Best Mountain Bike Frame Guide: Selecting The Right Foundation

how to measure a mountain bike frame

Geometry, size, tubing type, welding method, welding skill, design integrity, fit, flex (or rigidity), weight, cable routing, warranty, manufacturer’s reputation and serviceability are key variables.

Okay, paint job, color or polish and stickers count too because 10 Cannondales will vanish from a bike rack faster than a single Murray. If country of origin is important to you, factor that in.

Consider the frame carefully. No point investing in component upgrades if the frame is a dinosaur. In real estate it’s called over-building your neighborhood. That is, you’ll not likely recover your investment when it’s time to sell.

Let’s plow through the frame attributes I mentioned above one step at a time.

Bike Frame Geometry

Geometry is dimensions, angles, lengths, and clearances of such things as the steering tube, seat tube, vertical and horizontal tubes–in other words, what gives a bike its “feel” when you ride it. Geometry defines the intended use of a bike. That’s why a pair of fat tires on a ten-speed Road Bike does not a Mountain Bike make.

To be more specific, differences in frame geometry are sometimes slight between manufacturers. Frame designers are proud of their design concoctions.

Don’t worry too much though, all the manufacturing heavy- hitters have settled into similar geometric grooves and differences are seldom radical.

When it comes to geometry, in the words of one manufacturer, “Screw the hype, ride the bike!” I might add that you need to test drive it in a way that simulates your intended use–not just around in circles on the dealer’s side-street. If you want more information on geometric options, check you your local bike dealer’s collection of catalogues.

Bike Frame Size By Height

Several factors affect which size bike is your best bet. Most obvious, of course, is the overall size of your body and the relative proportion of your body’s parts. Fact is that more than one size frame will usually fit and which one of those you choose depends on how it “feels” to you when you ride it.

Mountain Bikes are designed to fit differently than Road bikes. Whereas the Road bike needs a mere 2″ clearance between your crotch and the top tube when you stand flat- footed on the ground, Mountain Bikes should have from 4″ to 6″ because chances are good that you’ll need it if the off- roading gets too tricky for your skill.

Mountain Bikes also come with long seat-posts, and most professional riders have a lot of it showing, indicating their preference for the smaller frame sizes. A smaller frame is preferred because it’s lighter, stronger, quicker, more rigid and less likely to fail than larger sizes. A good rule of thumb, then, is to find the smallest frame that will work for you. My first Mountain Bike frame was too big.

Start with your legs. Stand flat-footed on the floor with your feet about a foot apart and find a bike that gives you the 6″ crotch clearance as you straddle the center of the top-tube.

Next, get someone to help you by holding the bike upright with you on it. See if there’s enough seatpost to raise the saddle high enough to allow only a slight bend in your leg when the ball of your foot is on the pedal with the crankshaft parallel to the seat tube near the bottom of its revolution.

Not enough seatpost?

Compromise the crotch clearance and step up a size. Pedal/leg extension is critical to using your big leg muscles. Too much bend in the leg and you’ll tire quickly. You’ll also murder your knees.


Be warned: Don’t exceed the manufacturers stamped-on max- height seatpost warning. It relates to shear strength. Be aware too that after-market seatposts can be had in the over $100 dollar range. Seat posts are precision-sized bike parts whose diameters are always critical.

Seatpost failure is painful to even imagine but it happens. One reliable manufacturer, Ringle, recalled its 93 Moby Post sub-200 gram model due to breakage. Their 94 posts were beefed up to 220 grams. If you must tinker, you should find the size stamped near the bottom of the post for use in sizing the replacement. Another thing: Seat post stresses are transmitted to the seat-tube clinching mechanism and frame seat-tube. Over-stepping the height bounds may cause the seat-tube to rip, trashing your frame.


So now your inseam fits the pedals and your crotch nicely clears the top-tube. Good start. Let’s fit the torso and arms.

In the reach for the handlebars, you’re going to find out how far your torso and arms stretch comfortably.

If you want to ride your bike sitting chair-like in the saddle, stop reading this and go buy a beach cruiser with a big fat seat. You’ll need it because all your weight will be on your cruising butt.

On the Mountain Bike, like it or not, some of the weight is on your arms, wrists, and hands. How much weight will depend on how far forward you have to lean to get hold of the handlebar.

A number of things affect the size of your “cockpit” such as the length of the top-tube, the rise or drop of the stem, the stem length, etc…

The stem, by the way, connects the frame to the handlebars. Road-racing bike riders are constantly looking for better ways to cut down wind- resistance and many Road warriors prefer a negative rise stem. That is, they dip down making the handlebars lower than the top of the steering tube.

