Opinions on buying a "Downcountry" xc bike for racing and general riding

I currently own a 2019 trek x-caliber 8 and just completed my first XC race with this bike. This bike is also what I use as my trail bike as well, although I am not one for sending big jumps. I am currently looking at a full suspension bike that I could use for both XC racing and having some fun on flowy trails that are rooty and somewhat technical in descending (I currently am more invested in road racing but love mountain biking and racing too much). Bikes that interest me are the specialized epic evo and trek top fuel as well. Im looking for bike that have between 110-130 travel and could do both xc racing and be a fun trail bike. My second question, is a downcountry bike like the epic evo going to be enough bike for flowy trail riding while also being a good race bike?

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100%. If I wasn’t looking to be at the pointy end of national caliber fields, I would totally be on an Epic Evo, Transition Spur, Revel Ranger, SB115, Trek Top Fuel, etc. They can handle impressively rough terrain as long as you are willing to back the pace down and pick lines a bit more carefully, but the big perk is how much they give to you in terms of feedback. They are playful, fun, make you feel very connected to the trail and give riding a more intuitive feel.


It’s the rider not the bike. Most everything can be done on less travel. All you give up is speed (for you) on gnarlier stuff (relatively). Take an EWS rider and put them on a XC race bike and they’ll still be faster than the majority of normal riders on long travel bikes on regular trails.

So be comforted to know that you’re the major limitation and just get the bike that fits the racing needs. The only time to really look at more is if you’re going after enduro racing. Otherwise it’s all just preferences.


I have sent the entire jump line at the local bike park (West Ridge at Snow Summit) on an XC race hardtail (no dropper either). You would be amazed at what a bike is capable of, the rider is almost always the hold back.

That said, pick the bike that is going to suit the majority of your riding. If most of your riding is best done on a long travel XC bike, then get that. It will barely hold you back in race conditions. If racing is more important to you, then pick the better race machine. Most people “over bike” getting way more travel than they need in the interest of cool factor or safety. And modern bikes are pretty spectacular all around.

The majority of my riding is stuff that most people don’t ride, but I love XC racing, so I have two polar opposites for bikes (40 pound, 170mm Enduro) and the aforementioned XC bike.

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I am running into the same issue. My store is a Trek store and I would be foolish to buy another brand based on the financial savings. I am torn between the supercaliber and the top fuel. I want to race competitively but I want to have fun too. I think the top fuel would be a much more fun bike to ride, but it is also fun to race and do well (which would lean toward the supercal). Decisions, decisions. The struggle is real…

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If you have to pick one bike, I’d personally lean toward the Top Fuel. I had the prior gen and was amazed at how snappy it was, but also how good of a trail bike it was. I see the new gen as the premium blend of XC/Trail. I have only played with the SC in the lot, but it feels more pure race bike to me. I’d love one if I already had a heavier hitter trail bike (2x bike in my own preference).


I guess it depends what you prioritize:

  1. Prioritize having fun on the trail, but also want to do some XC racing
  2. Prioritize XC racing, but also want to be able to ride trails for fun

If #1, I’d say the Epic EVO or similar bike with slightly higher travel, slacker, etc.

If #2, I’d say the Epic, with slightly lower travel, less slack, etc.

I’m in camp #1. I have a Trek Fuel. 130mm F/R. 67.7 HTA. 25 lbs. I’ve ridden everything from Leadville to Moab on it.


I think you’d have to be pretty damn elite before the Top Fuel was hindering your results. And maybe you are, who knows! I just like the added versatility of the top fuel.

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I was in a similar situation and went with a Spot Mayhem (130/130). It is definitely on the trail bike end of the spectrum, but climbs like a 100 travel bike (thanks to the carbon leaf spring suspension). I only race a handful of times a year so the “fun” aspect was more important, but the bike climbs better than any other that I demoed in that category.

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First time I’ve seen that. Cool design!

My race plans mainly include marathon racing. I am currently coming from a 21 lb hard tail. Do you think the added weight of the TF (3.5-4 lbs more than the supercal) would be noticeable on the long climbs or even the small climbs over the course of a day? In your opinion will long days be doable on the supercal comfort wise? I would like to be competitive in my local Midwest events. I usually don’t try to go survive races, I like to race them.

One thing to note is that “down country” describes a category but each bike solves the problem differently. Some are XC race bikes with longer legs, some are more like trail bikes with shorter travel. They’ll each have strength and weakness.

The personal experience, I have a scalpel SE and it is definitely more the XC race end of the spectrum. Can you race it, absolutely, that’s what it’s for. It is a fast and whippy bike.

The downside is that in terms of trail capability performance envelope, the difference between it and its XC cousin is marginal and there are definitely some black and double black DH type lines out here in Western WA—the kind that are fall-line steep, fairly long and with compound root drops in the middle—that I choose to skip. Could I ride them, sure, as people have mentioned you can ride quite a lot on these bikes but the margin for error on the thing is a lot smaller than on an enduro bike and the consequences are quite high.

I think of this as a small trade off though for a bike that’s fast as hell, but just be aware that you may still want to impose limits on “do all”

All depends on the terrain and you. Yeah I’m not gonna tell you that four or five pounds won’t make a difference but if it’s real choppy, you still might prefer some more cushion for your pedal pushin.

Is there a full Sussex you can rent or borrow to try out on a long day?

I went through this recently. Went with the latest Epic Evo and love it. Honestly the best MTB I have ever owned.

I do a local XC series, backcountry 50Kish MTB races and a bunch of general riding and it’s great.

To be fair though my riding does not include hardcore DH or Enduro type trails. Outside of that I think it’s a fantastic bike.

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