Downcountry – almost like cross-country, with more travel, dropper posts, and no timing chips in sight. We’re in! That’s why we pitted three cutting-edge downcountry rigs against each other to see which one came out on top.

If you’ve followed us for some time, you might have read our Mag 41 Racing Revival story, which makes it clear that we’re here for the fun of it, not for the race results. Accordingly, when we chose the bikes for this test, we didn’t really know (or care) who’s currently dominating the XC circus. So, rather than choosing the most successful bikes, we opted for three of the latest and most promising downcountry bikes currently available on the market. Here are our three candidates:

The Canyon Lux Trail has been around since the end of 2023, while the Specialized Epic 8 was released at the beginning of the year, and the paint has barely dried on the new Cannondale Scalpel. While all three bikes are extremely interesting downcountry rigs, they’re very different from each other. The Canyon features plenty of smart detail solutions, the Cannondale comes with a unique one-legged Lefty fork, while the Specialized relies on electronic RockShox Flight Attendant suspension. Is this a typical case of “tradition meets innovation”? Not really! All three models have gone through several iterations and have been around for a while, in one form or another. But how do they fare in direct comparison? Which one is the liveliest on the climbs and which one slaps the biggest grin on your face when gravity takes over? Or is there one that excels at everything? To find out, we squoze ourselves into some questionable lycra to compare the three bikes against each other, in an attempt to find out which one cranks up the fun barometer most and which one solves our favourite equation best.

What is downcountry in the first place, and how much crosscountry is in it?

Downcountry is a neologism that consists of the words downhill and cross-country. Basically, it’s used to describe downhill-oriented XC bikes. Considering that the shortest-travel bike in our big 2024 trail bike group test combined 140/120 mm of travel front and rear, downcountry bikes could be considered the puppies of trail bikes. Our three competitors all bottom out at 120 mm of travel, both front and rear, and rely on a 150 mm dropper post. On top of that, they’re all a little slacker than your average trail bike, and they all weigh under 12 kg, despite having an integrated storage compartment, dropper post and, in some cases, a complex lockout mechanism.

But is it that easy? Is it just about adding more travel and a (longer) dropper post to a bog-standard CX bike? Yes and no! While having more suspension travel and a dropper post are definitely key factors, it’s also about the geometry of the bikes, which is tweaked slightly to suit the purpose. Now, the most blatant difference is between the Canyon Lux World Cup XC race bike and the Lux Trail downcountry version. We tested the latter, which generates 120 mm of travel and comes standard with a storage compartment in the down tube and an integrated tool. The Lux World Cup bike forgoes all of this and relies on a custom frame with 20 mm less travel. The Cannondale Scalpel and Specialized Epic, on the other hand, share virtually the same identical frame as their racing counterparts. However, this also means that they have to strike the best possible balance between fun bikes for the masses and mean racing machines for the pros.

But what do the three bikes have in common? A carbon frame, a one-piece carbon cockpit, enough room for two water bottles in the main frame triangle, and a dropper post with 150 mm of travel. Furthermore, all three rely on a rear triangle with flex-stays, which essentially replace an additional pivot point on the chainstays. In a nutshell, the concept uses flexible seat and/or chainstays to achieve the desired suspension characteristics.


CANYON LUX TRAIL CFR | 120/120 mm (f/r) | 11.54 kg in size L | € 6,999
Manufacturer’s website

The small endurance trail bike

Out of the three bikes, the Canyon Lux Trail is the one that differentiates itself the most from its World Cup counterpart. It has a completely different geometry and comes with additional features such as the storage compartment – and the frame tubes are significantly thicker too! As a result, the Canyon looks more like a small trail bike rather than a slender XC rig. But how does the Lux Trail compare to its rivals and what makes it stand out?

The Canyon Lux Trail is packed with practical features and clever detail solutions. For example, there’s a slim multitool tucked away under the top tube, while the down tube can be filled up almost entirely with trail essentials. A CO2 cartridge can be clipped onto the cover of the big storage compartment, and a Sahmurai Tire Plug Set is hidden inside the bar-ends. The whole package can be purchased as a bundle with the bike, which we would strongly recommend if you want to be prepared when the shit hits the fan, without having to carry a hip pack.

