Alright, let’s wrap this bad Larry up. We’ve ridden and reviewed four modern XC bikes. Now it’s time to dive deep into comparisons. We’ll break these down by climbing and descending performances, keeping in mind these are XC bikes — their main goal is to be fast and efficient. The bikes on offer are the Giant Anthem, Santa Cruz Blur, Cervelo ZFS-5, and the Orbea Oiz. They’re all quick and zippy little XC whips, but each one has a unique feel out on the trail. Let’s get into it.

I’m not going to get into details on each bike here. I’ve already done that, and I don’t want to do it again. Just go watch the videos I’ve already made and then come back here. Here are the links.

Xc SHowdown: Uphill

This is where these bikes are going to earn the most points. They’re designed to get folks to the top of a mountain as quickly as possible. As we should all know by now, a bike’s efficiency isn’t the only thing that determines how well it climbs. Traction, control, and body position are big factors as well. Climbing ability comes down to how well the body position, geometry, and suspension work together to keep the bike moving forward as quickly and easily as possible.

Let’s start with uphill efficiency and speed. We have a clear and obvious winner here, and it’s a bit surprising to see this bike take the win. The Orbea Oiz has more travel than any other bike here, but it’s the quickest to the top of the mountain. Its suspension is very XC, stiff, and efficient. The Giant anthem is close behind. Although the Anthem has a much different feel. It uses Fox Live Valve to keep things firm and fast until some extra traction and control are needed — it opens the suspension up in the bumps. I found the Anthem to have the best suspension qualities in our test, even if it isn’t the fastest uphill. The Cervelo ZFS-5 slots in next with a bit more active suspension quality. It felt a bit more “trail” than the two previous bikes. Last in terms of efficiency is the Santa Cruz Blur. The Blur, by all means, has a very similar feel to the Cervelo — and it should; the kinematics are very similar. The Blur, for whatever reason, felt a bit smoother and more active through the bumps. It certainly provided the most traction. 

Speaking of traction, let’s get into technical climbing ability. Traction is a huge factor in how well a bike handles technical climbs. Once the trail gets steep and bumpy, you’re going to wish you had a bit more traction. Traction comes from suspension design as well as tire selection and body position. If your weight isn’t over your wheels, you’re going to struggle with traction. Control is another factor in technical climbing ability. If you’re in the wrong spot on the bike, or the front end is too vague, you’re going to struggle to get up the rough bits. This list is almost the reverse of the previous list. The Blur takes the cake. The ZFS-5, Anthem, and OIz are up next, as they all do fairly well with tough climbs. If the anthem had a little more relaxed riding position, I think it would handle technical climbs as well as the Blur. I’d opt for a bit more traction than the Oiz provides, but its body position and geo offer a lot of control.. 

Overall climbing ability comes down to the combination of efficiency and technical ability in my mind, with a few other factors contributing, such as comfort and body position. Even though it doesn’t handle the technical stuff as well as some of the others, the Oiz is clearly the best and fastest climber in the group. The rest of the group isn’t as clearly defined. They each have their merits. The Cervelo offers a great balance between efficiency and control, the Blur is great on steep and bumpy climbs, and the Anthem’s suspension quality is tough to beat. None of the bikes do a bad job here, and to be honest, I’d be surprised if any of them did.

XC SHowdown: Downhill

Now let’s get into the downhill. This is also the part where there’s a bit more disparity between bikes — the range is pretty big here. There are a few ways to look at downhill performance. It’s important to keep in mind these are XC bikes, so we’re not going to judge them the same way we would a trail or all-mountain bike. At the end of the day, an XC bike should be quick and should cover ground quickly — not necessarily burly. The other way to look at this is by downhill capability. Not everyone is looking to race, and some folks just want a bike that climbs well and won’t kill them on the DH (looking at myself here). So we will look at this through a few lenses.

