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Three full suspension cross-country race bikes tested.


Progression. It’s a pretty hot word around the mountain bike scene these days. When you think of the word progression in terms of the bikes we ride, things like Mondraker’s Forward Geometry, uber-plush long-travel suspension and the proliferation of plus tyres are the first that spring to mind. But what about cross-country race bikes? What’s been progressing at the sharper end of the stick?

Representing the closest ties to our road-dwelling brethren, World Cup cross-country bikes are all about lockouts, inverted stems, shaved legs, and power meters, right? Oh, and pain. Lots of pain. That may all be true, but a more detailed look reveals that modern day cross-country bikes have progressed as much – if not more – than the latest EWS enduro rigs.

World Cup cross-country courses are getting more technical, as race organisers and media partners look to make the action more exciting for spectators. Just look at Medusa’s Drop at Dalby Forest, or Jacob’s Ladder in Cairns. These courses are placing greater demands on riders and the equipment they ride with. No longer will 72° head angles, skinny bars and 120mm long stems cut it, and many racers are even resorting to *gasp!* dropper posts.

“I think one reason the cross-country bikes have evolved is because the trail bike category has grown so much, and the bikes are so capable that the cross-country bikes are now improving based on what has been learned from the trail bike category,” explains Ned Overend of Specialized.

Adam Craig from Giant agrees. “As with all mountain bikes, we’re seeing geometry get further and further from the road bikes that initially influenced MTBs. An influence that lasted decades, for some reason. Cross-country bikes have recently acknowledged that longer reach, slacker steering angles and decent suspension tunes conspire to let the rider do a better job with less effort. Change is always hard, but cross-country racers are begrudgingly accepting that modern design can make them faster.”

Because full suspension has progressed so much, the tide is turning in the pro ranks, with more racers (including one of the last hardtail holdouts – Nino Schurter), choosing the comfort and control of full squish over the lighter weight of a hardtail.

Nick Craig of Scott Sports explains. “If you go back and watch footage of when Nino was racing a Scale hardtail, his riding style was much more explosive. As soon as you put full suspension into the mix, it’s a diTherent racing style. It’s more diesel like, so you can pedal in places that you couldn’t pedal before. You can ride those technical rock gardens faster than you can on a hardtail.”

To see just how far these full suspension cross-country bikes have progressed, we grouped together three of the biggest hitters on the market from Giant, Scott and Specialized. We outfitted each bike with a pair of Hutchinson Taipan ‘control’ tyres for the sludgier conditions in the Grim North™, and got testing on everything from natural rocky trails, through to smooth, buffed-out trail centre singletrack to see which was fastest.


Price: £4,299.00 / From: Giant Bicycles,

The Giant Anthem was first introduced in 2006 as the successor to the classic NRS. Following the Trance and Reign before it, the Anthem was one of the original models to feature the (then) new Maestro dual link suspension design. That Anthem was a thoroughbred race bike – it had just 80mm of travel front and rear, a vicious 72° head angle, and 26in wheels wrapped with 2.0in tyres. It was originally only available in alloy, but even then weighed less than 11kg in its top trim.

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About Singletrack

Don’t Look Down! – Pete Scullion takes a precarious trip across the lesser-ridden ridges of the Alps. Trail Hunter: Tom Fenton tells you why Cross Fell and High Cup Nick need to be on your must-ride list. Just bring sandwiches. Lots of them. Bike Test: Full suspension XC bikes. – Three long-legged ride/race bikes from Giant, Specialized and Scott Group Test – David Hayward tests sub-£1500 carbon wheelsets. At this price, they’re still a major investment, so we’ve done our best to thrash them all. Editor’s Choice – We pick the products, places and events that have left an impression on us this year. From bike races to gears and gadgets. This is the stuff we really rate! Room 101 – Charlie takes a look at your complaints and throws them into Room 101 if there’s due cause. And if there isn’t, he throws you in instead. Column – Our award winning columnist Jason Miles brings us more pearls of wisdom and wit. Porage People – Bike race meets survival challenge meets Scrabble and It’s a Knockout! Welcome to the weird world of the invitational (Wo)Man of Porage bike race. Classic Ride: The Purbeck Hills – Tom Hutton shows us that south coast riding is far from flat. It’s not always sunny there either. Trickstuff: Singletrack travelled to Germany to see the surprisingly low-key, family-like atmosphere at Trickstuff, producers of some of the world’s most precisely engineered brakes and components. Column – Lifecycle of a Riding Spot: a tragedy told in 11 chapters. Antony de Heveningham charts the rise and fall, rise and fall of your local woods.