Effect of Better Gear on Riding?- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    Effect of Better Gear on Riding?

    Ok, here's what I'm wondering: Take a beginner rider, on an older XC geo bike, 26x1.95 wheels, V-brakes, 63mm fork...how much difference/improvement in riding ability is realistic based solely on bike tech (better tires, brakes, geo, suspension, etc.)?

    Let's assume either bike is kept in proper working order, and that the rider's skill level is held constant. Can an older (10+ years) bike "hold back" a rider? Or put the other way, will a newer, "better" bike help the rider develop more?

    I know getting on a bike and riding will develop skill, and you could probably put a pro rider on any bike and they'd ride it well, but coming from a background in many other sports, the difference between older, lower end equipment and newer, mid-range or better gear makes a huge difference.

    What's your thoughts/opinions/experiences?

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    For me it makes a difference until you get your skills developed then it doesn't matter as much anymore.
    There are many things new that make it easier and safer to ride more difficult trails. Once you've ridden them a lot that stuff becomes less necessary.

  3. #3
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    It depends a lot on the person you're introducing and where you are conducting that introduction.

    I remember my early bikes, though. A combination of a lack of skill and bike geometry that put me a lot more forward than bikes currently do put me OTB a LOT. I wasn't the type to be discouraged by that. If that happened to my wife on her first mtb rides, she'd not be still riding with me 10+ years later.

    If I took my wife down Black Mtn in Pisgah NF in NC for her first rides, she probably wouldn't even be with me anymore. Hell, she still hasn't been down that trail, but she's gone downhill on Avery Creek Trail and parts of that frustrated her enough as it was.

    However, I know people who rode old school bikes on trails that were WAY over their heads early in their mtb "careers" and they had a blast and kept coming back for more. It's about more than just the bike.

  4. #4
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    From the lowest end components, I'd expect quality/reliability to improve as you move to move up. From there, the quality remains good, but the weight of the components tends to drop (as price increases).

    In your specific case, I think it would be easy to notice the difference from v-brake to disc, and a bit more from mechanical disc to hydraulic.

    Tires are a bit of a bad example though. A cheap (and heavy) tire designed for your current trail conditions will beat an expensive tire with the wrong tread all day long.

  5. #5
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    Good points. The person would be me...I've ridden some stuff here and there over the years, but not very regularly. Very active/athletic background, so I'm comfortable challenging myself. Terrain is Western New York...tight trails, lots of roots, some rocks, probably borders XC/trail riding, if I had to guess. Nothing I would consider downhill bombers. Technical and tight, at least for my skill set. I've definitely been over the bars a few times. It's always fun, I just want to get some opinions as I look into committing to the sport with an investment in a new bike (or a build, which I'd love to tackle).

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by eb1888 View Post
    For me it makes a difference until you get your skills developed then it doesn't matter as much anymore.
    I'd say exactly the opposite: The old bike will not hold you back, unless you have the skills to take advantage of newer tech. Put someone who's never mountain biked before on a new, top shelf bike; they aren't going to ride any better than on an old bike. Someone who's, say, racing downhill on a modern bike; they're going to be a lot slower on the old hardtail with v-brakes.

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    A good modern bike brings down the difficulty of trails which makes it more rideable to the unskilled. A washboardy rock garden that might be dangerous on an old rigid bike in the hands of a beginner would be pretty docile on a nice full suspension bike that absorbs all the bumps.

    If all you want to do is go out and ride then a new bike is the best decision, if you want to accelerate your learning and really challenge yourself then using the old bike on technical terrain will do it.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by rwrusso View Post
    Ok, here's what I'm wondering: Take a beginner rider, on an older XC geo bike, 26x1.95 wheels, V-brakes, 63mm fork...how much difference/improvement in riding ability is realistic based solely on bike tech (better tires, brakes, geo, suspension, etc.)?

    Let's assume either bike is kept in proper working order, and that the rider's skill level is held constant. Can an older (10+ years) bike "hold back" a rider? Or put the other way, will a newer, "better" bike help the rider develop more?

    I know getting on a bike and riding will develop skill, and you could probably put a pro rider on any bike and they'd ride it well, but coming from a background in many other sports, the difference between older, lower end equipment and newer, mid-range or better gear makes a huge difference.

    What's your thoughts/opinions/experiences?

