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Best full-suspension mountain bikes: Our top picks to tackle the toughest cross-country courses

The Scott Spark is one of the best full suspension mountain bikes
(Image credit: Scott )

The top racers in the world ride on the best full-suspension XC bikes to give themselves an edge over the competition. With cross-country courses getting tougher all the time they’re increasingly taking handling, tire and component cues from the best trail bikes and enduro bikes, too.

The great news is that it’s creating some really versatile high-velocity, short-travel machines that are as happy raving on your favorite singletrack as they are ripping up the race track. Geometry and suspension travel numbers are increasing and getting more radical with the rise of downcountry bikes, too. But which are the winning machines and what do you need to know to work out which is the best bike for you?

If you’re prepared to pay the price and possibly push a slightly higher weight up the climbs to kill it on the technical sections, these are the best full-suspension mountain bikes to take a look at. Scroll down for everything you need to know about the best full-suspension mountain bikes for detailed buying advice. 

Best full-suspension XC bikes

Santa Cruz Blur 4 review

(Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
XC speed with Santa Cruz's signature handling

Specifications

Travel (F/R): 100mm/100mm
Frame material: CC Carbon
Group: SRAM X01 Eagle AXS
Wheel size: 29in
Price: $9,149 / £8,099

Reasons to buy

+
Superlight frame
+
Excellent, speed-happy handling
+
Totally sorted suspension
+
Lifetime frame and wheel warranties
+
Superb lightweight yet controlled race spec
+
Excellent wheel pack
+
Wireless shifting
+
Three bottle positions
+
Internal control plumbing
+
2.4in tire clearance
+
Self-serviceable bearings

Reasons to avoid

-
Rowdiest racers might want the Blur TR’s bigger fork and grippier tires
-
Affordability

What's the best full-suspension mountain bike of the year? We liked the fourth-generation Santa Cruz Blur so much that we awarded it five stars in our full review. 

For the new Blur, Santa Cruz strived to combine XCO-race-worthy speed with the brand's signature handling that can be found on its range of popular trail bikes. New to the frame is a flex in the seat stay as well as a new suspension design that diverges from the brand's usual VPP setup. The suspension features 100mm front and rear, and there is a 120mm TR version of the bike available too. 

RockShox suspension front and rear is combined with SRAM's X01 Eagle AXS wireless drivetrain along with SRAM Level RSC brakes. Lightweight carbon rims are specced from Santa Cruz's in-house wheel brand Reserve and contribute to a lively yet damped trail feel. A 100mm Fox Transfer SL dropper post is also specced.

Scott Spark Team Issue AXS 2021

(Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
World Championship winner with hidden suspension

Specifications

Travel (F/R): 120mm/120mm
Frame construction: Carbon
Groupset: SRAM GX Eagle AXS
Wheel size: 29in
Price: $5,499.99 / £4,599

Reasons to buy

+
Totally sorted high-speed suspension
+
Remote suspension lockout front and rear
+
Sweetly balanced, adjustable handling
+
Clean internal shock aesthetics
+
Tight tracking frame and fork
+
Wireless gears
+
Big volume tires and rims
+
Excellent spec value
+
Competitive weight

Reasons to avoid

-
Most riders will want a dropper
-
Press-fit bottom bracket needs regular checks
-
Not the lightest Spark frame

The Scott Spark has an impressive history of winning cross-country races, and this year's model is no different. In fact, Scott has made the new Spark even better. 

The most obvious change on this year's Spark is the suspension design. Instead of using a more traditional design, Scott chose to place the rear shock inside the frame so that it's not exposed to the elements. The brand has also bumped up the suspension travel to 120mm, which is more in line with the current downcountry trend than usual XCO race bikes. 

Alongside the excellent RockShox suspension, the rest of the spec list is definitely race informed, such as the SRAM GX Eagle AXS electronic drivetrain. You also get premium components from Syncros like the Syncros Silverton carbon wheels that use Maxxis tires to grip the ground. 

It's hard to find faults with the 2021 World Championship-winning Spark, but the addition of a dropper post would certainly be a value add in our opinion. 

Read more about the Spark in our full Scott Spark Team Issue AXS review. 

YT Izzo Pro Race

(Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
YT's debut into the lightweight XC market

Specifications

Travel (F/R): 130mm/130mm
Frame material: Carbon
Groupset: SRAM XO1 Eagle
Wheel size: 29in
Price: $5,599 / £4,999

Reasons to buy

+
Great value
+
Light
+
Balanced handling

Reasons to avoid

-
Fork flex
-
Limited shock adjustments
-
Climbing oriented cockpit

The Izzo is YT's debut into the lightweight full-suspension bike category. At 130mm of travel front and rear, this may not be a pure-bred race bike, but it can handle those marathon days and keep up with the fast guys. 

