Sub 10 kilos (22lb) has always been a benchmark for truly featherweight, fantastically responsive race machines. However, with XCO courses becoming more and more technical and riders demanding bigger tyres and dropper posts to tackle them, 10kg bikes are rarer than ever. Our top ten proves that there are still some sweet rides out there if you know where to look. Whether you want ultimate spec full suspension like Scott’s Spark RC 900 SL AXS, a road bike weight frame from Specialized, a super-rare boutique Barcelona build from Unno or something surprisingly affordable like Canyon’s Exceed CF SL 7.0, we’ve got you covered.
Best lightweight mountain bikes - power of ten
In reality, you’d be hard-pressed to tell any difference in the ride of a 10.2kg bike and a 9.8kg bike but the psychological/bragging rights significance of going under 10kg is massive. Developments and demands of riders mean it’s harder than ever to hit that target though. 29-inch wheels, tyres and forks will always be heavier than 27.5-inch or 26-inch (remember them?) but their smoother speed makes them an XC essential. Some top racers like Nino Schurter are routinely using 2.4in tyres now too, while others are wide rim or wide handlebar fans.
Most of the world’s fastest racers are now using dropper posts for extra control on challenging courses despite a 400-500g penalty over fixed posts. Huge cassettes mean simpler 1x transmissions are often heavier than old double chainring set ups too. Even remote control suspension adds significant weight, but again most racers won’t be without it for smashing smoother climbs.
Lightweight mountain bikes - full suspension or hardtail?
The other big weight penalty that racers are now routinely paying is opting for a full-suspension bike rather than a hardtail. Unless it’s a super-smooth or strength-sapping high-altitude course most of the men’s World Cup XCO field will be on a double-damped rig, and more and more women are lining up on full sus every race. They’re a lot more fun and forgiving outside the tape if you’re not a completely competition-focused rider. That inevitably means a roughly 250g rear shock plus pivot bearings, other mounting hardware and extra frame parts piling on the weight. As a result, even the ultra-light 1750g Scott Spark is still 900g heavier than the hardtail Scott Scale and most head-to-head, in-brand comparisons are significantly heavier. Softail bikes like Trek’s new Supercaliber or BMC’s TeamElite split the difference in weight and full suspension function to the point where neither brand now sells a conventional fixed frame pro-level bike.
Lightweight mountain bikes - race proven
Speaking of race replicas, you’ll often find that brands sell premium versions that are even lighter than the bikes their team riders use. That’s generally due to sponsor demands (RockShox SID forks are heavier than Fox SC32, Shimano XTR is heavier than SRAM XX1 etc.) but sometimes they just fit cost-no-object component mixes to create a super-light show stopper like Scott’s Spark RC 900 SL AXS.
Lightweight mountain bikes - freaks and uniques
Some bikes like Orbea’s rigid forked Alma M-Ltd are lightened further than most of us would regard practical and Niner’s Air 9 RDO can be fitted with a chain tensioning eccentric bottom bracket so you can go single-speed and ditch gears altogether. Ultra-boutique brands like FRM produce complete ultra-light builds while Unno only hand-build its Aora hardtail in a single size. If you really want to see what’s possible then click on infamous gram hater hangout weightweenies.starbike.com. Or check out how anti-gravity artists like Gustav Gullholm (Dangerholm on instagram) get Scott Spark and Scale bikes down to 7kg with belt sanders, paint stripper and ultra-light carbon fibre cockpit and seating combinations.
Lightweight mountain bikes - low cost, lower weight
While titanium bolts, premium carbon components and ultra high modulus frames all lighten your wallet even more than your bike, you can still get super-light bikes without an insane spend. Canyon’s £2550 Exceed CF SL 7.0 is the lightest sub 10 kilo bike here (presuming you turn it tubeless) but you can wheel the 10.3kg RockRider XC900 29er out of a Decathlon superstore for just £1500. You’ll often find you can lose significant weight from your current bike by swapping stock items like wheels, cassettes, tyres, seat posts, saddles and handlebars, too. Always weigh what you’ve got compared to potential replacements though so you can target your dieting most cost-effectively. Don’t forget that location of mass can be as important as actual weight too, as a stiff, strong chainset mounted low and centrally makes much less dynamic difference than a heavy tyre or a stiff, thick-walled handlebar.
