Here at Blister we spent a whole lot of time thinking about skiing, biking, running, and all the gear that goes into making those activities happen. In our new recurring “Would You Rather” segment, we’ll be posing hypothetical questions to the Blister crew — and opening the floor to you, dear reader, in the comments. Up first is a bike quandary:
Q: If you had to do all your riding for the next year on one bike, would you rather have a fully-blinged hardtail, built exactly how you want, or a full suspension bike, on a $4k budget? What if the budget was $3k?
If we’re talking about new bikes, these days, I’d go with the hardtail. I have a lot of fun on my hardtail, and while my spine would miss having rear suspension on longer rides, I’d still opt for a bike I’m psyched on vs a bike that I’ll inevitably be annoyed with for any number of reasons. Of course, if you’d asked me this question 2 years ago, I would’ve had no problem finding a nice full suspension for under $4k. And if we’re talking used bikes, I’m sure I could find something for $4k that I’d be perfectly happy with. But now that we’re in apocalypse pricing, $4k doesn’t go very far for something new, and $3k barely gets you a used bike. Which is, of course, kind of depressing.
The main caveat with my take is that I have not spent any time on the more “aggressive” hardtails on the market, and that category is definitely what I would be looking at, given the terrain around Crested Butte and my generally mediocre bike handling skills. That said, recently I have been impressed by the performance of a couple budget-oriented full-suspension bikes, most notably the Ibis Ripley AF and the Commencal Meta TR 29 Origin. That, combined with the time I’ve spent on more dated, less aggressive hardtails, makes it an easy choice for me — I’d opt for a lower-priced full-suspension bike.
I know there are things I don’t love about the <$4K full-squish bikes I’ve tried, but they’re by no means dealbreakers and at least for me, they’d outweigh having no rear suspension. I’m not particularly great when it comes to line choice and technical trails, so having some suspension out back — both for climbing and descending — makes my life a lot easier and my riding more enjoyable. And that seems to have held true no matter how many dials are on those shocks or forks. Of the bikes I’ve tried, the Ripley AF Deore is probably what I’d go for in the <$4K category, while the Meta TR 29 Ride SRAM comes in just under the bar of <$3K. But yeah, same as Noah, I’d definitely be looking at the used market to get the best deal in either of those scenarios.
My appreciation for ultra-aggressive hardtails is well documented so I think I have to put up or shut up on this one. Will my chiropractic bills exceed the cost of this full-bling hardtail that I’ve apparently got lined up in this alternate universe? Maybe. Will future-me be cursing right-now-me somewhere around day three of a stage race that I foolishly sign myself up for on said hardtail? Probably. But I also know that I’ll have a really good time destroying myself, and isn’t that what mountain biking is all about?
Luke’s not wrong that there are some really good bikes out there for under $4k these days, and if the hardtail option wasn’t on the table I’d be pretty happy getting something like the Ibis Ripmo AF Deore build ($3,400) and spending the rest of the budget on beer. But I’ve also long been very curious how a titanium hardtail with super-aggressive modern geometry would ride, so I’m going to stuff the calm and rational portion of my brain into a locker, go with a wild custom ride, and just try to hang on.
Hm, this is a tough question. I am primarily a fan of full-suspension bikes, and I haven’t spent time on any of today’s aggressive hardtails. Part of me wants to play it safe with a full-squish bike like the Ibis Ripley AF Luke mentioned or a longer-travel Trail bike from a direct-to-consumer brand that packs a lot of value. However, another part of me is curious about all these more aggressive / fun hardtails on the market and I want to see what all the fuss is about.
I think I’d have to go with the hardtail for that reason. Additionally, most aggressive hardtails on the market are spec’d on the lower end of the budget spectrum – the majority have lower-end components and aluminum or steel frames and don’t get much more expensive than $3,000 dollars. Because of this, I think it would be fun and unorthodox to completely bling out a hardtail. Imagine having a Sram XX1 AXS drivetrain, a Reverb AXS dropper, a Fox Live Valve Fork, and high-end carbon wheels among other top-tier components on your inexpensive hardtail frame that probably doesn’t even account for 15% of the total price of the bike. I think that would turn heads and be somewhat ironic and funny.
One of my personal bikes is a 10 year old carbon single speed. It has dated geometry, quick release hubs, and a Cane Creek Thudbuster suspension seatpost. I ride it a bunch in the spring and the fall. I adore it.
I’d love to ride a steel-framed hardtail with gears, through axles, and a top-shelf fork instead. It would be a wonderful feeling — to not always be waiting to snap my bike in half. With such decadence, I could happily ride a hardtail year round.
I’d really miss having a full-suspension rig, but I’m picky about the things I own. I’d be able to focus less on the gear and more on the ride if I were able to build up a bike with exactly the spec I want. That means more to me than lap times these days.
What’s Your Take?
Is Luke the only sane person around here, or would you take the hardtail of your dreams, too? Are the rest of us underestimating just how punishing it would be to ride a hardtail every day? Let us know how you’d tackle this one in the comments!