Last summer, I wrote a piece that asked, “Are Cross-Country Mountain Bikes Dead?” After testing a trio of XC bikes, with the slackest, most capable winning me over, I concluded, “There will always be a place for light, fast race machines, but those bikes, as with everything in the market, will continue to evolve.”
Fast-forward a year, and that evolution has arrived, as more and more manufacturers roll out bikes that are as feathery as yesterday’s cross-country race bikes but slacker, lower, and more heavily spec’d to deal with burlier riding. There’s even a new catchword taking hold to describe the trend: down-country, meaning bikes that blend characteristics of both cross-country race rigs and downhill machines.
I’ve been testing three of these new bikes—all 29ers released within the last several months—and so far I’m thrilled.
Specialized Epic Expert EVO ($5,800)
The Epic Expert EVO is the most cross-country-oriented of these bikes, which makes sense as it is a standard-issue Epic frame with beefed-up specs. Most notably, the EVO gets a 120-millimeter Fox 34 fork (instead of a 100-millimeter 32 on the flat-out race models), a dropper seatpost, wider bars (750 millimeters), and brawnier tires. Specialized decided to release the EVO because it’s how most of the company’s staff was riding the Epic. Other, less obvious upgrades include a carbon rear triangle and new Roval Control Carbon wheels with wider rims (25-millimeter internal) for more spread on those tires.