WELCOME TO PINKBIKE 2022 x BETA
VALUE BIKE FIELD TEST
9 Full suspensions and hardtails ridden and rated
Words by Mike Levy, photography by Tom Richards
Remember we once reviewed a $9,000 trail bike and it really disappointed us? Yes, me neither. It turns out that when you throw a bunch of fancy parts on a fancy frame, the finished product is also fancy and probably doesn’t suck, which sometimes doesn’t leave us much to say beyond stale platitudes and criticism trivial on cable routing or base protection.
But reduce that figure to under $3,500 for a full suspension bike or hardtails that cost less than US$2,100, and things get a whole lot more interesting. This time around the crew headed south to Tucson, Arizona for our annual Value Bike Terrain Test which saw nine reasonably priced machines go head-to-head over the rough trails and desert rock. Two weeks of riding later and we can (almost) agree on the most impressive bike, the one that scared us the most and the amount of horchata the human body can consume before needing care. serious medical.
Let’s be honest with ourselves: hardtails can be a lot of fun, but I suspect most of us would rather ride a full-suspension bike most of the time. The lag for some is that while they can certainly give you more comfort, traction, and speed over front suspension, the extra moving parts also mean more money, weight, and complexity. These are less of an issue if you’re okay with spending a lot of money, but that’s a different story if your budget is over US$3,500 or less like ours did with our five suspension trail bikes integral. Lots to say in our next reviews, then.
Want to buy a mountain bike but don’t have much money to spend? While full-suspension rigs made almost entirely of carbon fiber grab the headlines, hardtails offer an easier, and therefore cheaper, way to get into riding. And because you’re not paying for the extra engineering, hardware, and all those pivots, they often sport impressive specs that a similarly priced full-suspension bike can’t even come close to.
But they’re not just for budget riders, as those who can’t get through a riding season without breaking another set of chainstays, destroying another set of bearings or blowing another shock might have better luck – and less time off the bike – by choosing a hardtail.
How do we choose the bikes?
By “Choose,“what I really mean is”Please just send us any bike you have in stock.“If you’ve tried to buy yourself a new vehicle in the past few years, or even just parts of a bike, you already know that you’re more likely to come across the Ark of the Covenant than the chain at 12 speeds and derailleur you were actually looking for. Even so, Kazimer managed to get five full-suspension bikes that cost US$3,500 or less, and four hardtails that cost US$2,100 or less.
Yes, a few more bikes would have been nice. Yes, some prices have increased after the fact. And yes, Kazimer can be downright enchanting when he wants to, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tell him how disappointed you are that he couldn’t get the exact bike you wanted – that you had need – to see commented to this field test.
This is our tenth field test, and that’s not even including all of the trips Kazimer and I took over the years before we had a name for them, so we have the testing process locked down at this point. . It’s not complicated: go for a short test ride and then do another one. Then do another, then another, then a bunch more. After doing that, we go for a few practice laps before going for a few practice laps after we return from the practice laps. Then, after we come back, we go a few more la… Okay, you get the idea; nothing beats short, repeatable laps on a course that works for all types of bikes we ride.
These back-to-back tests are key because they allow us to compare, uh, comparable bikes much better than if we rode them in isolation, and they highlight noticeable differences in the bikes geometry, suspension performance and specs. Don’t call it a shootout, okay?
All of those laps wouldn’t count for much if the trails were more pumptrack than singletrack. But on the other hand, while we like to look like we know what we’re doing in photos of us on rough terrain, none of these reasonably priced bikes were designed for the do-or- die. In reality, they need to be ridden on a single trail that suits their intentions, which I believe is light to medium trail riding with a few rough stuff thrown in for good measure.
And that’s exactly what Tucson served us; hilly trails with a mix of tricky low-speed climbs and fast, rough descents, all paved with sharp rocks and all the traction or no traction to keep us on our toes. It was mostly smooth sailing, although there were a few crashes during our two weeks of riding as you’d expect, and we also had a few mechanical issues which we’ll talk about in the next few weeks. review videos. Oh, and this time Palmer had to hand-sew his Maxxis rear tire in order to get out of the desert before dark, but we’ll get to those behind-the-scenes stories in a future podcast.
Our Value Bike field tests are a little different from normal group reviews in that we’re less concerned with using control tires to even out traction and efficiency, and we place much less emphasis on the timing of our laps. Why? Well we think if you’re looking for a bike in this price range you’ll probably want to know more about how it works as is rather than how it works after installing $250 worth of rubber which is way better than any what tire. came stock on the bike.
In other words, if you’re spending all your hard-earned fun tokens on a bike that costs $3,500 or less, spec really matters and we didn’t want to gloss over such an important factor.
Speaking of glossing over things, timing our laps will always be a thing at these meetings as it gives us another metric to compare and discuss, but we also know that a gap of a few seconds between two bargain priced bikes certainly doesn’t mean one is better than the other. After all, maybe our legs felt better in the morning, or maybe it was all the horchata that made me go so fast and let Kazimer down?
That said, since our nine test bikes vary so much in geometry, suspension performance, and spec, don’t be surprised to see noticeable differences on the timing sheet. However, how much stock you put in those numbers is up to you.
Impossible ascent, (no) efficiency test and Huck to Flat
While the clock doesn’t lie, it really is the Impossible Climb and Huck to Flat that we all base our purchasing decisions on, isn’t it? I mean, it wouldn’t be a field test without some insane climbing before bottoming out on a pancake flat landing, so you can expect the series to end with Matt Beer on those nine bikes on some something steep then off to something silly.
What we’re not doing this time around is the effectiveness test. I know, I know, you’re probably as disappointed as I am, but hear me out; with the value bikes having different tyres, and four of them being hardtails, we figured our time could be better spent doing something else, so the extra climbing was replaced with a video breaking down each of the components on all the bikes impressed us the most. In it, we’ll talk about the forks, drivetrains, brakes, dropper post, and other budget parts that worked best, as well as a few things that definitely didn’t.
As usual, the test tasks were split between several riders to give us some perspective on how each of the bikes performed; we agree on most things but not everything, and it allows us to calmly discuss our differing opinions like well-adjusted adults. Yes, that’s how it happened…
Height: 5’10” / 178cm
Mass: 170 lbs / 77 kg
Remarks: Technical writer, allergic to everything
Height: 5’11” / 180cm
Mass: 160 lbs / 72.6 kg
Remarks: Technology Editor, Noted Alien Skeptic
Height: 5’10” / 178cm
Mass: 148 lbs / 67 kg
Remarks: Black News Editor as Technical Editor
Height: 5’10” / 178cm
Mass: 155 lbs / 70 kg
Remarks: Tech editor, I don’t know if it’s aliens or lizards
Height: 6′ / 183cm
Mass: 200 lbs / 90 kg
Remarks: Senior Tech Editor at Beta, far too poor to be so snobby
While it’s Ryan, Kazimer, Matt, Alicia and I who are in front of the camera for these field test projects, we don’t even know which way to focus or where to set up the film. We’d be completely lost without our overworked video and photo crew – Max Baron, Tom Richards and Lear Miller – who not only make sure we’re mostly focused, but also manage to make us look so much better than we actually are. And then, after filming for two weeks, we lock them in the Pinkbike edit cave and only give them Timbits through a little hole in the wall until they come out the other side pale, big and with a finished video series.
Speaking of completed videos, which bike review are you most looking forward to? Which bike looks the least promising?