Aeffect R.JPG
EDITORIAL

What's Your Bare Minimum Mountain Bike?

Words Andrew Major
Photos Andrew Major (Unless Noted)
Date Feb 14, 2022
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XTR Or Bust

One of the many ways 2010 was interesting for me was that I owned more bikes in a short window of time than any year before or after. At one point there seemed to be a hole between my super light single speed XC rig and my Fox 40-equipped pedal and plunge freeride bike and I decided to plug it with a full suspension 29er trail rig. By "29er trail rig" I mean another over-forked XC machine with the wheelbase-reducing road bike head angle that was popular at the time.

Despite working full time in a shop and spending way too much money on bikes and flipping others, a fleet of three was a significant expenditure. Especially since my two main rides were sporting nice spec. My single speed had a lightweight build including a Syntace bar & stem and XTR brakes. My freeride rig was a Saint/XT drivetrain mix with Saint brakes, the Fox 40 and a custom DHX 5.0, Chris King wheels and 1.5" headset. For the first time since the dirt bag, used bike days of my youth, I found myself min-maxing some strategic upgrades to a full Shimano SLX bike. It was the first time in many years that I'd spent real time on a drivetrain that wasn't an XT or XTR equivalent and in 2010 the performance gap between Shimano's XTR systems and their lower level parts was significantly wider than it is today.

The only thing that was truly crap on the bike was the budget Easton XC-Two wheels, and I kept changes to a minimum. I swapped the big ring for a bash guard, installed a larger front rotor, a 40mm shorter stem and 40mm wider bar I already owned, and immediately ditched the Kenda Small Block 8 tires in favour of some Schwalbe Racing Ralphs. Maybe that sounds like a lot of stuff, but I'd have called it all standard changes to make an XC bike into a Shore-XC bike at the time.


It's XTR or BUST for me, if I had to ride that cheap crap I'd quit mountain biking. -Bike Shop Customer
Rocky Growler 20 NSMB AndrewM (13).JPG

I did a fair few rides on a 2020 Growler 20, and in that time I didn't ride with a single person whose suspension fork didn't cost more than the whole mountain bike. Photo: Mr. Lungtastic

Rocky Growler 20 NSMB AndrewM (3).JPG

All the noise. The non-clutched derailleur banged about like the ball bearings you stashed in your buddy's handlebar and had to be soft-pedaled back into gear after every rough descent. Photo: Mr. Lungtastic

To reiterate, this was Shimano's mid-level SLX drivetrain. Not the lower end Acera, Alivio, or Deore. Not the Shimano STX RC setup on my first real mountain bike. Still, I was quite pleasantly surprised with the results of my slumming it experiment and it became a talking point in the shop and over post-ride beers with friends. Not everyone was amused or enthused, with the prevailing sentiment being that a bike build for an experienced rider should start with Shimano XT or SRAM X9. A customer at the shop memorably remarked along the lines of: "It's XTR or BUST for me, if I had to ride that cheap crap I'd quit mountain biking."

Fast forward to 2017 and I was sat upon a Marin Hawk Hill full suspension bike that retailed for 1900 CAD. It was the first time since riding SLX in 2010 that I'd spent real time on a drivetrain that didn't hit the 'XT minimum.' It had a Deore clutch derailleur, a very basic suspension package consisting of an X-Fusion shock and RockShox fork, Shimano's cheapest hydraulic brake system, and no dropper post. The geometry was modern, with a 27"-wheeled, 120mm travel platform sporting a 67.5° headtube angle. The 2022 Rift Zone 27" is the obvious progeny with a nearly identical build and only a degree slacker HTA.

The Hawk Hill was very good for the price, particularly the rear suspension kinematics which Marin had tuned around the basic damper. I had a great deal of fun on it that included playing with a whole series of min-maxed upgrades. But even with those upgrades, folks were interested in talking about the bike but almost always its short comings rather than its strengths. The linkage driving the shock was two pieces instead of being a single unit or at least bolted together. The rear end used a 141mm QR instead of a 148mm thru-axle. Really heavy wheels, cranks, and cockpit. Basic brakes. That price point is only possible in shorter travel full suspension bikes due to the substantially higher cost of big bike worthy forks, brakes, and shocks. Again the sentiment emerged that it's nice that such a rig exists for other people, but it would never be on the radar of riders who had experienced much more advanced machines.

SR Suntour Durolux EQ RC2 NSMB AndrewM (24).JPG

The 800 USD | 1000 CAD Durolux EQ suspension fork isn't 'cheap' by any means but the performance to price ratio is arguably among the best on the market. Could it use a cosmetic upgrade? Yes. Can you buy this fork and go ride with your buddy on their sick looking EXT ERA fork that costs more than twice as much? Also yes.

Growler 20 2021 NSMB Deniz.jpg

This XCM 34 Coil fork makes noise at top out and bottom out, lacks adjustable rebound, and aside from some preload adjustment is one-spring-rate-suits-all. It's basic. It's an OE-only fork but you can buy a brand new takeoff for less than the routine service on the Durolux. It's solid and adds some traction and comfort but it's min-min at best. Photo: Deniz Merdano

MADE FOR FUN

I too prefer opulent micro-batch components over basic stamped out parts. Let there be no doubt that in choosing between two hubs with exactly the same level of engagement, cost no object, I'd jump on the interesting one with the small brand backstory. But I've found that in many cases my lust for luxury doesn't necessarily translate to more fun, or even more performance on the trail. The gap between riding experience, longevity, and even weight between boutique bits and basics has also closed substantially since I started mountain biking, to say nothing of the geometry gap.

Based on my experiences riding Rocky Mountain's latest Growler hardtails and Marin's Alpine Trail 7 and other budget-friendly bikes, it's safe to say that good geometry is now available outside of specific price levels. And so, when I ask you "what's your bare minimum mountain bike?" it's no longer a question of geometry. Whether you're riding a Growler or a Geometron, let's assume the frame is optimized for your application.

Under-biked, over-biked, or right in the sweet spot for your terrain and application? Suspension travel must be included in the pricing discussion. Suitable brakes for a more aggressive application cost more than basic ones but a Revelation RC and a longer travel Yari RC cost the same amount. A Domain RC isn't much more cash beyond that. For the sake of simplicity let's say the amount of travel you prefer doesn't come into play. I do, however, have friends who would give up mountain biking before they'd trade their full suspension for a hardtail.

gx-axs-launch-8.jpg

I've heard and read local riders opine that anything other than an AXS wireless drivetrain is for peasants. I can't argue that SRAM's wireless shifting isn't sweet, but I think it's fair to say the economics of AXS Eagle aren't for the mountain biking masses. Photo: Santa Cruz Bicycles

Banshee Titan NSMB Deniz Amajor (5).jpg

There is an increasing number of good budget drivetrains from an increasing number of companies, and I'll happily friction-thumbie an old 10-speed drivetrain for the rest of time. But only Shimano 12-speedDeore M6100 combines their current top tech with a more every-person price. Photo: Deniz Merdano

When I picture my own min-maxed hardtail, I always start with a Kona Unit or Honzo DL frameset, depending on if I'm thinking rigid or suspension fork. I add an Angleset, some Magura Trail Sport brakes, a Race Face Aeffect R crankset, and CushCore with aluminum rims. A 170mm PNW Rainier dropper can feel essential and other times I think I'd do just fine with a Chromag QR and a fixed post. On the Honzo I'd run a lowered SR Suntour Durolux or a RockShox Yari RC depending on how flush I imagine myself. I'd run i40 rims, a 2.6" rear tire and a 2.8" front and 29" hoops. Either way I'd have two drivetrains, a single speed setup and my Zee clutch derailleur powering through 5-7 cogs with my old Paul Thumbie.

On the full suspension front, lately I've been obsessed with used bikes. A 2014 Trek Slash with the DRCV shock swapped out for a coil? What about a 2015 Banshee Spitfire or Rune V2? I think back to the 2014 Kona Process 134 I reviewed. The chainstays are much shorter than I'd prefer and it doesn't take a water bottle in the main triangle, but that's an 8-year-old bike with legs. Angleset, mullet, RIDE! Starting with a used frame and a good used coil shock and otherwise building the bike with the setup from my hardtail I'm getting an epic amount of mountain bike for the budget.

But those are min-maxed rigs, not my bare minimum. And that's a harder conversation to have. I have a deep respect for highly upgradeable bikes like Rocky Mountain's 2022 Growler 20. But knowing what I know, could I be happy with a beyond basic non-adjustable coil sprung fork, lowest end hydraulic brakes that sell for less than replacement pads for high-end systems, and total sh*t rubber, on the same janky North Shore trails I love to ride, if that's all my budget allowed for? If I'm being totally honest, I would probably buy some good boots and get all my forest time in hiking. Just jump up another 500 CAD and the 2022 Growler 40 solves all my concerns except for brakes. Then jump up another level, and another level, and another level, and at some point the amount of money input is going to yield a bike free of compromises.

SR Suntour Tri Air NSMB AndrewM (2).JPG

To me, min-maxing is looking for products like this 536 CAD | 425 USD Tri Air. It gives up nothing, or next to nothing, in performance compared to premium shocks but comes in at a much lower price tag.

SR Suntour Edge NSMB AndrewM.JPG

On the other hand, my bare minimum for rear shock performance would be something like this 350 CAD | 280 USD Edge. The manufacturing quality is good, volume is adjustable, and there's a range of rebound damping.

New or used, hardtail or full suspension, I've come to the conclusion that if I needed to buy a mountain bike tomorrow it would cost me a few thousand dollars or I wouldn't bother. Even buying something more basic and upgrading the brakes, rubber, and contact points to my minimum level, I'm not getting out for less. It was an interesting thought exercise, and I'm a bit surprised to have come to that conclusion. It turns out that knowing what I know and having ridden what I've ridden, I can put a price of fun.

I'm still interested in testing $1000 hardtails and 2K full suspension bikes, and I've not committed myself to a life of carbon wheels and obscure unobtanium, but I have a newfound realization that there is a bottom-level bike, below which I'd pursue another activity.

Would you still ride if your only option was a basic mountain bike, hardtail or full-suspension, with a non-adjustable fork, the cheapest hydraulic brakes on the market, and plastic tires? If not, how much more would you have to spend to keep yourself in the saddle?

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Comments

Fasta_Pasta
Scott Jamieson
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+16 TristanC Andrew Major roil Sandy James Oates Greg Bly toddball fartymarty Andy Eunson JT mrbrett Poz Martin Velocipedestrian kcy4130 utopic firevsh2o

For me it's the MTI: Minimum Trust Index.

DT 370 wheelset? Perfectly fine to lose the star ratchet, those rims will take abuse. High MTI

GX/SLX: As long as it lasts 2 seasons and shifts reasonably, I'm fine. High MTI

Fancy ass wheels with proprietary spokes or nipples / Brakes that require a specialist to repair or bleed / Electronic ANYTHING that will die halfway through a 3 day epic: Low MTI.

Basically, if the parts/bike can stand up to the trails and tours I take it, without complaining too much, and can be repaired trail-side or at bare minimum by old Giuseppe who doesn't speak English in the only bike shop for 100 miles in the Dolomites, it gets a high MTI score and saves more bucks for those adventures.

Reply

fartymarty
fartymarty
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Andrew Major Velocipedestrian

I love the MTI concept - I use a bit of that crossed with some Min / Max.

