Choosing the correct size of bike is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Don’t buy until you’ve read our advice so you can get the perfect mountain bike set-up for maximum comfort and a reduced chance of injury.
A bike that fits correctly is a joy to ride, while one that’s too small can cause handling problems and be uncomfortable on longer rides. Read on for some advice on what frame size to go for, especially if you’re in any doubt about it.
We all come in different shapes and sizes, so we recommend using the information below as a starting point and a guide. This diagram will help explain the anatomy of a mountain bike.
Ask any experienced riders about bike fit and feel, and they’ll tell you that all bikes feel and ride differently, even if the numbers look almost the same on paper.
Manufacturers’ listed frame sizes can be confusing. The traditional method is to list the seat tube length, but even that varies because some are measured to the top of the seat tube and some to the middle of where the top tube joins the seat tube. Many manufacturers simply list their bikes as S, M and L, perhaps with XS or XL at either end.
The seat tube should leave you with an acceptable standover gap (see pictures below) and usable standover clearance. To get this, stand back as far as you can while over the bike and ensure that there’s a minimum of an inch of room from the top tube to your crotch area. If you adhere to this advice then your frame should provide you with a large range of adjustment at the seatpost, which is important for finding your optimum saddle height.
Another important consideration is the top tube length. Together with seat position, stem length and handlebar position, top tube length dictates the comfort and efficiency of your body on the bike. To confuse matters further, the aspect of top tube length that matters is not the top tube itself, which often slopes, but a horizontal line from the middle top of the head tube to the middle of the seatpost.
So, where do you find out what size frame you need? Like so many other things on a mountain bike, there is no one perfect solution, because within sensible limits you can adjust your saddle, stem and handlebar to help make a slightly imperfect fit feel fine. We’d always recommend looking at manufacturers’ own size charts but here are some general guidelines:
(Bear in mind that road, cyclocross and hybrid bike sizes tend to be 3 to 4inbigger for riders of the same height – something that confuses a lot of riders when looking through bike listings.)
Two things to watch out for: the length of the handlebar stem and the standover clearance. Too big a frame? Could be painful – as this picture demonstrates.
Get the frame too big and you could suffer from:
Get the frame too small and you could suffer from:
Ultimately, what matters most is how the bike feels when you sit on it and ride. If possible, get out there and test a few different frame sizes (many shops will let you do this) before committing to buy. Try different bikes at different places.
And as well as frame size, you’ll need to make sure your bike fits at all the main contact points too: saddle, handlebars and pedals. Once you decide on your frame size and have bought your bike, have a read of our mountain bike positioning article to make sure you get the perfect mountain bike set-up.
Take a look at this curvy road rig from French steel mountain bike specialist, Caminade – it’s the Route 66 and the company is shipping the first batch of steel frames to customers this month.
We’re in two minds about the aesthetics and whether its swooshy tubes and irregular looks work. Isn’t it just too different?
Cyfac’s exceptional manufacturing is shown off in the Route 66 to great effect
Either way the absence of a standard double diamond in a production road frame is an oddity and for that reason alone, it’s worth the attention.
Caminade – whose bikes are built by top quality French mountain bike manufacturer Cyfac – is only selling the Route 66 in three sizes, with a 45cm seat tube for a small and 51cm for a large, yet the company says one of these sizes will fit most riders.
The steel is performance race frame Columbus’ Spirit steel tubing allied to a Cyface carbon fork. Steering is done with a 1 1/8in integrated headset and it has a maintenance-friendly English threaded bottom bracket.
Geometry wise, the frame is a hybrid. Its name suggests its its built for comfort and the long hall – and that backed up with a relatively slack 72.5 degree head tube angle. Yet the wheelbase is compact:? the m/l size is just 97.8cm, while many other endurance bikes are north of a metre for a 56cm frame.
The Caminade Route 66’s silhouette takes some getting used to
The colour customisable frameset is available for €1,799 for EU customers, €1,509 for international buyers. ?And there are a couple of optional extras – a different fork colour and adding a name to the frame will cost EU customers €100 extra per item – so not cheap then.
Still it’s an interesting looking beast.
Cannondale’s Trail SL 29 SS does away with as much faff – apart from in its name – as possible, and is a purely elemental bike. No suspension, no gears. No nonsense.
Cannondale has a long history of building bikes from aluminium, and its experience shows in the frame’s construction. The welds are as smooth as we’ve seen on mass-market frames, and Cannondale claims there’s no filler in the welds under the paint to smooth them out either.
The top- and down-tubes have a decent girth, adding to the stiffness provided by the long welds. Speaking of the head-tube, Cannondale is sticking to its guns with the full 1.5in setup, although it’s ready to take any step-down headset. Moving further back, the seat-tube, chain and seatstays are skinny.?
To maintain its smooth lines, the Trail SL 29 comes with an eccentric bottom bracket (EBB) – the bottom bracket is held off-centre in an oversized shell, so its carrier can be rotated to change the effective chainstay length and tune the chain tension (there’s no mech to take up the slack, obviously). Despite handing the bike a fair amount of abuse, we’ve yet to make the EBB slip or creak.
The name suggests trail riding, but with a reasonably long 23.4in (Medium) effective top-tube and 71-degree head angle we found the bike suited an arse-up, head-down style, especially once we’d dropped the stem as low as it goes. This changed the SS from feeling a little ponderous to something ripe for putting the hammer down on.
