How much should you spend on a downhill bike?
£3,000, £5,000 and £5,000+ options
The first thing to get out there right away is that, unfortunately, downhill is not a cheap sport. It’s not like football where all you need is a pair of boots, a ball and couple of jumpers for goal posts, you’re going to have to fork out a decent chunk of money before you get going.
The biggest expense will no doubt be the bike itself. Downhill rigs can become frighteningly expensive with some riders spending as much on their ride as you might do on a family car. Thankfully not everyone has to spend quite that much and cheaper options are becoming available all the time thanks to direct sales through the internet.
We’d never try to tell you how much to spend on a downhill bike, that’s entirely down to your personal budget. But here’s what you can expect for your money:
If you want a new downhill bike but aren’t prepared to sell one of your kidneys, you’ll probably be looking in the £2-3,000 region. The trickle down of technology from more expensive models means that you can get some really decent kit at this level without breaking the bank.
If you go direct, you could pick up a carbon frame. The YT Tues CF for example starts at £2,700 and the Canyon Sender at £2,900, but this means you are prey to the pitfalls of buying online. In fact, all the rules are thrown out of the window as they generally come with far better kit than you could pick up from a shop floor. We see them as the exception to the rule though, so we’ve instead decided to focus on bikes sold in the traditional manner.
Frame – One of the main advantages of buying a more budget bike is that you’ll get the exact same frame as amore expensive model but with a less plush specification. This means it’s a good platform to start upgrading as parts wear out or your budget allows.
For this price you’re probably looking at an aluminium frame, but don’t see that as a bad thing. Some World Cup bikes are still aluminium framed, in fact Sam Hill won two on an aluminium Nukeproof Pulse in 2014. More than anything aluminium is proven, far more than carbon, and will provide a reliable and stable platform for your ride.
Suspension – For this money the suspension won’t be the best around, but the differences between a top end fork and a budget one aren’t always as big as marketing hype would have you believe.
The BoXXer RC fork is commonly specced on bikes at this level. You get the same chassis and travel as the top of the range BoXXers but you do sacrifice weight and the damper inside is not as plush.
You may alternatively get suspension from Marzocchi or X-Fusion. These guys are smaller companies in the suspension world but don’t let that put you off. Their gear is still used at World Cup Level and the 380 C2R2 Ti and Rv1 HLR both made the Dirt 100 this year.
In the rear you’re going to be looking at a coil shock. Air technology is still relatively new and has yet to trickle down to this price point. There’s nothing wrong with a coil shock though, we’re convinced they perform better in terms of pure damping and while they are less tunable there’s definitely an appeal to a set and forget spring.
The two main players at this price point are the Fox VAN and the RockShox Kage. These are second tier offerings from the suspension giants, so they are less adjustable and heavier, but still offer decent performance – certainly better than you will be used to if you’re buying your first downhill bike.
Wheels – At this price point there are a mix of 26 and 27.5 inch wheels. Again, don’t let 26 inch wheels put you off, they may be seen as outdated now but they served us well for many years and will continue to do so for many more. The wheels will likely be aluminium but will be heavier than those on more expensive bikes. If you’re planning on a big upgrade, wheels are normally a good place to start as the rotational weight is better to shed than weight hung on the frame.
The rest – The rest of the spec you can expect to be robust if not stellar. This is where things start to proliferate but you can rest assured that budget components are more capable than ever – they will be reliable and durable but they won’t be as light as their more expensive counterparts. Keep an eye out for any corner cutting though, if possible you want to avoid the squidgy brakes or narrow bars that are often snuck under the radar.
At £5,000 you start to move into dream bike territory. Carbon and aluminium frames take about equal market share and you start seeing better damping and lighter components. While these bikes won’t have the specs of World Cup downhill bikes they will be race ready right out of the box.
Frame – It’s a toss up between carbon and aluminium at this price point. Do you go for a better specced aluminium bike or a more conservatively specced carbon bike? Once again don’t be put off by aluminium, you may ride it and decide you prefer its more supple ride.
Suspension – At this price range you start to see more boutique suspension options, predominantly from Rockshox. You should be looking for BoXXer Team or above level forks but you may be lucky enough to find the odd bike specced with our current fork of choice – the Fox 40.
Wheels – At this price you want to be looking at high-end aluminium or carbon wheels. Don’t think you’re taking a downgrade by going aluminium though, Easton’s Havocs are still the most successful downhill wheels in World Cup history and they’ve stayed true to their aluminium roots.
The rest – At this level the spec should be ready to race out of the box so don’t accept anything that won’t stand up to the rigours of downhill. You’ll want a gravity specific drivetrain, powerful four piston brakes, grippy two ply tyres and a sorted cockpit.
Money no object
We’re into hyper bike territory here. Bikes that could win World Cup events, tackle Rampage cliff lines and still be eager to shred the next day. The most expensive production downhill mountain bike on the market is the Trek Session 9.9 at £7,300 but there are a whole host of others not far behind.
Interestingly, there’s very few direct sale bikes above £5k, simply because their reduced costs mean they don’t have to charge so much. Instead you’re looking at the top of the range bikes from the most venerable bike companies going. When you’re putting down that amount of money you want simply the best kit possible, so here’s what to look for:
Frame – For this money it’s most likely to be carbon. This will give you the lightest platform to hang the most Gucci kit off.
Suspension – You’re after only the best at this point. Our current favourite fork is the Fox 40, it’s not cheap but this year its damping is unparalleled… and it’s gold, which is always nice when you’re putting down this much money.
Our favourite shock of 2016 is the Ohlins TTX, the greatest compliment we can pay it is that most of the time you don’t even realise it’s there. As it stands no team runs it at World Cup level, but don’t let that put you off – in combination with our downhill bike of the year, the Specialized Demo, it works a treat.
Unless you buy Specialized though, you’ll only be able to pick up the TTX aftermarket. For all other brands we’d recommend the Fox DHX2, although the rest of the competition is all pretty even.
Wheels – Much as with the frame, it’s likely to be carbon at this price. Are they better? The jury’s out. It’s safe to say they’re lighter and stiffer though.
The rest – You want simply the best. Expect even more carbon in the forms of bars, cranksets or even brake levers. It’s all about saving weight as you can guarantee that kit will be sturdy enough at this price.