How to Buy a Full-Suspension Bike – 2021

How to Buy a Full-Suspension Bike at a Glance

  • Try Rental Bikes
  • Get Familiar With Geometry
  • Think About Frame Material
  • Don’t Obsess About Parts
  • Considerations with Buying Direct
  • Pick the Right Bike Shop

One of my co-workers is looking for a new bike, and he asked me for some pointers about how to buy a full-suspension bike. He just moved to a neighborhood near some nice, rough, rocky singletrack – and he wants something more modern and well-equipped than his 10-year-old Diamondback hardtail.

So what should he look at?

I have some ideas. And I know exactly what you’re thinking — “Is he gonna mention my favorite brand?!”

I might. Before I mention brands, though, we’re going to talk about features. Look, I know a lot of us are very brand-focused. I am, too, but in the opposite direction of most (I avoid the Big Three – Specialized, Trek and Giant).

I’m going to start this off with a features-first, brand-agnostic look at what I’d look for in a good full-suspension bike. This is based on my personal preferences and experiences – your mileage may vary.

This is also intended for newer riders. If you’ve been around awhile, you probably have your own preferences. My intent here is to give less-experienced riders a look at my decision process and let them grab some ideas from it.

How to Buy a Full-Suspension Bike

Try a Few Rental Bikes

how to buy a full-suspension bike
I learned a lot from riding this 2X10 26.5 bike in New Zealand.

A test ride in a bike shop’s parking lot won’t tell you much. Putting in a few hours on your home trail, though, is invaluable. Heck, even riding somewhere unfamiliar is educational.

I realize that spending a few hundred on rentals sounds harsh. But you’ll get real education for how the bike and you perform together.

Also, some bike shops might have free demos. Still others may apply your rental fee to a purchase if you buy from them.

About this Modern Geometry …

This is tough to define. In the last few years, mountain bike stems have gotten way shorter, and the angles of their head tubes have gotten much slacker. The seat tubes also seem to be getting less slack. It can make for some funny-looking bikes.

I haven’t tried this new generation, but riders I trust tell me that these changes to frame geometry have made their bikes more fun.

UPDATE March 21: I got a chance to try a Rocky Mountain trail bike recently with “progressive” geometry. With its short stem and wide handlebar, the steering was very responsive. I am still not 100-percent convinced it’s the be-all, end-all solution to mountain bike geometry. But there were a lot of other variables compared to the bikes I’m used to riding — like nearly 10 extra pounds of weight and way more travel than I’m used to. I still need to try progressive geometry on a bike more like mine.

Anyway, if you see a stem longer than 80mm on the front of a bike (maybe even 60 or 50!) that interests you, you might have the wrong bike if you’re after progressive geometry.

One more thing: There are a bunch of types of full-suspension bikes, starting wth cross-country bikes (shortest travel) to downhill bikes (longest travel). Down country, trail and enduro bikes wedged between them in order of travel. This can get confusing, RIGHT?

I Prefer Aluminum Frames

I know carbon fiber is cool. Bike shops tout it as lighter and all-around more awesome.

It’s also more expensive, which means you’ll have trade-offs. Compared to an aluminum-framed bike, you’ll get lower levels of components (drivetrain, wheels and suspension forks being the most-important and likely to affect performance). I’d put some extra money toward a nice wheelset from November Bicycles.

I also don’t like the idea of rocks and other trail detritus plonking off of a carbon frame. All those impacts can add up and weaken the frame. If you don’t think this is a problem, just take a look at all the frame protection stuff coming on carbon mountain bikes, especially on chainstays and downtubes. Those are there for a reason.

On the plus side for carbon (aside from weight), it seems like carbon frames can be shaped to maximize space for stuff like extra water bottles (more on that in a moment).

What About Water Bottles?

Look, I know just about everyone mountain bikes with a hydration pack. But believe me, the water bottle is not dead.

I live in the desert, and I do long rides. I sweat electrolytes out like crazy. If I don’t replace them during a ride, I will be the mayor of Cramp City.

how to buy a full-suspension bike
The Orbea Oiz is smartly designed with two water bottle bosses. Notice the built-in chainstay protection because “carbon.”