Reply

tehllama42
Tehllama42
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Andrew Major cornedbeef

THIS nails it.  The most expensive part of the vehicle to fix is the stupid meat servo on top, so there are a *lot* of things worth spending a bit more on when you actually need to be in physically healthy enough shape to afford other parts of your life.  The failure modalities count too.
Protective gear, brakes, tires, and suspension simply aren't 'worth' saving money on anymore.  I should probably not use that to force justification on excessive bling, but honestly, in those areas, if I can prevent a single crash that would knock my productivity in any significant way, the performance upgrade is basically a free bonus.

Reply

eriksg
eriksg
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

The more I think about this issue of injury the more I think I'd be using the MTI and something else, maybe minimising the Overconfidence Index. Here's my thought:  I'd rather have a bike that reminds me to ride slower than a bike that gets me into bad situations and hangs me out to dry.

So the cheaper I try to go on tires, suspension, and brakes, the more apt I am to remove features that might encourage me to overstep and crash big. I'd take iffy brakes on a rigid which is going to hold me back via fear and discomfort alone from finding the limits of those brakes. Iffy suspension I think I'd pass on entirely.

Minimizing the Overconfidence Index means removing features, and letting the bike remind me what it can safely do.

Reply

tehllama42
Tehllama42
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 eriksg

I don't know how unique my experience with this is, but when I'm being stupidly overconfident, I will very reliably hurt myself, but typically not in the fashion that causes much more than a bruised ego, and maybe a limp that fades over the course of a week.
It's the random crashes that happen outside of that which seem like nothing right up until the point where everything goes wrong - those are the crashes I've learned to fear.

Reply

eriksg
eriksg
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

Yeah that does happen. I think my record may be about 50/50, but I definitely have had some surprise injuries and could-have-been-really-serious moments while just riding along. But I'm not sure I can address that fraction because they do seem so random.

The fraction I can maybe do something about is the fraction where I get in over my head. That's probably 85% a mental achievement, like letting go of ego. But I could see a place for the minimum MTB in that too.

Reply

velocipedestrian
Velocipedestrian
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

I agree with the confidence inspiring bike being hazardous - the first time I rode a DH bike it felt dull until I was going fast enough to scare me. Modern enduro bikes are similar. 

But my personal injury chart is stacked with silly stacks on easy tracks. The bikes I've binned usually haven't been at fault, I'm the weak link.

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Vik Banerjee

My risk assessment has changed quite dramatically lately, we'll see how it plays out in the future. I'm currently managing my worst "riding" injury ever... from stepping backward. It could be 9-months to a year or longer before I can "shred" mountain bikes again. It could be 4, 6, or more months before I can ride around the block. 

I've always been a rider who stuck to my limits - and progressed gradually - regardless of what bike I was riding. I mean yes, I've had days and weeks off here and there because shit happens, but I wish I had a proper crashing story to go with my time off the bike.

Reply

DanL
DanL
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

I hear you, it's confounding. Every risk management/riding technique I have still wouldn't have stopped a very minor get-off which is now going into it's 3rd month of rehab. On the other hand (pun not intended), I would rather that than falling head first down a rock slab that was on the same trail. But I would have probably been able to manage that using the aforementioned techniques in my toolbox.
Keep healing and writing.

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

I certainly feel thus way about protective gear. A nice light well vented full face I’m going to actually wear for trail riding is worth X over a basic bucket. With X having the potential to be a huge amount of money if the lid saves my face.

Reply

TristanC
TristanC
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

This is my approach, too. Tektro no-name hydraulic brakes? They've worked flawlessly through two and a half years of abuse without a single bleed. Novatec mystery rear hub? I would like to not velocipede 50 miles back to civilization, so that's getting swapped for a DT350.

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+4 toddball TristanC mrbrett tashi

But sir, clearly you don’t mean to opine against a gentle velocipeding in the lasted tweed fashions.

Reply

TristanC
TristanC
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Andrew Major tashi

Of course not, my good man. I simply prefer scheduled velocipede expeditions over unscheduled. Adequate preparation is vital for a refreshing velocipede session.

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 TristanC tashi

Indubitably. One must first prepare for timely tea and scrumpets on their return.

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

I like the MTI score! And of course there’s the distance-from-home and the physical-consequences-of-failure factors too.

Reply

Vikb
Vik Banerjee
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+6 Andrew Major Allen Lloyd yardrec mrbrett Martin Geof Harries

I don't need a lot of fancy tech. I do want a safe/fun machine to ride that doesn't need a ton of maintenance to keep running. With the right geo and decent tires a SS rigid MTB would be fine. I need reliable brakes, but they don't have to be super powerful hydros. Flat pedals with enough grip to work with some hiking boots. Mudhugger-esque fenders, high rise bars and a dropper would be nice, but not essential. 

If money was my limiting factor I'd hike or trail run in the forest and save up for a reasonable mountain bike. If I couldn't afford a mountain bike, but I could afford some trail runners I'd still be having a blast in the forest. It would just be different.

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+3 Vik Banerjee yardrec Martin

One truth is though, that due to production numbers, a hardtail with a basic but rideable suspension fork and multi speed drivetrain with a clutch costs less than a rigid single speed with the same (good) geometry and rideable tires.

That could change if a big brand got on board.

Certainly hiking / walking would also be my transportation through the woods if I couldn’t afford my bare minimum mountain bicycle.

Reply

Vikb
Vik Banerjee
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Andrew Major Greg Bly

It depends if by "minimum" you mean the least technology or the least cost. They can be totally different things. I'd rather have a quality bicycle with the least technology than the cheapest bicycle with modern technology.

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Vik Banerjee

Fair. I was certain thinking minimum as in cheap v. minimum as in minimalist. You know how happy I am (when I can ride) with no suspension and one gear.

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

"the least technology or the least cost"

This is an interesting thought experiment.

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

"the least technology or the least cost"

This is an interesting thought experiment.

Reply

kavurider
KavuRider
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Andrew Major ElBrendo

Oh man, I still want a Stooge.  

I talked to the builder last year and was on the list for one, but build times got pushed back and I had other priorities.

Reply

fartymarty
fartymarty
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+3 Andrew Major ElBrendo Vik Banerjee

I'll join you in the Stooge queue.

I just re-read Morgan's Stooge article on Radavist the other day.  Such a great looking simple bike.

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+3 Vik Banerjee yardrec Martin

It's crazy how bikes like the Stooge (or Kona Unit) were such niche machines and now it's a year wait to get one. I know it's easy to just blame Covid but in this case, there's a lot more going on. 

I was communicating with Andrew from Stooge after my 2021 Best Of - Rise Of Rigid went live and he mentioned in 2017 a run of 100 framesets took two years to sell and his last batch was gone in under an hour. That's incredible.

------

As an aside, imagine if Surly actually used their booked factory time to make rigid frame-forks with aggressive mountain biking geometry?

Reply

yardrec
yardrec
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+4 Velocipedestrian Andrew Major goose8 Martin

Non-suspension corrected 64 HTA Krampus with loads of warts.

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+3 yardrec Vik Banerjee Martin

Yep. Don’t know why it doesn’t already exist.

fartymarty
fartymarty
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 yardrec Vik Banerjee

Sign me up for a Prog Krampus.

Surly's have never had the most progressive geo.  I would happily take a Krampus with a 66-67 HA and then slap a -2 in it and worry about the low BB later.

Vikb
Vik Banerjee
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

Hopefully batches are bigger going forward. I have yet to manage  to buy a Stooge product directly from Stooge.

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Vik Banerjee

I think it comes down to manufacturing capacity for nice steel frames. Same issue many bike companies are having. Especially as steel is coming back in popularity (best for the environment? who cares about weight? Skinny tube Aesthetic is the opposite of e~bikes? I don’t know why).

tehllama42
Tehllama42
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+6 Andrew Major DrSK Mark Andy Eunson goose8 kcy4130

Forgot one thing: the FAT TAX. It's a bit of an outside case, and hit especially hard because I'm such a cheapskate, but there is a rider mass threshold at which there are imposed price floors.
If you're over 100kg and athletic, to put it very simply, cheap coil forks, basic frames, and budget machine built wheels simply won't work... and don't get me started on brakes.  I annihilated two square cranksets and knocked out around 5 rear tire tubes before I accepted that I'd have to spend over $1200 USD (in 2013 money) to actually participate in mountain biking, instead of being an overencumbered hiker.  I'm entirely confident that I could still put a $600 hardtail into an inoperable state after a single ride, and honestly to properly experience a mountain bike ride as most people get to enjoy on the same hardware required spending twice as much.  

Now that I'm running all carbon everything with 200mm brake rotors, most of those things I'm probably never going back just due to personal income growth.... honestly I think the generational improvements on things like drivetrains and frames are such that I probably will come down from the XT level spec and top end carbon frame on stuff with my next bike to make more space for the parts I've discovered matter a whole lot more (suspension tuning and brakes), and particularly stop seeking weight targets if it means I'm taking any durability hits. I'm just at the absurd point where my income outstrips my ability to demand greater performance from my hardware, which is equal parts tragic as it is liberating.

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 DrSK

In the bad-and-good old days, folks used to talk about "Clydesdale" builds. There were a lot of parts from rims, to cranks, to bars, that simply were not an option for riders over a certain combination of weight and aggression.

Reply

tehllama42
Tehllama42
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Mark

This is an area where eMTB has been an absolute boon for me - suddenly the actual vehicle mass in question and abuse/wear cycle makes sense again.  I did have to run a 'clyde build' for a while (MTX33's and stuff on a 120mm XC_Trail bike and the like), but at this point Enduro themed stuff will actually work perfectly well for my trail use.

Reply

tehllama42
Tehllama42
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Mark

I think the canonical answer to that question is asking if somebody would rather just walk the same trail than traverse it on that bike.  For us bigger boiz, that isn't a philosophical question, just an acceptance of inevitability at some level, that if we tried riding it, we might end up in a situation where walking the rest of the way is a best possible outcome.
I picture that in terms of whether I had the chance to rent a bike at a destination in an interesting locale (where I couldn't have brought a bike), and if even at that lower (price) threshold, would I choose to talk or not.  Still a huge amount of first world privilege leaking through that viewpoint, but it is what it is.

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

This comment has been removed.

nothingfuture
nothingfuture
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+4 Andrew Major Allen Lloyd Greg Bly utopic

I was riding a 26" hardtail with a 110mm stem and no dropper post up until two years ago, so that still feels like kinda minimum-viable to me.

I'll say this: the metric we hold ourselves to plays a massive role in what minimum viable is. If you're racing- or, I suppose, generally interested in competitive rides- that's going to reward a certain kind of thinking about gear. If you're interested in "pushing the boundaries" of the sport, that's going to have a different kind of impact.

Neither of those are me- I'm interested in riding alone on janky technical and (typically) low-speed trails. I'm not chasing Strava segments or trying to keep up with riders 20 years younger than me. My only metric is having fun and continuing to progress as a rider- and that informs my choices.

To be specific: I won't cheap out on tires or rims. I've usually run high-end drivetrains (XT has been my go-to for years, but that's mostly about longevity of the parts), but I'll happily ride lower end (while knowing it won't last as long). I want really good brakes- but I've found that a good combination of the correct pads, bleeding, and rotor size make massive differences, so the (several) sets of M755 brakes I have are (still) MV for me.

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 nothingfuture

Brakes and tires (and min-maxing in general) are so dependent on terrain and sport surface. Some places it may make more sense to invest more in weight savings or better shifting. 

M755 with big rotors, in good condition, will get the job done though!

