Moving out on the Mongoose XR 200 is best done in a gear-range lower than expected with frequent upshifts as opposed to starting off high in the cogs. The gearing is such where the bike’s heft can be compensated for by selecting wisely and building a steady cadence. Like most bicycles at this price point, it finds its sweet spot on hard pack, paved bike paths, gravel roads and the occasional asphalt commute. There was a time about a decade ago when big brand store mountain biking equipment was so inadequate that it came with a warning label disclaiming that it was not actually intended for off-road use. We’re very pleased to report that those days are behind us; at least as far as this particular model is concerned.
Does this suggest the performance goes south the moment you leave the bike path? Not at all. Despite what you may have read, heard or suspected, we were able to take our XR 200 test bike through a decent variety of off-road conditions and returned to the trail head quite unscathed (as did the bike). Among these were some sections of twisty single track, a sandy lakeside trail system and a rooty technical park with multiple stream crossings. If you were hoping we would have used this test as an opportunity to read about a budget bike snapped in half on a downhill run, we’re sorry to disappoint but this is 3-inch travel territory here; regardless of cost.
The steering is sharp and precise and the bike holds a decent line assuming the ground isn’t overly sloped. Climbing and descending can be a bit of a handful on account of the bike’s overall weight. Surprisingly, the front brake is up to the task of getting the bike slowed down in a hurry with decent modulation after burn-in (which took several hours for us). The rear however, like most v-brakes we’ve encountered, can be a bit more like a light switch (off or on- and when on, dragging the tire). We found the best formula here was to scrub speed with the rear but allow the front manual disc the lion’s share of bringing the XR down to cornering speeds.
Suspension is a mixed bag here.. Both the front and rear show signs of adequacy that are often drown out by a caveat. The fork is decent at picking up trail clutter once the seals break in (and this took us two solid days in the saddle to occur) but, like most of Zoom’s products we’ve encountered in the past, tends to pack up and hang in its travel over successive hits. Considering there are only 3-inches to begin with here, losing an inch and a half can be detrimental. The simple answer in this situation would be to increase the fork’s rebound to make it return to full-travel quicker but keep in mind this unit is preload adjustable only.
The rear end fairs a bit better thanks to the fact that the chassis makes use of a faux-bar linkage configuration. Remarkably the platform is decent at nullifying pedal bob and eliminating brake-jack but there’s only so much a linkage can be expected to do given the low-tech shock it is attached to. The 3-inch coil over feels overly stiff and lacks small bump compliance. If you happen to have an older air shock lying around (or can even justify buying a new budget unit like a Suntour Epicon), there is massive performance to be gained thanks to the rear-end design of this chassis.
Odds and Ends
Don’t let the generic tires throw you for a loop; we’re convinced that a major tire brand (Kenda perhaps, based on the compound and tread pattern) provides the meats to Pacific Cycle. We found the tires to be quite capable in many of the east coast conditions we use to torture bikes of all prices and disciplines.
The wheels however are definitely a budget spec and bring with them increased rolling resistance. We didn’t knock ours out of true during testing but imagine it would be possible if heavy rock traversing or pavement trickery happen to describe your idea of a good ride.
Surprisingly, the first item we would upgrade would be the handlebar stem as the stock unit is fairly thin at the welds. We know from experience that Pacific Cycle stocks several of their other Mongoose branded bikes (Deception 29” for example) with much beefier stems and think the XR200 would benefit greatly by incorporating same. Fortunately a quality aftermarket stem is a very affordable upgrade.
Bike snobbery in the media is nothing new and purists looking to eek every performance advantage out of bicycle and body will scoff at such hardware but the fact of the matter is we’re always glad when steps are taken to introduce the thrills, excitement and enjoyment of off-road bicycling to a wider reach. Years ago department store hardware could hardly survive a parking lot demo much less true trail riding but this bike is proof that technology trickle-down is making obsolete the concept of getting to sample some dirt on anything less than a high-end, purpose-built bicycle. Perhaps one of our test riders put it best: “The weight is a tough factor to ignore and makes itself felt on the trails but the bike performed better than expected in just about every category. Any complaints I had in the saddle were offset by the simple fact that the entire thing cost less than the set of pedals I bought last month for my race bike.”
Of final purchase consideration, we cannot discount the fact that many of the shortcomings associated with department store bicycles throughout the years are a direct result of improper build and set-up. The simple reality is that the same guy who stocks shelves on Monday, gathers shopping-carts on Tuesday and unloads the truck on Wednesday probably isn’t qualified to build your bike on Thursday. We have the luxury of an in-house mechanic here at MBT to make certain the bike, which we ordered directly from the factory, was assembled and properly tuned. While most bike shops would prefer you simply purchase your bike directly from them, it may be worth a few extra bucks to have them assemble, go over, and possibly swap out components to accommodate your body/ riding needs after picking up a department store bicycle.
This review has been brought to you by Mountain Bike Tales magazine.