100,000-149,999 SparkPoints 130,924

Buying a Great Bike - One Part at a Time

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Part 1: I Expect a Lot out of a Bike

On August 3rd 2012 I brought home my new 2012 Specialized Camber Comp 26" full suspension mountain bike. The list price for the Camber Comp was $1,850. I haggled with the nice sales lady and got the price down to $1,450. This bike just happened to be the last 26" Camber Comp in Denver in my size, which is medium (19.5" to 20"). The 2013 bikes were just starting to hit the showrooms and Wheatridge Cyclery was ready to deal.

I wanted a full-suspension bike that was as nimble as my tried-and-true Specialized Stumpjumper Pro hardtail. This is a tall order. Little Stumpy is slashing mean machine on tight and twisting trail.

This photo is of my 2006 Stumpjumper Pro, also known as Little Stumpy.

Little Stumpy has the right stuff. For you techno-geeks here are components that Little Stumpy is packing:

• Frame: M4 Aluminum Alloy
• Front Fork: Rockshox Recon Silver Air with 100mm , remote lockout & rebound adjustment
• Shifters: Shimano XT M770 Rapidfire 9-Speed
• Front Derailleur: Shimano XT Top Swing 9 Speed
• Rear Derailleur: Shimano XT 9 Speed with SGS Long Cage
• Crankset: Shimano XT 22/32/44
• Cassette: 11-34 Shimano XT 9-Speed
• Chain: Shimano XT HG93
• Wheels: Tough Mavic EN321 26" with low-resistance Shimano Deore Hubs
• Tires: Maxxis Minion DhR 26 x 2.35"
• Brakes: Avid Juicy Hydraulic Disc with 160 mm rotors

Little Stumpy is joy to ride. Under all conditions, and any load, shifting is crisp, quick and silent. I could have just said Little Stumpy has a complete Shimano XT group and that would be enough.

The typical list price for an alloy hardtail with the XT group is $3,000 to $3,500. Little Stumpy is a pretty decent XC racing bike and a terror on a smooth single track.

Here is Little Stumpy's element. This is segment 1776 of the Colorado Trail. The surface is decomposed granite "ball bearings". Segment 1776 is typical of trails on the eastern slope of the Colorado Rockies, which tend to be darn slippery.

This is Little Stumpy before a ride in the rain on the Colorado Trail. The aggressive tread on the Maxxis Minion tires give Little Stumpy good traction on loose surfaces. The heavy duty sidewalls resist punctures from sharp rocks, of which are in abundant supply around here.

This is Little Stumpy after his battle with the elements. I did this ride on Little Stumpy on August 2nd, 2012, which was a week after my face had a close encounter with razor sharp rocks on Bergen Peak. Riding in the rain washed the blood off my shoes. I only rode five miles at an easy pace of 8 miles per hour with a maximum speed of 18 mph. I had just got the stitches out of my face and just wanted to take an easy ride. Ultra Stumpy was still in the bike hospital getting a brake-ectomy. I had yet to pick up the Camber, which I had on lay-a-way. I picked-up the Camber and my revived Ultra Stumpy on the same day.

Part 2: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

In my quest for the ultimate in a nimble full suspension mountain bike, I tested bikes from Cannondale, Giant, Trek and Scott trying to find the perfect full-suspension razor-sharp handling ride. When I tested the Specialized Camber I was hooked. The 26” Camber is a wickedly responsive bike.

Here is the factory photo of the 2012 Specialized Camber Comp.

I knew that Specialized was dropping the 26" Camber in 2013. The 2013 Camber models all have twenty-nine inch wheels and are a lot more expensive. The 2013 Camber Comp now lists for $2,600.

Twenty-nine inch wheels are all the rage in the mountain biking community. I have a great “29er”. My 29er is a Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Expert Carbon, which I call Ultra Stumpy. Ultra Stumpy is an "all mountain" bike with tons of plush suspension travel and slack steering. Ultra Stumpy can be extremely responsive but it requires a lot of work. Ultra Stumpy can take on very rough and rocky terrain with nary a whimper. Ultra Stumpy climbs like a homesick angle and, most importantly, is very fast.

Ultra Stumpy is stable at high speed. My Camber is a bit twitchy at high speed. Little Stumpy is also a bit twitchy at high speed. Here is the deal. All things being equal, you can't have both low speed maneuverability and high-speed stability.

