My first mountain bike was an XC hardtail which I ended up upgrading to a full suspension after a couple of years, when I got the bike I wasn’t aware of what XC is because I was very new to mountain biking. I must say, I had tons of fun with that mountain bike!
XC Mountain bikes are a great choice for a beginner because he doesn’t have the skills to ride technical and stiff downhill trails to really take advantage of a mid to long travel bike. Practically most of the trails that beginners can ride are cross-country, so a cheaper XC bike is the ideal investment for them.
Don’t worry, in this article, I will tell you everything I have learned starting my mountain biking journey with an XC bike and we will discuss what are all the pros and cons of XC bikes for beginners.
Is an XC MTB a Good Choice for Beginners
As a beginner mountain biker, you don’t know what is your preferred riding style and what kind of trails are going to be the most fun to ride, more than this you don’t have the skills to ride technical trails, and most often you will be riding on cross-country type trails.
XC trails are recommended for beginners, so they can develop the proper mountain biking skills without taking too many risks.
I did not spend a fortune on my first mountain bike (around 500$) and I encourage you to do the same! Get at least two years of experience on the trails before making a big financial commitment, this way you can better understand the type of bike you need and you will have a smaller chance to overspend on bikes more suited for veterans or adrenaline junkies.
After 2 or 3 years when you will probably outgrow your current bike, you can sell it and buy a bike suited for your needs and so you will only spend 200 to 300$ (because you recuperate 200-300 from selling the bike on the second-hand market) on a bike in the discovery phase.
You can ride an XC bike on almost any trail even the more technical ones but it will be harder and you need to take it slower, is not like you will not be able to have fun and you will be able to discover which type of trails and obstacles are the most fun to ride for you.
The Pros of XC MTBs for Beginners
Now let us examine what are the major advantages for beginners to start mountain biking on an XC MTB:
- XC hardtails are great for learning: less forgiving than a full-suspension an XC hardtail will force you to learn what are the best lines on the trail to take and will force you to learn the optimal way of moving your weight on the bike,
- XC hardtails are easier to maintain: if you get a cheaper bike, your maintenance costs will be lower (cheaper parts), perfect time to learn about bike maintenance so you can properly maintain your future expensive MTBs,
- You can find cheap bikes: as a beginner, it is not recommended to spend too much on a bike only to find out in one or two years that it’s not the best fit for you,
- XC are capable MTBs: when you start out you won’t have the necessary skills to push the bike to its limits, it will take you time to learn, so an XC bike will be more than enough
- Versatility: XC mountain bikes are made for speed and excel on smooth trails but they have decent road performance so you can have a bike that fits all your needs, a trail bike will feel sluggish on the road and enduro/downhill bikes will offer a very bad experience on the road compared with the restrikes on the market,
- Good climbers: XC bikes are the most efficient MTB when it comes to uphill riding, so they are very good for beginners because they aren’t yet in the necessary physical shape to overcome big stiff climbs,
- Better power transmission: XC bikes are designed to be fast and for this reason, they aren’t equipped with much suspension, so most of your pedaling power is transmitted to the back wheel, again if you don’t haven’t developed the necessary physical shape yet this can be a big plus.
- Easier to sell: because these bikes aren’t designed to handle the roughest of trails like enduro and downhill bikes, they tend to be cheaper and so you will sell them quicker on the second-hand market.
As you can see XC bikes have many advantages for beginners, now you can understand why they tend to be recommended so much by the pro mountain bikers as good beginner MTBs.
The Downside of XC MTBs for Beginners
While they have many advantages they still come with some disadvantages for beginners, let’s explore them:
- Less comfortable: because they are equipped with less suspension than trail/enduro/DH bikes you will end up having a rougher ride, and stiff downhill technical sections can be painful,
- You can outgrow them: because this isn’t the optimal bike to tackle technical trails filled with big roots and rocks you can feel that the bike will hold you back after a couple of years of riding,
- Less forgiving of mistakes: these bikes are made for racing on smooth trails, they don’t offer the same stability as trail or enduro bikes so if you try fancy stuff you really need to have the necessary skill level for it,
- Less protection on your joints: less suspension means bumpier rides so you may end up having joint pain if you ride more technical terrain or for long periods of time.
Yes, they are harder to ride than their longer travel brothers but still making such a big investment, in the beginning, may prove to be a very costly mistake.
Are Cheap or Expensive XC MTBs Recommended for Beginners
I will always recommend a cheaper mountain bike for a beginner because getting the right bike is harder than it sounds and the majority of riders will end up getting a new bike after one or two years.
Having a cheap mountain bike to test things and to find what is your cup of tea, is always a good idea. Keep in mind that we all are different and what is right for me may not be for you, nothing beats experience and if you have none a more conservative investment may be the right choice.
Mountain bikes are expensive and if you don’t maintain them properly you may end up replacing very expensive parts, go cheaper at the beginning, learn and then invest in a better MTB.
Keep in mind that you will have to put a part of your budget aside for your equipment, mountain biking is not a cheap sport to get into, don’t financially overwhelm yourself too much in the beginning.
Is an XC MTB a Good Choice for Older Riders? (Beginners)
If you are more than 40 years old I recommend getting at least a full suspension XC bike or even a proper trail bike.
Your joints will not recover as fast and your lower back may be suffering if you work an office job so a bike with more suspension travel will give you a more comfortable ride that will be easier on your joints.
At this age, I suspect you don’t feel the same adrenaline rush as you felt in your younger years so a safer and more relaxed ride may be better suited.
Don’t get me wrong I have friends that are far older than 40 years and ride hardtails, but they are in very good physical shape (many years of cycling behind them), if you are in good physical shape and you have strong joints, an XC hardtail can be a good choice.
In the end, I think it is safe to say that an XC mountain bike will definitely be a very good choice for a beginner.
You don’t need to buy the fanciest bike to start your mountain biking journey, get a decent bike and start riding, nothing beats experience.
An XC hardtail will provide the necessary endorsement to develop your skills quickly and when you upgrade you will be a better rider.
Keep in mind that when you are just starting out is better to save some money than to invest too much, many beginners find out after the first year that their first bike is not the right choice (wrong size, the wrong type of MTB, etc.). This is the rare occasion when I encourage a mountain biker to cheap out!
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I started mountain biking many years ago to improve my overall health state. After my first ride, I fell in love with the sport. Now I spend dozens of hours a week researching and training to compete in local XC and Enduro events.