Reply

nothingfuture
nothingfuture
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

Honestly, my trick with M755's is as follows:

1. Use EBC Red pads. They seem to last as long as "regular" pads but they bite way, way harder.

2. Big Boi 203 rotor up front 'cause I'm a big boi and that's how things be.

3. Be patient bleeding them.

That's it. I'm on Deore M6120's right now (with a 203 up front) and they're... fine? I'll be eager to swap pads to something more aggressive when I cook these.

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Greg Bly

I say this regularly in hopes it will someday happen - but after many years I doubt it - but I’d like to try Shimano four-piston calipers mates to their non-ServoWave XT T-8000 Trekking levers. Super long blades, no random bite point.

Reply

tashi
tashi
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Andrew Major Dan

Interesting idea, I wonder if you can get those levers on their own. 

I kinda like long blade levers still, something to consider next time a shimano lever craps out on me.

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 tashi Dan

You can order them on their own. T-8000.

tehllama42
Tehllama42
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

Spot on - the cheapest way to nudge marginally adequate brakes into usable brakes is with giant platters of brake disks, especially on the front..
I'm able to make my Xt-8000's work as all-mountain brakes because of the big boi rotors out front, and updating the brake pads.
For my part, I wish Shimano would just keep making Saint brakes without any updates/upgrades/changes, just because that's still the gold standard for me if you want all the power at 3/4 of the lever travel.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

Saints were good until I tried other stuff. I mean, they’re still good but there are other better options I think.

While not the most powerful or lightest action option, I’m surprised more folks planning around long ownership cycles don’t try the Cura4. 

Going to do a 2-year review update and rebuild on my set in the spring.

Reply

tehllama42
Tehllama42
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

Yeah, really looking forward to that.
I know Saints are far from the greatest, especially in the modulation department (hence the above backhanded compliment), but in terms of brakes I know I can get parts for locally that meet the bill of stopping a 150kg vehicle, those are on the list especially if I can find some taken off a complete bike in good shape.
I figure I should probably look as hard at boutique brakes as I do at boutique suspension, since I've already implicitly accepted having some supply chain constraints at maintenance intervals... loose over hardpack is absolutely unforgiving about brake modulation anyway.

dan
Dan
4 months, 1 week ago
0

Glad I scrolled down this far as I have had brakes on the brain for a few weeks. I currently run two-piston XTs on my ‘21 Slash. 203 rotor up front, 180 out back*. I’m a bigger rider at 6’5” and 225# and I am all but convinced my next upgrade is four-pot Shimano calipers. So I couple of questions: what is meant by “I wish Shimano would just keep making Saints without updates/upgrades/changes”? I thought they had not changed at all since they were first released, an assumption held (or perhaps just shared) by Ryan Palmer in a very recent post on BETA. Also, in the same article he claims that current M8020 XTs are just repainted Saints. I trust he’s right but has anyone else ever heard that? Apparently the lever feel is different between the models but it sounds like the calipers are the same. Which gets me thinking, how different - if at all - are the SLX four pots from the (four piston) XTs? And isn’t there a non-series four piston below that? Lastly and most importantly, am I giving anything up by running my 11sp era levers with four-piston stoppers? What’s the ideal min-max here? I am perfectly happy with the non-series or SLX stuff if it’s going to perform the same. 

*I’m open to any feedback about going +1 on either or both of these rotors, as well.

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kavurider
KavuRider
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+4 Andrew Major Cooper Quinn Lynx . kcy4130

Well, I am finally able to afford a nice bike now, and I love my SB165.  i9 hydra/carbon wheelset, Eagle drivetrain, Push shock.  But I have always had a small collection of "vintage" bikes going as well.  Right now, it is a 2001 Rocky Mountain Pipeline, a 1998 Rocky Mountain Hammer and a KHS Dominatrax.  And I love riding all of them as well.  I have taken the Hammer out with my buddy who rides an eBike and had a blast with it.  It is currently running Microshift Advent 9, some old Mavic Crossmax wheels, 1.95 tires (with tubes!) and a Marzocchi EXR Pro fork.  Just a way different ride than my Yeti.  My friends shake their heads, as they are of the "XTR or bust" category.  

I bought the Hammer for $75.  Put maybe another $200 into it and I have just as big a smile on my face riding it as I do with the Yeti.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

That brings back memories. Is the KHS dual 26” or do you have a 24x3”’out back? Orange and black colour? DNM fork or do you have a Shiver or Monster T?!

Pics?!

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kavurider
KavuRider
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+3 Andrew Major Greg Bly kcy4130

Here you go.  Bombshell fork, dual 26. I have a 24" arrow racing rim ready to be built up and eBay has 3.0 Halo tires.  Just got some new brake lines for it.  If it doesn't kill me should be fun to ride!  Everything on it actually works, barn find.  

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

That's almost exactly what I was picturing except with Nokian Gazzaloddi tires (there has to be a warehouse full of them somewhere?). 

What cranks are those?

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kavurider
KavuRider
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

If there is I would love to find it!

Rockwerks!

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martin
Martin
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+3 Andrew Major FlipSide HughJass

It depends for how long I would have to ride the BMMB

When I'm not riding my main bike, I have an old '09 Rocky Mountain Reaper hardtail that I bought pretty beat-up for 100$ a few years ago.  Tektro cable disc brakes, i19 rims, 8 year-old 60a Minion DHR IIs, coil-sprung-and-damped Rock Shox Dart 100mm fork. After a complete overhaul and a few left over parts swaps from other bikes (SLX 11 spd drivetrain, RF Chester crank, Tranz-X dropper post), I surprisingly take it out very often when I just want simplicity or an added challenge when riding with slower friends.

The only thing that I can't stand if the harsh fork top-out when lifting up the front wheel so I might install a rigid fork or another cheap suspension fork at some point. A dropper changes everything, and I had forgotten how annoying dropping the chain was. A clutch derailleur is another necessity for me on a BMMB.

Honestly, it doesn't take much to get me out riding and have fun. The look that people give when riding this bike on real trails is also an exercice in ego-management haha! The '18 Marin Rift Zone 1 I had was a perfect budget bike that would satisfy so many people before they fall into the never-ending upgrade trap. If I could only have one bike, it would probably be a modern hardtail like the Honzo with a Deore 12 spd drivetrain and a mid-priced fork.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+3 goose8 Martin finbarr

The never ending upgrade trap would actually be a great article topic. 

Clutch derailleur is a necessity for me as well with budget gear. Super high-end pre-clutch derailleurs have a decent amount of spring tension but basic non-clutch derailleurs are frustrating. 

Been pretty impressed with Box and Microshift on the BMMB level.

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T-mack
T-mack
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+3 Andrew Major Pete Roggeman Greg Bly

This article reminds me of a few years back, maybe 8? I bought a brand new full suspension 29er for $1800. Full SLX drivetrain, ardent tires, Fox 34 and some non piggy back fox shock with a lockout that never worked. I only changed the stem to a Straitline and Sixc bar If I remember correctly. I purposely ran the Ardents and never upgraded the small rotors (160?) out of spite, my friends would hassle me about it EVERY RIDE. I just kept riding the same bike. I actually look back fondly on that old ride, it didn't give me any trouble, I ticked some big moves off on that bike (Grin n Holler jumps among others) and was terrified the whole time lol. That bike proved to me that you dont need the expensive stuff, but the expensive stuff is sure nice to have.

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tashi
tashi
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+3 Andrew Major Tehllama42 Dan

Glad to know I wasn’t the only one thrashing Ardents just to defy those who claimed they couldn’t be thrashed.

(CrossMarks as well for me. No one understood how they did so well, even me.)

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tehllama42
Tehllama42
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Andrew Major tashi

I'm still running Asspens on a hardtail on trails I see most people riding enduro bikes on.  Just because it's achievable doesn't mean it's optimal... but definitely hilarious when some guys realize what I'm using to stay glued to their rear wheel.

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tashi
tashi
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Dan

Yeah, you just gotta use a skiddy/slidey cornering technique with a fast rear tire.

(And not expect to  get much braking sometimes.)

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

Crossmark in the rear no problem, up front though? AHHHH. I ran dual Racing Ralphs for years (I mean there were no good 29'er tires until 2012) but they were somehow less terrifying down steep stuff than that Crossmarks.

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tashi
tashi
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Tehllama42

OH GOD NO, NOT UP FRONT.

(Think I ran a Big Ardent/Big CrossMark combo in the summer for a while.  Shockingly effective and quite fast.)

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tehllama42
Tehllama42
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

I've ran those up front. Needless to say, that bike was relegated to monstercross and road duty after the first completely random lowside because I had the gall to enter a turn at speed.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

This comment has been removed.

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

This comment has been removed.

Lynx
Lynx .
4 months, 1 week ago
0

Ardent vs Crossmark, I'll take the Crossmark and be happy any day, fvck the Ardents, had 2 not so nice high sides due to their block design.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

I mean, you could have upgraded the tires and rotors!!! But, you would have had to do them at the same time… hahaha.

“That bike proved to me that you dont need the expensive stuff, but the expensive stuff is sure nice to have.”

That sums it up for me. I have to manage my lust for luxury parts by reminding myself to min-max based on how much better they perform or how much residual joy the objects bring me.

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4Runner1
4Runner1
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+3 Andrew Major Karl Fitzpatrick Tremeer023

My minimum has always been the bike I could afford to ride at the time. I’ve had super gucci builds and rigid bikes with v brakes. They’ve all served the same purpose - get me into the trees and riding trails.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 4Runner1 Cooper Quinn

I guess it depends on who you’re riding with and the bare minimum trail you want to tackle as much as money. Certainly for solo jaunts into nature I’ve never owned a bad bike.

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mayberex
Mario S
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+3 4Runner1 Andrew Major roil

I can't define the minimum but you know it when you see it, when you're just like, uhhh no im not riding that

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

Turning wrenches, there's a surprisingly defined line between performance issues - like tires with the knobs falling off - and dangerous situations, like cracked handlebars. 

I figure if I'm willing to test ride it in the parking lot then it's okay for gravel and light trail.

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cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

Ah, just like pornography!

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cheapondirt
cheapondirt
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+3 Andrew Major Greg Bly kcy4130

I've owned my share of "mountain bike shaped objects" and enjoyed every single one. The thing is, I didn't know better. Downgrading is a lot harder than enjoying something you naively think is pretty great.

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jt
JT
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+3 Andrew Major Martin Rick M

On a group ride of the local in town dirt a couple years back we ran into a guy who used to work at one of the non-profit shops. He was riding a pretty haggard Trek 700, V brakes, mostly bald back 'urban' tire, no suspension (not even from the suspension post the bike was equipped with). We weren't going full tilt, but we weren't slacking either. He jumped in with us and hung, laughing pretty much the whole time at how fun the ride was and only a touch winded at the end. Sure, the trails are tame compared to the places I generally like to go to, but that stuck with me. Whenever I get the feeling that I 'need' more and/or better, I try to keep that memory in front with Fugazi's Merchandise providing the soundtrack to it.

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eriksg
eriksg
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Andrew Major Pete Roggeman

The bike I put together out of my dad's old K2 Zed 2.0 still puts a smile on my face. Random Tektro rim brake rear. Avid mechanical front on a Mantiou Markhor to replace the ancient and horrid RST whatever it was. 50-ish mm stem and a 740 bar, and a Brand-X externally routed dropper. Microshift Advent 9 with SX cranks on a splined BB. Currently sports some new Conti rubber, but I had plenty of fun on decade old WTB Velociraptor tires. It's plenty for tame hiking trails in the North East US, which is all I rode for years. And I suppose until recently I could have gone back to that if needed.