    I view it the same was as with motocross. (My statements below are talking about BOTH)

    Modern equipment is excellent (especially compared to 10 or 15 years ago). This is a problem however. Modern equipment is SO good - it is good at doing what it needs to do, whether the rider is capable of it or not. (60 horsepower 4 stroke engine, fuel injection and excellent suspension makes is EASY peasy to do a jump that would have caused issues 10-15 years ago.) Same on the bicycle. The suspension quality and travel, as well as ground clearances and geometries make it much easier to do stuff than in the past.

    The problem with that is this - you rely on the equipment to get you through the inadequacies of being a newer rider (stronger, more planted power on the motorcycle means less need to maintain corner speed and clutch control/throttle control). As as result, when you start going to the knarly stuff, you are relying on the BIKE, not your SKILL to get you through it. Skill runs out WAY faster than the bike's capabilities however. A MXer without the skill to properly correct for the sudden kicker they hit (because the bike has always been the savior) will end up on the ground HARD and FAST. Since they are already riding WAY above the level their SKILL dictates (since the bike was helping out so much) they now get seriously, seriously injured.



    I would say the bike WILL hold you back (it won't be as fast, as smooth, or as capable) but that's a GOOD THING. It makes you get better and line choice, better at figuring out what YOU are capable of, and better at bike handling and correcting for the ERRORS YOU WILL MAKE, since the bike WILL NOT pull you out of it.
    Then, when a seriously good bike is purchased - you have the base and mid level skills to REALLY enjoy a seriously capable bike.

  9. #9
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    Deth, that's kind of how I feel as well. I mean I know how to ride a bike, I just want it to be as much fun as possible, within my limits. As for new gear, I plan on sticking with a hardtail for the reasons you mentioned. I want my skills to progress and not let the bike cover up bad habits. At the same time, I think something 120mm+, bigger/wider tires, and better geo will help me be more comfortable on terrain that will challenge me and develop those skills.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by rwrusso View Post
    Ok, here's what I'm wondering: Take a beginner rider, on an older XC geo bike, 26x1.95 wheels, V-brakes, 63mm fork...how much difference/improvement in riding ability is realistic based solely on bike tech (better tires, brakes, geo, suspension, etc.)?

    Let's assume either bike is kept in proper working order, and that the rider's skill level is held constant. Can an older (10+ years) bike "hold back" a rider? Or put the other way, will a newer, "better" bike help the rider develop more?

    I know getting on a bike and riding will develop skill, and you could probably put a pro rider on any bike and they'd ride it well, but coming from a background in many other sports, the difference between older, lower end equipment and newer, mid-range or better gear makes a huge difference.

    What's your thoughts/opinions/experiences?
    If you kill confidence skill development will seize to happen.

  11. #11
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    You should look for demo days in the spring , find something to rent, or find some new friends with newer bikes and borrow their bikes.Newer bikes can be be ridden harder and longer with more comfort.A rider's skill set is what makes the difference on whether something is rideable or not.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by rwrusso View Post
    I want my skills to progress and not let the bike cover up bad habits. At the same time, I think something 120mm+, bigger/wider tires, and better geo will help me be more comfortable on terrain that will challenge me and develop those skills.

    It may. You know how you feel on your hardtail. As said before, skill determines what is ridable, but personal comfort and trust in a machine make a huge difference too.

    Back to the MX. I was on a '95 KX250 as my first bike. I was never able to really get decent on the machine. Perhaps it was too much, perhaps it was not enough. All I know, is when I went to a '01 KTM 520SX 4 stroke, I literally took off. Every time I got a better, faster bike, I did get faster, more skilled, and used the bike.

    If the bike is causing you to not be 100% confident in taking a section, or a line, it may be time to upgrade the bike.
    You can launch all the sub-orbital rockets you want. At some point, you just need to break out the big boys and hope what you learned was enough. Since it sounds like you are not what I would have considered a true beginner (Someone who says "I don't want that bike, it's not a 8" travel downhiller. I know I've never done downhill before, but I need that bike or I just can't go fast") you should be fine!

  13. #13
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    I'm quite sure I'm a quite a bit faster on my current modern 29er HT than I would be on my mid-'90s Schwin Homegrown all else being equal.

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  14. #14
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    With a new bike and better gear you will smile more and your brain will tell you that you are going about 225% faster.
    No for real there will be a difference on the positive side with a new bike with better gear but it will not be super huge.
    On my bike I dropped the weight down from 12kg to 7.5kg and I do smile a lot more, only my wallet is crying a lot more than before.

