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Mountain Bike Help
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Any mountain bikers out there? My wife made the mistake of telling me to go buy a bike for my bday this year. I have a P2 for Multisport, Warbird for gravel and road, and fat bike for riding in the winter so my first thought was a mountain bike. I try to do something that scares me every year. A few years back it was IM, last year was Michigan Coast 2 Coast (210 miles on gravel), this year is The Crusher (225 miles of “enhanced” gravel from Copper Harbor to Marquette, MI). It’s becoming difficult to go longer, so I thought I would try mountain biking in addition to my gravel. I should warn you up front that I am a terrible mountain biker, but I make up for my lack of skill with enthusiasm. I am thinking of a dirty century like Lumberjack and then following it up with Marji in the fall next year. The only problem is that mountain bikes are crazy complicated compared to gravel or Tri. I think I’ve narrowed it down to a full suspension and something in the trail or XC category. I have discounts on Salsa, Cannondale, and now Pivot so I’m obviously partial to those brands. The new Spearfish looks interesting but only at the mid-level alloy version.

Any thoughts and/or recommendations? Are there things I should be looking for or staying away from in terms of components, frames, etc?

I’m leaning towards either an alloy Spearfish if I decide to stick in the mid $2’s (which I should after going overboard with my new gravel wheelset) or the Pivot Trail 429 if I want to go all out. And yes, I am fully prepared to be the mountain bike equivalent of the dentist rolling up on a high end bike for his 7 hour IM split if I go with a Pivot.
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Re: Mountain Bike Help [Toefuzz] [ In reply to ]
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If you can get a discount on Cannondale, the new Scalpel SI is a terrific ride. I've never been a fan of the lefty fork, but it was just redesigned and the bike suspension simply disappears when you go ride. The bike is fast and feels fast as well. There is a version with a standard Rockshox fork, which is underwhelming. Even the lowest end aluminum bike feel is pretty impressive, although you might want to go up one model for carbon (not really that necessary) but the upgraded Eagle groupset. Keep in mind this is XC-level suspension travel, not trail which will have some more beef in the tires and greater suspension travel.

For a mixed terrain, maybe also look at the Lutsen 99 if you like biking up in the UP.
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Re: Mountain Bike Help [Toefuzz] [ In reply to ]
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buy a bike that fits your "spec."

here's what you pic:

front travel
rear travel
suspension type (fox vs. rockshox mostly)
component brand (sram vs. shimano)
brake brand

if you don't have preferences, no internet person is going to be able to help you much. gotta pick that shit for yourself.

that being said, i recently got a pivot mach 429sl after a few years of specialized epics and i love it.

I'm racing 2019 IM Arizona as part of Team Smile Train. Will I implode? Will I finish strong? Donate to find out more!
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Re: Mountain Bike Help [Toefuzz] [ In reply to ]
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I have the Trail429 (and had the previous version - 429 Trail) with both a 140 and 120mm forks. Both amazing bikes and damn close to a one quiver ride - large frame and right around 27# out of the box. Can be built up mid-25# without breaking the bank (hoops). I beat the $hit out of both of them and can't think of any real issue (keep the derailleur hanger greased up where it touches the frame - common source of noise). That's kinda the deal with Pivots, not the lightest but you'd really have to ride like an ass to damage them. I'll trade an extra pound or two to not have to deal with a warranty (yeti, scott, trek...). That said, the Trail429 will be at home just about anywhere - it's my backup rig for 24hr events but main ride for longer burly events. I've ridden some xc in da UP a while back but from my recollection you might be better off with something a little less steep up front (why I have two forks - the stepcast 34 is damn nice).

My son had a Spearfish (2012 or 13?) and it was a nice bike at the time. I remember changing the pivots out pretty frequently so hopefully that's no longer an issue but it's definitely more xc oriented.

