Here's To (Good) Cheap Bikes
The way I got hooked mountain biking happened when I was really young. I was five, riding a hand-me-down Peugeot BMX with knobby tires. My brother had just gotten his first Mongoose mountain bike, before they sold out to Wal-Mart, and the Peugeot was mine, retiring my original kids bike. We lived down a dirt road with trails all over the place and I realized, I could go anywhere. Neil wanted to put his new bike through its paces and would drag me all over the woods. My sister had a road bike and she wouldn’t even take it on grass. Just being able to be in the woods or on a mountain on a bike is really fun. I still don’t understand recreational road cycling. I love riding my city bike on errands and casual cruises but given the opportunity to be on a trail is something different all together. It’s another world and a new perspective in it.
As I got older and into racing, the bikes I rode of course improved into complex machines. By the time I went to college I raced in Expert class but wasn’t good enough or dedicated to continue putting up the money for self-sponsored racing. I sold my downhill bike and suddenly mountain biking wasn’t in my life.
Ten years went by and bike technology and cost had exploded. When I stopped racing, a pro level race bike was about $3,000. Now a good recreational bike start at $5,500. Five figures is common. Every year, the idea of getting back into mountain biking seemed further away. One of those things.
Like friends or music or skiing, there are things we sometimes lose and until it’s reintroduced, we wonder why we used to be so much happier. At seventeen I’d say something like, ‘I can’t live without mountain biking,’ but then you do.
I decided I needed it back in my life and would scrape together a steel single speed from used parts on craigslist. It was my only route, until it wasn’t.
The Marin Pine Mountain, the Salsa Timberjack, the Surly Karate Monkey. Thank you. The world needs more affordable bikes like you. At over $1,000 these bikes are still an investment but you’ll be getting a high performing, durable bike as opposed to a big box store bike that isn’t fun and breaks quickly.
These bikes were built for simplicity, even overtly for bikepacking where sparse and sturdy are two key features. There are almost no technical parts to wrench or, worse, break. Most importantly, they’re affordable while not skimping on important parts like brakes and drivetrains.
I picked a Marin Pine Mountain, even got a deal on it, and there I was, on a trail, mountain biking. It climbed like an XC bike and mobbed like a downhill. The 27.5+ tires softened its rigidity and the steel frame soaked up vibration.
But this isn’t a review, it’s an appreciation. What the Pine Mountain did best was get me out there. When I was five, taking the old Peugeot through the woods far from my home, I didn’t care that the bike had pedal brakes and weighed twenty-five pounds, I had access to a feeling, one I could tap into whenever I wanted. It was amazing.
Bikes today are sick. I’d love a Scott. But I love mountain biking and without bikes like the Pine Mountain I still wouldn’t be doing it. So many people, who either used to ride or haven’t yet, could be happier selves with access to mountain biking. Scientists are proving it. Not everyone needs carbon everything dual suspension and almost no one can afford those bikes. But everyone could use a good grin popping trail ride.
Hats off to brands that have put out these humble bikes and let’s hope the rest of the industry sees what they’re missing.