Mountain bikes usually have stems ranging from zero to 30- degrees in rise. The more rise, the more upright your seated position and the more weight on your butt.

Even if you aren’t racing downhill all hunkered over to lower your wind resistance, it doesn’t hurt to be bent-over somewhat if for no other reason than to dodge low-hanging branches and fallen trees.

With most serious Mountain Bikes sold sporting zero, 5 and 10-degree rise stems, you’re going to be leaning forward on a factory bike, like it or not. In fact, the more expensive the bike, the lower the handlebars–as if to appeal to the semi-pro, pro and sport riders.

You may not like it at first but will learn to appreciate low handlebars as soon as the riding gets tricky.

Why lean forward?

Most important, the posture allows you to raise your butt off the saddle and stand on the pedals without knocking your riding balance all to hell and wobbling your bike into the trees or off the cliff. That argument alone should be a convincing one for forward- leaning trail riding.

When leaning forward, your center of gravity is lower. For the fast runs, you push less wind. With some of your weight on the handlebars, your butt and arms share the soreness rather than letting your buns take all the punishment. With some weight on the front tire, you have better traction up there and therefore more and better maneuverability. You can ride uphill while still seated.

If these reasons aren’t enough, remember that it’s partly exercise you were after when you got the bike in the first place, and leaning forward strengthens your neck, arms and wrists if not over-done. Stop if you get tired and enjoy being where the bike has taken you. Drink some water, snap a picture, eat a snack. Build up to the longer rides by resisting the temptation to out-ride your strength and stamina.

Bike Frame Tubing Type

Strong and light-weight–these are the mandates. Strength is especially important in the Mountain Bike because of how it’s marketed.

The manufacturers of Mountain Bikes depict their products sailing mid-air into the wildest terrain–a Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride Machine. If the customer is going to try some of the stunts depicted in the ads, the bike better be able to take the punishment without breaking–or worse–killing somebody.

The bike should also be light-weight for at least two reasons:

  • first, there’s the physics of putting dead-weight into motion. The more of it there is, the harder it is to get moving. Heavy human-powered machinery is not a good thing.
  • Second, chances are if you’re off-roading on your bicycle, you’ll need to carry it from time-to-time: over logs; across little streams; into and out-of your car or truck; and up or down the incredibly steep, slippery or occasionally treacherous landscape.

Lightness and heaviness is a function of all your collected bike accessories but starts with the frame tubing itself.

Your bike’s tubing determines its most basic personality. Regardless of the quality and price of the components you add, junk tubing equals junk bike. If you want to or must skimp somewhere, tubing is not the place to do it. This is your bike’s foundation.

That having been said, the advent and popularity of exotic frame metals has led to a popular misconception: high-tech frames make light bikes. That simply isn’t true because you still have to put wheels (rims, spokes, hubs & tires) on the thing, as well as other potentially weighty parts like stems, handlebars, seat and seatpost, brakes and brake levers, shifters, bar-ends, front and rear derailleurs, chainring, crank levers, pedals, and the bolts and nuts to hold it all together.

Take the cheap route on any of those essentials and the lightest most exotic frame in the world will begin feeling like a department store dinosaur.

So, let’s approach frame materials like grown-ups. Let’s peel away the hype and the full-page color ads long enough to see what it’s really all about in frame materials.

Here are the current mountain bike frame material choices:

  1. Steel
  2. Aluminum
  3. Titanium, and
  4. Carbon fiber.

If you read the advertisements, and check the prices you will be convinced that if you get what you pay for aluminum, titanium, and carbon fiber–being more exotic and expensive–must be better than steel.

I do not own an exotic metal bike for more reasons than just cost. Read on, and judge whether it’s a “sour grapes” bias. You aluminum, Ti & Carbon frame owners, please bear with me.

Steel Bike Frames

Steel has a flex, resiliency and strength no other metal duplicates. The feel of a steel bike is different than that of aluminum, titanium or carbon fiber.

Countless riders still like the feel of steel bikes and tubing manufacturers have responded with lighter steel Alloys.

Most desirable is the steel/chromium alloy commonly marketed as Cro-Moly steel. In Fact, the preference for steel has even introduced a new steel model outfitted and priced more than many aluminum models–the Gary Fisher “Cronus.”

A history of steel manufacturing in the U.S. and Japan would be enlightening here, but let’s not get too side-tracked.

In a nut-shell, America geared up its steel technology in the ’40’s during the war, and there things stood until Japan started spewing Hondas and Toyotas into the world in the 70’s.

