XC race vs. trail bikes

Lots of XC bikes nowadays come in race and trail versions (Epic and Epic EVO, for example). The trail versions are obviously more capable on rougher/steeper terrain, but I’m wondering how much of a compromise they are in a normal XC race (1-2 hours long). It would be nice to have a bike that’s more fun outside of racing, but I also don’t want to feel like I’m at a handicap when racing. Anyone have any experience or insight?

They’re perfectly fine. The downcountry / trail / evo versions are just as good, if not better as 1) they are a better all rounder, 2) have better geo for tech both flat, down, and up, 3) are far more stable on the downs. Weight differences are minimal at best, and tyre/wheel selection will make up for some if not all of that, plus in the case of tyre selection, be just as fast rolling.

And when you blast past the 160mm 'durobro’s, you can have a smug laugh and then a pretentious coffee later to celebrate.

(full disclosure, I ride an '18 Rocky Mountain Element 120/100mm and it’s a hoot. I also own an enduro rig and I far prefer the RM and have even raced it in an enduro for shits n giggles (but then I also raced the enduro in an XC marathon race for the same reason - yes, I’m weird like that}}


agree, they’re generally gonna be fine.

i have the downcountry version of the Scalpel. The only time i have found a disadvantage has been going through the 180-degree bends in super-tight, twisty singletrack. there, and there alone, i at least felt that i could have been faster on a bike that’s a bit less slack in the front.

on the other had, you learn to adjust and maybe even take different lines. e.g. i can sail over more chunder and lose less speed. Although note, both good and bad, the differences from the full-on XC version are probably marginal.


Scalpel SE? I’ve been looking at that bike. At least the prior model - I think 2018/2019 has a pretty slack seat tube. Has that been an issue for you? Stock is 27 pounds - but can probably get that down with better wheels and other mods. Love the look of that bike though.

But I agree - you won’t notice much difference. Maybe through tight and twisty trees and 180 switchbacks. i think 67* is the sweet spot for HTA.

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If you think the Evo might give you more confidence, go for it.

I come from a gravity background and opted for the regular Epic Pro, non-Evo. It can handle descents way gnarlier than anything I’ll ever see on an XC race course, so I wanted the absolute fastest climbing bike they had.

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I think alot of it depends on the areas you ride and what you want out of the bike. I have a Pivot Mach4 SL and a 2018 Pivot Switchblade. I got both, because the SB still has the older more conservative geometry that I prefer, and it matches the new Mach4 geo fairly close.
When I go to areas that I am not familiar with and dont know what I may get into, I take the SB. I have also contemplated racing it in a longer XC/Marathon event. I think I would give up more on the climbs than with my Mach4 though.

That being said, the Mach4 is no slouch, even in the rougher sections of trail. The platform just works, and I am running the full 100mm front and back version.


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yep, scalpel SE. it’s my first ever full suspension XC bike so i don’t have much of a basis for comparison but i love it.

I have not found any specific issue from the slack seat tube, at least none that i can identify with my lmited experience :slight_smile: . Although maybe you could say that the arguably-slightly-more-slack-than-optimal head tube and the overly slack seattube are really the same issue, if the seat tube is that slack in order to keep the wheelbase manageable.

Most people would benefit from the more capable option. It’s unlikely that a 20mm in travel addition is going to be a limiter for you at a XC race, and the day to day riding will be way more fun.


I’ve had several generations of the Fuel EX as it’s gone from more of an XC geo to Trail and it’s better and better each generation IMO. I’ve got a 2021 now and have a race with it in a few weeks on a 7.5mi/750ft course so we’ll see how it goes. I tend to do very well with it on Strava segments against both trail and XC bikes, I think the main advantages of an XC bike are being more nimble/quicker steering in tight trails, and lighter and more efficient climbing. For racing this is important, for trail riding I’d rather have a bike that’s more relaxed and stable at speed, plush, and playful.

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My first bike was a 2015 Anthem SX. It was “down country” before the term existed. It was an Anthem XC bike but with 120mm front travel and a dropper post. When I decided to start racing I got an Anthem Advanced 0. Prior owner had already upgraded the RS-1 fork to a 120mm kit. I added a dropper. The difference in weight with the dropper was exactly 1 pound. I then bought an extra set of wheels and mounted more aggressive tires. On race days I ran the lighter wheels and tires. The rest of the year I ran the “trail” wheels and tires. On my home trails in Idaho I never wished for anything more. Fast forward a few years and I started spending a lot of time in Moab and decided that it wasn’t enough bike so I bought a new TallBoy last year. Since I had the TallBoy when I bought a new bike for Leadville this year I went with the regular Epic Pro. The Anthem accelerates slightly quicker and is a bit more nimble in REALLY tight switchbacks but the Epic is better in every other way. I’ll probably sell the Anthem now but a down country XC bike was an incredible one bike quiver for a lot of years. If I could only have one bike I’d get an Epic Evo (or similar).

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I’ve sent from 19 lb Niner RDO HT to a Spec epic 22 lbs to a Trek 100mm to a Trek 120 to a Scott Spark 120/130 and now to a Scott Genius 150/150 with a Fox 36 on the front. I have a Genius AXS build and swapped out the seat post and brakes for a lighter setup.

For me, I’m not fighting for a win in these races so it is more about my personal performance. I’d rather give up a little bit of weight, have one mountain bike to maintain, and have something that can rip in Moab or where I ride every day in Colorado. My race setup is with Stans Podium SRD wheels with Maxxis Aspen 2.4 tires and a XX1 Eagle cassette. The training setup is with the stock carbon wheels from Syncros, 2.6 Rekon tires, and a GX cassette. Probably not the absolute best tool for the job of a XC race but I prefer to race marathon anyway. I just did a 12 hour race and lapped faster than my last time on the course on this bike vs my 120mm Scott Spark.

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Personal opinion, I think you are giving up 1-5% performance on a “trail” version XC bike. In trade you get a better every day bike for when you are not racing. My local podiums tend to have people relatively spread out, I bet most people would finish in the same relative position just a minute or two slower over a couple hours on a trail version. My friend just got a trial version of the Scott Spark and while I know it has everything to do with fitness (his is going up), he just beat me for the first time in a couple of years.

That said, I race a hard tail, but 99% of my MTB riding is on a 170mm E29, because a trail XC bike won’t do the stuff I want to do.

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