Most educated riders will argue that you will get the best bang for your buck by dressing up an aluminum frame with the nicest components you can afford. That makes a lot of sense. Generally speaking, aluminum bikes share the same geometry and suspension kinematics as their pricier carbon counterparts, they just weigh more.
If you can look past the extra pound or two, you can literally save thousands. So, when looking to buy, should you invest in a nicer frame or better spec? To find out, I built a custom trail bike.
At the heart is an alloy Tallboy 3 from Santa Cruz Bikes. It was finished with a mix of mid to high-end components. In this build thread, I’ll give an overview of each of the components and why they were chosen. Over the next few weeks, I’ll follow up with individual reviews. At the end, I’ll compare it to the stock X01 carbon TB3 in my garage.
Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 Frame
Unless you have serious terrain in your backyard, most people don’t need an ultra slack enduro bike. For everyday use, something will less travel and versatile handling makes a lot more sense.
There are dozens of great bikes in this category, but last year I fell in love with the new Santa Cruz Tallboy 3. The frame with shock retails for $1,899 and weighs 8 lbs. For comparison’s sake, the top tier carbon frame weighs 2.4 lbs less and retails for $1,100 more ($2,999 USD).
Nox Composites Teocalli Wheels
By going with an aluminum frame, I theoretically had an extra thousand bucks to spend on upgrades. The best place to burn that cash? Wheels and suspension. Since the frame is on the heavy side, going with a lightweight wheelset was a no brainer.
I’ve been hearing great things about Nox Composites, so I gave them a call. They suggested a set of their Teocalli rims. Rated for all-mountain abuse, they’re light enough for trail or XC applications. The 29” version weighs 380g and has a 26mm inner width.
Nox hand builds all of their wheels here in the United States, which means they can offer a ton of customization to satisfy rider demands and preferences. I ordered this demo wheelset with purple Industry Nine hubs and 28 spokes hole drilling. You can order yours with just about any high-end hub you can imagine. They’ll even do custom nipple colors and hubs.
This wheelset weighs a respectable 1600 g with valve cores and rim strip installed. Retail for the custom wheelset was $1649.
Xfusion McQueen Fork
Since the Tallboy 3 can easily be converted between 29 and Plus, my criteria for a fork included compatibility with both tire sizes and Boost spacing. Both Fox and Rockshox make forks that fit this description, but the the high-end stuff retails for over a grand.
Luckily, X-Fusion recently started shipping the new McQueen. It uses a closed cartridge system similar to the ones employed by the big boys, but retails for considerably less. It’s marketed as a 27.5+ fork, but can easily accommodate a meaty 29” tire.
Weight for the fork is 4 lbs 7 oz (2 kg). Retail is $750 USD.
Box first teased their mountain bike drivetrain back in 2013. It’s been a long road, but they’re finally shipping. What makes their product unique is the shifter. It uses a single paddle for both up and down shifts.
How do I like it? It takes some getting used too, but I’ve had zero issues with dropped chains or chain slap. So far, so good. Stay tuned for the full-length review.
Retail for the shifter is $75. The rear derailleur costs $175.
Praxis Cadet Cranks
Praxis is trying to carve out a niche for itself by producing smartly designed products that are lighter and cheaper than the competition. The new Cadet Cranks are a perfect example. But how do they stack up long term? Stay tuned.
Magura MT Trail Brakes
Technically, this project is about getting the best bang for your buck. But, then I saw these brakes. Just look at those polished calipers. They’re gorgeous. They’re also really expensive. That’s because they combine all of Magura’s best technology in one package.
If you’re actually on a budget, order a set of the Shimano Deore or SLX brakes. There is no better brake for the money. They may not be as full featured or light, but they look and perform on par with Shimano’s pricier stoppers. The Guide R from SRAM is also a great alternative, but they’re simply not as affordable.
The Fox Transfer is the best $500 dropper you can get for under $300. It’s easy to install, has a well-designed lever, and has proven to be pretty damn reliable. While there are other competitors that meet similar criteria, they all retail for considerably more.
This post is available with either a black coating or golden Kashima. The black version is cheaper, but we already had this post in for review. You can catch that story here.
Paul Boxcar Stem
A stem is a stem, this one just happens to be made in the United States. And it comes in purple. Did you notice the Torx hardware?
Saddle choice is deeply personal, but 9 out of 10 women agree that the WTB Deva is the best saddle ever. Ok, I made that statistic up. BUT, this saddle is amazing. It was actually discontinued a few years ago, but so many women called in looking for a replacement, that WTB had to bring it back.
This is the fancy ti railed version. It weighs 200g and retails for $129. Generally speaking, saddles aren’t the place to try and shave weight. You’ll get much better value upgrading other components, but this is what WTB wanted MTBR to review. Poor me.
Price is $169. Weight is 409g.
While I could have saved money in certain areas like the drivetrain or brakes, overall this build is a solid representation of the custom mid to high end builds many forum users are riding. Most of us are on a budget and buying a 10k bike is out of the question. We’ve either bought a frame and swapped over parts or carefully upgraded a complete build over time.
Overall, this entire build has been eye opening. Most manufacturers don’t offer alloy bikes with higher end build kits. They assume you want a carbon frame, so you’re stuck with lower end components. However, most builds offer tremendous value for the money. If you were paying MSRP to build a custom bike, that makes it a less desirable choice. But if you’re on a tight budget initially or want to reuse som parts from the old bike, then this can significantly soften the initial investment.
Stay tuned for a side by side comparison of this alloy TB3 and the carbon version, as well as individual component reviews.
What about you? What’s your choice on this issue? Bling frame or parts? Go all in on the investment or ease into it slowly?