After putting in plenty of desert miles on the four hardtails and five full-suspension bikes we had on hand for this year’s Value Field Test, it was time to pick a few favorites. We decided to highlight the components that impressed us the most, the ones that we would happily use on our own bikes and perform well above their “budget” designation.
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Fork: Fox 34 & 36 / Shock absorber grip
Forks equipped with Fox’s Grip shocks are simple and efficient. A dial is used to adjust the amount of low-speed compression, and there is a very useable range of settings. It lacks the high-speed rebound and compression adjustments found on the high-end Grip2 damper, but honestly, for most riders this fork will be fine. We were all able to find settings that worked well for us and we had no issues with 34 or 36 on the unforgiving Tucson trails.
There’s a considerable price difference between the RockShox 35 forks that didn’t impress us as much: the 35 sells for around $500, while a 34 Performance costs $800, so pitting these two against each other isn’t exactly an apples versus apples comparison. Still, the Grip damper forks deserve credit and would be a great upgrade for riders who use more entry-level suspension.
Honorable Mention: DVO Diamond D1
Somehow, Fezzari managed to spec a DVO diamond on a bike that sells for less than $3,000, an impressive feat in itself. The Diamond has all the features you’d expect from a high-end fork, including DVO’s OTT feature that makes it easy to adjust the sensitivity of the fork at the start of its travel. The Diamond sells for $1,000, which means it won’t be the answer for riders on a budget, but its performance and adjustability earn it an honorable mention.
Drivetrain: Shimano Deore and SLX
Shimano’s Deore and SLX drivetrains continue to impress, delivering fast and consistent shifts every time. The fact that all Shimano 12-speed drivetrains from Deore to XTR all use the same freehub body is an added bonus. This means riders who want to upgrade to a lighter cassette in the future won’t need to purchase a different freehub body at the same time.
Brakes: Shimano MT500
For less than $100 per wheel, Shimano’s MT500 brakes offer great value. There’s plenty of power for general trail riding, and we didn’t experience any consistency issues with the sets we reviewed. MT500s typically appear on bikes with resin pads and cheaper resin rotors, but if you buy them aftermarket, upgrading to metal pads will improve their wet-weather performance (something we don’t). didn’t need to deal with at all in the Arizona desert).
SRAM universal derailleur hanger
There’s nothing worse than buying a derailleur hanger only to find out it’ll cost $60 to replace. SRAM has been working to change that for a few years with their universal derailleur hanger, and it’s great to see them appearing on cheaper bikes. A replacement hanger costs just $16, and they’re readily available in physical stores and online.
Tires: Specialized Butcher / Purgatory
Specialized has revamped its tire compounds, and the new rubber is better than ever in wet and dry. The higher the number, the stickier the rubber, so rainforest dwellers will be better suited by the T9 compound, and desert dwellers will likely prefer the T7 option, at least as a rear tire for more longevity on the harder trails. Either way, at around $60-$70 each, the Specialized tires are cheaper than most options from Schwalbe and Maxxis, and are a solid option for any bike build, budget or not.
Grips: ODI Motion Lock-On
It’s not uncommon for value-priced bikes to end up with grips that look like the most popular option on the market, except they use extra-hard rubber, or the dimensions are just different enough to cause discomfort. Fortunately, two of the bikes we had for testing arrived with ODI’s Motion Lock-On grips already installed. They use a simple one-bolt design, with a relatively thin profile and a knurled pattern in the rubber for extra traction. This rubber is soft and very comfortable, a welcome feature when you’re hurtling down rocky trails on a hardtail.
Saddle: Specialty Bridge
Saddles are obviously a matter of personal preference, but the shape of the bridge ended up working well for all testers. Rounded edges prevent it from bruising on descents, and the depression in the middle helps keep blood flowing where it’s supposed to. The deck is available in 143 and 155mm widths, and in a $60 Sport model with steel rails, or a $140 version with hollow Cr-Mo rails and Specialized’s Mimic foam for even more comfort.
Trans-X Dropper Post
Dropper posts are no longer an optional accessory, they are a necessity, at least if you plan on mountain biking. That’s why it’s great to see simple and effective items from Trans-X appear as standard equipment. The stroke adjustment feature on their +RAD post is also to be commended – it allows the post stroke to be changed in minutes, no tools required.
Trans-X doesn’t have its full line for sale in the aftermarket, but if you’re shopping for a new bike and it’s spec’d with a Trans-X post, there’s a very good chance it will works exactly as it’s supposed to out of the box, and there won’t really be any need to upgrade it in the future.
Frame: Commencal Meta HT AM
In many cases, companies only offer their low-cost models as complete bikes, rather than just offering a frame. Building a bike from the frame can be a tedious and tedious affair, and many riders just want to walk into a shop, pick something that suits their needs, and ride the trails. However, for those looking to start from scratch, the $650 Commencal Meta HT AM frame is a great place to start. The aluminum frame is very well finished, with internal cable routing, plenty of chain guards and a geometry that makes it extremely versatile.