Help me decide on a new hard tail
I'm in the market for a new bike and after pouring over more than a dozen spec sheets, I'm a bit lost. I'm looking for a hard tail in the range of about $1700-$1800. Primarily, I want a bike that can well handle the trails in central Texas (lots of limestone ledges and rock gardens with some slight climbing), but I'd also like to be able to bikepack with the bike as well. After a good amount of road touring I'm eager to try my hand at bikepacking on a mountian bike with hopes of riding the great divide eventually. I'm 5'8" 180lbs if that makes a difference.
Some of the things I'm looking for: I understand, after a bit of research that I'm likely going to have to change out the air fork that seems to come on every new model these days with a coil fork for longer bikepacking trips, I have accepted that this will be an extra cost down the line, and I like the idea of having an air fork for the majority of the bike's use. I'm hoping to find a bike that has wheels capable of holding the extra weight of bikepacking gear so that I don't have to upgrade wheels as well (if such a bike exists). Other than that, I'm just looking for a bike with decent enough components, and that will be quick and enjoyable on my local trails.
What I've found thus far:
Specialized Crave Expert: not sure about the own brand wheels
Specialized Bicycle Components
Trek Superfly 6: I've heard the x9 rear isn't as nice as the deore XT shadow found on the specialized, but that's probably splitting hairs.
Superfly 6 - Trek Bicycle
Cannondale F29 6: I like the 15mm through axle, and I've heard good things about the wheels, a little pricey
F29 6 - MOUNTAIN - BIKES - 2014
or maybe even the cannondale Trail SL 29 1: again, not sure about the wheels
Trail SL 29 1 - MOUNTAIN - BIKES - 2014
Any and all opinions are welcome. The more I search the more bikes I find that seem to fit and I don't have experience with any of these above entry level bikes. Also, I'm partial to the specialized because my favorite LBS carries specialized and I'm likely to get the best deal and support there.
I know there are many more options out there and I'd greatly appreciate any advice or insight you have.
See if you can get on these bikes to see how they feel, regardless of componentry and looks.
Have you thought about the simplicity of a steel 29'er all rigid. They are supposed to be a cushy ride without the hassles of front suspension, if you're not doing any hardcore downhill (I'm not familiar with the terrain you described).
Any bike will handle the weight of a backpack I would think, although perhaps a long-seat post geometry is not ideal?
My understanding is that Deore is entry level Shimano bike componentry, SLX is very close to the best but still affordable, and XT is the best but pricey - I would try for SLX or equivalent.
And will you be riding this bike regularly just for commuting and fitness, or will it be exclusively for bike-packing etc?
b1 is right. If you want a bike that's optimized for bikepacking, a rigid steel like the Salsa Fargo or Surly Ogre would be the best pick. But those other bikes are all fine too, I'm sure. Aluminum hardtails are all pretty much the same. Well, to me anyway.
I'd say Shimano's entry level groups are Acera and Altus. I'd put Deore in the mid-tier category. SLX and XT are sort of the "enthusiast" levels. XTR is the best. Saint is the highest level group for gravity. I don't know the Sram groups that well. X5 seems to be equivalent to Acera/Altus; X7 is similar to Deore; X9 to SLX; XO to XT; and XX is Sram's race-level contender with XTR. I'm biased towards Shimano, but that's probably because that's what I grew up with. Sram has its fans. You know, the rear derailleur is one of the least important parts on the bike, but seems to be what everyone keys in on to determine the component quality. I don't mean that shifting isn't important, but that even cheap "entry level" derailleurs shift great as long as they are adjusted correctly. I'd be more concerned about the wheels myself.
Surly Cross Check: fat tire roadie
Surly LHT: Kid hauler
On One Inbred: SS 26er
You might want to check out the bike-packing rigs thread in the bikepacking forum section:
Post your Bikepacking Rig (and gear layout!)
I don't know much about bikepacking but suspect that none of these bikes would be ideal for hauling big loads (other than you). Some steel bikes are more likely to be ideal for that as noted above. If you look closely at the specification manuals most of them will probably say they can't carry much cargo on the front or rear. That said, I know people who bikepack can make almost any bike work.
I am partial to Specialized and the Crave is a good bike (it is basically the same M4 frame as the 2012 Rockhopper with upgraded components). Bolandjd is correct; the rear derailleur is not very important in the scheme of things as it is easily replaced (although the XT is better than X9 in my book, others disagree); other things that are more expensive, like fork, wheels, brakes, crankset, are more important. Just about every bike in this price range will have cheap wheels and hubs. The "Crave" wheels are probably made by Alex for Specialized and are comparable to what is on the Cannondale Trail. The F29 probably has the best wheels, although I don't know what the "ZTR Rapid" compares to as it seems to be a special model for Cannondale, Stan's rims are generally very good quality. The Crave and the Superfly have the best fork -- and that is an expensive component. The Superfly's brakes are a step below the Crave's though.
Basically, if you get one of these bikes I would go with either the Trek or the Crave for the better fork (disclaimer; I don't know much about the Magura fork on the F29). You are likely to want better wheels eventually with all of these bikes (except possibly the F29, if those wheels are good ones), something sturdy and stiff like the Stan's Flows.
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