Ten great value mountainbike products – Bikes and Hardware

High performance at affordable prices

There are plenty of boutique bikes and components out there, often with price tags that are both alarmingly high and out of reach by most riders. Here we look at ten products that give great performance along with TRUE value for money.

Words: Sean White  Images: Dirt


Last July we reviewed the 2017 Dominer, an aluminium DH bike from Vitus that had a price ticket of £2399. We were impressed with the performance and spec and felt that this bike was an ideal starting point for riders looking to upgrade to a sorted bike for some downhill action.

‘Overall we feel that it’s pretty much good to go racing certainly in terms of controls, tyres and geometry’

For the 2018 model year Vitus has nudged the price of the Dominer up a touch but not without making plenty of changes and upgrades. Firstly, there is now an XL frame size, giving four options that should cover most rider heights. Secondly, the RockShox BoXXer fork has been upgraded from the Team to the World Cup level. The transmission and brakes make a switch to the SRAM camp instead of the Shimano. Gone is the Shimano Zee and in place is a SRAM GX DH 7 speed transmission, Descendant DH cranks and the new SRAM Code four pot brakes. The colour is brighter blue and black – shown below.

‘This is a very cleverly put together bike that delivers on so many levels. It tackles geometry, affordability, reliability and the huge momentum that comes from German direct sales. In a few short years since they became established this brand is definitely on the move producing neat, well thought out bikes that are on the money. And simply ready to roll’

PRICE: £2699.99 (2018 model)


We referred to the the latest V2 Bossnut as ‘a hugely important mountain bike’ in our review last June. Here was Calibre’s latest take on their trail bike which combined a sorted spec and modern geometry with a price tag that shook up the marketplace. Sold only through the established Go Outdoors chain, once you’ve signed up to their discount card scheme this trail bike can be yours for just £999. It’s one of the cheapest bikes we’ve tested for some time and a bike that’s surprised us with its ability to keep up with machines at four times its price.

‘The result is that this bike will hold its own against the clock in a stacked field of bikes’

So what’s on offer with the Bossnut? Well, there’s no carbon here, just a well executed and built aluminium frame with 130mm travel and clearance for 2.35″ tyres. This ‘Version 2’ has a longer reach, a one piece rocker linkage (helping stiffen up the rear end) and also a womens model option.

‘Strip away everything and you have a great frame. Roomy, long and complemented by a sorted cockpit’

The spec list is well thought through and impressive for an entry level bike; there are almost no ‘own brand’ parts here. Suspension is by RockShox – a 130mm travel Sektor fork matched up with a Monarch R metric rear shock. Wheels are 27.5″/650B with rims and chunky rubber by WTB.

Shimano’s 2×10 Deore transmission is a reliable choice as are the M506/447 Deore level hydraulic brakes (matched to 180mm/160mm rotors). The only upgrade that we’d immediately make is a dropper post and a decent pair of pedals.

PRICE: £999 (With discount card, RRP is £1300)

Stan’s NoTubes S1 wheels

In recent years we’ve seen not only an increased choice in wheel diameters (26″, 27.5″ and 29″) but also rim widths too. Price tags have risen, with carbon rims costing around a £1000 each in some cases and premium aluminium wheelsets getting expensive. It’s easy to feel that a serious pair of wheels is out of your reach.

We’ve reviewed some mid range options in the last few years and wheels such as the Hope Hoops, Stan’s NoTubes MK3 and Crankbrothers Iodine 2 have hit the spot for us. All have their strong points and are a worthwhile upgrade over most stock wheelsets but how about an even cheaper option? The latest S1 wheels from Stan’s NoTubes are our pick and are priced at £350 a pair, complete with tubeless valves and rim tapes fitted.

The S1 wheels sit below the well regarded MK3 models in Stan’s range and follow a similar format. Built around the Neo hub (with most axle/hub standards covered), Stan’s use 32 J-bend spokes keeping things simple for maintenance and spares availability. The rims are a touch heavier duty than those on the MK3 wheels, using 6061 aluminium with spoke eyelets and keeping the ‘Bead Socket Technology’ for a reliable tubeless seal. Here in the UK the S1 wheels are available in the usual rim widths that Stan’s offer – Crest, Arch and Flow for the 29″ and Arch, Flow and the Plus-sized Baron for 27.5″. The Flow size works well for tyres of 2.35-2.8″ widths, the Arch suits 2.25″-2.50″. They are only sold in matching pairs, so you’ll be using the same rim width front and rear though. When it comes to a rebuild, the S1 rims are not available as a spare but you can always go with a MK3 rim at £80 each.