New Japanese steel factories were built and old ones up-dated. Tange steel was born, and quickly became a new world standard in steel/alloy tubing.

The U.S. did some modernizing of its own, giving birth to True-Temper steel. Steel had grown up. It was being made lighter, stronger, and more expensive. Golf clubs got more expensive and better. Bike-makers took notice.

Bike manufacturers started tinkering with the tubing even more, with a process called “butting” whereby the tubing is tapered. This means the tubing is drawn thin in the areas of least stress, but left thickest at the ends, where the welds are and where the strength is needed. This “butting” resulted in an even lighter piece of tubing.

If butted tubing worked, why not double-butted? And so it goes. Fisher’s Cronus is triple-butted True-Temper steel. In fact, todays steel Mountain Bike can be less than a single pound heavier than the same size aluminum counterpart.

As stated earlier, steel has a characteristic “feel” in a bike. It’s strong, but somewhat flexible or “springy.” It can take a hard impact and flex back. Steel absorbs shock. Consider that steel makes great springs. Aluminum springs, if they exist, haven’t caught on yet, to my knowledge.

On the down-side, steel doesn’t have the aerospace wow- factor built into its image. It’s also hard to brag about it without first explaining steel’s recent manufacturing advances. To most, steel is the stuff of tractors, Jeeps and Land Rovers. Besides, it rusts if you mistreat its protective finish. To me, that’s not a big minus. Paint is cheap and my bike acts more like a Land Rover than a Boeing 727. Sour Grapes? I don’t think so.

Aluminum Bike Frame

The first step up to exotic frames is aluminum, because it’s light-weight and doesn’t rust. Like modern steel alloys, aluminum tooling and processing has also advanced. 6061 T6 is popular for bikes (T6 is the temper designation, meaning the aluminum has been solution heat treated, and artificially aged without cold-working).

For an understanding of the metallurgy of aluminum, try the discussion on “Metals” in PEDAL PUSHER, a buyers guide available for $12 from Bike Pro Publications, 442 Steele Ln., Santa Rosa, CA 95401-3149 (800-BIKE-PRO). Among other things, this article de-mystifies the four-digit code as well as various temper designations. Be warned, though, it was written in squishy prose as if by the classic hard-to- follow lecturing college professor. No beginning, middle, or end–just facts, and tons of them. I emerged from the article amazed that aluminum even exists, much less that the integrity of its many compositions and temper variations can be policed. And that’s part of the problem.

Aluminum is less-dense than steel. You need more of it to get the same strength as steel, but it will weigh less. Tempered to a hardness suitable for bikes, it will also break rather than bend, so there’s little give to the stuff. Bike makers are “fine tuning” the feel of aluminum tubing by varying thickness (as in butting steel) and tubing diameter. Manufacturers claim that new designs even mimic the feel of steel–to a degree.

Even hardened aluminum, though, isn’t good enough for bolts, nuts, and screws, or for that matter, the chain. Those are still steel. Now, here’s a question: What happens when you over-torque a steel bolt into a piece of threaded aluminum? I’ll tell you what happens: you strip the damn hole. The good aluminum bike makers solve the problem with inserts. When you strip a bolt-hole, you buy a new insert and pay somebody to extract the old one. Terrific.

Another problem area is the dropout. Perhaps the single most vulnerable part of a bike frame is the little nub sticking down from the right rear axle slot which holds the rear derailleur. It’s called a “drop-out.” When an off-road stick reaches up and snags your deraileur, or slaps your deraileur into your spokes, something has to give.

Even a steel bike can be trashed in this “Achilles heel” area. Aluminum bikes are trashed more easily than steel bikes in this way. Manufacturers, recognizing the problem, include replaceable dropouts with shear bolts. The idea is simple. When your deraileur gets yanked and twisted, the add-on bends, the bolts snap, and you replace the disposable drop-out. Never mind that your deraileur and chain have just trashed your wheel and spokes. Not the frame-builder’s warranty problem. Your frame is fine.

Another nasty thought for aluminum bike riders is chain- suck. That’s the part where an over-shift or back-pedaling during a gear change has thrown your chain off the chainrings and wedged it into a cranny where it doesn’t belong. Chain is steel. Chainring is steel. Frame is aluminum. Which one gets the big damage?

Here’s another consideration. If Steel bolts in aluminum threads are wound up tight enough, they will seize. You know the feel and sound of a seized bolt. It’s a no-mover that makes a “cracking” sound if you’ve managed enough force without stripping off the slot, head, or recessed allen points. Not a nice thing. Of course, there’s anti-seize goop for sale. . .

