Why Would Anyone Ride a Mountain Bike?

Words Dave Tolnai
Date Feb 22, 2016

Dear Uncle Dave,

I would like to think that I represent the next generation of riders, coming out of high school and trying to become dentists to fund our $15000 dream machines. Dentistry must be a pretty flooded market right now.

My question revolves around all the whining about prices that surrounds the industry. Not to say I don’t agree completely, but if you think $2500 bike is cheap you should give my 2007 iron horse 6point a few laps. If your bike feels inferior, there’s always someone riding something cheaper. AND I’ll race you to prove that I can, in fact, get some use out of it.

The point is this: Mountain biking is fun. So is lots of stuff. Do you realize how favourably the price of a new dirt bike compares with a new mountain bike? How can you justify an $8000 bicycle when for the same price I can get what is essentially the same thing, but with an engine?

So brass tacks: why the hell should I be interested in your sport? It’s expensive, there are lots of other sports that are just as fun, and hikers are pricks. Sell it to me.

P.S. No seriously, race me.

Sincerely,
Obnoxious wannabe racer kid


Dear Oxnards:

Forgive me. I’m going to Palin a little bit here. I’ll come close to answering your questions, but there are a few things I want to talk about instead.

First off, I hear you about bikes. My first mountain bike was a $300 Asama that I stole from my sister. My dad got sick and tired of hauling it into the shop every couple of weeks to replace all the parts that kept breaking, so agreed to fund a new bike for me, to the tune of $500.

The bike I decided on was a brand new, 1991 (I think I have the year right – may have been a ‘90) Rocky Mountain Hammer which was purchased for the price of $800 from Spoke’n Motion in Kamloops.* The extra $300 annihilated my savings, but I still think this is one of the best purchases that I have ever made in my entire life. That bike changed my world. Up until that point, Rocky Mountains were dream objects and I never imagined that I could possibly own something so amazingly awesome. I knew every single millimeter of that bike. I learned how to fix and maintain everything on it, from adjusting the derailleurs to repacking the hubs. I still occasionally search Craigslist to see if I can find a version of this bike. If I do, I will probably buy it, just because. I fucking loved that bike.

Unfortunately, it had two major problems. First, it was a medium and I continued to grow. Next, the lure of a suspension fork was too much to handle. Still, I happily rode that bike for a few years, and even when I was done with it, it still kicked ass.

My next bike was also a Rocky Mountain Hammer. Maybe a ’93 or ‘94?  This bike was nice, but we were already on a downward spiral. The frame wasn’t very special. The components were generic. The LX worked well, but lacked the presence of the DX that graced my first Hammer. And the suspension fork was a giant piece of shit that exploded every few months. All for around a thousand bucks.

This was the first step in the bike churn. An Equipe the next year. An Altitude TO after that. Then picking up my first DH bike and making things exponentially worse. Then just bike after bike. Most of them pretty nice and all of them enjoyable in one way or another. Some I lusted after for a long period of time. Some were amazing. But none were as “loved” as much as that first Hammer. Why is that?

Some was related to it being my first real bike. But I also think that I bought that Hammer at the end of an era. Rocky Mountain was transitioning from boutique weirdos to mass market. The industry itself was turning more into a rear derailleur up-spec competition, and suspension forks were injecting an immediacy of product development and requirement for “new” into the game. We started to shift from a long term view of bikes (it wasn’t crazy to admire a hand-built frame that just happened to be 5 years old – and not just as an antique) to a short term view (where we require the latest suspension fork/brake concept/suspension platform/frame material/wheel size and it’s a piece of shit if it doesn’t have it). We were transitioning from bike as artisanal object to bike as technological commodity.

It’s funny because it’s easy to look at a sport like golf and laugh. You get all these rich old duffers paying for performance via the latest clubs and balls. They’re taking this sport that is supposed to be about challenging yourself personally, and making it easier through technology. It got to the point where every year they were adding yards to courses, just to keep the same level of competition. This seems a bit crazy. Why wouldn’t they just go back to the old equipment instead of rebuilding golf courses that have been the same for a hundred years?  I guess the human ambition to make things easier on ourselves knows no bounds.

