Jun 23, 2022

Cross country hardtail or trail hardtail? BIG.NINE or BIG.TRAIL? What’s the difference and which is best for you?

BIG.NINE XC bike and BIG.TRAIL trail bike

Hardtails are a great, cost-effective way to enjoy mountain biking, but if you’re not sure whether you’d be best off with a cross-country hardtail like a BIG.NINE or a trail hardtail like a BIG.TRAIL, then this guide will explain the differences between the two styles of bike to help you decide which one will suit you best – and why.

Both styles of bike are perfectly capable of getting you off the beaten track and hitting off-road trails and tracks, but they’re very different tools that are designed to excel in specific areas.

If your buzz comes from an elevated heart rate, the flood of endorphins and the thrill of speed, uphill or down, then a cross-country bike is the natural choice to help you do that, mile after mile after mile.

On the other hand, if you want to get your heart beating with adrenaline rather than effort, the trail bike is going to help you ride the sort of trails that’ll do just that.

Cross-country hardtail: the BIG.NINE

A cross-country bike like a BIG.NINE is all about turning your effort into forward motion as efficiently as possible. Everything about the bike is focused on weight reduction and speed, with a lightweight frame and components and fast rolling tyres.

To that end, this BIG.NINE has a lightweight frame in either aluminium or carbon fibre frame, sitting on 29” wheels. Up front, there’s relatively little travel to improve efficiency, with 100mm on offer, plus almost all models feature a lockout that allows you to turn the fork into a rigid one at the flick of a remote or fork lever.

That means that if you need to put the hammer down in a sprint or you’re out of the saddle on a long climb, you won’t waste any energy making the fork go up and down – that’s energy better spent making you go forwards, fast.

The tyres fitted to a cross-country bike have a very low profile tread pattern and they also have a thin, supple casing, meaning little of your effort is wasted as drag. They’re mounted on rims with a relatively narrow profile, something that also helps reduce rolling resistance as well as the rotating mass of wheel and tyre that you need to accelerate.

When it comes to the cockpit kit, they have flat bars and a longer stem; this is to get your riding position low at the front to reduce aerodynamic drag at the generally higher speeds you’ll be doing on a cross country bike. It’s not as extreme as a road bike, but minimising drag is still a factor. 

On our CF carbon fibre frames and LITE aluminium framed models, the back end of the BIG.NINE uses specially sculpted FLEX STAY seat stays that are shaped like leaf springs to add in an element of give. That’s the opposite to the chainstay and bottom bracket junction, where everything is oversize to increase the stiffness and hence efficiency. The bikes also use fixed seatposts rather than a dropper post, which also reduces weight – though it is possible to fit an internally routed dropper post on many models.

It’s when we come to the frame geometry that the differences in intent between the two kinds of bike become crystal clear. A cross-country bike needs to be just as adept at climbing, descending and riding on the flat, so the geometry is designed to keep the rider’s weight central, especially when riding seated – which is the most efficient place to be. The reach is shorter than the trail hardtail, because it becomes much easier to shift weight over either axle without a huge amount of body movement, allowing a skilled rider to maintain traction on all sorts of surfaces and gradients.

Trail hardtail: the BIG.TRAIL

This BIG.TRAIL has a radically different frame shape. The frame reach is much longer, giving the rider more space to move about on the bike when stood up, while the slacker head angle and longer wheelbase means much more stability at high speed and on rough or steep terrain. The frame is also made from durable aluminium and it’s designed to take all the use – and abuse – you can throw at it. 

Up front, there is a 140mm travel fork with a beefy, larger diameter chassis to better cope with rougher terrain. The bike still uses 29” wheels, but both tyres and rims are larger diameter and the tread pattern is much more aggressive for grip at the expense of rolling speed. 

Wide, riser handlebars give extra leverage in the corners, paired to a short stem for rapid steering reaction. This combination also gives a higher, more upright riding position, which is great to stop you getting pitched over the bars on steep trails. Almost all BIG.TRAIL models come with a long travel dropper post as standard and the low standover height means it’s easy to get your weight low down, which can make all the difference on tricky trails. The BIG.TRAIL also has a pretty steep seat angle to offer a good seated climbing position despite all that extra reach.

Both bikes use a wide-range single-ring drivetrain and powerful hydraulic brakes, though the BIG TRAIL has larger diameter rotors for increased power at the expense of weight. 

Basically, all the kit on the trail bike is built around durability, while the cross-country bike is all about reducing weight.

Which one is best for you? A trail hardtail or a cross-country hardtail? 

While all these differences are relatively small on their own, it adds up to two bikes with radically different ride experiences. If you want to hit technical, rough trails and your kind of riding is best described as winch and plummet, then the trail bike is going to be your natural partner. It’s built to be burly, so if you don’t mind a bit more effort on a climb, it’ll more than reward you on the downhill, making it ideally suited to sessioning tracks to get your lines perfect and going faster and harder each time. Obviously, all this means a bit more risk of falling off, which is why baggy kit and kneepads are the trail rider’s uniform – you’re likely to have a bit of enduro goggle action too!

If you’re all about covering the maximum amount of distance and doing it all at warp speed, then a cross-country bike makes the most sense. It’s designed to be as capable uphill as it is on the flat and while the shorter travel and quick handling isn’t as stable on descents, you’ll be able to weave it through trees at warp speed. It’s the perfect partner for escaping off over the horizon and into the wilderness. Of course, there’s no point having all this speed on tap and having it stolen by your baggy kit flapping about, which is why the cross-country rider is no stranger to full lycra – even a helmet peak and leg hair can get removed in search of shaving seconds off your personal best.

We hope this has given you a better understanding of how a cross-country hardtail differs from a trail hardtail, both in kit, geometry and riding intent. 

If you now feel a cross-country bike would be best for you, check out the full BIG.NINE lineup here.

If the idea of a trail hardtail has you fired up, take a look at the full BIG.TRAIL lineup here.