Those little protrusions that hold the cables in place are called “braze-ons.” On many aluminum bikes they’re “riveted- ons.” But my final complaint is that aluminum tubing makes funny noises. It creaks under stress sometimes, and the point-of-creaking can be harder to locate than it is to tolerate.

Nonetheless, people keep buying aluminum bikes, and the manufacturers who have figured out a way to glue them together keep singing their praises in magazines and giving them to their sponsored riders to show off at all the racing photo opportunities. They’re easy to spot because aluminum bikes have big fat tubing which has become somewhat stylish. Because it doesn’t rust, aluminum bikes don’t need paint and many get polished to a shine like little Boeing aircraft. At least one company, Cannondale, doesn’t even make a steel bike and is perceived by many to be the “Ferrari” of the bike world. Aluminum bikes have merit or they wouldn’t sell.

I wonder sometimes though, how much of it is Madison Avenue “fizz.” To read the hype, you’d think that the aluminum frame alone was responsible for the low overall weight of these bikes. It’s not. It’s the top-shelf wheels as well as other components that make them pricey and light.

Titanium Bike Frames

If you think the new space-age aluminum alloy chemistry is difficult to comprehend, try reading the titanium literature. Little wonder it’s expensive–the furnace heating bill must be astounding. Titanium is also very tricky to manufacture properly, and you may be surprised to learn that titanium is 60 percent heavier than aluminum, a fact redeemed by its incredible strength.

Titanium is a truly exotic, high-tech concoction. I still remember my amazement the first time I held a titanium bottom bracket (crank arm bearing assembly at the bottom of the frame) in my hand. It looked like a real part, it worked like a real part, but it sure didn’t feel like the real thing. And so it goes.

At least one company, SRP (Specialty Racing Products) makes a principal living selling only titanium bolts, nuts, and replacement parts. Compare these prices: a stock Shimano bottom bracket, $15.99; an SRP titanium bottom bracket, $149.99 (ouch!). Weight difference? Shimano is 358.5 grams or 12.64 oz. and SRP is 164 grams or 5.7 oz. Add a few of those parts to your bike and it will be lighter than your wallet.

Titanium, though, is a little hard to weld and work. So much so, that many titanium bike makers contract with the alloy- maker itself to assemble the tubing into a frame, driving the price even higher. A handful of U.S. Bike makers have invested the money and time necessary to build using titanium in their own shops. Others don’t even offer titanium bikes, period.

Average folks can afford a titanium bolt here and there or maybe even a set of titanium handlebars for a hundred bucks or so, but as for the titanium frame, it’s a big-bucks investment few sane people can justify for weekend rides in the woods.

Then there’s the story of the counterfeit certification documents that began arriving with shipments to U.S. manufacturers of Russian-made titanium (all exotic alloy shipments come with certification as to type, temper, etc.). To get around this problem, the titanium bike parts themselves (handlebars for one) started arriving on U.S. soil–no certification necessary. These parts were being made in China with un-certified Russian titanium. Control Tech, a respected U.S. Part maker who sold some of these for a time, discontinued and recalled them.

There are three reputable titanium mills in the U.S. at this writing: Sandvik, Haynes, and Ancotech. Each has done a respectable aerospace business and parts made with their titanium are good safe bets. Bike makers Dean and Ibis both sell Ancotech Ti handlebars.

Oddly, at about 145 grams for the Ti bars you can find even lighter aluminum ones for less money. My advice is to know what you want, shake the romance off your lust, forget the boastful advertisements and go for the best, even if its cheaper. In other words, if you want to brag about metal, buy some jewelry, if you want a good bike part, ask some questions. If you just have to buy a titanium something, get some bolts and some anti-seize goop.


This one has promise. Imagine a large (18″) Mountain Bike frame weighing a scant 2.8 pounds (including paint) and able to withstand incredible stress and impact. It’s one of bicycling’s newest frame materials: OCLV Carbon. The long name is Optimum Compaction, Low Void Carbon Fiber. It’s used in the latest planes from Boeing including their much-touted 777.

The manufacturing process is a bit like making paper mache science projects or patching the rusted floorboard of a ’55 Chevy. What you end up with is the stuff Corvette fenders are made of–sort of. Carbon fiber is reminiscent of Fiberglas(tm). To make it, instead of spun glass fibers, you take strings of carbon fiber, mix it with epoxy, put it on some kind of form, let it harden, take the form out, and use the newly created whatever-it-is.

