Mountain Bike Rider

DOWN-COUNTRY DEMONS

Last year was undoubtedly the year of the down-country bike. Lightweight, short-travel rigs that blend XC components with modern trail bike geometry to promise a ride that’s every bit as exhilarating uphill as it is down.

A pendulum swing to counter the trend for increasingly heavy trail bikes? Possibly. But down-country wasn’t just an exercise in branding, even if very few brands delivered on their promise. One brand that captured the down-country ethos perfectly was Transition, its brand new Spur proving that efficiency and fun aren’t mutually exclusive.

But developing a dedicated down-country platform isn’t the only way to build a lightweight, efficient bike that can rip. In fact, we need only look at XC racing and how it is evolving to get a better understanding of where things are heading. With increasingly challenging courses, longer travel forks, shorter stems and more progressive geometry are creeping into the elite racing ranks.

They’re fast, efficient bikes that aren’t confined by race tape

Two mainstream brands offering XC bikes that have been modified to give them an even broader appeal are Merida and Specialized. By fitting 120mm travel forks, dropper posts, bigger brakes and tyres, the Specialized Epic Evo Expert and Merida Ninety-Six 8000 are hoping to build on their XC racing pedigree to produce fun, efficient bikes that aren’t simply confined by race tape. Both bikes get lightweight full carbon frames with flex stay suspension, the latest 120mm travel RockShox SID forks and slender SIDLuxe rear shocks. And both are rolling on carbon 29in wheels.

There are distinct differences in approach though. Merida uses the exact same frame as the XC race bike, and as such it has 100mm of travel and retains the ability to lock out the front and rear suspension with a twist grip remote. Specialized,

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