Obviously if you need some kit or a fresh bike, then having the chance to buy it cheap on a Black Friday deal or some-such is a grand thing. Especially when prices of everything have been rising at a shocking rate recently while relative earnings and economic growth have been going the opposite way for quite a while now. But do you really need new stuff? Or is there a smarter way to spend this Friday in terms of improving your bike performance, saving yourself money and supporting a more sustainable model for mountain biking going forward?
The best way to assess what’s a wise spend and what isn’t is to do an audit of what you want to change on your bike. Do you want more grip? More speed? Smoother working gears or suspension? More powerful brakes. A more comfortable/combative position?
Well a lot of those things can be changed very cheaply or even for free. Just lowering tire pressure a few psi can give you a lot more grip, while trimming knobs down slightly will speed a tire up. If you’re still running inner tubes then converting to tubeless is a very cost effective upgrade that will give you more grip AND more speed. It’ll also give better puncture protection against impacts or pointy objects so you can ride rougher terrain faster without regretting it.
A good thorough clean and lube of gear cables, chain, cassette and jockey wheels can make a massive difference to how smoothly your gears operate. It’ll likely save you a few watts of drag too so you’ll also go a bit quicker for the same amount of effort.
Before you decide you definitely need a custom tuned EXT Storia coil-shock to even think of riding that gnarly downhill (or just that handful of steps on your local loop) make sure you’ve got the best out of your current suspension. An hour sessioning back and forth altering pressures and damping settings slightly on fork, shock (or both) to see what does or doesn’t work can make a massive difference to the control and confidence you have. And if you try everything and it still feels rubbish it’s certainly not time wasted as you’ll have a much better idea what you want from your upgrade shock or your custom tune.
Repair don’t replace
The idea of pulling your forks and shock apart can be terrifying and there are certainly some shock jobs that are best left to a suspension specialist who’ll have all the right tools, fluids and knowledge. A small investment in proper servicing and tuning can also get your suspension feeling better than it did when it was new – and potentially as good as a new fork or shock that would cost a lot more. However, as long as you follow instructions carefully (particularly the ones about being very sure you’ve let all the pressure out of each part) and you’re careful and patient, a simple suspension strip down and clean is surprisingly easy. Feeling how much smoother and more controlled you’ve made your bike feel for just a few minutes work is also one of the most satisfying bike DIY jobs you can do. Most RockShox (and some other) forks come with spare seals and a service kit provided, but most people never use them, you can often pick up the bits you need cheap as well.
The same DIY delight applies to doing a quick service on your brakes. Making sure pistons or cable move smoothly massively increases fine control or ‘modulation’, while checking alignment will stop drag and noise. Upgrading brake pads can make a big difference as well, so go for a quality brand that will work consistently, not a cheap option that might fail or be too feeble when you need it most. If you're not stopping fast enough, don’t forget that increasing disc rotor size by 20mm will increase power by around 20 percent. Conversely, if you’ve got more power than you need, dropping a rotor size can save you more weight than changing to a lighter XC brake.
Talking of smart mods/hacks, a SRAM Eagle or Shimano 12-speed group with a mega sized rear cassette might be tempting to make climbs easier. You can probably get close to the same bottom gear just by changing the chainring on your 11-speed setup though, which will probably cost about 90 percent less than a full transmission swap. The spares are a lot less expensive going forward too, although it’s probably best to stock up while availability is still good.
Spend time, not money
Finally, just changing positions or angles of things like handlebars and saddles can make a dramatic difference to how you feel on the bike. That could be a nose down saddle tip stopping back ache, a forward saddle slide helping on steep climbs or a roll of the bars/reposition of the brakes making you feel much more comfortable attacking the trail. Again, if you can borrow a shorter/longer stem or wider/higher bar off mates to try before you buy, that could save you a lot of wasted cash if you don’t like the change.
If you do decide to buy something then buy what you need – don’t get blinded by the amount of discount being displayed. Again, that means working out what you want to change and doing your research beforehand to find out the best way to do it. For example if you want to save weight off your bike, then find out what the stuff you already have weighs. You’d be amazed how heavy some handlebars, rear cassettes, tyres or saddles can be and while swapping them isn’t as sexy as getting a fancy new carbon crank, it might be a lot more cost effective. Similarly, buying a tire with a really well damped carcass or slow rebound rubber compound can make your front end feel like you've spent 10 to 15 times more on a new suspension fork. Particularly if you don't really know what to do with all the dials and levers sticking out of it.
Don’t assume new stuff is always better either. Even if you can get a £1000 2022 hardtail for 20 percent off this Friday, the spec will almost certainly be much worse than an £800 hardtail from 2019. And in most cases, the geometry etc won’t have changed much (if at all) either. The changes introduced on the latest generation of RockShox forks won’t work for everyone either, which makes an older Lyrik or Pike fork look a total bargain.
Check before you check out
Even if you’ve carefully zeroed in on what you need, done your research and found a bargain that suits, check exactly what you’re buying before clicking ‘confirm’. Black Friday is a chance for sellers to shift all kinds of stuff that’s been lurking in the back of store rooms and warehouses so check the fine print. That might be the wheel you want but is it the right size? I don’t just mean 27.5 or 29 either, check the axle standards and hub widths too in case it’s a 142mm back end or even a SuperBoost one.
Tires are another place where people often trip up too, simply because there are so many different types and whether deliberately or not, sellers can often be quite vague about specifics. Don’t assume that the picture on the web page is always exactly the same product you’ve just put in your basket either.
Finally, make sure you’re buying from a reputable source with honest pricing. Both SRAM and FSA have recently released warnings about very convincing looking, but actually totally fake sites selling their products at ‘killer prices’. The idea of marking up prices for a bit before ‘slashing’ them for a sale is the oldest trick in the book too, so check how real those savings actually are.
Even if the site seems fine, make sure you check for any extra postage, processing or import costs that might still be payable before the delivery driver hands your ‘bargain’ parcel over too.
Block Black Friday
Or to put it another way, if I’ve got one really good ‘Top Tip’ for Black Friday, it's this. Avoid the temptation to lose hours checking out 'deals' on your phone or laptop and just go riding instead. Because getting the most out the bike and kit you already have will always be the best way to get maximum value from your mountain biking.