Also, putting electrolytes into your hydration pack is iffy. You will at some point forget about it after a ride, leave it in your car and then grow an absolutely hideous colony of funk in there. No bueno.

Here’s another reason I insist on two water bottles: When I race, I don’t want to use a hydration pack. When I do something like the Fat Tire 40, I want to be able to keep the weight down, while also not dying of thirst. Two water bottles are enough to get me through with the electrolytes and fluid that I need, as long as there are aid stations where I can refill.

No Creaking Bottom Brackets

I do almost all of my own bike maintenance. That means I want stuff that works well. Let’s start with the humble bottom bracket – that thing that your cranks are attached to.

There are way too many ways to stuff a bottom bracket into a frame. My favorite is the threaded bottom bracket shell. It’s low-maintenance and relatively fuss free.

The other popular alternative for full-suspension mountain bikes is the Pressfit bottom bracket. The Google machine has numerous stories of woe about these, as do shop mechanics.

29er or 26.5 Wheels?

For me, 29ers are the right choice. Not because there’s a huge difference between the two. It’s just that I have a 29er singlespeed, and I’m all for maximizing the commonality of spare parts – which is another good reason for the threaded bottom bracket, as well.

how to buy a full-suspension bike
A KTM Lycan – a bike I’d never get to ride in the US.

But if this is your first “good bike” or the first one in awhile, try them both. Or grab whichever one is a better deal.

I’ve ridden and am fine with either one.

On the other hand, I would never own a bike with 26.5+ wheels. They are ridiculous if you plan to do any climbing. I also don’t like the way they turn. They’re solid going downhill in a straight line.

What about a Dropper Seat Post?

It will make riding in difficult terrain easier, for sure. If you need to save a few clams, go without one. Buy a better one later, preferably from the shop that’s best at helping you out.

Don’t Get Hung Up on Parts

A lot of newer riders get caught up on the parts – especially derailleurs. But drivetrain parts, stems, handlebars and seatposts are easy to change.

Don’t lose sight of the frame, fork and wheels/tires. Those are the bits that really make your bike. I’d rather have a killer frame and fork with mediocre components than a stellar drivetrain on a crap frame and fork.

Keep in mind, Rock Shox makes everything from high-end to low-end. I wouldn’t go any lower than a Rock Shox Recon. Marzocchi and Fox don’t have anything crappy. I’ve had good luck with X-Fusion, too I rarely see Manitou, so I have nothing to say about them.

Who Puts This All in One Full-Suspension Bike?

Based on what I have here, Salsa would rocket to the top of my lists. Their Spearfish and Horsethief bikes check every box. They are also reasonably priced, starting at $2649 for a complete bike. If they had a frame-option for aluminum frames, I’d grab one and start building. Alas, they only offer carbon frames without parts on ‘em.

There are more-expensive options that at least meet the two-bottle rule: The Specialized Epic, the KTM Scarp, a few different models from Santa Cruz and Rocky Mountain. The Orbea Oiz. Also the Canyon Lux, Cannondale Scalpel and the Fezzari Signal Peak.

This old-ass bike had two places to put a bottle.

These are all good bikes. Some, though, are carbon.

A lot of you can disregard my “two water bottles” obsession. I realize it’s a weird personal quirk. You could argue the same about carbon fiber. I tend to keep bikes longer than most people — if you do, too, maybe you’re nodding in agreement.

If you’re going to ignore me about the water bottles, I recommend a look at Marin. They make some super well-equipped bikes for the money. Also, they’re not a direct-to-customer brand. That means you can see one before you buy. I haven’t seen them as rentals, which is a bummer.

But at least you can buy from a local shop and get the support and service you need.

Direct-to-Customer versus Local Bike Shop

I honestly don’t need much shop support. That said, I like to do what I can to support my local shops. They’re important and helpful.

The industry is moving more toward direct-to-consumer, and I’m starting to see hybrids. For example, I can order parts online through the web portals of some stores. They get credit for the sale, and I just need to either pick them up or have them delivered. I like that.