The left side of the handlebar is crammed with levers – sometimes less is more!
The mini tool at the bottom of the top tube is easily accessible, and it’s a real lifesaver for basic trailside repairs.
From this perspective, the cockpit is one big cable bundle. However, from the rider’s perspective you can hardly see them, while the routing ensures a quiet ride on the trail.
The storage compartment in the down tube contains a comprehensive puncture repair kit, while the cover accommodates a CO2 cartridge. Embarking on long rides without a hip pack is not a problem.

The one-piece cockpit is rather crammed with cables, although these are partly hidden behind the handlebars, eventually disappearing into the frame through the headset. The left handlebar side looks particularly busy, with the two-stage lockout lever and dropper remote forming a rather unattractive lever cluster – we would have installed the dropper remote under the lockout lever for better ergonomics. That said, whichever way you place them, this amount of levers will always look awkward. However, the cable routing and extensive chainstay protector ensure a quiet ride on the trail.

CANYON LUX TRAIL on the trail

Riding uphill, the Canyon Lux Trail is efficient, nimble and pleasantly impulsive… if you’re used to riding a trail or enduro bike. Compared to the other two racers, however, it’s rather placid, albeit very comfortable. The rear suspension bobs slightly, with the two-stage lockout system only stabilising the rear suspension partially, regardless of whether you’re in “pedal” or “lock” mode. In a nutshell, the suspension delivers a decent performance uphill, but it feels pretty sluggish in the process. While this might not be sufficient to attack on hardpack climbs during races, it’s certainly good enough for some relaxed trail shenanigans.

The high front end is a blessing for ambitious hobby riders who prefer fast paced post-work rides over epic backcountry expeditions, inspiring huge amounts of confidence on steep descents. Here, the Lux feels more like a short-travel trail bruiser rather than a pimped-up XC bike. However, the short-travel suspension requires plenty of arm and leg work with bigger hits and encourages you to ride actively and to play with the trail. The Canyon follows steering input intuitively and doesn’t position you as far forward over the handlebars as its opponents. On the other hand, this requires you to actively weight the front wheel in open corners to keep it tracking.


CANNONDALE SCALPEL 1 LEFTY | 120/120 mm (f/r) | 11.58 kg in size L | € 9,499
Manufacturer’s website

As precise as a surgeon’s hand

Riding the same bike as the pros? That’s no longer a dream with the Cannondale. The Scalpel Lefty is exactly the same bike that Charlie Aldridge and Simon Andreassen use to race the Cross Country World Cup, and it’s available from Cannondale’s webstore. It’s designed to blur the lines between race bike and short-travel trail bruiser – but always comes with 120 mm of travel front and rear.

With its single-legged fork, the Cannondale is doubtlessly the most striking competitor in this shootout. Cannondale’s Lefty fork isn’t anything new, and is actually already in its eighth generation, but it’s still quite visually striking. Apart from the single-leg design, one of the most distinctive features are the needle bearings, which are meant to perform better than conventional bushings – but more on that later.

Although the cockpit area is both clean and very quiet, the cable port at the centre of the handlebars makes for a rather curious, octopus-like look, which makes the cables visible from the rider’s perspective.
The Scalpel 1 comes standard with a speed sensor on the front wheel, which was developed in close collaboration with Garmin and allows you to track your rides.
Cannondale’s proprietary Lefty Ocho fork not only ensures a unique look but also excellent traction on the front wheel.
Since the front wheel has to be removed sideways, the brake calliper has to be removed using a quick-release lever, which is easy and intuitive to use.

Apart from its unique fork, the Scalpel 1 doesn’t have any fancy extra features which, according to Cannondale, is mainly to keep the weight down. However, at 11.5 kg, the Scalpel is still the heaviest contestant in this shootout, together with the feature-packed Canyon Lux Trail. The Cannondale doesn’t have a storage compartment or integrated tool either, with a strong orientation towards racing performance. The only additional gimmick is the speed sensor on the front wheel, which was developed in collaboration with Garmin and helps you to track your rides. The cables are routed internally and disappear into the frame through a small opening in the one-piece carbon cockpit, ensuring a rather unique look resembling an octopus. The genererously sized chainstay protector merges seamlessly into the flex area., while the flex pivot itself is protected by rubber covers on both sides.