  15. #15
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    The bigger tyres, slacker front end and wider bar on my current rigid bike certainly give me more confidence over rocks and roots, than the early '90s bike that I had. The lack of suspension still makes me "work" hard and slows me down when the going gets rough.

    "it IS possible that you are faster or slower than anybody else who is having at least as much if not more or less fun"

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by rwrusso View Post
    Deth, that's kind of how I feel as well. I mean I know how to ride a bike, I just want it to be as much fun as possible, within my limits. As for new gear, I plan on sticking with a hardtail for the reasons you mentioned. I want my skills to progress and not let the bike cover up bad habits. At the same time, I think something 120mm+, bigger/wider tires, and better geo will help me be more comfortable on terrain that will challenge me and develop those skills.
    The whole HT builds better skills is garbage. I have both and ride both and guess what, you ride them differently.

    If you're willing to spend around $75, there is one way to find out, find a shop that lets you demo bikes. Try a highend bike on your trails.

    Maybe ride with a phone app on your current bike, then try it with the new bike, compare your times and how you feel after both rides.
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  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by rwrusso View Post
    Ok, here's what I'm wondering: Take a beginner rider, on an older XC geo bike, 26x1.95 wheels, V-brakes, 63mm fork...how much difference/improvement in riding ability is realistic based solely on bike tech (better tires, brakes, geo, suspension, etc.)?

    Let's assume either bike is kept in proper working order, and that the rider's skill level is held constant. Can an older (10+ years) bike "hold back" a rider? Or put the other way, will a newer, "better" bike help the rider develop more?

    I know getting on a bike and riding will develop skill, and you could probably put a pro rider on any bike and they'd ride it well, but coming from a background in many other sports, the difference between older, lower end equipment and newer, mid-range or better gear makes a huge difference.

    What's your thoughts/opinions/experiences?
    The #1 thing is too steep a head tube angle. That can really screw up your ability to tackle challenging tech, cause endos that create injuries or fear.

    #2 bad suspension makes riding tech dangerous for a newbie. Fork packs down, has huge brake dive etc.

    Otherwise Im not sure anything else has much impact

    If you are riding smooth flow trails then I dont think anything matters.

    My first bike was a 2000 era gary fisher (in 2012). It was terrible and I crashed a lot. It took me 30 minutes to ride 5 minutes of trail. Once I rode enough to show I was committed I bought a tallboy LTc and was immediately able to ride the 5 minutes of trail in 5 minutes. I picked the Slack HTA and stable platform for downs with worse climbing. It meant I could bomb down tech that the XC geo riders went down a lot more slow. The climbing was harder so it built more skill on technical climbing while being safe on downhills. That built confidence.

    I would absolutely recommend a slacker HTA for beginners.

    Im now moving to a more XC geo on the same trails to have easier climbing, but more sketchy downhill.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by TwoTone View Post
    The whole HT builds better skills is garbage. I have both and ride both and guess what, you ride them differently.
    .
    100% correct. Riding an FS bike may lead you to a slightly different riding style, but different doesn't mean better or worse in any way. Usually it's people with little or no experience with different equipment that tend to denigrate the stuff they're not familiar with.
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  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by rwrusso View Post
    Ok, here's what I'm wondering: Take a beginner rider, on an older XC geo bike, 26x1.95 wheels, V-brakes, 63mm fork...how much difference/improvement in riding ability is realistic based solely on bike tech (better tires, brakes, geo, suspension, etc.)?

    Let's assume either bike is kept in proper working order, and that the rider's skill level is held constant. Can an older (10+ years) bike "hold back" a rider? Or put the other way, will a newer, "better" bike help the rider develop more?

    I know getting on a bike and riding will develop skill, and you could probably put a pro rider on any bike and they'd ride it well, but coming from a background in many other sports, the difference between older, lower end equipment and newer, mid-range or better gear makes a huge difference.

    What's your thoughts/opinions/experiences?
    The better tires, brakes, geo, suspension, etc (older compared to newer) aids confidence, which will allow a rider's skill to progress further and faster. Once you have that confidence, it easily transfers to other bikes...which might lead to trouble.

    There's also a huge difference between "older" and "lower end."