But it has always been a second bike. A bike I ride when I go visit my folks. Last time I was there I ate dirt three times because I tried to ride it like my modern hardtail and got in over my head (early enough, luckily, that we both walked away without any damage). Could I really live with it as my only ride, for my daily trails? I'm honestly not sure any more . . .

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

Oh, even some of the nice bikes I’ve owned would be comparatively terrifying now - geo, tires, brakes. The performance wouldn’t come close to my minimum now!

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velocipedestrian
Velocipedestrian
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Andrew Major Karl Fitzpatrick

Tough question.

I've had a great time riding with my daughter on tame singletrack on my rigid SS - cheap wheels, pre-servo wave 755 brakes, kenda k-rad tyres, no dropper... In that context (trying to match her bike) it's super fun. 

I'd like to think I'd still ride for my own fun with that level of gear, but it's hard to judge the tint of my glasses while wearing them. 

Going to keep believing if I could add better rubber, geometry (you said I could), and bigger wheels I'd be on a sub $1k machine and enjoying it.

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GiveitsomeWelly
Karl Fitzpatrick
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+3 Andrew Major goose8 DanL

Trying to match their bike is why I still sometimes ride this thing...

On flat rides around the neighbourhood it also puts us at a similar height for quality grom bants.

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velocipedestrian
Velocipedestrian
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Karl Fitzpatrick

Classic!

Whakarewarewa SS racing?

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GiveitsomeWelly
Karl Fitzpatrick
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

That's the bugger. 30 something km in that position and my back is still not quite right haha.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Karl Fitzpatrick

Like the wide bar upgrade!

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GiveitsomeWelly
Karl Fitzpatrick
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

It's got a slightly higher rise now. 😬

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

If the Growler 20 came with a rigid fork and 2.8” tires for the same price that could be my minimum for most stuff?! Maybe? It’s hard to say, as you say, with the luxury of choice. I’m enjoying the responses.

When i bought my Redline Monocog in 2001 it fit the bill (rigid single speed) but now because of manufacturing volume you can get a hardtail with a decent drivetrain and usable suspension fork for less than a rigid one speed of similar quality.

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alexdi
Alex D
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Andrew Major DC

I have more money than time, so I'm all-in on fancy stuff. These days, it mostly cuts weight, and that helps compensate for my weekend-warrior level of fitness. I also like to know that my experience is the best it can be. While it's fun to contemplate the next upgrade, I prefer not to think about that while I'm riding.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Cooper Quinn

Yeah, I have nothing against any of that - absolutely ride the nicest machine in your budget / of your preference.

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Kenny
Kenny
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Andrew Major ElBrendo

I've been thinking about this from a slightly different place, one Andrew may reach soon if he hasn't already- kids bikes. Almost it's own article. What's the minimum you'd let your kid ride on the shore? 

My kid is 9, and a fairly big 9 year old at that. 

He's going to outgrow his 24+ commencal Ramones and I'm trying to accept that bike ($550 lightly used from PB) was probably the last time I could buy him a "good" bike that was well below $1000. 

If we lived in Saskatchewan or LA, I'd probably just get him a wal mart bike. But every time his bike has gotten better, he's gotten better, and had more fun. He's not a serious rider but in a way that actually compels me to find him something decent. 

So to downgrade him from a disc braked  24+ commencal to a 26 or 27.5 POS from Canadian tire seems a step in the wrong direction. 

Covid supply chain doesn't help. It may make sense to buy an XS Frame and build him something.  It's a tricky one. I feel like if I can sort him out for less than 2k, that'll be about the best I can do. Less than 1500 is probably not happening.

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mhaager2
Moritz Haager
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Andrew Major ElBrendo

Kids bikes is such a great topic to bring up.  I think it's a space where there is a ton of room for improvement in what's on offer. I mean even just getting decent rubber can be a huge challenge. Unfortunately the prices are a huge barrier I suspect for many families. It's going to be really hard for anyone not really in the know to walk past the Canadian tire bikes and splurge 1500 on a decent bike. I kinda feel like it's an area bike companies should be looking at to try  and get prices down more.  After all getting them hooked on MTB now makes for a supply of future big spenders.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

I think that a few companies (Scott, Trek) had the right idea with their rigid Plus-bike concept for 20" and 24" wheeled bikes. The rigid forks are lighter and the tires do as much as a cheap, heavy, unserviceable kids' fork anyway. In theory, it also frees up money to be spent elsewhere on the bike. 

I think there's huge potential to min-max kids' mountain bike rigs. For example, spec much smaller chainrings that will work with basic 5spd drivetrains to give kids gears, they need for climbing instead of a bunch they don't even use on the road. 

It's an area of deep interest for me. This spring/summer I'm planning to put together a commuter/city/gravel rig for my daughter for riding around and locking up at school and it'll hopefully be a chance to visit these ideas. 

-----

Her mountain bike is Gucci. But we did pull in a lot of older used parts - including the drivetrain - which both saved money and provided significantly better shifting than cheaper new parts. I tell all my friends to reach out to the DINKS in their lives and find out what they have squirreled away they'll never use again (Guide brakes, old 9-speed drivetrain, nice rigid post, 31.8 stem, 160mm rotors). Trade for beer, or actually, a lot of folks I know who don't have kids are still stoked to see groms out on bikes.

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DrSK
DrSK
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

Norco seem to do an amazing job on kids bikes.

New 20" 6 speed for my daughter for $380. Other brands spending nearly triple.

Only upgrade was a 20" Minion up front to deal with our sandy rocky trails on descents. And low pressure to take out the chatter as suspension doesn't work for her yet. 

My 6yo is stoked. Doing up to 10km off road. And if we have a big descent, I help by towing her out.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 ElBrendo

I can’t I imagine buying my kid a department store bike, but certainly a basic machine with a rigid fork and rim brakes would be my bare minimum some places. 

Less than $1500 is a tough go new or used by the time it has proper tires, pedals, and is running well. I’m a big fan of raiding my friends (especially the ones who raided me for their kids in the past). 

For example, you can buy a bike with crappy cable actuated discs if a friend is gifting you the guides from their spares bin.

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cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Andrew Major 4Runner1

I could get by on this, I think. 

https://nsmb.com/articles/2021-canyon-stoic-4/

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4Runner1
4Runner1
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Andrew Major Cooper Quinn

Agreed. Also really dig the Devinci Kobain Deore. Tons of fun for $2500. Might go that route for next winter.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 4Runner1

I dig the Kobain! Fork is the Z2 so decent and you can upgrade the internals if you want. My only beef is the RT26 rotors - even when they spec 6-bolt they shaft you with the “resin only” setup.

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4Runner1
4Runner1
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

It’s tough to beat for value. Upgrade those rotors / pads and still come in under the top Growler. 

Plus, my wife rides a Django Deore so I’ve really come to appreciate Devinci’s build choices. Nothing fancy, but so competent. Hard to feel a difference between Deore and SLX.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 4Runner1

Yeah, geo’s good and actually the 11-spd Deore build with the RockShox 35 is pretty killer value too.

I don’t know what percentage of the frame manufacturing is Canadian - bike build, frame paint, welding, machining, tube manufacturing - but it’s nice that there’s some level. 

It’s been on my list of hardtails I’d love to test for a while now. I’ll definitely follow up when I can ride again.

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JBC
Jordan Drew
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Andrew Major Greg Bly

For me, what I would be willing to ride, from a cash outlay perspective, is very different depending on if I am buying used or new. 

Limited to new bikes, and assuming I do not currently own a mountain bikes, my minimum would be about a $2000 hardtail or $4000 full suspension. Something like the Growler 40 would probably be enough bike for me to do everything I need to do on a mountain bike to justify owning one, and I could live with having to skip some of the gnarlier lines I hit on my Ripmo AF.

If we are talking used, things get a bit more interesting. As a former bike mechanic, and being the type of person that gets a kick out of making do on outdated,sketchy equipment, I would be willing to start with considerably less. Give me $1000 initial budget and one week, and I could probably cobble something together I would happily take to the trails.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+6 DC Martin Metacomet Greg Bly Velocipedestrian ElBrendo

I’m going to be doing some more stuff in theme of Buy The Bike You Already Own this year that hits on that theme. 

Used bike/bike you own + upgrades v. new bike. Even with the used market being a bit looney toons the new bike prices compared to a couple years ago make it ripe for min-maxing.

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tehllama42
Tehllama42
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

This is the content I want more of - a thought, how much utility would there be in crowdsourcing some of those ideas?
Having user submitted 'buy this not that' types of things, that you can evaluate and either approve of, or utterly lambast for their comical absurdity?

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

Arguably, folks here make excellent, intelligent, use of the comments for that, but yes, there will certainly be a participation factor after submission #1.

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JPostuk
Jerek Postuk
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Andrew Major Max Nodwell

For absolute minimum it totally depends on terrain. For me to keep up with my current riding group on the terrain i typically ride I could get by with a hardtail with a wide range drivetrain, decent hydraulic brakes, a fork with some adjustability, and good tires. Just to go out and have fun on trails the requirements drop significantly. I've been looking at building an xc/gravel bike out of an old hybrid frame. This build would be single speed, have canti brakes, and no suspension. Good tires is my only non-negotiable on a bike.

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smoochy
Max Nodwell
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

This is a great response. I’ve had phases where my only bike was a rigid single speed (typically XC-oriented) and it really inhibited my ability to keep up with friends either on steep climbs, long rides or gnarly descents - so I was a solo rider, nursing the limitations of my one-bike choices.

Now I’m still a one-bike wonder, but with gears and suspension - this make my range way wider and I can join friends or groups without reservation.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Max Nodwell

In my Chameleon MX review, I'm looking at the concept of MB-1 (vs. N+1) and what folks are looking for in a "one" mountain bike situation. If that situation is XC, DH, Pumptrack, and Enduro Racing v. riding with the same folks, on the same trails, on the same mountain all the time. 

Out of curiosity, what are you riding? Multiple wheelsets or just one?

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smoochy
Max Nodwell
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

Pipedream Moxie, one wheelset. I had a Chromag Surface Ti for a couple of years, but the Moxie is a winner both for fit and ride quality if not versatility. A bit more fork (150mm up to 160mm) that I’m ambivalent about, and a heavier frame, but it does everything I need on the Island and beyond. I’m just a general/all-around trail rider, so pressing this into XC or enduro or whatever is just fine - although there are still some limits - ie: Moxie wouldn’t be a great pumptrack bike, or DH sled.

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andy-eunson
Andy Eunson
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Andrew Major Martin

Bare minimum involves a lot of things. I like strong DH brakes these days but I don’t get too upset over which brakes I have. I like the feel of Shimano brakes so that’s what I run. I think Kashima is bullshit and I get lost with too many adjustments so I’m happy with lower level forks. I find frequent maintenance is more important to feel than fiddling with knobs. I’m happy with aluminum components too. Carbon while often a bit lighter feels the same to me so I won’t go out of my way to pay extra for something has little actual benefit. I hate cheap tires. I like a dropper that is reliable and that I can work on easily in my home shop. I don’t care if it’s press fit or threaded as long as it’s reliable. I tend not to buy products with infantile names like Spank or Surly. I’ll stick with name brands that have a good reputation and avoid those that have earned a poor reputation.  I’ve been burned more than once by products that claimed certain benefits that don’t pan out at all. I hope I’ve become more discerning in my purchases but I do get suckered by pretty stems and the like. I like XT or XO1 level shifters and derailleurs because I ring them more durable. The more steel a cassette has the better. Give me top level chains though because they last longer for me. And I’ve paid extra for Shimano polymer cables because I have had bikes with the shittiest cable runs.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+3 Greg Bly Andy Eunson Velocipedestrian

There’s simply no excuse for some of the after-thought cable routing out there on premium bikes. Some designers clearly NEED wireless shifting in their bikes.