I’m not sure how you’ll be treated if you show up at the local shop needing help for your Canyon, Framed or Fezzari. Old habits die hard in the bike shop, which is part of the reason so many of them fail. A customer is a customer — and not every customer is going to like the bikes a shop offers. They need to do a better job of understanding this, and some are coming around.

That reminds me …

Buy the Shop, Not Just the Full-Suspension Bike

I recommend giving your money to people you actually like. If the shop staff isn’t friendly and excited to get you into the sport further, find a different shop.

Getting the right shop might be the most important part of how to buy a full-suspension bike. Make sure they’ll know how to help you when it’s time to have shocks rebuilt and pivots replaced.

4 Awesome and Random Short Bike Gear Reviews

When I buy new bike stuff, it’s usually because I broke something I already had or I just wore it out. And it generally doesn’t require a thousand words to tell you what I think of it. That’s why I’ve concocted some handy mini-reviews of bike stuff I’ve had to get lately.

Here we go!

SIDI Dragon Mountain Bike Shoes

Just a few days before the Frenzy Hills 50-mile race in Fountain Hills, my damn bike shoes were having a hard time sticking to my Crank Brothers Eggbeater pedals.

That’s because the cleats were worn beyond any reasonable belief. I also started taking a close look at the shoes themselves. And I was like “holy shit, these are worn to nothing.” I also shook my head at Sidi, thinking about how they don’t make them like they used to. I mean, it felt like I just got these a few years ago.

bike gear reviews
Old Sidi let, new Sidi right

Then I thought a little more, and discovered a photo of myself racing in this same pair of Sidi Dominator 4 shoes more than 10 years ago. I hung my head in shame for allowing any dark thoughts about Sidi to cross my mind.

I dutifully trooped over to Bicycle Haus, where I knew I could get new Sidis. The owner strong-armed me into a $400 pair of Sidi Dragon 5 shoes — in black, because it would take too long to get the red ones I craved.

The Dragons have a weird highfalutin sort of clasp with delicate-looking wire things. I quickly figured out how to work everything, and the rather stiff top of the tongue (that sounds terrible) broke in nicely.

The Dragons have a nice stiff sole, replaceable treads and a nice fit. All is right with the world.

And yes, I also got new cleats.


Bontrager Circuit MIPS Helmet

During a nice nearly 30-mile ride on my singlespeed, I was burning back toward the trailhead. This was on by far the easiest trail of the day. My stomach was a-growlin’, and I was thinking about where I’d stop for some post-ride food.

This helmet did its job for me.

That’s when I drifted too wide in a corner. My front wheel washed upon entering a heap of loose pebbles. I nearly recovered, but it was not to be.

I was cookin’ when I lost it, so the results of this crash were: a gnarly flap of skin peeled of my left thumb complements of my Shimano SLX brake lever clamp; a knock on my left shin; trail rash and bruising on my right upper arm and shoulder; a bloodied-up right knee; and a good knock on the head that left visible signs on both helmet and head.

That’s right — five major body parts … a type of crash I will now refer to as a “starfish.”

My budget-priced Kali helmet laid down its life for me. I bought another Kali on Amazon using a gift card. When it arrived, it was way too small despite being marked as the same size as my old one. I returned it and went to a local shop to get the helmet I actually craved: the Bontrager Circuit MIPS.

The magnetic mounts on the Bontrager Circuit MIPS helmet are sweet!

I wanted this one because of its Blendr magnetic mounts for lights and cameras. Yes, it’s also a comfortable helmet with a great adjustment system. But I wanted a more-secure accessory mount after my light got ejected (from a different Kali helmet) just minutes into the first lap of the Aravaipa Jangover ride.

I tested it on one ride with my Ofi OneFive camera on it, and it started to ride a little low on my forehead. I think wearing a headband under the helmet might lock it in a little better. Watch this space for more updates on the Bontrager Circuit MIPS.


bike gear reviews

Supacaz Fly Bottle Cages

I rarely spend any time riding at Trail 100 in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. One day, I corrected that by heading out to the far-west side of it.