But we’re exactly the same, if not worse. Look at these bikes. Yes, I think it’s a lot more fun hauling ass on a bike that stops well and that doesn’t hammer my body into oblivion. And yes, I’m willing to pay a bit of money to make that happen. But am I actually having more fun now than when I was on that old Hammer? Have I just spent years and dollars making things easier on myself? So that I can ride down trails that I once considered ‘impossible?’  So that I can delude myself into thinking that I’m ‘fast?’  And what is it worth to make an infinitesimal improvement over whatever bike happens to be sitting in my storage locker?**

And then I sit here at my desk and flitz around on the Internet. Nobody talks about anything meaningful, it’s just gear! gear! gear! gear! We spent several months speculating on which bike a particular racer will use next year. We crucify each other for not agreeing with our particular gear quirks. A new bike launch is a major event. Even an information starved preview written by an illiterate collects an appreciable amount of interest. We’ve gone insane.

Mountain biking has a problem. We’re obsessed with new shit. We’re insufferable assholes complaining about the best use of our disposable income (rich pricks in Larry David World). If I think about it for too long, I start to hate myself.

Because I know that I’m a part of it. I lust after this shit, just like you. I’m able to satiate it through these connections that I have cultivated that seem to think people are interested in hearing what I have to say about a particular piece of new crap. If I weren’t in this position, I have no idea what I would do. I wouldn’t be able to keep up with it all. I wouldn’t be able to spend the insane amounts of money that these bikes cost and I kind of feel like a dick for talking about it and reinforcing the machine that drives you into wanting it.

What really drives it home for me is to sit and think about lust-buy-crap cycle for a few minutes. You lust after an amazing piece of technology. You buy it. And then within a year it is crap because something better has come along. What does that say about our priorities and judgement? How can you take yourself seriously when you know you’re going to prove yourself wrong in very short period of time? How can we justify spending so much money on something that is only relevant for a shockingly small period of time? Isn’t that a bad purchase by any definition? It’s crazy and it is only getting worse.

So, to answer your questions… $2500 on a new bike isn’t cheap, but there’s a good chance if you spend less than that it will end up costing you more in the long run. The difference in even a few hundred dollars in this price range can be huge. Could I enjoy myself on a $1500 bike?  An $800 bike?  Most likely, yes. I just know that there would be limitations to these bikes that would impact my riding and I’m much too vain to accept that. I know that I can (theoretically) do most of what I want to do on a $2500-3000 bike (assuming workable brakes, tires and fork) and that the improvements tend to be (theoretically) marginal (for me) if I were to spend more. Bikes get lighter. Shifting gets crisper. Suspension gets more tuneable. Etc. etc. But really, those are nice-to-haves.

But even that…I mean…What the fuck am I talking about?  Sure, a $2100 Kona can be a great bike. If you swap the fork. And the brakes. And the wheels and tires. I mean, that’s all easy for some jack-assed reviewer with a storage locker full of bike parts that his girlfriend wishes would just go away. But the average guy can’t turn that $2100 Kona into a great bike just by cleaning out his garage.

And of course, there are ways around spending this much money. Buying used equipment or discontinued gear is a great way to save some money. Unfortunately, most of us think we need the latest and greatest and that just won’t do.

I can’t sell you on this sport because parts of it are tremendously ugly. I can’t justify the purchase of an $8000 bicycle. If I was a fourteen-year-old kid now, my parents would laugh at me for suggesting I needed to spend $2500 on a bike. Even if I managed to scrape that money up, some asshole on the trail would probably tell me that it sucked. We’re terrible people living in a delusional dreamland. Stay tuned for my latest bike review!

And ya, we can race sometime. Though I get to pick the trail.

Sorry,
Uncle Dave

*I have briefly alluded to this purchase once before. Sorry. It was a really awesome bike though. I’ll keep adding a little bit of information each time I reference it and I think that makes it okay.

**Which is a funny story. I was thinking about it the other day, and I haven’t bought a bike since 2008. I haven’t ridden either of my personal bikes in over a year. One of them, I can’t actually remember the last time it was ridden. I have absolutely no idea what to do with either of them. They’re worth almost nothing but I feel a great deal of sentimentality towards them. I’ll make an effort to ride the hardtail in the next few months (26”, inner tubes, steel, coil fork). I’ve been thinking about buying a new bike…but they just keep showing up so I put it off. The point is, why would you listen to that guy for gear advice?  His calculation as to whether or not these things are “worth it” is meaningless. He paid nothing for the experience.

Still lots of pictures of dogs on the @davetolnai Instagram account.  Seems to be a theme for birds this week, too.

If you haven’t started shorting Twitter stock yet, maybe this is a great time to start.  Nobody really seems to give much of a shit.  @ReallyUncleDave if you do.  He seems to actually talk mostly about bikes here.


