If everything we are looking at for 2021 and 2022 is true…the next couple of years are going to be short on mountain bikes and components and pricing is going to be at an all time high. So where should you spend your money on your bike since your dollar isn’t going to go as far? Ironically…it follows the same theory I have had in 20+ years of mountain biking.
Since the beginning of high end parts when it comes to mountain biking…everyone has looked at the rear derailleur. It didn’t matter if you had Deore shifters. If you had that XTR rear derailleur, you had the best of the best. It gets even worse now if the component has a battery attached to it. The reality…your transmission needs to just perform but you do not have to buy the top of the line parts for it to perform flawlessly. The bottom of the line Deore parts perform better than most components out of the last decade. The SLX brakes that I run on my bike perform as good as the XTR counterparts outside of a little bit of weight but the price premium is very different.
The component industry figured this out back in the 80’s. People pay for high end transmission components when the difference in cost of the components to manufacture is actually very low (assuming non-battery powered). As you go up in grade…profit margin goes up. Does the riding experience? I would argue it doesn’t. I want consistent performance to value. When you look at the Shimano SLX and SRAM GX or NX lines, the performance is on par on the trail for a fraction of the cost of the higher end counterparts.
That said…if you are happy with your current transmission setup…there is no reason to upgrade anytime soon. It will be a waste of money. So if you aren’t spending on high end spec shifting…than where?
Where you actually feel a difference on the trail…
It’s simple. Suspension design…suspension…wheelset…tires. Those 4 things effect your ride more than anything else on the market. You are probably surprised I didn’t say weight. Have you looked lately at bike weights? It almost doesn’t matter if they are carbon or aluminum. There is a MAYBE 7% difference.
When it comes to how the bike feels on the trail, it isn’t how the bike shifts. It is how it interacts with the trail and that comes down to those 4 factors of your mountain bike. I have ridden really cheap bikes with good suspension, wheels and tires and they have outperformed expensive bikes that lacked in those categories. Dollar to performance…that is where the true value is.
Mountain Bike Wheelsets
When it comes to the wheelset, I’m not talking carbon either. It should be a high engagement hub with light wheels. I have carbon rims now and I wouldn’t miss them for my other high end, wide aluminum ones. Rotational weight does make a drastic difference in riding but the gain/performance ratio is not really there. One of the biggest game changers in the bike industry was high engagement hubs. When you decrease the amount of rotation the pedal takes to get your power to the ground, you not only increase efficiency. You also improve low speed handling as there is less delay to get the bike moving.
When it comes to the rim, the higher quality rims are going to be lighter, stronger and generally wider. This decreases rotational weight which means you will have to exert less energy for the same level of power. It also means that you can run wider tires for more volume and more traction. The stronger, higher quality materials will hold true better and be more durable on the trail. Upgrading to a higher quality wheelset can completely change the feel of a bike for the better and wheelsets are generally where mountain bike manufacturers skimp on full builds.
Outside of the ever changing standards when it comes to hub width, wheelsets also move from bike to bike so they are an investment that you can hold as you continue to change bikes.
Mountain Bike Tires
While we are on the subject of wheels…tires are another upgrade that directly translates to how your bike performs on the trail. It surprises me with some riders that really neglect this area of their bike. It is crucial that you have tires that meet your terrain and your riding style.
I probably overpay for tires for this reason. There is no better feeling than new tire day. It is like the trail is hero dirt everywhere as that fresh rubber gets dirty. Most riders wait way too long to replace tires because they have gotten expensive and they are a wear item that no one wants to spend money on. However, they make a huge difference in the performance of your mountain bike and they should be invested in.
Mountain Bike Suspension
Suspension components are one aspect of mountain bikes where it still makes a HUGE difference between lower end components and higher end. While other areas of the market have a slim difference, the performance between a RockShox Lyrik and a Yari are world’s apart. The suspension is the most active part of your bike outside of your own body.
Suspension components can be expensive but dollar to performance is the best out of anything else on your bike. If you need to save some money, it is better to go with a lower end version of the higher end fork. On the RockShox end, that would be like going for a Select over an Ultimate. You get the build quality and stiffness at the expense of some adjustability.
There have been cases when people think they need a new bike when they really just need a suspension upgrade. That is how much quality suspension components can effect how your bike rides on the trail.
2021 and 2022 Are Going to be CRAZY for the MTB Industry
Prices are going up and supply is going down…it is going to be crucial to invest in the right places on your mountain bike to get the right performance to dollar. It is going to be hard to find parts and complete bikes so upgrading your current ride with what you can find is going to be the story moving forward in the short term.
These components can make your tired ride feel like the latest and greatest without much work.