Eschewing the usual clunky, heavy forks you often find on ?750 bikes, Cannondale’s stuck on a rigid Fatty fork. The 1.5in steerer plugs stiffly into the head-tube, giving immediate feedback from your wheels. While the Cannondale fork lacks the extra stiffness of a bolt-through axle, the little bit of twang barely detracts from the riding experience. In fact, the small amount of fore and aft flutter you get stops the fork being unduly harsh on the hands, despite that 1.5in steerer.
The fork is suspension-corrected and, even with 29in wheels in, it looks tall. This means that sticking a suspension fork in the bike isn’t going to mess up the handling. But this rigid one excels in claggy, muddy conditions – the legs are widely spaced for acres of tyre clearance. There’s no chance of clogging up.
With an RRP of ?750 and a decent frame and fork, creating a bike with a decent spec is always going to be tough. Cannondale’s approach has been to add an attractive wheel package and a more budget-orientated finishing kit, drivetrain and brakes.
The hubs are Formula, with the rear SS-specific one having wider flanges to aid stiffness (if you wanted to fit gears you’d need a new rear hub). The highlight are the Stan’s ZTR Rapid rims. When combined with Schwalbe’s relatively light Racing Ralph tyres, these are a light and stiff set of wheels. The bike accelerates easily, and yet holds its speed over rougher terrain too. This eagerness to accelerate is helped by the friendly 33:20 gear ratio; it’s slightly lower than the usual 32:18.
The money in the excellent wheels has left shortfalls elsewhere. Cannondale’s Helix 6 brakes lack any significant power, and their minimal levers are flexy, resulting in a slightly mushy feel. The Truvativ E-400 cranks, meanwhile, run on a square taper bottom bracket and are pretty heavy.
The stiffness of the cranks is less of a concern; with only a single ring and no derailleur, lateral flex is barely noticeable, and square taper BBs have a reputation for lasting ages.
What became apparent while riding the Trail SL 29er is that it’s more adaptable than you’d think. Aluminium doesn’t have the buzz-reducing properties of steel and titanium, but Cannondale’s expertise shows through: the back end is supple, giving that little bit of zing over the trail, without leaving you feeling battered.
Those with masochistic tendencies will enjoy flogging themselves as fast as possible over hills and down dales, and those looking for a cheap, reliable second bike to run when the weather’s bad will enjoy being able to just chuck it in the shed dirty.
But there’s more to it than that. It’s a fantastic platform to upgrade, thanks to the quality of the frame. We raced the bike at the Strathpuffer 24-hour event in Scotland, where its reliability meant absolutely no time was spent between laps cleaning, fixing or lubing.
On ‘bigger’ trails you’re never going to go as fast as a regular trail bike, but smiles per mile are high when you’re knee-deep in mud puddles and you just want to crank out some local miles.
If you want to enjoy the mud but not worry about maintenance, go back to basics with a singlespeed
It’s rigid, but can take a suspension fork no problem
Own-brand 700mm bars are a good shape
Schwalbe tyres are easy to de-tubenate™ to save 400-500g of rotating weight
Cannondale’s brakes are pretty, but also pretty useless
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.
The North American Handmade Bicycle Show has always been a reliable indicator of hot trends in the industry. This year’s event in Charlotte, North Carolina is littered with countless gravel grinders and all-road machines that mimic the general look of traditional road racers but with far more tyre clearance to tackle both dirt and gravel roads. Here’s a look at some of the most notable examples.
Alchemy showed off one of the highest-performance examples of the genre at this year’s show with its all-new Aithon – a more evolved and purpose-built model that shares its spirit with the custom Helios Disc we commissioned from the Colorado company last year. The Aithon essentially uses the same front end as the Helios but with a dedicated carbon rear end that features much more widely-set stays that will clear tyres up to 40mm across.
Alchemy angled the seat stays further rearward to allow for a chain stay-mounted disc brake caliper, and the modified geometry supposedly makes for a more comfortable ride, too. Actual frame weight will vary depending on how the tubes are laid up, but Alchemy says the 56cm one on display weighs around 1,050g.
Up front is a brand-new fork that Alchemy is also molding in-house. The 385mm axle-to-crown length splits the difference between road and ‘cross forks and the projected weight is 430g.
Alchemy expects the Aithon to be available around May.
Argonaut modified its carbon fiber road racer with extra tyre clearance and dual disc mounts for this year’s NAHBS. The rear disc mount is especially tidy, too, with a custom dropout built in-house plus an elegant post mount bonded to the chain stay. Up front is an Enve Composite disc road fork.
Argonaut refers to the new bike as a ‘gravel racer’ but some might dispute that. Argonaut builder Ben Farver tells BikeRadar that the bike will handle at most a 30mm-wide tyre up front and a 32mm-wide one out back.
Breadwinner Cycles – a joint project between fellow Portland, Oregon-based builders Ira Ryan and Tony Pereira – evokes the spirit of exploration and freedom with its B-Road, built with Columbus Spirit chromoly tubing and enough clearance for tyres up to 38mm wide. Breadwinner will build the B-Road for rim or disc brakes and the included Enve Composites fork is painted to match. Three bottle mounts should provide enough fluid for hours of carefree pedaling, too.
Co-Motion has a long history with touring and adventure bikes, highlighted by its Cascadia and Divide models. The Cascadia is built with Reynolds 725 steel tubing with room for 35mm tyres and fenders, dual disc brakes, front and rear rack mounts, and three bottle mounts. The Divide, on the other hand, also features Reynolds 725 tubing but is built more ruggedly with room for 29×2.0in mountain bike rubber.
