All the facets of Mountain Biking: disciplines and acronyms

How to navigate between the different specialities without ending up... off the road

XCO, XCM, XCC... We're not talking about sizes nor tailored clothes; we're talking about Mountain Biking. The off-road movement, which in recent years has propelled talents such as Peter Sagan, Mathieu Van der Poel and Wout Van Aert, is divided into numerous disciplines, each with its characteristics, peculiarities, and riders.

The fact that off-road activity is good preparation for the road is a matter of fact. We can also claim that 'offroad' cycling is, unfortunately, less attractive compared to road races from a mediatic point of view. For this reason, categorizing the different disciplines of Mountain Bike is complicated for those approaching it for the first time, or for the mere curious observers.

Don't worry: here is a short guide with the Mountain Bike disciplines and their respective acronyms.


Cross-Country has many formats, ranging on the length of the route, the type of race (team or individual) and the type of bike used.

The most famous is undoubtedly the Olympic Cross-Country (XCO), the only mountain bike discipline to award Olympic medals since 1996. The races take place on mixed circuits with technical descents, forest roads, rocky paths and obstacles - also artificial ones - from 4 to 6 km long, for a maximum racing time of 100 minutes, and more often below the hour and a half. The XC World Cup races in Val di Sole, or the Internazionali d'Italia Series competitions are perfect examples.

Cross Country races terminate approximately in the same place, and spectators can enjoy athletes' passage from four to eight times, depending on the length of the track and the terrain conditions.

Be careful not to confuse it with the CX, the acronym referring to cyclocross competitions. A whole other story, albeit still off-road.


However, many amateurs prefer long distances, the so-called MTB Granfondo, which are nothing else than the Cross-Country Marathon (XCM), which usually evolves over distances between 60 and 120 km. A unique feature of this kind of races is that all athletes, from simple enthusiasts to professionals, race together - just like the running marathon.

Usually, Marathon competitions are held on mountain territories and, contrary to the Olympic Cross-Country, athletes do not cross the same path several times, although there are rare exceptions - such as the 2020 World Championships in Turkey.

These are the most practised and famous disciplines, but Cross-Country has more specialities. There is the XCP, point-to-point race, with an average distance that varies between 25 and 60 km, the XCR, the Team Relay, which also awards titles in international competitions.

Also, MTB competitions developed in stages, XCS and XCRR (Rally/Raid) are on the rise, with general standings such as the famous road stage races. Their on-growing popularity is due to the particular atmosphere conceived in these events, halfway between competition, discovery and adventure. Examples are the famous Cape Epic and the emerging Appenninica MTB Stage Race in Italy.


It is not over here, because there is also the XCE, the Eliminator or elimination race with routes up to one kilometre, performed in batteries of four athletes; the XCT, an individual time trial; the XCC, the short track that debuted in the World Cup Friday in 2018 and played on shortened Cross Country tracks, on time ranges of nearly half an hour. In 2021, in Val di Sole, it will also make his debut in the program of the MTB World Championships.

Still, there is the XC24H, which is an endurance race that persists along 24 hours. Depending on the technical characteristics, bicycles used in cross-country races are either "front", with a suspension fork, or "fully", with both front and rear suspension.


And then there is the Enduro, a different discipline comparing to Cross-Country, but still mountain bikes they are. Enduro competitions are held only downhill and develop on a series of individual stages, at the end of which those who have the best combined time wins. The climbs are only transferring sections between the various individual tests, even if they must be covered within a maximum time. The world's leading Enduro competition, Enduro World Series, has made its way into the UCI calendar only in 2019.

Therefore, the Enduro is a mix between the Cross-Country and the Downhill (DH or DHI), which instead takes place only downhill trails, with a starting gate just like in alpine skiing, and the runs take place in 2 to 5 minutes. For both of these disciplines, full-suspension bikes are required, with longer cushioned excursions compared to the cross-country bikes. Downhill is, along with the Olympic Cross Country, the protagonist of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup.


To complete the picture, we also want to mention Dual-Slalom, in which two riders compete on short parallel circuits with jumps, berms and obstacles, and the Four-Cross, a downhill elimination race between four bikers, in a formula similar to skicross and snowboard cross. For lovers of acrobatics and aesthetics, there is the Freeride, in which the riders have to follow a path in the most creative way possible, including style, breadth in evolution, control and speed, but also the Dirt jumping with its aerial acrobatics and the Urban-Street, with the freestyle most typical of BMX.

Finally, the Trial can't be forgotten: athletes must face an obstacle course with their MTB without ever putting the feet on the ground. This discipline also takes place in Val di Sole, where this specialty's World Cup will be back in 2021.

Would you like to receive all the news by Vitesse straight on your phone? 

The upcoming blog posts will be immediately shared on our Telegram channel "Newsroom by Vitesse"