Ultra Stumpy is a heck of a lot more nimble than some of the modestly priced 26" mountain bikes I tested. The reason is that Ultra Stumpy is a great all-around performer is that he is made of carbon and titanium; has a high-tech suspension; and is equipped with very high-end SRAM X0 and XX racing components.

Without going into details, Ultra Stumpy's rear derailleur costs more than the best mountain bike you can buy at a department store. Ultra Stumpy's rear derailleur is made from forged magnesium with titanium springs, ceramic bearings, carbon jockey wheels, and has a carbon fiber pulley cage. Why? This SRAM XX derailleur is a very complex mechanism that shifts faster than lightning - even under extreme pedal load.

All this whiz-bang stuff on my two Stumpjumpers is good. The Stumpy's are light-weight with great suspensions, pedal easily, shift beautifully and are extremely durable.

High performance bikes come with a high price tag. My pretty little Camber Comp did not come with a high price tag.

What is good about my Camber?

Little Cam is light and has a great suspension. The inexpensive Tectro hydraulic brakes work surprisingly well. The Camber is a pretty bike. The frame geometry is fantastic. The Camber is extremely nimble and responsive. Little Cam has a full-suspension and takes on rough terrain far better than Little Stumpy. It is a toss-up whether Little Cam or Little Stumpy is more maneuverable. Little Cam has the edge on Little Stumpy at higher speeds because the full suspension makes Little Cam smoother and more controllable.

What is bad?

Unfortunately, Little Cam has abysmal shifting and some really cheap components. Shimano makes eight component levels which include:

Cross Country/Back Country Components
1. XTR - (10 Speed) Top-End
2. Deore XT (9 and 10 speed)
3. SLX (9 and 10 speed)
4. Deore (9 speed)
Recreational Components
5. Alivio (8 and 9 speed)
6. Acera (8 and 9 speed)
7. Altus (8 speed)
8. Tourney (6, 7, 8 speed) – Low-end found on department-store bicycles

Components 1 through 4 on this list are found on very good mountain bikes. My Camber came with mixed quality parts:

Good Cross-Country Grade
- Front derailleur: SLX top-swing, bottom-pull
- Rear Derailleur: SLX Shadow 9-speed, SGS long cage

Mediocre Recreational Grade
- Shifters: Alivio 9-speed
- Crankset: Alivio 44/32/22

Crummy Recreational Grade
- Cassette (Rear Cogs): Tourney HG20 9-Speed 11-34T

What other bad stuff came on my Camber?

The original DT Swiss 445D wheels had only 28 spokes and went bye-bye on my second ride. I hit a washout at Lair-of-the-Bear. The front wheel bent into a shape that resembled a potato chip. Not surprisingly, this is called a "potato chipped" wheel.

The 26 x 2.0 Specialized "Captain" tires that came with my Camber were not bad, per se. However, these Captain tires are just next to useless where I ride.

This tire is actually popular with mountain bike riders on the Colorado front range. This tire provides good traction on smooth trails and rolls easily.

The Specialized Captain tires do not have deep enough tread for riding on decomposed granite. Nor do the Captain sidewalls provide enough resistance to punctures.

There are two prevalent types of rocks in this area: Pikes Peak Granite and Granitic Gneiss.

I just walked outside my house and picked up two rocks. The pink rock is Pikes Peak Granite. This pink granite weathers quickly when exposed to the elements. Trails around here are covered with this stuff, which causes tires like the Specialized Captain to slide around like a three legged hippo on mud!

The black rock is Granitic Gneiss. Gneiss is a hard metamorphic rock that typically has razor sharp edges and points. These black rocks are eaters of bike tires. Here is one of my Captain tires that had a close encounter with gneiss.

I am lucky I got to the car before the tire went flat. The tube was still kinda holding air but had sprung a small leak.

Part 3: Improving Little Cam

The lousy Alivio crank lost a tooth. The crank rings are made of cheap stamped steel and really suck. I likely hit a rock with this crank. I have hit many, many rocks with Little Stumpy's XT crank and never broke a tooth.

The Alivio crank goes for about $40 and is not up to snuff for a mean little bike like the Camber. As a stopgap measure I bought a Raceface Ride crank at my LBS for $100. The Raceface crank is made of strong alloy and is half the weigh of the clunky Alivio crank.

