The Mountain Bike Life

So the perfect night arrives and you get some time to hit the trails. The weather is not hot, but not cold. The trail is dried out, but not too dry. There are not a lot of people or bikers on the the trail to get in the way. All you need is an hour and the trail to just have some fun. However no matter how much all the stars seem to align something can go wrong. You just hope it doesn’t cost you too much and no one gets hurt.

Perfect night to take out the Team GT bikes

Have you ever looked at the price difference between different component levels? To over simplify it a bit there is a low, middle, high and elite levels of mountain bike components. Each step up you take gets you a little less weight, but hopefully a little more durability. How is that done? Well the cheapest materials are plastic and cast steel. From there you go up to billet aluminum, then forged steel/aluminum and finally composite or aircraft alloys. If we take a frame and weigh the lowest end it will be about 6 lbs and be made out of a cast material. It will be prone to break, but cost as little as $25-50. Then you hit the middle ground where frames are made from welded extruded aluminum. Price range will be $100-200 and the frame will weigh about 4.5-5 pounds. Maybe as little as 4, but these will be decent quality and probably outlast the rest of mankind. Then the high end steel/aluminum the price will bounce up to $500-1000 the weight will come just under 4 lbs and again the durability will still be stellar. Next up?

Broken XTR derailleur and spokes.

Elite frames cost north of $1500 and are made out of carbon, titanium or a hybrid steel alloy. Ideally they are handmade and weigh 3.5lbs or less The lightest frames will just break the 3lb mark. So for your extra $1000 you will maybe lose a half pound from your frame. At what other cost? Well all of these ultra lightweight frames will suffer the same problem. Fatigue will eventually destroy them. Titanium and steel will fair better than the Carbon and Aluminum, but eventually the thin wall metals will flex enough times they will crack somewhere and need to be retired. Super light aluminum will take less time to crack and fatigue out after a couple of seasons. Carbon is another story. If you somehow manage to never bang, dent, ding or scratch it theoretically it should almost last longer than aluminum, right? Yes and no, it will start to crack from flex and you will notice over time it will loosen up a bit. So it too will start to show its age after a few seasons and should probably be replaced. However for the racer that last .5 lbs or 200 grams may make a 1sec difference at the finish line and bump them up a place. So worth it.

Back to reality, I don’t race. I like to ride fast on trails, but have never entered a competitive event. My bikes are usually made out of middle to high end components and are of respectable weights. My expectation is with proper care and maintenance everything should last a long time. Now every so often I catch a deal on a closeout XTR or XX component and jump on it. That shiny piece of unobtanium just gives you a warm and fuzzy right? You look at your ride and say to yourself, boy that sure is pretty and I just saved an extra 50 grams. Wahoooo! Then this happens………..

Good derailleur and broken derailleur.

This failed on Jays bike on an after work ride. The only warning we got was it was shifting a little goofy. As near as we can figure the metal fatigued out and just failed under the stress of pedaling. It also launched the chain into heaven and took an expensive spoke out of the wheel. Fortunately Jay was unharmed and only had a short walk back to the car. So this takes my XTR grave yard up to a rear derailleur, rear cassette, couple of chain rings, several chains and a rear shifter. Most I have gotten from an elite component is 2 seasons and then it is either worn out or failed. Compare that with X9 and XT components from the 90s I still use. Lesson learned again. As pretty as the elite stuff is I can no longer justify the higher price for nominal weight savings, but decreased life. More to the point I don’t like my rides interrupted by failures that shouldn’t have happened. Just my 2 cents. May that XTR derailleur above rest in peace, it was fun while it lasted.

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