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  1. #1
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    Query, 1st time MTB buyer

    I have a buddy who's buying a mountain bike for the first time. For his 50th birthday this year. He's a big biker. In fact he doesn't own a car. He lives in San Francisco. Pedals pavement a lot and has a gravel bike. So he's in shape, but hasn't done a ton of mountain biking.

    there's a good chance that he will pedal through the city up into the Marin headlands on a fairly regular basis. And I'll probably come out and ride with me in the Bay area at all the standard spots riding single track.

    so the combination of these two ideas, what would you recommend he get? For me the biggest question is the consideration between a 27.5 and a 29er. He's never been on a 27.5 or a 29er. And it's his first mountain bike. So I don't want the bigger wheels to weird him out if he goes 29. but to me seems like a 29er is a good choice since he is going to be doing so much pedaling on pavement.

    This is the part you would say, get a gravel bike. But that's already in the mix. He's also considering the difference between going XC and Trail. I think he's going to want to do more single track riding in the future so I'm recommending trail, even though XC would probably be the best option for that long ride.

    I'm thinking tallboy, hightower, 5010, SB 4.5, Ripley.

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  2. #2
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    Gravel bike - assuming he rides 700cc - is the same size wheel, so I cannot imagine a 29er would feel that foreign and it will be a lot faster on his rides out of the city than a 27.5 as you suggest. If it was only for riding in the Headlands, then I would suggest an XC bike, but given your point about riding further a field (and due to his relative inexperience on an MTB) I would concur with the Tallboy / Ripley. If hes handy he can swap tires from XC to Trail to make the bike more appropriate for either the Headlands or, say, Demo.

  3. #3
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    29 for sure.

    I wouldn't worry about shopping for a 27.5, leave the tiny wheels to the kids (and midgets / dwarfs).



    new tallboy / ripley / sb100 / etc are all really good bikes.

  4. #4
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    29 inch wheel mtn bike uses the same diameter rim as a road/gravel/cross bike. The overall diameter difference is in the size of the tire.

    I live in SF also. When I ride dirt, it is often ride from home over bridge into the Marin Headlands. I find I push my cross bike a little too hard for long dirt rides (so risk flats), so prefer a hard tail. If I didn't push as hard, the cross bike (or in his case, the gravel grinder) would be an excellent choice for the fire road heavy Headlands.

    The full suspension bike is more for when I load up and drive some place, like Skeggs or Demo.

    I guess it goes on where you really see the riding happening. If it is mostly Headlands, the gravel grinder may be just fine.
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  5. #5
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    Thanks for the response. Yeah he already has a gravel bike. He's looking to branch out and get onto more single track.

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  6. #6
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    That new Tallboy is a pretty attractive option is someone is only going to have one MTB. You can find stuff up in the Headlands to shred on! I'd go Tallboy, or Ripley - or maybe the SB100 cause I think it punches above its weight class on downhill.

    I have a sick Blur 3 XO1 in Medium for sale if he's interested. In Mill Valley .
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  7. #7
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    No car, pedal to Marin headlands, already has gravel bike.

    Honestly, this sounds like a bad recipe. 29er cross-country (down-country) bike for sure. These are 29ers with about 100-120mm travel, fast tires, light. The geometry on the new ones like the Pivot Mach 4 SL and Yeti SB100, Ripley are good for lively descending too.

    The thing is... if someone had to pedal 10 miles of paved to get to a trail on knobby tires, will they have fun and how often will they do it, realistically. Road bike and gravel are made for this.

    Maybe buy a good value, used rad bike first and see if he actually likes that traverse.
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    I don't know, SF is nice to bike in. Maybe even with a MTB. Half of the ride is through Presidio and across GG. But it would be far, and wear out the tires if you did it a lot. I might even say a less aggressive hard tail with some bike packing tires to even out the two environments. That's what I'm commuting on. Or maybe take transit.

    Do a rental or a demo and see if it's something he even likes.

    Incidentally, if you just type "San Francisco" as a destination in Google Maps, it will give you Market and Van Ness

  9. #9
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    Another vote for Tallboy or Ripley. Just make sure to take him out to some good trails so he can actually make use of the bikes capability.


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  10. #10
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    Yeah for sure. If he's riding a lot of pavement up to the headlands he'll probably just take the gravel bike. but on occasion he would pedal out on the mountain bike. I live where he would land up there and it's mostly fire roads pretty boring. But he does have interest in doing trail riding which is the direction I'm pushing him in.

