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  1. #1
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    Upgrade my hardtail or buy new full suspension?

    Hi all,

    I'm sure you looked at the title and are thinking "what kind of question is this". I'm a NICA racer and I just got a job at my LBS for this summer. I've always been a hardtail rider just because you get more weight savings and higher componentry for your money, but I've been presented with some hard-to-pass deals on new bikes, specifically from Trek.

    NICA courses are really smooth and easy but downhill is without-a-doubt my weak point among my skillset. My current bike is a Bailey (BAILEY | Race bikes designed by bike racers |) Cross-Style 29er with a Sid XX World cup fork and a 1x10 XTR drive and Easton EA90 alloy wheels, I got a super great deal on this bike by purchasing used and I've ridden it super hard so it's hard for me to think about selling it, but if it'll make me faster, I will.

    With this in mind, if you were in my shoes, would you put lot's of money into upgrading the hardtail to carbon bar/stem/seatpost and a carbon wheelset (probably putting it at slightly over 21 lbs). Or go for the Trek Top Fuel 9 (which I would probably get a carbon wheelset for) that would be around 24 lbs. My boss who is also a riding buddy suggests I go go for the Top Fuel which would give me a "fun" and traction upgrade from my current bike, but I'm trying to decide what weight difference is worth making the switch to a full suspension.

    The guys at the shop would hate me for relying on the internet for advice but I need a few more opinions before setting my eyes on my next mountain bike.
    Last edited by no_ster; 2 Weeks Ago at 10:58 PM.

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by no_ster View Post
    Hi all,

    I'm sure you looked at the title and are thinking "what kind of question is this". I'm a NICA racer and I just got a job at my LBS for this summer. I've always been a hardtail rider just because you get more weight savings and higher componentry for your money, but I've been presented with some hard-to-pass deals on new bikes, specifically from Trek.

    NICA courses are really smooth and easy but downhill is without-a-doubt my weak point among my skillset. My current bike is a Bailey (BAILEY | Race bikes designed by bike racers |) Cross-Style 29er with a Sid XX World cup fork and a 1x10 XTR drive and Easton EA90 alloy wheels, I got a super great deal on this bike by purchasing used and I've ridden it super hard so it's hard for me to think about selling it, but if it'll make me faster, I will.

    With this in mind, if you were in my shoes, would you put lot's of money into upgrading the hardtail to carbon bar/stem/seatpost and a carbon wheelset (probably putting it at slightly over 21 lbs). Or go for the Trek Top Fuel 9.7 (which I would probably get a carbon wheelset for) that would be around 24 lbs. My boss who is also a riding buddy suggests I go go for the Top Fuel which would give me a "fun" and traction upgrade from my current bike, but I'm trying to decide what weight difference is worth making the switch to a full suspension.

    The guys at the shop would hate me for relying on the internet for advice but I need a few more opinions before setting my eyes on my next mountain bike.
    I say if you can afford to keep your ht go for the fs. If you have to sell your ht to fund the new bike I say sell it but get the 9.9. Even with a carbon wheelset upgrade on the 9.7 you'll probably be spending about same $$ but end up with less bike.
    Wait whuuut, who did he tell you that!?!?....

  3. #3
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    Unfortunately I would have to sell it to fund the new ride and the most I could go for would be the 9, maybe the 9.8 but that would be directly before the season starts and with a surprisingly small weight difference than the 9 with Kovee wheels. So that's my question—21 lb hardtail or 24 lb full suspension, which do you recommend?

  4. #4
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    Your bikes 71* head tube angle is old school XC race. 68-69 or less would give you a much more relaxed front end going downhill whenever you hit a rock or root. Top Fuel has 70*. So I'd sell you bike no matter what. A carbon TF would be a downhill handling upgrade at the expense of some climbing time. You could upgrade the TF over time. What I don't like about the components long-term is the step-cast Fox fork. It's Boost but kills any future options for wider rims and tires. The SID(bladder model) gives you Boost and room to tune with whatever you want. Although I suppose a 120mm fork as a second setup could overcome that. I'm a big proponent of 30mm inner rim width wheels and XR1 2.2 or XR2 2.35 Team tires at lower pressures. Maybe your shop can order your TF as a replacement frame build with the SID fork.

