Downcountry vs Trail: Will Downcountry bikes make Trailbikes obsolete?

Forums Mountain Bike Forum Downcountry vs Trail: Will Downcountry bikes make Trailbikes obsolete?

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    • #484320

      Will 100-120mm travel Downcountry bikes make 120-150mm travel Trailbikes obsolete?

      If you’re not familiar with Downcountry bikes, here is a brief description.   A DC bike is essentially a lightweight 100-120mm travel  XC bike with two major changes. Unlike an XC bike, a DC bike has modern progressive geometry (67-65 HTA, 75-77 STA, long reach, short stem).  And also, wider more-durable more-aggressive ~900gm 2.4-2. 6 tires on inner width i25-28mm rims.  The 915gm 29×2.4 Maxxis Dissector 3C/EXO/TR and 890gm 29×2.6 Maxxis Rekon 3C/EXO+/TR are two DC tire examples.  The new Transition Spur and Specialized Epic EVO are good examples of DC bikes. The $4000-$5000 builds of these bikes weigh ~26 pounds.

      The Enduro trend has now trickled all the way down to short travel Trailbikes.  And while I like the geometry of these bikes, they can be quite heavy.  The $3400 120mm rear travel Santa Cruz Tallboy weighs 32+ pounds and has almost the same frame as Santa Cruz’s 160mm travel Enduro bike.  Essentially, the Tallboy is a short travel mini-Enduro bike.  The lightest ~$10000 Tallboy “halo” build weighs 27.5+ pounds.  Buy the 26 pound $5000 Spur or the 27.5 pound $10000 Tallboy?  Both have similar geo and 120mm rear travel.  Which would you choose?

      Which leads to my next question.   How much travel do you really need?  I live and ride in the Colorado mountains.  I ride an older 100mm travel XC bike as a Trailbike and I often find the geometry and narrow tires inadequate but seldom wish that I have more travel.  I also ride a newer modern-geo 130mm travel Trailbike that descends very well but is a slug on the flats and the climbs and I seldom use all of that travel. I’ve come to realize that progressive geometry and wide grippy tires make a bike more capable not necessarily longer travel.   I could be totally happy with a light-weight 100mm travel bike with progressive geometry and grippy wide tires even though my trails are plenty steep and rough.  I’m fairly confident that my round trip times on a DC bike would be faster than with my heavy 130mm travel Trailbike.

      I think that for the average Trail rider who rides a variety of different types of trails a 100-120mm travel DC bike is ideal.  However, if your style of riding is to winch yourself to the top of the mountain so that you can speed down the steepest roughest descents, don’t buy a Trailbike.  Go all-in with a 150mm or greater travel Enduro bike.  If you’re already riding a slow-rolling 32+ pound bike, you might as well have long travel.  In the end, with the rise of the DC bike, I do think that modern 120-150mm Trailbikes are obsolete.

      What do you think?  Will Downcountry bikes make Trailbikes obsolete?



    • #484459

      Will downcountry bikes make trailbikes obsolete? I doubt it.

      Pennyfarthings are obsolete, for good reason as they are dangerous. They are ridden only by a few quirky folks. Are single speeds obsolete? Arguably the deraullier is the greatest advance in cycling since the “safety bike” was developed yet still single speeds are around. I live on the great divide mt bike route and am surprised at how many people are doing the route on them. I understand they are gaining in popularity as commuter bikes.

      The industry now has road bikes, touring bikes, adventure or gravel bikes, track bikes, single speed commuter and mountain bikes, hardtails, enduro bikes, downhill bikes, xc bikes, cyclocross bikes, trailbikes and now downcountry bikes. Give it a few years and there will undoubtedly be more tweaks with new names.

      I recently got a new trail bike because I was feeling sketchy on some routes on my hardtail with no dropper seat, and at my age have to to avoid spills, and I thought the dual suspension bike would be more fun (it is) and possibly safer. I suspect it is the last bike I will purchase. Dropping another few thousand or a few lbs in weight, or some other advance which might be nice but which I do not really need, is something I don’t think I could justify. If it means avoiding certain kinds of trails – well, I do that already.

      Many people are “bike nerds” and drool over the technical aspects and specs. More power to you, the industry needs you. Many, I suspect most, just want a bike that will do the job – and trailbikes do that well, in addition to being like swiss army knives in that they that will handle just about anything. I suspect they will be around a while. Just my opinion and I am not a bike nerd so I may well be wrong.

      The one recent bike development that has indeed been a major game changer  in my area (Montana) has been fat bikes. I see people riding them up the south hills trails near Helena in the depths of winter, when other bikes would get bogged down immediately in the snow.

    • #485272

      I plead guilty to being a Bike Nerd!  I don’t just enjoy riding bikes, I enjoy thinking about bikes.  With Mountainbikes, there’s been a continuous stream of innovation.  I keep expecting  Mountainbike innovation to reach a plateau where bikes don’t change much year to year but that hasn’t happened yet.  In the last 15 years, we’ve seen the rise of 29ers, 27.5ers, Fatbikes, Plusbikes, Enduro bikes, mini-Enduro Trailbikes, and now Downcountry bikes.

      I can’t help but think.  What if I could combine the sure-footedness and descending abilities of my heavy mini-Enduro Trailbike with the lightweight and fast-rolling qualities of my XC bike?  And, what if I could get a build of that bike which weighed ~26 pounds and cost ~$4000?  That would be a bike that I would want.  I think that a Downcountry bike might be that bike.

