Times are really hard for a lot of people right now, food banks have never been busier and helpful bankers are telling us that we’ll (not them obviously) all just have to get used to being poorer for the foreseeable future. The only good news in all this bleakness is that I’ve recently been riding some relatively affordable bikes that have been absolutely outstanding.
Mountain biking is a proven way (check out the work DMBINS and Scottish universities have been doing for the science) to reduce stress and improve mental health. That makes the fact that you can get that kind of escape economically even more valuable. But which bikes and bits are helping turn the tables on ever higher prices and is this a trend we can expect to continue?
Deutscher direct discount
Perhaps unsurprisingly the two real bargains I’ve tested recently are both direct sell and both with German origins. But before you start grumbling about them not being properly supported, Canyon and YT now both have UK headquarters that handle warranty and rider support. So you’re not shipping any problem pieces back and forth through Brexit borders or trying to handle cross continental customer service conversations.
The two bikes are at different ends of the riding spectrum too. I’ve already fully reviewed Canyon’s Neuron AL6 here, but the ‘need to know’ is that it’s a seriously lively, enthusiastic short travel trail bike with so much pop that I had to add a ton of rebound to stop it feeling too giddy. At just over 3kg it’s alloy frame is lighter than a lot of shorter travel carbon frames that cost more than the entire £2,249 bike. It’s got basic but impressively smooth Fox suspension (34 Rhythm fork and Performance rear shock) and fast rolling Schwalbe tires on new low cost DT Swiss wheels to really make the most of that frame too. It was also the first bike I rode SRAM’s new mineral oil operated DB8 brakes. Definitely not the sleekest or prettiest stoppers around, but way ahead of most existing affordable anchors in terms of nuanced feel and decent power.
Braking the poverty cycle
Those same brakes are an economical equipment highlight of the bargain bomber I’ve just come back from riding too. YT’s Capra Core 1 is their new lowest priced entry point to chaos charging confidence and you’re getting a lot for your money. A RockShox base model Zeb fork and Super Deluxe shock manage the 170mm of travel remarkably well. You get a mixed nest of SRAM NX and SX Eagle with a Truvativ crank, Maxxis tires, Ringle rims, E-13 cockpit with genuine ODI grips and even an SDG saddle, so no-one’s going to turn their nose up at your labels.
The one own brand piece is the YT Postman dropper, but the 170mm stroke is smooth and the lever is sturdy and rattle free. It’s the extras you get that really impressed me though. There’s a good quality bottle in the offset cage and you even get a skid plate equipped chain device included in the £2,699 asking price. Tick the 'pro setup' box and YT will turn the wheels tubeless with Peaty’s valves and set up the suspension based on your weight. And I can vouch for the fact that the prescribed set up work really well as James from YT had done that before he turned up and the Capra performed brilliantly straight from the door. Yes, it’s a fair old weight at 17.3kg but that gives it serious the strength and presence on the trail that you’d want from a big travel bike. What impressed me most was how good the base level suspension felt too. On a local ride with small drops and rocky steppy runs I couldn’t tell any obvious difference between these dampers and the Ultimate level Lyrik and Super Deluxe I’d been riding the day before. And if you do want a fancy damper in the fork, because it’s a Zeb chassis you can just drop the upgraded Charger 3 in and crack on.
The bike that I was riding the Ultimate gear on is also something of a bargain too. OK so GT’s new Sensor Carbon LE costs almost the same as the Canyon and the YT combined, but you get a really sweet riding, mostly carbon frame, decent drivetrain plus top spec tires and brakes. GT are sold through ‘proper’ shops with all the extra support, servicing, set up and other long term advantages that hopefully provides.
Poorer riders, richer riding
Obviously a push bike over $/£2k, let alone one for $/£5k, is still ridiculously expensive to a lot of people and lower priced bikes are generally nowhere near as good as they were a few years ago. The optimistic take home here though is that basic kit and basic bikes are getting better and better, and weight aside they often close the gap to premium kit to almost imperceptible levels. It’s not just these isolated examples I’ve quoted here either. The new Shimano CUES transmission equipment I’m just about to start testing looks super promising and I’ve got a couple of Boardman bikes in on test that seem to have a lot of potential on paper.
In other words, while the banking elite might be telling us to suck up a future of being skint, the mountain biking experiences we have don’t necessarily have to be poorer.