Differences between a cross country bike and a marathon bike

The current mountain bike is made up of several modalities, many of them of recent appearance. Two of them are the cross country (or XC) and the cross country marathon (XCM). Each of them has its peculiarities and also a specific type of bicycle. Although sometimes, and if you are not very expert in identifying models, they can be confused.

Knowing how to differentiate between the two modalities and their bicycles can help you refine more in choosing your next mountain bike, depending on what profile of biker you are, type of routes you do or riding style.

In this post, we want to clarify the most frequent doubts about these two mountain bike specialties, their routes, and competitions and give you some tricks to know how to distinguish between a pure XC bike and a marathon one.

What is a cross country (XC)

Cross country is called the most classic and conventional form of mountain biking. That is to say, the original mountain bike, with mixed routes through the mountains or the countryside that combine flat trails, with sections of obstacles, climbs and descents. In cross country, the technical component is low, and the obstacles must be accessible, so the cyclist’s speed, agility, and physical form prevail over skill or good handling of the bicycle.

The professional competition associated with this modality is the Olympic cross country (XCO). Olympic because it is the only MTB discipline that is an Olympic sport. It is carried out on a closed circuit, with ascents, descents and sectors with obstacles, to which the runners must complete a certain number of laps. They are short races (no more than an hour and a half) but fast and explosive at the same time.

What is a cross country bike like?

The current bicycle cross country has a conventional design or classic frame, with compact dimensions, angles of the direction (69 – 72 °) and the seat tube (72 – 74 °) and vertical closed. Materials and assembly should be light and easy to use.

In cross country you have to ride fast and adapt perfectly to changes of pace. That is why the bike must weigh little and be very manageable and reactive in curves and acceleration.

On the other hand, the bicycle can have front, front and rear suspension (double suspension) or be completely rigid. The latter is no longer used in XCO competitions, but they are still very valid for tracks with hardly any technical sections or obstacles. Suspension travel is short, 80mm to 100mm.

The Marathon is a submodality born from cross country, in which the routes are also mixed like those of pure XC, but the distance is much longer. If cross country is identified with the classic, short and fast mountain bike circuits, the Marathon does so with several hours’ long-distance or off-circuit routes. Or tests of several days in stages.

What is Marathon (XCM)

The Marathon does not have competition in the Olympic Games like the XCO, but it does have races on the UCI calendar and its own world championship. Likewise, all-mountain bike stages such as the Cape Epic, the Swiss Epic, or the Andalucía Bike Race, also fall within this discipline, which is identified by the acronym XCM.

How is a marathon bike

XC marathon bikes are very similar to conventional XC, although they have a series of elements that differentiate them from these and facilitate their identification. These are the most common:

Relaxed geometry and design

We say relaxed in the sense that comfort prevails over characteristics such as agility, quick reactions or a runner’s attacking posture. Marathon bikes tend to be longer between axles. Its angles and measurements favor a more upright and therefore more comfortable cyclist’s posture, since it is going to pedal for longer than in the XC.

Longer suspension travel

Generally, although there are 100mm marathon bikes, the suspension travel is longer, from 110mm to 120mm. Thus, qualities such as comfort, absorption of obstacles and adaptation to different types of terrain are enhanced.

Specific components

Wider 2.20 ″ or 2.30 ″ tires are usually mounted for greater comfort, absorption of irregularities and are more durable than the two ″ and 2.10 ″ typical of XC tests. In terms of developments, a few years ago marathon bikes used to be the last stronghold of the double chainring. However, with the recent explosion of high-range single chainrings (1 × 11 and 1 × 12), the marathon biker can already count on a wide range of ratios by mounting a single chainring.

Other components that many bikers change to adapt their bike to the Marathon are the grips. The silicone ones with a curved or ergonomic shape are the most comfortable and prevent numbness in the hands. There are also XCM-specific saddles with larger padding and contact surface. On the other hand, a marathon bike has to have two bottle cages, allowing you to carry an extra bottle of water for long cycling days.

Cross country vs. Marathon, which bike to choose?

Considering these differences between an XC bike and an XCM bike, it will be easier to choose one model or another when buying a bike or renovating the one you already have. If you do not know if you are a pure cross country biker or the Marathon is better for you, think carefully about what type of routes you do, if shorter but more intense or longer and more relaxed. In the first case, your thing is the most classic XC, and in the second, without a doubt, the Marathon.

You also have to know your body and limits. If you don’t have too much bottom or resistance, maybe opting for a conventional XC is the best option. On the other hand, if you can easily endure three or four hours of cycling without rest and you like to do steep routes or participate in stage events, you should have a marathon bike, with greater suspension travel and mounting adapted to withstand long days of cycling.

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