Can You Ride a Downhill Bike Cross Country?

A typical downhill bike

Downhill bikes are made for some of the most fun trails coming down mountains, but can these same bikes be used for cross country riding?  Not everybody can afford two bikes so can you multi-purpose your downhill bike for other riding?

Can you ride a downhill bike cross country? Yes, you can, but it takes a little more effort since the downhill bike is heavier but it can work as a dual-purpose mountain bike.  The weight works against you going uphill but going downhill it can be an advantage.  In fact, some riders prefer to use downhill bikes for cross country riding.

Why Would You Use a Downhill Mountain Bike For Cross Country Trails?

There are many reasons why a biker would choose to use a downhill bike for cross country riding:

  • The rider only owns one bike and it’s a downhill mountain bike.
  • The downhill bike with a more heavy duty frame can handle jumps better.  We’re talking 2+ foot high jumps.
  • A downhill bike is heavier so it forces a better workout and the leg muscles to get stronger.

Most of the time, a person will opt to use a downhill bike simply because they only have enough money to fund one bike and they prefer downhill biking and like to occasionally take cross country biking like dirt roads, singletrack, doubletrack, etc.

I should point out that the third point above is one I have seen a few times.  Sometimes people will train on a heavier bike so when they enter a race, the bike feels lighter than normal and they can go faster/longer.  It’s a little bit like when people use hardtail bikes for downhill to force themselves to learn taking a better path.

What are the Cons to Using a Downhill Bike For Cross Country Trails?

There are of course some drawbacks to using a downhill bike for XC biking:

  • Trail bikes are a bit heavier so biking uphill is a bit more work.
  • The longer suspension travel can damper some of the power you put into the pedals requiring more effort.  If you have a rear travel lockout it will really help to make the ride more enjoyable.
  • DH bikes typically have steeper gears as they need more speed and not usually so much in the way of acceleration being they are going downhill.
  • On a downhill bike you sit more upright so you’ll catch the wind a bit more.

Generally speaking the trail bikes have more of the spongy rear end so you use more energy bouncing than transmitting that power to the wheels.  It’s like the opposite of a hardtail.  Being that many XC bikes are in fact hardtail bikes, you can see how different this is.

How Well Does a Downhill Bike Handle Cross Country?

So here’s the real test.  When you take a downhill bike and try to do singletracks and fire roads, how is it and is it something you really want to do.

For me, it’s a no.

It may work for some, but there’s 2 main reasons:

  1.  Downhill bikes are on average 40% heavier than XC bikes.  That means it takes 40% more effort to ride as well.
  2. The whole bike just feels spongy and far less responsive.  When you’re talking 8+ inches of suspension travel front and back that’ll happen.

I think a downhill bike can work decent if you get a suspension lockout in at least the rear so it performs closer to a hardtail and at least you won’t have the pedaling-in-sand feeling.

Trail bikes are built for trail riding.  They have two wheels and they can do almost any type, but it’s how much extra work is it to push it uphill.

How Can You Make a DH Bike Do Cross Country Better?

There are a few things you can do to make the downhill more bearable for XC riding.

The key is to cut down on things that will take out a lot of your energy.

  • Put on lighter wheels and thinner tires
  • Raise the seat all the way up. This allows you to full extend your legs and use the full power.
  • Stand up if you’re losing steam. Using your weight on the pedals put a bit of extra power.
  • Buy new rear shocks that have a lockout ability
  • Switch in lower gear to help with hill climbing.  Sometimes a better cassette will give you a bit more power to the wheels.

Most of these are beyond what a biker would want to do for a dual-purpose bike.  I think if I were planning on using a downhill bike for occasional cross country biking, I would get a second set of lighter wheels with thinner tires and leave it at that.

So it is possible to use a DH bike for riding up and down hills and such but it’s not optimal.  It really depends on how you choose to split the riding.

If the riding is 90% downhill and 10% XC I don’t think I’d even change anything on the bike.

What Downhill Bikes Work Better for Cross Country?

The other answer is to pick a downhill bike that is still sturdy but lighter.  Naturally, these are more expensive due to the alloys needed.

A lot of the downhill bikes that are lighter tend to use a lot of carbon so the prices go up quickly to $2k-3k.    It’s a tradeoff and at some point it’s easier having two bikes.

Are There Other Bikes That Can Do Both Downhill and Cross Country Better?

If you want to do both downhill and cross country with a single bike, I would lean towards an Enduro bike.

Enduro bikes are built for both downhill and uphill so they are like a heavier duty XC bike.  They are like a general-purpose mountain bike.

If you want general purpose riding, get a general purpose Enduro bike and I think you’ll be happy.

Conclusion

So to answer the question Can you ride a downhill bike on cross country is yes, but with some reservations.

Riding a heavier downhill bike on hills and trails is tough because it wasn’t built for it.  It takes a lot out of you, but it can be done.

The best bet is to pick up an enduro bike and you can do all of the downhill and XC trails you want and enjoy it the whole time.

 

 

 

 

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