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  11. #11
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    XC race tires (basically semi-slicks or almost) are not too bad, or a true semi-slick. They roll fast, and have plenty of traction for that area. It'll be a gravel bike +, basically. I've got a drop bar Rockhopper (1990) with big slicks, and that's fine to go from SF to Marin, with no issues, and plenty fine to ride in the headlands with enough pneumatic suspension to not rattle too much. You can do most of it on semi-slicks without issue. To Tam, though, might suck a bit more than not, but still not that bad with fast rolling tires. Manufacturers may stuff beefier tires on these bikes (DHF/Aggressor), so even a demo of a XC bike may not be the same unless it's a XC race bike. To make it to China Camp (if that's in the cards), or Fairfax, would be a long ride on slow heavy tires and not very interesting. I'm guessing Tam is about as far as he will go.

    Lately I've been thinking of a drop bar MTB, like the Salsa Cutthroat. The novelty of 40c tires is starting to wear off. That's still a novelty though, but I'm old, and buy what I want, for what I want, for as long as I feel like doing it.

    Personally, I would recommend a hardtail (Ibis DV9 for example, as it's not super slack with a steep seat tube angle, and upright pedaling, and it's not too expensive for the frameset). I have a gravel bike, with MTB gearing (kinda, 42/28 and 11-32), and a full suspension bike with Eagle, and sometimes I wish I had a hardtail again, for when the gravel bike is uncomfortable, but the FS is too much.

    Take into account the "forward geometry" of today's full suspension bikes and the fact that you're going to be doing the antithesis of what that was designed for, that is 70+% road to get to the trails. Quad biased, upright, flat land pedaling, not that great for long rides. The hardtails tend to be more "normal" to have a more rearward seat to employ more muscles seated.

  12. #12
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    29er hardtail. go see Marcel or Brian at High Trails in the Marina area

  13. #13
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    Hardtail's probably a good call here. As for city riding don't overlook the trails on Sutro and some of the other SF Urban Riders maintained trails. Nothing super ambitious technically, but fun, and worthwhile for practice or low effort after work rides.

    I spent 4 years commuting on a full rigid 26er with slicks and fenders and had a blast exploring the trails hidden around the city, but frankly find the trails less fun on a more aggressive bike.

  14. #14
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    Hardtails for over 50 year olds are for a unique subspecies of rider. Dude already gets plenty of 'efficiency' and 'simplicity' on other bikes. Let him experience the full squish and the joys of plowing rocks and hitting jumps and venturing out of the urban locale and mentality.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DH40 View Post
    Hardtails for over 50 year olds are for a unique subspecies of rider. Dude already gets plenty of 'efficiency' and 'simplicity' on other bikes. Let him experience the full squish and the joys of plowing rocks and hitting jumps and venturing out of the urban locale and mentality.
    What I'm thinking. ..

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  16. #16
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    Hard tails will kill your back if you're older. Definitely go full suspension.

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  17. #17
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    29er FS at least 130 mm front and back travel
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  18. #18
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    FS: Ibis Ripley (light, efficient, fun, forgiving)
    Hardtail: Specialized Chisel (durable, light, cheap, versatile)

    Marcel @ Hightrails sells both.

  19. #19
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    *henh henh* He said "query" *henh henh*
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  20. #20
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    How about a YT Jeffsy CF Comp 29" $2,995.00 Pick-up in SoCal and get free suspension tune and beer at the YT Mill. Warning: The Bro-Factor might be high AF. Never been there myself. Yes, this is a complete, dialed-in bike for less than the frame-only cost of any good dentist bike. The AL versions are cheaper. Feel free to spend more on higher end models, too.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by DH40 View Post
    How about a YT Jeffsy CF Comp 29" $2,995.00 Pick-up in SoCal and get free suspension tune and beer at the YT Mill. Warning: The Bro-Factor might be high AF. Never been there myself. Yes, this is a complete, dialed-in bike for less than the frame-only cost of any good dentist bike. The AL versions are cheaper. Feel free to spend more on higher end models, too.
    Yeah this is the $$ suggestion. Anyone recommending a hardtail, are you aware what the little toggle switch thing is on your rear shock
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  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by mstrkrft69 View Post
    I have a buddy who's buying a mountain bike for the first time. For his 50th birthday this year. He's a big biker. In fact he doesn't own a car. He lives in San Francisco. Pedals pavement a lot and has a gravel bike. So he's in shape, but hasn't done a ton of mountain biking.

    there's a good chance that he will pedal through the city up into the Marin headlands on a fairly regular basis. And I'll probably come out and ride with me in the Bay area at all the standard spots riding single track. ...
    This may not be the most popular suggestion but methinks an emtb here seems to make a lot of sense. With no car, he can ride those SF hills and cross that golden gate bridge all day every day. Ten miles of paved or fire roads are all good when assisted. When he rides with you, you can ride the legal options like sc parks, wilder, coe.

