Our experts think up-spec’d wheels, tires and dropper posts are worth the investment in lieu of component groups, where workaday gets the job done with only a slight weight penalty.
Editor’s Note: Here’s round No. 3 of our “How To Buy An Enduro Bike” series. But if you haven’t already, make sure to check out parts 1 and 2 where we ask our panel of experts, How Much Suspension Do You Need? and Which Wheel SIze is Right for You?
This article is part of the Mtbr’s Enduro Compare-O. See all the stories in this special section here–https://reviews.mtbr.com/category/enduro-compare-o-2014
We’ve discussed suspension and wheel size. Now it’s time to consider the other parts and pieces that will make up your new enduro machine.
So what do you do when there are two bikes you’re equally enamored with, same cost, same test ride performance? It’s time to look at components. Where should you spend a little extra? And where can you hold off and upgrade later?
We asked our panel of experts this question and several other component related queries. Read on to find out what they had to say, and remember that this should be just the beginning of an extended research project that precedes your final buying decision. Ask lots of questions, take multiple test rides, and read the reviews you’ll find here on Mtbr.com.
As a refresher, our esteemed experts include rising enduro star Aaron Bradford, bike shop owner Brandon Dwight, former Olympians turned enduro racers Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and Andreas Hestler, longtime bike shop mechanic Scot Banks, and for a woman’s perspective, Heather Irmiger, who besides being married to Horgan-Kobelski, is a former pro cross-country honch who’s now racing on the Trek Factory Racing enduro team.
What is the Most Important Component?
Brandon Dwight: Wheels, wheels, wheels. There are a lot of great drivetrains out there; XT, XX1, XO, XTR are all great. But a good set of wheels with good tires set at the right pressure will really bring a bike alive. And of course rolling weight and stiffness play a huge part in how a bike handles. If a wheel is heavy and flexy you end up wasting a lot of energy. Spend your money on wheels.
Boulder Cyclesport owner Brandon Dwight—like many of our other experts—gets up on a pulpit to preach the importance of good wheels.
Aaron Bradford: A good dropper post is a must. The only way to truly unlock the capability of a trail bike is to lower the seat and let go of the brakes. Tires are your only contact to the ground; aside from wheels, these can be one of the best upgrades for a bike. Buy tires that will be suit the conditions you ride most. I typically ride a lighter weight front tire with a more aggressive tread design for better traction and control, and a thicker casing in the rear with possibly a less aggressive tread design for less rolling resistance.
But wheels are the biggest upgrade, especially with 29ers because of the rotational mass. Lighter, stiffer wheels will make you bike more responsive, easier to flick, accelerate quicker and brake faster. A good set of wheels is definitely worth the extra investment.
Andreas Hestler: Wheels are No. 1 for me, especially if you’re racing. You’re going to smash your wheels hard at some point and you want them to hold up. A good dropper post is also really important because it changes the way you can ride. Just know that with dropper posts, you get what you pay for. There are a lot of unreliable posts out there. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the hydraulic posts because when they go they go, and they’re very hard to fix on the trail. Infinite placement is nice, too, but it’s not a deal breaker. Usually you’ll be up or down, so you really don’t need a lot of in between. Reliability is what’s really important.
Heather Irminger, Aaron Bradford, and Andreas Hestler are all big proponents of quality dropper posts—an accessory many riders still don’t appreciate.
Heather Irmiger: I’d have to say the dropper post. Being able to quickly get the saddle out of the way will make or break your ability to successfully get through a technical trail feature whether it be rocks, drops or jumps. Also, it will blow your mind how well you can corner, though the trail need not be steep or gnarly to really feel the advantages of the dropper post. I move my saddle up and down constantly as I corner on even the most mellow of trails. This component is so important, I think it should be considered for XC bikes as well.
Scot Banks: I’d throw my money at brakes and wheels. They are the things you’ll feel the most. A lot of riders are really hard on wheels, so you need a set that will last. Of course, you can get a great ride quality with carbon wheels, but that gets expensive quick, especially if you break them. And again, make sure you take multiple test rides so you can get a feel for how the different component spec on bikes changes the way they ride.