Oxnards! You win a Chewie Rides tee ($35 Canadian) from our online store. Email cam@nsmb.com to claim it. Want to win something and have Uncle Dave apologize to you? Send him a question here…

chewie_1600

Chewie rides road apparently. Another of the new shirts in our online store.


Do you ever ask yourself why?

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Comments

daniel-lees
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Daniel Lees  - Feb. 27, 2016, 11:38 p.m.

Oh dear….

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brente
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brente  - Feb. 26, 2016, 10:44 p.m.

still ride the same bikes I've had for years think my favourite is a 2006 Stiffe with 6″ of front travel. I really don't understand the need to pretend your a racer. I go out and have as much fun as I ever have and gasp I do it on 26″ wheels.

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doug-hamilton
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Doug Hamilton  - Feb. 25, 2016, 1:23 a.m.

Interesting stuff you all have to say about buying habits. I've been in the bike industry for over 25 years and can literally buy or get what ever I want, sometimes for free, but I still choose to use my frames and suspension for a minimum of 2 years before changing them, so I get to really know how they ride and components only when they are worn out. For example, in the last 15 years I've only owned 3 pairs of hubs, the 3rd pair is just 3 months old. The last pair I bought was 7 years ago and has had 3 sets of rims. Spend good money, buy really good quality, well tested products that generally aren't the latest fades and ride them till they are worn out.

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craw
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Cr4w  - Feb. 23, 2016, 2:59 p.m.

I like new stuff as much as ever. But I also sort of don't. I realized that I love my bike riding exactly the way I want it to a whole lot more than some expensive fancy new thing which I not only have to dial in, but which might suck and then I'm back where I started. Now when trusty stuff breaks or wears out I go buy something cool but I sure don't lust after it like I used to. Part of it is the fantasy of something exciting and new, but I've been around too long to still believe that new stuff is guaranteed to work well or be trouble-free. In many cases the fancier or more esoteric a thing is the more of a headache it's likely to be.

Anyone who's still happy using the same stuff they always have is a hero in my book.

I don't miss my old favourite bikes as much as I do the place where I was at during the times I was with them.

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nat-brown
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Nat Brown  - Feb. 23, 2016, 7:48 p.m.

There are lots of good comments here, but for me you nailed it. No matter what I've had in the way of new bike gear, it doesn't really take long for the desire for new, or even just different stuff to re-emerge. So, I don't see the point of indulging when I have other very justifiable expenses in my life. These 'wants' are really just the psychological foundation for consumerism, and MTB has it just like many aspects of westernised culture. It obviously comes at a cost to us all, and we need to be responsible.

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craw
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Cr4w  - Feb. 23, 2016, 8:25 p.m.

I have limited budget and limited space. With the used market being what it is I find it easier to use stuff up completely and just replace. Otherwise you end up with a bunch of partially used stuff around that's hardly worth selling. When I'm riding a lot parts wear out way more often so there's plenty of opportunity to get new stuff without having to invent reasons!

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Poz  - Feb. 24, 2016, 9:58 a.m.

Yup. I have taken to building my bikes up from frame. As parts wear out that's when I let myself "lust" over something- I find the periodic gratification that comes from several small purchases is greater than that of the one big one of buying a whole new bike. That said, this works because I find working on my bikes is like a hobby to me -- I really enjoy being in my workshop with a beer and my bikes and tinkering away, could have it done quicker by the pros but not nearly as much fun for me.

I've even thought that when I feel I need a change in frame (not likely soon) I'll just get it stripped and painted.

This sport is expensive but it doesn't have to be out of reach, just need to keep your expectations in line and realize that even today's $2500 blows away the $3500 bike of 15 years ago.

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craw
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Cr4w  - Feb. 24, 2016, 10:03 a.m.

Originally it was all about getting a cool frame and doing big upgrades. Then I went through a few years where I would get a good deal on completes every few years. Now I'm back to the periodic upgrades. I think partially it's what you say about spreading out the gratification. Also it's that many of the completes come very poorly equipped for riding in Vancouver and you develop particular preferences - then it just gets easier to shift parts around. Though the new standards of the last few years have complicated this a bit.

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0
Poz  - Feb. 24, 2016, 2:43 p.m.

True about OEM setups not being ideal. Last time I did a build I looked at all the completes out there, I was going to either make several compromises or have to start swapping out parts. Started to not make any financial sense so instead I just scour for deals on the parts I really want.

