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  1. #1
    Bike addict, dreamer AdamDZ's Avatar
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    Getting back to trail & XC riding after a break, need advice on ful susp vs hardtail

    My first post in the MTB forum. I haven't ridden or owned a "proper" mountain bike for over 5 years now. I own bikes built around hardtail MTB frames but they're "road" bikes. Mainly because there are not that many trails close to NYC. However, recently I started getting the itch again. I discovered some new trails. I also have a car now, so I can drive places I couldn't before.

    So I want to build a "proper" MTB: minimalistic, light, fat tires, etc. I'm a DIY guy, I build all my bikes so this won't be any different. I already have most of the drivetrain parts, I just need the frame, fork and the wheels. And I'm not into fancy stuff and high end components. I'm more down to earth, I like functional stuff that works with minimum bling and shine. I like aluminum and steel. Carbon and titanium do not interest me. Deore level components suit me well. If it's all black then even better The only relatively high end parts will be the tires. I'm looking at the new Schwalbe Hans Dampf tires.

    So that's kind of an introduction.

    My first question is whether I should get a full suspension frame or just a hardtail. I will be riding on moderate forest trails only, nothing extreme, no downhill riding, no jumping. Can someone please reiterate the main differences, advantages and disadvantages of a full suspension frame and a hardail frame? What can go faster on rough trails? What climbs better? What's more nimble on singletrack? What's more stable on downhills? Which one is more flexible, universal? I'm kind of looking for a Jack of all trades.

    I had a full suspension Jamis Dakar Sport and I'm kind of inclined towards a full suspension frame, but that adds some weight. But will it be much beneficial over a hardtail? I have an opportunity to buy a few years old Jamis XC Pro frame for cheap. Otherwise I'll probably pick up a Surly Troll or something similar.

    My second question is whether I should bother with hydraulic brakes? One of my bikes is a "trekking" bike built around a hardtail MTB frame with a rigid fork. I use it mainly for loaded road touring but on occasion I take it off road (it has Shwalbe Maratahon tires that have some moderate off-road capability). I run BB7s on it with 203mm rotors and it has tons of stopping power even when loaded. The only thing I wonder about hydraulic brakes is if the hand fatigue is lowered compared to cable actuated brakes. I also have a pair of nice XT Dual Action levers that I like, but they're for mechanical brakes.

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    Senior Member mihlbach's Avatar
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    If you are going to be riding on long island, a full suspension bike will be overkill. If you aren't into the high zoot gear then I would just stick with a hard tail. I've been riding these trails for years on a single speed hard tail 26er with no trouble, though I have recently gotten a geared 29er hardtail. I think I would get bored on a full suspension out here. You don't really do enough braking out here to need hydraulics, but they are still much nicer than mechanical brakes. Good luck.
    Last edited by mihlbach; 07-03-11 at 03:42 AM.

  3. #3
    Bike addict, dreamer AdamDZ's Avatar
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    The Bethpage/Syosset trails? Maybe. But most likely upstate New York: Fahnestock, Harriman, Sterling Forest, Catskills, etc.

    I actually rode the Sterling Forest trail last weekend. I was on a day road trip from the Harriman Park, and I found that trail accidentally. I was on a rigid trekking/touring MTB, set up for road riding with 1.75 Marathon tires and I made it about 90% through that trail. I had to walk a few inclines, the rear tire would loose traction and walk around few large mud puddles, I didn't trust the tires would make it. The ride was a little bumpy and shaky, I had to be very careful around wet roots and rocks, but the bike had trunk bag, racks, all that stuff. I think it would be a more pleasurable ride if I only had fat, knobby tires and lost the racks.
    Last edited by AdamDZ; 07-03-11 at 08:37 AM.

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    Adam, do you know what kind of wheels you are interested in? 26" or 29er? I built up a Steel SS Rigid 29er last year that I love to bits. (vassago Jabberwocky). Good 'ol steel.

