There’s an endless number of ways to stay fit – and to stave off boredom. But to me, mountain biking is a blend of exercise and fun that is hard to beat, and I have nearly two decades of priceless memories and experiences to convince me.
But if I tried to put a price tag on each ride, what would I find? I crunched a few numbers to figure out the cost of mountain biking. I combined the cost of my gear (and its lifespan), the amount I ride, gas, food and park entries (when applicable). On the conservative side, that’s less than $7 per ride. Yes, seven bucks, or bones, or clams, or whatever you call them.
What does each ride get me? It varies. Some rides might be ho-hum. The very next one gets me a close encounter with a bald eagle or a gila monster. Yet another ride pushes me straight to my limits. Then I’ll do a 12-hour race as a solo rider, and face the choice of whether to go out for another lap as the day winds down.
Get involved in mountain biking, and you’ll drown in enthusiasm, oddly dressed people, camaraderie. You’ll see the bizarre, the sublime and the downright awesome. You’ll be baptized in energy drink, and eat the Clif Bar communion wafer. It’s not all a love-fest, I admit – there are plenty of jerks on mountain bikes. But they can’t spoil the experience for me.
Want to figure it out for yourself? Tally how much all the gear from your last ride set you back. Total the bike, the socks, the shorts, the energy gels, the gas to get there. Figure out how long you expect the big items to last, how many times you ride each year, and divide by the total. That’ll give you some idea of what your cost of mountain biking.
Feel free to post your per-ride cost of mountain biking. And answer this question: Why is your ride worth the price to you?
The group-think that can plague mountain bike culture led me to the new X-Fusion 29er fork. Many riders think you have to ride a 29er; you have to be on Strava. And of course, you absolutely must ride a RockFoxZocchi. (SCROLL TO BOTTOM FOR AN UPDATE)
Which is ridiculous. There are great alternatives out there, and I’ve uncovered one of the best deals in mountain bike forks in the X-Fusion Shox Slide 29 RL2.
Why Be Different?
So, why not skip the X-fusion 29er fork and just get a Fox? Fox makes great mountain bike forks. I’ve ridden a Fox Float R for six years and had it rebuilt once.
Well, the cheapest Fox fork I could find was $600 – more than I wanted to lay out for building my Raleigh XXIX frame into a belt-drive singlespeed mountain bike. You can pick up an X-Fusion 29er fork for about $400 – a great deal for a mountain bike fork. That’s enough extra clams to get a GoPro Helmet Hero so you can make bad mountain bike videos.
Setting Up the X-fusion 29erÂ
I have a good home shop. But no headset press. I turned to a local shop for installation. Good thing, too – the tapered steerer tube combined awkwardly with the Cane Creek headset I planned to use. There was friction while turning the handlebar, and we couldn’t adjust it out. The shop staff put in a Chris King NoThreadSet as an experiment. The result? No friction. A bigger hit in the wallet. But I at least wound up with a cool gold headset.
I guessed at air pressure based on the manual’s 50-150 PSI range. I put it at 100, figuring it might be slightly soft.Â Did I do the whole bike geek "put a zip tie on the stanchion tube and get on the bike and see if it sags 20 percent into its travel"? Hell, no. The bike stand isn’t real life. Make an educated guess. Take your mountain bike for a ride. Bring a shock pump. Fork blows through its travel? Add some air. You bounce around like a Ping-Pong ball on ice? Let some air out. Done.
On my first ride aboard theÂ newly built Raleigh XXIX, I had questions. Do I have the Gates Carbon Drive Dialed in? Did I install the Stan’s tubeless conversion right? And will this crazy X-Fusion 29er fork detonate into a thousand pieces?
Eight rides in, I’m alive. Looking forward to my next ride. Happy that I didn’t shell out 30 percent more moolah for -- a difference in performance that’s indistinguishable from my Fox FLOAT R. The 100 pounds of air pressure was on the money. I backed off a click on the rebound damping, and the fork was dialed.
Oil marks on the stanchion tubes tell me I’m getting a lot of the X-Fusion Slide 29 RL’s 100mm of travel (it also comes in 80- and 120-mm). But no harsh bottoming. No wiggly steering performance. What’s not to like?
Niggles and Nitpicks
The Slide 29 emits a conspicuous hiss when I smack it into a square-edged obstacle. It reminds me a bit of air-sprung shocks of an earlier era that were notorious for the hiss (Old-timers will remember Â "Amp-physema"). But my air pressure checks show no noticeable drop in air pressure. So the air is staying put.
