano brakes beat SRAM every time.

I should be taking delivery of my 2020 Orbea Oiz M10 TR within a couple of weeks. I’ll be swapping out bars & saddle straight away. I prefer a bit more sweep on my bars than most. I’ll be going to a 32T oval chainring as well. I’m not strong enough to push the stock 34T :persevere:. I’m addition, I’m getting a carbon rim BTLOS wheelset w/DT Swiss 240 & XTR cassette hubs so I’ll have an alternate wheelset with different tires for different conditions.

It’s just near impossible to find that particular bike in an XC context. Aluminum builds just seem to top out at NX level and 30 lbs, so you have to go carbon on any mid tier XC bike these days.

You just have to get the frame you want for geometry and pedalling performance. The GX kit is fine, just save up for a nicer wheelset and X01 cassette for a huge improvement in the future. I kept the OG wheels with a burlier set of tires to beat up on any just for fun rides.

Yeah, you have to buy low tier build and put your own drivetrain and wheels on. Xt and gx are dirt cheap on Jenson.

Fork and shock

I think I would have the same priorities with a road bike.