This review is brought to you by one of the mtbr.com content partners, Mountainbiketales.com
On Department Store “Cheapies”
Would it surprise you to know that month after month the most inquired about mountain bike models aren’t uber-expensive, cutting edge, technological wonders? In fact, far from it! It turns out that readers enjoy living vicariously through the media when it comes to the experience of hammering a $9,000 bicycle for entertainment much in the way we find ourselves reading tests of Ferraris and Lambos; cars we’ll likely never even drive much less own.
Yet when it comes time to buy a car, reading up on the Ford Fiesta suddenly becomes a lot more appealing and thus is the logic behind the fact that readers request, in fact beg for thorough, professional reviews of bikes available at their local big box shopping centers and sporting goods stores. We understand the desire. Times are rough and most of us are struggling just to put fuel in the car and pay for the week’s groceries. $6,000 for a recreational item is simply not in the cards- So why all the negativity surrounding department store “cheapies”?
There is no shortage of such information on the Internet offering persuasive info on the subject- forums filled with threads harping on excessive weight, unreliability of components, catastrophic frame failures and horror stories of improper assembly. Last year the MBT Test Crew pulled an upset when we picked up and thoroughly tested a $75 Next Parowan rigid steel mountain bike. The results really weren’t pretty! We concluded that for anything other than sidewalk cruising, the overweight steel-framed bike would have been in over its head and even with the luxury of having been built by our own professional mechanics; there were certain components (front brake for example) that never worked properly.
This all brings us up to the $199 Mongoose XR 200 being reviewed here and a company that you probably think you don’t know about (but actually do). If you have no concern about the history behind the Mongoose brand and the corporate moving and shakings that resulted in this bike, feel free to skip down below for the test itself. We won’t be offended, honest!
A Rich History
The Mongoose brand has a rich and colorful history in the bicycle industry that dates all the way back to the 1970s. For nearly 30-years, the domestic brand based in Madison, Wisconsin produced BMX and then later mid-level mountain bikes. Where things start to get a little fuzzy to the public is when the brand became a part of Taiwan bicycle manufacturing company Pacific Cycles (based in Hsin Wu, Taoyuan, Taiwan) back in 2001.
Pacific Cycles is actually a subsidiary of Dorel Industries; this becomes important in just a moment. After the merger, the Mongoose brand name was essentially split into two entirely separate product lines: low cost mass-market bicycles that could be found at department and sporting goods stores and higher-end models distributed through specialty bicycle shops.
For 2012 however, the plans for Mongoose have shifted slightly again. This time the higher-end bike shop models aren’t going to be available in the United States. Visiting Mongoose’s site reveals a pretty stellar lineup that is, sadly, inaccessible to us this year. The mass-market models are still alive and well though, and hence this very review born out of popular demand.
Dorel Industries is important because they have similarly merged with brands GT, Cannondale, Schwinn and most recently Iron Horse. More than just a brand-name conglomerate, the idea here is that the business practices of multiple brands under a single corporate umbrella could theoretically mix and match tactics to pass maximum savings onto the consumer.
The Mongoose XR 200 begins life as an aluminum one-size-fits-all tube set coupled to a 21-speed hybrid drivetrain (SRAM MRX grip-shifters mated to Shimano Tourney TX derailleur and gears). Braking comes in the form of a Promax DSK-400 manual (cable) disc brake in the front and Promax v-brake in the rear. Suspension duties are handled by a Zoom Element Racing Shocks fork and coil-over shock (3-inches of travel front & rear). Hubs and quick releases are Quando bits while the wheels and tires are presumably in-house brands.
All told the Men’s 26” XR 200 (26” refers to the wheel size only; the actual bike’s top tube measures roughly 21.5”) weighs in at 37 pounds with included pedals installed. A model identical to ours can be had for $199.
As is always the case with our bike tests, we built the bike up in our shop and spent as much time tweaking and fine-tuning it to our specific needs as possible before field-testing. In the case of the XR-200, the suspension is only (spring) preload adjustable and hence extremely effortless to set-up. Without the need to pressurize air chambers for proper sag measurement, all that was left for us to fiddle with was the bar angle, stem height (by moving the included spacers above or below the clamp) and saddle height to suit each of our test riders. The uninterrupted seat-tube is certainly appreciated, as saddle-height range is quite munificent.
As stated in the spec breakdown, department store bikes can be difficult to pin-down size wise as most offerings (this one included) forego any sort of top tube measurement info in favor of wheel size. A 21” top-tube would typically put this somewhere between medium and large territory of most bike shop options though we should note that do to a generous bend in the top tube, the length alone can be a tad misleading (meaning a bit more compact in person than the spec sheet reveals). As always in these situations, try before you buy if possible, especially if you typically fall outside the norm as far as body types go.
Once set-up, the reach to the bars is fairly neutral; leaning toward the modern trail bike side of the spectrum (over the raked out stretch of a cross country configuration). The saddle is a tad bit harder than its bulk would suggest but our crew unanimously voted the cockpit as roomy and comfortable.