I've enjoyed reading this thread over the past several months as I ventured along my own hardtail journey. Thanks a bunch for all of the opinions and information.
Some background: We get an absolute ton of snow for 6 or 7 months of the year in this part of the Rocky Mountains. As such, fat bikes are the tool of choice in the winter months and their popularity only seems to grow. I have the spent the previous few years on a fat bike, beginning on more heavily trafficked trails and eventually gravitating towards more of the longer, back-country adventures I'd typically find myself on in the summer months. I found the novelty of the fat bike and the limited type of 'riding' it affords a person got stale fairly quickly. As I was spending more time pushing/carrying a bike to the top of something steep (steep enough to make the snow accumulation moot), the fat bike itself became irrelevant.
So this year meant selling the fat bike in favour of an all-season hardtail. Something on which I could run a 29" tire in the summer (for those opportunities to refresh some of the local laps), and a 3" tire for the winter months. I had the goal of making it almost 100% parts-compatible with my Madonna trail bike, and here's how it ended up:
I tried to keep the build somewhat budget friendly while still maintaining compatibility with my trail bike. The hubs and rotors are identical between the 29" and 27.5" wheelset, so wheel swaps are a breeze. We've had ridiculous temperatures over the last week, causing most of the already-fallen snow to disappear and I've found it pretty convenient to throw the summer wheels in the car and switch them out after an initial 'survey lap'.
Here are the parts I used:
- Marzocchi Z1 Coil @ 160mm. It's really simple to move the travel to 170mm if I want to maintain the BB height between wheelsets, but I haven't found that necessary.
- Shimano M6100 drivetrain. I'm really happy with the cheap Shimano. I do use an XT shifter to keep things feeling the same between bikes. I do like to adjust the clutches on these things, but don't do it often enough that having to remove the cap is that big a deal.
- Shimano M6120 brakes. Again, very happy with these. Not quite as strong as the Saints on my trail bike, but I'd be happy with these brakes on anything. Plus I can use the same pads in both, meaning I only have to keep a few spare sets of D02S pads on hand and I'm covered.
- OneUp v2 dropper @ 180mm. Again, same dropper on both bikes. I sometimes have issues with the cartridges on these, so it's nice to have a spare.
- Wheels are DT XM551 rims (40mm internal) on DT 350 hubs. I've used DT 350s on everything for years and have never had an issue. Buying the wheel parts separately and building them myself leads to a very cheap, very high-quality end result. It's crazy what DT parts can be had for by the frugal, online shopper.
- Bars and stem are the cheapest compatible option I could find... I cut all my bars to 760mm as some of our trails don't give you much more space than that.
These 3" wrathchild tires have a ridiculous amount of grip on ice, but I think I'll need an 'intermediate' option for shoulder season days with mixed conditions. Took all of 1.5 rides to slash a fair-sized hole in the soft, winter rubber. These will be set aside for days further into our endless freeze/thaw cycles.
As for the frame, previous posts are certainly correct about the stiffness. Our trails are incredibly raw and rough and it has taken some fine tuning to find that balance between psi, speed, and my ankles holding together. But, all that aside, this thing is so much damn fun. The geometry is similar enough to my trail bike that there was zero learning curve involved.
Thanks again for the existence of this thread. It certainly helped in my decision to go full-hardtail.