Bicycle Network: Bikes 'n' Bits
The mountain bike all-rounder. Big bucks or budget? Marcus Walker of Walkers Wheels and radio 3RRR weighs up scrimping versus spending on a steed for city streets.
I have a passion for mountain bikes. They are versatile, robust and a heck of a lot of fun. Like the vast majority of four-wheel drives that will never enter the bush, many mountain bikes will never go to the mountains – but it’s good to know you can.
Early, cheaper mountain bikes were really heavy and hard work but modern ones have come a long way. Today, a $400 bike has similar bits to a 10-year-old $1000 bike and any decent mountain bike now comes with an alloy frame and alloy wheels for lighter weight and easier rolling.
Contemporary mountain bike rims accept a wide range of tyres, from off-road ‘mud pluggers’ to super-fast roadie slicks. It’s like two bikes in one. With smaller diameter wheels for quicker acceleration and the good gears and brakes currently available, a mountain bike becomes a formidable urban weapon.
In this test I have selected two bikes at either end of what I call the sensible spectrum. I know that there are many cheaper and plenty of dearer bikes out there, but I have selected a $400 model to one costing just over $3500. Bikes outside these price ranges I consider to be extreme, and I don’t like extremes. If you want to spend more than $3.5k for an all-rounder bike then it’s a sign that you earn too much money; if you want to spend less than $400 you’d better take up walking – it will be less hassle.
The main features that one should look for in a basic mountain bike are: a good frame; serviceable forks; a cassette rear hub (Shimano preferably); and good wheels. Components such as a saddle, stem, grips and tyres can be changed to suit your taste and the style of riding you evolve into.
|Colour||Red, turquoise, blue, matt brown|
|Frame size||Men’s S, M, L, XL, XXL; Women’s XS, S, M, L|
|Frame||6061 plain-gauge alloy|
|Fork||RST 181 (steel non-adjustable)|
|Brakes||Alloy generic V-brakes|
|Shifers||Shimano EF29 (combination shift and brake lever)|
|Front derailleur||Shimano TY15|
|Rear derailleur||Shimano Altus|
|Crankset||Shimano FC TX 70 22/32/42|
|Cassette||Shimano HG30 11–28 7-speed|
|Bottom bracket||Shimano steel bearing|
|Handlebar||Steel riser bar|
|Rims||Generic alloy single wall|
|Spokes||Hoo flung dung, stainless-steel 14 gauge|
|Tyres||Kenda 30TPI semi-slicks|
The first bike I chose was a Raleigh M600 – a favourite of mine. It has an alloy frame with a good mix of predominantly Shimano components. The Raleigh has front suspension only but unless you want to spend megabucks and have energy to waste, dual suspension is not a wise choice.
As a mechanic, I reckon that the Raleigh is pretty easy to build, although the hubs are a bit rough (rough bearings will not slow you down that much, but they will mean that they won’t last as long as smooth bearings) and the wheels need a bit of a true and extra tension (that’s why you go to a bike shop). The V-brakes worked well enough. They are a cheaper alloy unit and thus have more flex and fairly uneven spring rates which results in reliable but spongy braking. The bars and stem are steel, as are the forks – well made, but heavy …
The Raleigh rides well enough and is certainly great value. It should give 2000–5000km of trouble free cycling and it’s fair to say that a bike worth $4000 cannot be 10 times better. This bike would be a great platform for someone who doesn’t intend to do too many Ks or wants a cheap, solid commuter or entry-level mountain bike.
Specialized Stumpjumper Comp
|Frame Size||15.5, 17, 19, 21inch|
|Frame||M4 metal matrix alloy|
|Fork||Fox F80 RL (rebound/lockout)|
|Brakes||Shimano XT hydraulic disc|
|Front derailleur||Shimano LX|
|Rear derailleur||Shimano XTR|
|Crankset||Shimano LX 22/32/44|
|Cassette||HG90 11–32 9-speed|
|Bottom bracket||Shimano LX|
|Pedals||Shimano SPD 520|
|Stem||Specialized 31.8mm oversize|
|Handlebar||Specialized alloy flat bar|
|Rims||Mavic 317 disc|
|Spokes||DT Swiss black 15g|
|Tyres||Specialized Fastrack 120tpi|
|Seat post||Specialized two-bolt alloy|
|Saddle||Specialized Body Geometry Rival|
The old Stumpy has been around since the dawn of mountain biking and represents the high end from a high-end manufacturer. The reason that this bike and ones like it cost so much is that there is heaps of development that goes into the bike. Prototypes, torture testing and the like cost bucks, and somebody’s got to pay.
Building the Stumpy is a walk in the park, the precision with which all the parts are made ensure that it all fits together without having to resort to the file, hacksaw or hammer (not even the little one). Wheels are well built and don’t even need a tweak; bearings run super smooth compared to the Raleigh; and the tyres and tubes are heaps better quality. (Tyres and tubes are what I feel to be one of the most important parts of any cycle).
This Stumpy features Shimano XT hydraulic disc brakes. These are magnificent, providing excellent stopping with a good solid feel (disc brakes don’t suffer from ‘pulsing’ caused by bad rim joints and wonky rims). The ‘driveline’ is Shimano LX with a bit of the venerable XT–XTR thrown in.
The frame of the Stumpy is Specialized proprietary M4 aluminium rather than the generic 6061 alloy from which the Raleigh is made. Specialized claims that this alloy is stronger and stiffer than the 6061 (higher strength alloy means the width of the tube walls can be thinner thus the frame gets lighter).
The Stumpy rode beautifully, the lighter wheels and stiffer frame just accelerated off up the street and the brakes were sensational, even before they had a chance to ‘bed in’. The Fox front fork has a lovely action and a nifty little lever to lock it out (these Fox forks run coil springs, the simplest and most reliable suspension medium). The Stumpy is light, nimble and solid, all that you can ask of a performance bike and the quality of the components will mean that it will hold together for many Ks of fun.
In conclusion, while these bikes appear similar, they ride differently. The longer, lower profile of the Stumpy makes it a more ‘aggressive’ ride, whereas the Raleigh has a more relaxed ‘cruiser’ seating position. The lighter weight of the Stumpy is obvious when flicking it around the streets: it responded to the merest clenching of the bum or caress of the handlebar.
But is the Stumpy worth nearly 10 times the Raleigh? Well, it’s definitely a better bike and no one ever spends less on their next bike. But the Raleigh can introduce you to the delights of mountain biking and if you trash it in a couple of years then you can buy another one.
Remember, bikes only wear out when you use them. Either bike will get you from A to B; it’s just that the Stumpy’s B is farther away ...
Marcus Walker has spent his life trying to recapture the buzz from the very first time he rode a bike. A cycle mechanic for the last 20 years, he is still trying to get it right. He chats about bicycles and stuff with Tim Thorpe on the 3RRR ‘Vital bits’ program at 8.45 Saturday mornings.
This article first appeared the October-November 2006 issue of Ride On.
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