The suspension is Kashima-coated, Fox Factory series in both the front and rear, and the shock has a remote lockout. The bike is outfitted with a SRAM X01 Eagle 12-speed drivetrain and SRAM G2 brakes. The DT Swiss XMC 1200 Spline wheels are wrapped in Maxxis tires. 

This bike is light, and due to its cockpit spec, is a bit biased towards the ups. However, swap out the stock components for a bigger fork, shorter stem, and longer set of handlebars and you'll have a lightweight mini-enduro bike. 

Check out our full review of the YT Izzo Pro Race.

Specialized Epic Evo Expert

(Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
Leading XC bike biased toward the downs

Specifications

Travel (F/R): 120mm/120mm
Frame material: Carbon
Groupset: Shimano XO1 Eagle
Wheel size: 29in
Price: $5,520 / £6,750

Reasons to buy

+
Lightweight
+
RockShox SID suspension combo
+
Confident handling

Reasons to avoid

-
Tall seat tube
-
Slow freehub engagement
-
No SWAT storage

The Epic has been Specialized's flagship XC bike for a number of years now, and this year the brand introduced an EVO version for those who want a bit more travel and handling prowess. 

The suspension is bumped up to 120mm front and rear, which is handled by a RockShox SID combination. You also get a 150mm dropper post from X-Fusion to keep the seat out of the way. A SRAM groupset and brakes complement Roval rims wrapped in Specialized's own tires. 

The Epic Evo is on the lightweight side of the downcountry bike segment, and can still keep up on technical race circuits. If you're looking for a bargain, the Comp version of this bike has all the trail-shredding capability but is even greater value for money. 

Light enough to race but rowdy enough rally, check out our full thoughts in our Specialized Epic Evo Expert review.

Merida Ninety-Six RC9000

(Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
XC race flagship at great value

Specifications

Travel (F/R): 100mm/100mm
Frame material: Carbon
Groupset: Shimano XTR
Wheel size: 29in
Price: $TBC / £7300

Reasons to buy

+
Very light yet practical and stiff frame
+
Very well-sorted suspension
+
Impressive smoothness and traction
+
Stabilized race handling
+
Excellent DT Swiss wheels
+
Impressive value

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavier than competitors
-
Inconsistent and squealing brakes

The RC9000 version of Merida's XC race bike lineup features sorted suspension, a stiff frame, and improved handling. That suspension is Kashima-coated Fox Factory line in the front and back, and the groupset is a Shimano XTR. The brakes are also Shimano XTR, but they can get a bit squealy. 

Even though this bike is a bit heavier than its competitors, it still features fast, race-focused geometry, and the build kit is great value for money. While many bikes are leaning towards downcountry trends the Ninety-Six is still very much a race bike in steering feel, adding length to the reach and dialing in fork offset for stability means you can really feel the well-sorted suspension. This means there is plenty of traction to carry speed whilst also reducing fatigue whether attacking fast technical XC circuits or extended distances of marathons.

Check out our full review in which we went epic in full winter conditions to test this the Merida Ninety-six RC9000.

Cannondale Scalpel SE 1

(Image credit: Ryan Simonovich)
A worthy contendor for marathon or downcountry riding

Specifications

Travel (F/R): 120mm/120mm
Frame material : Carbon
Groupset: Shimano XT
Wheel size : 29in
Price: $6,100 / £5,100

Reasons to buy

+
Efficient pedaling and climbing
+
Smooth and responsive RockShox suspension
+
Powerful Shimano brakes
+
Confident and predictable handling
+
Dependable dropper post

Reasons to avoid

-
Geometry could go slacker and longer
-
Chain guide is extraneous and vulnerable
-
Marketing it as a trail bike is confusing

Cannondale's Scalpel full-suspension mountain bike can slice and dice with the best XCO bikes out there. The SE model range keeps the speed but relaxes the bike's geometry to create a worthy contender in the downcountry space. 

A 120mm suspension platform is filled out by a RockShox fork and rear shock that lead to efficient pedaling and excellent sensitivity on technical trails. The built kit is provided by Shimano with an XT drivetrain, and XT brakes will stop you on even the steepest chutes. 

The Scalpel SE's geometry is certainly in line with downcountry trends but it isn't the most extreme that we've ridden. This bike will make you want to ride both flowy and technical trails all day, and it doesn't hinder confidence in gnarly terrain, especially since there is a dropper post specced. 

Read more of our thoughts in our full Cannondale Scalpel SE 1 review. 