During that right, I broke one of my Planet Bike mountain bike cages. That was the second one I killed — the last one was during the Prescott 6er race.

I really wanted some Wolf Tooth cages because those things look like they mean business. But they were sold out everywhere. I found that Spartan Rides AZ had a cage that might be worthwhile, so I plunked down for a few of the Supacaz Fly cages they sold.

Supacaz Fly Bottle Cages
There are way better bottle cages out there than the Supacaz Fly Bottle Cages.

After two months, I am not thrilled about these cages. They’re made from a thin aluminum that flexes and widens after a few rides. I’ve caught my bottles on the edge of being ejected more than a few times. I cannot recommend these for any reason unless they’re going on a road bike.

UPDATE (March27, 2021): And I completely broke the cage on the seat tube. Great.


bike gear reviews

Boie Body Scrubber

I know what you’re thinking: “Hey, this isn’t a bike product! This is something for taking showers!”

That’s where you’re wrong. Getting clean after a ride is vitally important. You NEED to have something to scrub the muck away.
I ordered this Boie Body Scrubber hoping for something moderately abrasive, yet also easy to clean and re-use.

Unfortunately, this soft silicon scrubber simply doesn’t have the grit I need for regular showering. It also does a miserable job of producing suds.

But here’s what the Boie Body Scrubber is absolutely stellar at: cleaning out cuts and abrasions from those moment when your speed outstrips your skills.

boie body scrubber
Days like this are when you need the Boie Body Scrubber.

After the crash mentioned a few mini-reviews ago, I had a mix of open cuts, scrapes, blood, leg hair and dirt all over my knee. The Boie Body Scrubber did a perfect job of gently cleaning everything out without making my blubber like a toddler.


For normal showering

bike gear reviews

For cleaning out groady scrapes and cuts

Wrapping up the Mini Bike Gear Reviews

I’m not surprised that the Sidi Dragon 5 shoes were awesome. What DID surprise me, though, is how crappy something simple as a bottle cage can be. Huge disappointment from these.

And here’s a thought: If you’re testing something new and want to say a few words without writing “Moby Dick,” I’m more than happy to interview you to get your thoughts to add to this post of mini bike gear reviews. Hit me up!

Thinking About Buying a Bike in 2021?

Here’s a handy roundup of advice for people buying a bike in 2021. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • Hybrid Bikes
  • Gravel Bikes
  • Mountain Bikes
  • Random Thoughts

This post is inspired by a message from one of my high school friends:

“Any advice on buying a bike? I haven’t ridden since freshman year of college. I’m just looking for something casual (like 2-3 times a month) that I can ride on suburban streets but also dirt roads/trails (but not crazy off-road mountain biking). I’ve heard of gravel bike or hybrid bikes.”

The person asking this question mentioned the Co-Op Cycles DRT 2.2, which goes for about $1,800, as a possibility.

I figured he’s not the only person considering buying a bike in 2021. So rather than dump all my thoughts into email or FB messenger, I’ll just turn it into a blog post to help out anyone else facing a similar situation.

NOTE: If you’re dead-set on buying a full-suspension bike in 2021 or 2022, read this post, too. It gets way more into that type of bike.

Are Hybrid Bikes Any Good?

Let’s tackle the hybrid question first. Hybrids as we knew them aren’t as big a slice of the market anymore. They were the wimpy offspring of a road bike with skinny 700c tires, swept-up handlebars, a short wheelbase and a very upright seating position.

I hated them during my bike shop days. Now in 2021, bikes like the Kona Dew with their 26.5/650B wheels, disc brakes and more-maneuverable geometry have totally crushed that same corner of the market: the person who mostly rides city streets, but also wants to hit unpaved paths. With a change of tires, the Dew and other bikes like it will let you ride some trails without killing you (keep in mind it doesn’t have a suspension fork). I like the Dew so much that my brother and I pitched in to buy one for our dad – he absolutely loves the thing.

I suppose there are probably some 1990s-style hybrid bikes out there. But they’re really not good for anything.

What About this Gravel Bike Thing?

