The Best XC Mountain Bikes

For this round of reviews we’ve focused on full-suspension 29ers, ranging from around $3,800 to $4,500, and are considered mid- to high-end XC/Marathon models for each brand. As many share individual components and/or groupsets, these reviews focus mainly on the overall performance of the whole package (some specific content on the components may repeat where applicable). While we weren’t able to review all bikes in this category and price range, these represent what we feel are among the best options for overall performance and value.

Review Year
Best in Class
Overall Rating
Price
Name Overall Rating Ratings The Good The Bad Price
Bulls Wild Edge
85
Best in Class
2016
Ride Quality 8
Power Transfer 8
Efficiency 8
Handling 7
Components 8
Wheelset 6

Outstanding value in group

Primo RockShox inverted fork

XT group with equivalent components

Lightest in group

Sticky remote lockout

Rough ride over small bumps

Out of adjustment from factory

MSRP
$3,800.00
BEST DEAL
Niner RKT 9 RDO
83
Ride Quality 7
Power Transfer 8
Efficiency 8
Handling 7
Components 7
Wheelset 6

Outstanding climber

Super quick in tight turns/sprints

Well-balanced geometry   

Minimal versatility

High price for the build

Limited multi-shift capability

MSRP
$4,500.00
BEST DEAL
Fuji Rakan 1.1
83
Ride Quality 9
Power Transfer 6
Efficiency 6
Handling 8
Components 7
Wheelset 7

High-performance aluminum frame

Excellent combination of speed and suspension

High-end build for price  

Heaviest in group

Least responsive/efficient

No remote rear lockout

MSRP
$4,300.00
BEST DEAL
N/A
BMC Fourstroke 02
83
Ride Quality 6
Power Transfer 7
Efficiency 8
Handling 7
Components 8
Wheelset 7

Ultra-quick through turns

Excellent climber

Outstanding spec-to-price ratio

Dual remote suspension lockout

Over 26 pounds

Steep, “tippy” feel in front

MSRP
$3,800.00
BEST DEAL
N/A
Bulls Wild Edge

The ride quality on the Bulls Wild Edge, with its carbon monocoque frame is superior considering its price. With RockShox on both ends, the suspension is responsive and quality, even if the small bumps and initial hits were a little harsh. Shimano XT is a perfect choice keeping value and performance, with strong and responsive brakes even in the most demanding applications. The wheels are built on SRAM X.0 hubs with Bulls XC-25D Lite rims, and well matched to the quality of the rest of the bike, with a performance oriented wheel set that stayed true through our testing.   

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Niner RKT 9 RDO

At this level in the XC/Marathon category, riders are often looking for a single bike that can race occasionally but also handle a wider variety of trails. If you’re looking primarily for the former, the Niner RKT 9 RDO is certainly the bike for you in this group. The frame makes for an extremely fast, highly responsive ride, with minimal wasted energy whether sitting or standing, and it’s fairly light for the price. The stiffness and perfectly balanced geometry are ideal for racing over smooth, tight courses, and it’s certainly comfortable enough to handle a longer marathon course. However, the shorter rear travel and frame’s speed-first design means some sacrifice on rougher trails. It’ll fly through corners, but huck that two-foot drop and you’ll feel it on the landing. This is not the best option for riders looking for cross-category versatility.

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Fuji Rakan 1.1

The Fuji Rakan 29 1.1 features a beautifully crafted, custom-butted alloy frame (the only alloy bike in the group) with surprisingly good performance on XT and Trail riding alike. The high-end Shimano and SRAM components provide a reliable and performance oriented blend. The Rakan climbs with exceptional ease and comfort relative to its heavy weight—testament to the well-designed alloy frame, and M-Link suspension which reduces effort-stealing flex. The suspension provides 120mm of plush absorption on both ends for more technical trails and aggressive descents. 

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BMC Fourstroke 02

Another of the pure speed machines in this test group, the BMC Fourstroke 02 is a super-quick accelerator, and probably the quickest turner in the group. The efficient suspension, plus dual, 2-position lockouts mean there’s never an excuse when hammering a steep hill or sprinting past your buddies. It also lands drops quite smoothly relative to its suspension length. Add to this the full-XT spec, wheels by DT Swiss, and a very competitive price, and you’ve got an excellent choice for those looking to get into XC or Marathon racing, but can’t drop the big bucks on a top-end bike.  Where this bike falls a bit short, however, is its relatively heavy (26.6 lbs. Large, as tested) weight and a forward “tippiness” in the front end that had me considerable less confident when descending, especially where steep, abrupt rocks and roots slowed momentum. This also effected climbing, as it was a bit harder to pull up over obstacles to maintain momentum. Finally, we wish the bike was spec'd with a 1x11 system for lower weight, higher clearance.

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What Is A Cross-Country (XC) Mountain Bike?

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Mountain biking was originally the one phrase we needed when referring to riding a non-road bike on trails. However the word now has become a general umbrella term for a wide and growing variety of sub-categories, depending on the type of trail, the vertical change, the general speeds, whether it’s mostly up or down or equal, etc. At the speed-centric end of that spectrum is Cross-Country or XC riding – where the trails are generally more rolling, winding, less technical, with few if any drops, and the speeds are faster. Often this also includes long sustained climbs and long, fast descents with some technical sections, but mostly flowy terrain. For this terrain – and the racing that shares the name – XC bikes are the best option. This type of bike is also considered ideal for marathon riding/racing, which are typically XC-style routes of 50 or more miles.

XC/Marathon bikes are a fairly well-defined group with few variations in suspension and/or geometry: They usually feature 90-120mm of travel, with a large majority around 100mm; geometries are more aggressive than their more vertical-centric cousins, with steep head and seat tube angles providing a more upright position. Virtually all recent models have 29-inch wheels with a few at 27.5 inches, and at this price range most feature carbon frames (often with an alloy rear triangle). The combination results in ultralight, highly efficient bikes that offer super-quick acceleration, precise turning, and maintain momentum extremely well. The downside is mostly in descending – the forward position can feel twitchy in the front end, and can make these bikes prone to endos, and the shorter travel means harsher landings and overall ride feel. There are two main sub-categories – full suspension and hardtail (front suspension, but no rear), and a few other variations like full-rigid, fat bikes, and so on.