Ellis Cycles’ Strada all-road machine was a subtle variation of the standard road bikes for which the company is better known. Built with Columbus Life chromoly tubing, Shimano Ultegra Di2 with slickly done internal wiring, and medium-reach dual-pivot rim brakes, Ellis says there’s just enough extra clearance for standard tyres and fenders or moderately wide rubber measuring 28mm across or so.
HED is best known for its wheelsets but is now embarking on an intriguing frame project with Erik Noren of Peacock Groove. The new ‘Triple Crown’ partially derives its name from its characteristic triple stainless steel fork crown plates but also for its ability to be three bikes in one: an all-road bike, a touring machine, or an adventure bike depending on the build kit.
We were most intrigued with the adventure build, which by swapping to 27.5in wheels easily accommodates 2in-wide tyres. Standard features throughout include front and rear disc brakes, front and rear thru-axles, rack and fender mounts, and stainless steel reinforcing rings on the head tube.
HED expects the Triple Crown to be available starting in May. Retail price is US$3,500 including the frame, fork, HED Ardennes Plus FR Disc wheelset, HED GTO drop bar, and HED GTO stem.
IF can do any of its bikes in custom configurations and the titanium Club Racer it had on display at NAHBS included just about every option available: S&S couplers for traveling, a split rear triangle for a Gates belt drive, an eccentric bottom bracket shell, a custom steel fork built in-house, and extra clearance front and rear for long-reach brakes and room for 32mm-wide tyres.
Adding the finishing touch were custom bar end plugs with IF’s unmistakable crown logo.
As with IF, Kent Eriksen Cycles has always been able to do any of its titanium bikes in custom configurations and it took the opportunity at this year’s show to showcase its gravel grinder capabilities. Eriksen didn’t break any new ground on its samples but it was an impressively tidy execution nonetheless with clean and unadorned seat stays, enormous 1in-diameter chain stays, Paragon Machine Works disc rear dropouts, and an Enve Composites ‘cross fork. All of which easily had room to spare for the 33.3mm-wide Jack Brown tyres used on the show bike.
We showed you the lead-up to Mosaic’s NAHBS show bikes over the past few weeks and it was time for the full reveal in Charlotte, North Carolina. One of the titanium bikes – built for dealer Blacksmith Cycle in Toronto, Canada – included enough clearance for 28mm-wide tyres courtesy of slightly longer stays and a Wound-Up fork. Disc brakes were used front and rear.
Disc brakes were also featured on the titanium bike Mosaic built for Velosmith Bicycle Studio in Wilmette, Illinois. That sample was more of a road racer but still featured slightly wider tyres – tubular, in this case, which when combined with the Enve Composites rims would likely produce a fantastic ride quality.
Virginia-based builder Six-Eleven showed off a steel all-road bike with dual disc brakes, clearance for 28mm-wide tyres, and beautifully executed seat stays that arc cleanly into the seat cluster. Finish work was gorgeously done, too, with a metallic silver paint job and gold accents.
Welcome to a new monthly feature on BikeRadar called ‘Throwback Thursday’. We won’t showcase the latest technology here; instead we’ll highlight vintage machines that left an indelible mark in the pages of cycling’s history. Some of you may even remember these bikes when they were contemporary, but we hope all of you will enjoy this look at the bikes of yesteryear.
The Specialized S-Works Epic Ultimate is perhaps the quintessential example of a true factory ‘works’ machine. Although the company built approximately 1,500 samples between 1990 and 1995, each one supposedly put the balance sheet into the red. No matter, though – it was indisputably cool, undeniably cutting-edge in terms of technology for its time, and highly sought-after by racers and enthusiasts alike.
The Epic Ultimate was the brainchild of Jim Merz, a former frame builder in the Portland, Oregon, area who eventually landed a role as a designer at Specialized in the early 1980s. For its time, the Epic Ultimate was truly revolutionary with titanium lugs TIG welded and externally machined by Merlin Metalworks, and carbon fiber tubes that were then bonded in right at Specialized’s headquarters in Morgan Hill, California. Claimed weight for the frame was just 1.2kg (2.6lb).
“Jim is really such a prolific, capable fabricator of not only bikes but chainrings, equipment, anything,” Specialized founder and chairman Mike Sinyard told BikeRadar. “This guy was amazing and he was the original DNA of the Specialized brand. He never made it into the Hall of Fame because he wasn’t a high-profile guy but he was the guy. He’s a real guy, a real innovator, and he’s the exact opposite of a retro grouch. He is an advanced grouch.”
Building frames in such a manner was a painstaking and expensive process. According to Sinyard, the company was only able to produce at most two frames per day – a wholly unacceptable output by modern standards for a mass manufacturer. Moreover, they were all assembled by one Specialized employee, Brian Lucas.
“Back in the day, it’s not like we sat around in meetings and really thought about things too much,” Sinyard said. “We’d just go, ‘Hey, that’d be great. That’d make a difference. That’d be the best of the best. That’d be a bike that we’d want.’ We didn’t think about image a lot but looking back, it was a great innovation at the time to make something really light like that. We never made money on the bike. It was a very small thing and we made it right there in Morgan Hill.”