The weight is a touch more than on the pricier MK3 wheels – a pair of S1 Flow 27.5″ wheels weigh in at 2034g and the same size/spec on the MK3 are 1807g. That’s a 227g penalty but a saving of £170 on the price of the wheels. The 27.5″ S1 wheels with Arch rims are lighter at 1882g/pr.

There’s a reassuringly solid ride to these cheaper wheels from Stan’s. They are built well, roll smoothly and have a quick pick-up from the freehub. The S1’s have a look and feel of a more expensive wheelset but at a keener price and our test pair has not missed a beat. Throw in Stan’s reliable tubeless sealing and great spares back up and we feel these are a bargain replacement to many stock wheels. A bargain…

See our first look on these wheels HERE for more details.

PRICE: £350/pair


The SLX level hardware has often sat in the shadows of the more costly XT and XTR groupsets from Shimano. It’s easy to aspire to these better levels of kit and of course we all want a reliability along with low weight and a smooth gear shift. With many riders now on (or looking to make the change to) a simpler and quieter 1x drivetrain it’s good to have the option of a dedicated eleven speed system at an affordable price. We took a look at upgrading to ‘1×11 on the cheap’ back in may 2016, around the time when SRAM launched its budget NX single ring drivetrain.

The SLX drivetrain is a solid option with Shimano’s Hollowtech II cranks, a Shadow RD+ ‘clutch’ rear mech and 2-way release shifter. Many riders are familiar with the feel of Shimano’s gears and although the cassette’s smallest sprocket is an eleven tooth cog, you can use a standard freehub.

PRICE: £350 (approx – various spec options)


We were going to put SRAM’s NX drivetrain in this list as along with Shimano’s SLX it’s affordable, reliable and arguably offers enough (eleven) gears for most riders. But we’ve featured one eleven speed drivetrain and our testers have spent so much time on this cheapest level of SRAM’s 1×12 system that we’re confident that it’s a worthwhile upgrade for the money.

Most of us at Dirt have been on a single front chainring since the days of nine and ten speed but these wide range cassettes have opened up options when it comes to getting a selection of gears to suit all terrains. The 10-50T cassette that SRAM uses needs a dedicated XD driver (so that may be an additional cost) and is hardly a cheap item at £170 but it is the heart of the system. Look after it well, keep the chain in good order and we have found that is has plenty of longevity though.

It’s not all about the gear range with the GX Eagle – the performance in wet, gritty and muddy conditions is amazingly smooth. A quiet drivetrain is a bonus and even with the standard (and affordable) chain the shifting has been faultless. Yes there are more costly twelve speed drivetrains from SRAM but this GX level, as with the GX DH 7 speed gearing is as good as we need on most bikes.

PRICE: £425


With many brakes nudging the £400 mark (or above) for a full set up, it sometimes seems that to get high performance braking you really need to have deep pockets. Sure, when you’re writing the wish list for a custom build few riders would be adding the Deore name to the spec. This mid-tier Shimano groupset often brings to mind cheaper hardtails or entry-level full suspension bikes maybe. But if you’re looking at spending your money wisely, you’ll find that these brakes perform well above their price tag. This is a product that has benefited from Shimano’s tech trickling down the range from the top.

‘We’ve encountered them on numerous test bikes of the last year. They’ve always impressed us – they just get on with the job in and have never let us down’

With Shimano’s short but well shaped levers, a solid two pot calliper and mineral oil flowing through its hoses, the Deore brake is a very straightforward piece of kit. Fitting is easy, and in the age of internal routing trimming of hoses and bleeding is simple (a one way system) and reliable. These brakes are supplied as a pre-bled kit, without a disc rotor or mounts, leaving those choices to you.

PRICE: £69.99 each (No rotors or brackets) 


Along with getting your suspension set correctly and your bike sizing dialled in, the right tyres can give a definite boost to your confidence and performance on the bike. But quality rubber is getting expensive, with full retail prices closing in on £70 per tyre in some cases (and even more for 27+ sizes…) and with rough tracks giving both sidewalls and tread a hard time, a tyre’s life can be short, especially for sticky and soft compound specs. Throw in the need for both dry and wet condition options and it can be easy to tie up a big chunk of cash on tyres.

