There are so many options when it comes to choosing a mountain bike that it can be difficult to choose between them.
Cross-country (XC) bikes are a popular choice for many riders, but are they comfortable?
In this article, we’ll look at what makes a bike comfortable, and how well XC bikes perform when comfort is high up on your priority list.
How Comfortable are Cross-Country Bikes?
XC bikes are not particularly comfortable when compared to other types of mountain bikes, such as trail bikes. They have lightweight seats with little padding and firm suspension that provides minimal shock absorption. They also have the rider seated in a hunched-over, uncomfortable position.
In order to assess how comfortable cross-country bikes are, we need to consider the features of a bike that determine how comfortable or uncomfortable it is.
Typically, the main features that affect a rider’s comfort on a bike are:
- The seat/saddle
- Riding position
- Suspension setup
Now let’s assess how cross-country bikes stack up in each of these areas so we can determine how comfortable they are, and if they’re the best choice when comfort is high up on your priority list.
XC Bike Saddle Comfort
XC bikes are designed primarily for speed and riding efficiency.
After all, they’re designed to perform well in cross-country events that have riders competing over an hour and a half to over 2 hours of non-stop cross-country trails.
A big part of maximizing the efficiency of a cross-country bike is reducing the weight of the bike as much as possible.
Sadly when seconds count, those extra ounces of seat padding are one of the first things to go.
XC bikes have saddles fairly similar to those found on road bikes. They are as light as possible to reduce weight to the bare minimum – there’s not much in terms of padding.
XC Bike Riding Position
Each bike has a different geometry, and variations in a bike’s geometry mean a different riding position. The riding position is really important to consider when looking for a comfortable bike.
Some bikes have a higher stack and a shorter reach that puts the rider in a more upright position.
Other bikes have a lower stack and a longer reach, resulting in a more hunched-over riding position. That’s great for reducing drag and increasing the efficiency of pedaling, but most people find this more uncomfortable than being upright.
As we’ve already seen, XC bikes are designed with speed and efficiency in mind and so typically they have a shorter stack and a longer reach.
That makes the riding position on an XC bike more hunched over than a trail bike or an enduro bike, making XC bikes generally less comfortable than the other options.
Suspension plays a major role in the comfort of a mountain bike. XC bikes come in both hardtail (front suspension only) and full suspension (front and read suspension) variants.
A full suspension XC bike will always be more comfortable than a hardtail XC bike, as the rear suspension absorbs the lumps and bumps of the trail.
A hardtail XC bike doesn’t have this luxury. With no suspension at the rear of the bike, there’s nothing to soften the blow of any obstacles you might encounter.
That said, even a full suspension XC bike won’t be the most comfortable option, particularly on bumpy paths and trails.
XC bikes don’t need as much suspension as most other types of mountain bikes, and their suspension is usually much firmer than that of a trail bike or enduro bike.
Firmer suspension with less travel means an XC bike won’t absorb bumps and impacts as well as other types of mountain bikes, making them a little harsher to ride.
Which Bikes are More Comfortable
Due to the lightweight saddle, firm suspension, and hunched riding position of most XC bikes, they aren’t the best mountain bike to go for if comfort is high on your priority list.
A much better option would be a trail bike or an enduro bike.
They have a more upright riding position, and whilst saddles provided will vary based on the make and model of bike, you’re more likely to find them with comfortable saddles as weight saving isn’t as important to their design.
On top of that, both trail bikes and enduro bikes have more suspension that provides extra cushioning when hitting any bumps in the trail or road.
The best way to decide if an XC bike is right for you is to consider the type of riding you’ll use it for most often, then go and test ride a bike or borrow a friend’s.
If you’re planning on commuting on an XC bike on smooth roads over short distances, it could be comfortable enough. If you’re heading off-road, you may be better off with a bike with more suspension.
Likewise, if you’re planning on long-distance rides it’s worth trying out bikes with more upright riding positions to help you decide what’s most comfortable for you.
How to Make an XC Bike More Comfortable:
Whilst XC bikes aren’t the most comfortable type of mountain bike you can buy off the shelf, there are a few improvements that will make your ride much more comfortable.
Raise the Handlebars: This will make the riding position more upright, putting you in a more comfortable position when sitting on the bike.
Change the Saddle: Replacing the lightweight saddle with a seat that has more padding will immediately make your rides much more comfortable and enjoyable. Memory foam saddles are a great option.
Adjust the Suspension: If you can, adjust the rear suspension on your bike to make it less firm. This will make it easier to compress, so it’ll be better at absorbing bumps. Be careful not to slacken it off too much or you may find yourself bouncing around.