Pinkbike Poll: How Reliable Are Modern Mountain Bikes?

Recently a petition was launched to “end the manufacture and sale of built-to-fail budget bicycles”. The idea was to clamp down on those bottom-end bikes that aren’t serviceable, durable, or even safe.

Needless to say, the comments on the article about it got pretty heated. On the one hand, there’s a lot to be said for cracking down on planned obsolescence where it exists or discouraging bikes that are so unreliable and hard to repair that they offer unwitting buyers poor value for money despite the low sticker price. On the other hand, people vote with their wallets and there is clearly a market for bikes that cost less than $200. Some commenters were concerned that imposing minimum standards would raise prices to the point where some couldn’t afford a bike at all.

This is all very interesting but, despite what some commenters seemed to think, the petition really wasn’t about the kind of bikes most Pinkbike readers ride. Not to sound snobbish, but most people who answered the Pinkbike Community Survey said they spent between $2,000 and $6,000 on their current primary mountain bike, whereas the petition was about sub-$200 bikes with non-replaceable chainrings, poor welds and plastic derailleurs.

Nevertheless, reliability could be a lot better at every price point. Even on high-end bikes, derailleurs break, bearings wear out (and aren’t exactly easy to replace), rims dent, tires puncture, shocks fail, forks creak and so on.

More money, more problems? It often seems that way.

In fact if anything, reliability seems to get worse at higher price points beyond mid-level bikes. Bontrager’s maxim famously states, “cheap, light, strong: pick two”, but it seems that with high-end mountain bikes you only get to pick one.

It’s easy to point the finger at the bike brands, and I think there is something to be said for that and a lot more they could be doing. But like with those budget bikes, customers vote with their wallets, and for the keen rider, lightness sells. Most of us want high-performance bikes which are as close as possible to those being raced at the top level. It’s almost like using a Formula One car as a daily driver. Put that way, it’s perhaps not too surprising things don’t always last too well.

I’ve argued before that realistic weight savings create a tiny benefit, but they’re probably still worth pursuing if you’re a pro racer where every second counts and your bike is meticulously checked over after every race and any damaged parts are replaced. For the rest of us, shouldn’t our priorities be a little different?

Our buying decisions say no. Here’s a concrete example: RaceFace offer a steel chainring which costs just $20 and lasts longer than their $79.99 aluminum chainring. But with a weight penalty of 89g, the steel version is much less popular than aluminum. Similarly, many long-travel enduro bikes still come with lightweight (e.g. EXO casing) tires, presumably because manufacturers and retailers know they’ll sell more bikes if they weigh less. I know a review isn’t
complete without a weigh-in and bikes above a certain threshold will get a hard time in the comments. At the end of the day, brands are making the bikes people want to buy.

What do you think?

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