I’ve already written about gravel bikes extensively. Still, I see a split in this category between hardcore off-road only gravel bikes and the “road plus” or “all-road” category, which is how I’ve built my Lynskey Urbano.

Either way you slice it, I love gravel or all-road or whatever. They are super-stable on the street next to a road bike. They’re in their element on unpaved paths. And in the right hands, they can chew up singletrack mountain bike trails. (I don’t consider myself the right hands — I still prefer a mountain bike for that sort of riding.)

buying a bike in 2021
Gravel bikes are pretty awesome for so many reasons.

I wouldn’t feel comfortable telling someone who hasn’t really ridden in 20 years to get on a gravel bike to go forth and shred the singletrack, though. That is best left to experienced roadies or mountain bikers who have their handling skills down pat.

Gravel Bike Recommendations

So for my friend here, I’m gonna say that a gravel bike is great as long as he really has no intention of hitting real mountain bike trails. With that said, I’d recommend the State Bicycle Co All-Road Black Label.

The standout specs to me are the 1X chainring setup, carbon fork, tubeless wheelset and excellent Vittoria tires. I’m pretty sure the shifters and derailleurs are made by Microshift. So it’s serviceable more than spectacular.

Still, it’s a lot of bike for the money. A lot.

A few hundred more bucks brings the All-City Cycles Space Horse Tiagra into the frame. (Tiagra, by the way, is the grade of Shimano components on the Space Horse, which is available in various build options. Tiagra is a lower-end Shimano group but still solid – the next levels up are 105, Ultegra and Dura-Ace. Below Tiagra from low to high are Claris and Sora. The gravel-specific GRX group exists in three flavors: RX400, RX600 and RX800. Which sounds a bit like a weird pharmacy, but whatever. )

I love the steel frame on the Space Horse — a lot of old bike dudes love the ride of steel, plus the durability. As a brand, All-City Cycles also oozes personality. Their bike just look f-in’ cool. One concern I have about All-City Cycles is that they can be hard to find at a local bike shop. Many bike shops can get them, but it’s unusual to see them on the showroom floor.

What if I Want a Mountain Bike?

If my friend decides to go for a mountain bike, I will always say that if you’re spending less than $2,000, you should buy a hardtail. Avoid rear suspension below that point!

I also favor telling less-experienced riders to go with a mountain bike. Yes, they’re not as fast on city streets. But the maneuvering and fit is more-forgiving than a gravel bike.

What I’d look for in this price range is a Shimano Deore build kit. I’d avoid SRAM’s SX group. The general consensus on SX is “plasticy shite.” SRAM’s mountain bike component levels start pretty much at SX, then NX, then GX and then into fancy stuff with so many Xs you’d swear they were shooting porn.

Shimano’s minimum level of competence starts at Deore (which is actually fantastic stuff for the $$$) and progresses to SLX, XT and XTR. Alivio is below them all. Avoid it.

Fork-wise, you’re really not going to get anything great here — a Rock Shox Recon is the best you can hope for. The Recon isn’t actually bad, though.

When it comes to getting a lot of mountain bike for the money, the brands that are my top-of-mind for me are Salsa, Kona and Marin. They not only offer good value, but they seem to be plugged into what’s going on with modern geometry. They’re also relatively easy to find at local bike shops, which is important.

One concern: Every bike in the price range seems to come with tires that are a minimum of 2.4 inches wide, with some non-plus sizes going to 2.6. I typically ride a 2.3 (usually something like a Continental X King). When those tires wear out, I’d opt for something less chubby.

So what bikes have this?

The Salsa Timberjack was the first one to come to mind. It seems Salsa no longer has a Deore version of the T-Jack, just the upper-level SLX and XT stuff. One of the reasons I like the T-Jack for my friend is that it has mounts for EVERYTHING. This guy is a hiker – I could see him getting bit by the bikepacking bug, and Salsa had exactly these kinds of shenanigans in mind when they created the ‘Jack.

buying a bike in 2021

Now here’s an outlier: If my friend wants to keep it casual, maybe he doesn’t even need gears at all. Maybe he needs an overgrown BMX bike like the Kona Unit.