At this time, I am not sure how the stuff is threaded to receive bolts, how the traditional braze-on cable hangers are attached, or how the dropouts are configured. Also unknown to me are its feel and ride, although reports in the trades and magazines give the substance high marks in all departments.

If you price one, hang on to your wallet. Each bike has to be virtually hand-made and is delivered sporting a beautiful sculpted look.

Other carbon fiber parts are also cropping up: such as handlebars (only 91 grams), hubs and saddle rails, to name a few. I get the feeling those exploring the OCLV market are on to something good but may be a bit ahead of their time. Investments in metal tooling for bikes is rampant and those folks won’t be quick to give up their market share. Those churning out OCLV bikes seem to be doing it instead of tooling for titanium.

Although chances are you will never have to worry about this OCLV shortcoming, you should be aware of it. If carbon fiber ever does reach its stress limit, it doesn’t bend, get distorted, or break like most other things. It shatters like a Corelle(tm) dinner plate hitting the floor–a fact revealed by a lab test of handlebar stress limits. However, the testers admitted, though, that the carbon fiber bar out- stressed everything else in the test.

If the world supply of epoxy doesn’t dry-up or harden, OCLV carbon fiber could be just beginning its march into American hard goods and, if you can make the stuff out of recycled junk, this is only the beginning.

Plastic Bike Frame

That’s right, plastic. More than one manufacturer is looking at plastic as the frame strength-to-weight utopia for a new breed of high-end mountain bikes. Schwinn, a re-emerging major force in bicycles, had already prepared the advertising blitz at this writing although no bike yet exists. You read it here.

A Brief History of the Mountain Bike

mountain bike history

Because the “Mountain Bike” is as popular in the flatlands as it is in the mountains, little wonder it is also called “All Terrain Bike” (ATB) and “Off Road Bike.” Let’s visit its origins.


Recent evidence has emerged which suggests and, quite frankly, proves through old photographs that the Mountain Bike was first used by those rascals in the Kentucky and Tennessee hills to tend their secluded moonshine stills. I’ll buy that. It is said that the balloon-tired vehicle was a quick, quiet and effecient way to tend the stills and keep one-step-ahead of the “revenuers.”
Bike may be old, but Tires aren’t!

Exactly what, if anything, was done to those early “Mountain bikes,” to make them work on the mountainous hillsides is not known to me at this writing. It’s safe to assume that something was modified. It’s also safe to assume that whatever the modification was, it was kept among the moonshining in-crowd.

That having been said, I’ll turn the focus Westward, and to those young men and women who weren’t afraid to both ride in the daylight, and share their back-yard engineering with anyone who would listen.

The commercial Mountain Bike evolution didn’t start until 1974 and its first production bikes didn’t appear in stores until about 10 years later. In other words, it’s a relatively new machine and sport. Not surprisingly, California commercialized, if not started it all. There, a band of reckless young men started racing down the root-strewn trails of the Northern California mountains atop home-made bicycles. They rode balloon-tired, coaster-braked, spring-seated bikes with motorcycle brake levers and old 10-speed thumb-shifters. Gary Fisher was one of those bike-makers and has become somewhat the commercial “Father” of Mountain Bikes for his early efforts.


Fisher’s mountain was Mount Tamalpis in Marin County, (read San Francisco) California. Its most challenging trail dropped 1200 feet in elevation in just 1.8 miles. At the end of the run, the coaster brakes heated up enough to need repacking with grease and the hill was named “Repack.”
Fisher’s “Klunker” (re-issued in 1996)

Four years later, in 1978, Gary rode his original bike down Repack Hill in 4 minutes, 22 seconds. Gary survived and at this writing, his record still stands.Because those early bikes had inadequate low gear ratios, Gary and his fellow riders had to push their bikes back up the hill, like sleds, for another ride down.


While the Californians refined their downhill bicycles, a group of East Coast riders were building their own version of the Mountain Bike for the rocky wooded trails of New England. The most promising work being done by a young cyclist named Chris Chance.

His first bike design, dubbed the “Fat Chance,” was outfitted with fat tires, of course, but Chris also re-welded the frame incorporating some radical geometric changes he thought would help him stay in the saddle while negotiating the single-lane paths snaking up, over, down and around the rocks, stumps and streams in the New England woods. His design used shortened chainstays, (horizontal tubes holding the rear wheel) which placed the rider more squarely over the back tire where climbing traction was needed. He used steeper head angles (the angle of the front fork) for quicker steering response. The result was a compact, responsive bicycle made for the woods. He didn’t stop there. Chance raised the bottom bracket which holds the crank/bearing assembly to give his bikes more ground clearance for rocks and stumps and he added a third front chainring for more low climbing gears.