    I've read many of your posts in the past and see that you are a knowledgeable and sensible kinda guy so if you wanted to go FS I'm sure the extra maintenance on all the pivots, shocks, etc is something you can handle easily, but all the same there is that factor to consider. Depending on your trail/terrain a FS just might be the best pill but it sounds to me from your description that you really dont need one. I think a 29er with cushy tires will do the job superbly. I'm not a participant of those debates folks have between 26 and 29er wheels but I can say that I love mine and am pleasantly surprised at that it can do and how I can traverse terrain that I would otherwise use a FS bike on...mind you it is not a substitute for a FS is you need one..but again..for "everything" with sense and practicality.

    Do you know if you are one that favors gears? 3x9? 1x9? Do you anticipate hills enough to warrant a granny gear? Many mtb barely ever use their big ring unless they are racing or riding on the road..the middle ring gives you 90% of what you need on the trails. a chain keeper like 'pauls chain keeper' to keep the chain safely aligned on the front ring as you march across the rear cassette.

    I'm going to suggest a Vassago Bandersnatch frame if you like steel are looking at a 29er and want gears (thus a deuraileur hanger and vertical dropouts) (http://www.vassagocycles.com/bandersnatch/). A pocket friendly and workhorse crank like a FSA V-drive 32t single ring (for a 1x9 if you want it as clean as you can but still want gears). it'll take a 80-100 fork if you need squish.

    I think BB7's will be just fine. Those are some seriously under appreciated brakes by those that are total converts to hydros....although hydros are great. You def dont need anything larger than a 160mm at the rear, maybe a 180 (185) at the front? 203 are like for DH and big heavy AM type builds for folks that fly down mountains and can perhaps be overly grabby and touchy on xc/trail bike.

    Truthfully with a HT if you go thru very technical terrain (rocks, roots, steep ups and down) you find you more have to ride thru and around obstacles too big or loose to plow over. With a FS if you have enough momentum and speed you can often plow over a lot. The more pedal efficient are still rigid bikes IMO, followed by HT, then bringing up the rear are FS...some pedal energy does transfer to the suspension and is lost. Some bikes are better at managing this than others but none can totally take it away, some FS are better "peddalers" than others and the loss of 'efficiency' is hard to notice expect by the more pro type of guys I suppose that are more seasoned and sensitive to that sort of thing and have history with all sorts of bikes to know what to look and feel for.

    Great all rounders that I have some measure of history with and I think are awesome FS bikes are C'dale rz120, Rocky Mountain Altitude, Yeti 575...these are 'trail/light AM ' bikes that dont necessarily have the weight penalty a bigger-burlier FS AM bike would have and pedal very, very well and climb like billy goats as well as descend nicely and very capable in technical terrain..they are spendy tho. There obviously are more bikes in this category that are just as superb but I have not ridden any of them. But again, I dont think you need a FS rig, but only you know for certain..

  5. #5
    Bike addict, dreamer AdamDZ's Avatar
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    Thanks Moozh!

    It'll be 26" with 3x9 drivetrain, because that's what I'm familiar with and I already have some parts. I never rode a 29er so I can't comment. I know there are heated discussions on many forums regarding this topic It'd be also nice to have the option to go faster if needed. The added weight of 3x9 isn't a big deal.

    Also, my other bikes are 26" so I like to keep them like that in case I need swap wheels in emergency.

    I will know this week if the guy is willing to sell his Jamis XC Pro frame (FS). If not, I will start looking. I may start with a hardtail since FS frames are much more expensive unless you can get one used. But yeah, the extra maintenance doesn't bother me. I was actually looking at Yeti frames, they're really nice but out of my budget. Also, considering my skill level and the trails I'll be riding I really don't need a high end rig. FS would be nice for the reasons you've mentioned but a HT will probably suffice until I decide to hit more technical trails or decide I just don't like a HT. I can always swap the frame later, nothing is carved in stone here.

    Yeah, I think I stick with BB7s too. I'm familiar with them and the extra maintenance issues with hydros always turned me off. And this will let me use my favorite XT dual action levers that I already have.

    Thanks a lot for a thoughtful reply!

  6. #6
    use your best eye kenhill3's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AdamDZ View Post
    .....the extra maintenance issues with hydros always turned me off.
    Which issues are those? Just curious what you know about this. Thanks.
    "I tell you, We are here on earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you any different." - Kurt Vonnegut jr.

