7 Best Cross-Country (XC) Mountain Bikes in 2023

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The best cross-country or XC bikes are becoming even better with modern geometry, but their prices are also shooting to the roof. Choosing the right XC bike can be challenging for a first-timer.

In this guide, we will let you know the features to consider when choosing an XC bike and the available options. 

Top Picks For Cross-Country MTBs in 2023

1. Niner Air RDO 3-Star

Image Credits: JensonUSA

Key Specifications:

  • RDO Carbon Fiber Frame
  • Fox 32 Fork
  • SRAM GX Eagle Groupset
  • Hydraulic Disc Brakes
  • DT-Swiss Wheelset

Niner makes an incredible bike, and there has to be one at the top of this list. They have an incredible off-road heritage, and the bikes perform as well as they look. The Niner Air is a range of bikes they have been running for a long time, and they make a great hardtail XC Bike.

The first thing is the RDO Carbon Fiber frame. It’s lightweight, it’s super strong, it’s very responsive, and it looks incredible. They have paired it up with one of the best forks on the market, the Fox 32 SC Float Factory with 100mm of travel.

The gearing is the SRAM GX Eagle, so you know you’re going to get excellent shifting no matter what terrain, or how messy your bike is, and it is going to be reliable in the long run. These are also paired with the SRAM hydraulic disc brakes, which have excellent stopping power.

The wheelset is the DT-Swiss wheelset, and it is incredible. It is the X-1900 Spline 25 with boost hubs so it will perform and sound fantastic. The tires are mixed, Schwalbe Racing Ray Evo on the front and Racing Ralph Evo on the rear. They are both 2.35” wide and provide excellent grip.

The Niner Air RDO 3-Star isn’t the cheapest bike, but no corners have been cut anywhere. It has excellent components on an incredible frame. We highly recommend it.

2. Trek Top Fuel

Image Credits: Trek Bikes

Key Specifications:

  • Available sizes S, M, ML, L, XL, XXL
  • Headset: Bontrager
  • Shifter: Shimano XT M8100 12s
  • Seatpost: Trans-X 34.9x170mm dropper
  • Rear derailleur Shimano XT M8100 12s

The Trek Top Fuel is not just an excellent budget XC mountain bike, but it acts as your link to the XC world with the confidence that comes with it. Damn right, that’s a Trek, and you know it’s a sure deal.

As Trek says, Trek top Fuel is “both efficient and ready to party,” so grab one and ask where the party is at.

The bike is built for endurance and is bigger than the Super caliber. Never confuse the Top Fuel with the Fuel EX. The latter is larger and a trail bike. 

Top Fuel is a full-suspension bike, and its hardtail counterpart is the Trek Procaliber 9.7. This is yet another top-of-the-range XC MTB from Trek that means serious business.

Not only is the bike light in weight, but it’s incredibly efficient with a jaw-breaking speed. Both Top Fuel and Procaliber have aluminum or carbon frame options. How deep is your pocket? You’ll need to dig deeper for the carbon frames. 

3. Santa Cruz Tallboy

Image Credits: Santa Cruz Bicycles

Key Specifications:

  • Available in: Aluminum, Carbon C & Carbon CC
  • Wheel Size: 29er
  • Front Travel: 130mm
  • Rear Travel: 120mm
  • Warranty: Lifetime

What’s a top XC bikes list without a Santas Cruz Tallboy? I’ll be doing it no justice by failing to mention it here. It’s been one of the models dominating the XC races, and for its reputation, the bike comes with a 130mm front and a 120mm rear.

The latest Tallboy was launched in 2022, and the manufacturer has nothing but the sweetest words for their model. “downhiller’s XC bike,” as Santa Cruz describes the Tallboy, is one of the toughest yet fast and stable XC bikes I have ever tried. 

You can say that Tallboy is a short travel bike in the XC category and its spacious cockpit is something you cannot ignore. What’s more, they have aluminum, carbon C, and carbon CC options, and you can also request a custom build. 

4. Diamondback Release 29 1 Bike

Image Credits: JensonUSA

Key Specifications:

  • Hydroformed Aluminum
  • SR Suntour Aion Fork
  • SRAM SX Eagle Groupset
  • Hydraulic Disc Brakes
  • Diamondback Blanchard 29”

Like the Niner at the top, Diamondback has spent a lot of time making off-road bikes, and they are excellent at it. There’s no doubting that. They offer a wide range from very cheap bikes all the way up to racing excellence, and we love that they have something for everyone. The Release 29 is an Epic bike and one of the best we feel they have made at this price.

The frame is Diamondbacks Hydroformed Aluminum, and this is something they use often, and I can see why it works. It’s strong, and it’s stiff, and it can take a good hit. The front fork is the SR Suntour Aion Fork which is a decent fork giving 140mm travel. The Suntour Edge R’s rear shock gives 130mm on the rear.

The groupset is the SRAM SX Eagle. It is excellent and is the groupset below the GX. It’s smooth shifting and has a massive amount of options when it comes to climbing and descending. The brakes are hydraulic disc brakes. They are the TRP Slate X2, and they are powerful and responsive.