Whatever it actually cost, one could argue that it was merely an early example of how winning on Sunday could yield sales on Monday. Mountain bike racing legend Ned Overend would capture the first mountain bike world championship on an S-Works Epic Ultimate in 1990 and the iconic image of a mustachioed Overend speeding down the trail in Durango, Colorado, is one that many fans of the time will never forget.
This particular Epic Ultimate isn’t actually the machine that won that day, but it’s no less significant. This one was originally owned by Mark Norris, who headed up the S-Works program at the time and used it as a test bed for various parts. Aside from Overend’s personal rig, Norris’s Epic Ultimate is apparently the only other fully custom sample to be built – at great expense – using the height of the 16.5″ size but the length of the 18″ variant.
And test it he did.
Norris’s Epic Ultimate was no showroom machine that was babied and coddled. Instead, he raced it on a regular basis and the frame shows the scars of that heavy use. It was only in this manner that he could evaluate the parts that would potentially be used in either the racing program or the production machine.
Not surprisingly then, there were plenty of component makers who were itching to get their foot into that door and Norris’s bike was constantly awash in exotica. Some of those period-correct bits aren’t on the bike today but there are still plenty of fascinating one-off bits to be seen.
Highlights include an ultra-rare Le Cr?me welded titanium crankset (with serial numbers 0001 and 0002), a slick custom-made titanium handlebar with welded-on bar ends, a set of prototype Mavic Crossmax wheels that were picked up in person at Mavic’s headquarters in France, a prototype CNC-machined Shimano XTR rear derailleur, a Tioga machined titanium cogset, Boone titanium chainrings, a Specialized Futureshock FSX fork with a one-off brace machined by then-Avid head Wayne Lumpkin, and prototype Specialized tires with handwritten test notes that are still on the sidewalls.
At one time, the bike also had a set of prototype magnesium Specialized S-Works brake levers and an ultralight beryllium bottom bracket spindle that supposedly cost a thousand dollars to produce – back in 1992. Virtually every bolt on the bike is titanium.
As shown here, the bike weighs just 8.80kg (19.40lb) – an impressive number even by modern standards although things have obviously changed since then.
“You have to put it in context of the time,” said Overend, who is still immensely fit and regularly trounces racers half his age. “Then it was state of the art: the RockShox forks with their hydraulic damping worked better then the bumper forks from Manitou and Scott, but it was not much travel and the whole front end was pretty flexible, especially with that ‘lost wax’ Ti stem. When the fork was compressed, like under hard braking going into a turn, the front end got pretty steep.”
“It was super light for the time and the frame was pretty stiff, so climbing was probably its best attribute,” Overend added. “After getting used to a full-sus 29er with modern suspension, riding that bike down a fast rough trail would be downright frightening today.”
That may be, but few modern bikes are likely to have as big an impact as the S-Works Epic Ultimate did back in the day.
Special thanks go to the folks at Vintage MTB Workshop. For more incredible samples of mountain bike history – and a preview of what you’ll see here in coming months – visit their web site at www.vintagemtbworkshop.com.
Whether you’ve set your bike aside for snow sports or rode it hard all winter, now is the perfect time to give your machine a thorough inspection to ensure it’s in tip-top shape for spring.
First and foremost, it is always good to settle on a system when inspecting your bicycle. You could divide the task by various categories — e.g., wheels, frame, suspension, brakes, drivetrain, etc. — or you could simply work from front to back. Either method works, so long as you cover all the bases.
Here are 10 things to check over.
Editor’s Note: This list is list is geared towards the beginner and intermediate home mechanic and is by no means exhaustive. Have some insight to share? Leave a comment below.
1. Inspect your tires
Determine how much tread your tires have left and check for knobs that are peeling off as well. Inspect the tire to make sure there are not small tears or thorns stuck in the tire that could become a problem on the trail.
It’s not uncommon for tire casings to give out before you’ve worn out the tread. Check for excessive sidewall wear: look for abrasions and threads protruding from the casings.
If you run your tires tubeless, now is a good time to top off your tires with a fresh scoop or two of your favorite sealant.
How to set up tubeless mountain bike tires
Spin your wheels to check for any side-to-side wobbles or vertical hops. This is also a good time to make sure the wheels are spinning freely and that the hubs are neither too loose nor too tight. Give the spokes a quick squeeze to make sure none are loose. Tension and true as needed. If you are not comfortable doing that, take the wheel to your favorite shop.
Take a close look at where the nipples meet the rim; hairline cracks could quickly turn into a major problem.
How to true bicycle wheels
While checking your wheels for trueness, you hopefully heard the sweet sound of silence as the disc brake rotors spun through the brake calipers. If you heard scraping it may be time to reposition the brake caliper.
Brake rotors can also become bent, so pay attention to any side-to-side wobble; this is an easy fix with an adjustable wrench, a quiet workspace, and gentle tweak of the rotor.
Check the brake pads for excessive wear and replace if needed.
How to align your disc brake calipers
How to straighten a bent disc brake rotor
How to remove and replace disc brake pads
Inspect the fork stanchions for any nicks or scratches. Use a clean rag to wipe off any dirt from the fork seals. Check the seals for cracks or excessive fluid build up; both are signs that your fork may need to be rebuilt.
Once everything seems to be in working order, cycle the fork and rear suspension several times before checking your sag settings and adjust your air pressure accordingly.
How to set suspension sag
The stem, handlebar and seatpost may be the three most thankless components on a mountain bike. While they need very little in the way of routine adjustments, it is still important to inspect them for signs of damage from time to time.