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tashi
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tashi  - Feb. 23, 2016, 9:04 a.m.

Sell you on it? If you don't like it, don't do it kid. I predict this kid will give it up pretty quick if he's focused on hikers, gear and thinks other sports are just as fun (possibly surfing). And seriously, that $2100 Kona doesn't need upgrades to be adequate, it's just that we're bike nerds so we can appreciate the better stuff. If you can shred, you can shred on a $2100 Kona (although a hardtail makes way more sense if you're pinching pennies)

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craw
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Cr4w  - Feb. 23, 2016, 8:46 a.m.

That really nailed it.

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rvoi
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rvoi  - Feb. 23, 2016, 7:55 a.m.

The truth is…. Al Gore should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity for inventing the internet.

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dj
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DJ  - Feb. 23, 2016, 6:08 p.m.

hahaha. truth.

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jt
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JT  - Feb. 23, 2016, 7:23 a.m.

Hear ya loud n clear. My first real MTB was a Trek 970. True Temper OX3, made in Waterloo, and a near full LX group aside from the requisite XT rear derailleur. Retailed less than a grand, and working at a shop brought it well under with my EP. How do you sell MTB to younguns? Simply, you really can't. Like all sports, it's something you're into trying or not. Yes, gear is expensive. Yes, manufacturers know it and (mostly) try to constrain the cost- performance ratio of their newest geegaws and doodads. Yes, the media have a job to do to report on those same latest n greatest geegaws and doodads (or at least publish the press releases if they're lazy). But any enthusiast sport can be expensive. A buddy paid north of $700 for a fly fishing rod. Another one spends a couple grand a year on windsurf boards and sails. And I won't even talk about what my friends with motorcycle habits, street or dirt, lay out. And let's not forget what it costs to get out and do any of those activities. If your friends are curious, demo a bike and take em for an easy ride in the woods. If they scoff, so what? They don't get it the way you and the rest of us do. And that's cool. Everybody has their own definition of fun, and what it's worth to them to have said fun.

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litespeed74
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litespeed74  - Feb. 23, 2016, 6:55 a.m.

I feel like I'm the weird one when it comes to mountain bikes. I buy a bike I like and hang onto it till I think there is something better out there or the thing breaks. REplacement parts usually start adding up but I LIKE my bike. I don't always think the grass is greener. Now with new wheel sizes it's a pain to HAVE to buy into the new stuff. I have always waited a year or 2 after something new comes out. (9 speed,2×10,1×11 among other things) i want to see if it stands the test of time. I don't really crave a new bike every year…maybe it's an attachment thing…ride on…

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hbelly13
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Raymond Epstein  - Feb. 23, 2016, 6:35 a.m.

Selling the youth on mountain biking, eh? I have long characterized mountain biking as an individual aggressive sport falling into same family as skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding. You search for lines and new ways to ride them. Skateboarding is the least expensive of these and also the most accessible with mountain biking being second. Not all kids want to do aggressive sports. Some need to have a team environment or they lack the confidence to go it alone. For them there are plenty of options in ballsports or non-aggressive possibilities like running, golf, etc. Back to selling though…I take my sons riding and watch them progress going faster and taking more chances. They dig the rush and it is this rush that is difficult to replicate with other sports. My analogy I still use is that mountain biking is a human-powered roller coaster through the woods. Investment-wise there is no shame in a used and tons of great deals to be had. On the contrary, you can buy many basic hardtails new for below $1K and many below $800 that will get you riding. Either way, the rush is what is going to bring anyone in and hook them. Bike costs will be secondary and anyone that really wants something will find a way to get it.

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craw
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Cr4w  - Feb. 24, 2016, 9:47 a.m.

For me a big part of it is flow. All the activities you mentioned need a deep understanding of flow to really perform well. When conditions get more and more complicated and you're still moving super fast while maintaining control and flow … that is an awesome feeling, like anything is possible.

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d3z
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D3Z  - Feb. 23, 2016, 4:42 a.m.

Word. Personally, I go down the 2nd-hand route. My current steed is a 2007 Santa Cruz VP-Free that kind of was ahead of its time when it came out (geometry-wise) and I got over 5 additional years of fun out of it since I bought it. I'm currently eyeing a 2012 Uzzi (of which many owners say it's the best Uzzi that was ever built) and I'm planning to shred the sh*t out of it until the end of the decade. By that time, used CC Nomads are probably around the $2000 mark as well… works quite well for me and at the same time, I am thankful for the hordes of dentists so willingly accepting over 50% depreciation of their once-new "sports equipment"… just sayin' 😉

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zigak
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ZigaK  - Feb. 23, 2016, 4:31 a.m.

