Cross Country Mountain Bike Frames

How to choose a cross-country mountain bike frame: Made to move, cross-country frames (also known as XC frames) are light, stiff, racing machines. Designed to maximize pedaling efficiency and control, a new cross-country frame can greatly reduce the weight of your bike, improve climbing capability, and even increase your comfort level. Whether a hardtail or dual-suspension, aluminum, carbon fiber, chromoly, steel or titanium, there is a cross-country speed machine out there for everyone.

Cross-Country Frames

Types

Cross-country frames are available in full suspension and hardtail models, as well as in three wheel sizes of 26-inch, 650b, or 29-inch. Full suspension cross-country frames have come a long way in the past decade thanks to the advent of more efficient suspension designs and improved shock technology. They are more expensive and heavier than hardtails, but the increased traction and comfort may be well worth it if you frequently ride rough terrain. Hardtails remain the choice of many racers and purists apprehensive of the full suspension bike. Available in several different materials, hardtails are an extremely lightweight and unquestionably efficient choice. Another recent development is the option for 650b or 29-inch wheels. These larger hoops are rapidly growing in popularity and reduce rolling resistance and increase overall speed.

Sizes

The most common way to size a cross-country bike is "standover" height, also known as inseam clearance. You want plenty of room between you and the top tube when you come to a stop, especially on uneven surfaces. As a rule of thumb, there should be at least four inches of clearance from the top of your inseam to the top of the top tube. Note that for some frame models the distance will be much larger than four inches due to a sloping top-tube. This is okay, provided the length and cockpit area of the bike fit you well.

Most manufacturers provide suggested sizing charts, and because models vary so much between categories, we recommend searching for the chart specific to the bike you're interested in. It's important to note that everyone has different riding preferences, so it's best to test out a variety of sizes before making a final decision.

Men's Cross-Country MTB General Size Chart
Bike Size Small Medium Large Extra Large
Rider Height < 5'8" 5'7"-6' 5'11"-6'4" > 6'3"
Women's Cross-Country MTB General Size Chart
Bike Size Extra Small Small Medium Large
Rider Height <5'3" 5'2"-5'7" 5'6"-5'11" 5'10"-6'2"

Materials

The overall feel of a bike is largely dependent on what material(s) the frame is made of, so this is an important consideration.

Aluminum - Aluminum is light, stiff, and affordable, making it the most commonly used frame material. Because it is so stiff, aluminum bikes are characterized by a slightly rougher ride than those made from chromoly or titanium.

Carbon Fiber - Carbon fiber is basically very thin strands of carbon that can be twisted and woven together, like cloth. To make carbon fiber take on a permanent shape, it can be layered over a mold, then coated with a stiff resin or plastic. It is among the lightest materials and is commonly used for high-end cross-country and all-mountain bikes. More recently it has found its way into some downhill and freeride frames. Because carbon technology is advancing very quickly, costs are being lowered and durability is increasing.

Chromoly Steel - Chromoly (a steel alloy) is lighter than high-tensile steel, strong, responsive, and offers a relatively supple ride. However, it is heaver than aluminum, carbon, and titanium.

Titanium - Titanium (also referred to as "ti") is very light and stronger than steel. It is also very expensive, and for this reason is only seen in very high-end or custom frames. Titanium also offers a smooth ride because it flexes well.

Material Combinations - If a frame is made of more than one material, it is usually carbon fiber and a metal - either steel, aluminum, or titanium. Material blends are not common, but constructing various parts of a frame from different materials is (ie - a carbon fiber front triangle with an aluminum swingarm). A frame made out of more than one material can help provide better stiffness, compliance, or damping in specific areas.

Wheel Size

If you're considering a cross-country mountain bike, you'll need to decide between 26-inch, 650b, or 29-inch wheels. For many years, 26-inch wheels were the standard on these types of bikes, but recently 650b and 29-inch wheels (commonly known as "29ers") have become increasingly popular. The larger diameter wheels roll over obstacles more easily and the tires can be run with less air pressure, providing better traction. On the other hand, larger wheels are heavier, more flexible, and there are fewer component and tire choices available. If you're on the fence about wheel size, we highly suggest testing all sizes before making a purchase.

29ers with no suspension (front or rear) are also becoming more popular. Because of the increased wheel size, these bikes still ride over rough terrain relatively smoothly. Because they don't have suspension, they are typically cheaper and easier to maintain.

Things To Look For

When shopping for a cross-country frame, it is important to take into account the kind of terrain you most frequently ride, as it will facilitate determining the right frame for you. Riders who frequently attack rough, rock and root strewn trails should look into dual suspension frames. Although slightly less efficient, the added control of a rear damper goes a long way. If, however, your regular ride is a racetrack or a smoother trail system with plenty of dirt, then the lightweight and efficient ride of a hardtail may be the way to go. Also, deciding whether or not you want 650b or 29-inch wheels is worth considering. They are becoming increasingly popular and many riders rave of their advantages.

How Much To Spend

Cross-country frames range in price from $275 to $3000.

In the $275-$1000 range, hardtail frames are available in both 29 and 26 inch versions and are made from chromoly, aluminum or steel. Riders looking to re-invigorate an old ride will find great value in this price point.

Moving up to the $1000-$2000 range, dual suspension aluminum frames, as well as carbon fiber and titanium hardtails become available. This range incorporates all types of suspension designs and offers a combination of performance and value for the cross-country enthusiast.

Finally, the $2000-$3000 range offers carbon fiber dual suspension frames designed for racers and dedicated enthusiasts. These frames offer maximum performance and efficiency at the lowest possible weight.

Product Reviews

Before buying, be sure to do your research and read product reviews. Reviews are a great way to find out specifics about a particular model, user impressions, and things to watch out for. After you've purchased a product and had enough time to thoroughly test it, we encourage you to leave a review for other people to see when they are researching bikes and parts on the web.

We hope you've found this information to be helpful. If you have a question that isn't answered in this guide, our mountain bike forums are a great place to get advice from knowledgeable riders. Your local bike shop is also a great resource.

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