NB: We’ve had to rely largely on manufacturers weights for this run down, so if you want to be sure of weights take your scales with you when you go shopping. Please contact us if any of the numbers are right off so we can update the feature for everyone else.
Specialized S-Works Epic AXS HT
Crazy light but still hyper-fast fun on tastier trails
Weight: 8.6kg | Travel: 100mm/HT | Groupset: SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS
At 820g for a medium frame with rear axle and seat collar (averaging 760g/1.72lb without), Specialized’s new S-Works Epic HT frame is the lightest mass-production mountain bike chassis you can buy. Not only is it available in a full range of sizes - unlike the Unno - each size gets a slightly different ‘Rider First’ layup to deliver the right ride-feel. Unsurprisingly that’s the cliched ‘compliant over bumps but powerful through the pedals’ character touted by most manufacturers. The super-skinny, blade top seat stays combine with a deliberately damped 30.9mm seatpost to deliver a genuinely forgiving in-the-saddle ride. The sculpted front uses a Brain-equipped, 100mm travel, RockShox SID Ultimate fork. The fork crown uses a short offset for extra stability and the head angle is relaxed at 68.5-degrees. Add ‘short for XC’ 60-70mm stems and a 760mm wide handlebars as standard and it’s a surprisingly composed charger on descents. The 30.9mm seatpost size gives you a full range of dropper options, too.
If you’re looking at a sub 9kg bike though you’re probably mostly about the acceleration kick and climbs, and Epic definitely delivers here. It’s not ‘Euro lab test’ rigid underfoot but there’s no trace of morale-sapping twist as the revs drop and the torque peaks. Specialized even fits a Quarq power meter to this flagship AXS spec as standard because it knows watts are as important to racers as weight. The automatic bump sensor built into the Brain fork lets you tune the rigid-to-flowing balance in a uniquely binary way and frees you up from fretting about remote levers, too. It’s got practical as well as podium-hunting detail with a threaded bottom bracket fit and clearance for up to 2.4in tyres.
Decades of supporting many of the world’s top racers mean its own brand kit is seriously light, although its low spoke count (24 up front) wheels can be a bit wayward when worked hard. If you can’t afford this flagship there are four different complete Epic HT bikes down to £2250 and a frame only option.
Cannondale F-SI Hi-Mod World Cup
Unique features build an ultra-fast racer but top-dog spec has a sharp bite
Weight: 8.63kg | Travel: 100mm/HT | Groupset: SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS
Cannondale is another brand that has always had racing close to its maxed-out heart and the F-SI Hi-Mod is loaded with typically left-field features.
Most obvious of these is the Ocho fork, the latest version of a left leg only suspension family that’s now 20 years old. The cantilevered single crown carbon fork (old Lefty forks were double crown) makes it the lightest Cannondale fork yet and it’s also competitively smooth once you find the set-up sweet spot. Even after a double decade on the faceted, inset needle-bearing leg technology, the tracking is still a head bender but you’ll soon learn to make the most of it on aggressive overtakes or tyre ripping turns. The 55mm fork offset and short stems as standard makes it very fast steering despite a balanced looking 69-degree head angle. The comparatively short reach (440mm on a large) and wheelbase make it an incredibly responsive ripper that needs a steady nerve if things get nasty rather than a naturally confident ride.
The Ballistec carbon frame shaves weight with a narrow shell 30mm press-fit bottom bracket and it was one of the first to adopt road bike style ‘Flat Mount’ disc brake fittings. It also uses a Cannondale-specific Ai wheel offset which you need to factor in when upgrading but, with ENVE carbon rims as standard on this World Cup replica, that’s unlikely to be an issue for power-and-precision fiends. It’s worth pointing out that this top-end Enve bar, post and rim-loaded build rides noticeably stiffer and more rattly over the rough stuff than lower-priced models with more compliant wheelsets. That makes the F-SI Carbon 2 our pick of the Cannondale pack at half the price of the Hi-Mod World Cup, although the gorgeous retro paint jobs of the limited edition ‘Throwback’ framesets will be hard to resist for those who remember the Tinker Juarez and Cadel Evans glory days of Cannondale.
