Choosing a Mountain Bike that suits my budget and requirements has been a bit hit and miss in the last 8 years or so. I started with MTB racing back in 1992 and flogged it to death, travelling all over the place racing my bike and breaking bones in the process. Back then I went through bike after bike, a perk of working in the trade you may think, but a perk that meant I never found a bike I was really happy with; except my 1995 GT Zaskar. Equipped with original RockShox Judy’s, Hope hubs and butterscotch Rithey Z-Max Tyres with as much anodizong I could get my hands on; that Zaskar took a beating and helped me to a good handful of performances at Expert level. But I sold it 🙁 like I’ve sold everything searching for ‘The One’. Of course nowadays I know that doesn’t exist.
MTB Racing eventually took a back seat as I pursued Time Trialling and Cyclocross and now Multisport in Duathlon and Triathlon. Then the Island Games on the Isle of Wight came along in 2011 and prompted me into getting back in to MTB racing again. The TT bike got sold and I used the funds to buy a rather heavy Felt 26er which did the job but what a horrible bike. Sold that and bought a China import Carbon TT bike, to which I still ride today for all my multisport and it’s done me proud.
2015 prompted another MTB Purchase, this time a lovely Ridley hardtail 29er (chosen because I was and am still very happy with my Ridley X-Ride Cyclocross bike). I was training for the Island Games in Jersey but it soon became apparent that even though the Ridley was fine, it was heavy at around 27-28lbs. (note old skool weight comparisons here, we talked pounds back in the day). I lightened that to about 24lbs and it made a lot of difference. But guess what? I sold that too. The next two years I was MTB free but then got tempted to do the 2017 IG in Gotland, Sweden.
So another purchase, this time on a very tight budget. This time it had to be second hand and I found a nice 26″ Cube Carbon Reaction GTC. Light, responsive and in great condition. I got it into my head that I may need a Full Suspension frame for Gotland as, judging by the way MTB courses were going, I felt it may be a good idea. I found a Trek Fuel ex8 and swapped all the bits out from the Cube. Awful… awful ride. I hate Full Sus, why did I do that, it was too small too. To make matters worse the course in Gotland was one of the tamest courses I have ever ridden. It was also a horrible experience, one which I have blanked! I barely rode the Trek/Cube combo but used it for an MTB Duathlon which I did well in, but, the course was even tamer than Gotland and I bounced around using valuable energy and losing time. Time to go back to basics. I love the rigid feel of my Cyclocross bikes and I like the weight advantage. I climb better and I ride faster. Downhill, well yea ok, not great but I was always rubbish at downhill anyway, always gaining more time on the up and flat. So that was it. I wanted a rigid 29er, carbon, and as new as I could get. I sold the Trek frame, the Fox fork, the wheels and the chainset. China beakoned.
Had it not been the fact I already own a carbon Time Trial frame, and have done for a number of years, I probably wouldn’t have entertained the idea of buying a frame from China as It’s a bit of a faff and there are many many opinions out there that can put off the wary; opinions varying from build quality, security (buying online) and fake products. So I had a few caveats. (not to mention the fact I don’t go with the grain, most of the time and like to make my own mind up.) First of all, I don’t want a fake anything and I certainly wasn’t going to sticker up a frame with branded decals. I’d read that some of the fakes, especially, are susceptible to build quality. I wondered why. From the research I did it turns out that some of the fake frames are being built from copy of copy moulds and while that doesn’t necessarily mean the build quality would be rubbish, and possibly dangerous, it does ring alarm bells to me as to why a company would want to sell its products under a false guise, and you have to worry about company integrity. So my decision was to seek out an ‘open mould’ manufacturer and buy a plain carbon frame. BXT bikes in China make their own frames which undergo rigorous testing procedures. That’s a topic for another subject but this frame suited my needs. A Carbon 29er, hardtail, Thru Axle dropouts (and attachments that allow quick release too). While not built for pressfit Bottom Brackets (I don’t care) it does however take a 68mm hollowtech BB. The frame also came with headset bearings and spare cable bungs for internal frame cabling as well as a thru axle. It has a wishbone rear stay, which will hopefully make for a nice stiff climb feel (if not a little harsh on everything else). I also wanted to keep within the budget I’d sold the parts for off the Trek build. This means for now I’m riding fully rigid; but I’m ok with that, I’m used to it and generally, any kind of off road racing I’ll be doing will be MTB Duathlons which in my experience so far I could ride on a cyclocross machine, but for the risk of hammering stony trails on thin tyres. I felt it was best to go with BXT for the frame fork, good feedback and lots of quality info on their website/s, so after I purchased the frame I also bought a rigid carbon fork with tapered steerer. This arrived complete with a thru axle. Both frame and fork are in a matte UD, not 3k weave.
It took around 3 weeks for the frame to arrive, very well packaged. I was unlucky to get hit with a customs charge although I suspect it’d be a rarity to get away with that. The frame cost £190, free shipping an the customs charge was £60. Not bad. A carbon 29er frame for £250. The fork arrived a couple of weeks later, no customs charge! this was £70. Now I’m sure that if I’d looked harder I might find a comparable price in the UK for a carbon frame but I doubt it would be new and it would probably still be more without a fork. I found one for £500, no fork and in all honesty, it probably comes from Asia too plus it wasn’t my size. Meh?!
I also wanted it a light as possible. Being fully rigid obviously, I had a head start on that. Whilst a nice light pair of wheels is ideal, I also realise they’d cost, and I’m on a budget. I found a pair of Fulcrum 500 29er wheels on Chain reaction for £120 (normally, apparently £300, I don’t care). They are light and stiff and the bearings are smooth. That’s all I need.The Trek had a triple Shimano XT Chainset and I’d been converted to 1×10 long ago. Running triple on the Trek was not desirable so I found an FSA VDrive 1x chainset with a 32T chainring. Not the lightest, but no extra chainrings, no cable and no deraullieur and shifter obviously means a weight saving.
I reused the XT rear derailleur (non clutch, but I think narrow-wide rings seem to achieve most of the chain retention), Answer handlebar, stem and saddle and purchased an aluminium 3T seatpin. Seatclamp was standard with the frame purchase. Shifting is just a 10speed SLX shifter, perfectly good enough and off the Trek bike too. I’ve re-fit my old Geax Barro 1.9 XC tryes as they are light and narrow, just the way I like it. The grip is questionable but its enough for now. Will likely go tubeless eventually. The only faff I had really was with the brake hose being too short on the rear. Short of buying a complete formula hose and banjo (not cheap) I sourced a third party banjo so I could rig the rear brake up again and now I’m all good to go. Feels very light and very responsive on the ride up and down the road to the workshop so far, but soon I’ll break it in gently, in the field. Will be great to ride rigid again, I always liked it back in 1992 on my Scott Montana weighing in at nearly 30lbs! I now have a carbon hardtail at just over 21lbs with plenty of scope to lighten it up some more if I want to. Job done.