Last month Full Sus launched its guide to buying your first bike by discussing the hard-tail 29er options for the new mountain bike rider. With the recreational mountain bikes out the way, let’s take a closer look at the bikes in the R10 000 to R15 000 – because if you choose wisely from the bikes in this range you’ll have a bike capable of conquering just about any mountain obstacle.
Yes we’d all like a full suspension bike – or even better a full suspension XC bike, a full suspension trail bike and a steel framed single speed (if you’re going to dream) – but for most of us that’s just not financially feasible. If you look around you, on the start line of a Saturday 45km race, you’ll notice that the majority of riders aren’t on high end full suspension, full carbon 29ers. There certainly are riders on full sus 29ers, but chances are the majority are riding the more reasonably priced aluminium models – full sus 26ers or hard-tail 29ers. And the reason for that is simple economics.
Yes, you could downgrade your car to ride the 2014 Epic, like one of the Full Sus readers’ mates is supposedly doing, but for most of us, especially those of us driving a 2005 Toyota Tazz, that’s not really an option. Normal mountain bikers have to make the realistic choice of what they can afford and go for the most capable bike in that price bracket. Often that’s going to be the best hard-tail 29er. As you saw from the table in the December issue (recap at www.issuu.com/fullsussa), there are quite a few options to choose from – and you should bear in mind that we didn’t list every single bike, but kept it to one per manufacturer to keep it manageable.
If you’re in the market for a hard-tail 29er with ride anywhere capabilities (anywhere bar a downhill course that is) then these are the following points you need to look for:
- A tapered head tube
With a wider base, a tapered head tube offers strength and stiffness, where you need it most – where the fork, head tube and down tube join.
- Quality wheels
You’re going to want to go for the best specification hubs, rims and tyres you can afford, better wheels roll faster and are worth every cent if you don’t want to be pedalling your legs off to keep up with your mates when they’re freewheeling. Cheap wheels pretty much negate the benefits of the big 29er wheels – so if you can’t afford decent new wheels rather shop second hand.
- Tubeless tyres
If you’re going to be riding on any trails of any consequence you’re going to want tubeless ready rims and tyres. Get your local bike shop to do the conversion before you take the bike home, it’ll make your life so much easier. Tubeless tyres allow you to run lower air pressures, which allow your tyres to grip better, and help you avoid those pesky punctures.
- Air sprung fork
While there nothing wrong with the coil sprung forks on some of the bikes in this price range, the benefit of an air sprung fork is the adjustability. You can set the suspension recoil and air pressure to suit your weight, riding style and the terrain you’re riding. Yes it’s going to cost you a bit more in maintenance, mainly in the effort of remembering to check the pressure regularly, but if you take good care of your bike (as you should) you won’t have any issues.
Momsen bikes very kindly let Full Sus ride a couple of their value models to research this story and they were honestly great rides. The AL229 model is priced at R9 995, and comes well spec’d with just the Kenda Small Block Eight tyres letting the bike down a bit. I took it up the Berg Pad above Stellenbosch, around and down to the plantations of Eden (above Paradyskloof, just outside Stellenbosch) were it handled excellently on the gravel roads, climbing as well as it’s big AL429 brother, but struggled a bit on the loose single tracks of the pine forests and the rooty, rocky single tracks of the Blue Gums plantations.
The increased wheel stiffness of the Stan’s ZTR Rapid on the AL429 compared to the Weinmann/Momsen Double Wall on the AL229 become increasingly noticeable as the terrain becomes rougher. The Schwalbe Racing Ralphs offered significantly more grip to the AL429 than the Kendas did for the AL229. The difference between the two Momsens nicely illustrated the different bikes for different predominant riding conditions approach to bike buying that we advocated in the previous article. If you’re going to be riding gravel roads to keep fit and enjoy being out in nature then the AL229 is the bike for you. Even if you venture off along the odd short section of single track the stock standard AL229 won’t let you down, but if you’re going to enter races, tackle anything rocky or negotiate technical trails, then spend the extra cash on the Momsen AL429.
The AL429 is one of the most fun bikes I’ve ever ridden. It just wants to ride. In fact it felt rather similar to the Trek Stache in the simple but responsive ride feel. The only negative for me on the bike, which I feel could have been fixed at the price point, is the rather unsightly cable routing, which would have looked better in a frame matching tubing colour rather than the white which stands out rather glaringly. But on ride quality, trail handling capability and component specifications you can’t fault it, especially at the R11 995 price. Yes, it’s not the lightest and you’ll feel the nearly 13kg weight on longer climbs – but it’ll get you fit, strong and teach you trail riding skills. There is an undeniable logic to the ‘do it the hard way on a hard-tail to develop the base skills’ school of thought, rather than learning bad habits on a forgiving full suspension (though if you do ride a soft-tail there is no harm in learning in more comfort).
I took the AL429 on a few rides, the longest of which was a crank in the torrential rain on the limestone hard-dunes around Arniston. The route featured plenty of short sharp climbs and slick rock shelves made treacherously slippery by the rain, but the AL429 never missed a beat. Its virtues against its AL229 stable-mate have already been noted, but the fact that it comes tubeless ready is an essential feature while the remote lockout on the Suntour SR Raidon fork is a nice bonus.
It’s not just the Momsen AL429 which features surprising specification highlights. The 2014 Suntour Raidon 29er forks feature remote lockout across the range. If you’re looking for a feature to make your life a little easier on the bike that’s a good option, which you’ll find on the KTM Ultra Sport and Ghost SE2950 too. The Axis A10 goes one better though, featuring the surprisingly light Suntour Axon fork with a 15mm through axle. As yet none of the other lower cost bikes have caught onto this trend, but look for others to follow suit later in the year.
On the drivetrain front, most of the manufacturers have gone for 3 x 10 set-ups, which provide a great range of gears. If you’re new to the sport then the range is going to be a great help, but if you’re planning on racing (this is especially important if the bike is for a teenager) you should consider one of the 2 x 10 equipped machines rather. There is less gear duplication and less to go wrong (i.e. a broken chain caused by crossing the chain too diagonally, from the chainring to the cassette, under power).
My concern with the entry lower cost bikes is the bottom bracket quality. Maybe it’s a symptom of being used to the look of the oversized BB30 bottom brackets, but the little bottom brackets on the lower cost bikes did have me worried. The lack of a protective collar joining the crank arm to the frame leaves the bearings vulnerable to grit and grime too. However with some online shopping research, my fears were quickly dispelled. The Shimano BB Spline ES25, as used on the Momsen AL429, will only cost you R141 on buycycle.co.za or R150 on evobikes.co.za. So while it’s not a particularly sustainable way to go about it, you can always ride it ‘til the grinding gets too much and then replace it for a very reasonable cost.
For the Smaller Riders
If you’re slight of stature and have found the 29 inch wheels a bit much to handle, you should consider the 650B (27.5 inch wheel) offerings. Giant’s ladies specific Tempt 27.5 (from R6 750) and men’s Talon 27.5 (from R6 995), Merida’s ladies specific Juliet 10 and men’s Big Seven (sorry no pricing info), Momsen’s ladies specific LA 651 (from R6 000) and men’s AL655 (from R7 000), Silverback’s ladies specific Splash (from R4 999) and men’s Slade (from R5 850) and Titan’s ladies specific 650b men’s Calypso Trail (from R6 499) and 650b Comp (from R9 499), are all worth a closer look.
Across the Price Ranges
Using Momsen as example here is a list of models and prices across the hard-tail 29er offerings.