Orbea Alma M-Ltd
Orbea’s fully rigid racer stands out on the scales and on the start line
Weight: 8.7kg | Travel: Fully rigid **Groupset:** SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS
In terms of frame weight, Orbea’s carbon fibre Alma OMR race hardtail isn’t crazy light at over 1kg, but they’ve done something radical to get complete bike weight low enough to kill on the climbs. Depending what fork you run, Orbea’s 550g Spirit Rigid fork will save you 800-1000g over a 100mm suspension unit to bring complete bike weight well under 9kg. The kinked, super-flat top tube is designed to help dissipate the extra shock coming through from the front end too, although the long, tapered, carbon legs deliver a smoother ride than you’d expect. The super-slim stays are designed for extra flex but there’s still plenty of meat around the cranks and chainstays for kicking hard and making that low weight count. The fork is also the same length as a 100mm travel unit so swapping around won’t disturb the agile, short wheelbase handling.
The same OMR frame appears on the top four Alma models with another four Alma models using the slightly heavier OMP frames. Whatever your starting point, Orbea’s ‘MyO’ customisation program lets you pick and mix from a range of components to tune cost, weight and character. You can even choose from multiple colour options (fully custom on the top models) so that you get a truly personalised Alma built for you in Orbea’s Basque factory. The direct sell model means they’re generally very good value too although you will have to wait longer for delivery than if you pick an off-the-shelf bike from your local shop.
Mondraker Podium Carbon RR
Forward Geometry isn’t as rad as it was, but Podium still looks amazing and rides like silk
Weight: 8.9kg | Travel: 100mm/HT | Groupset: SRAM XX1/X01 Eagle
If you’re looking for radical aesthetics then Mondraker’s Podium Carbon RR is a truly stand out silhouette. Now that French firm Look has dropped its pioneering flush fit stem MTB’s, the Podium is the only mass-produced race machine to inset the ‘IST EVO’ stem into the top tube. Add the Spanish manufacturer’s signature tapered and kinked headset and ultra-flat top tube and no one will mistake your Mondraker for anything else.
The ‘Forward Geometry' handling is equally distinctive but not in the way you might expect. Born on DH race tracks thanks to the work of Unno’s Cesar Rojo and others, ‘FG’ was the spark point for the current trend for super-short stems on extended reach frames. Mondraker was the first mainstream brand to be ballsy enough to use the concept right across its range from gravity bikes to cross-country machines. The Podium was designed a while ago now and while it carries the ‘Forward Geometry’ tag, the actual numbers - 90mm stem, 70-degree head angle and 437mm reach on a large frame - look distinctly retro. At 920g for a medium frame, the Podium Stealth Air Carbon chassis is the basis for a very light and responsive bike though. The super-thin, flat top tube and seat stays combine with an extended 27.2mm seat post to give a proper leaf-sprung ride when things get rough.
If you’re after ahead-of-the-curve Forward Geometry and rear suspension for the roughest courses then you want to be looking at the recently updated and seriously radical F-Podium RR bikes. If you can afford the £12,000 price tag for the SL version with monocoque six-spoke BikeAhead wheels then its 500g under our 10kg ceiling for this test, too.
Santa Cruz Highball XX1 AXS Carbon CC 29 Reserve
Shock-shrugging, grip-boosting comfort and guaranteed trail toughness but hefty weight
Weight: 9.2kg | Travel: 100mm/HT | Groupset: SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS
Santa Cruz’s original Highball race hardtail was so stiff it could make your feet numb in under an hour in the wrong shoes and rattle teeth out on rocky descents. That meant we weren’t expecting an easy ride when we met its new race rod. Santa Cruz has completely flipped priorities with the new Highball though, realising that fighting fatigue and preserving performance is more important than ultimate power punch. Cue radically dropped stays, a 27.2mm seatpost and a completely new carbon lay-up schedule that makes this one of the most comfortable hardtail frames we’ve ever ridden. While the 69.5-degree head angle is still pretty snappy the 450mm reach (large size) is long for an XC bike, which helps calm control on flat-out fast sections. The frame compliance also noticeably improves the bike’s ability to conform to the trail for traction as well as reducing the chance of you being rattled off line or ricocheting randomly off rocks and drops. The threaded bottom bracket and three bottle cage mounts are designed for the long haul. Despite removing over 200g from the old frame it gets a no weight limit, no questions asked, lifetime frame warranty.