Heck, it was bound to happen. In the summer of 1983, Chris Chance and Gary Fisher met at a closed-for-the-summer Ski Resort in Crested Butte, Montana and a year later, in 1984, the Mountain Bike as we know it was being delivered to bike stores. A new sport had arrived. There were undoubtedly scores of other design contributors whose names, rightly or wrongly, have been overshadowed by the fame of Chance and Fisher. I acknowledge and salute them too. Forgive me, this is the Readers Digest version.

Mountain Biking in the 1990s

The first mass-produced mountain bike was the specialized Stumpjumper in 1980 and throughout the 1980’s the development of mountain bikes was rapid.

Major savings in weight were achieved by using new Japanese aluminium rims and properly deigned thin-walled knobbly-tread tyres. These developments brought the weight of the best mountain bikes to below 30lbs.

Mountain biking had now spread world wide and became extremely popular in Europe where mountain bike sales far exceeded that of any other type of bike. The majority of mountain bike frames were being produced in the far East, and Shimano became the main producer of the components. They made massive developments in gear shifting mechanisms and braking systems.

Many of the top end developments continued to filter through to the cheaper bike. Other developments included clipless pedals, which replaced toe clips, in which the pedal clipped to the soles of shoes in a similar way to ski cleats. Another major development was the introduction of motocross, and this inspired front suspension forks which made bikes ever quicker.

Mountain Bikes by the 1990s

By the 1990’s mountain bike development had spread to the rear of the bikes with the introduction of rear suspension which made riding over rough terrain faster and more comfortable.

Bikes were now much faster but the brakes were clearly lacking in power. V-brakes and hydraulic rim brakes were better but were eclipsed by the far superior English developed disc brakes. These were better because they offered superior power and a better feel to the rider. Also, because they were in the middle of the wheel, they did not get affected by mud and other debris on the trail.

Downhill Racing

Downhill mountain bike racing is a time trial event that has many similarities to downhill skiing. Riders start their runs at intervals that can vary from 30 seconds to up to three minutes, depending on the level of the competition.

The rider who completes the course in the shortest time wins. As the name of this type of riding implies, downhill races are staged on steep, downhill terrain, resulting in higher speed than in cross-country racing. The terrain is also often somewhat rougher than in cross-country mountain bike racing.

The bikes used in downhill tend to be heavier and much stronger than cross-country bikes, and almost always feature long travel dual-suspension (usually around 6-8 inches) whereas cross-country bikes are generally hardtails (4-5 inches of travel at the front).

Downhill mountain bikes have powerful disc brakes, which is mainly to allow the rider to only use one finger for braking, so that the rest of the hand can be on the bar and the rider can have better control.

The bikes also tend to have a single ring, as opposed to triple ring, because a large range of gears simply isn’t necessary. The single ring will also have a chain device to prevent the chain from derailing.

Safety Factors For Downhill Mountain Bike Racing
Downhill riders almost always wear a full-face helmet and often wear full-body armour. This is because the speeds achieved on downhill tracks is high and you are riding in close proximity to trees and rocks etc.

Downhill is regarded to be the ‘Formula 1’ of the sport of mountain biking because the technology is more advanced than any other part of the sport and it is the riders skill that is tested rather than the riders fitness or endurance.


For some, Mountain Biking’s principal pleasure is a love affair with the machine itself. For others, the machine is merely the means to a different end: getting deeper into the woods and further from the routine drudgery called responsibility and its oft-associated predictable boredom.

It can be both too, with magazines to suit both tastes. Mountain Bike, Mountain Bike Action and Mountain Biking all have the machine as a primary focus, whereas Bike highlights the experience of the ride. Bicycling is principally a road-bike magazine with an almost reluctantly patronizing Mountain Bike mention of some kind each issue along with heavy doses of Health & Fitness articles and related ads.


Telling the difference between a Mountain Bike and a Road Bike is easy. The Road bike has droopy handlebars and skinny tires. Mountain bikes don’t. Simple enough.

It had been over 20 years since I had ridden any kind of current- model bicycle and the advances in everything mechanical were astounding. I bought the first I saw that was in my price range. I loved the color and the bike looked just great. It rode and stopped good, shifted smoothly and had a front shock absorber instead of a fork. The bike almost pedaled itself. Sadly, I bought the wrong bike.