I’ll add that to my minimum - at minimum I need a bike where the designer actually thought about what it was going to be like to work on.

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mhaager2
Moritz Haager
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Andrew Major Andy Eunson

Lol. This has to be one of the better responses here.

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Ripbro
Ripbro
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Andrew Major Martin

I’ve always been happy with whatever bike I’ve purchased. The last couple have been ~ 3000-4000 CAD full suspension bikes. I use what’s on the bike until it wears out. These days I’d have a hard time spending more money on a drive train then what’s offered in 12 speed Deore.  The only time I’ve upgraded a component is to get a better bike fit example handlebar rise.  I have resisted the urge to upgrade to higher engagement hubs because everyone says once you go high engagement you don’t go back. So I just haven’t went…

I currently have code RSC brakes, however I don’t need them. They are simply nice to have and I bought them used pre-pandemic for 250 CAD for the set. I’m sure a pair of cheaper maguras or Deores would do the job fine.

I am coil curious on both ends. I am currently running DVO, which is apparently coil close, but not quite there. Again this isnt out of need, but instead out of curiosity. 

I will always ride a bike instead of wear a pair of hiking boots, no matter what type of bike it is. Full stop. Bikes are always more fun.The idea that someone would give up biking because a bike didn’t meet their minimum components spec is quite frankly mind boggling.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Ripbro

I couldn’t see not owning a bike, but I do have to say that I thought the same as you until I really started to think about my expectations and the trails I want to ride.

Companies could easily build a min-maxed bike that I would ride for less if they wanted to, but I have a hard time seeing myself riding what I want to ride for less than 2-3K on a hardtail.

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metacomet
Metacomet
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Andrew Major Velocipedestrian

This theme is kind of better asked as a two part question. 

One question is about what is your bare minimum trail/riding style before you lose interest. Id say you can get away with a pretty low-end bike as long as you keep it on the low-end trails and riding speeds. But the idea of essentially downgrading your abilities and giving up your relatively safe/reliable access to more advanced terrain is a difficult pill to swallow. 

And the second question is what is the bare minimum type of bike/equipment could you safely/repeatably/reliably use, without forfeiting the terrain and style you are currently comfortable riding. This minimum should also still allow for riding progression without requiring you to constantly repair or replace parts.

Drivetrain is pretty easy. Really doesn't matter a whole hell of a lot anymore as there are good and reliable options at pretty budget levels.  

Frame could for sure be a robust enough and well designed steel or aluminum hardtail.  

I think the most complicated parts of this question are brakes, rear hub, and a fork that isn't actively gonna kill you or blow up every time you ride it. Tires are UBER important, but they're also the most frequently replaced wear item and the price differences arent SO enourmous so they kind of get a pass. Run what you want to run. Contact points and bar preferences are more personal of course, but they dont need to be bling to work in a way that doesn't hold you back or threaten your well being. Rims/wheels need to be up to the task, but they dont need to be anything crazy. Good alloy rims arent exactly cheap either though and will need replacing at some point. 

The sum of all these parts definitely puts the price up in the thousand(s)ish range, but it doesnt have to be in the MANY thousands range. 

I experienced a bit of this myself when my primary bike was stolen, and all I was left to ride in the interim 5-6 months was my Rocky Mountain Blizzard fatbike. I was pretty terrified to have only my fatbike to ride during the summer to try and keep up with friends and still enjoy more gnarly terrain. Some adjustments to riding style and expectations needed to be made obviously, but I got by surprisingly fine once I adapted to riding it, and honestly had a Lot of fun on it. Essentially Just a basic but serviceable hardtail with good enough brakes, good gear range, and a barely but more or less a good enough RS Bluto fork.

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velocipedestrian
Velocipedestrian
4 months, 1 week ago
+2 Andrew Major Metacomet

Good point on giving up terrain. My earlier post had me happy on the rigid I've been riding with the kids, but I'm not taking that down the chunkier, steeper terrain I enjoy.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 1 week ago
+1 Metacomet

Absolutely. What's the minimum (cost) bike I could ride the minimum terrain I'd be happy riding.

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DancingWithMyself
DancingWithMyself
4 months, 1 week ago
+2 Andrew Major Velocipedestrian

Great article, but PUH-LEASE.  Everybody pretending like they have some minimum is hysterical.  90% of us are complete addicts.  We can wax poetic about undertones of vanilla and hints of clove, but at the end of the day we'd all end up outside the liquor store begging for spare change and drinking 40s out of paper bags.  It's OK.  We don't have to pretend otherwise.  We're among friends.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 1 week ago
+2 Velocipedestrian DancingWithMyself

Thanks. I love the craft-alcohol imagery! 

I don’t know how low I could go but certainly there are certain trails that I love to ride that require a certain level of equipment with my skill set. Also, I love working on bikes so if the stuff was throw-away grade I would lose some of my interest. 

But, I like working on bikes, so the used market could potentially serve me well. 

This won’t be the last hit on this topic!

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DancingWithMyself
DancingWithMyself
4 months, 1 week ago
+1 Andrew Major

Being more serious, there's definitely a lower limit.  I've had to give up rigid bikes and hard trails to try to put off some cervical spine surgery, but I do think we'd all adjust to rigid bikes if we had to.  However, throw away stuff you couldn't work on would definitely take away a lot of the enjoyment for me as well.

Also, we have to remember that, in many ways, trails have evolved in response to bikes.  For most of us, if we all went back to rigid bikes, our expectations AND the trails we ride would change dramatically.

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Lynx
Lynx .
4 months, 1 week ago
0

Again I have to say, speak for yourself. I ride  my rigid on ALL of the trails that the guys with those "enduro" rigs ride and have a blast, clean everything they can, just a little slower and with more rider input - the big jumps/drops I avoid for several reasons, but that's it.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 1 week ago
0

DWM, certainly. It's one thing to talk generally, but everyone's specific experience is certainly going to inform their minimum. I've met riders whose minimum bike - whatever the drivetrain level or frame material - would include Rev Grips, a Fasst Flexx bar, and an SQLab saddle - those parts alone are a decent chunk of a barebones mountain bike.

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Lynx
Lynx .
4 months, 1 week ago
+2 Metacomet Andrew Major

Speak for yourself, me personally, the only  real reason I go with XT  is because, unlike a lot, I keep shit forever or until it breaks or stops working properly and I can't fix it, so XT in the long run works out cheaper - I still have my first set  of XT M760 cranks I bought back in 2005, they now reside on my 2008 Monkey, which was relegated to being my commuter in 2018 after 10 good years of service doing everything from hard road rides, commuting, and lots of trail miles, especially in the later years once PLUS came to be. 

My newest bike is my 2018 Unit and the newest parts beside the frame are the handlebar and brake pads, rest of the parts were all over a few years old when I got the frame and built it up. I plan to keep the Unit, well, probably until I die, along with the Monkey and my 2012 Banshee Prime, but hopefully sometime in the not so distant future, I will manage to be able to afford my dream Ti version of the Unit :-)

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oldmanbike
OldManBike
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

My minimum bike is one that consistently gets through rides without mechanical issues. If I'm tacoing garbage wheels every other ride, I'm finding a cheaper hobby. But, aside from that, I don't think a bottom-end bike would keep me from riding. Probably need to find slower friends though.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 OldManBike

It’s the old - if you’re racing buy a race bike / if you’re riding buy whatever you want but with the caveat that keeping up with our friends can be a form of racing sometimes (up and down). 

How much does it cost to ride with Group X is an interesting tangent. If the uniform is full TroyLee gear with a carbon full face that affects the cost of the activity too.

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oldmanbike
OldManBike
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

I'm probably about as fast in t-shirts as I am in Kitsbow jerseys. But I definitely ain't keeping up anymore with the same crew if I give up decent brakes, tires, and dropper.

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FlipSide
FlipSide
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

My bare minimum is probably Gucci-Level for some and peasant-level for others. If I had to build a bike on a tight budget, I'd go for a hardtail with nice components before a low-level and poorly spec'ed full-suspension...without the slightest hesitation. 

Non-negociable high-end items for me:

- Good brakes with adjustments, like the SRAM RSC-level. Only a reach adjust is not enough for me.

- Good fork with high-end damper and (ideally) LSC and HSC adjustments, like a RockShox Ultimate-level.

- Good high engagement hubs.

Places where I don't mind saving money

- Aluminum rims and handlebars

- GX-level transmission is fine.

- Reasonably good tires I can find on sale. I really like Maxxis tires, but I refuse to pay full retail for their best models. There are many cheaper alternatives that are perfectly fine.

One thing I feel is worth mentioning is that I could significantly lower my bare minimum if I intended to only ride the bike for a season or two. However, I typically keep my bikes for 6-10 years. This can be quite a long time with a fork or brake levers that are not set the way you want. 

Note that this reflects my current situation. I enjoyed lower-specs bikes in the past and I would not stop riding if I had to ride a lower-end model for financial reasons... but technology is an aspect I really like about bikes and I appreciate riding the good stuff.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 FlipSide

The investment factor is a great point, and where I was going with my King hub review.

CushCore is another up front cost that I know has saved me lots of money, and which I would consider part of my bare minimum (but transferable forward as long as wheel/tire size stays the same).

It surprises me a bit, but I think my bare minimum actually requires a bigger investment than most folks commenting, but maybe it comes out in the wash after a decade of hard use only buying tires, pads, grips, pedals, seats, rotors, chains, bottom brackets and handlebars, and doing hub/brake services?

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BadNudes
BadNudes
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

Great article Andrew! Bare minimum is a tough conversation for sure. I think for me the bare min check list would be pretty simple: wheels are round and roll smooth, tires hold air well enough that I can feel OK about only carrying a single spare tube, brakes work well enough to skid at any speed, then add $20 for some ODI longneck XSoft grips, and I'll be happy. Maybe take that with a grain of salt as there is hardly any elevation where I live so 'under-biking' is more of a challenge than a liability, plenty of easy options and very low consequence compared to the north shore. I was having a blast last year taking an old ATB with quill stem, sq taper cranks that came loose in the cold, canti brakes, junk tires etc. to my local trails, pumptracks and jump lines. The nice stuff like super grippy tires, good brakes matched to the traction of the tires, and suspension is certainly faster, safer and more capable, but I'm honestly not sure if that makes it more 'fun' for me. Every bike is a good time.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

Cheers! Certainly, there are places I've ridden where my 2001 Redline Monocog would still be a fun bike - so sport surface and the terrain is going to come into that bare minimum conversation. 

Shout out to contact points though! It's amazing what some fresh grips and grippy pedals can do to the ride of any old machine.

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rigidjunkie
Allen Lloyd
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

Last summer we decided to add a bike to our fleet.  My oldest son doesn't really like riding, but he was riding a 20 year old SC Superlight with a blown fork.  We bought the basic Stumpjumper for $2,500.  I decided to try it out and I actually love it.  It is heavy, but has a 50 tooth in the back so it climbs pretty well.  The only thing that is really noticeable is the fork, my god is that fork terrible.  It has the garbage SRAM drivetrain, but guess what it shifts just fine as long as you don't treat it like XTR and shift under power.  

