Buying a Mountain Bike for Adventure Racing

article035We’ve all heard this one before, “I’m looking at getting into AR and was wondering what bike to buy?”.

Get Dylan going on one of his favourite topics, mountain bikes, and this is the result.

Thoughts on bikes

  • It probably isn’t worth buying an R8000 bike as a first bike – you will probably wear the componentary rapidly, and wouldn’t make full use of swanky stuff. However, it is well worth getting a good frame and replace worn stuff with slightly up-market stuff as and when it wears out. R3000 to R5000 will get you a bike that will see you through for a couple years, where-after you’ll have a better idea of the perfect bike for you.
  • Don’t waste money on a full-suspension bike – they cost a lot if you’re going to get a worthwhile one and the cheap ones are awful. Also, they require more maintenance and the exact choice depends more on your riding style than is the case for hard-tails
  • The best bike is the one that fits you the best and feels the most comfortable.
  • If you find you’re getting numb nether-regions, a very good investment is a better saddle. This is particularly important for guys: numb-nuts is unpleasant and can lead to long-term reproductive problems. The designs with a gap in the centre work well, but don’t bother with the gel versions – they cost a lot for what you get! A good saddle will cost you between R150 and R350, depending on the make and the shop. A broader one will make the ride more comfortable, particularly for women, who have more open pelvic girdles, while a narrower one may make technical riding easier. I ride with a R270 road saddle both on and off road, with very few problems. You just have to accept that a peeling butt after 600km over two days is a fact of life.
  • A good helmet is well worth the money! Not only is there the safety aspect, but the comfort is pivotal on your enjoyment. The best helmet isn’t always the most expensive, though. I ride with aa helmet retailing around R700, while my dad rides with a R500 one. There is no need to spend the R1000+ price tags on some helmets, unless they feel really, really good and you’ve got the money. Try several different makes on and select the one that fits your head and your pocket.
  • Fingerless gloves with proper leather palms will save you much pain, but there is no need to spend more than R200.
  • Good sun-glasses will save your eyes in the years to come. It is worth spending R1000 or more for good lenses and good fit. And you can use them when hiking and paddling.
  • Weight is an issue (more for hike-a-bike than for riding, though) but, when faced with a choice, ask yourself if the weight saving is worth the money – sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. The biggest and cheapest weight saving is in the frame. An aluminium frame is the best compromise as it is lighter than steel, but much cheaper than carbon or titanium. I ride a steel road bike and an aluminium mtb. Is it really worth spending R3000 on XTR cranks to save a few grams?
  • V-brakes are the way to go – discs either cost a lot, or suck. Cantilever brakes suck. Virtually all entry-level MTB come with V-brakes. Don’t stress about the frame having the option of fitting discs – you will buy a new bike in good time.
  • Second hand bikes can offer good value, but make sure you know what you’re getting! Take an experienced and trusted friend along.

Thoughts on stuff to buy with your bike

  • Helmet. R400 – R1000
  • Double-action mini-pump. R100
  • 2 spare tubes – I prefer the thin Presta valves to the car-type Schrader valves, but it’s your choice. Try to make certain that the whole team has the same valve type. R50 – R90
  • Puncture repair kit – cheaper than getting tons of tubes. R10-R30
  • Cycling shorts – they improve comfort especially when you’re in the saddle for many, many hours. Draw-strings are handy if you’ve got to swim in them. R200 – R400.
  • Water bottle cages and bottles, unless you get an hydration system (this would be better, but would cost a bit more). Cages, R20. Bottles, R10-R30. Hydration systems, R300 – R1200
  • Reflective vest – if you expect to be doing any night riding. R30-R150
  • Tyre levers – plastic damages the rims less than teaspoons. R20
  • Chain break – you won’t need one for a little while, but it saves a lot of hassles if a buddy’s chain breaks. R60 – R150.
  • Drip-on lube – Finish Line red-cap is the best for SA conditions. R50
  • Fingerless gloves – track mitts, Ryder do good value for money products. R120-R200
  • Flashing rear light – if you expect to be doing any night riding: R50
  • Multi-tool – if you’re willing to spend a fair bit more, you can get multi-tools with chain breaks incorporated. R40 for basic Ryder unit, to R410 for the very nice Topeak unit with chain-break.
  • Track/floor pump – will last longer than a minipump and will allow you to produce exact pressures: R200