Remove your seatpost and regrease the seat tube, or use carbon paste if the post is carbon. Remove the handlebar and inspect it for signs of over-clamping; check for deep gouges that could lead to a potential failure down the line.
When it’s time to reinstall the handlebar, make sure the stem is straight, the headset properly adjusted (there should be no play or binding as the handlebar moves back and forth) and position the brakes and shifters to your liking. Be sure to tighten everything to its proper torque.
How to adjust handlebar height
How to service a headset
Are wider handlebars better?
6. Shift and brake lines
Check derailleur housing for signs of wear, paying special attention to where the cables stop on the frame, as it is not uncommon for the wires encased in the plastic derailleur housing to pull through the ferrules at the end of the casing. Replace worn cables and housing as needed.
Follow a similar system for the brake and dropper seatpost if applicable.
Follow the brakes from the levers to the calipers checking for signs of wear and scuff marks.
How to replace and adjust derailleur cables
How to replace a hydraulic brake hose
After inspecting the shift and brake lines for wear, it is also a good idea to check the frame. Brake and shifter housing that is allowed to rub excessively against a frame can and will chew through steel, carbon and aluminum frames. It’s easy enough to prevent this with a few small strips of protective tape.
Examine the frame for signs damage from rock strikes, pay particular attention to the down tube and chainstays.
If you ride a full suspension, be sure to check the suspension pivots and shock bushings for any signs of play.
Tips to protect your frame from wear and tear
Without a functional drivetrain you’ll be going nowhere fast.
Shift through the gears, there should be no popping or skipping from one cog to another without you moving the shift levers.
Inspect the derailleur hanger to ensure it’s not bent.
Examine the teeth on the chainrings and cassette cogs for signs of bent or broken teeth. Keep in mind that on most modern components the teeth have varying shapes to aid in moving the chain from one cog to another.
Inspect the chain for wear, ideally with a chain-checker tool. Over time the bushings that make up the chain’s rollers wear down and develop play, this play allows the chain to “stretch.”
How to adjust a front derailleur
How to adjust a rear derailleur
How to check for chain wear
How to fix a broken chain
9. Frame fasteners
While some of these nuts and bolts would have been covered while looking over your brakes, cockpit, frame and drivetrain, this is still worth its own mention.
If you don’t own a torque wrench and plan on doing your own bike maintenance, buy one. Keep a list of the manufacturer’s recommended torque values whenever possible. Pay special attention to those bolts that you rely on to keep your smile intact: stem, handlebar, brakes, shifters.
Why torque wrenches are invaluable
10. Prep your gear
Last but not least, take a few minutes to go over the gear that connects you to the bike.
Check to make sure the buckles on your shoes are in good shape and that your cleats are firming screwed in.
Examine your helmet for cracks and replace if needed.
If you ride with a hydration pack, take the time to clean it out and repack it. Have a bladder in need of cleaning? Never bothered to throw out any of the energy bar wrappers? Have several punctured tubes stuffed in the bottom of your bag? Now is the time to deal with all of this.
Inspect your tools, too. Make sure your shock pump and mini pump are both in working order. If you carry a first-aid kit, replace anything you used.
Telltale signs it’s time to replace your helmet
What to pack for long mountain bike rides
Have something to add to the list? Leave your comments below.
Giant’s aero road machine the Propel was launched last year, but the range was was limited and pricey – the Advanced SL 3, for example, was four-and-a-half grand with an Ultegra groupset. We loved the bike, but we weren’t so enamoured of the price.
For 2014 Giant has increased the range and reduced the prices of the Propel bikes and really has hit the sweet spot. In fact, the new Advanced 3 won the ‘best aero’ accolade in Cycling Plus magazine’s Bike of the Year Awards 2014.
The Propel frame’s aero properties didn’t come easily to Giant’s designers. During its development, they went through more than 80 iterations of the design as well as plenty of prototyping, riding and wind tunnel analysis. Were their excessive efforts worth it? The simple answer is yes, but maybe not for the reasons you’d imagine.
We’ve seen the data, visited wind tunnels and ridden plenty of aero road bikes, but what really makes the Propel Advanced 3 stand out for us is its ride quality.
The bike’s geometry is based around the race-ready TCR, and its close cousin the Defy. Our large test bike had a 58.5cm long top tube, with a tight 100cm wheelbase, a 73-degree head angle and a seat angle that’s half a degree slacker. This results in a fast-handling bike that keeps things exciting without being twitchy or nervous.
The slender aero down tube changes shape midway along the down tube. This isn’t a styling exercise – it’s designed to incorporate a standard bottle cage and round bottle in. The second bottle cage mounts are lower, so they stay in line with the down tube bottle. In hindsight it seems like an obvious design, but that doesn’t make Giant any less clever for having done it.
For a model with Shimano 105 and alloy kit, its overall 8.2kg weight is also impressive, and shows just how light the frameset is.
The ride quality is easily as good as the excellent TCR’s, the frame and fork soak up enough high frequency vibrations to keep fatigue at bay. It can’t quite match the Defy for absolute comfort but that’s not the Propel’s intention. For a full-on race-ready aero machine, its smoothness is pretty much peerless.
The Propel Advanced 3’s component package is based around Shimano 105, exactly what we’d expect of a bike at this price. The shifting performance is spot on and the cable routing is all internal, routed through ports behind the head tube, which gives it a very clean look.