I bought my second mountain bike in 1992, it was a khs, true temper triple butted steel frame with full xt 3×8, rigid fork, dia compe 986 brakes (still the best brakes I ever owned - in the dry and with straight rims) and piranha tires. Those tires were really good, but lasted, well a week. I rode it for 10 years, and it is still in my mind the best bike ever. It was certainly the most exciting inanimate object I ever got.
As you said it was still awesome in 1997. In 2000 I was in a shop asking how to upgrade to disk brakes, and the employee was genuinely appalled that my bike had rigid fork and canti brakes.

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Poz  - Feb. 24, 2016, 9:53 a.m.

Yes! I had an old KHS Comp, full rigid steel, and even added an anodized purple brake booster! Oh ya and bar ends, those rocked in purple. Lots of fond memories of that bike.

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slimshady76
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Luix  - Feb. 23, 2016, 4:17 a.m.

Marketing consists of creating a need where it wasn't one. This is what drives the sales of high-end bikes, along with the reviews of most cycling publications. Brand don't hand the media their mid pack/low level steeds, they lend their top-tiers and hope for an outstanding review, which is kind of natural if you roll on carbon hoops, carbon frame, etc (Again, NSMB has a long history of testing mundane models, and I thank you guys for that).

I think the turning point for exchanging a bike or component is when you feel it limits your riding experience. This is far from being what we might call "objective measuring units", but if you chill down and think of your last ride, I believe you might be surprised by how far you have gone with your current gear. Case in, the following paragraphs:

My two-cents-of-a-devaluated-peso: I live in Argentina. Thanks to a handful of contributing factors, bike gear, along with other "luxury" items, got hard to get down here. Prices went sky high, and availability was close to zero. Most brands opted for bringing down here what you guys up north would consider closeouts from two or three seasons ago, and we had to settle for that, unless we were able to travel outside the country. I replaced my previous bike (a 2007 Canondale Prophet) with a 2014 Orbea Rallón R4 I bought used last year. The Prophet would simply not be able to stand the beating of my newly acquired skills, no matter how I would try to improve it via components upgrade. Now, I knew in advance I would't be able to maintain a top-level bike even if I had the money to buy it in the first place, so I opted for the lower model which would still mind a significant improvement to my riding experience. Kind of what might happen if a middle class American buys a top-level Audi via a mortgage and then sees it fall apart because he can't afford the service rates and spare parts.

A year has almost passed since I took the Rallón home, and the lack of care from his previous owner, along with my own mix of balls-over-skills, meant the bike isn't in its most pristine condition anymore. The rims look like a lion's meal leftovers, some rocks have stroke the downtube, etc. I looked at it the other day and started thinking about a new wheelset. But after a few moments, I went to my shop/mancave, brought out the workstand and the spoke wrench, and worked the rims true again. Why would I replace a perfectly capable wheelset in need of some love, which is perfectly able to hold air when set up tubeless for months, and hasn't meant any obstacle in my progression so far? Just for aesthetic's sake? That might work for some guys I know (a friend replaced a set of XT cranks just because they shown shoe rub after two months), but not for me.

So, in a nutshell, next time you think your gear is limiting your progression, think twice. That itch in your pocket urging you to spend more money in supposed "upgrades" might find a greater mean in a bike trip with your buddies, or a night out with your significant other, just to set out a couple of common examples.

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tim-p
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Tim P  - Feb. 23, 2016, 6:24 a.m.

Agree completely. In South Africa we have the same problem - our currency is worthless in Euro/$ terms. I have been riding for over 20 years but have only owned 5 bikes in that time. Eventually when I started focusing on gravity oriented riding I went long travel and am on my second frame since 2013 but using the original components form the first trail bike. I find small improvements like tyres, chain guides and dropper posts make a huge difference, that and learning new skills.

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jonathan-harris
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Jonathan Harris  - Feb. 22, 2016, 10:09 p.m.

On fine form this week Uncle D. I hear you on the old Rockies, I used to lust over them through the window of a shop near Dorking (really) in the UK. Our university ride crew would often plan our route to pass by that store just for that reason.

My first boutique build was a custom built Ibis Alibi that was funded in part by my job at a local bike shop. I wish I hadn't sold that bike. It was a classic.

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