Six reasons you should ride cross-country

Short travel bikes open up new world of exploration (and food)

Cross Country Opinion
Specialized Epic Roval Control SL Wilder Ranch 2017

With our trails in Northern California under water (or worse), I’ve been stuck crushing epic fire road. Photo by Ian Collins

As a former downhiller, my brain never understood the concept of cross-country. If I wanted to wear Lycra, crush miles, and cut gluten, I’d ride a road bike. But recently, I’ve had a change of heart.

I live in Northern California and we’ve been battered by a series of cataclysmic rain storms. Our roads are either under water, covered by landslides, or have slid off a cliff. Riding trail hasn’t been an option. Instead, I’ve been stuck riding XC in an effort to stay sane. In the process, I’ve learned that it can actually be fun. Here’s why:

Roval Control SL Wilder Santa Cruz 2017

Adventure machine. Photo by Ian Collins

1. Finding new trails

We all got our start riding bikes because it gave us a sense of freedom. It allowed us to explore our neighborhoods, visit friends on the other side of town, or just get away. With an XC bike, you have the same sensation. The bikes are so efficient, you can go anywhere or up anything without stressing about the trudge back home.

Roval Control SL 29 Action 2017

Even boring trails can feel challenging when you don’t have suspension to save you. Photo by Ian Collins

2. Skill building

With their slack angles, modern enduro bikes make easy work of even the gnarliest terrain. Riding a XC whippet makes singletrack challenging. It forces you to pick better lines and focus on technique. And when you get back on your big bike, everything seems easy in comparison.

Roval Control SL Carbon 2017

When you’re trying to get fit, you should switch from beer to whiskey. Less empty calories. I think. Photo by Ian Collins

3. Getting Fit

The key to going fast isn’t spending more money, it’s getting stronger. The easiest way to get there? More saddle time. There’s also that whole interval and base mile thing but that’s roadie talk…

4. Going great distance

One of the fun things about XC (or road riding) is getting places. It’s incredibly satisfying to see a mountain way out in the distance, then climb to the top.

5. Less Maintenance

Many XC bikes don’t have rear shocks. They’re all about pedaling efficiency and low weight. Since they don’t have any of them fancy linkage things, there’s a lot less maintenance involved. And if you decide to go single speed, you never have to feel bad about riding your bike in crappy weather again.

Breakfast Burrito

The best part of riding all day? Pigging out after. Photo by Jordan Carr

6. Eat anything you want

When you’re putting in big days on the bike, you burn a ton of calories. If you’re not stressing about getting down to race weight, that means you can fill back up with whatever you want. My go to is a California burrito and Mexican Coke (or Lagunitas), but I’ll settle for a burger and ice cream.

Why do you ride XC? Let us know in the comments section below.

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  • Smithhammer says:

    Earn your turns! If you only ride downhill, you’re only experiencing half of what mtn biking has to offer…

  • YourFatBike says:

    I do it for the challenge, adventure, and the climb. Nothing wrong with downhill, after all, it’s all down hill after a big climb :-)

  • brian says:

    Nice stuff. Getting back to the mountain bike after a few years away, I’ve been kind of shocked how big trail stuff seems like the only way now. Nice to see some love for hardtail bikes and rolling xc trails. Still my favorite way to go.

  • will-i-am says:

    Absolutely nothing like a long single track day in the woods… Up, down and everything in between. Could never grasp the idea of “pushing” a bike up a hill.

  • Heffe says:

    This is a hilarious article – someone just discovering what we used to call “mountain biking”.

  • g.law says:

    Good article, but take it even a step further, get on a cross or gravel bike and hit the back roads. I’m in Northern California as well and the vast majority of our single track is a soggy mess. So we’ve been grinding out the miles on gravel back roads. Great way to see the countryside and very different but fun experience than riding the mountain bikes.

  • Pablo says:

    I was prepared to mock but then I saw the gal taking a pull on the economy sized bottle of Bullet Rye…..

  • The other Andy says:

    If your trails are closed, how are you riding XC?

  • eastcoastpally says:

    The “XC” trails where live don’t look anything like that.

  • Fleas says:

    Riding “XC” is about the only part of MTBing that hasn’t changed since the beginning – mostly because, to most veteran riders, it has always been just MTBing. Someone keeps changing the name, though.

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