Yeti SB115

(Image credit: Yeti Cycles)

Yeti SB115 Carbon C1 SLX

An XC bike meant for long Alpine descents

Specifications

Travel (F/R): 130mm/115mm
Frame material: Carbon
Groupset: Shimano SLX
Wheel size: 29in
Price: $5,400 / £4,899

Reasons to buy

+
Great geometry 
+
New colors for 2022
+
Switch Infinity link suspension

Reasons to avoid

-
Yeti always comes at a premium price

You don't often see Yeti bikes at the top level of XC racing, but that's not the direction the brand intended for the SB115. Rather, the 115mm of rear travel on this full-suspension mountain bike is placed for downcountry riding or riders who want an efficient bike that delves into trail bike category on the descents. 

The SB115 pairs a 130mm fork with its namesake rear travel measurement and features a headtube angle of 67.6-degrees. Central to the SB115's design is Yeti's own Switch Infinity design. This means that there is more anti-squat at the start of the suspension stroke, leading to better pedalling efficiency. As a rider moves through the travel, the suspension gets more supple, eating up braking bumps and harsh hits. 

This model features Fox Performance line suspension along with Shimano SLX shifting and Shimano Deore brakes. The build is completed with a Fox Transfer Performance dropper post, DT Swiss wheelset, Maxxis tires, and RaceFace handlebars. 

Ibis Exie

(Image credit: Ibis Cycles)

Ibis Exie XX1 Eagle AXS

Ligthtweight World Cup-capable frame combined with trail-shredding geometry

Specifications

Travel (F/R): 120mm/100mm
Frame material: Carbon
Group: SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS
Wheel size: 29in
Price: $12,799 / £12,799

Reasons to buy

+
Lightweight frame 
+
Premium components 
+
Boutique engineering 

Reasons to avoid

-
No budget options yet

For the past many years, Ibis Cycles has focused a lot on its trail and enduro bike lineup. However, the California-based brand recently released the Exie, a full-suspension cross-country bike designed for the modern market. 

The brand claims that the bike can both perform with the best XCO bikes out there on the World Cup circuit but also offer more modern trail bike-esque handling. That's done by a sub-2,000g (claimed) lightweight carbon frame along with 120/100mm of DW-link suspension. 

For this top-end build, Ibis specs a full XX1 wireless drivetrain but diverges from the SRAM ecosystem with Shimano XTR brakes. The Kashima-coated suspension is provided by Fox, and the bike has Ibis carbon rims and an ENVE cockpit. 

There is a less expensive Shimano XT build kit but nothing for riders on a budget. We'd like to see Ibis plug that hole in their range. 

Pivot Mach 4 SL Team XTR

(Image credit: Pivot)

Pivot Mach 4 SL XTR

Truly state-of-the-art racer loaded with Fox’s Live Valve suspension tech

Specifications

Travel (F/R): 100mm/100mm
Frame material: Carbon
Group set: Shimano XTR
Wheel size: 29in
Price: Starting at $6,899 / £TBC

Reasons to buy

+
Totally future-proofed and trail-capable, yet still superlight frame
+
Brilliant base suspension enhanced with Fox Live Valve auto adjust

Reasons to avoid

-
Cutting edge design means credit card melting price

Pivot didn’t mess around when it set out to speed up its well-proven Mach 4 29er race bike, with the all-new Mach 4 SL carving 340g of carbon off its predecessor to come in at 1.84kg for a medium frame and shock. It has not sacrificed control either as you still get a custom-tuned DW Link suspension system from go-fast guru Dave Weagle. 

While the twin linkage system holds a superb skill and fitness boosting line between pedal efficiency, tenacious traction and drop control, the Mach 4 SL is also one of the few Fox Live Valve-ready frames. This system uses an array of sensors, a central battery and brain to monitor trail inputs and automatically adjust fork and rear shock damping to respond perfectly to every load, from peak pedal torque to the ugliest impacts or rock garden charges. Shimano electric fans should note it’s not Di2 ready, but there are SRAM AXS Live Valve versions on the complete bike menu if you can pony up $12,199.

Geometry is a bit spicy from a trail bike point of view, but the 68.5-degree head and 460mm reach (size large) are reasonably confident and roomy for a XC race bike. There are 120mm fork options to tip the head back to 67.5-degrees and there’s space for aggressive 2.35in tires if you want to fit tougher rubber.

Pivot’s bikes are always beautifully put together and relatively rare, too, making them a genuine premium head-turner as well as a fantastic podium-hunting machine.

