Long thought of as the purveyance of skinny folk who like wearing Lycra, cross country bikes are becoming more versatile and dare we say it, more fun, while retaining all of that lung-searing speed.
Here are five fresh bikes we think are well worth a look in 2018.
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Specialized Epic FSR
Specialized’s full suspension Epic is one of the most recognizable bikes on the XC scene, having won everything from the Olympics to the Cape Epic and numerous world cups.
With the old Epic, Spesh took the approach of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, leaving it unchanged for four whole seasons. In top-end race bike years that’s a hell of a long time.
For 2018, those cool cats from Morgan Hill have updated the Epic to match modern cross-country racing. This means longer reach and slacker geometry squeezed into a lighter overall build.
Specialized’s patented Brain technology has also been updated, with the automatic lockout system being slimmed down and moved closer to the rear axle. This should make it more sensitive to smaller hits and — we’re hoping — negate some of the clunk that Brains of yore have been known to exhibit.
Regardless, this is a bike you’ll most definitely be seeing at the front of many a race in 2018.
Nicolai is well known for its polarising long and slack trail bikes, and it's applied the same philosophy to this reincarnation of its classic Saturn.
The Saturn 11 raceline could be classed as the Swiss Army knife of XC bikes, meaning it’s designed to do much more than endless laps of your local race circuit.
As you’d expect from Nicolai, it’s plenty slack with a head angle of 67.6 degrees, however this has been combined with a steep seat angle of 74.5 degrees. The theory is this gives you the best of both worlds, with trail friendly handling that keeps you positioned over the bottom bracket for efficient climbing.
Being made from aluminium we don’t think you’ll be seeing a Nicolai on the podium at a world cup anytime soon, but if you want something that offers far more versatility, then it’s worth a closer look.
At a glance, Felt’s new Edict looks more like a trail bike than a pure race bike. But don’t let your eyes fool you, this thing is designed for going fast up and down.
Just like every other new cross-country release it’s become a touch longer and a touch slacker, although, with a head angle of 70 degrees, still sits on the ‘euro-quick’ fringe of the handling spectrum.
That being said, lower tiered Edicts run a 120mm fork and 69-degree head angle, making for a more trail friendly, versatile machine if that’s your thing.
The early verdict from our veteran tester Guy Kesteven is that this is indeed a very fast and very fun bike, so we’re looking forward to spending more time aboard the Edict in 2018.
The Scott Spark isn’t new, but if you want a bike that walks the walk as well as talking the talk, then it’s hard to over-look, having being piloted by Nino Schurter to a perfect race season in 2017.
He won the Cape Epic, every single world cup and the XC world championships aboard the Spark. That’s basically every race that counts.
Scott is known for its large model ranges, and the Spark is no different, with various budgets, shapes and sizes to suit everyone from the dedicated racer to those who just like cruising the trails.
Specialized S-Works Epic HT
If you’re tired of seeing bikes from the big S then you’re going to be disappointed: with this list, and with the 2018 race scene.
For 2018, Specialized updated most of its biggest race bikes on- and off-road, and it would be impossible not to include the Epic hardtail on our list.
We’ve already seen it being raced at the highest level under Specialized’s elite riders in the 2017 season thanks to its stand-out feature: sheer lack of mass.
Overall builds come in around the 8.5kg mark, with framesets weighing a mere 845g in medium. At the time of release that was lighter than Specialized’s flagship road frame the Tarmac.
Just like its full suspension sibling, it’s a little longer and slacker to help cope with modern cross-country courses, proving that there’s plenty of life left in the humble hardtail design.