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by rwrusso View Post
    Ok, here's what I'm wondering: Take a beginner rider, on an older XC geo bike, 26x1.95 wheels, V-brakes, 63mm fork...how much difference/improvement in riding ability is realistic based solely on bike tech (better tires, brakes, geo, suspension, etc.)?

    Let's assume either bike is kept in proper working order, and that the rider's skill level is held constant. Can an older (10+ years) bike "hold back" a rider? Or put the other way, will a newer, "better" bike help the rider develop more?

    I know getting on a bike and riding will develop skill, and you could probably put a pro rider on any bike and they'd ride it well, but coming from a background in many other sports, the difference between older, lower end equipment and newer, mid-range or better gear makes a huge difference.

    What's your thoughts/opinions/experiences?
    In my opinion it makes sense to buy a "decent" bike at the get-go. It should help you build your confidence more quickly. I was in a similar quandary when I decided to start golfing and snow skiing. If you can afford to write a bigger check, it may help you to not become discouraged with a "cheaper" lower quality product. I did on the above and am glad I did...
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  21. #21
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    Thanks for the input everyone. Riding a 2002 Gary Fisher Mamba. All the way entry level bike I bought way back when, before I realized there was more to MTB than just hopping on a bike and riding trails.

    I ski and golf too, so totally understand where low end differs from old, and how much better gear can help.

    As I've read through the forums and explored options for upgrading, I've quickly seen how expensive a sport this can be. I guess you could say I'm searching to maximize my fun without breaking the bank (too many other expenses...golf, skiing, hockey). Just thought I'd get some opinions/experienced comments on what to expect. I'm leaning towards piecing together a reasonably priced Trail/AM style HT. Honzo/Yelli Screamy/Parkwood for a 29er, otherwise Eccentric/El Camino/similar for a 27.5.

  22. #22
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    Piecing something together is not the way to save money ,unless you have a lot of parts laying around,.Try to find a used or close out bike that fits your needs.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by rangeriderdave View Post
    Piecing something together is not the way to save money ,unless you have a lot of parts laying around,.Try to find a used or close out bike that fits your needs.
    Yeah, I understand that, but I'm willing to trade a bit of extra cost for the experience of learning to wrench on a bike, get familiar with how everything works, etc. I'm an engineer...just kind of how we work. MTB is just the next undertaking of a "hobby".

    Plus, this way, I'll know what I'm doing when I open that bike shop/indoor bike park. I can't last working behind a desk much longer.

    Though I am keeping an eye out for a complete bike on sale or used.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by rwrusso View Post
    I realized there was more to MTB than just hopping on a bike and riding trails.
    Actually, there really isn't anything of any importance besides that, except maybe trail care.


    As far a best value, particularly if you're comfortable doing a little tinkering, complete used bike is the way to go. That way you have something to ride while learning to work on stuff. Remember, shopping is not MTBing, researching parts is not MTBing, wrenching is not MTBing, the internet is not MTBing, etc

    A lot of people get too wrapped up in the hardware these days IMO. Don't treat your bike like a show car, treat it like a tool with one purpose - to get you out on the trails.
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  25. #25
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    Yeah, I guess I phrased that wrong. I always have fun riding, so a bike and a trail is all you really need. That said, reading through the forums and online, and talking to friends, it's eye opening how much variety there is in the MTB world. I enjoy learning about different geometries, materials, components. User reviews are always interesting.

  26. #26
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    Yeah, there are a lot of different bikes out there. Far better and more interesting than reading others' opinions about them is forming your own, so make a point to ride and wear out as many possible.

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  27. #27
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    New gear, new styles, new locations will likely expand your experience and known limits. It introduces more challenges. Riding the same old gear, same old locations, in the same old fashion for the most part merely makes riding such take less conscious effort. It's like the new saying, practice makes permanent (not perfect); it is just ingrained into your muscle memory. If you would like to get faster, as fast as those you look up to, what use is it to build up habits of going slow in a situation where you're trying to go fast?

    On the flipside, if you start on very good equipment and go fast all the time except when you're group riding with not so fast buddies or for "recovery", the moment you think that going slow is easy and let your guard down, you might find yourself on the ground bleeding unexpectedly, since you didn't build up experience riding at slow speed.

    The point is, it's better to think that the better gear is for the sake of introducing change and progression, and to avoid stagnating, than to merely think you are buying speed and ability. In fact, it can go the other way, when you're so fit and skilled that you buy *worse* gear for a change and challenge.