    Just an option. In 2-3 years the acceptance of these things will be big imho and they will be allowed in most places. I have it on good authority that midpen is close to allowing Class1 ebikes on all midpen parks. That's why there are no signs and no tickets issued today. It'll allow those old board member farts to ride their holy parks and they have their 15 mph blanket speed limit anyway.

    I don't have one but am seriously looking. Couple friends got one and they sure are riding a lot more than me now. Just an option to consider imho.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by roughster View Post
    Yeah this is the $$ suggestion. Anyone recommending a hardtail, are you aware what the little toggle switch thing is on your rear shock
    Yes, and really not the same as it's not about the suspension bob.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by DH40 View Post
    How about a YT Jeffsy CF Comp 29" $2,995.00 Pick-up in SoCal and get free suspension tune and beer at the YT Mill. Warning: The Bro-Factor might be high AF. Never been there myself. Yes, this is a complete, dialed-in bike for less than the frame-only cost of any good dentist bike. The AL versions are cheaper. Feel free to spend more on higher end models, too.
    Oh, you get a free tune (like a Push tune or just clicking dials)? I could've sworn YT was in Reno, but don't really follow the brand.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by IAmHolland View Post
    Oh, you get a free tune (like a Push tune or just clicking dials)? I could've sworn YT was in Reno, but don't really follow the brand.
    Naw they just help you set the sag and PSI and knobs and dials for your style and weight and make sure the ergonomics are good. They moved out of Reno in 2017 to a bro-pub showroom in San Clemente CA with free demos, rent-to-own, credit program, and a full shop like the LBS they put under stress when they launched the consumer-direct assault in the US 5 years ago. Somewhat ironic, but the price/performance ratio is still super-aggressive. They serve beer. They just hooked up Dylan Stark with the YT Family quiver and he has been destroy things on a Jeffsy (and Capra and Tues...) one of the most progressive riders around, having come from BMX/FS/Vert/Street. Beer.

  26. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by encouragable View Post
    This may not be the most popular suggestion but methinks an emtb here seems to make a lot of sense. With no car, he can ride those SF hills and cross that golden gate bridge all day every day. Ten miles of paved or fire roads are all good when assisted. When he rides with you, you can ride the legal options like sc parks, wilder, coe.

    Just an option. In 2-3 years the acceptance of these things will be big imho and they will be allowed in most places. I have it on good authority that midpen is close to allowing Class1 ebikes on all midpen parks. That's why there are no signs and no tickets issued today. It'll allow those old board member farts to ride their holy parks and they have their 15 mph blanket speed limit anyway.

    I don't have one but am seriously looking. Couple friends got one and they sure are riding a lot more than me now. Just an option to consider imho.

    The OP stated that this is about a MTB. For use on trails. Not a compromised asphalt-friendly commuter that can get dirty. Certainly there was no mention of a motor. This is about getting OUT of the city. F the City!

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  27. #27
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    Its not about the suspension, Bob! :-D

    If you are looking for a good deal on a dentist bike frame, Jenson often has prior-year frames built up into bikes at not much more than the $3000 frame and shock MSRP

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    Quote Originally Posted by encouragable View Post
    This may not be the most popular suggestion but methinks an emtb here seems to make a lot of sense. With no car, he can ride those SF hills and cross that golden gate bridge all day every day. Ten miles of paved or fire roads are all good when assisted. When he rides with you, you can ride the legal options like sc parks, wilder, coe.

    Just an option. In 2-3 years the acceptance of these things will be big imho and they will be allowed in most places. I have it on good authority that midpen is close to allowing Class1 ebikes on all midpen parks. That's why there are no signs and no tickets issued today. It'll allow those old board member farts to ride their holy parks and they have their 15 mph blanket speed limit anyway.

    I don't have one but am seriously looking. Couple friends got one and they sure are riding a lot more than me now. Just an option to consider imho.
    You can't ride across the GG bridge with your ebike's motor on. You also can't ride them on our local trails (Sutro, Laguna Honda, park and rec stuff like GGP).

