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what is xc mountain biking

What is Cross Country (XC) Mountain Biking?

Cross country mountain biking, or XC biking, is a type of cycling that involves riding on trails and off-road terrains. This sport requires mental clarity and physical strength, as it usually involves long rides over rugged terrain – including forest paths, roads, and single track. XC biking is more about endurance rather than technical skill.

What are the types of XC riding?

There are three types of XC riding: Cross Country Eliminator (XCE), Cross Country Olympic (XCO), and Cross Country Marathon (XCM).

  • Cross Country Eliminator (XCE) races: people who cross the line last are eliminated.
  • Cross Country Olympic (XCO) races: short circuit completion times are compared.
  • Cross Country Marathon (XCM) races: individuals compete to get the best time, where races are usually at least 25 mi.

What trails and paths do XC riders use?

Compared to downhill and enduro, XC riders use milder trails and paths. Courses consist of singletracks, some hills, and occasional jumps. In general, XC riders use all kinds of short or challenging races to longer endurance races. They usually race against each other for the fastest completion time. 

Other riders, such as downhill and trail riders, prefer more adrenaline-inducing rides with more jumps and drops. 

What about Olympic cross-country?

Cross-country racing or also known as mountain bike racing (or XCO), has been an event in the Summer Olympics since 1996. The XCO race track consists of uphill climbs, descents, single tracks, and road sections.

The XCO lap length is usually 4 to 5 kilometers long. The latest event during Tokyo 2020 (held in 2021) was 4.1 miles.

What type of bike do you need for cross-country racing?

Any mountain bike is okay for beginners for cross-country rides, including races. If you are a trail or enduro rider, you can also participate in cross-country races. But make sure to check with the organizer if you need any other documentation before joining.

What equipment for XC riders use?

XC bikes are usually the lightest mountain bikes since they are used for not so rough paths. Such bikes may be hardtails and have front suspension forks with around 100 mm (or 4 in) travel. 

Because XC riders compete for the shortest time, XC bikes are less bulky, usually built for speed, compared to bikes made for downhill. These bikes also travel a bit less upright when going uphill. 

For wheel size, most XC bikes have 29-inch wheels. The tires used are often below 2.2-inch wide. XC bikes tend to have a steeper head tube with head angles measuring around 67 degrees in terms of frame geometry. 

XC bikes also have narrower handlebars and longer stems. The narrower bars help the rider avoid bar-height obstacles such as trees. At the same time, the longer stem improves pedaling by putting the rider’s weight forward.

Whatever bike you use, make sure you pick a mountain bike that you are comfortable with. 

How much does an XC bike cost?

Generally, a good XC bike is a light 29er. If you are looking for one, here are the best bike brands you can get today. 


For a price between $1000 and $2000, you can get a decent bike with Cannondale. For around $1000, the Cannondale Trail 5 is considered the best in its price range. 


Trek’s bikes are some of the most expensive ones you can get today. Their XC bikes range from $3000 to $10000. Though expensive, the quality is top-notch. However, look for more affordable brands if you are just starting into the sport. Trek’s bikes are not recommended for beginners unless you are a pro. 

Bike Mag

Bike Mag also has high-quality XC bikes with price tags starting at $3500. But again, the price may be too much if you are just beginning to learn XC riding. 

XC Vs. Downhill Mountain Bikes

XC riders ride mildly challenging trails and paths with occasional jumps. So XC bikes do not need the same rigorous suspension system needed for downhill bikes.

Things to Consider When Buying Your First XC Bike

Hardtail or Full Suspension

Since XC riding does not consist of really challenging trails with technical jumps and drops, the hardtail is your best bet if you are just starting. Aside from being more lightweight due to not having a rear suspension, it’s also more affordable. 

Wheel Size

Some riders consider 27.5ers to be better in terms of maneuverability. But 29ers are still the standard for XC and general mountain biking with under 2.2-inch wide tires.  

Seat Post

Some XC riders have adopted lightweight dropper posts recently. This is because a dropper post is easier to switch for uphill and downhill rides. 

However, an XC bike generally uses a fixed, ultra-lightweight aluminum or carbon fiber seat post. The most efficient and lightest XC bike will always be a hardtail with a rigid seat post.


For beginners, a helmet and comfortable cycling gear are all you need. But as you enter the world of competitive cycling, consider clipless pedals and Lycra (spandex) clothing. XC riders often prefer bibs and jerseys with Lycra to provide better aerodynamics and ventilation, not to mention comfort for long rides.

XC riders also wear sunglasses to protect their eyes from debris and mud. 


For XC racing, peakless road-style helmets are considered the best. They are lightweight and have excellent ventilation. Although they offer less protection than half-shell helmets, road-style helmets are a better fit for XC-style riding. 

Things You Need for XC Racing

Tool Kit

You need a portable tool kit placed in a saddlebag in case of mechanical issues. Some racers also bring mini-pump or CO2 canisters for tire emergencies. 

Food and Drinks

Because you’ll need to replenish energy, you need food such as gels and bars. Don’t also forget water to stay hydrated. 

Racing License

You might need a racing license for local races organized by cycling federations. Always check the requirements before showing up for a race.

Final Thoughts

Cross-country mountain biking is more beginner-friendly than other types of mountain biking. You can get a good hardtail bike for around $1000 and start riding if you are just starting.

With the right setup and mindset, you can enjoy XC mountain biking and its benefits. Consider what kind of wheel size, seat post type, clothing, and other gear to use for better performance. And remember to always take care of your bike with regular maintenance and repairs when needed.

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