  28. #28
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    I was riding MTBs for 25 years now and each bike I had along the way was fun. So ride an old bike and enjoy it. If you find something lacking, you can always get something newer (if your budget allows). If you do go with an old bike and want to improve it getting the best bang for the buck, get new tires. New rubber can help bring an old ride to life.


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  29. #29
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    Update: The new bike makes a huge difference. Night and day. I can't imagine riding a trail on my old bike anymore. That much of an improvement. Now, some of that is probably fit. But I am so much more comfortable and confident on this new bike. 27.5x2.5 tires compared to 26x1.95. 740 bars compared to, well, narrow. Hubs that roll so easy (yes, the old bike needs some maintenance). Hydro brakes over rim brakes. 140mm air sprung fork over a 63mm coil. The new bike is so much fun to ride.

    Note: I built a Canfield Brothers Yelli Screamy: used frame, used RockShox Revelation fork, shopped around for the other parts. Managed to come in under $1900, and that's including spending quite a bit on a nice set of wheels. Building a bike is actually super easy. If you're not comfortable with that, I would look at your local bike swap for a used complete bike, something newer that fits right. Basic advice, but the fun factor goes way up with a decent bike.
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  30. #30
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    Agreed. I rode a 2003 hardtail up until last summer, when I finally sprang for a decent FS trail bike. Not only are the rides more enjoyable, I am able to tackle significantly more challenging terrain and ride optional lines I used to bypass. My speed significantly improved too, on average my time to complete a trail dropped by 10-15% from where I was on the hardtail. I expect this would be trail dependent though; I ride pretty rocky technical trails, albeit not with a lot of elevation change.

  31. #31
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    I wouldn't say my FS gives me any more confidence than the old hardtail--my skill level isn't that high--but there is less recovery time because my body takes less of a beating. That means I can ride more. Reason enough.

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  32. #32
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    The answer to your question is not a simple one and it's certainly not a question of old vs new.

    Each moving part of the bike will have some resistance associated with it whether it is the parts the make up the drive train, the hubs in the wheels or the tyres. How much better one bike is compared to another bike depends on the sum of the resistance and the resultant losses of all the components consituting them. How perceivable the difference is to you depends on your stats.

    Let's suppose we have a couple of bikes with the following losses when riding at a constant speed of 15mph on flat tarmac

    Bike A
    - 26 x 1.95 tires : 30 watts
    - Shimano Drivetrain : 8 watts
    - total loss : 38 watts

    Bike B
    - 26 x 1 tires : 5 watts
    - Shimano Drivetrain : 8 watts
    - total loss : 13 watts


    Let's look at how this will impact the following riders

    Bike A
    A pro capable of 450 watts ~8% (412 watts)
    Weekend warrior..225 watts ~17% (187 watts)
    Unfit newbie ..100 watts ~38% (62 watts)

    Bike B
    A pro capable of 450 watts 2.8% (437 watts)
    Weekend warrior..225 watts 5.8% (212 watts)
    Unfit newbie ..100 watts 13% (87 watts)

    We can see the impact of the loss on different riders varies significantly. As others have said, the pro will still ride like a pro no matter what he's on.

    A few variables I have not mentioned is the weight of the bike, tire weight (inertia) and wheel size which will impact acceleration and riding up/down inclines. As it's not trivial to simplify, I haven't bothered. Let's just say, it makes a difference.

    Will a worse bike help you develop better/faster ? If you have a heavy draggy bike and ride with people on low resistance bikes, yes, you have to exert alot more power to keep up with them so it will push you harder. If training in isolation, I think it's all relative and down to setting goals and therefore a bad bike will not be a better tool than a good bike. As we cyclists have to deal with wind resistance and lots of it the faster we get, this dwarfs other losses and quickly damps the advantage of having more refined gear.

    To my knowledge, drivetrain efficiencies have not improved significantly since 90's. They have always been very good.

    Tires on the otherhand, are still as varied as they were a decade ago.

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  33. #33
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    I spent all this money on new stuff I better go out and ride it! It's is one type of motivation. There was a period when our group kind waned and the riding petered off. Then a lot to f us got on new equipment and it picked up. A lot of it was just life events, but getting new stuff does perk things up. I could still ride my old stuff (actually some of it failed just from age, snapped flanges on Chris King front & rear hubs was a bummer) but the new stuff does work well.

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