A singlespeed can do a lot. You can use it for coffeeshop runs … or you can race the hell out of it like I do with my Domahidy.

Plus, if he hates it, he can revel in using all the dick puns in his Craigslist ad.

But I’d predict that nobody can hate a singlespeed. They are versatile, capable and low-maintenance. I’ll also add that Kona has a knack for frame design and geometry. The Unit is also so cheap that he can slap a good suspension fork in it the very day he buys it — he might even be able to swing a good deal on that upgrade since he’s buying a bike, too. Can you imagine that bike with a new-generation Marzocchi fork on it?

I really wish State Bicycle Co. still offered their Pulsar model. That 29er would’ve been PERFECT for my friend.

What About the Co-Op DRT 2.2?

The Co-Op bike mentioned earlier doesn’t do much for me. I’ve not enjoyed riding a 26.5+ wheel/tire size at all. Those huge-volume tires can smoothly roll over a lot of stuff, but they are serious work to pedal. They also don’t like changing directions with near the agility of a non-plus tire. The components are decent SRAM NX stuff with Shimano brakes — an astute pairing. I’ve never had a problem with SRAM shifting, but I’ve never loved their disc brakes. I’ve always preferred the feel of Shimano disc brakes.

Going with Co-Op also men’s that REI is going to be your bike shop, which doesn’t sit well with me. Aside from a few flagship stores, the accessories and parts sold at most REI stores are substandard. You’re also going to find better mechanics at specialty bike shops. REI does sell Salsa at some of its stores. Again, though, REI just isn’t outstanding at bike stuff.

Random Observations

I’m not recommending “direct-to-customer” brands in this case. A new rider is going to wind up needed shop support. For best results, I recommend buying local from a shop that makes you feel welcome. You’re buying the shop just as much as you’re buying the bike.

It’s also important to budget for other stuff: hydration (pack, water bottles/cages or both), bike shorts, tools, etc. This can get in-depth, so I won’t cover to many of those variables here. I might actually have to do a “shit every new rider needs” sort of post.

What About the Big Brands?

You’ll also notice that I didn’t mention the big brands like Specialized, Trek, Giant or Cannondale here.

To me, they don’t offer near the bike for the money that these other brands do. Aside from the brands I’ve mentioned in this post, I’d also look at Marin, who has lately proven they know how to offer some real value.

Not only do I find the big guys a lesser value, I also just find them boring. As one of my friends observed long ago, a bike is like your personal X-Wing fighter. Go with something that offers some panache and individuality — and maybe support a company that has some spirit.

buying a bike in 2021
If you’re going used, be sure to get a second or third opinion.

The Used Bike Question

Buying used can get you some extra bike for the money. At least, most of the time. The bike industry is going through some serious supply chain issues right now, and used bike prices are higher than you might expect.

Also, buying used is a tricky proposition for someone who hasn’t spent a long time working on their own bikes. If you’re considering this route, it’s best to have a friend who’s a serious bike nut to help. This is also a good time to plug for a singlespeed — they just have fewer vectors for serious problems.

Final Thoughts on Buying a Bike in 2021

I’ve done the bike advice dance many times before. My friend probably didn’t expect this much of an info dump, and it will probably spawn follow-up questions. I’ll update here as the conversation evolves.

Knowing what I do at this moment, though, the bike I recommend is the Salsa Timberjack. It’s an excellent value from a reputable brand. The State gravel bike is a great value, but the handling qualities of a gravel bike present a steeper learning curve than a mountain bike like the ‘Jack.

Also to come in a future post — another buddy asked me about buying a full-suspension mountain bike. So we’ll break that down in the future.

Recap: Mountain Biking in the Estrella Mountains

Mountain biking in the Estrella Mountains near Phoenix is, for me, a lot like eating at one of the ubiquitous fast-food joints with “berto’s” in their name. A few years will go by and I’ll think “hey, why don’t I ever go to Filiberto’s/Aliberto’s/Philbertberto’s?”