  7. #7
    Bike addict, dreamer AdamDZ's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kenhill3 View Post
    Which issues are those? Just curious what you know about this. Thanks.
    Periodic bleeding?

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    I've only come across the need to bleed lower end shimano hydros that use mineral oil, well, it needs bleeding but I have not done it yet..that bleeding kit is a ripoff and I'm lazy at present. I have a number of other bikes wiith hydros from avid (Juicy 3, Elixr-r), formula (the one), hayes-stroker (trail) and they have never needed any attention whatsoever, they use DOT brake fluid I believe. I must add that I dont tend to ride any bike every day all day to push their limits just an hour or three at a time once or twice a week. So I'm not 'banging' on them to test them in that fashion. For me they have been somewhat set-and-forget. But I have a couple of bikes with BB7s and my hooligan with BB5's...I fail to see where they are deficient....they both work superbly and you simply cannot beat the price point compared to hydros.

    Sorry Adam, I dont have a frame recommendation for a 26" steel XC HT that I have spent saddle time on to offer a suggestion with commentary of my own experience with it, BUT I will go ahead and suggest you take a look at the Ragley Piglet (http://www.chainreactioncycles.com/M...?ModelID=55499). I have heard nothing but glowing reports about their 2010 AM HT frames (the steel Blue Pig and aluminum MMMBop).

    There tends to be ongoing conversations about the Ragley and On-One bikes over at 'forums.mtbr.com'. They are very price competitive frames, very, very well regarded and the designer even pops in with a degree of frequency to join the conversation. I picked up an aluminum MMMBop frame last year but am yet to build the bike up. I'm afraid that I have a tendancy to severely overspend when building a bike..gotta have top shelf this and that when I am perhaps only a mediocre talent...but some day soon I'll get her built. It's a frame that is a AM HT and not a XC HT like the 'piglet' which is what you will be looking for.

    Chainreactioncycles.com (crc.com) are located in the UK but I have ordered from them numerous times and the longest anything has taken to get to my door is 1 week...a strict 7-days at the worst. For the US this is the only source I know of that you can get this frame from, I dont believe there is a US distributor.

    For how great these frames are, the reputation of the builder (Grant from 'shedfire'. Designer for bikes from OnOne and NukeProof..and Ragley. (http://www.shedfire.com/)) I think it is well worth checking it out and seeing if it suits what you are looking to do.

    There is a geometry chart there on CRC.com also...pay attention to the HTT (horiz top tube) length and these bikes tend to have shorter seat tubes but longer top tubes by design. They are meant to be fitted with short stems and wide bars thus if you tend to ride an 18" in some other frame, you may find that the geometry of a 16" or 17" is ideal for you with this frame. I tend to ride a 20" framed XC bike but my mmmbop is a size 18" for example. On another bike I would think that is too short but with a 50mm stem and 700mm wide bars it feels perfect! Agile and ready for action! Also many folks over at forums.mtbr.com simply create a post to ask what size is ideal for them, just state your height and inseam, more than likely the designer himself will offer advise. Also look at the builds by folks that have the frame over at www.shedfire.com to get you eyes on some of them.
    Last edited by Moozh; 07-03-11 at 10:33 PM.

  9. #9
    Bike addict, dreamer AdamDZ's Avatar
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    Last night I bought a Rocky Mountain Flare hardtail frame on eBay from Rocky Mountain Cyclery, they sell some open boxes, demos, etc, for $101 shipped. I'll start with that. I'm not too crazy about the color, but I don't care much either.

    I know it's a cheap frame but I'm really trying to do this on a budget. I've lost some money on my failed Big Dummy experiment (built, didn't like, sold...) and I'm saving money so we can move out of NY next year so I'm trying to use as many existing parts and not to spend a lot on anything else. I'm not very demanding, I ride cheap $100 Nashbar frames and I like them For that reason I will stick to BB7s for now too, they're cheaper and I already have the right levers for them too. But if I ever get to build a better FS MTB I will try Avid hydraulic brakes for sure.

    Although I might be tempted to get this frame later today if the bids don't go too high, it's a bit smallish though, 20" is my ideal size. And not crazy about the color too (I'm not crazy about any colors but black and blue basically).

