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Trail Bike vs Mountain Bike: What's The Best?

Robbie Ferri
March 8, 2022

Many cyclists ask what is better, a trail bike or a cross country mountain bike? Overall, I would say that a trail bike is better when it comes to off-road capability. As an all-rounder, the cross country bike is better.

As a cyclist of many years and a bike shop employee, I have been lucky enough to ride many bikes in a lot of different places.  

To find out more about what is better depending on the situation, keep reading.

Which Bike Is Better for Off-Road Riding, Trail Bike, or Cross Country Mountain Bike?

Off-road riding is something many cyclists love to do, and you will see that cross-country bikes are one of the most popular on the market. Getting out on a rough track on a bike is a lovely experience, and everyone should try off-road cycling at least once.

Trail Bikes Off Road

Trail bikes are designed to go off-road, but are also for super technical courses, and extreme descents and jumps. You will commonly see trail bikes in the toughest off-road competitions.

Cross Country Mountain Bikes Off-Road

Cross country mountain bikes are made for off-road riding but typically longer distances compared to the trail bike. They are not able to handle what a trail bike is capable of, but they are still good off-road.

The Winner

The trail bike is much better off-road than the cross-country mountain bikes, and rightly so. They are designed to be more capable.

What Is Better For Road Riding, A Trail Bike or Cross Country Mountain Bike?

Although both these bikes are designed for off-road, you may want to know what they are like on the road. We will often need to be on the roads as we tend not to have endless trails. Bikes like these often struggle on the road, so which will be better?

Trail Bikes Road Riding

Trail bikes are full of equipment and are made for technical riding. Naturally, they are heavier than cross country mountain bikes. They have big knobbly tires and are made for gripping mud, not smooth tarmac. Trail bikes are very laggy on the road and struggle to keep up with other types of bikes.

Cross Country Mountain Bikes Road Riding

Cross country bikes tend to be less equipped and lighter than trail bikes. They also are designed for less technical terrain. They tend to be a lot better on the road than a trail bike because they have less suspension, smoother tires, and are naturally much faster and lighter on the tarmac. Many people buy a cross-country bike and spend the majority of the time on the road because they prefer these bikes.

The Winner

The winner is clearly the cross country mountain bike. It is much faster, smoother, and overall more suited to the road, unlike the trail bike. You will find yourself having happier and faster miles on a cross country bike.

A man biking on the road

What Is More Comfortable, A Trail Bike or Cross Country Mountain Bike?

Many people make the mistake of getting a bike that isn't very comfortable and end up giving up cycling because of this. These are both typically off-road bikes, and when you're flying through trails and over tree roots, you want to know that you'll be comfortable.

Trail Bikes Comfort

Trail bikes are better-equipped for off-road riding. The position you will be in is great when going over bumps. You will also find the suspension typically in the front and the rear. It is also capable of traveling further, meaning it has a lot more bounce to it. You have bigger tires that soak up the bumps better, and having smaller wheels makes it much more agile.

Cross Country Mountain Bikes Comfort

When you get on a bump trail on a cross country mountain bike, riding will feel good. When it comes to the suspension, cross country bikes are not as well-equipped, and many will typically just have suspension on the front. You will also find that it won't travel as far or give the same bounce as the trail bike.

The Winner

The trail bike for off-road will give you more comfort. It is designed to be thrown around a lot more, and because of this, extra measures have been put in place for the user's comfort. The better suspension and bigger tires will make it feel nicer and smoother.

What Is Cheaper, A Trail Bike, or Cross Country Bike?

Mountain bikes are not cheap to buy, and there will be a wide range of prices for bikes on the market. A cross country bike can be as low as $300, and a trail bike can be as expensive as $12000. Generally speaking, though, what is cheaper, a cross country riding bike or a trail mountain bike?

Trail Bikes Price

Trail bikes are exceptionally equipped and, because of this, tend to be quite expensive. Trail mountain bikes have front and rear suspension. They also have high-tech suspension with a lot of travel. They are made of lightweight materials, have larger brakes, and need to be more rugged as their job is more complex than a cross country bike. This does make them a lot pricier. They start at roughly $1,700 and finish at a high of roughly $12,000.

Cross Country Mountain Bikes Price

Cross country bikes tend to be entry-level bikes for many and will be much cheaper than other types of bikes. They typically only have front suspension. Some have a rear suspension, but generally, you will see them with a single front suspension fork. They are basic and tend not to cost as much. You can find them from $300 to $5,000.

The Winner

The winner here for the price war is cross country bikes. They are less equipped, yes, but are much cheaper because of this. They may not be as capable, but when you're on a budget, they are more suitable 

Man riding cycle in the forest

Which Is Lighter, A Trail Bike or Cross Country Bike?

Although it is not the be all and end all of your bikes, it is important when you buy a bike to know how much it weighs. Having a light bike makes the work more straightforward, and it also means you can throw the bike around better while going over trails or rough terrain. Lightweight bikes for mountain biking makes sense.

Trail Bikes Weight

Trail bikes are not the lightest bikes available. If they have the rear suspension travel and handle the technical terrain, they naturally are a bit heavier. Downhill bikes and enduro mountain bikes, although made of carbon fiber, still weigh a lot.

Cross Country Mountain Bikes Weight

Cross country riders tend to have very lightweight bikes for cross country biking. It's all about the speed. They may not have the capability of trail bikes, but are much lighter, and able to fly through a less technical course faster.

The Winner

Cross Country bikes are much lighter than a trail bike. Trail mountain bikes have more capability, which comes with extra weight, however.

Which Is More Equipped, A Trail Bike or Cross Country Bike?

When we talk about being equipped, we're considering all the extras that make a bike work better. Depending on your riding style, these can make a tremendous amount of difference to how quickly you can get down a trail and how good you will be at trail riding.

Trail Bikes Equipment

As we saw earlier, trail bikes are not cheap, and because of this, they are exceptionally well-equipped. Not only do they have the rear suspension, but also have dropper posts, larger wider bars, shorter stems, and bigger brakes and brake rotors.

Cross Country Mountain Bikes Equipment

Cross country bikes don't have the equipment that trail bikes have. Sometimes, you might find cross country bikes with slightly bigger brakes or even a dropper post but not often.

The Winner

Trail bikes are better equipped, and it would be expected as they cost more. They are also made for a more challenging job than the cross country bikes. Trail bikes need to be more suited to their purpose.

Overall Winner

The overall winner has to be the trail bike as it is just better-equipped than the cross country bike. It may not be as light and may cost more, but has more ability.

What Is Best For What Rider?

There are many types of mountain bikes on the market, and it can be challenging to know what to look for. If you are looking for a bike for some seriously technical terrain and extreme trail bike riding, the best bikes for you are trail mountain bikes. They are capable of so much, and it's a bike like this that will take you around rock gardens better than anything else.

If you are looking for a bike for less technical terrain or one that covers light trail riding the middle ground and can do a bit of everything, cross country bikes will be the best for you. Cross country riding does not require much capability, and the bike doesn't need to be as equipped.

What Next?

It's time to go and test ride some full suspension and xc bikes.

Robbie Ferri
About the Author
I’m Robbie Ferri I’m a Cyclist from Norfolk UK. I have been cycling for many years and found myself in Time Trials, Ultra Cycling World Records, and Bikepacking Races. I have worked in a Bike shop and with some of the industry’s leading brands. I’m also an experienced Spinning Instructor and avid Indoor Cyclist. If I’m not cycling, I’m writing about it.
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