Then I get myself berto’s quesadilla or carne asada burrito. Hours later, I’m on the toilet regretting every decision I ever made in my life.

So it is with Estrella Mountain Regional Park, which is about 30 minutes from my house. Drive another 10 minutes or so, and I’m at the fabulously fun Fantasy Island North Singletrack. That network is a bit compact, so any decently long ride will wind up repeating plenty of segments.

That’s what convinced me to return to Estrella.

Mountain Biking in the Estrella Mountains
This map kind of sucks.

My History of Mountain Biking in the Estrella Mountains

I first rode the Estrella Mountains back in about 1996, in the beginner racing class of the Mountain Bike Association of Arizona series. I remembered it was a pretty fun ride, but not one of the best around. That’s even less true now as the newer, better trail networks have popped up.

I visited the Estrellas a few more times between then and now, including a visit to the Competitive Track, which doesn’t get much love and doesn’t really deserve any. Unless you like sand.

Oddly enough, I didn’t recognize anything at all during my latest ride. It’s like all the trails I rode back in the day have been erased.

Relive ‘Accidentally Epic in the Estrellas’

Estrella Can’t Compare to McDowell Mountain

Estrella Mountain Regional Park and McDowell Mountain Regional Park are both owned and administered by Maricopa County. McDowell is a great example of outstanding mountain bike trails that have something for everyone.

Estrella is … an example of what happens when sadomasochistic dentists get into trail building.

I took the Rainbow Valley Trail (and I use that word loosely) until it met the Toothaker (yes, that’s the correct spelling) Trail. The early portions of Rainbow Valley were alright. At some point, they got steep and loose, with copious amounts of rubble making it hard to get any traction. These trails will involve some bike pushing, especially if you dig singlespeeds.

Mountain Biking in the Estrella Mountains
Way too much of the Rainbow Valley Trail looks like this.

I also spent a lot of time on the Gadsden Trail, which is fairly decent. It features some sandy bits, especially when it drops in and out of washes.

My major takeaway, though, is that the Pedersen Trail that connects with what appears to be some social trails over the park’s west border is the way to go.

The social trails appear to be built by the local developers rather than any sort of government entity. Had I more time and fluids, I would’ve scouted that area more to find some better mountain biking in the Estrella Mountains.

My Plan for future Mountain Biking in the Estrella Mountains

Next time, I probably won’t park at Estrella Mountain Regional Park. While the bathrooms are great, the water fountains were too weak to top off my bottles. So there’s no advantage to paying $7 to park there.

Also, the printed trail maps were not a huge help. It seems there are plenty of spurs that don’t feature on the map, which makes navigating hard. I think it would also be wise for Estrella to have a main named loop, and use it as a reference on signage (ie, This Way to the X Loop).

Mountain Biking in the Estrella Mountains
Here’s what I could get out of Trailforks after uploading a trail log.

I also lost a few miles to a sign pointing me to a parking lot. I whizzed by too fast to notice that it was the Comp Track parking lot rather than the main parking lot.

Next time, I’ll probably go further into the maze of red tile roofs to try accessing the trails on the west side to go mountain biking in the Estrella Mountains.

One Other Complaint – But About

A pox upon Until recently, Trailforks would let you scout and plan rides just about anywhere.

Sure enough, they hopped on the “pay up” bandwagon right after Strava did.

I have no problem paying for good help. I think, though, that Trailforks isn’t a good value at $36 a year for global trail info.

I would happily buy my state’s info for $10 a year, and if they had an option to buy certain areas for a limited time, I’d be thrilled. For example, if I’m going to New Zealand for a few weeks and want to plan my rides, I’d shell out some $$$ in a second for limited access to that info when I need it.

This is why Trailforks was on my mind: I couldn’t plan my ride, and I also couldn’t use the app to see where I was during the ride. Trailforks gives users a free area – anything not in that area is grayed out on the app.

So if you’re lost during a ride, don’t count on Trailforks to help.

They also say you can change your free area once. I looked up the directions, and it mentions features that don’t appear on my app or in the online version.

