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Winter Commuting- should I get a beater or a slightly nicer MTB?

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Winter Commuting- should I get a beater or a slightly nicer MTB?

Old 10-23-15, 10:14 AM
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josephort
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Winter Commuting- should I get a beater or a slightly nicer MTB?

Having just moved to Minnesota, I want to get set up with a dedicated winter commuter. My initial plan was to buy a super cheap 90s rigid mountain bike- think along the lines of a Specialized Hardrock, Raleigh M30 or Trek 800- basically, the cheapest thing I can find in decent working order. There are plenty of options in my area in the $75-$125 price range, which I'd be happy to pay.

However, I also stumbled across a (somewhat) newer Trek Navigator 300 for only about $25 more than most of the others I've been emailing about. I know this isn't a high end bike by any means, but it strikes me as a much better overall value. The frame is aluminum instead of steel and the seller claims its equipped with a shimano alivio groupset and specialized resolution tires, which are presumably better than whatever was considered passable in 1993.

My question is, is it worth it to invest even $25 in higher quality components and materials for a bike that will be dedicated to plowing through snow? If my cogs get covered in ice, will it make a difference that they're higher quality? If I'm always trying to ride slow and steady, will I notice a moderately lighter aluminum frame? The Navigator also has shocks on the fork and seatpost, which I assume won't help me out that much during the winter- will the be a liability?

Obviously, this particular bike might turn out to be a lemon. But generally, when scouring craigslist for winter commuters, should I be looking for good deals on decent mountain bikes, or constraining my search to rigid steel-framed beaters?
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Old 10-23-15, 10:47 AM
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nripin
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i would use a beater to clarify all my confusion and answer my questions and then decide if i need a nicer one, chances are u might not even need a nicer one.
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Old 10-23-15, 11:29 AM
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I ride a 90's rigid mountain bike turned commuter in the winter. I don't think suspension gets you anything, and the early 90's deore lineup is good. If I were going to spend more money I would get a higher end early 90's rigid mountain bike not a low end early 2000's hybrid.
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Old 10-23-15, 12:19 PM
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Originally Posted by kingston View Post
If I were going to spend more money I would get a higher end early 90's rigid mountain bike not a low end early 2000's hybrid.
Fair, and I appreciate the advice. But regardless of the specific bike, my main question remains whether higher end components will serve me well in winter. When everything is covered in ice and snow and sand and grit, am I going to be grateful that I sprung for deore (or whatever) or will performance be mediocre no matter what?
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Old 10-23-15, 12:23 PM
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I wouldn't ride a bike with shocks in the fork and seatpost for the winter. I'd look for something that has as few possibilities for mechanical failure as possible. Single speeds are pretty classic way to go for that reason. I run a geared bike because I have a heck of a short climb (yeah they have a few hills in IA, on the way to work. Very hard to beat a vintage mtb as a commuter given the price and given that they have lots of room for fat tires and fenders.
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Old 10-23-15, 12:32 PM
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I have all early 90's XT on my winter bike. It has held up very well for many years, but I am able to keep it pretty clean because I can spray it off every day before I bring it into my heated workshop. When it gets slushy and cold your transmission won't work at all, and you have to hope that in froze solid in a gear you can use. For my next winter bike I will seriously consider single speed or IGH. If you are going for cheap I would still get the MTB over the hybrid. Save some money for studded tires and poagies. You'll be glad you did.
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Old 10-23-15, 12:53 PM
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Old Long stay Stumpjumper ... Wheels with Drum Brakes and Snow Cat 45mm wide rims , Suomi Nokan tires, Here.

Where I Live Now the S-A drum 5 speed IGH would be Fine , but in 1990 when I built them I had the 6 speed freewheel rear
so Its Got a MTB drivetrain .. Friction thumb shifters ..
Had Mustache bars and bar end shifters , now I got a old Bullmoose Bar (cut down for width)
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Old 10-24-15, 04:51 AM
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Buy the cheaper 90's rigid frame mountain bike.

For your use, in winter conditions it's likely true that you won't notice a big difference between different quality level component sets. I wouldn't make that a major criteria in selecting a bike. My first winter commuter was a dept. store MTB with a Tourney rear derailleur and the rest of the components were generic and unbranded. It worked fine.

In any case, I don't think you can assume that the newer bike will have better components. A decent 90's MTB could have older Deore (or higher) components that are easily as good as a newer Alivio. Also, an older bike will be more likely to to have friction shifting which works better than indexed when everything starts getting coated in ice and sludge. On a newer bike I would change it to friction, anyway.

I also don't believe you will really notice any real difference when riding due to a slightly lighter frame. Even if you were able to notice the weight difference, it's entirely likely that a decent old MTB is lighter than the newer aluminum framed bike, especially if the newer bike has a suspension fork. The suspension fork can be nice on rutted winter roads, but on my old dept. store MTB the fork stopped working in really cold temperatures, and after a couple of winters it seized into a rigid fork, anyway.

Last edited by TuckamoreDew; 10-24-15 at 05:00 AM.
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Old 10-24-15, 12:34 PM
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If you choose a beater bike then at least make sure that it's in excellent mechanical condition. Winter is a bad time to screw around and tinker around with defective, unreliable equipment while you outside riding. Personally I use my nice bikes and all of my bikes are FG or SS to minimize maintenance and eliminate breakdowns.
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Old 10-24-15, 01:46 PM
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Thanks for the input, everyone. I opted to pick up a late 90s rigid frame steel Raleigh for $40, which I now anticipate will serve me better and was probably a better value to boot. I'm hoping the nice mild fall weather we're having now will last a fair bit longer, but I'm excited to have something to ride once it starts to snow.
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Old 10-24-15, 04:27 PM
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Just wanted to mention, if you wanted to buy a more expensive winter-commuting bike, a lot of people buy a bike with an internal hub (like I have a Shimano Alfine). I think they do 11 speed now? They're slightly less efficient than a derailler, but it keeps all the shifting inside the hub protected from the elements. So of them come with a belt drive (rather than a chain) as well. They're not cheap, but they last a long time even in winter riding here.
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