  10. #10
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    im going through the same question myself...being in the same area i have been riding the same trails probably as you....Cunningham, Stillwell, Glacier Ridge, and i just started this year and im contemplating my next bike...in the begining i was all gung ho for a full suspension, but talking to a bunch of people who know ALOT more than me im thinking that for ME what im gonna be doing id rather spend my money on a great 29er hardtail as opposed to spending the same amount on a so so FS that isnt really warranted for me at this point.
    Trek 3700

  11. #11
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    IMO 26" is much more nimble, less clumsy and more fun. Full suspension is more fun as well. I've been riding hardtails for quite a while now out of financial necessity, but IMO...there's nothing like a nice 26" dually.

    That said...it all depends on your riding style and terrain. If I were riding smooth / groomed trails...I'd do a rigid 26" with snappy acceleration. It all depends on what works for you personally. Best to test a few and see what you like. For the average size, standard "XC'er" type, a rigid or hardtail is probably just fine. For a bigger dude doing the same type of riding...29'er is probably great. For somebody who likes to jump off trail obstacles, stairs, walls, and just generally have alot of fun w/o much regard to lap times and exercise regimen...the 29'er will most likely dissapoint, but I've been doing that style of riding on my 26" AM hardtail with big smiles for quite a while.

  12. #12
    Bike addict, dreamer AdamDZ's Avatar
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    I didn't even consider a 29er - they just look weird. I never rode one though so I have no idea if they're any better than 26. I really don't care for 29ers right now. I picked up a 2009 Fuji Reveal 1.0 full suspension frame on eBay for $350. If I didn't find that frame I would have gone with a hard tail. I should have it all built up in two weeks.

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    Keep us posted!!
    Trek 3700

  14. #14
    Bike addict, dreamer AdamDZ's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by craigny View Post
    Keep us posted!!
    Oh, absolutely Pictures will be coming!

  15. #15
    Bike addict, dreamer AdamDZ's Avatar
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    So this is the frame I got on eBay: Fuji Reveal 1.0, size 19. The fork is new, steerer tube uncut yet, its Rock Shox Tora TK Coil PopLoc. It matches the frame's color scheme perfectly with black, red and gray letters and graphics. Everything else will be black with red accents, logos, etc, except for Avid Elixir 5 brakes: both, the calipers and the levers will be white too. I hope to have it ready by this weekend.



    Parts, 3x9 drivetrain, most parts are older models 2009-2010 I got on sale to keep the costs down:

    Rock Shox Tora TK Coil PopLoc fork 2011
    Mavic 321 32h rims
    Shimano XT hubs
    Halo hex skewers instead of QR skewers
    2mm spokes, brass nipples
    (Wheels ordered from Bicycle Wheel Warehouse)
    Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires (Snake Skin)
    Shimano XTR RD (2009 model)
    Shimano XT FD (2010)
    Shimano XT chain
    Avid Elixir 5 brakes (I was planning just BB7s but I got the Elixirs for like $30 more each, my first hydraulic brakes ever)
    Shimano Deore shifters (2006 maybe, will probably upgrade to XT later, I had these laying around for a while, unused)
    Jagwire Ripcord shifter cables + sealing kit
    Race Face Evolve XC Triple Crankset 2009 I think
    Shimano HG80 Cassette
    Race Face Ride-XC Riser Bar
    Race Face Ride-XC Seatpost
    Race Face Deus XT stem
    Ritchey headset (unknown model, came with the frame, a bit old, will upgrade later)
    Ergon GP1 Grips
    WTB Laser V SLT saddle
    Shimano PD-M520 Pedals

    It's not optimized for weight, I know, but I was looking for good deals on the parts and value first, without going with parts that would be too cheap/weak, and I was trying to make it look nice by matching up the color scheme of white, black and red accents. No problem if it's heavier than it could be. For instance going with double or triple butted spokes would cut down the weight of the wheels but would add almost 30% to the cost so I went with straight 2mm spokes.

    It'll be mainly ridden on trails, no freeriding and no jumping other than hopping over obstacles, so the fork should be adequate, I hope.

    The choice of so many Race Face parts is incidental. They just fell within my price range and color requirements.