When making your way to the trailhead, the Scalpel is as sharp as a surgeon’s knife, sprinting forward eagerly as soon as you put the slightest pressure on the pedals. Uphill, it’s just as powerful and lively as the Epic, except that with the Cannondale you’ll have to select the suspension mode manually between Open, Pedal and Lock, rather than leaving the choice to an algorithm – which is what the Epic does! However, despite taking some getting used to, Cannondale’s left-side-mounted Twistloc grip remote works flawlessly and never caused us to change mode unintentionally. The Cannondale Scalpel has the sportiest pedalling position of the three competitors, both uphill and on level ground, which provides little long-distance comfort on flat terrain but at the same time keeps the front wheel planted on the ground in steep climbing sections.

Going downhill, Cannondale’s Lefty fork sticks to the ground like no other. The needle bearings reduce stiction significantly, which is clearly noticeable in the fork’s response. Even when braking on rough terrain, the fork continues to work and doesn’t stiffen up. This translates into predictable steering behaviour which, in turn, inspires tons of confidence and encourages you to put more weight into the front of the bike.


SPECIALIZED S-WORKS EPIC 8 | 120/120 mm (f/r) | 10.66 kg in size L | € 14,500
Manufacturer’s website

Two-wheeled legend

The Specialized Epic 8 is the contestant with the longest history in our downcountry shootout. After 20 years of World Cups, Olympic games and infinite local MTB races, the Epic was updated not once but twice in the past couple of years, both for the 2023 and 2024 seasons. The Epic is available in two versions, with 120 mm of travel front and rear and as the Epic EVO model, which gains an extra 10 mm of front travel. For comparison’s sake ­– and upon the expert recommendation of our boss – we picked the S-Works Epic 8 with electronic RockShox Flight Attendant suspension for this duel.

The prize for the cleanest cockpit goes to the Specialized Epic 8! There are just two brake lines on Roval’s one-piece handlebar/stem unit.
The price you pay for the cleanest cockpit? You’ll have to charge four AXS batteries on a regular basis, because you need them to power the suspension, dropper post and drivetrain.
The multitool under the bottle cage includes all of the essential tools for basic trailside repairs.
The storage compartment is easy to access and allows you to carry a puncture repair kit or even a lightweight rain jacket without having to use a hip pack.

What’s with all the flashing lights on the fork crown? The most striking feature of the S-Works is undoubtedly the RockShox Flight Attendant suspension. The drawback is that you’ll have to charge 4 AXS batteries before going for a ride. But why? Because the electronic suspension system switches between the Wide Open, Magic Middle and Sprint-on-Lock modes depending on the situation. To make this possible, SRAM rely on a torque and cadence sensor. Furthermore, the system uses an algorithm to learn how you ride and calculates four individual power zones to adjust the suspension. Not only does this improve the bike’s climbing efficiency, but also ensures a tidy look in the one-piece cockpit area. There are no cables running to the fork or shock, and no clunky lockout levers on the handlebars. This is possible thanks to the two-button dropper post remote, which allows you to drop the saddle with the lower button and activate the suspension override mode – essentially the “fully-open” mode of a conventional suspension. As a result, the Epic has the cleanest cockpit in this shootout, with only two brake lines left between you and the horizon, whereby the rear brake line disappears into the frame through the headset only to reappear shortly before reaching the calliper. The epic also has a storage compartment in the down tube, which is accessible via a simple lock.


with lights, regulating the suspension reliably. With even and powerful pedalling cadences, the system closes reliably, and at the same time opens again within milliseconds with bigger hits. In other words, the system ensures maximum comfort with minimal efficiency loss. The Epic places you in a sporty pedalling position, which is front-heavy but not quite as stretched as the Cannondale Scalpel. As a result, the Specialized strikes an excellent compromise between comfort and efficiency, proving an excellent companion for long days in the saddle. This is also due to the suspension, which provides plenty of comfort when you need it, yet remains firm when the going gets tough.