‘Specialized has been designing and selling tyres since the late 1970s so it’s up there with major brands who make nothing else but tyres and inner tubes’

We’ve had a soft spot for many of the tyres in Specialized’s range and they have often scored a place in our yearly Dirt 100 line-up. The Butcher, Storm DH and Hillbilly have found their places on both trail and gravity bikes at Dirt HQ and we have always praised this brand for keeping the prices relatively affordable.

For the 2018 model year Specialized has added a new Gripton compound giving a softer compound but aiming to keep rolling speeds high. The now established Grid reinforced sidewall option makes sense for many riders on hard charging trail or enduro bikes and still keeps most of the larger volume 27.5″/29″ models below the 1Kg mark. The aggressively treaded Hillbilly gets a makeover and is now available in a 27.5″ size as well as the 29″. Larger volume 2.6″ options in the Butcher and Hillbilly make a lot of sense now we have Boost spacing and wider rims as standard on many bikes.

PRICE: £35 (2Bliss) £40 (2Bliss with Grid casing) £50 (DH casing)


With 35mm clamp bars and stems now an established option, we started to wonder whether Renthal would remain with the 31.8mm ‘standard’ size and not move forward. Back in 2016, Renthal gave all the Fatbars an overhaul and as a result has nudged the width up to 800mm along with adding the 35mm clamp option. Renthal has not rushed this change and have spent plenty of development time testing and tweaking the bars so that the ride quality and feel remains very similar to the bars with the smaller clamp size. It noted, as we have at Dirt, that bigger isn’t always better and as a result has not made any compromises in the attempt to keep up with yet another standard.

There is something very reassuring when riding with an aluminium Fatbar fitted to your bike. They are a great shape (although have a touch less back sweep than many stock bars) and are 780mm (31.8mm clamp) or 800mm (35mm clamp) wide. The Fatbars have a solid yet forgiving ride quality and is a component we are happy to bolt onto any build, from a DH bike to a lighter weight trail bike. For aggressive riding they just make sense and for the price are a great investment.

PRICE: £64.99 (31.8mm clamp), £69.99 (35mm)


There’s a huge choice of flat pedals on the market, with plenty of experimental designs, flamboyant colours and claims of low weight all tempting you to make an upgrade. Nukeproof’s Horizon pedal is a favourite here at Dirt HQ and although far from being the cheapest option it is without question worth every penny.

What we look for first is a pedal with a good shape and well-placed and easily removable pins. With sticky soled shoes now a given, traction is rarely an issue bit there are plenty of goofy pedal shapes out there with odd bulges or strange profiles that are a non-starter for us. With almost all our test riders on flats, there are plenty of discussions on the subject and it’s not hard to spot a winning pedal design.

Nukeproof and flat pedals go hand in hand. With a Sam Hill signature version of this Horizon pedal topping the list, the design cues trickle down the range. This is a flat pedal that sits alongside the DMR Vault as a design that was bang on from the start. There are two versions of this metal pedal – the Pro and Sam Hill – and a budget nylon/composite model. They all use the same winning shape and the cheapest aluminium Pro model is the sweet spot for performance v price.

PRICE: £69.99 (aluminium Pro model)


With stock grips on bikes being pretty uninspiring in most cases, it’s always an area that is quickly upgraded by many riders. Poor rubber compounds, random sizes and compromised surface textures don’t help when you’re pushing on hard, especially in poor weather. Quality grips can often be getting close to £30 a pair for some lock-on models though, so it’s good to see a great performing option below £20.

We first spotted these Deathgrip prototypes on a visit to see Brendan a good few years back. Here we saw what was really a ‘Frankenstein’ grip… a mash-up of all the qualities he was looking for, taking in all that he had ridden over the years. You can spot shades of BMX and moto as well as mountainbike in the Deathgrip.

‘I wanted to make the ultimate grip to go on all my bikes: AM to DH’

At the heart of the grip DMR have started with a tapered core. As the grip has a single inboard clamp (our favoured way), this design adds further security at the ends of the bars; great for hard DH use. Second up, and the standout feature is the mix of three different styles for the grip itself. The much loved knurled criss-cross pattern with an MX style waffle beneath is a great starting point, especially as there is a choice of compounds. There is also a recently introduced super-soft ‘Race Edition’ model (to sit alongside the soft or hard compound options) as well as a flangeless option. A great pair of grips for the money.

PRICE: £17.00 – £20.00


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