All the best mountain bikes are rat bikes.
Blasphemy you say.
Think about it, how many times have you gone into a bike shop and were stoked by a bike that was bone stock? Personally, my head starts to spin as I mentally start stripping the thing apart and rebuilding it with my own personal parts picks.
Call me a bit of a curmudgeon but it’s been about ten years since I’ve tried a new seat. Did I mention that my favorite grips have long since been discontinued? Why won’t Ritchey make a 29” version of the Z Max Classic? Where can I get a refill of WTB Goose Grease? What happens if I want a rigid bike? That’s the most stupid seatpost design I’ve ever seen….
Generally I don’t wax nostalgically about the demise of certain products but it seems to me that a lot of stuff that worked really well once upon a time should still work well today.
Other stuff was junk then and simply hasn’t gotten any better with age.
Obviously concessions are made by product managers in order to bring a bike to market at a certain price point. You’re not always going to get a set of Kevlar beaded tires for a bike under a grand and you’re probably not going to find a five hundred dollar bubba cranker that comes stock with a Chris King headset.
Personally, I think there are some “throw away” items that come stock on bikes, tires, bottom brackets, headsets, grips, chains and to an extent the seat. Because these items are points of contact or are subject to load and contamination they will wear faster. It’s a bit sad, however, that this idea of disposable componentry has extended to hubs and wheels.
Initially I was pretty excited to see that component manufactures product managers and pushed high quality, pro level, prebuilt race wheels on consumer level bikes. I’ve slowly have come to the conclusion that they are still pretty cool but with some reservations. Low weight, low spoke count specialty wheels are great if you want to buy an off the shelf race bike but for an every day plonker like me they are thrashed in about a years’ time. Even if the hub is still in working order, replacement rims are kind of hard to come by and a lot of times specialty replacement spokes may be impossible to get.
My suggestion is if you are racing or a rider who is interested in high performance is either a) have a sent of relatively pedestrian wheels built for every day use or training and save your high performance wheels for race days or b) realize that these are high performance items and as just like a Ferrari F10 Formula 1 car they are really fun. While they last.
My take one the subject is to invest in some good quality hubs that have a strong performance record (Shimano XT are great hubs for the price, that and you can get replacement parts for them) and some good quality rims (too many to choose from but I’m a big fan of Velocity rims) and have them laced up with as light weight spokes as you feel comfortable with and alloy nipples. If you go on a road trip to Utah and pop a spoke on your vacation it’s a lot easier to have something that’s relatively conventional in terms of replacement parts rather than trying to track down something thoroughly exotic.
Another note about wheels, especially with the advent and widespread use of disc brakes, it makes zero sense to use radially laced wheels on a mountain bike. Given the amount of torque a disc brake puts at the hub and the high probability of subjecting your wheels to catastrophic side loads, just save yourself from some grief and stick to a conventional lacing patterns partner.
As long as we are on the subject of personally confessions I confess that I was quite skeptical about tubeless mountain bike wheels when they first hit the market and that was partly due because there was only one supplier of wheels and effectively only one manufacturer tires for the new tubeless tire format. For those of you who may not be familiar with tubeless tires the idea is you essentially run a system that eliminates the inner tube (hence saving weight) and replace the inner tube with a tight fitting tire and, in a lot of cases, a liquid sealant. The idea is you can run lower tire pressure so your tire can have a greater contact patch on the ground and the lower tire pressure allows an extra degree of suspension for your bike and last but not least they eliminate the dreaded high impact pinch flat.
While it is a system that has some shortcomings, (in some cases it means buy a conversion kit for existing wheels and for other formats it means buying a completely new specialty wheel set) a well set up tubeless tire system can improve the ride quality of your bike and eliminate some flats. Caution must be observed because if you lower your tire pressure too much the tire can simply slip off the rim. Granted, that’s rare but it can happen.
Generally I’m amazed at the quality and range of new, off-the-shelf bikes. The level of technology and sophistication that goes into even a five hundred dollar bike is pretty astonishing. But whatever your budget you have to be selective. Ask yourself what sort of compromises you are willing to put up with. Some shops an amendable to the idea of swapping parts out for something you may be fond of for a small fee.
As for me I’m a rider with particular tastes. (Particular peculiar? Peculiar particular? I have the same problem with “highness” and “heinous”. ) The number of off the shelf rigid steel 29” wheeled bikes that come stock with Paul Tumbies and cable-activated disc brakes is nil. As a result my geared bike is a hodgepodge of newer technologies and older ones.
I’m not a total retro grouch. Clipless pedals are a good thing. Same with backpack hydration systems and mountain bike helmets with visors and riser bars on cross country bikes. I just kind of hate seeing people throw money down the drain on gear that self-destructs in a year’s time. Don’t be afraid to mix and match, new technology with old, after all that’s what DNA does.
Long live the Rat Bike.