Good luck, it's pretty hard to buy a bad bike these days.
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Re: Mountain Bike Help [Toefuzz] [ In reply to ]
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IMO you definitely want full suspension for any sort of mountain bike racing that will last more than an hour or two. On all but the smoothest of single track a hardtail just takes a toll after a while. The Scalpel is an amazingly capable bike, that gets my vote. If you can make it work with your budget get a Scalpel Carbon 4: https://www.cannondale.com/...p;parentid=undefined
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Re: Mountain Bike Help [GreenPlease] [ In reply to ]
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Thanks for the replies everyone. The Scalpel 3 or 4 is on my list and I have several friends who ride it. My concern there is the max tire width. As I said, I'm a terrible mountain biker. I am faster around our local trail on a 40# Steel Pugsley with Nates (slowest tire ever) than I am with a Trek Superfly with 2.1" Racing Ralphs... the added stability makes a big difference and is one of the reasons the Pivot appeals to me. Regardless, if I spend this much on a mountain bike it's like buying my 16 year old son a Subaru WRX STI... he's only going to get half the performance out of it and might kill himself in the process... but he will probably have a blast!
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Re: Mountain Bike Help [Toefuzz] [ In reply to ]
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So I’ve demo’d a lot of mountain bikes with different width tires. Yes, width matters but more in the front than the rear. The Scalpel has plenty of tire clearance with the lefty up front. You could probably run 29x3” tires up front if you wanted too. I ride a friend’s Scalpel with a 29x2.6” Bontrager XR4 tire up front and a 29x2.4 XR3 in the rear. Honestly I can’t imagine ever needing more than that in terms of width and traction. I have a similar size setup on my F-Si but with Vitoria Mezcal tires front and rear. The XR-4 tire really made a tremendous difference vs the Mezcal.

I’ve ridden 650b+ bikes. Yes, 3” tires give you more traction but it’s really hard to find the sweet spot with them between “bouncy” and “floppy”. I’ve also ridden a Full Stache and a Stache both of which are 29x3”. Those bikes are insanely awesome and capable but, IMO, the weight of the Full Stache is just too much.
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Re: Mountain Bike Help [Toefuzz] [ In reply to ]
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Similarly, i wouldn't worry too much about tire clearance, you should have plenty; 2.35s i'd imagine should fit and should be just fine. As the guy right above me said, tires that are too fat can feel floppy and squishy when you're railing a corner.

I've ridden the Cannondale Scalpel SE (like hte Si but a bit more travel) and it was dope as fuck. Dropper post and everything. For the kinda stuff i ride, perfect balance between trail and XC. I currently ride a Salsa Horse Thief and i love it but my next bike will be a Cannondale.

Test rides around the parking lot won't really do. See if your bike shop will do rentals so that you can spend a whole day on some of these bikes shredding gnar.
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Re: Mountain Bike Help [Toefuzz] [ In reply to ]
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Pivot !

Or my fave... Orange Five. Bombproof and puts a grin from ear to ear on every descent. Great skill compensator too ! (I know, i have one !)
And it's a single pivot - so ok some folks can tell hosrt linked 4-bar rear susp doesnt get affexted by braking as much.

Which ever route you go, beware all the tiny pivot brgs on real 4-bars (esp Specialized) are an utter PITA for needing maintenance- and with zero design regard for actually being maintainable. (trust me I've had to do them several times on a previous Stumpjumper).

Oh. And defo get a dropper seat post if you at all can. Best thing since mtb disc brakes. And sliced bread.

And go tubeless. Best thing since dropper posts !!

Enjoy !
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Re: Mountain Bike Help [GreenPlease] [ In reply to ]
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Another vote for the Scalpel Si.
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Re: Mountain Bike Help [Toefuzz] [ In reply to ]
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I have been my biking for over 20 years. I have had a lot of bikes, but I am generally a specialized fanboy. Currently, one of my Mt bikes I love is the Specialized Epic. It’s a full suspension XX bike and it handles superbly. I prefer aluminum on a Mt bike as it’s a meter of time before you crash. Carbon is a throw away bike in that regard.
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Re: Mountain Bike Help [Toefuzz] [ In reply to ]
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The one thing I would not skip out on is a dropper post. I've been riding for better than 10 years now, and if I will not own a mtb without one. It is absolutely a game changer and makes cornering and descending so much better.
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Re: Mountain Bike Help [gpotter] [ In reply to ]
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gpotter wrote:
The one thing I would not skip out on is a dropper post. I've been riding for better than 10 years now, and if I will not own a mtb without one. It is absolutely a game changer and makes cornering and descending so much better.

