XC Cross Country Mountain Biking

2017 Giant XTC hardtail mountain bike converted to a monster gravel bike

Your guide to riding Cross Country

Cross country or XC mountain biking is the most popular off-road cycling discipline. XC has an affordable entry point for new riders, and there are quality mountain bike trails everywhere.

A lot of new mountain bike riders start out in Cross Country, or XC as it's more commonly known. Riding XC trails is the best and safest way to learn new basic skills such as cornering, braking, and rolling over obstacles, that you will need to become a capable mountain biker.

Thommo's Social Fitness Rockhampton

Most social rides are held predominantly on XC trails which makes this style of riding an easy point of entry to hone your skills and meet new mates to ride with.

Once you've gained confidence, you might decide to take it to the next level and enter your first XC race, or you might try out Gravity Enduro if the thrill of big jumps is more your style. Whichever way you go, the skills you learnt from XC social riding won't go to waste.

Choosing an XC bike

One of the great attractions to cross-country MTB is the low price for an entry-level bike.

XC trails are generally green rated with the occasional blue trail to mix things up a bit. These trails are less aggressive than the black and red trails you're likely to encounter on an enduro bike.

As a result, XC bikes don't need the same super-heavy-duty components to absorb the big hits.

First Turkey Mountain Bike Reserve, Rockhampton
First Turkey Mountain Bike Reserve

In fact, the goal with XC bikes is the opposite - to keep them lightweight and agile, and most importantly, fast up hills and down.

XC bikes are generally shorter than enduro bikes, mainly due to their steeper fork (head tube angle). A steep fork makes cornering much sharper which you really want on those tight uphill switchbacks.

Your seat will also be positioned further forward to keep your weight over the front on climbs and to maximise the power of your downward pedal stroke.

When choosing a cross-country bike, you have two options; hard-tail or dual suspension. As the name suggests, hard-tails have no rear shock absorber. Both types come with a front suspension fork.

Why you should buy a hard-tail instead of a dual-sus:

Why you should buy a dual-sus instead of a hard-tail:

Mount Morgan Mountain Bike Trails
Mount Morgan Mountain Bike Trails

If money is not a huge consideration, high-end dual-suspension race bikes like the one below come with ultra lightweight and efficient components, which largely negate the benefits of a hard-tail.

That said, there is no right or wrong answer. Both hard-tails and dual-suspension XC bikes still sell in good numbers and will be around for many years to come.

It all depends on what you want from your bike and how often you plan to ride it.

XC Racing

Cross country has four variants that are raced locally:

XCO is the most common type of cross-country racing. The course is usually a 6 to 10 kilometre loop for adults with a shorter course for juniors.

Depending on your age or skill category, you will need to complete a set amount of laps. A typical XCO race for an adult rider will be around 20 to 30 kms and take 90-120 minutes to complete.

2023 Rocky MTB XC Race 2 POV
2023 Rocky MTB XC Race 2 POV

XCC is similar to XCO except the course is much shorter, usually around 1 to 2 kms.

Also, the trails are wide enough throughout most of the circuit to allow easy overtaking.

XCC is about speed and explosive overtaking. Races take around 30 minutes and are very fast paced.

XCE as the name suggests, is about endurance and measuring your pace. Usually 3 to 24 hours in duration, the goal of XCE is to complete as many laps or kilometres within the allotted time.

Race Categories

Depending on the type of race and and also the number of entrants, a cross-country race can include some or all of the following race categories which are based on age, gender, or skill level.

Often a competitor will be eligible to choose from a few different categories when they sign up for the race.

Riding Essentials

Whether riding socially or racing, you need a helmet. An open face design is fine for cross-country, though you are free to wear a full face enduro style helmet if you prefer the added chin protection.

It is strongly recommended that all riders wear eye, hand, knee, and elbow protection. It’s also recommended that riders carry some basic first aid items, in the event of a fall or incident.

Mountain Bike Beginner Skills Training

Make sure you bring enough water to stay hydrated, and some snacks for energy if you're planning to be out for a while.

Remember to always carry some essential spares (tubes, chain link, gear cable), and basic tools (Allen keys, tyre levers, pump, chain breaker).

It's important to be self-sufficient when it comes to any form of cycling so you can get yourself back on two wheels as quickly as possible.

If you would like to get involved in riding XC, check out Man Thing's regular social rides page and the Beginner MTB Skills Coaching.

See you out on the trails soon!