Cross Country

MTB Cross Country (XC)

Cross country MTB racing is a mass start bike race, off road, with the first rider over the finish line – the winner.

About MTB Cross Country

Mountain bike racing takes place in a variety of off-road venues. Cross-country races often use parkland, woodland and forestry sites, with the terrain chosen to incorporate climbs, descents and technical features. Looped courses are designed and built specifically for events by skilled course designers, with man-made technical features such as ‘rock gardens’ incorporated to increase the technical challenge.

Cross-country cycling is defined by the terrain on which it is performed. XC courses and trails consist of a mix of rough forest paths and single track (also referred to as doubletrack depending on width), smooth fire roads, and even paved paths connecting other trails. Until recently cross-country trails were deemed “easy” or “intermediate”, due to the concept that this discipline of mountain biking relies more on physical prowess than technical ability. These days however, some paths can be difficult and challenging including grade 3 and 4 trails consist of technical rooty and rocky sections and small and other elements like drops and steep descents to challenge even the experienced riders in the XC World Cup.

20190614 101427 768x637 - MTB Cross Country


Cross-country bicycles are some of the lightest mountain bikes, typically between 7 and 16 kilos. They usually feature suspension forks in front and sometimes have suspension in the rear. In both the front and rear, most XC bicycles have approximately 100 mm of suspension travel, although some riders prefer 125 to 150mm of travel as bicycle frame strength and technology advance. The geometry of the frames generally place the rider in a little more upright position than on a road bike but much less than on a downhill bike.

Helmets are often used for cross-country riding. However, XC riders only rarely wear full-face helmets and do not wear the full body “armour” employed by downhill riders. Cross-country cyclists are more prone to injuries than road riders; however, the injuries sustained by XC riders are usually not as severe.

The Races

Cross-country racing emphasizes endurance above technical prowess, and races vary from 30 minutes to 24 hours in length. Additionally, many mountain bike races are divided up into stages so as to span several days. Races can be either point-to-point or lap-based. Short track cross-country consists of many very short laps so as to be spectator-friendly.

Unlike downhill races, which are conducted in a time trial format, cross-country races traditionally feature a group start or interval start, where riders are released in several large groups divided by age and/or ability.

Globally, XC racing is governed by the UCI. In the United Kingdom, British Cycling is the governing body.

A few pointers...

  • Open practice gives you the chance to get familiar with the tracks so you’re not riding them blind come race time.
  • Group up with a few people and do the practice and track walk together. You can discuss line choice, share info on what’s worked for each of you, and give each other a bit of support. Some race organizers will have a led track walk for first timers.
  • Try to pace yourself during practice.
  • Think about your breathing, keep calm and focussed, and don’t go all out.
  • You’ll be racing on a course that’s marked out by plastic tape either side in some areas, so remember to make sure that you stick within that track.
  • Yes it’s racing, but MTB events have a great atmosphere and ultimately everyone is there to have some fun. Enjoy!
20190614 101448 768x794 - MTB Cross Country
20190614 101402 768x740 - MTB Cross Country