  5. #5
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    What specifically about downhill gives you problems? If it's a really smooth course and you aren't catching any air then a FS may not be of much benefit. The TF being slacker though which can lead to more stability.

    You need to identify where you are struggling then see if changing components will suffice or if you need better bike geo. Then the path forward will be much clearer.
    Everyone is entitled to my opinion.

  6. #6
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    Indeed my head angle is a bit steep, but I like the bike to be nimble in the turns yet stable at higher speeds, my Bailey does that with the steep head angle and the low BB. If anything I am hoping the full sus will give me more high speed confidence and overall speed from traction without sacrificing rolling resistance. I generally have a challenging time carrying my speed because while other racers have prior experience in motocross and BMX, I started with MTB on fireroads and never rode super hard downhill.

  7. #7
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    I have 2 HT 29ers and 1 FS 27.5. If you are looking for descending speed you have to know where you need speed. FS bikes can be faster in two places. 1) rocky climbs where you can stay seated a bit longer and focus more in putting power down than getting bounced around and having to stand. 2) Descents where you are fighting the back end bouncing on rocks/roots. The front ends will be the same for the most part. If your trails are smooth then a FS bike is not the right way to go. For me high speed confidence on smoother courses comes down to handling (turns and grip) vs rocky terrain. Most of what I ride in Arizona is pretty rocky overall and I have come to be reasonable comfortable on rocks on my HT. Most of the XC race course here are less rocky than general trails and as such don't give up that much on rocky bits. Cornering and climbing is where I can loose time. Remember thought nothing climbs like a HT. 21lbs HT vs 21lbs FS chances are the HT is faster. 21lbs HT vs 24lbs FS if the climbs are smooth the HT will crush it. If trail gets rocky and you are fighting for traction on the climbs a FS bike could over come extra weight.

    Also If you look at World cup XC racers most have two bike options. 1) HT and 1) FS bike and they can pick and choose the bike that suits their trails. Also it appears that most WC Men ride FS bikes, but the women ride HT. On the same courses. One theory is that women being generally smaller and ligther the extra 3lbs on the bike is a bigger factor than on for the men when climbing and maybe they descends slower overall. I am not really sure, but since you are a NICA racer I a can't tell if you have larger more muscular build or tend to be slimmer.


    My advice is to determine where you are losing time vs your competitors and work on that skill/fitness aspect first. Then consider what changes to the bike are most useful to address that while also not giving up too much where you are already strong.
    Joe
    '12 Santa Cruz Highball 29", '13 Santa Cruz Solo 27.5",Vassago Verhauen SS 29" XC, AM, blah blah blah.. I just ride.

  8. #8
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    Sounds to me like this is more a setup/technique issue more so than actual equipment HT vs FS. As others have asked, where/how exactly are DHs not good for you? If it's not being able to go as fast as you think from lack of confidence, then maybe a tyre change might be warranted to something with a bit more bite or at least more aggressive side knobs or just step up a size, say from 2.2" to 2.4" with the same tyre - this should give you a bigger footprint and more grip, but also, slightly raise the front and slacken the HTA out a smidge. If you've got a front tyre with a decent tread, then maybe it's technique and your money would be better spent taking a skills clinic to help you improve your overall bike handling abilities, with focus more on the DH aspects.

    As Joe said, FS vs HT has the main benefits on climbing when it's very rocky and traction is hard to find and in descending when/if there rear is taking hard hit kicking it all about the place. Personally I'd be looking at a HT with a bit slacker angles than what you have now, why not take a look at the Iso-coupler SuperFly HT, that could be exactly what you're after.
    One day your life will flash before your eyes, will it be worth watching??

  9. #9
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    you can slacken the HA by going from a 100mm fork to a 120mm. Personally I don't see 71 deg as too steep for XC racing, but ETT/reach can play a role as well as rider skill level. Example if he HA is 71 deg, but the top tube is longer it can create a similar effect as shorter TT and slacker HA.

    My Highball has 70.5 deg HA, but I run a 120 mm fork instead of 100 so it really 69.5.