  29. #29
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    Without a car in SF, your trail choices are very limited. A good bike would be a 29er hardtail (unless your friend is very short).

    Full suspension is nice, but the trails that are accessible to your friend don't really need it.
    A hard tail is also a much better choice for the pavement sections. Especially in this area that has many road climbs on the way to... anywhere.

  30. #30
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    Does your friend know people who own cars? Lots of people in SF carpool outside of sf to ride. Friends either own or rent cars. Gig Carshare even seems to have bike racks on the roof.

    Since they have lots of bikes, get a mountain bike! Ride all the trails in the city (which can all be ridden on... well I've seen people using the bikeshare bikes on them, which is doable but sucky). Rent a car to go a bit further.

    Public transit sorta works. One thing to think about... most mountain bikes don't fit on a bus rack. If he has a short enough one, the bus to San Rafael and ride China Camp easily. Or Pacifica. The ferry schedule is poor but you can sort of get to China Camp with it. You can take BART to JMP in Oakland (with a climb) and towards Pacifica. Caltrain to... not much interesting but Arastradero would be doable?

  31. #31
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    Ferry to Larkspur works! Tamarancho or Tam if so inclined (pun intended). Drinks on the bay on the way home. One of the only positives of 'civilization': a seafaring bar.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DH40 View Post
    Ferry to Larkspur works! Tamarancho or Tam if so inclined (pun intended). Drinks on the bay on the way home. One of the only positives of 'civilization': a seafaring bar.
    Have you looked at the weekend schedule?

    OTOH it does make a big ride from SF to Tamarancho via Mt Tam much more doable, since you can ferry back.

  33. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by mbmtb View Post
    Have you looked at the weekend schedule?

    OTOH it does make a big ride from SF to Tamarancho via Mt Tam much more doable, since you can ferry back.
    ...not for about 15 years. It sucks, alright. If you live in SF and want to experience some 'real' MTB you've got to have a friend with a motor vehicle. Living is SF is a trade off. If you want to be close to the syringes stabbed into human feces, you're gonna need transportation out of town if you also want to do any serious MTBin.

  34. #34
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    I echo what many have said, Ripley, Tallboy, YT, etc

    Would throw in an alloy Transition Smuggler into the suggestion pool as well. Transition make fun bikes.

    There is an entry level Marin 29er that I read a good review about. The Alpine Trail 8.

    Dude sounds like he is pretty fit and already has the gravel bike, I think once he does some trail riding, he will want to do more of it.

    There are enough people he could carpool with and get rides to places further afield.

    Also, I would demo some bikes in Fairfax and go to Tamarancho.

  35. #35
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    Quote Originally Posted by mbmtb View Post
    Does your friend know people who own cars? Lots of people in SF carpool outside of sf to ride. Friends either own or rent cars. Gig Carshare even seems to have bike racks on the roof.

    Since they have lots of bikes, get a mountain bike! Ride all the trails in the city (which can all be ridden on... well I've seen people using the bikeshare bikes on them, which is doable but sucky). Rent a car to go a bit further.

    Public transit sorta works. One thing to think about... most mountain bikes don't fit on a bus rack. If he has a short enough one, the bus to San Rafael and ride China Camp easily. Or Pacifica. The ferry schedule is poor but you can sort of get to China Camp with it. You can take BART to JMP in Oakland (with a climb) and towards Pacifica. Caltrain to... not much interesting but Arastradero would be doable?
    Water Dog is pretty close to Belmont station (or Hillsdale station if you take an express train). When the itch needed to be scratched and car was in the shop, I used to Caltrain down there with my bike.

  36. #36
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    Location, budget, skill and aspirations should determine the type of bike. I think FC and IamHolland both make good points here. Without a car, he's kind of stuck with a jack of all trades type ride.

    Hardtail is a viable option. Will it be the sendy raddest option? Nope, but it'll get him to the knife fight. I'm really enjoying my steel 29" bike for my Bay Area trails: dropper, faster tires (Ranger rear/Ardent front), stable geo and 120mm fork. Climbs and rolls well but is fun going down too. Comfortable bike.

    For those arguing that a hardtail for an over 50 dude is a recipe for back pain (I'm only 48 so won't argue with you yet...), I offer up the Kona HeiHei:
    KONA BIKES | MTB | HEI HEI | Hei Hei

    I demo'ed one and enjoyed the hell out of it. Felt downright spritely, and would be a great rig for long days over the requisite mix of surfaces.