I ride most of the trails ToeFuzz is talking about. It's possible that I'm underestimating the value of a dropper but I doubt I would ever use it locally. There is a lot of smooth, well maintained single track in the area with very little elevation change. I would even question the need for full suspension. Most of the locals seem to be racing on hardtails. I ride a Cannondale Flash 29er and it seems perfectly capable for local trails.
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Re: Mountain Bike Help [Thom] [ In reply to ]
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I have never used a dropper post but my buddy says he uses his all the time locally, even though it's probably not necessary. He says it just becomes habit. I think I'm going to list it as a "must have" if only for when I visit the UP, which I do as often as possible, although I've never ridden up there. Marji is my big goal race for next year and I've heard it will be worth having up there.

I've spent some time looking at the Scalpel and like the idea of the lightweight XC bike and honestly, 100mm of travel front and back is enough travel for 90% of what I would ride (agree Thom?). My concern is still tire width. I know, you guys don't think I need to go much bigger, but I like having the flexibility to do so, especially given my lack of technical ability. As of right now I'm looking at the following:

Pivot Trail 429 - Have yet to read a single negative review. Most reviewers seem to summarize it as the bike to have if you're only going to have one. Specs are solid, great front and rear suspension if maybe a little more travel than I really need. Good component group.

Salsa Spearfish - specs aren't public yet and I don't know if it will be competitive at the higher end levels, but if I decided to stay in the $2 - $3k range it looks promising and I am partial to the brand. I've had a couple people tell me to not overlook aluminum since I am a beginner and I crash... a lot. Fortunately most are slow speed and minor. Pivot has a 10 year warranty on the frame but I'm not sure if it covers the rider being an idiot.

Cannondale SI - bigger discount off the list price is a plus, fantastic XC bike, new fork is supposed to be amazing. Good specs. Less than the Pivot if I went with the Carbon 4. Cannondale told me 2.3" is the max tire, but that was online support so who knows if it was even a real person. I have some time to kill this afternoon and am going to head to the shop to poke around and ask questions. Not sure if it comes with a dropper post which will add to the cost.

Cannondale Habit - I was pretty excited about this one but have heard quite a few negative things... the biggest being foot strike, which surprised me. Sure I do it, but I'm an idiot. Some of my friends demoed it last year with the intention of buying one and were shocked at how often their pedals hit, and they are experienced mountain bikers.

Fortunately I have months to ponder and figure this out. I'm hoping to find some demo bikes this summer as well. I know Cannondale came through last year and with my shop being a new Pivot dealer it seems like they might want to come through as well. I've only ridden a few mountain bikes... a 20 year old 26" Haro, a Black Forest 3.0 I had a few years back, and an alloy Trek Super Fly that's 4 or 5 years old. At this point everything is speculation since I don't know what I like or what feels best.

One question that just popped into my head... does weight factor in? I'm a bigger guy (in terms of weight, not height unfortunately), at 200 - 220#. Are some types of rear suspension better for heavier riders than other? Is more travel better?

That brings up another question... types of rear suspension. I believe the pivot is a DW link and I've heard nothing but good things in terms of it's ability to act as a suspension but also allowing solid transfer efficiency while pedaling on the flat or uphill. Salsa uses the split pivot and I'm not sure about Cannondale.

Again, mountain bikes are complicated! When I picked out my gravel bike last year I found the frame I liked (Salsa Warbird) and picked out the component level I could afford... it too 5 minutes!
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Re: Mountain Bike Help [Thom] [ In reply to ]
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Thom wrote:
gpotter wrote:
The one thing I would not skip out on is a dropper post. I've been riding for better than 10 years now, and if I will not own a mtb without one. It is absolutely a game changer and makes cornering and descending so much better.


