The Web Monkey Speaks: Bang for Your Buck
"Affordable" is debatable. "Awesome" isn't.
By Vernon Felton
In the days since that post went live, I’ve received a few emails asking me if there are any new bikes that I think actually present a good value. Yup. Plenty of them.
But…..before you skim the rest of the article, note that I’m calling these bikes a “good value” and not “affordable.” Why? For starters, I have no idea what “affordable” even means anymore and that’s not because I’m backstroking, Scrooge McDuck-style, in a swimming pool full of hundred dollar bills. “Affordable” means different things to different people. You might be living on Ramen and hot dogs. Then again, you might be living high on the hog on your daily IV injections of lobster bisque and powdered rhino horn….
And then there’s this: A bike may have a low, low price tag, but if the parts are shit and start falling apart after a season of hard riding is it really “affordable?” Not when a decent fork will run you an additional $600 and disc brakes can cost just as much. Soon, the $1,600 bike becomes a $2,400 bike, yet it’s still saddled with a lesser rear shock, tires, bar, stem, headset, bottom bracket…you get the idea.
A bike that is a good value, on the other hand, is ready to rock and roll right out of the box. The frame is the heart and soul of a bike—it needs to be top notch. As for components, the bike shouldn’t come saddled with crap wheels that give up the ghost or weigh a ton. The fork spearheads the whole thing—it needs to be up to that task. Spongy or inconsistent brakes can lead to a quick trip to the ER.
So here are some bikes that I’d personally like—bikes that don’t need immediate upgrades and will withstand real riding. This is just a smattering of what’s out there now. There are plenty other good options—feel free to shout back with the models you think I should have put on this list.
Kona Unit $1050
Looking for a solid single-speed? For my money, it’s hard to do better than Kona’s Unit. The big 29er wheels roll up and over obstacles with the greatest of ease, maintain momentum (which is everything in singlespeeding) and the Reynolds 520 steel frame is just about perfect. Nope, there’s no suspension fork in the mix, but Kona’s Unit does come equipped with Avid BB7 disc brakes, tubeless-compatible wheels shod with excellent Maxxis rubber. Simple. Well thought out. Proven.
On One Inbred 26er $1130
On One has been cranking out quality hardtails for some time now. I was bummed when I didn’t see the Inbred 456 on its site, but the 26er X5 also packs a lot of punch.
Giant Trance 27.5 Frameset $1,575
Maybe you don’t need an entire bike. If you just want a frame and are interested in going 650b,the 2014 Trance X 27.5 frame is impressive as hell—it sports 5.5 inches of rear suspension that does a good job of soaking up all sizes of hits while still allowing for efficient pedaling. Giant may not win the award for sexiest company alive, but its bikes have a way of holding up to years of abuse and the workmanship is always top-notch. I’m not in love with the color scheme here or the BB92 press-fit bottom bracket, but at this price I could live with both. The frame sports a Fox Float CTD Evolution rear shock (nice) and convertible (135 and 142) rear dropouts. An excellent all-rounder.
Trek Fuel EX7 29 $2,630
The Fuel EX has long been a category-defining bike and for good reason; it’s a trail bike that hangs with the best of them. You can get the Fuel EX in either 29er or 26er versions. The EX7 29er above isn’t the least expensive Fuel EX, but it has the best overall package for the price-conscious rider. It features the same Alpha Platinum aluminum frame as its more expensive siblings (the ISCG-05 mounts and internal dropper post routing are nice touches) and is equipped with Fox suspension front and rear. Drivetrain and brakes are a mix of Shimano Deore and SLX, which get the job done surprisingly well. It’s flat-out a lot of bike for the buck.
Kona Process 134 $2600
We raved about this bike’s higher-priced sibling, but really, the Process 134 embodies the same things we loved about that bike, the heart of which is Kona’s new 6061 aluminum Process frame. Slack angles are mated to a low-slung frame that sports a short rear end, low bottom bracket and longish front-center. It’s the same basic geo recipe that Specialized has been wedded to for some time and we continue to be big fans of the general layout. The aesthetics are a kind of love or hate thing, but I fall into the love side of that equation.
Yes, there are better forks than the RockShox Sektor, but it’s a good snatch at this price. Shimano Deore and SLX are workman-fare and stone reliable. If you care about such things, yes, (sigh) this is a 650b bike.
Specialized Enduro Evo $3,300
The Enduro Evo is a monster—pure and simple. You’re looking at 180-millimeters (7 inches) of travel, all of it handled by excellent, coil-sprung suspension courtesy of Fox Racing Shox (Vanilla R w/piggy back) and X-Fusion (Vengeance R). Components are a mix of SRAM X9/X7 and Avid (DB 3) and a ton of Specialized house-brand widgets. It’s a legit bike park rig that sells for a good thousand dollars less than it should.
Giant Anthem Adavanced 27.5 2 $3,500
I’m sure someone is going to go ballistic when they see a $3,500 bike on my list of good values, but look closer: This thing sports the same frame (carbon front triangle/aluminum rear triangle) as the model that costs twice as much. Suspension duties are spearheaded by a quality RockShox Reba RL fork. Braking and shifting are a largely Avid Elixir 7/SRAM X7 party. Really, there are no weak links on this bike and when you get down to it, you could pay nearly the same price for a carbon frame. If you’re looking for a fast and capable cross-country rig, it’s hard to beat the value on this bike.
Ibis Ripley 29er Special Blend $3950
If I didn’t strain the very definition of “value” with my last two picks, then watch me now. Let’s cut to the chase—this version of the Ibis Ripley is a hair shy of four thousand bucks. How could that be a good value? Well, wait a second. The Ibis Ripley frame sells for nearly $2,900 all by its lonesome, which means you get all the parts (wheels, fork, shock, brakes, drivetrain, etc.) for another $1,050. Holy crap—that’s amazing. You can easily blow a grand on just the wheels alone. Ibis offers this X-Fusion/Shimano SLX-based “Special Blend” kit on a number of its frames (yes, the Mojo SL too). It’s sort of the gateway drug to getting people onto an Ibis. The parts spec isn’t mind blowing, but look at the price of the frame and then look at the price of this complete bike again. Damn.