    My Verhaeun has a 71 deg HA and run a 100 mm fork. but the top tube is 0.6" longer than the Highball. Riding both they feel very similar on the descents. This is because the location of the front wheel in relation to me is in fact similar. I also have the bars setup to similar height and fore/aft postion. (10mm shorter stem on the verhauen)
    Joe
    '12 Santa Cruz Highball 29", '13 Santa Cruz Solo 27.5",Vassago Verhauen SS 29" XC, AM, blah blah blah.. I just ride.

  10. #10
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    How low are your bars? If they are really slammed low, that could be causing your downhill problems. When my old '93 Stumpjumper had it's original quill stem (13 cm) setup, the highest that I could raise the bars was still about 8 cm below the saddle. For years, I was terrible on downhills on that bike because I was so close to OTB tip over point with any steepness. I remember my GF on her $400 bike with bars substantially above the saddle easily riding away from me on what should have been not-so-difficult downhills. As soon as I stuck a 4 cm shorter high rise stem on it, downhills became much, much easier. That shorter stem did mess up the fit however, making the reach much shorter and more suited for a shorter person. I recently put a much longer fork on the bike, which tilted the head angle back to 67 degrees (not including sag, so maybe really 68 degrees), and it's better yet for downhills, but making the bike even shorter.

    There's something to riding a larger/longer bike with a shorter stem for downhill confidence. What matters is the front tire contact point being more forward of the bars, so you could get there with either a shorter stem or a shallower head angle. The 2015 hardtail that I just got in a slightly large for me size and shorter stem is great on downhills despite it's 71 degree head angle.

  11. #11
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    My weakness on downhill I suppose is mostly just fear of the obstacles that lay ahead and lack of confidence. I imagine the full suspension would give me more confidence and overall traction. The Bailey is an excellent combination of stability from the low bottom bracket and the turning abilities of a steep head angle. I do seem to have trouble carrying my speed through turns so I imagine the full suspension would help with that. I do have my bars pretty low (inverted stem, etc.), I like the low and stretched out geometry. I am running pretty light tires too....

  12. #12
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    Sounds to me like your bike setup, does not match your skillset as it currently stands. Highly suggest you look at both the actual cockpit setup, bar/saddle drop relationship and also your tyre selection. No sense having fast rolling tyres that instill no confidence and make you go slow because of it or have a racey forward slung position, if it makes you tip toe your way down/through stuff. Build your skills and confidence first, then worry about making the bike faster to match your skills.

    Quote Originally Posted by no_ster View Post
    My weakness on downhill I suppose is mostly just fear of the obstacles that lay ahead and lack of confidence. I imagine the full suspension would give me more confidence and overall traction. The Bailey is an excellent combination of stability from the low bottom bracket and the turning abilities of a steep head angle. I do seem to have trouble carrying my speed through turns so I imagine the full suspension would help with that. I do have my bars pretty low (inverted stem, etc.), I like the low and stretched out geometry. I am running pretty light tires too....
    One day your life will flash before your eyes, will it be worth watching??

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by no_ster View Post
    My weakness on downhill I suppose is mostly just fear of the obstacles that lay ahead and lack of confidence. I imagine the full suspension would give me more confidence and overall traction. The Bailey is an excellent combination of stability from the low bottom bracket and the turning abilities of a steep head angle. I do seem to have trouble carrying my speed through turns so I imagine the full suspension would help with that. I do have my bars pretty low (inverted stem, etc.), I like the low and stretched out geometry. I am running pretty light tires too....
    Unless it's a rocky or obstacle strewn section then a FS could actually hinder you more. It absorbs some of your input so you won't weight the bike and tires as much.

    Your bike set up currently favors climbing at the sacrifice of descending stability. You'll have to decide if you want to change it in the other direction. Also work on your technique. Getting your inside leg thigh onto your toptube as you corner to really lean the bike over and press into the bike can really help with cornering.

    Or perhaps give 27.5 a try. Easier to steer and it seems to scrub speed faster. One of my riding buddies just lacks the confidence to lean a 29er over properly and going to 27.5 really helped him for some trails that gave him fits. His strava shows he carries a much more consistent speed and it results in more confidence and a faster average speed.
    Everyone is entitled to my opinion.

  14. #14
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    Given the description of your riding, I'd just want a dropper post. They cost less than a Fuel EX 9.8(), but, having checked out your link to the bike, it does look like cable routing will be a hurdle, itself.

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