The V-brakes are designed by Giant but built by TRP. Both the front and rear are shaped to match the frame; the front fits behind the fork crown and the rear follows the shape of the seatstays. The design is based on a mountain bike style V-brake, with two arms joined by a solid ‘noodle’.
They have shorter travel than a calliper brake, which takes a bit of getting used to, but offers plenty of power. That said, the Propel is not a bike where dragging a brake on descents comes naturally, but it feels stable and stiff, and we were forever trying to descend with minimal braking to fully exploit the rapid nature of the Propel. This bike a fine companion for going downhill fast.
The wheels are new to us, but we’ve been impressed with Giant’s hoop offerings so far. The P-A2 wheel uses a sealed cartridge hubset from Formula with bladed stainless steel spokes. The new rim is 35mm deep and shaped similar to Zipp’s alu 30s, so it’s wider than a standard rim and? gives Giant’s impressive PSL-1 23c tyres a rounder, broader profile. The wheels will be at the more budget end of the Giant range, but we are impressed with the modern design and stiff construction, as well as how good they felt on the road.
The cockpit comprises a stem and ovalised bar from Contact, which is good for the money. The Fi’zi:k Arione saddle and bladed carbon seatpost are other highlights.
It has a 53/39 chainset and a wider 12-28 cassette that’ll appeal to strong sportive riders – for whom the Propel is a great choice – but a 52/36 chainset would have been perfect. Ultimately though, Giant has created much more than an aero race machine. It’s a brilliant all-rounder with a boundless enthusiasm for speed.
This article forms part of Cycling Plus magazine’s Bike of the Year 2014 Awards, which will be published on 3 March 2014. Cycling Plus is available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.
Want to buy a mountain bike? Before you do, read our essential advice on how to make sure you make the right purchase. Whether you’re looking to commute to work or get going on entry-level downhill declines, these tips will help you reach a purchase decision.
1. Three main types of mountain bike are available – rigid (with no suspension), hardtail (with a suspension fork at the front) and full-suspension (with both front and rear shock absorbers). There’s some more guidance in our Best Mountain Bikes under ?500 Buyer’s Guide. Pick what makes sense for the terrain you intend to ride.
2. The first step should be deciding on the budget you have available – and remember that you’ll probably need some extra kit to make riding your new bike a practical and enjoyable experience, such as a helmet, gloves and apparel. These days you can find decent lightweight sub-?500 mountain bikes with aluminium frames, though the more you spend the lighter the bike is likely to be and therefore easier it is to climb and accelerate on.
3. You will also need to factor in a bare?bones maintenance budget of about ?100 a year (this breaks down to a couple of cheap tyres, a new chain, a couple of sets of brake blocks and some workshop labour) – and even more if you plan to do plenty of off-road riding. You could save yourself some of this by doing the work yourself, if you’re willing to get your hands dirty and you feel confident enough to give it a try.
4. In the UK, the Cycle to Work initiative has encouraged employer-purchasing schemes combined with government tax breaks. This makes it possible to treat yourself to some serious equipment, worth up to ?1,000, and feel that you’re getting something back from the taxman at the same time – always a bonus. If your company isn’t in the Cycle to Work scheme or you’re self-employed, creative financing is well established in the bike trade. Many bigger shops and online retailers offer good – and often zero per cent – credit deals that have helped countless cyclists access good equipment with relative ease by spreading the cost.
5. Your local IBD (that’s ‘independent bicycle dealer’ in trade jargon) is a good place to buy, especially if you take a long-term view on warranty and after-sales service. Person-to-person contact should ensure that you don’t get lost in the bike-purchasing woods.
6. Before you step over the threshold of your IBD, make sure you have a firm idea of the extent of your budget. Keep in mind that most local shops will have deals on offer depending on the time of the year, and that they’re always keen to move last year’s stock.
7. There’s no doubt that a lot of the best deals are to be found on the internet. Now that buying online is done with barely a flicker of concern, you should be able to find plenty of good deals. But remember to set aside at least ?30-?50 to get things sorted mechanically during the first month because, unlike purchases made at your IBD, you won’t be able to send an internet-bought bike back for its required first service.
8. Ebay and other auction sites are another obvious online option. However, we would only recommend purchasing here if you’re an experienced mechanic.
9. Alloy, steel, aluminium or carbon? The frame material will largely be dictated by the price, but expect either steel or aluminium to cost up to about ?300. From this point onwards, oversized aluminium tubing is pretty much dominant. As you head towards the ?1,000 mark, you might start seeing the appearance of carbon in the fork, and possibly portions of the frame. Steel is the most forgiving of the trio, and will tolerate the most neglect, as long as you don’t let it rust. Aluminium takes hard knocks in its stride but has to be watched more closely after about three years or more of use as it has a limited fatigue life. Carbon is the most temperamental as any cracks or frame damage from careless use usually mean the bike is toast. It should only be considered if you’ve got a long commute on good roads or are planning more serious riding beyond your everyday jaunt to work.
10. 26-inch wheel urban bikes are basically an offshoot of mountain bikes, combining the stouter characteristics of an MTB frame with slightly smaller and more resistant wheels. Fitted with faster and narrower tyres than their knobbly counterparts, they almost match hybrid bikes for speed, while offering better kerb- and pothole-hopping capability. If you don’t want to worry about the consequences of abusive urban riding conditions or you’ve always been tough on machinery, this type of bike is the way to go.
