What Is Cross Country Mountain Biking?

Mountain biking has become increasingly popular during the past years and it doesn’t seem to be a fad. Instead, thanks to the increasing social media coverage and the growing number of annual competitions held all over the world, more and more people are getting hooked with mountain biking.

However, this sport is more complex than you might think. Indeed, as the years passed, more and more subcategories and disciplines have evolved. Each of these provides riders different opportunities and challenges, but also requiring different kinds of equipment and techniques.

One of the most popular disciplines is, without a doubt, cross country mountain biking. Despite being so popular, it is not uncommon for a beginner not to be able to describe it or to distinguish it from other styles.

If you have a passion for cycling and you are looking to find out more about XC mountain biking, keep reading. This guide is designed to get you all the necessary information for starting with cross country mountain biking.

Cross Country Mountain Biking
Cross Country Style

What Is Cross Country Mountain Biking?

Before taking cross country up as a sport, you need to be able to define it correctly and to distinguish it from other similar mountain biking disciplines. In this section, we will provide you with the necessary information to have the concept of cross country mountain biking very clear.

Let’s get this straight. For how similar they might seem, cross country mountain biking and trail biking are different, despite both disciplines involving the use of similar bikes and riding trails. Don’t worry if you are not familiar with the difference between the two, mistaking these two disciplines is quite common. But if you want to get into cross country, you need to be able to know what XC mountain biking entails.

In essence, XC mountain biking is a sub-discipline of mountain biking that focuses on distance and endurance. This discipline is far from being just about cycling over long trails: cross country mountain bikers have to deal with difficult terrains, keep concentration levels at maximum and master the skills of riding over downhills full of obstacles.

Contrary to other disciplines, cross country is not about achieving the highest speed on your way to the bottom. The challenge posed is more complete: riders of this sport will need to push hard on the uphill just as much and be able to endure all the obstacles and difficulties along the way to beat the other competitors in a race.

XC Racing
XC Racing

XC Sub Disciplines

Within XC there are different sub-disciplines specifically tailored for racing. Some of such racing disciplines include:

  • XC eliminator, consisting of the elimination of the last two riders arriving in the finish line until only two riders are left
  • Cross Country Olympic, an Olympic competition race in which riders lap around a short trail circuit
  • XC Marathon, a long (usually between 70-100 km long) and resistance-oriented kind of race that is becoming increasingly popular as it doesn’t require any particular skill to participate and because of the attractive challenge it poses to its participants.

What Kind Of Bike Do You Need?

When it comes to picking the right bike, factors such as your riding style and the terrain you’ll be mostly riding on have an impact. But there are several elements that you’ll need to ensure on your bike when it comes to cross-country mountain biking. 

A cross country mountain bike tends to have a narrow handlebar designed to maximize speed and agility. This allows the rider to have greater visibility and the possibility to quickly steer when needed. Another thing to keep in mind are suspensions systems.

The full front suspension will absorb impact or shocks while reducing weight and offering riders superior ground feel. When it comes to rear fork suspension, XC mountain bikes tend not to have suspension travel. This provides riders with more pedaling power and the opportunity to accelerate faster, especially uphill.

The shorter suspension travel on cross country bikes forces for a narrower head angle. This makes cross country bikes easier to maneuver on steep downhills. Here is an example of a Pivot 429 Trail bike vs a Pivot LES SL Carbon Race XT bike.

XC Vs Trail Mountain Bike

As with any mountain bike, wheel size does play an important role. XC mountain biking has specific riding styles and objectives. This means that to find a good bike, you need to focus on wheels that are designed for cross country. XC tires tend to be narrower and about 29-inches in size.

Last but not least, take into account the seat post design. This is probably the most notable feature of XC bikes, as it is very different from other mountain bikes. Cross county bikes are characterized by a more upfront cycling position.

This lets riders enjoy the view and have a better focus on the terrain. XC bikes use either an aluminum seat post or a rigid carbon fiber. Usually, riders tend to prefer a fixed ultralight post design, even if lightweight dropper posts are getting popular.

Cross Country Mountain Bike

Why Should You Try Cross Country Mountain Biking

If you are a beginner in mountain biking and new to cross country you may feel like you don’t have the adequate skills to race yet. Don’t let this stop you. The good news is that there are races for all experience levels that make this discipline accessible to everybody.

Also, cross country mountain biking is a great way to enjoy the freedom and the excitement of exploring new challenging tracks. XC is a discipline that involves steep downhills, water crossings and obstacle trails. These challenges are what pushes riders to their limits in terms of endurance and focus. Indeed, cross country mountain biking has it all. Gentle rides on scenic trails and breathtaking views to descents that will give you an adrenaline spike.

The challenges it poses, in terms of speed, balance, technique, and endurance make this discipline extremely attractive to many. Especially those interested in nature and looking for new ways to challenge themselves with competition.

Cross Country Mountain Biking
Cross Country

Cross Country Mountain Biking For Beginners

As mentioned earlier, XC is accessible to everybody, no matter your skills and abilities. To start in a good way, you’ll need to be confident but also comfortable in handling your bike. Also, get accustomed to knowing how to fix some of the most basic mechanical problems. Chances are you’ll have to deal with flat tires and other issues on the way, so better come prepared.

Even though you don’t need any particular skills, you must take into account that XC mountain biking is a dynamic sport. It will require some kind of physical fitness and cardio. Indeed, this discipline is an exhausting total body workout.

It will work out not only your legs but also your heart and lungs (think about the long uphills). At the same time while exercising your upper body and boosting your balance, coordination and stability. All in all, it is not an exaggeration to say that XC mountain biking is a complete sport! That also means that you’ll have to be physically prepared for the challenge.

Above all, don’t forget that cross country mountain biking can also be a mentally relaxing and stress-relieving activity. Perfect to take some time off while still engaging your brain and your body.

Cross country cycling is one of the most popular mountain biking discipline but also less extreme. Meaning that you don’t have to be an adrenaline lover to fall in love with this sport!

What Kind Of Equipment You Need To Have

XC Mountain Biking doesn’t require any particular equipment that is different from other mountain biking disciplines. You’ll need to get some basic equipment before you start. Not only to ensure your safety but also to enhance your performance. Check this gear list out.

First of all, make sure you have an appropriate helmet to protect your head from possible accidents and falls. Never take the risk of riding without a helmet as the consequences might be extremely serious. To prevent any disaster, make it a priority to wear a helmet at all times during the ride.

For increased protection, getting pads to cover your knees and elbows is a plus. Also, Riding gloves will help prevent your hands from getting blisters from long rides.

Another important piece of equipment consists of protective glasses. These will not only help you have optimal vision at each time of the day. They will also protect your eyes from mud, debris and flies that might fly into your eyes during the ride.

Cross country mountain biking can be extremely exhausting. Don’t forget to pack enough water or use and hydration pack and also some snacks to keep your energy levels high.

Mountain Bike Hydration Pack
Hydration Pack


Compared to other mountain biking disciplines, XC mountain biking is a rather complete sport. It can present some unique challenges to its riders but challenges that make you a better rider.

By being so popular, it provides cyclists with a variety of ways to test and improve their skills. They can also work on their technical abilities for different types of terrains.

If you are a beginner in mountain biking, XC is a great way to start your journey as it provides you with several opportunities to get into different trails of various difficulty levels. Also by being less extreme than other disciplines is a more approachable and attractive sport for many.

Below is a Pinterest friendly photo… so you can pin it to your Mountain Bike Board!