While the top-line bike here comes with Santa Cruz’s Reserve carbon wheels as standard they’re an option on all Hightowers, too. They’re covered by a similarly no-nonsense lifetime warranty and again the ride feel is obviously damped and shock smoothing rather than skittish and sketchy. That means you can hit stuff hard without worrying about comfort levels or construction quality and it’ll work great as a daily driver.
Unsurprisingly, power delivery definitely isn’t as taut as some pure racers, but trail connection and rollover performance are excellent. That tough frame build does mean a medium clocks in at a relatively chunky (by race frame standards) 1150g though.
Trek Supercaliber 9.9
Trek’s ‘under sock secret’ is super neat and impressively punchy but pricey and not quite as light as you might expect
Weight: 9.29kg | Travel: 100mm/60mm | Groupset: SRAM XX1 Eagle
The biggest secret of the summer (unless you knew about that Swedish website with the dealer show spy shots) was what was under the sock on the down tube of Jolanda Neff’s new bike which turned out to be the Trek Supercaliber. Turns out its ‘Isostrut’. A tiny but full feature remote control Fox air shock, hidden inside a Kashima gold stanchion that bolts into the cutaway top tube. The flat flex stays then stretch forward to a tube that slides along the stanchion, connected to the shock via top and bottom slots that also stop twist. Add a main pivot just above and in front of the chainring and you’ve got 60mm of travel with all the usual shock rate, pressure and damping adjustments plus a remote control lockout. Fewer pivots and linkages mean reduced mass and maintenance and it also gives a very clean frame look with room for two bottle cages if the race/ride is long or hot.
It does seem like a lot of complexity and change for a 1960g frame that shaves just 160g off the weight of the previous 100mm travel Top Fuel. The flat rear stays and the straight, oversized downtube allowed by the Knock Block limited lock steering inset make it a very accurate frame though. 69-degree head angle and 455mm reach (large) add confidence when you’re making the most of that short-but-sweet travel too.
Trek has certainly committed hard to the concept too, with no carbon-framed, purely hardtail bikes in its XC line up. ProCaliber 9.7 and below use its road-bike derived ‘IsoFlex’ scissor frame. Meanwhile, the new Trek Top Fuel beefs up from its previous super-light and twangy incarnation, getting 115mm of travel out back with slacker angles, longer reach and a much stiffer power and precision friendly ride. While it gains 370g for a 2.46kg medium frame weight, a double-ended remote lockout means it can still kick hard and the £8000 Top Fuel 9.9 with big 2.4in tyres and long stroke dropper post is still only 11kg.
Scott Spark RC 900 SL AXS
Scott’s all-conquering full suspension racer/raver gets the ultimate component package
Weight: 9.5kg | Travel: 100mm/100mm | Groupset: SRAM XX1 Eagle AX
The current Spark RC900 SL rolls on 29er wheels and, despite the fact it’s a relatively old frame geometry, is still more progressive and tech trail-ready than most. It’s more than accurate enough to get really aggro with too, although singletrack speed fiends should check out the non-RC Spark models which get 120mm of travel and are still lighter than most race frames. Either way, the latest iteration also has the best Spark suspension by far, with proper chunder-calming, speed-breeding performance in its ‘Open' mode. Push the TwinLoc trigger on the bar though and you can toggle into a tauter, reduced travel ‘Traction’ mode for feisty climbs or fully lock it for sprinting, and that response is matched by the front fork, too.
A sub 1800g chassis weight complete with shock and all the trimmings still makes the lightest, mass-production, full-suspension frame around. With multiple Olympic Gold, World Championship and World Cup wins under its belt there’s no disputing the Spark’s podium-dominating pedigree either. Given its age, we wouldn’t be surprised if Scott was planning a new version ready for an Olympic roll out next summer though.
For now, though, this SL version truly is the ultimate Spark spec, complete with Syncros carbon spoked wheels, integrated Fraser cockpit, Fox SC32 forks and a full suite of SRAM’s game-changing AXS wireless groupset. That brings it in 800g lighter than the World Cup edition and only 200g heavier than Scott’s Scale RC900 World Cup hardtail.
Merida Ninety-Six 9.9000
Merida’s proven racer is still one of the lightest around if you can tame it
Weight: 9.85kg | Travel: 100mm/96mm | Groupset: Shimano XTR
Merida’s Ninety-Six is a totally proven machine, developed in conjunction with some of the most experienced top-level racers. It was also one of the first 29er full-suspension bikes to dip under the 10kg mark thanks to a 1760g claimed frame weight. If you like your handling fast and your frames whippy it’s still right up there in the fast bike rankings, too.