When gravity takes over, the Specialized generates plenty of traction on the front wheel with its sporty position, providing more support in compressions than any of its competitors. The electronic suspension is partly responsible for this, switching back and forth between Wide Open and Magic Middle mode, and making the S-Works a very forgiving riding companion when the going gets rough. That said, the Specialized doesn’t generate the same amount of traction as the Cannondale Scalpel, at least on the front wheel. That’s not too bad though, because, at the end of the day, the Epic 8 is an excellent all-rounder: with its electronic suspension, it’s ready to haul ass when you race against the clock, while at the same time offering plenty of comfort when you’re sessioning home trails with your mates.

Which is the best DC bike for me?

The question is: what do you want to do with a downcountry bike? Do you want to win races, reimagine your favourite home trails, or stick out from the crowd when sipping on a post-ride pint down at the pub? We’ve experienced the different characters of the bikes, so here’s the best choice for each scenario:

Setting personal bests, hunting KOMs and riding fast everywhere.

The Cannondale Scalpel is the sportiest competitor in this shootout. The riding position alone underlines its racing orientation, which is emphasised by the uncompromising “naked” spec. No storage compartment in the frame, no tools or other useful features – because if you have to fix a puncture during a race, you might as well not bother. With its purist character, the Cannondale is brutally fast, both up and downhill. The stretched position places you far forward on the bike, putting plenty of pressure on the unusual-looking yet super-responsive Lefty fork. Not only is this a real head turner on the trail, but also provides velcro-like traction on the front wheel. The right bike for a race weekend, but not for an all-day trail tour.

See your home trails with different eyes

The Canyon Lux Trail is like a shrunken trail or enduro bike. If you’re used to riding big bikes, you won’t get any weird surprises with the Lux, and only have to come to terms with the reduced suspension travel. This requires more physical effort downhill and gives your beloved home trails a whole new shape and meaning, cranking up the fun factor to eleven even after many years. The Lux Trail begs you to ride downhill for hours on end, delivering truckloads of fun in the process with its playful character and pleasant riding position, which isn’t overly sporty and thus suitable for long days in the saddle. In-keeping with its character, Canyon chose a robust, practical spec that doesn’t require charging batteries to change gears or drop the saddle. If you break down half way, you can use the comprehensive puncture repair kit to get back on the trail in no time.

Pub-poser bling and performance rig with intelligent electronics

The Specialized Epic 8 flashes, beeps and whizzes! Not only is it the ultimate show-off gadget for post-ride pub gatherings, but also a tremendously powerful machine on the trail. The best thing about it? You hardly have to think, just pedal and focus on the trail ahead. Everything else is taken care of by the RockShox’s sophisticated Flight Attendant suspension system. Once you’ve set up the bike via the app, you’ll hardly need to do anything else. Plus: you don’t have to put up with a million levers or cables cluttering your cockpit. Needless to say, all the bling comes at a price: € 14,500 to be precise! For your money, you’ll get a top-tier all-round package and cutting-edge technology that gets you ready for the trails of the present and future.

The downcountry category, if you can really call it a category, is just as diverse as the bikes that represent it. From the race-ready Cannondale Scalpel with its aggressive riding position and maximum riding performance, to the high-tech Specialized S-Works Epic 8 with electric Flight Attendant suspension, which also does the thinking for you and lets you focus on the trail ahead. And what’s in between? The well-balanced Canyon Lux Trail CFR, which impresses with a robust mechanical spec and comprehensive tool integration including a puncture kit – fun is the key word! And ultimately, fun is what downcountry riding is all about.

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Words: Julian Schwede Photos: Peter Walker

About the author

Julian Schwede

Juli is used to dealing with big rigs. Besides working on his bike, he also tinkered and worked on buses after completing his training as a vehicle mechatronics engineer. Since the development of large-scale electric motors was too slow for him, he went on to study technical business administration while building carbon fibre tables on the side. Though his DJ bike is welded from thick aluminium tubes, his full-susser is made of carbon and it's already taken him to the top of numerous summits. Apart from biking, he likes climbing via ferratas or vertically on the wall. Nowadays, his personal bike gets ridden less as he tests the bikes that get sent to us, pushing them to their limits to see what they're capable of. In addition to bike reviews, Juli also takes care of the daily news and thinks of himself as the Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent.