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Upgrade to a new bike or not bother

I’m getting back into off road riding, perhaps oncee a week in the Surrey hills. Not interested in bike parks, ripping downhills or doing loads of jumps. I enjoy flowing and technical single track as well as the less extreme downhill stuff. I have a 2005 Spec stumpy FSR XC. It’s a 3x9 with a fox talas fork and septune rear shock. It works just fine, or at least I think it does.

I’d not be looking to spend a fortune, maybe £1500. My questions are

1. Do all the changes to bikes make an upgrade worth it? I specifically mean the new style geo, dropper posts, 1X, 29ers etc? Geo and wheel size are perhaps the area I’m most interested in.
2. Has suspension tech moved on significantly from what I have or is the talas fork similar to lower end stuff available now?
3. Does the bike weight matter much? Lots of reviews mention how heavy the reviewed bike is. My FSR is 12.5, would I really notice an extra 2kg or is this just my inner roadie trying to break out?

Thanks
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  • steve_sordysteve_sordy Posts: 2,318
    edited April 2020
    My apologies in advance people, this is a long one, I just got involved! Great question! :)

    Bike design and tech has moved on considerably in 15 years, £ for £ bikes are now considerably better in my opinion.

    Slacker head angles, steeper seat angles, suspension designs that work better, wider bars, reduced stem lengths, longer reach, wider axles. All these contribute to a superior riding experience. Then there are the suspension components. Apart from Fox, who went through a bit of a wobble when they decided to give the customers what they said they wanted instead of what they actually needed, forks and shocks have steadily become more and more brilliant! Even budget suspension from Fox and Rockshox is very good. There have been several new entrants into the market, some at the bottom end, some not. All are squeezing Fox and Rockshox to keep standards high and to keep developing.

    The standout item to come on the market since 2005 is the dropper seat post. I will not buy an mtb without one, or without plans to have one fitted before I ride it. They are a revolution and a "must have" in my opinion. There has also been a lot of evolution in that industry too. You can still pay £3-400 for a high end silky smooth dropper that may actually last more than two years, or you can pay less than £100 and get something that your censored can't tell the difference and appears to be just as reliable. Whatever you do, fit a dropper!!!!

    Some of the other things that have changed in the last 15 years that have made a big difference are, fewer front rings, more gears, clutch mechs. With the advent of dropper seat posts with a remote lever on the bar, the bar was too cluttered. Getting rid of the front mech and its multiple rings enabled room for the dropper remote. This led to what was called 1x gearing. Not single speed, but only one ring on the front. Initially, because this reduced the gearing range, it forced riders to choose between whether they wanted to go faster on the flat or to get up steeper hills, ie what size of front ring they wanted. Then SRAM brought out the 11-speed cassette, different tooth forms to aid chain retention, and a clutch on the mech to inhibit the chain from thrashing up and down. Losing a chain was a thing of the past for most. The big change was the massive range cassette. This was 10-42t (or was it 46?) and this wider range enabled many riders to be able to go fast and to climb steep stuff. Then SRAM went one better and brought out the 12-speed design where everything was different again and it came with an even bigger range cassette 10-50t. Aftermarket suppliers pitched in and now you can have big range cassettes with lower speed chains, there is so much choice it can be confusing.

    Bottom bracket designs have moved on with such bewildering complexity that even bike shops can't keep up with it all. My local bike shop has a board with all the various types on display so that when people bring their old one in they can identify it. Not all change in this area has been beneficial to the rider. Some has only been to make manufacture easier.

    Wider front and rear hubs, along with larger diameter axles has been a good move as they give more stability and better steering control. QR skewers are now only found on budget bikes, as far as I can tell.

    Tyres! What a rats nest that has become! For years even aggressive downhill riders were happy with 2.3" or maybe even 2.4" wide tyres. But then came "fat" bikes with tyres between 4" and 5" wide. These were obviously suited for sand and snow, but their increased popularity led to "mid-fat" tyres which were 3" to 3.5" and then more recently to "plus" tyres 2.5" to 2.8". Don't shoot me if I've got some of the terminology not quite right, its not something I've studied, just observed. It seemed to me that overnight, plus tyres became the latest thing for all new bikes. They are more expensive, heavier, and slower to accelerate,. So why are they so popular? They can provide a lot more grip, but as they are your first line of suspension, they iron out lots of trail chatter. They round off the corners of every rock and soften every root. They feel better. But they need wider frames and forks, hence the wider hubs (also to hold all those extra gears).

    26ers are pretty much "dead" in mtb now (outside the budget end at least). This means that there are bargains to be had in complete bikes, frames, forks, and wheels etc, but your choices will be very limited. It is down to personal choice on whether you go for 27.5 wheels or 29ers. 29ers roll over stuff better, but are not as agile. There are lovers and haters of each, and many magazine articles on which is better, none of which seem to convince the adherents to switch. I moved from 26 to 27.5 and on to 29 (what I have now). I can see the + and - of each size and personally I prefer the 27.5 wheel/tyre combo. The bike I have now came in either wheel size and I chose the 29er because I'd never had one before. I'd ridden them, but I wanted to experience the deeper assessment that comes from ownership. Whichever size you opt for, you will very soon get used to either. But when switching from one to the other, the differences will be noticeable. Incidentally, the 27.5 was called that because it was convenient to have it mid way between 26 and 29. But it isn't, it's more like 27.

    I have had a TALAS fork (you can switch between two suspension travels, 140/110 for ex). I experimented with it, but I soon wrote it off as of no more practical value to me than fork lockout was. Either of those is something I would never pay extra for and in fact would pay a little bit NOT to have on the bike! Modern geometry, combined with suspension tech has advanced to the point where neither TALAS nor suspension lockout is needed any more in my opinion.

    I used to take a keen interest in bike weight, willing to pay more for a lighter bike, or for a lighter component. I had a 140mm full sus large size trail bike that weighed 28.2 lbs. But I surprised myself when I changed it for a 130mm trail FS bike that weighed 30lbs. The reason was that the new bike performed sooooo much better than the old one! It was so much more capable and made me feel like a better rider instantly! Weight is not the most defining character of a bike. Read reviews of bikes, particularly ones like "Trail Bike of the Year", and you will see time and time again that geometry and suspension design, and not weight, are the premium components of a bike that everyone wants to ride. Stiffer forks and wheels are heavier, but they mean that the bike goes where it is pointed and the suspension works as it should despite travelling over rugged terrain. Yes the bike is a bit heavier, but it feels so much better to ride. It is something that has to be experienced.

    So in conclusion, a lot has happened in 15 years, a LOT! Read the magazine reviews, go on as many test rides as you can (oh rats, not possible now with the Covid-19 restrictions). But rest assured, unless you buy your bike from a mail order catalogue you are pretty sure to get a great bike.
  • Many thanks for taking the time to go to such length and detail with your response.

    The hunt starts here.
    https://www.bikeauthority.cc/
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