    It's kind of weird since all my bikes are/were usually black with few blue and green ones along the way. I never owned a white bike. But the frame was the right size, the right price and it's supposed to be a pretty decent frame too with licensed Specialized suspension, so I'm going to end up with a white bike and more bling that I'm used to, I'll feel very conspicuous riding this thing. It's a lot more of a bike than I was originally planning. There goes the "minimalistic"...
    Last edited by AdamDZ; 07-12-11 at 09:06 PM.

  16. #16
    Senior Member rothenfield1's Avatar
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    Holy Crap! I'm following this thread, and looking forward to pics of the build-up. Don't worry about the white, I'm kinda getting sick of seeing all black bikes, even though I own one.

  17. #17
    Bike addict, dreamer AdamDZ's Avatar
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    Thanks. I sometimes get tired of the black too. Last time that happened I had a "baby blue" bike; kind of lite, sky blue color. Most of my riding is commuting and day rides around NYC so the choice of black is kind of a security thing: non-flashy, inconspicuous bikes, no decals, etc.

  18. #18
    Senior Member rothenfield1's Avatar
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    I get the metropolitan area security concerns thing. But, no worries, you’re not going to commute on this bad boy, I don’t think. I’m interested because I think it’s a good looking frame, and I like building-up bikes. Although, at my age and riding style, I can’t see justifying the expense of a FS bike for myself, and think most FS bikes looks like Rube Goldberg contraptions; I still think some of them look cool…like this one.

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    Bike should look sweet when it's fully built.

    As for color, my theory is a mountain bike should be dirt colored. What's underneath the dirt doesn't matter much =)

  20. #20
    Bike addict, dreamer AdamDZ's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rothenfield1 View Post
    I get the metropolitan area security concerns thing. But, no worries, you’re not going to commute on this bad boy, I don’t think. I’m interested because I think it’s a good looking frame, and I like building-up bikes. Although, at my age and riding style, I can’t see justifying the expense of a FS bike for myself, and think most FS bikes looks like Rube Goldberg contraptions; I still think some of them look cool…like this one.
    The frame was $350, no shipping, I picked it up. Everything else would be the same anyway. A decent hardtail frame would be $100-150 at least. That is not a hell of price difference. If this was $1,000 versus $150 I'd go with a hardtail for sure. And no, of course, I would never commute on this bike or even ride around the city. I have bikes for that. I like the way the frame looks. I agree that some of the higher end designs often look strange.

    Quote Originally Posted by BlueRaleigh View Post
    Bike should look sweet when it's fully built.

    As for color, my theory is a mountain bike should be dirt colored. What's underneath the dirt doesn't matter much =)
    It will probably be dirt colored in no time Or so I hope!

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    Weight is over-rated.

    By the way, that is one nice racing frame, well at least it "looks" like that.

    Better have some riding to back it up...

  22. #22
    Bike addict, dreamer AdamDZ's Avatar
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    OK, here is the bike, done, right before the first ride. The only change was a different handlebar. It weighs 30lbs as shown.



















    Last edited by AdamDZ; 07-17-11 at 07:30 AM.

  23. #23
    Bike addict, dreamer AdamDZ's Avatar
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    And these are from the first ride. The bike didn't fall apart, no problems. I survived too, although one trail was harder than I expected and I had several "Oh, s**t!" moments (steep slopes with rock rubble), and I was very tired in the end. The power curve is different than road riding due to rapidly varying inclines and surface and due to all the obstacles. I also think that I could do with just a single chainring crankset.

    But the bike handles terrain so much better than the Jamis Dakar I had last time.

    Now I just need to loose 15+lbs and get stronger!












  24. #24
    Bike addict, dreamer AdamDZ's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by oneofpr View Post
    Weight is over-rated.

    By the way, that is one nice racing frame, well at least it "looks" like that.

    Better have some riding to back it up...
    Oh, I won't do any racing or anything extreme. I'm 44yo and this is strictly for fun and exercise.

  25. #25
    Senior Member rothenfield1's Avatar
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    Dang, that's perty! Where you are riding looks beautiful too. I agree about the difference between riding mountain and road. It's almost the difference between anaerobic vs. aerobic training. I figure I burn as many calories riding 10 miles on MTB as 15-20 riding road.

    Great build.

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