I ride most of the trails ToeFuzz is talking about. It's possible that I'm underestimating the value of a dropper but I doubt I would ever use it locally. There is a lot of smooth, well maintained single track in the area with very little elevation change. I would even question the need for full suspension. Most of the locals seem to be racing on hardtails. I ride a Cannondale Flash 29er and it seems perfectly capable for local trails.

you are underestimating the value of a dropper post

I'm racing 2019 IM Arizona as part of Team Smile Train. Will I implode? Will I finish strong? Donate to find out more!
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Re: Mountain Bike Help [Toefuzz] [ In reply to ]
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when my wife got into mtb last year, we chose the trek roscoe 7. entry level bike, 3" tires, hardtail. it would satisfy her skill level and commitment level at that point. we live in an area with very technical, rocky trails with high risk, low reward downhills so a hardtail + bike would cover her (in the sense that she wouldn't want to tackle anything too rowdy regardless of what bike she had).

fast forward a year and she's enjoyed it a lot, improved, and wants to move on to a better bike. a friend of hers runs the CZ racing team, so she got a deal on a Scott Spark RC.

the point of my story is simply that you cannot possibly pick your lifetime bike at this moment when you've never even ridden a mountain bike.

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I was pretty excited about this one but have heard quite a few negative things... the biggest being foot strike, which surprised me. Sure I do it, but I'm an idiot. Some of my friends demoed it last year with the intention of buying one and were shocked at how often their pedals hit, and they are experienced mountain bikers.


I am not sure why more mountain bikers don't use crank length as a solution to this problem. I switched from175s to 170s and it was the greatest thing in the world.

Also, this is a typically a "user error" problem.

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One question that just popped into my head... does weight factor in? I'm a bigger guy (in terms of weight, not height unfortunately), at 200 - 220#. Are some types of rear suspension better for heavier riders than other? Is more travel better?


weight doesn't factor in. you adjust your suspension to suit your terrain, weight, and preferred riding characteristics.

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That brings up another question... types of rear suspension. I believe the pivot is a DW link and I've heard nothing but good things in terms of it's ability to act as a suspension but also allowing solid transfer efficiency while pedaling on the flat or uphill. Salsa uses the split pivot and I'm not sure about Cannondale.

this is something i can virtually guarantee you that you won't notice.

I'm racing 2019 IM Arizona as part of Team Smile Train. Will I implode? Will I finish strong? Donate to find out more!
Last edited by: jkhayc: Feb 22, 19 7:12
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Re: Mountain Bike Help [Toefuzz] [ In reply to ]
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no way man, get a hard tail.


I own both a FS 27.5 (Marin Hawk Hill 2) and a HT 27.5+ (Trek Roscoe 8). Well, one belongs to my son and we trade off a lot, often on the same ride. It's the HT we fight over most. On anything other than gnarly stuff the HT is more fun, faster, more agile, better traction, jumps better, just plain better.

Most race courses are not very technical so the HT is the better choice. On Lumberjack 100, absolutely a HT. Even on "kinda rough" the big tubeless tires soak it up so going several hours is no big deal. There is nothing beginner or less than about the right hard tail.

Get Salsa Timberjack or some other aggressive hard tail with plus tires. Aggressive = slack head tube angle less than 69deg and 120+mm of travel in the fork. At mid 2K the components on your full sus will be fine. But at around 2K an hardtail will have awesome components, tubeless set up at the shop (don't fight it, it's the $h!+), a dropper (when it gets steep it's amazing), 1x drivetrain and pretty much the whole shebang.

But if the trails you want to ride have a black diamond posted on them forget all that and get the full sus.
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Re: Mountain Bike Help [Toefuzz] [ In reply to ]
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Regarding tire clearance on the Scalpel, the only limitation will be in the rear. The lefty provides absurd clearance up from and if you need to add traction it's the front tire that really makes the difference.
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Re: Mountain Bike Help [Toefuzz] [ In reply to ]
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For mid 2s you may be best in hard tail territory.