  37. #37
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    i'm always amazed how many gravel bikes i see on trails around here. hardtail would be more than fine..

  38. #38
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    Don't settle for 'fine' Try something new. Get a trail bike. Fly.

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    Did he try fatter tires on his gravel bike? It might mean he may need 650b x 2.0-2.2 to clear his frame. That's what I ride when I hit the Marin headlands. Otherwise HT should be fine as well.

  40. #40
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    Quote Originally Posted by smoothmoose View Post
    Did he try fatter tires on his gravel bike? It might mean he may need 650b x 2.0-2.2 to clear his frame. That's what I ride when I hit the Marin headlands. Otherwise HT should be fine as well.
    I give up. The OP said the guy wants a "Mountain Bike for singletrack". There is a world beyond the Headlands. He's not looking for a dirt-roadie compromise bike. This isn't GravelGrinderReview.com

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    lol. i don't disagree with you. just depends on how rowdy he wants to get and how far/often he wants to travel. obviously if he's got the legs to ride to china camp and back (or ferry or w/e) and wants to do that, a trail bike is the way to go.

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    Don't disagree. But without car, a trail bike might be overkill for local SF trails.

    Probably best bet is rent a FS MTB and see if tickles his fancy. Otherwise, we'll see a craigslist special in a couple years about a fancy new bike for sale that only has 100miles on it.

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    BTW it's been suggested above, but go demo a bike or two!

    Go to Santa Cruz or Fairfax. Demo a few bikes from the SC factory or a local shop.

    SC Factory: $40.
    Most shops: ~$90. Credited towards purchase.
    Anyone know what Whyte charges for demos at their shop in Fairfax?

    Any factory demo tours or events coming up locally?

    (Or borrow from friends.)

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    no, but sunshine is 100 for all day.

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    I've ridden my 100mm MTB and 38mm Gravel all over Marin for the Marin Dirt Fondo's and Above Category gravel rides and at minimum, I would say that owning a Hardtail and Gravel bike would be somewhat redundant.

    Having something with 100 to 120mm of travel would cover a lot of trails too rough for a gravel bike but still have enough road manners not to be a burden to get to the trail head provided the tires aren't too aggressive (I run a Barzo 2.35F /Mezcal 2.25R combo and they feel pretty good).

    As for riding an MTB on the road. I recently did a 60 mile / 8k ft. ride on my MTB where we started at the base of Mt Madonna, went up Eureka Canyon, Buzzard Lagoon and Ridge trail, then down the flow trail, up Highland, across Loma Prieta Way, and back down Summit to where we parked. Could I have done it on my Gravel bike, sure, but Demo would not have been as fun. The MTB was a blast at Demo and it rolled well enough locked out that the road parts were fine. From SF, I could see taking CalTrain down to Palo Alto and riding up to Skeggs or the Ferry to Larkspur to get to China Camp. Who knows.

  46. #46
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    Quote Originally Posted by HyperSprite View Post
    I've ridden my 100mm MTB and 38mm Gravel all over Marin for the Marin Dirt Fondo's and Above Category gravel rides and at minimum, I would say that owning a Hardtail and Gravel bike would be somewhat redundant.

    ...but Demo would not have been as fun. The MTB was a blast at Demo and it rolled well enough locked out that the road parts were fine. From SF, I could see taking CalTrain down to Palo Alto and riding up to Skeggs or the Ferry to Larkspur to get to China Camp. Who knows.
    I enjoy Demo, Skeggs, etc on my hardtails plenty. But I'm only 48 so there's that.

  47. #47
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    The results are in and the 5010C is the winner! Given all the parameters I listed in 1st post, my buddy already has what he needs to pedal all the way from the city. And he was hesitant to jump on a 29er, so he found a gently used v2 5010C on PB. It arrives Friday. Having spent the last 4 seasons on a v1 myself, I think it was a good choice and as some have noted here leaning towards more travel than less, I think, is the better option.

    He can crank his gravel bike out there for the long hauls, but my plan is to get him out to the spots that I love: backside China, Tamo, water dog, skeggs. Riding more technical singletrack. I have another buddy with a car right down the road from him. So they can pool it to the hills. Pretty sure it's this stealthy dark blue color. . . Be on the lookout!

    Thanks all for the input.

    Sent from my Pixel 2 XL using Tapatalk

  48. #48
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    - at least put some faster 2.3/4s on it if you're pedalling out of the city. that's not a fun bike to ride road/gravel on.

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