Vitus Rapide

(Image credit: Vitus)

Vitus Rapide FS CRX

Ride rapidly with the Rapide FS

Specifications

Travel (F/R): 100mm/100mm
Frame material : Carbon
Group set: Shimano XT
Wheel size: 29in
Price: $4,299.99 / £3,299.99

Reasons to buy

+
Carbon frame
+
Good value build

Reasons to avoid

-
Alloy wheels

Vitus offers some great deals on its range of bikes, including this 100mm full-suspension XC shredder that's ready to be ridden rapidly. Offering 100mm of front and rear suspension travel, the Rapide is designed to push your limits on tough cross-country courses. 

The suspension is provided by RockShox while shifting and braking components are from Shimano's XT groupset. The Rapide doesn't have a dropper post but doesn't come with race-ready Maxxis tires. Theo only thing we'd like to see at this price is carbon rims instead of the alloy DT Swiss set on the spec list. 

Best full-suspension mountain bikes: everything you need to know

What are the benefits of a full-suspension mountain bike?

On a smooth surface such as a fire-road climb or flat-out sprint down the start/finish straight, nothing is faster than a super-light hardtail like the ones in our best lightweight mountain bikes under 10kg guide. If you’ve got the skills you can skip and skim them through some pretty technical terrain, too. 

When the surface gets relentlessly rough or there are big drops and rocks involved, full-suspension sucks up bike-stopping impacts to help you sustain speed. It also keeps the rear wheel more consistently connected for better technical climbing traction and cornering speed. In most cases, full-suspension mountain bikes for racing will have a remote lockout so you can turn them into pseudo-hardtails at the flick of a switch for sprinting. That’s why you’ll rarely see multiple World and Olympic champion Nino Schurter off his Scott Spark or his nemesis Mathieu van der Poel not riding his Canyon Lux.

How much mountain bike suspension travel is best?

100mm is definitely the default amount of real-wheel movement for race bikes. It’s enough to make a noticeable difference in control off drops and through rock gardens but not so much that it disturbs pedaling or geometry even at full travel. There’s no saggy middle stroke section for suspension fettlers to worry about and it syncs well with the lightest suspension forks. You can get that much travel from flexible stays rather than pivots and linkages, chainstays and rear shock lengths can all be kept to a minimum which saves weight.

There are some 120mm bikes that are still light and tight enough for racing though, as well as shorter travel bikes like BMC’s TeamElite softail or Trek’s recently unveiled 60mm travel Supercaliber, with its unique ‘pump-action-shotgun-style' shock arrangement.

What's the best mountain bike frame geometry?

Because they can go faster on more challenging courses, the latest full-suspension race bikes tend to have slightly more ‘trail-style’ geometry with 67- to 69-degree head angles for more stable steering. Top tube reach figures are growing slightly on some bikes to compensate for shorter stems. We’re still talking about race-focused bikes built for close-combat responsiveness, not short-travel trail bikes for flat-out mountain descents here though. So while there are some 120mm travel bikes with identical geometry to 150mm travel enduro bikes, they’re not targeting the same sort of riding.

What are the best mountain bike components?

The more progressive riders on the circuit are also fitting trail-style components to their race bikes and we’re seeing that reflected in some off-the-shelf bikes, too. In terms of specifics, that can be as simple as wider handlebars (that you can trim down to taste) or enough space in the frame to run wider tires. Trek is the only brand brave enough to fit 2.4in rubber as standard on its new Top Fuel though. Most of the latest short-travel suspension frames can take an internally routed dropper seatpost too, and it's becoming more common on XC bikes. 

How much should the best full-suspension mountain bikes weigh?

While recreational riders have been enjoying the full suspension benefits of better control, reduced fatigue and increased speed sustained over rough terrain, the true test of what’s fastest will always be pro racers. From that perspective, the fact that most top male racers choose full suspension for the majority of their races (just using hardtails for the smoother, high-altitude courses) is very telling. However, it’s worth noting that take-up tends to be lower among female racers where the effect of an extra kg of frame weight is proportionally a lot more significant for lighter riders.

Full suspension isn’t just a cost in weight either, as more complicated frames equipped with several hundred bucks of shock absorber and pivot bearing, along with increased construction costs will always hit your wallet harder than an equivalent hardtail.

Guy Kesteven is Bike Perfect and Cyclingnews’ contributing tech editor. Hatched in Yorkshire he's been hardened by riding round it in all weathers since he was a kid. He spent a few years working in bike shops and warehouses before starting writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. To make sure he rarely sleeps and to fund his custom tandem habit, he’s also penned a handful of bike-related books and talks to a GoPro for YouTube, too.


Rides: Pace RC295, Cotic FlareMax, Specialized Chisel, Vielo V+1 gravel bike, Nicolai FS Enduro, Landescape custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg