MTB: Prioritizing Components for Performance – Personality & Price
Recently I had a client hit me with with one of my favorite questions – What areas of my build will I most notice my budget? Well, BikeCo specializes in full custom as well as factory builds with upgrades. Our team is really versed on this. Understanding how to weigh performance gains and spec options allows riders to build a bike that’s going to hit their trail desires and budget. Prioritizing Components for Performance will allow you to dial in performance without breaking the bank.
If you’ve read previous posts you’ve read your MTB build is the “PRODUCT” (not “SUM”) of the parts. That’s to say: this part times that part times another part produces your final product. So, if you get in the weeds with components it quickly throws the whole thing off.
In this post I’m going to define how I weigh importance of each component and then factor how wide the budget options are. For instance brakes will rank high on the list affecting a bike’s personality and there are great options at a wide range of prices.
Components are listed from most important to performance. Next how overall expensive they can be (meaning getting it wrong will cost $ to fix). Finally how wide of a range of pricing you can work with reasonably.
(I’ve penciled this post out a handful of times and decided we just have to dive in – so stick with me!)
FRAME / SHOCK
The most important factor in your bike’s performance is obviously the frame. Suspension system, geo, rear shock, riding vibrance, service longevity are all tied up here. If you get this wrong you might end up with a project you chase and never get right.
Expense: typically the most expensive component on your build. If you miss on this it tends to be a spendy fix…
Pricing Range: while there is a wide range in frame pricing, you’ll see the leaders fall into a similar range. The consumer direct brands with the factory build that seems like its so much cheaper than leaders? Well, I’ll tell you where that savings comes from it’s not from the business model (the “wholesale direct to you” doesn’t exist – component manufacturers have pricing breaks for manufacturers who work with retailers that aren’t offered to consumer direct brands based on volume as well as taxes, etc)
A poor handling fork will compromise your bike’s performance.
Expense: not cheap, but less than the frame or wheels.
Pricing Range: actually modern forks with good performance are available across a wider range of budgets than ever before.
Looking at Fox as an example you have Performance, Performance Elite and Factory options. You also have a couple damper options on the Performance Elite and Factory forks as well. My personal bike has a Performance Elite fork (vanity – I wanted all black) but with some attention to volume spacing I can comfortably ride a Performance fork too. That said, Fork is second on my list so I’m likely to find somewhere down the food chain to save a few $ to nail the fork I want.
I don’t even want to ride a bike without tires I like. Spoiled? Maybe. Like to keep the bike standing up? Ya…
Expense: relatively inexpensive overall.
Pricing Range: this one is kinda funny. Since they’re not crazy expensive you can look at it a couple ways. One (my way): they’re all kind of the same. Maybe $25 here or there. Two: Big price range when you look at some of them might cost 40% more than others.
Tires really do make this big of a deal to your bike’s performance. I hear the “I’ll ride these till they wear out, then…” I’m not a fan of that. With only so much time to ride why compromise there?
Rims have two important factors in your bike’s performance. What puts them this high on my list is rim width. It dramatically effects tire performance. Vibrance and torque transfer are important as well.
Expense: See below.
Pricing Range: All over the map – particularly if you compare aluminum versus carbon.
Rims are an interesting place to spend or save. I’d say these days we sell more carbon than aluminum. Carbon rims are a bit lighter, especially when you get into the wider rim widths. Carbon also improves power transfer from rider to wheel while improving trail tracking. When I ride carbon I find I can confidently sight a line about 50% the width of aluminum. That said, I ride aluminum rims. Partly because I turn rear wheels into stop signs eventually and partly as the savings here allow me to spec a bit nicer bits down the chain.
Power? Modulation? Both? Brakes are really high on my list because I really like a balanced feel. I use brakes a lot. Not just to slow down but to set a bike’s angle of attack, adjust attitude, etc. Again, familiar readers will have seen my several year love affair with Magura’s MT series.
Expense: Moderately pricey – not the most fun to replace if you don’t like the personality.
Pricing Range: Wide range of pricing available in quality options. For many years I loved my Magura MT5s. In fact I only went to the MT7 options for a bit of vanity and bling… Whether you prefer Magura or Shimano’s trail feel both offer a range of pricing without compromising on overall perofrmance. The more expensive options will be a bit lighter, perhaps have a bit different lever feel – but all and all this is an interesting place to look at your budget.
Personally brakes make such a difference to me that I would consider stepping down from a factory build that had more expensive brakes to a model I preferred the performance of.
OK, I’m lumping some things together from here out as I’m getting closer to the magical SEO max word count… Positioning your hands comfortably in the right place is critical to performance. I’m going to list the cockpit as stem, handlebar and grips.
Expense: It adds up… If you’ve missed on all three you’re bummed. Frankly if you miss on the handlebar you’re probably not stoked.
Pricing Range: Pricing is pretty close on quality components. This isn’t a place I want to cut corners as it literally connects you to the bike. Personally I have to ensure that the handlebar has enough rise to get my hand height in the correct relation to my saddle. Stock 20mm rise bar? Probably not without a ton of stack underneath… I’m past the days of wanting a garage full of extras to test with – I want it right and right the first time.
The wrong saddle is a pain in the ass. Sorry, just wanted to write that. But getting the right saddle is important because if you’re miserable you’re not going to want to ride big days. For seating I’m combining saddle and adjustable seatpost.
Expense: It adds up…
Pricing Range: Wide range on options for both saddle and adjustable seatposts. This is another area you can find some budget to allocate to other areas without taking a huge performance hit.
Saddle pricing tends to be associated with weight and amount of exotic materials. Honestly I ride in the cheaper 1/3 of saddles as a bit more weight doesn’t hit my radar at 230 lbs… In the past couple seasons the available options in adjustable seatpost has exploded. Whether you’re looking for a specific length, material or budget you have options. The pricing range on these posts can be very notable as well providing a great place to review your build and budget balance.
I had a hard time deciding where to put hubs on this list. On my last build King hubs were a key aspect to my spec. American made, unmatched longevity, great performance – hard to make a case not to put these much higher on the list right? But frankly it’s been a few builds since I’ve put King hubs on a bike and I didn’t particularly hate any of the other options. Except 18t DT Swiss hubs. That “clunk” drives me nuts.
Expense: Moderate to Pricey. Don’t miss here…
Price Range: Like I said before there’s a decent range of pricing availability here. Over the past few builds I’ve run Chris King, DT Swiss 350 (36t), Novatec, Novatec Factor and none gave me issues.
This is an area where I often sit down towards the end of my spec and look at budget. That is, unless I’m building a vanity bike (which, life is short why not) like my last one…
Whoa – but this is how we’ve identified builds on bikes well, as long as I’ve been around the industry and it’s last? Ya. In my mind I can ride, and enjoy, a huge range of drivetrain options.
Expense: Moderate to Pricey.
Price Range: Wide range here to review on your spec and budget balance.
You can even break drivetrain down into specific groups on a custom spec and prioritize weight, performance, bling, etc. You’ve made it through 1500 words at this point so I won’t here – but you can… Remember some of these are wear items too so you might factor what it could cost you to keep or upgrade down the line too. For instance many clients will look at a GX eagle cassette at time of build (when they’ve got a large expenditure going out on the total build) but may upgrade to an X01 or XX1 when it wears out. I personally run GX components with a bit nicer shifter and chain as I do think I can feel the upgrade there.
Prioritizing Components for a Custom Build
Whether you’re working with a full custom or just looking at functional upgrades on your factory build being able to prioritize performance is going to help you build a better bike. I hope that this post provides you insight to better define how to maximize your spending for maximum fun on the trail.
Want to see my vanity on a budget build? Check out my murdered out SB130LR here (and read about it on several reviews on our blog).