I was hopeful that the stronger crank would help the shifting. Unfortunately, the roots of the "bad" shifting are the Alivio shifters and the SLX derailleurs. Don't get me wrong. The Camber shifts pretty well for a modestly priced bike.

There is only one thing to do. Buy a better bike - one part at a time. The following parts will turn Little Cam into a super little machine:

What I already have:

Shimano HG80 Cassette $80
Specialized 110mm Stem $45
Forte Flat Handlebars $30
Carbon Stem Spacers $8
Mavic EN321 Wheels w/ XT Hubs $200
WTB Velociraptor 26x2.1 Tires $80
Specialized Grappler Grips $25
Specialized Henge Pro Saddle $130
XT Shadow Rear Deraliure $95
Shimano PD-530 Pedals $54

On order - expected this week:

XT Front E-Type Deraliure $54
XT Shifters Pods $128
XT 44/32/22 Crank $234
HG93 XT Chain $28

TOTAL $1,191

I bought the longer stem and flat handle bars to put a little more weight on the front tire for improved handling. This modification worked like a charm and gives me the more aggressive riding posture that I prefer.

Here is Little Cam so far. He is a work in progress.

The Mavic wheels are bullet proof!

These wheels have 32 heavy-duty spokes and fast rollingShimano XT hubs. These wheels were custom hand made and are absolutely true.

I put WTB Velociraptor tires on Little Cam. The WTB Velociraptor tires are tough and very aggressive.

This is the comparison between the new WTB front tire and the old Captain tire.

This is the comparison between the Captain and the WTB rear tire. The WTB tires have different tread patterns for front and rear.

These new tires are magic. I took Little Cam to Flying J Ranch yesterday. Over some pretty ugly terrain, Little Cam was unstoppable. Over 10 miles, I average 12 mph and climbed 1,500 feet. I hit 22 mph on some pretty trecherous stuff through very close and dense trees.

Now, I gotta get the Camber shifting like my Stumpjumpers. The total price tag for my one-of-kind Camber will be $2,650, which is includes the $1,450 purchase price plus $1,200 in upgrades. I still think this is a bargain.

Thanks for reading my blog.
Share This Post With Others
Member Comments About This Blog Post
  • MPLANE37
    You have told a wonderful story. Great to convert a mediocre bike to a superb one. Unfortunately they run pretty expensive for most people. It is at least good to know what is the best, the mediocre and the worst.
    1974 days ago

    Comment edited on: 9/28/2012 4:00:40 PM
    An absolutely fascinating blog. What clarity! Glad your bling showed up. Thanks for a great blog.
    1975 days ago
    Little Stump was my Nick Name in High School - I had to laugh, long story - happy to hear your stitches were removed , that was a close call. Love the new bike - good job on haggling - Me , I still ride my Huffy Backwater - of course I am not riding Mountain trails here in Chi Town but , you should try dodging the traffic :-) Actually we do have some nice trails all over the City , some are a challenge. Good Luck on your new bike. LIL Racer emoticon
    1978 days ago
  • NWFL59
    Sounds like you're definitely in your element and experiencing the joy of modification. You engineers are notorious for unending mods. emoticon
    1979 days ago
    I love reading these blogs! Makes me appreciate the room to grow in a bike. If you were local, I'd make you help figure out if/what my bike needs, even though it's a roadbike.
    1979 days ago

    Comment edited on: 9/23/2012 10:09:57 PM
    emoticon I bought my husband a bike for his birthday and he's been fixing it up, too.
    1979 days ago
  • PATTERD707
    my mountain biking friends talk a lot more about maintenance than my roadie friends (I have a GT road bike myself), is it more expensive to MB?
    1979 days ago
    Wow! Biking can be an expensive, dangerous sport! Must be a great workout in your area. We basically have dirt trails here.

    I enjoyed reading your blog. Your excitement about biking screams out of it! Good for you on finding a sport that you love! ...be careful!
    1979 days ago
    Wow, it's amazing the kinds of bikes out there and everything they can do!
    1979 days ago
  • Add Your Comment to the Blog Post

    Log in to post a comment

    Disclaimer: Weight loss results will vary from person to person. No individual result should be seen as a typical result of following the SparkPeople program.