In 2003 I got a Schwinn Aluminum Comp from Wal-Mart and used it mainly for pavement riding...it's been tuned pretty well, and all of the parts still work like new (wheels are true, brakes stop well, derailleurs shift niecely)...I know it's a dept. store bike, but read on...
Earlier this year, one of my friends took me mountain biking. He was in a $600+ GT Full Suspension Bike, but I kept up pretty well on my cheap Schwinn. Afterwards, I inspected the bike and found that everything was working perfectly. I went biking on the local 7.5 mile trail pretty frequently after that (about 2-3x a week for the last couple of months)...even though lots of the riders are on full suspension, disc brake and XTR equipped bikes, I don't feel like my inexpensive bike is letting me down. The other day I even passed this guy on one of those $1000 bikes when he couldn't make it up a steep climb...
So since my Schwinn was performing pretty well, I decided to make some upgrades. I switched the stock tires for some Kevlar-Beaded WTB Velociraptors in the front and IRC Mythos XC in the rear. I also swapped the stock Altus rear derailleur for a 2006 Deore M510, which shifts a lot more crisply than the Altus. Recently, I managed to bend the seatpost coming off a bad landing (nothing else damaged though), so that's going to be replaced with a new alloy one as well. I recently weighed this bike, and it's about 30 lbs in an 18" size. A little heavy, yes, but not that much heavier than say, a $500 bike.
At this point, my question is whether it's worth further upgrading this bike. As it is, I feel like it works at least decently well on the local trail, though the RST fork feels stiff and short on travel (they advertise 63mm, but in reality it's more like 25mm). I was looking into getting a Manitou Axel or RockShox Dart 2 as an upgrade, and also switching out the stock hubs and wheelset for a lighter set (looking at a set of Mavics on Deore hubs)...the fork would probably run around $120, and the wheelset close to that also. The price of all of these upgrades is more than the original cost of the bike (around $200), so I was wondering whether a new fork and wheelset really made a huge difference in feel on the trail. I'm going to be a HS senior next year, so I'll probably only be able to go riding a few times a month.
If getting a new fork and wheelset aren't worth it, would there be any worthwhile cheap upgrades to make that would improve performance on the trail?
The Current Specs:
18" 6061 Aluminum Frame with 1 1/8" Threadless Headset (Cane Creek Aheadset)
RST 191 CL 63mm Fork
SR Suntour 22/32/42 Crankset
Tourney Front Der/Deore M510 Rear Der/7 SP Revoshift grip shifters
Alloy Linear Pull Brakes
Alex Alloy Rims, QR Hubs
Oh, and I'm 5"11, about 160 lbs, so I don't think I am too much of a burden on the frame
Thanks for any suggestions in advance.