Let’s start with suspension design and quality. The bike that surprised me the most here is the Giant Anthem. Even though it has the least amount of travel, the Anthem is surprisingly smooth, comfortable, and fun on the descents. I think Live Valve is the kicker. It allows the bike to be more active naturally because the electronic suspension system can firm it up when needed. That active suspension quality is what made the bike fun to ride. Had the cockpit and riding position not been so XC, I think the Anthem would have found itself right in the mix with the Blur as the most capable and fun descender. As is, it’s certainly fast and well-suited for XC racing. Speaking of the Blur, it takes the cake in the fun and capability departments. It has the plushest suspension feel and a great degree of confidence. The Cervelo ZFS-5 is fairly close to the Blur, but it does have a bit of a stiffer and firmer suspension feel. It offers a bit less braking and cornering traction. The Oiz, on paper, would appear to feel the biggest and deepest in terms of suspension, but that’s not the case. If I didn’t know better, I would have guessed it had the least travel. That said, its suspension is adept at generating and maintaining speed. It’s a fast bike, even on the DH. If I had any interest in standing on an XC podium, it would be my first pick.

The next big component for me is geometry. It determines the bike’s handling characteristics as well as plays a big factor in capability. The Cervelo has the slackest, most DH-friendly geometry. It is apparent on the trail. It felt comfortable and stable at speed and had the most “trail” handling characteristics. The Oiz had a similar fit and feel as the Cervelo. It’s confident at speed, and it should be because it’s fast.  While the braking traction wasn’t the best, the cornering traction and handling were excellent. The Blur also felt stable and confident but not quite at the same level as the two previous bikes. It’s a bit more XC in its geometry. It kept the bike feeling quick and zippy, however. Paired with its excellent suspension quality, it made for one fun bike. The Anthem is very XC in its geometry. It has a short wheelbase and steep head tube angle. That kept the handling sharp. Combined with the very racy cockpit setup, the Anthem toed the squirrely line a bit.

Overall on the descents, there are two standouts for me. The Blur was the most fun bike for me, and the Oiz was the fastest. Although, I did find myself pleasantly surprised that none of the bikes were as sketchy as I thought they’d be on the descents. 

XC SHowdown: Buying Advice

Let’s get into the hard part, where I try to place these bikes in some user profiles so you can make an informed buying decision. 

The XC Racers – I can’t begin to speak from a racer’s perspective. I did one XC race, and that was more than enough for me. I can, however, speak to which bikes are the fastest. And at the end of the day, that’s what’s important to win a race — or at least I think that’s how it works. The Oiz is an obvious choice for folks who want to race. It’s the fastest both up and down the mountain. The Anthem is another great choice for the racer with its suspension and handling characteristics. 

The Endurance Racers –  While efficiency is still important here, comfort and capability start to play a bigger role. Endurance races tend to cover a wider variety of terrain, some of it more difficult. And, it goes without saying, you’ll be spending a lot of time in the saddle during endurance events, so you had better be comfortable. I did a 50-mile race back in the day, and If I had to do it again, I’m grabbing the Blur. If that’s not available, I’d take a ZFS-5 or Oiz. Those all have the most comfortable fit, with the Blur having the most comfortable suspension quality too. They’re no slouches on rough descents, either. 

The Trail Riders – The Blur and ZFS-5 are the obvious choices for someone who has no interest in any sort of organized fitness measuring contest. They just want a bike that climbs well, covers a lot of ground, and is as fun as it can be on the DH. Both of these bikes are exactly that. Interestingly, the Anthem could work here for the right rider too. I’d certainly recommend addressing the ultra-racy cockpit and replacing it with something a bit more average Joe-friendly. If you had some decent trail bars and a normal-ish stem, it would end up being one of the more fun bikes on the DH. Keeping in mind, obviously, it’s not going to have the same degree of capability for riding difficult terrain as the other two. 

Alright, that’s going to wrap it up for our 2023 XC showdown. Thanks for joining us. We’ll see you next time.

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