Scott Scales are a huge range of choices, and are racy. I have a Scale 940 that is upgraded but was my first foray into MTBing after a 17 year absence.

If you can spend mid 3s or ideally near 4 K you can go to a FS bike, for XC racing 100mm or 120 mm of travel max. I have a Scott Spark, another big range choice of 120 mm front and rear bikes that are great all arounders. The Spark RC is their 100mm front and rear line.

Cannondales are good bikes but they are the laughing stock of a lot of the enduro bros and thus have lower resale if that matters to you.

If you read Pinkbike you will see what I mean.
Last edited by: endosch2: Feb 22, 19 8:44
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Re: Mountain Bike Help [Toefuzz] [ In reply to ]
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I agree you will not notice a pedaling difference with different suspensions. Modern trail bikes, even relatively beefy ones, pedal beautifully. And on technical terrain (where you need a suspension in the first place) traction is far more important than pedaling efficiency or weight. You will learn to pedal differnetly than on your road bike and apply power more intentionally and subtly, but everything you are looking at will pedal just fine.

I also agree that you should not try to find your "forever bike" right now because you really can't. You should try to get a bike that will grow with you but with the understanding that once you learn what you're doing, your preferences can and will change.

I also agree that hardtails can be a great option for what you are looking to do. It sounds like your regular riding a hardtail would be better, but for the races you are considering, a full susser might be better. This is up to you, but hardtails are definitely a good option.

More and more manufacturers are these days making "progressive-XC" hardtails that have geometry geared towards ripping and accommodate big tires. Even the XC rockets have slacker geometry than they ever used to (like the Cannondale F-Si, the Orbea whatsitcalled and the SPecialized hardtail Epic). And they now are specced with 100mm forks at min.

Any of these would be good, but the most intriguing, i think, are the Ibis DV9 and the KHS Team 29er. Both use the Boost spacing standards and so would fit whatever tires you are looking to fit, and then some (I think the KHS one fits 27+ and 29+)
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Re: Mountain Bike Help [devolikewhoa83] [ In reply to ]
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Damn it guys... now you have me looking at hard tails... you’re making it more complicated, not less!

I stopped at the shop at lunch as I had some time to kill. They have some killer closeout deals on 2018 Salsa Woodsmokes. Opinion seems to be pretty split from what I can find. People love them or they hate it. They have the SLX build at around $2100, was $3199. Seems like a good deal for the components and I am still interested in the plus size tires.

Any thoughts on the Woodsmoke? Timber jack? What about a hard tail Cannondale? I think that’s the F-SI, maybe the Carbon 3?


The more I think about it the tougher it is to justify the Pivot, even though it looks to be an awesome bike. If I go with a lower price point then I kind of like the idea of a hard tail with better components as opposed to a heavy full suspension rig with lesser components.
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Re: Mountain Bike Help [Toefuzz] [ In reply to ]
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I don't have specific experience with the Woodsmoke, but a few things to consider.
  • A 29+ tire is a lot of material to push around if you are trying to really motor, but the rollover capability will be excellent. If you have the dollars you could have a pair of regular 29" wheels for racing and a pair of beefy 29+ for dorking around and having fun.
  • Mountain bikes take abuse. You will fall. So aluminum may be prudent.
  • But that's a smokin' deal.

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Re: Mountain Bike Help [Justicebeaver] [ In reply to ]
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That was my thought... at that price I can order a second set of wheels and install a smaller tire to play around with... try some different setups that way.
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Re: Mountain Bike Help [Toefuzz] [ In reply to ]
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Trek Fuel EX will do anything. It's Eagle, has a dropper, and runs 29 if you want. I've got the 9.8 but you can get great prices on the alloy versions from 2018 if you look around.

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Re: Mountain Bike Help [Toefuzz] [ In reply to ]
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