Now this isn’t a bicycle review and I’m not going to slam the manufacturer and model by telling you which bike it was–that’s not important. The lesson learned is this: had I not been so blasted curious I might still be peddling that first bike as happy as a clam. So be warned that what you are about to read may infect you with a lust to upgrade some components at best, or your whole bike at worst. Skip this section if you’re one of those people who doesn’t know when to put the brakes on the charge card.

Okay, you asked for it. Use your present bike or your imagination, and let’s go exploring. Of course, each of the components we’re studying is already part of an assembled bike. Building custom bikes is too expensive an ordeal for plain folks. Let’s start with the frame.

Santa Cruz Superlight Mountain Bike Review

Santa Cruz Superlight
Santa Cruz Superlight

The Superlight, as the name implies, is a lightweight cross country mountain bike from Santa Cruz. You can get more info about the company and their bikes at their web site.

Santa Cruz’s Color Picker is a great component/price comparison. It shows you a picture of the bike configured the way you want with the price and weight. Be sure to check it out at 

    Find yourself an anchor to go with the Santa Cruz Superlight if you are fortunate enough to get to ride it.  It may be the only thing that keeps you on the ground.

This bike is impressive in so many ways.

Before you ever touch it, the high points of the component setup dazzle you: Easton Monkey Lite CT2 carbon fiber riser bar, Fox Float Rear Shock, Rockshox SID HydraAir fork, Titec reinforced stem, Easton  EA70 aluminum seatpost, do I have to go on? This sounds like a wish list for anyone who has ever upgraded their factory parts!

Once you do get past the mouth watering components you are ready to ride this steed.  I have recently ridden Fisher’s Sugar and I would have to compare this bike to that one as far as the feel of the ride and heightened maneuverability it has.

When I rode the Sugar I never thought I’d be saying it this soon but I think this bike actually outperforms the Sugar, for one reason though…weightlessness.  This bike feels so light that when braving technical terrain, you can spend precious time deciding which route around objects you will take, OR you can just go OVER it.

Seriously, I was able to clear obstacles easily on this bike that I usually have to work hard at. That combined with the tremendous amount of speed you can generate on this bike really open up that tired bit of single track you only hit when you’re bored.

The Racing Raptors really enable you to tear through single track like you have a pack of wild animals chasing you, or a couple buddies you just really want to wail on!  The plush, yet responsive, suspension lets you tear through downhill terrain with a dangerous amount of abandon.

Until you realize just how fast you’re going and decide you’d like to ride again tomorrow, it’s hard to back off.  Simply put, an incredibly light frame design by Santa Cruz, combined with some standout high-performance components, really make an amazing ride.  Don’t plan on sightseeing with this bike, it will all be a blur.

“The Specs”
ManufacturerSanta Cruz
Model Superlight X 
Bike Category Mountain Bike 
Type XC / Race
Suspension Full Suspension 
Price $2195 
frame material 6061 T6 aluminum, double-butted 
fork Rock Shox Sid XC, 3.15 travel
Rear Shock Fox Float R, 4.0 travel
Rims Front: Bontrager Valiant, Rear: Bontrager Valiant Assymetri
Front Hub Shimano LX 
Rear Hub Shimano LX
Spokes 15g spokes, alloy nipples, radial lace front, 4x race lace rear 
tires Huthinson Air Lite Python 2.0 kevlar / 110g tubes 
Pedals Not included 
Crankset Shimano Deore LX, 22/32/44 teeth
Chain Shimano CN-HG72, 1/2 x 3/32
Rear Cogs 9-speed, 11 – 34 teeth
Bottom Bracket Shimano BB-ES70, 113mm spindle
Front Derailleur Shimano Deore LX top-swing, top-pull/clamp-on 31.8mm
Rear Derailleur Shimano Deore XT SGS 
Shifters Shimano Deore LX RapidFire SL 
Handlebar Azonic World Force riser 1.5″ or Easton Monkey Bar (upcharge)
Stem Titec Big AL 
Headset Dia-Compe Kontact 130g 
Brakeset Avid 1.0 V-brakes brakes, Avid SD-2.0 L levers
Saddle WTB SST hollow cromo 270g 
Seatpost Kalloy Uno 230g 350mm
Weight 24.5 
Colors Gray, Red, Scuba Yellow
Sizes large, medium, small, xlarge

2000 Jamis El Diablo

Looking for a high performance long travel screamer? Look no further!

Jamis’ El Diablo brings “cross country” weights to the “out of bounds” rider!

Before you scramble to find a dealer keep in mind this kind of technology and componentry doesn’t come cheap. The 25.75 lb 100mm travel El Diablo has a Suggested Retail of $3999.00.