The Wheels are Diamondback’s own, and they have gone and made them tubeless, which I thought was excellent and really shows they want this bike to get to the user equipped. The tires are the WTB Vigilante in a 2.3”. They also have added a Trans X Dropper Post with a remote, which is a lovely finishing touch to this bike.

5. Marin Pine Mountain 2 Bike

Image Credits: Bike24

Key Specifications:

  • Series 3 Cromo Steel
  • Rockshox FS 35
  • Shimano SLX Groupset
  • Hydraulic Disc Brakes
  • Marin 29”

Marin makes a lot of mountain bikes, and they are excellent. They are made to take some serious terrain and to be very capable of doing not just mountain biking. The Pine 2 is great, and here’s why.

The frame is a series 3 Cromo frame, which is made of steel and is super strong. Alongside this strength, they have added a serious amount of mounting points for off-road riding and bike packing. The fork they have given the bike is the Rockshox FS35 giving it 120mm of smooth travel.

Unlike many of these other brands on this list, Marin has equipped the Pine with a Shimano SLX groupset. It offers an incredible range and is very reliable and easy to use. The brakes are also Shimano hydraulics and will stop you on a pin.

Marin has used their own wheels here. They are 29” and come with massive Vee Flow snap tires, which are 2.6”. All in all, the Marin Pine is an excellent bike, and I highly rate it for anyone looking for an amazing XC or off-road bike packing bike.

Related: Best XC Helmets for 2022

6. Nukeproof Scout 275 Pro Bike

Image Credits: Chain Reaction Cycles

Key Specifications:

  • Hydroformed Aluminum
  • Rockshox RC
  • Shimano SLX Groupset
  • Hydraulic Disc Brakes
  • DT Swiss Spline

Nukeproof is a fantastic brand and makes a good bike. You will see a lot of them on trails as, in my opinion, they are one of the best value-for-money bikes you can buy on the market. The Scout is an extended running model of theirs, and we love it.

The frame is a solid aluminum hydroformed frame, and it is absolutely solid when it comes to smashing it down a trail. It is paired up with a RockShox RC fork giving 150mm of travel, which is pretty much all-mountain territory.

The gearing is the Shimano SLX, and it is excellent. It’s very strong and shifts very smoothly. They have also gone for four-piston hydraulic Shimano brakes, which we think pair up very well. With this setup, you are getting up and downhill fast, and it’s well thought through.

The wheelset surprisingly is not their own as Nukeproof does make incredible wheels. They have outsourced and gone with the DT Swiss Spline M1900, and this is in a 27.5” to make it feel agile and handle well. The Maxxis is a 2.6” mix, and grip and control are excellent.

7. Cube Reaction Pro Hardtail Bike

Image Credits: Giant

Key Specifications:

  • Cubes Aluminum Lite Frame
  • RockShox Judy Fork
  • Shimano XT Groupset
  • Hydraulic Disc Brakes
  • Cube Wheelset

As far as performance for money goes, I think the Cube is the best on this list. It is an incredible bike that boasts some of the best components on this list. If you are looking to be fast, the Cube Reaction is really going to help you.

The Frame is Cubes Lite Aluminum and is a well-made frame with relaxed geometry with nice slack for control on the trails. It’s paired up with some Rockshox Judy forks, which give the bike 100mm of travel.

The groupset is the Shimano XT, and it is excellent. It’s an upgraded version of the Shimano SLX. It will give you 12 speeds and will shift silky smoothly. It also has super powerful Shimano XT brakes to match the gearing.

The wheelset is a mix. It has cube rims, and they have installed them on Shimano hubs. I like the combination. It will run well and off a huge amount of support and stability. They are 29” so perfect for quick light trails and cross-country riding, but compared to the rest of the components. They could be better.

What To Know Before Buying An XC Bike

How much travel does an XC Bike need?

When it comes to XC (Cross Country), you don’t need a massive amount of travel. Typically most XC bikes will only have between 100mm and 130mm travel. XC Courses are not very technically challenging.

What is the difference between XC and Enduro or Trail bikes?

XC bikes are made for longer distances and light technical terrain. Enduro and Trail bikes are made for exceptionally challenging terrain. Typically Enduro bikes will be full suspension and have much more travel. They are also made to be much more aggressive and will have a dropper post so the rider can keep their weight low down.

Hardtail or Full Suspension for XC Riding?

You can use both for XC riding. Either bike will be able to take on any XC course. I would recommend if you are using a full-suspension bike make sure it isn’t an enduro or a downhill, as these bikes are pretty heavy and will slow you down on an XC course.


You already have a rough idea of the kind of XC bike you want and the models worth looking into.

There are other tens of XC bikes that are worth the dollar and can win races. It’s not just about the bike you are riding but also about your fitness and preparation.

In case you have any questions, contact us, and we will try our best to help. 

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Written By

From riding to school since the age of 13, attending BMX races and events with his dad to himself conquering 50+ trails across the globe. For Rob, his Giant Stance 29 2 2020 is the friend that makes everything better. He is also a proud member of the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA).

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