As the name suggests the CF5 carbon fibre frame gives 96mm of rear-wheel travel via a short-stroke Fox shock with a remote lockout lever. You get a full pivot bearing set-up, not just flex stays, so even at 25 per cent sag you actually get a very plush ride if you run the compression damper fully open. That’s great for rooty/rocky traction and making the rear travel seem longer than it is, but we can see most racers defaulting to the middle Trail setting for a tighter, more pedal friendly feel.
An update to a 148mm Boost rear end has improved rear-end stiffness and the switch to a 44mm offset fork has also added some stability to the steering. That just means the 70-degree head angle is now just fast rather than outright frantic and the skinny frame means it’s still more articulated than accurate in overall feel. To be fair the super-light, minimal tread Continental Race King Race Sport tyres aren’t even going to give enough traction to tax the steering much anyway.
The Reynolds TR429 wheels are a tight tracking set-up if you want to put something toothier on and the latest XTR on this 9.9000 version is similarly positive and punchy in feel compared to the previous vague version of Shimano’s flagship group. Unless you’re a diehard double chainring fan the unused front mech tab on the down tube does look a bit awkward though and definitely dates the frame.
Canyon Exceed CF SL 7.0
Canyon’s light and sweetly specced Exceed is a return to its great value grass roots race beginnings
Weight: 10.2kg | Travel: 100mm/HT | Groupset: SRAM GX Eagle
Canyon has grown from a small trailer-based spares ‘shop’ at German XC races to a global bike-brand superpower with an ever-increasing number of World Cup and World Championship race wins under its belt. It’s back at those grassroots races where it arguably makes the most difference though, by delivering blisteringly quick, bargain-priced, start-line-ready bikes in a neatly packaged box. That’s why we’ve chosen its Exceed CF SL 7.0 model to feature here as the cheapest sub-10-kilo bike we could find.
And before anyone mails us we know it’s actually 200g over our threshold as supplied but by removing the inner tubes, fitting tubeless valves and a slop of sealant to the Reynolds wheels you’ll easily get the weight into single figures. Those aren’t just any wheels either, those are impressively light (sub 1700g) yet wide, carbon-rimmed TR249C wheels with a very precise and responsive feel. Perfect for adding extra pep to a frame that already has a naturally predatory, fast reacting 69.5-degree head angle, short reach, long stem, ride character.
The fork is RockShox’s lightweight 100mm-specific SID and it comes with a remote lockout lever. You get 12-speed SRAM GX Eagle and lightweight Level TL brakes and Ergon grips. There’s still plenty of scope to save weight from the Race Face Ride finishing kit though, or you can just head straight for the 9kg Exceed CF SLX 9.0 for £4,650. Either way, you’ll be getting the same frame that Mathieu Van Der Poel and Pauline Ferrand-Prevot race on and if you want full suspension, Canyon’s lightest Lux is only a few hundred grams over 10kg.
Unno Aora (frame only)
Ultra-light, sweetly-detailed, single-size, Barcelona-built, limited edition exotica
Weight: 8.5kg | Travel: 100mm/HT | Groupset: N/A
Even if you’re never going to be able to afford the €4,000 frame price or the single size doesn’t fit you, it’s still worth checking out the Unno website as an art gallery of aspiration bike building and design presentation. It’s taken ex-World Cup racer and Mondraker collaborator, Cesar Rojo, and his team over four years to create the svelte carbon sculpture of the Aora. The company only make 50 frames a year in its surgically clean Barcelona design and manufacturing facility.
At 790g (fully equipped) it’s the lightest ‘production’ MTB frame available though and that’s not the only unique thing about it. A 67-degree head angle with minimal 85mm head tube height and super-short 418mm chainstays give it an ultra-responsive kick but confidently progressive handling. The naked finish and flowing lines also give it jaw-dropping looks before you even pick it up.
If you’re looking for the same handmade attention to detail and limited-edition exclusivity in a full suspension bike then Unno’s Horn has the same radical geometry but with 100mm of rear travel. At 1600g without rear shock and rear axle it’s not the lightest FS option, but you are getting true twin linkage swingarm mobility rather than just a flexy seat stay design. It's available now but you might need some time to save up.