My other minimal bike is a 15 year old Salsa el Mariachi.  It has a Jones bar and still runs the mechanical disk brakes that came on it (old Avid BB 7's).  Last summer I finally replaced the drivetrain with MicroShift and I have some of my most fun rides on that bike.  It isn't fast, but there is a joy from riding something that old that just keeps working.   

My main bike is a V1 Hightower that has been slowly upgraded over time.  I am way faster on it than either of the other bikes, but they each bring joy in different ways.  As my son gets more into jumping I have been considering a true minimal dirt jumper.

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yardrec
yardrec
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

The El Mariachi is a great frame! I'm still enjoying my old Karate Monkey from the same era/geo which climbs better than most bikes available now and is a great bikepacking rig.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

What fork is on it? What shock?

SRAM SX is such garbage. It has no business being on bikes especially when Deore 11spd is so reasonably okay or even an option from MicroShift or Box. Their product line for mountain biking should begin at NX. 

The Stumpy frame is a nice starting point though - certainly worth of upgrades and service.

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hugebiff
hugebiff
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

High and low speed compression adjustment or I'd rather just stay home.

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DrSK
DrSK
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

This is an area for me where suspension and brand bike specs have gotten worse over the last 10 years or more. Things used to be more adjustable on more builds in the range.

Now everyone has their tuned components specifically for their brand/frame and minimal adjustment or adjustment range on anything but top of the line and then not always. Which all do not work for 90kg plus riders over 6" on rocky techy terrain.

It's now 'easy' to spend $12k+ on a bike where I'd need to then upgrade dampers so the suspension works for me.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

I appreciate this comment. I know a lot of people who feel this way - and LSC/HSC adjustment means a custom build, upgrade, or a really Gucci high end complete - and expected it to be reflected in the comments.

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roil
roil
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

Good brakes and decent gearing. Everything else is a luxury.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 Vik Banerjee Andy Eunson

And great geometry! Of course, thanks to R&D geometry is free.

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NuclearNachos
Zach
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

Before getting a "real mountain bike" (2016 meta v4) I got to borrow my family members trek marlin 6/7 and for local xc trails those were fine, only complaints were the 2x on the marlin 6, fixed post, and bad fork. For some more serious trails they were lacking but fun to ride still, the meta was much more fun so I'd say depends on the terrain a large amount.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Metacomet

That old saying "the best mountain bike is the one you own." I'm certainly happy to see all the inexpensive stamped-steel narrow-wide rings hitting the market as well as budget-friendly clutch derailleurs like MicroShift and Box. 

It's not that there isn't still a place in cycling - and mountain biking - for front derailleurs. But 1x makes budget bikes better.

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NuclearNachos
Zach
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

This comment has been removed.

NuclearNachos
Zach
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

For sure. I haven't been mountain biking for that long so don't have much experience on different levels of gear, but have been skiing for quite a while. New and nice gear is such a noticeable upgrade, giving more stability, carving better, more control, etc. but you can still have tons of fun on cheaper used items if you're still learning. Obviously there are some things you shouldn't cheap out on such as backcountry gear and other things that you rely on for safety, maybe similar to helmets and protection for dh/freeride mtb. I always go by "ignorance is bliss" for expensive vs. cheap things and it hasn't disappointed until I try the better item.

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Shoreloamer
Greg Bly
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

A Durolux fork. They make a 38 mm version now . The Tri air rear shock. Those are not a compromise . They are affordable versions of hi end exelent performance forks and shocks.  

Things I won't compromise on: 20 mm front axles.  They are confidence inspiring.  Far more than the boost argument. 

Good tires .  Plenty to choose from.  

Clutch derailleur. Xt works for me . And I occasionally smash derailleur s so nothing hi end . I don't care if my shifting is crisp and fast . Clunky is fine if it's shifting into the correct gear .  

I love Saint cranks . They are not terribly light but look beautiful and will last forever.  Center mount is about as useful as center lock rotors .  104 bcd because that's one standard that isn't changing.  

I will always choose a seat that keeps my ass comfortable after 4 hours of riding . Like my ride on last Sunday.  

Can someone explain to me why a bike with hi end parts is faster ?   Because it's lighter?  Like the Norco Shore ?  Which is a hi end Enduro race bike .  

Invest in exelent wheels and tires and your affordable bike will perform like a hi end Uber bike .  Mind you now that's a 1500 to 2500 $ upgrade.  

Before Shimano set the standard for brake power. They simply decreased the lever piston diameter .  Most disk brakes were under powered.  Deor non servo wave brakes with short levers have amazing stopping power . But discard the resin only rotors they are total garbage. Keep the resin pads as they work great.  4 piston calipers look cool but I suspect do not increase power .  Can someone verify my suspicion? 

Uber bikes are fun to lust over and hey this is an expensive place to live so North Shore is a fine place to see the bling.  If you can afford titanium sweet wings cranks and trick stuff brakes , maybe a wireless derailleur.  That's awesome and I will probably drool over your bike , sorry bout the saliva,.  If you are pushing up your 50 pound Balfa I will still be just as jazzed . 

Andrew how's your ankle ?  I think my prognosis of you riding after two months was a bit optimistic. But I bet you are thinking" how can I ride " taped up ankle with hi top shoes?   I read on " meat engines " that you stubbornly walk instead of accepting rides. Also equates to quality time with your daughter.  Good for you , effort  gets you back in shape.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+3 Metacomet Greg Bly OneShavedLeg

Four-piston brakes may not have an increase in hydraulic pressure (when the master cylinder is exactly the same as the 2-piston setup) but certainly bigger brake pads, more rotor contact, more friction, more stopping is a real thing on the trail. 

It's interesting, I've been riding Formula Cura2 and Cura4 brakes (same master cylinders) and Magura MT 2 and 4-piston brakes (same masters) for years now. With the Magura brakes the levers feel identical but the 4-piston brakes clearly stop more aggressively. With the Cura2/4 the brakes feel totally different (I couldn't mix-match them as I do with the Magura brakes) and in the parking lot the power feels similar but the 2-piston setup is much firmer. Coming down steep terrain though, the Cura4 has more consistent performance when I'm dragging the brakes down steep jank. 

Sweet Wings - EEwings - how I lust for a pair. But it's impossible to justify when Aeffect R / Turbine cranks are faultlessly out-of-sight-out-of-mind for so much less money.

-----

The Achilles is hopefully healing well because healing fast isn't an option. My daughter and I ride a lot of buses (I've logged a couple days now where I spend 4-4.5hrs on transit | great time to read, brainstorm, answer reader comments) and when we're together it's actually a really enjoyable time. I was worried the novelty would wear off for her but thus far we're getting up a bit earlier and making life happen. 

Honestly, right now I'm mostly dreaming of the walking boot being gone and my legs being the same length again. Starting rehab. And walking in the forest. Once I can go for a walk in the trees I'm sure I'll start dreaming of mountain bike rides but right now it seems years away. 

My friends are awesome and I have many standing (pun always intended) offers of rides here or there. We only take advantage when we get burned by late (or really early) buses. I have no problem asking for help, when I need help, but if I can do it myself I do. 

Cheers for asking!

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Shoreloamer
Greg Bly
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

A few years back I lived in upper Lynne valley.  Broke my femur dirt jumping. Pleasant visit to LGH.  Titanium rod shoved into my femur.  Yes I'm part titanium. Two months later I learned how to walk down slippery wooden steps so I could get into the forest.  I was lucky to have metal binding my injury together. The forest is my church .

Yes I take public transit . So nice having pleasant conversation verses listening to a driver complain about oh.... Everything.  People who take public transit smile. Bike commuters look happy. People in automobiles. Always have something or someone to complain about .  I actually prefer happy bus people to accepting a ride.  And I can do work on my tablet / laptop.  Gaze out the window.  God forbid I have to stand beside an attractive woman and strike up a conversation.  

Thank you for a raher definitive comparison between 2 and 4 piston calipers.  I understand the better modulation of 4 piston calipers.  I have tested Maguras 4 piston  brakes . Massive power with a very different feel from Shimano .  I think I'm used to the snap you get from Shimano brakes .  I also like the price of Shimano non finned resin pads and availability.  Deor long lever non servo levers are cheap yet all metal with a great feel.  I believe my friend mated these levers to Maguras calipers . 

I fondly remember you filming me ridding and falling off the Crippler rolor coaster. Perhaps this summer we can tackle upper and lower Crip.  Or Skull I love that trail . Except for the braids . People ride the trail please.  

For now dream of the trails you will ride this summer. Us readers are delighted that your lack of riding brings us great introspection into alternative concepts on how to adorn our bikes with new parts .

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flattire2
Brian Tuulos
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

Tell me, have modern air shocks closed the gap to coil shocks?  I'm still running a 20 year old DHX 5.0 with a TI coil.  For a paltry ~130g weight penalty to an air can, I'm still impressed with its small bump and big hit capability.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

Personally, I'd still take a fully serviced DHX 5.0 with the ProPedal gutted and a custom shim stack over most shocks on the market (coil or air). 

That's my bike in the title shot with the Cane Creek CCDB Coil CS. Given the choice, and the fact I don't care about weight, I'll almost always go coil. The only reason not to is that it's a lot more of a PIA to dial in spring rate initially (but of course, once it's done...). 

I can appreciate where folks choose a good air shock though - more playful pop when riding, easier to tune, and weight matters to many riders (including some who say it doesn't). 

---

As an aside, Ti springs are not what they used to be. They've gotten much heavier as the quality of material has gone down / cost has gone up and a lot of the time now you're much better off with a lightish weight steel coil spring like the Cane Creek Valt. The Valt will almost certainly have a much more accurate spring rate. 

I'm surprised your Ti spring is still going after all those years. I've seen a lot of totally bagged-out old Ti springs that measure significantly lower than their advertised spring rate.

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flattire2
Brian Tuulos
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

That DHX 5 has moved from bike to bike over the years but I've had to change the spring rate as bikes change.  Current ti spring is maybe 10 years old.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

Cool. The only other thing I’d say is stay on top of service. Those are bomber shocks but they’ve been unsupported beyond seals and IFPs for years now.

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syncro
Mark
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

For me a lot of the minimum comes down to what type of trail I'm riding. I've got an older Explosif with a Marz MX comp fork and will happily drag it down trails like FA and have used in the Nimby 50, but I hate the idea of beating the crap out of the bike. Even the old Hayes Nines brakes do the job. It makes for a sketchy (FUN!) ride but I figure why push the bike way past what it's meant to handle. It's happy place is doing something like multi-laps on SFU where something even like the Instinct is overkill. I think the beauty of riding a "lesser" bike is that you have to rely on skills, wit and a bit of luck to get by rather than knowing your superdeluxewunderbike can crush anything in it's path. Some of my funnest rides have been when I'm under gunned for the trail I'm on. I don't think that's a coincidence.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Mark

Personally, say I’m looking at used bikes, my minimum also includes a safety level, especially when it comes to older fork chassis or stems or bars. Just too much potential to fail.

I’d put a rigid fork and a 27+ tire on the front of that Explosif and then ride it down FA.

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syncro
Mark
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

Yeah that makes sense. Really the only thing on the bike that is suspect at this point is the front fork. I'm not a lightweight, so the bigger concern is putting enough stress on the frame over time that eventually it snaps somewhere. The rear end is nice in having some flex, but that also means more chance that something will go snap at some point. I'd hate to be dropping Digger's Rock on that thing and have the rear end explosify on impact ;)

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velocipedestrian
Velocipedestrian
4 months, 1 week ago
+1 Andrew Major

Better the rear explodes than the fork.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 1 week ago
0

Yeah, I'll take pretty much any failure that isn't a bar, fork, or stem.