11. Such is the state of refinement and advanced technology in bikes today that virtually any widget or feature you could think of has been designed, tried, tested and put on the market, offering what amounts to an overflowing buffet of choice. Consequently, another way to fine-tune your bike is to think of some of the features you want and ask the helpful salesperson if that combination is already available off the peg.
12. Suspension forks are worth considering if?you have to deal with really rough stuff. Of course, if you’re using your bike for leisure-time off-roading, suspension becomes more of a consideration, but otherwise it tends to add extra weight and make life generally more difficult if you live in a hilly area. Steer clear if the main aim is commuting.
13. Internally geared hubs are bulletproof and require little maintenance. They’re available in various models with between 3 and 14 gears, but will add weight and cost to the bike. Derailleur gear systems are more widespread, offer up to 30 gears and are generally lighter – but because they’re more exposed to the elements, they require more frequent maintenance. With regular checks, though, derailleurs are the way to go for ease of riding.
14. You might want to make sure that the bike you’re getting is equipped with sufficient and correctly placed eyelets (attachment points that are built into the frame) to install a rack of some sort, along with permanent mudguards, which are a must-have in this country. Unless you want to get dirty and you’re not thinking of doing any commuting, that is.
15. We’d strongly recommend you don’t buy any bike until you’ve checked it for size. Like with clothes and shoes, sizing tends to vary between manufacturers, so while you might need a bike with a 54cm frame from one brand, you might require a slightly smaller or bigger size from another. You should stand over the bike with both feet flat on the ground, legs close together. Lift the bike up or look at the amount of clearance: you should be able to lift the front and back wheels evenly off the ground by about 7-8cm, which should give the equivalent clearance between your crotch and top-tube. Mountain bikes tend to have designs with a sloping top-tube, meaning the frames are now smaller in size than they would have been in the past when about 2-3cm of clearance was the norm.
16. Equally important is the reach, or distance from the saddle to the bars; a test ride will help you to determine if the position on the bike of your choice is going to be comfortable or not, and experienced shop staff are trained to help you achieve this correctly.
For more advice on bike positioning, check out: and How to get your road bike position right and How to get your seat height right .
It’s no surprise that the Canyon Torque Ex Gapstar has an excellent parts list. However, it’s backed up by a well-featured 180mm travel, four-bar frame that’s capable of more than just playing in the park.
The main highlight of the outstanding kit bolted to the Canyon Torque is the Cane Creek Double Barrel Air shock. With adjustable high- and low-speed compression and high- and low-speed rebound damping, it’s incredibly tunable.
In conjunction with the neutral-feeling and stable suspension platform, this unit really allows you to balance fast and furious descending control with pedalling manners in a way no other bike here can.
It also helps that the Canyon is fitted with a double on the RaceFace Chester cranks, so in addition to the top 36T ring there’s a 22T bailout option. The long, 46.6in wheelbase and relaxed 65.9-degree head angle mean that, with sufficient weight shifting, you can winch up steep climbs pretty easily.
The e*thirteen chainguide and clutch-equipped SRAM X9 rear mech keep the chain firmly in place, and a bashguard fends off rock strikes. It adds up to a bike that’s confident downhill but still manages to make surprisingly short work of uphills.
That relaxed front end and the 170mm travel, air-sprung RockShox Lyrik RC fork give plenty of support and confidence when it gets rough, tracking true thanks to the 20mm through-axle and tapered head tube.?
We’re big fans of the stealthy matt anodised finish on the frame, and although there’s no dropper post fitted, the frame does have bosses for external hose/cable guides underneath the top tube.
The front end is slightly tall; we found the stem had to be run as low as possible to help carve turns, but it’s not a deal breaker and the 785mm wide RaceFace bars gave excellent leverage.
It’s an easy bike to muscle through turns and hustle through rocky, rough sections, and it backs up that front end with a stiff, taut chassis.
Some of the Canyon’s pedalling verve comes from the tubeless-ready Sun Ringl? Charger Comp wheels, which we liked, although we hated the end caps for the front hub, which fall out and attempt to lose themselves whenever you take the wheel out.
The mid-weight, EXO sidewall Maxxis rubber uses an incredibly grippy Super Tacky compound up front, paired with a faster-rolling 60a compound at the rear. This gives plenty of grip and feel, and it breaks away progressively, which means more confidence to push harder.
When it does get too much, the Avid Elixir 5 brakes haul up in an efficient manner, though they do lack tool-free adjustment. On the plus side, they use neat clamps to integrate cleanly with the SRAM X9 shifters.
The Torque Ex Gapstar can tackle the rough and tumble of bikepark use and thrash down natural downhill courses, but if you break free from the uplift it sucks up natural big mountain riding too.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.
?If you’ve let the muck build up on your bike, here’s a step-by-step guide that will get it looking like new – and running much better – in less than an hour.
We think this is best avoided: a five-minute hosedown and application of lube straight after your ride will help keep your bike running smoothly, if not showroom shiny. But nobody’s perfect – least of all us – so here’s how to shift serious grime.
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The chain is the most important part of the transmission. The first step to cleaning it is to use hot water — wearing rubber gloves will help you use hotter, more effective, water. Add regular washing-up liquid to your bucket of water and allow it to foam up.?
With the chain in the biggest gear, apply the mixture vigorously using a stiff bristle scrubbing brush. You’ll see a bright, shining chain emerge.
With the chain free from dirt, apply a biodegradable degreaser to the chain and allow it to soak into all the links. This will remove any debris and sticky residues you can’t see, and make for a free-running chain.?
