- Hardtail XC bikes have a suspension fork and rigid frame, making for lightweight, efficient climbers (power is transferred directly to the bike, with no efficiency loss due to rear suspension); the downside is that descents can be rough. Modern hardtails are typically aluminum, titanium or carbon, with steel having become a niche frame material. Hardtails are popular among racers and riders preferring smooth singletrack or “anywhere” riding, and riders wishing to improve bike handling skills. Hardtails are less expensive than full-suspension bikes, and much lighter (23-27 lbs. for a mid-range hardtail).
- Full suspension XC bikes have a suspension fork and a rear shock. Popular with riders who like rougher terrain, or those wanting a softer, more forgiving ride, they are especially appealing to aging baby boomers! Full suspension bikes come in short-travel (3-4”) – just enough to soak up most bumps, and long-travel (5-7”). Long-travel trail bikes are currently the hottest trend, for their confidence-enhancing geometry and suspension, most appreciated on rough descents and technical trails. Short-travel bikes are preferred by riders wanting a lighter weight bike for climbing yet still have suspension; long-travel bikes are the choice for those who want to ride to the top of the hill, but are all about bombing the descent – or just want a smoother, forgiving ride. Long-travel bikes are a couple of pounds heavier than their short-travel cousins, but generally weigh in around 30 pounds for a mid-range bike.
XC bikes come in 26” and 29” wheel size, both in hardtail and full suspension. 26” is the old standard (based on newsboy cruisers!) but 29ers are fast becoming the choice of riders who prefer rolling, non-technical terrain – 29ers roll better over small obstacles and offer a stable, fast ride, whereas 26” wheels are more maneuverable and quicker to accelerate.
- Singlespeed bikes are fully rigid (no suspension) or hardtail, and tend to have 29” wheels. Many have steel frames, some aluminum, titanium or carbon; singlespeeds have a cult following – most people just shake their heads and ask “why?” (For pure, little-kid fun!)
Most XC bikes above the $500 price have mechanical disc brakes (cable-actuated), and bikes at or around $2000 generally come with hydraulic disc brakes (using fluid, like a car brake).