Stuff to consider buying soon after your bike (not essential)

  • Good bike light if you plan to do a significant amount of riding in the dark. R300-R700 for a good DIY system; R500 for a basic commercial system; R2,000+ for the top-end commercial systems
  • Bike computer – there should be at least one computer in each AR team. The Cat-Eye XC Tomo is about the best value for money at R240; the Topeak Panoram is an innovative system showing lots of data, for R410.
  • Bar-ends offer more variety of hand-positions and greater comfort on long rides. I favour the shortest possible so that when I grasp the base in my little fingers, the end is in the middle of my index finger. R50-R100 for aluminium
  • Tyre liners help reduce punctures significantly. Some people never get punctures without liners, other get lots even with them. Slime limits your ability to swap tyres, but is effective in plugging punctures. R50/pair
  • Road tyres (slicks or semi-slicks) can be useful if you see yourself doing a lot of road-work. R60 each for basic slicks to R180 each for Specialised Fatboys (fast, limited to bad tar or the best dirt) or Continental Grand Prix 26″ * 1.0″ (very fast, pure tar tyres).
  • Saddlebag to carry tubes, tools, etc – but not a detachable one (they loosen up too much off-road). I prefer not to use a saddle bag off-road, as they sometimes shake loose – I carry stuff in my hydration system. R80

Thoughts on stuff that isn’t essential – at least at first, so don’t let anyone tell you it is!

  • Cycling-specific shoes and clipless pedals. Clipless pedals and cycling shoes are well worth the money (R1,000 – R3,000) but don’t worry about it until you’re sure you like cycling, and you’ve learned some skills.
  • Fancy cycling jerseys – they are comfy and offer convenient storage pockets, but are pricey. R150-R350. Ditto arm-warmers (R110).
  • Fancy tyres – anything up to R550 each. The ones on the bike are OK to learn on except (maybe!) for road-specific tyres.
  • Upgrade anything – a new saddle could be well worth the money, but there isn’t any need until you start experiencing numb-nuts.
  • Carbon dioxide tyre-inflators, or “bombs” – they work wonders for high-pressure racing under 3hours, but don’t waste your money for a long while yet!

Thoughts on future upgrades
Shimano offers a range of component ranges, based on quality. The lowest are Acera, Alivio, and 105. Deore and LX are aimed at the weekend warrior, while XT and XTR target the serious racers. Prices to match: an Acera crankset can be picked up for R175, while XT lightens you by R1,800, and XTR won’t give you much change from R3,500!

  • Deore is good enough for your shifters and your brakes, although many people get away with Acera for years.
  • LX offers the best value for money on your derailleurs and possibly brakes
  • If you can get hold of them, SRAM chains and rear clusters are very good value for money, otherwise Deore or LX.
  • Acera cranks offer great value if you are relatively light in terms of the wear you put on equipment. Otherwise, Deore is worthwhile, or even XT if you put down a lot of power.
  • If you find you regularly bend your rims, don’t be afraid to buy down-hill specific rims. They weigh a bit more, but chances are you do, too! The Italian manufacturer STC produces a very nice rim at about R240 each, while Mavic is the brand name for strong off-road wheels – their D321 (disc version) and D521 (rim-brakes) retail for about R500 each and are almost the last word in strength.

Thoughts on bike shops

  • Any bike shop will make mistakes – learn to do as much of your own maintenance as possible as soon as possible. Things like gears and brakes are the easiest, and will save you the most hassles.
  • Always check the workmanship on the bike when you get it back – I have only ever had bikes come back twice without something seriously wrong.
  • things to look for in a bike shop are: reasonable prices, reasonable service, friendly and knowledgeable staff.
  • Some shops will give you better prices, but very poor service. Don’t get fleeced into replacing things on your bike when they don’t need replacing – especially if it is going to cost you a bundle. Get a second opinion.
  • Sometimes it is worth shopping at one place, spending a bit more, but developing a better relationship and understanding – you get benefits like special or rush jobs done more easily and obscure orders followed up better. I was once allowed to take a suspension fork home on apro by one shop!

Take your time buying your bike. Shop around trying out all the different brands weighing up the pros and cons regarding price, weight and components. Always go for the bike that fits you best and feels the most comfortable.

Author: Dylan Morgan