    • #486416

      I will play devil’s advocate

      I assume you are only talking about 29” bikes.

      100 to 120mm downcountry bikes look awesome, but aren’t they more of a niche for riders who prioritize speed?  These may be the bikes that most average riders actually need, but I doubt they will be the bikes many of them choose.

      120 to 140mm trail bikes are really the ideal bike “for the average trail rider who rides a variety of different trails.”  These bikes, like the new Ibis Ripley, have become great at almost everything.  They climb efficiently, rip undulating trails, and crush most technical downhills.  The average rider you reference may even be faster on a Stumpjumper than they would be on a comparably spec’d Epic Evo.

      140 to 170mm enduro bikes are also pretty amazing.  The Ibis Ripmo has arguably been the hottest bike over the past few years and it climbs so efficiently that there is no longer much of a penalty for being overbiked.  The average rider in Colorado certainly doesn’t need a Ripmo but there sure are a lot of them on the trails.


      So the devil asks – have trail bikes become so good that cross country bikes are almost obsolete?

    • #486748

      XC bikes are not obsolete but they are single purpose, which is to be the fastest possible bike on a typical XC course.  It doesn’t matter how poorly the bike handles or how uncomfortable the bike is as long as it’s the fastest bike on the course.

      In a similar way, an Enduro bike is also single purpose and designed to be the fastest possible bike on a typical Enduro course.  Because only the downhill parts of an Enduro race are timed,  Enduro bikes are essentially mini-Downhill bikes that can be pedaled.  How an Enduro bike performs everywhere else is irrelevant because those parts are not timed.  It does not matter how heavy, poor handling or slow-rolling the bike is on the non-timed non-downhill parts.

      Let’s not get hung up on XC being in the definition of a Downcountry bike.  We could also define a Downcountry bike as 100-120mm travel Trailbike that weighs less than 26 pounds.   Maybe this is a better definition.  I’m sure an Ibis Ripley could be built up to weigh less than 26 pounds and I would then call it a Downcounty bike.   However, most Trailbike frames are pretty heavy so building up a sub 26 pound bike could be expensive.

      Here’s what I want from a Trailbike.  I want the lightest reasonable bike for a given price point.  I want 2.4-2.6 durable grippy tires that are fast-rolling and light-weight.  I want modern progressive middle-of-the-road Trialbike geometry which finds a balance between XC geo and Enduro geo.  Which leaves only travel, which is probably less than you think as I described above.  Short-travel Trailbikes are hot sellers.  A Downcountry bike is really just a short-travel Trailbike that’s been put on a diet.   Put on the same tires and besides the weight, there isn’t much difference between an Ibis Ripley and a Transition Spur.

      Mostly, I think of long-travel bikes as a marketing gimmick that gives bike companies something “newer, better, longer” to sell.  However, I don’t think most Trail riders need more than 120mm of travel.  If all you need is 120mm of travel, why ride a heavy bike.

    • #492118

      XC=Down country

      Just a renaming by bike companies to sell XC bikes. Marketing jargon and putting lipstick on a pig so to speak.

    • #492291

      Mostly I would agree with you.  Many of the supposed “Downcountry bikes” are up-forked XC geo XC bikes with a 120mm fork and wider 2.3-2.35 XC tires.  In my opinion, a true Downcountry bike would have modern progressive Trailbike geo and aggressive 2.4-2.6 Trail tires.  The new Transition Spur is what I consider the best example of a Downcountry bike because it gets all the details right; progressive geo and 2.4 Trail tires.

      However, I wouldn’t entirely discount the up-forked XC bikes if you make a couple of modifications at the time of purchase.  The obvious first thing to do is to switch the stock tires for 2.4-2.6 Trail tires.  The second modification would be to buy a bike one or two sizes too large, adjust the saddle full-forward, and then install a 35-50mm stem.  Doing this increases the reach and makes an XC geo bike both climb and descend much better and perform nearly as well as a truly progressive bike.  Doing these things can turn an up-forked XC bike into a Downcountry bike.

    • #494309

      SS plusser does me just peachy.


    • #503888

      I’m riding an older “now-called-downcountry”-mountainbike, too.

      It’s a ’05 Stevens F9 Race, stock with 100/100mm travel and a steep 71° HA, 17mm rims with 2.2″ tires, a 110mm stem and a 680mm bar.

      Few years ago I fitted it with a 120mm fork, an angleset, offsetbushings, a 120mm dropperpost, wider 25mm-rims with 2.4 tires, a 90mm stem and a 780mm bar, and voila, there’s my downcountry-bike with a 68° HA.

      It works really great on my hometrails and even on rough trails in the alps.

      But I don’t think that these DC-bikes makes trailbikes complete obsolet, cause on really trails they are more capable.

    • #503942

      @ Hammer-Ali

      I have a 2009 full-sus Specialized Epic and I have considered giving it the DC treatment.  However, the toptube/reach is so short that don’t think it would be worth it.  If I could go back in time, I would have bought the size XL instead of the size M.  Instead, I put some Gravel tires on the Epic and it is now my Gravelbike.

      The new 2021 Specialized Epic (not Evo) has the most progressive geo of any true XC bike. If you gave it wider Trail tires and the geometry fix I described above, I think it would make an excellent DC bike.

    • #503964

      I have the same “problem” about a very short reach. My bike’s large size, I’m 1,83m tall, and the reach is only about 395mm.. ^^

      But nevertheless the bike rides awesome and even at downhill-highspeed not too nervous.

      So give yourself and your Epic a try!

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