Also, the Slide 29 stanchion tubes attract gunk more than my Fox Float R. That might mean seals with a sloppier tolerance. Or I could be a fork hypochondriac.
The decals will look thrashed in a few months. I’ll probably wind up peeling them off, rubbing the residue off and winding up with a Spinal Tap "how much more black could it be?" look.
Where Do They Go Now?
After just short of two months, I like my X-Fusion 29er fork a lot. I hope I still like it as much after six months – if I do, I’ll say "Buy without Reservations". It looks good now, but time will tell. Right now, I ride my Raleigh XXIX and come home happy. That’s what it’s all about.
The hard part is in X-Fusion’s court. It has to make a case with bike manufacturers’ product manager to get spec’d on bikes. They need to make a performance case and a business case. With the brand loyalty and economic power of Fox, Rock Shox et al, that could be difficult.
X-FUSION 29er UPDATE NOV. 9, 2013
A problem cropped up with my X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2. Here’s what I sent to X-Fusion:
Hi there. I’ve been riding a Slide 29 RL2 since February. It’s been a great fork, but I have a problem and wanted to see what you’d recommend.Â
Here’s the situation: I did some work on my brakes yesterday, and had to remove the caliper from the threaded mount on the fork. The problem occurred when I re-installed the caliper. As I was tightening one of the bolts, I felt it something give and I could tell that somehow the threads had stripped. I removed the bolt and sure enough had some metal come out. Before I started tightening, I had the bolt lined up properly and there was no unusual resistance that would indicate cross-threading.Â
If this info helps, I was using an old set of Hayes 9 hydraulic discs. I’ve also attached some photos. Do you have any advice that can get this fork back on the trail?
X-Fusion replied with advice to use a longer bolt on the affected mount. That’s a workable solution since only a few millimeters of thread are damaged. If more of the threads were trashed, we’d be in real trouble. The mounts are molded into the fork’s lowers, unlike the mounts on my Rock Shox fork (its mounts bolt to the lowers). So if this problem gets worse, I’m looking at a new set of lowers. Not really ideal. My guess is that the molded lowers let X-Fusion keep the price a bit lower. But it might be worth a few extra clams to have removable mounts.
Oh, and X-Fusion responded to my question within hours. I deducted points for the molded-in mounts on the Slide 29 RL2 (a factor I hadn’t considered before). But the company earned points back for being responsive.
Bike shorts are a bone of contention with just about every new bicyclist. “Do I have to wear Spandex?” they’ll whine. “Why are they so expensive?” usually comes next. The answer to the first question is “yes, you do.” The answer to the second is “‘Cause they’re doing a hard job – supporting your miserable, stinky undercarriage!” Here are a few things that might add some detail to these short answers for the new bicyclist.
1. Yes, you really need to wear bike shorts.
They have a pad in the butt to make sitting on a bike seat more comfortable. They’re also made from materials that wick sweat away so it can evaporate. That means less heat and less chafing. You’ll be far happier than a bicyclist wearing jeans!
2. Dude, please don’t wear underwear with your bike shorts.
My brother tried taking up biking. I think he stopped after the relentless mocking I gave him when I caught him wearing tighty-whiteys under his bike shorts. If you wear undies (boxers, TWs, thongs, whatever), you defeat the wicking capability of your shorts. You will stay wet, making you feel like you’re wearing a diaper. If you’re into that sort of thing, fine!
3. I consider $80 for a pair of Castelli shorts money well spent.
But to me, throwing $35 down for some Bellwethers is like spraying my money with WD-40 and lighting it on fire. The difference in quality and fit is huge. A new bicyclist riding short distances might not notice the difference. But some experience and increased time on the saddle will reveal all.
4. When you’re looking for shorts, look for a few things:
The butt pad (aka chamois) should not be a big blob of foam. It should be designed to conform to your mysterious man/lady parts. Also, the shell of the shorts should be constructed from more than one big piece of material. The more panels, the better the fit. Just try on a pair of Bellwether or Canari shorts, and follow with something from Castelli, Assos or even a higher-end Pearl Izumi. You’ll know where your money is going.
5. After you’re done riding, don’t go to the coffee shop and lounge around in your bike shorts.
There’s still some moisture in there, as well as some heat. That’s a breeding ground for bacteria. Change into some regular ol’ shorts for your post-ride coffee. Sure, you won’t look like the cool bicyclist that you are, but you’ll smell and feel better.