Rotate the cranks backwards a few times to get the degreaser right into the links. Allow to drip-dry, or wash off with clean water.
Use a soft rag to wipe the chain completely clean — you’ll be surprised what still comes off a clean-looking chain. You’re trying to massage the links, moving them through as wide a range of movement as possible — this helps expose the sections of link normally hidden from view.
Apply lube only when the chain is clean. We prefer to lube a chain as little as possible, with as light a lube as we can get away with. Use a dripper bottle, because it’s easier to apply accurately and with minimum wastage.?
Coat the whole chain, spinning the cranks to force the lube into the links. That’s where lube is most useful — not coating the outside plates, as many believe. Wipe excess lube away with a rag.
Slide the outers to expose previously covered sections of inner cable. Give the entire inner cable a wipe-over with a section of rag soaked in degreaser. If you come across any sections that are rusty, replace with a new inner cable. Most dry cables can be reinvigorated with a little light grease.
The best way to apply grease evenly to a cable is to first apply the grease to a clean (lint-free) rag. Holding the rag in one hand with the greased section between thumb and forefinger, gently pinch the section of inner cable in the rag and draw it through.
The idea is to allow the grease to get into the fine strands of the cable without creating any blobs of grease.
Front mechs always suffers from neglect. They’re hard to access and are often jammed full of dry mud, and have pivots drier than a Jacob’s Cracker. The first thing you can do to get your front mech swinging happily again is to apply steaming soapy water. Use a small toothbrush to get right into the parallelogram? and underneath the band.
Give the mech a good going over with the rag. Use a thin strip of rag to thread though the body of the front mech — this allows you to floss the body. Don’t overlook the inside of the front mech cage, as these get pretty grubby from rubbing the chain all day. A couple of minutes and you should have a gleaming front mech.
There’s no point having a free-running chain if the jockey wheels of your rear mech are bunged up. Use an old? spoke or the blade of a thin, flat-bladed screwdriver to carefully hook out any old grass and oily gunge that’s trapped between the jockey wheels and the mech arm side plates.
With the serious grime gone, use a little degreaser and an old toothbrush to scrub the jockey wheels (not forgetting the insides of the mech arm). It’s possible to unscrew the jockey wheels from the mech arm, but we don’t recommend you do so unless you’ve got a thread lock to use when reinstalling the pivot bolts. Sadly, we’ve seen too many rides ended by bottom jockey wheels falling out.?
Re-lube the jockey wheels. They really only need the very lightest touch of lube, as they’ll pick up enough from the chain through use. Remember these little wheels attract a lot of dirt, and with lube being sticky, it doesn’t pay to make matters worse by overdoing it. Wipe the excess away with a rag. They should look dry.
Set the rear gears into the largest rear sprocket and then, without letting the rear wheel spin, shift into the smallest rear sprocket. This will free up a bunch of inner cable and allow you to pop the outers from the slotted cable stops on the frame. With the cables now fully unclipped from the frame you can inspect, clean, re-lube and reinstall everything.
Use the lube dropper bottle to apply drops of lube to all the pivots on the front mech. These take a lot of load, and can use all the help you can give them to remain mobile. Shift the mech into the smallest chainring and then work the parallelogram with your fingers to get the lube worked in.
The rear sprockets are the final port of call on this bicycle maintenance mystery tour. They’re full of technology to help faster shifts, but also full of grease, mud and grass. Pick the worst lumps out with an old spoke or the blade of a thin, flat screwdriver. You’ll be surprised what hides in those tight spaces, even on expensive, open alloy carrier versions.
Get the hot soapy water on them and get scrubbing with a brush. Really stubborn grot can be shifted with a dose of degreaser and another hit with the scrubbing brush. Getting to the backs of the sprockets can be tricky, but it’s really worth persevering, as the cleaner you make it, the less easy it is for new mud to stick.
Give the sprockets some flossing with your strip of rag. This helps dry the sprockets, and also buffs away any outstanding marks. The cleaner you can keep your sprockets, the faster they’ll shift and the longer they’ll last. Dirt acts like a grinding paste when in contact with any part of your transmission, so get rid of it.
?You can get away with just cleaning the important parts, but a full wash-down should be part of your regular post-ride plans. Take the wheels off the bike and wash everything, beginning with the underside of the saddle and working downwards.
?Add a drop of lube to your brake lever pivots — they dry out too and work better with some liquid love. Ditto the shifters. For SRAM X.9/X.0 gears, simply unscrew the top caps and drop a few drops on the spring and cable nipple. With Shimano, undo the plastic grub screw and put a few drops inside before replacing the grub screw.
If you love your bike, show it offby taking a soft duster and some nice polish and giving the paintwork a buffing it’ll never forget. Apart from making the bike look shiny, it also helps make it harder for dirt to stick to the frame the next time you’re out.
The marketplace is rammed with bike cleaning fluids, and they’re mostly pretty good. Most are applied using a trigger bottle spray, requiring you to leave it on for 30 seconds and then wash off with a brush.
That’s all well and good, but we have just as much success with car shampoo and hot water. You can even use washing up liquid, but remember it contains salt so you want to be sure you get it all off.? For all the marketing hype, the detergent and the grime-busting strength of steaming hot water are hard to beat. Have a good selection of sponges and brushes available to get into all the nooks and crannies.
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Finally, here’s a video featuring some of our best tips, as mountain bike beginner Emma talks you through cleaning your bicycle:
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