When is it time for a new mountain bike? If you’re the bike industry, the answer is "every time we come up with a new wheel size or standard" -- both of which they seem to be doing with ever-accelerating frequency these days.
If you’re a guy like me, the answer is a bit more complicated. Here’s what I mean by "a guy like me:" I go out on frequent rides and love nearly every damn thing there is about the bikes I’m riding. But I also know that everything has a limited lifespan, especially stuff that gets pounded by a 200-pound dude plowing over rocky terrain with -- let’s say not exactly the most deft of skills.
I want to start a fun conversation about how we decide it’s time for a new mountain bike. I’ll start off by talking a bit about my bikes and my impressions of riding them. It would be great to get your thoughts, and also to hear about your thought process for deciding to retire a mountain bike.
Bike #1 is a 2012 Raleigh XXIX that I built up largely piece by piece -- back in 2013, when I scored a killer deal on the frame and the previous iteration of the Gates Carbon Drive singlespeed drivetrain (that’s right, I don’t have CenterTrack).
Over the past few weeks, I’ve taken advantage of perfect late winter weather in Phoenix to ride this thing like a cheap donkey; I’m saving my Santa Cruz Superlight dualie for an upcoming race.
Every ride has been ridiculously fun. Everything has worked without a single flaw. But I know I face a day of reckoning from the wheels, which are heavy and can be balky about sealing when set up for tubeless operations.
I also have a tad less standover clearance than I’d prefer. And I fantasize about a slick titanium belt-drive frame. That fantasy is all about a better fit, less weight, a third water bottle boss, maybe an even smoother ride and – I admit it! – a bit more cool factor. I also hear that there are better methods for belt drives than the Raleigh XXIX eccentric bottom bracket.
Stay or Go?
Overall, this is a keeper. A wheel upgrade would be wise for lighter weight and, more importantly, a shot of reliability. If I want to get fancy, maybe a new titanium or higher-end steel frame at some point. That’s the only reason I’ll go the new mountain bike route with the SS; local guys Tronix incite my curiosity, and Wily from Colorado also looks good.
Bike #2 is the bigger conundrum. My 2011 Santa Cruz Superlight is a beast that doesn’t exist -- a light, cross country-oriented frame that doesn’t require 29er wheels. I recently rode a pair of 650B mountain bikes, and liked the wheel size quite a bit. And since 26ers are on the way out, I can see the 650B as a the logical step when I get a new mountain bike.
Things have really changed in the full-suspension space since I built this bike. Gone are the days of 27-speed drive trains, with everything shrinking to 11 or 22 speeds (the bikes I recently rode sported 22 and were excellent). And hello, ginormous headtubes, BOOST standards, through-axles, super-short stems, 150mm of travel on everything, dropper seatposts and probably more shit that I’m forgetting -- or stuff I want to forget, like not having water bottle bosses (for real, bike companies?) or only having one. NOTE: Some of us ride in hot climates, and we go kind of far.
But just try finding an aluminum 100mm travel 650B frame. (Why aluminum? Two reasons -- I’m Â cheap, and the price difference between carbon and aluminum is the biggest scam in cycling. I would bet every single bike I own that the cost to produce a carbon fiber bike is now less than the cost to produce an aluminum bike.)
So do I need a new mountain bike? My Santa Cruz is currently taking everything I can throw at it. But suspension pivots wear. Suspension components need maintenance. Other than that, no question marks. My SRAM 9.0 drivetrain mixed with an SLX triple-chainring crank keeps on working, though I did notice the benefits of the 2-11 setup. My Elixir 5 brakes are definitely inferior to the SLX brakes on my Raleigh. The Stan’s Arch wheelset is absolutely perfect and a perfect benchmark for decent value. I also have lots of nice little bits from Thomson and Loaded USA doing their job perfectly.
Fork-wise, I think I like my 2006 Fox better than the Rock Shox Recon Gold currently on-duty. I may switch them out after the next race.
I have a few other things working against me: I’m on the cheap side, and I will not ride a new mountain bike from The Big Three. It’s not that they don’t make great stuff. I just prefer a certain mojo to my bikes that Trek, Specialized and Giant simply can’t fulfill. I’ve been fascinated by some German brands like Canyon and Cube. I think the world of Salsa (the bike company and the condiment -- nay, FOODGROUP!), but they can’t seem to find it in their hearts to make a damn 100mm 650B.
Stay or Go?
Go, at some point. But I don’t think that day is quite here. And I’m still thoroughly boggled at the concept of a bike that does the job better with less fuss, with less excess weight and with an equally reasonable price. On the other hand, the KTM Lycan I rode in New Zealand had by far the best rear suspension I’ve ever ridden, and it actually made me better in certain situations.
Right now, riding both of these bikes makes me extremely happy. Problems are pretty few, with the most potential obstaclesÂ stemming from the Raleigh’s janky wheelset. So what new mountain bike really makes the most sense – a full-suspension bike or a slick belt-drive frame?
- Shimano SLX Brakes: Mid-priced goods that deliver everything a solid but unspectacular guy like me needs. Honestly, everything SLX is awesome.
- Stan’s Arch Wheelset: Light enough, smooth rolling, super-easy to set up for tubeless riding.
- Chris King headset: A bit blingy, but you’ll never need to worry about your headset. Ever.
- WTB Vigo Saddle: Sadly discontinued. I love this saddle for the clippy thing you can slide a seat bag into -- great for transferring gear to multiple bikes in an instant.
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