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smoochy
Max Nodwell
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

BMMB is a moving target for sure, given the advances in technology, geometry, wheels, tires, and my own skills/needs/financial circumstances.

I haven’t bought a complete bike off-the-shelf in nearly 10 years, so there aren’t really any “upgrades” that I’ve done to meet BMMB, and I like to think my rides are built-up to meet my BMMB/MTI/SNPC** indices. I’m sure there are components on my bike that are not Min/Maxed, because I don’t know how low I can go and still be satisfied - and I don’t really care to toss money at crappy replacement parts to find out.

With that said, it’s nice to have such good reviewers at NSMB who can guide us to that threshold - for example, when my XT derailleur meets its demise, I will likely replace it with a Deore version. Tastes great, less filling.

**SNPC = Shiny New Part Curiousity

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DrSK
DrSK
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

Basic gear is rather good now and frame geometry is dialled.

I only have issue with forks and shocks. 90kg riding weight with techy rocky terrain. Stock tunes designed for 75kg average rider weight don't work. Just blow through or mass chatter.

Enjoying the Status 160 to complement my Kenevo as a basic analogue bike for me with a bit more playfulness. After 4 years ebike only, had a need for an analogue option to reduce the intensity and just play in the bush.

Dropped a GRIP2 in the 36 Rhythm which is now night and day better, and a better and stiffer fork than my last 36 Factory RC2. DPX2 I couldn't get right for weight and trails, but have a CC DB Katsuma on the way.

Good spoke tension and cushcore go a long way to protecting any wheel set now.

The basic drive train is well functional.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 DrSK

It's a good point with coil forks, even with bigger spring there's a minimum amount of damper support needed to make them rideable for larger riders. The old Fox 40 coil forks (R v. RC2) were a great example of this.

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T0m
T0m
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

I love the idea of MTI- it’s generally how I think of my MTB parts and maintenance. Terrain in the PNW or other extremes will necessitate a higher level of performance from all parts, but most of the world can get by just as well on Deore as they would on AXS or XTR. I think many conflate the label on their parts with their own performance level. I see the weekend warriors who seemingly insist on only the best parts. That’s fine I guess but riding skill, tires, and suspension setup along with modern geometry are what I would say are the key pieces for happiness on a bike in the woods. I can happily friction shift a wide range 1x9 setup for an optimal chain line, and ride lower-level brakes and heavier alloy wheels so that I can afford suspension tuning. There are definitely some best places to spend one’s money.

Also, I can see how the Spank name seems juvenile but Surly? Really? Both brands make solid parts, eg. I actually have Spank rims on my FS bike, but I can’t say the brand names ever, ever entered my mind as a reason to skip them. Spank should be much more popular as their parts are great value, so maybe you’re onto something.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+2 T0m goose8

Spank makes some really nice stuff (rims, bars, stems, even hubs) that dances the line between premium performance/appearance and price. I can say first hand it’s the only brand whose products I’ve recommended in the last decade where folks gave them a pass based on the brand name.

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velocipedestrian
Velocipedestrian
4 months, 1 week ago
+1 Andrew Major

I've been enjoying my Spank rims and bars, they shot peen the bars, and make some high rise options. You can always cover with stickers if you want.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 1 week ago
0

The stuff is great, no doubt, and the branding doesn't bother me, I just feel its current to mention that they'd definitely sell more products with a different name.

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eriksg
eriksg
4 months, 1 week ago
0

My Spank rims don't bother me: right price and weight and seemingly good quality, and the branding really isn't that excessive. I have a bigger issue with the "Funn" stem I had to snag due to supply issues. That feels juvenile, and will be replaced eventually.

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tehllama42
Tehllama42
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

I think you hit on a key part of that - MTI can be a cost over the life of the bike.  Sure you can make a bike cheaper, but if you end up having to spend more to get that bike to the 3/5/7/10 year mark of service, and actually keep it that long, have you actually saved money compared to front-loading a bit more of that cost?

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 goose8

Saved money and potentially improved your riding experience in the meantime!

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andy-eunson
Andy Eunson
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

Surly isn’t juvenile. You’re right but I have the impression that it’s the name that people like and the reputation that the name inspires rather than the quality. I don’t think they are bad bikes but just not as good as the name and prices seem to suggest. I kind of rebel at the whole "steel is real" garbage. To me that statement is more like "I have a 20 year old steel boat anchor of a Bike and can’t afford a new bike so I’m gonna dis any material that’s not steel" . Plus I need 48 threaded bosses to mount 30 pounds of bags and crap including a toaster on the right fork blade and blender on the left plugged into a dynamo hub. 

Sorry. Old guy ranting.

What I dislike is stuff sold as being good because it has an edgy name or scantily clad women are holding those forks. It’s selling stuff based upon emotional responses as opposed to "our stuff is good and here’s what it will do for you."

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velocipedestrian
Velocipedestrian
4 months, 1 week ago
+1 Andrew Major

At least Surly has embraced their niche - for some builds all the warts are just the ticket.

While the old 'Zocchi girls marketing style adds nothing to the ride.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 1 week ago
+1 Velocipedestrian

I have nothing against Surly doing what they're doing, I just cringe at the potential to be driving the rigid, Plus tire, aggressive geometry mountain bike bus - both in terms of capital and pre-booked factory time - that they're leaving on the table. Maybe I'll write them a letter in a future article.

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DC
DC
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

Great article!! I just went down a similar road helping a friend pick out his first new bike in a few years (and hopefully get him back into riding more). I was a little surprised at how expensive the “bare minimum” was!

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

Thanks!

Yes, I’ve talked to a few folks who last bought an aluminum / Performance Elite / GX level bike some 3-5 years ago (all the adjustments, all of the performance, none of the Gucci factor) who can’t believe how much they’ve gone up in this time (even compared to other things). Many factors contributing, of course, but it can be tough to swallow all the same. 

I’ve been having the $2500 hardtail discussion a fair bit lately. That’s a lot of money! But it tends to put you past the major pitfalls/shortcomings.

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DC
DC
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Rick M

Yup the $2500-$3000 hardtail  seems to be where it’s at. My friend got a Fuse with a 34 Rythm and GX which seems like it will be a pretty nice bike. My bare-minimum complete bike would probably be the same. My bare-minimum fork needs to be able to accept a damper upgrade. 

An interesting article might be a 1-year follow-up from a mechanic’s perspective on how these bikes held up for the people who bought them over a season of use, what wore out or needed an upgrade, etc.

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Useless
Guy Elliott
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

BMMB: 

- starts off the bike with helmet and 510s

- maxx grips that hold air reliably 

- good brakes (but they don’t need to be $$$).  M6120 for example are excellent and take saint pads

- quick release seat post collar 

- decent flat pedals

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

This is a good point, there's a lot of more budget-friendly rigs coming with dropper posts these days which you know means other areas of the bike have been cut substantially to make it happen.

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stinhambo
Steven Hambleton
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Velocipedestrian

Having spent a decent amount of money on virtually every aspect of my Ragley Big Al I can say the following with some confidence -

Tyres, grips, pedals and rotors. You simply can't compromise here. You don't have to buy the very best versions of these but you shouldn't scrimp either.

Buy quality dual or triple compound tyres suited to your local terrain and conditions. I like Maxxis and I'm enjoying my Pirelli Scorpion Trails at the moment.

Buy grips and pedals that give you confidence - they're the only two things you're mostly permanently connected to on the bike. I have DMR Deathgrips and Deity Deftrap pedals (I have big feet!)

Brakes and rotors stop you, that's an important thing to be able to do! Get bigger rotors if need be and ditch the resin only ones if you do any kind of descending that lasts more than 2 minutes. I upgraded from Shimano RT-56 F/R (180mm up front) to RT-66 F/R (203mm up front). The difference is noticeable!

If budget allows then a high POE rear hub. I bought a set of Nukeproof Horizon V2 wheels and they feel fantastic compared to the OEM WTB i30 wheels. I can't imagine going back to low engagement again.

I'd love a Pike or Lyrik but I found a Suntour Zeron coil for a great price and to be honest, it feels very nice! I'm sure I  could knock over 2lbs of weight off the bike if I went for one of the former forks but I already weigh 100kg so is it making that much difference?

Also, if you have a Shimano drivetrain, they you must upgrade to an XT or XTR shifter. Multi-upshift is a must have and I'm surprised it's not available on Deore or SLX as standard.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 1 week ago
0

I love multi-shift/multi-release too but I'm not surprised it's reserved for XT/XTR. For one, Shimano could just eliminate SLX at this point and split the price difference with XT as the differences (like one aluminum cog v. two) are arbitrary except for the shifter performance. Also, there's the fact that Deore shifters are significantly less expensive so the performance/quality have to give somewhere.

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WalrusRider
WalrusRider
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

I want high end brakes and suspension. Everything else just needs to be reliable.

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DanLees1978
Dan Lees
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Tehllama42

I’d probably ride anything if that’s all I could afford.

However I no have standards…

I have sort of been through this with building up my teenage kids bikes…you want to spend enough so you aren’t buying issues waiting to happen but not dropping a load of coin unnecessarily.

So, I think the bare minimum for me is a bike that is devoid of anything that makes me make give the “sigh of imminent frustration” when I see it. Things like multi ring front drive trains, crappy no name forks and brakes and the like.

I’d be perfectly happy riding a hardtail (alu is fine) with OK geometry, cheap 1x10 drivetrain,  either a rigid fork or a Yari level fork, cheap Brand-x dropper and some half decent brakes like Shimano Deore.

Wheels are problematic. Not many options that would last under £400 after market…Shimano make some cheap but OK wheel sets…

Cheap bar, stem, saddle and grips would be fine.

Handily (pun intended) my favourite grips cost £4/$6 and the Charge Spoon saddles and their clones are $40ish.

I could cope with a cheaper harder rear tyre and bit gripper (eg Maxterra) up front.

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tehllama42
Tehllama42
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

As much as I hate the social media aspects of this statement, I adore this comment.
The Kids Bike for a Discerning Parent is probably the true acid test of this - because they're guaranteed to outgrow it, and probably not appreciate it fully anyway, so it is the truest test of minimum viability with risk/safety/maintenance taken into account, and that stuff carries forward exactly as you stated.
Charge Spoon is my favorite saddle as well, and a brilliant value. Details like that on my overall builds are massive, and let me justify lavish stuff like a Luftkappe on my fork, or running a single (used) cushcore insert that means I quit exploding rear tires.

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DanLees1978
Dan Lees
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Andrew Major

I’d probably ride anything if that’s all I could afford.

However I no have standards…

I have sort of been through this with building up my teenage kids bikes…you want to spend enough so you aren’t buying issues waiting to happen but not dropping a load of coin unnecessarily.

So, I think the bare minimum for me is a bike that is devoid of anything that makes me make give the “sigh of imminent frustration” when I see it. Things like multi ring front drive trains, crappy no name forks and brakes and the like.

I’d be perfectly happy riding a hardtail (alu is fine) with OK geometry, cheap 1x10 drivetrain,  either a rigid fork or a Yari level fork, cheap Brand-x dropper and some half decent brakes like Shimano Deore.

Wheels are problematic. Not many options that would last under £400 after market…Shimano make some cheap but OK wheel sets…

Cheap bar, stem, saddle and grips would be fine.