Scot Banks, head mechanic at the Absolute Bikes bike shop in Salida, Colo. recommends investing in good brakes, you know, so you can control your wheelies better.
So What Makes a Good Dropper Post?
Heather Irmiger: Pre-set height stops. When dropping your post mid-ride the decision is often quick and the desired result is something you want immediately. I don’t like (infinite) dropper posts that require you to find your height by sitting and finessing your body weight until the saddle is somewhere around the height you were looking for. By the time you do all that thinking and holding down of the remote lever, the technical section is over and you’ve gone over the bars, or awkwardly bounced down it to find yourself totally dropped anyway. For me, the two pre-set heights are perfect for 99-percent of all situations so I see no need to have an infinite number of seat height options. Keep it simple.
Aaron Bradford: I’m a big fan of durability and reliability and the Fox DOSS is the best post I’ve used to date. In the past I’ve used the infinite adjust hydraulic posts, though for my needs the simple three settings better suits my needs. The convenience of a five-minute cable swap when needed is much easier than having to bleed the system. I know for some riders in wetter and muddy areas they may have concerns about cable contamination. For the winter months spent in the Pacific Northwest I install I simple Shimano derailleur cable rubber boot and over a year later I’m still running the same cable.
Brandon Dwight: My advice is do a lot of research and talk to your friends who already have them. This should not be a price-point purchase, because you get what you pay for with dropper posts.
Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski: A good dropper post is one that’s easy to use and works quickly and reliably. It’s the one piece of equipment that you’re reaching for multiple times in a race stage or ride, so it’s key that the lever be easily available and work smoothly. I like dropper posts that have multiple drop positions (as opposed to infinite positions). The Fox post I race with has a nice ‘partially’ dropped position which is handy for technical but pedally sections.
What’s the Component Upgrade That’s Okay to Leave Until Later?
Heather Irmiger: I’d say the lightest grouppo. The functionality of the mid-range and upper-midrange drivetrains are spectacular and the weight difference isn’t so noticeable when shredding. The cost savings far out weigh any disadvantages.
Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski: Unlike cross-country, where weight is a crucial performance factor, there are a variety of parts that you can leave as-is with an off-the-shelf trail bike. You don’t necessarily need the top-shelf drivetrain, cranks, and little carbon bits and pieces. A durable drivetrain and durable wheels will suffice; you don’t need the highest-end everything to have a ton of fun and even race (enduro) fast.
Like JHK says, it’s not a cross country race, so alloy is OK…and usually much less expensive.
What’s Your Argument For or Against a 1x Drivetrain Set-up?
Brandon Dwight: It goes back to those basic qualifying questions. What kind or rider you are? What kind of terrain do you plan to ride most of the time? Do you plan to race? What’s your price range? I think triple chainrings are basically dead on mountain bikes, but some riders will still need—and want—the bailout gears you get with a double versus a 1x system.
Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski: I personally have always liked 1x drivetrains for their simplicity and performance. I use a 1×10 Shimano set-up which for me is perfect. The arguments for include a simpler setup, fewer cables, more clearance, lighter weight—and particularly important for enduro racing—non-ramped dedicated 1x chainrings, which help tremendously with chain management and ensure that you don’t lose a chain at a crucial moment. Given the wide gear range ratios now available, it’s hard for me to come up with arguments against 1x setups for trail riding or racing.
Enduro pro Heather Irmiger prefers dropper posts with pre-set height drops for their ease of on-the-fly use. Photo courtesy of Trek Factory Racing.
Heather Irmiger: I love my 1x setup—currently, I’m running a Shimano 1×10. Riding hard on technical terrain leads to a lot of vibrations that can work things loose or out of adjustment on a bike. The adjustability and reliability of enduro equipment these days is getting to be near perfect as manufacturers fix imperfections in their product. But I feel like there is less to go wrong with a single chain ring. I completed my entire 2013 race season and only had one case of chain suck and this was because I had let a part get too worn down.
This story is part of Mtbr’s 2014 Enduro Compare-O. Check out our intro story here for all the ground rules and goings ons.