To find out more about this bike or other more wallet friendly Jamis models check out their web site at

The Bike

The El Diablo is an awesome long travel mountain bike which is well worth it’s $4000.00 price tag.

The frame and swingarm are Vacuum Resin Transfer Mold carbon fiber (VRTM is a process which eliminates voids and loose fibers in the mold).

A spec list on the El Diablo reads like a wish list for anyone wanting to upgrade a bike. A three ring Shimano XTR crank spins the 9 speed M952 freewheel connected to a Mavic Cross Max Disc wheelset. Shifting is done with XTR front/rear derailleurs and XTR Rapidfire shifters.

Ground contact is managed by a Fox Air Vanilla R controlled fully active 100mm travel swingarm, a Rock Shox SID 100 fork, and Tioga XC Kevlar tires.

The BB placement and swingarm geometry do a great job minimizing biopage and bounce. Braking is responsive and reliable with the front and rear Hayes hydraulic disc brakes and Hays levers.

The Ride

I rode this bike at the Interbike On-Dirt Demo in Las Vegas.  The Diablo’s awesome looking carbon fiber frame is the first thing that caught my eye.  It’s just sweet to ride and thrash a bike that sounds like a paper towel roll when you thump it!

You can thrash all you want on this bike too!  It really takes the terrain without transferring much of anything to the rider.

I rode this thing on some pretty rough and loose terrain out there which I wasn’t used to and it really adjusted the learning curve in my favor.

The Fox and SID suspension is really plush. Throw in the Hayes discs and an XTR component setup and you start to really appreciate the work that designer Tom Watson has put into this bike.  Jamis shoots and they score!

The Rider

It’s an all around great mountan bike but the price limits it to more extreme trail and “out of bounds” type riding where it’s well worth the cost. 

2000 Gary Fisher Sugar Mountain Bike Review

From the name alone you can expect to get a quality product. Gary Fisher has been making innovative cycling product before most of us ever heard the term “mountain bike” ( which by the way, came from his and Charlie Kelly’s “Mountainbikes” company in ’79).

Fisher’s Sugar lineup is a group of light, tight, and quick cross country mountain bikes and are a whole new breed of steeds for Fisher customers.

At first glance the Sugar seems to have a pretty common cross country pivoted suspension design. So what was all the buzz about it at last year’s Interbike?

Well, other than just being extremely lightweight and using Fisher’s Genesis geometry, what makes this frame different is that there are no pivots at the dropouts. Instead, the seatstays are designed to bow slightly and the suspension geometry virtually eliminates “biopace” or pedal induced shock activation!

Fisher calls this the B*Link suspension and it makes for a tight, responsive feel on the trail.

There are actually four Sugar bikes to choose from but we’ve only listed the specs on the top three of the line below. For more information on Gary Fisher bikes visit their site at

Retail prices range from the $1299.00 Sugar 4 to the $3099.00 Sugar 1. All models have basically the same frame except that the Sugar 1 has a carbon fiber seatstay and the Sugar 4 is not built in the US.

Except for the Bontrager cranks, the drivetrain is all Shimano and ranges up to XTR rear derailleurs on the Sugar 1.

Keeping to the lightweight design are Bontrager Race/Race Lite wheelsets, cranksets, stems, and seatposts. Front suspension Is provided by Rock Shock SID SL or Manitou MARS both providing 3.5″ of travel and rear ground control is handles by Rock Shock SID or Cane Creek units. Overall, there is a good price/goods ratio. Gary Fisher did a nice job fitting the best components within a price range to give you the most bang for your buck no matter which model you choose.

Here’s Allen’s take from the test ride:

This bike really lives up to all the hype you’ve heard about it.  It is extremely responsive and it LOVES technical terrain.

As soon as you get on it and start riding, you can feel a difference in your riding position, unless you already own one of Fisher’s Genesis Geometry bikes.

I almost felt a little too hunched forward as if my knees would hit the handle bars or something, but once you’re riding, everything seems to level off and the ride is great.

A surprise that this bike packs is that you can take bumps and technical stuff while you’re still on the seat!  Even on downhills I was able to stay saddled and take the bumps with no problem.

This is one of those mountain bikes that gets you thinking about how much spare cash you have on hand or what it would take…hmmm..maybe that was just me!

Seriously, Gary’s done it again with this bike.  It’s a blast to ride and I challenge you to top it out.  You’ll be tearing through technical stuff with more ease than you can imagine.  Have fun with this bike, I sure did.