Handily (pun intended) my favourite grips cost £4/$6 and the Charge Spoon saddles and their clones are $40ish.

I could cope with a cheaper harder rear tyre and bit gripper (eg Maxterra) up front.

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enduroExpert78
Rick M
4 months, 2 weeks ago
+1 Cooper Quinn

Most of what's discussed here are means (from the ways-means-ends concept). The activity of riding (ways) a particular bicycle (means) results in a desired outcome (ends). A rider's wealth, health, desires, proximity to trails, experience, knowledge, etc affect each of the ways-means-ends components. Personally I'm still balancing the ends with my other responsibilities. Fitness and fun are still the end. The means have been less of a priority as I age. The ways have been affected by weather, injuries, and time. Riding is still my preferred way.

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DemonMike
mike
4 months, 1 week ago
+1 Andrew Major

I was never one to have to have the best of the best. I started on a 92 Giant ATX 660. But once the switch to full suspension happened . Going hardtail never crossed my mind again. Suspension I don't need Pro level . But Entry level does not work either. When I got back into riding in 2012. I started on craigslist specials. But beating up something already pretty beat. Sorta sucks the life from riding. As you can spend a fair amount of time and $$. Wrenching to keep it ridable. My current fleet is a 2017 Alloy frameset Django 29er, and a 2021 Marin XR Trail. Both are what I consider the bare minimum at this point. The Marin is all stock apart from a brake change to Codes R .And a SQlab saddle and some non lock on grips. I hope to log some decent rides on it this year. And from there I will look at any upgrades/changes. It's still on stock wheels . And I have been on hand builts with Spank rims and Tairan hubs. Or Spank and Hope hubs. For the last 7yrs. Some parts I spend the extra money. Other stuff I can cut corners if it works. Wheels I like a certain quality rim and hubs. Groupo's SLx for the rear , cassette as well. And shifter I always use a XT. Cranks , I had carbons and had them for years. But when the crapped the bed. I went with a Atlas with the bigger spindle. Pedals , I have had $200 ones , and currently have One-up plastics. And previously had Wha Whas in alloy and plastic. Suspension , My Django fork is full of Vorsprung tricks. I installed the upgrades. But I did it with a used 36 I bought from a buddy. Rear shock , when it was air. I had a Vorsprung body upgrade. For coil-over again bought used higher end and out of the box tunes.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 1 week ago
+1 mike

If push came to shove, would you keep the Django or the Marin XR Trail?

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DemonMike
mike
4 months, 1 week ago
0

I don,t have any trail rides on my Marin yet.Life has been in the way. Plus our new location is snow covered 5mths+ a yr.  But in a financial position with having to sell one. With what I have done with the Django. I could keep it and still have fun . If I don,t sell it . I may lighten it up and swap the air shock back in. Make it a lighter duty trail bike. Instead of a trail smasher LOL. We are an hr from Sunpeaks as well. I think the Marin would really rock up there. I have also never been there. So I need to get in shape again . Last real ride was Canada 2020. Then we moved and as mentioned life has been in the way.

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maximum-radness
Maximum Radness
4 months, 1 week ago
+1 Andrew Major

look at all that positive engagement!!!

what a great read.... kudos: to all of you.

after my second divorce, I had to sell all the things, the bling, the collection, the classics and the new whips I was shredding. I saved a couple old hardtail frames and a few scroungy drivetrains and a gifted rare brakeset. 

MTI vs. Sentimentals saved me. 

and while I min-maxed with a very very very limited budget, and dug up old tires in the shops trash and glued them back together:  I found my Absolute Minimum Ride Requirements. turns out its a LE Rocky Mt. flow 26 inch ZERO frame, with a 200 dollar (and ten year old fully rebuilt at home) fox float 32 and a hacked together 5-7 speed drivetrain.... as things got better, I found new parts, and eventually got myself back on modern bikes. and its really apparent how important geometry is. 

my riding is much more epic, fun, wild and interesting on the most appropriately sized and built bike for me. but that bare minimum experiment taught me a lot about why I ride, how I ride, what I look for in my trail therapy, but most importantly: it made me better. I learned as much about technique riding my clapped hack a hard tail as I did practicing DH for 10 years. 

I also learned that minions still rule.

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Lynx
Lynx .
4 months, 1 week ago
+1 Andrew Major

Damn Andrew, if you haven't hit another out the park topics, have to try and read through all the comments :-D

Like you, mine starts with a Kona Unit, heck, now that they've changed over to Shimano (low end SRAM sucks compared to low end Shimano right now), the new 2022 UnitX with full Deore 12spd drivetrain for $1600 US would do me absolutely fine, probably ride almost as nice as my 2018 Unit with full XT given the improvements over the last few years.

My only problem with the lower end stuff like the Deore is the RDs have steel pulley cages, which down here in the islands doesn't do so well and the lack of the double shift with the trigger lever on XT & XTR, other than that, as you say, the difference between high and low end these days is markedly close compared to back in the early 2000s.

On the an older frame, still have my OG Banheee Prime with it's adjustable drop outs and anywhere from 66.5-67.5 running a 140mm fork on it is way slack enough for me, even on the gnarliest of stuff because I like the thrill of being the one getting my ass safely down that step, janky, tech stuff :-) The i30 Hope/WTB Asym wheels with some 2.3-2.4" rubber from Schwalbe or Maxxis and a fork with a decent damper and I'm good. Still rocking 10spd on it, has a clutch, so that chanislap of old is gone and plenty of range running a 2x setup upfront.

All that being said, I still 9 out of 10 times will grab the Unit if I'm going for a ride, doesn't matter where, but that could be down to the tired squishy bits on it currently - 2014 F34 and matching shock :-(

Almost forgot one thing I won't compromise on/not have and that's my SQ Lab 16 degree bar, my wrists have been a lot happier since I got mine, it's a must have. Would like to maybe try one of the 20degree bars, but it's not urgent and the $$ just aren't there for stuff that's wanted and not needed.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 1 week ago
+1 Lynx .

Cheers!

Yeah, I’d be putting the 16* bar on anything I’m riding too. Or the equivalent bar geometry at least.

Unit-X colour isn’t as awesome as the pink Unit - but I love that the forks match now -  but the build is so much better I’d even consider it if I planned to run the bike SS. I do wish they’d done i35 rims though to allow for some bigger tires - and the stock size - without new hoops. 

I actually started a tradition of writing about the Unit once a year on my blog. Year two covers those thoughts and more.

It’s one of my all time favourite rigs - rigid or with a suspension fork. Just add a -2* Angleset :-).

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Lynx
Lynx .
4 months, 1 week ago
+1 Andrew Major

Just did a tour with a guy yesterday and let him ride my Unit and he was blown away, so I went to Kona's site to check it out to find the switch to Shimano, but absolutely agree with you, they should have done i35 rims, FOR SURE.

When I talk of the Unit, it can be either if you want as the frameset (not sure about the completes) come with geared or SS drop  outs. I'm quite found of my 2018 in black with yellow lines/highlights, only thing I wish it had that the new one does is the TA fork and 148 rear (would just run a 150 hub instead :-D)

Stock Geo (of the 2018) is just fine for me, with the caveat that I didn't do the inset 44 option, but went straight for the external cup, which would have slackened everything out by about .5 degree. I initially built it with all the parts straight from the '08 Monkey, 650B+ rear/29+ front, but it just felt too slack for me on the more XC trails, so it ended up on 29+ F&R - I have 2 wheelsets, one with 29x2.6" and one with 29x3.0", depending on how I'm feeling.

Oh and almost forgot, hope the healing goes  well and you don't go stir crazy before the end :-D I sadly can commiserate, since I'm still dealing  with my broken kneecap from middle of 2019, recover did not go well, no doubt with lots to do with a pre-existing partial fracture of it I didn't know I had :-\ Still, managed 29.5 miles yesterday with a decent bit of climbing, but mainly just XC/Light Trail.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 1 week ago
0

External cup and 29x3” does help the geo a d make the bike more aggressive. What 3” tire do you run?

Yeah, only real beef with the current Unit is none are available! Frame-only is apparently more than a year away (according to a few people who’ve emailed me about alternatives). Just a great mountain bike.

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Lynx
Lynx .
4 months, 1 week ago
0

Andrew, I currently have Maxxis Chronicle 29.3.0" rear and DHF 29x3.0" front as my full PLUS setup, or the "almost plus" side I run Schwalbe NN/HD 29x2.6", the ones with the blue line, roll really  well, yet excellent grip that seems shouldn't be there with how they roll.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 1 week ago
0

Knee cap is brutal. Glad you can still do some riding! Is it possible it will get better?!

Achilles is so weird. I have zero pain except for what the heavy protective boot causes (knee, opposite hip from one leg being way longer). Like not even the discomfort I’d normally associate with healing. It’s just - be patient. 

Long before I can ride I should be able to swim and walk in the forest so that’s the bright side I’m focussed on now. Once I have those things I’ll next be pining for a ride with my kid. Once I’ve ridden with my kid I’ll be going nuts about riding myself - it’s like riding the bungee on climbs!

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Lynx
Lynx .
4 months, 1 week ago
+1 Andrew Major

Well, if I had health insurance or the $$, I could probably get another surgery that might fix things, but having that fracture and not knowing about it and treating it as such, I don't think that will ever heal properly and so  scar tissue keeps forming, which then stiffens everything up when you put in a good ride etc.

Totally get the pain/lack of thing, for me was agonizing pain, nearly  made me faint and then once that split second was over, no really pain unless I touched it or tried to extend the leg from the knee, heck I even had to jump down 6ft into my yard and stop my Akita  and pit cross from fighting after it happened :LMAO:

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snowsnake
Duncan Wright
4 months, 1 week ago
+1 Andrew Major

My bare minimum to enjoy “actual mountain biking” looks a whole lot like my ‘21 aluminum Timberjack, bone stock…so about $2300 USD. For the sake of argument, I could probably even be happy with 1x10 Advent X instead of GX eagle, which would bring it down a bit. Anything less than that in regards to quality of suspension, dropper, brakes, etc would be terrifying on less than the smoothest trails. Otherwise, I would just trail run and cruise smooth flow and gravel on my 10-year-old cyclocross bike with canti brakes.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
4 months, 1 week ago
0

I think one takeaway from the comments here is that a lot of folks would be interested in a bike that min-maxed the braking and suspension performance but wouldn't mind a drivetrain being downgraded. 

It would be interesting to see builds with 1x11 Deore but upgraded brakes, and wheels, and suspension with high and low-speed compression adjustment.

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mayberex
Mario S
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

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flattire2
Brian Tuulos
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

This comment has been removed.

JPostuk
Jerek Postuk
4 months, 2 weeks ago
0

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rainozeros
rainozeros
4 months, 1 week ago
0

It all depends on the terrain you are riding on. Been riding MTbikes since they popped up. I started rigid and would have never guessed I would ride rigid 30years down the road again. But would I still do it if I lived alpine terrain? As I moved to more mellow terrain with no bitchin long climbs and a bare minimum of rocks you could count with one hand it is easy to downgrade to rigid singlespeed. 

I enjoy the idea of simplicity and downgrading to a low cost biking diet. But it is easier to be happy with bread and water in the desert when nothing else is around to eat. 

So for the last two years this downgraded rig does 80% of my riding. Long low slack geo with 500a2c fork makes up for a great aggressive xc type of riding. But once in the alps, I never take it out for a ride. 

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