Cross Country Mountain Bike vs Trail Mountain Bike

trail biker

There are many types of mountain bikes and the two most common types are the Cross-Country Mountain Bikes and the Trail Mountain Bikes. Seasoned riders can identify what’s the difference between these two types of bikes. But this can be confusing for beginners.

If you are a newbie cyclist who wants to try mountain biking for the first time this article will help you choose what type of mountain bike is best for you.

Before choosing what type of mountain bike to buy. We should discuss what’s the difference between Cross-Country or XC riding and Trail Riding.

Cross-Country Riding

Cross-Country riding usually takes place on paved roads, forest paths, single tracks, fire roads, rock gardens, smooth roads, and everything in between. Also, XC riding is more for speed and the bike geometry is designed for climbing hills efficiently. A typical XC bike has a hardtail design combined with a shorter wheelbase and has 90 to 100-mm of suspension travel to maximize pedaling efficiency.

Trail Riding

If you’re the type of rider who wants to experience an adrenaline rush while riding then trail riding is the one for you. Trail riding usually focuses on jumps, downhill, drops, berms, good-size rocks, and forest paths. The geometry of trail bikes focuses more on comfort, downhill stability, and uphill pedaling efficiency.

Cross Country Mountain Bike vs Trail Mountain Bikes What’s the Difference?

mountain biking

Now that you know the differences between Cross-Country Riding and Trail Riding, the next part of this article will show you the different features of an XC Mountain bike and a Trail Mountain bike.

Front Suspension

XC Mountain Bikes generally have a shorter travel front suspension (90-100 mm) compared to trail bikes (up to 140/150 mm). Some XC Mountain Bikes have rigid forks made up of carbon, steel, or aluminum as it offers more trail sensitivity. Since a rigid fork is lighter this helps in making you go faster.

Trail Mountain Bikes on the other hand uses air spring or coil spring in the front suspension to handle the stress when doing jumps. Also, there is a fork lockout to help enhance the travel of the fork when climbing hills.

Rear Suspension

Most XC Mountain bikes are hardtail which means they don’t have any rear suspensions. This might cause some discomfort while you ride rough terrains but this setup allows the rider to be more efficient in his pedaling. However, there are some XC Mountain bikes with rear suspensions as well. This setup gives the rider more control over rough terrain.

One specific feature of a trail mountain bike is the rare suspension. This helps in riding rocky technical terrains with ease. The rare suspension has a range between 120mm – 160mm of travel. Unlike the XC Mountain bike which will have a hard time absorbing the impact when doing big jumps, the Trail Mountain bike with full suspension will not have this problem.

Handle Bars

The XC Mountain bike uses a narrow handlebar. Since the XC Mountain bike is designed for speed having a narrow handlebar allows the rider to go faster. Also, a narrow handlebar is quick to steer.

Trail Mountain bike uses a wide handlebar to help the rider maneuver rough terrains without falling out of the bike.

Wheel Sizes and Tires

The XC Mountain bike uses a narrow fast-rolling tire for maximum speed. Having a fast-rolling tire lessens the road traction. Common wheelset sizes are 29 inches, 27.5 inches, and 26 inches.

The Trail mountain bike on the other hand uses much wider tires with a more aggressive traction profile for stability. Common wheelset sizes are 27.5 inches and 29 inches.

Seat Post

XC Mountain bikes usually come with a rigid seat post made of carbon or aluminum. However, you will also find some XC Mountain bikes with a dropper post.

Most Trail Mountain bikes come with a dropper post. A dropper post is important on a trail bike because it allows the seat to go down and gives the rider more control when riding downhill. When setting up a dropper post the travel must be set between 100mm to 170mm.

Frame Material

XC Mountain bikes are lighter compared to Trail bikes. The frame of an XC bike is usually made of aluminum or carbon fiber materials. This will help the rider achieve top speed.

In the case of trail bikes, most frames are made of steel tubing because of their durability. Also, steel tubing costs less compared to aluminum or carbon fiber.


XC Mountain bikes have steeper head angles and shorter top tubes. These features allow sharper handling.

The Trail Mountain bikes have slacker head angles which make the bike more stable. They also have short chainstay, longer top tubes, and shorter stems. All these features allow the rider to have a more stable ride, even in rough terrain.

Brake Rotor

XC Mountain bikes use a smaller brake rotor compared to Trail bikes.

Trail Mountain bikes have bigger brake rotors which are essential when riding fast going downhill. A rotor size of about 140mm – 160mm is enough to give you a powerful braking system and will be less likely to overheat.

Saddle Position

The XC Mountain bikes have an aggressive saddle position. This helps the rider to easily lean forward and down to improve speed.

The saddle position on the Trail Mountain bike is set up so that the rider can sit in an upright position. This gives the rider more control and balance over the bike.

Which Mountain Bike Is The Right One For You?

Aside from knowing the difference between the Cross Country mountain bike vs trail mountain bike, you also need to consider these questions before choosing the best bike for you.

Are you going to use the mountain bike on rough terrain?

Are you going to use the mountain bike mostly on the pavement with a trail path?

Are you going to use the mountain bike on tracks?

Are you going to use the mountain on trails with big rocks?

Once you get to answer all these questions and find your preferred riding style you will be able to choose the right mountain bike that you will truly enjoy.