The Black Shorts: The Review That Reveals All

The Black Shorts: The Review That Reveals All

Looking for a budget pair of cycling shorts? So was I. Here are some early thoughts on the Black Shorts brought to you by the Black Bibs people.

Black Shorts At a Glance

  • Decent price of $40.
  • The chamois reminds me of an old pair of Castellis I had 15 years ago.
  • The Black Shorts seem a bit itchy at first, with a more relaxed fit than my Assos and Bontrager shorts.
  • The first ride was OK, some chafing but nothing terrible. 
  • Time will tell. Watch for updates!

I’ve needed new bike shorts for a long time. Like, months.

Since the pandemic started, I’ve rendered a pair of Louis Garneaus and Primal Wears completely useless. There’s an ancient set of Pearl Izumi shorts around that not even a masochist would ride in, along with a pair of Fox baggies that I just don’t like at all.

So really, I only have two go-to pairs of shorts, which are made by Assos and Bontrager. Both are pricey – about $130 each.

My wife, who also rides and understands the value of good gear, discovered that these are pretty much the only shorts I wear. She low-key lectured me about not having enough shorts and not practicing what I preach about not being a cheapskate.

Enter the Black Shorts, made by the Black Bib people.

Huh? The Black Shorts?

It’s hard for me to buy bike shorts. I hate ordering shorts without seeing them unless they’re a brand I’m familiar with. But COVID has created quite a crunch for anything cycling related. And too many of my local stores focus too much on baggy stuff.

black shorts cheap bike shorts
How much more black could they be? The answer is none. None more black.

I did some online homework to find brands I hadn’t heard of before to see what’s new. I found the Black Shorts in some listicle. I ignored any article that mentioned the crotch-grater horror that is Bellwether (aka Ballwither) or Canari — you’re seriously better off riding in a Borat mankini.

The price seemed worth a shot, so I ordered a pair and waited. A few days later, they were here and ready to ride.

Are the Black Shorts Any Good?

So to a guy who relies on $130 shorts, can a $40 short be any good?

Well, the first impressions are that they’re OK. I’m planning to update this post as I continue riding the Black Shorts.

But let’s at least give a snapshot of where we are right now.

First, Here’s How I Ride

I split my time between an all-road bike and a singlespeed mountain bike. I rarely ride less than 30 miles, and I logged more than 3,600 miles in 2020.

I do the occasional long event or race, when COVID isn’t screwing the works up.

In the summer, I’ll use some sort of chamois cream to protect my goolies. Those long road rides and hot weather are a prescription for chapping your choad!

Back in Black Shorts

My first impression of the Black Shorts is that they looked a lot like Castellis I rode about 15 years ago, minus the graphics. That’s not a bad thing.

The chamois appears to be a decent quality, but nothing to stand against my Bontrager or Assos shorts. Definitely better than the Fox chamois, though.

When I put the Black Shorts on for my first ride, the material felt a bit prickly, almost a bit wooly. The sensation went away after a few moments, fortunately (I really, really, really hate wool).

A good pair of bike shorts shouldn’t impede your …

They felt a little less constricting around the meat whistle than my other shorts. The cuffs at the bottom of each leg are smaller, as is the waistband. The overall effect was that their fit is either more relaxed, or the material is stretchier.

My First Ride

I figured a quick 30-miler would give me an idea about these shorts.

For the most part of the ride, I forgot about them. That’s a pretty solid vote of confidence if it holds up.

It didn’t.

black shorts cheap bike shorts
The all-red chamois is the Black Shorts. Pink is Assos, gray and red is Bontrager.

By the end of the 30 miles, my undercarriage felt a bit more like I’d ridden at least 60 miles. There were definitely some abrasions forming, especially on the left side right where the leg turns into the crotch.

I also noticed that, when I first put the Black Shorts on, the chamois was much less flexible than the ones in my other shorts. There seemed to be a ridge right along the center that was a bit proctological for my tastes.

I still think these are a better low-budget short that many. I’m going to keep trying these, both with and without chamois cream to see how they hold up.

I’ll be back with my evaluation of whether YOU should buy the Black Shorts.