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Currently I have a 2011 Trek 3700 (no disc brakes) and just this year have gotten into riding mountain bike trails and would like to have a bike better suited for doing that.

I'd like to keep the budget under $1000 (using Trek Mamba as a target) but when I'm looking for parts online, I seem to come across the most expensive options for each part. I'm a fan of Shimano but willing to use other brands if the price is less but the products are still comparable to one another.

As for specifics for what I'm going to be using it on, it'll be public mountain bike trails (off-road, of course) so nothing too demanding but still find a need for disc brakes and given my height, 6'6" roughly, a 29er seems to be the better option and would prefer a hardtail.

Unless a budget of $1000 is just unreasonable for a DIY....

Thanks in advance!

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2 Answers

This happens to be my particular area of expertise! ;) I have built several bikes buying part by part achieving competitive machines at much as half the price of the competitor! But let's start by not misleading anyone, there is no such thing as a free meal, everything needs a compromise. In my case, I sacrificed looks, trends and time to finally obtain my sweet rides, but it has totally worth it.

First, you have to define a strategy, so, decide why you want a custom built bike. In this case you have stated that you have budget limitations, but for someone else it could be performance, medical or physiological reasons, vanity, etc...

Since your motivation is budget (the same as mine) you have to decide what compromises you are willing to make. Here are my tips:

  • Every year the component makers release the latest gadgets, and they are always the best performers ever known. Stop there... actually, the performance upgrade from one year component to the next, is almost always negligible, so you are good with last year's derailleur, for example, or even older. This is a great way of obtaining brand new good and cheap (kinda) components, since they are not fashionable anymore their prices drop, sometimes very significantly. You can even get them from perfectly reputable online sellers, you just have to accept that you wont have the latest toys.

  • It is great to unpack a shiny, brand new component and install it into your bike, but the "new smell" wont make you any faster/stronger (lets face it, there is a placebo effect). There is a reliable way of obtaining good parts by buying OEM (Original equipment manufacturer) parts. OEM parts are components that come in brand new bikes, but they are removed for some reason, for example, maybe the buyer of the bike wanted something else and the shop sells the unpacked, never used item that was left. You will get a perfectly working, branded component, with "marks of installation" but otherwise new piece. You won't get original packaging nor instruction manuals, but for most reputable brands they're obtainable online. (At least Shimano user and installation manuals are available online). Besides, if you really know what you are doing, you do not need all of them.

  • You don't need top performing parts everywhere (you are on a budget, aren't you?) so you can pick where you want the best performing parts. For example, in my DH bike, I wanted good suspension and brakes, but could sacrifice drive train, so I went with a reputable frame and fork, reputable brakes but choose 8 speed drive train with mixed parts from reputable brands to unheard good enough brands that had available at the moment.

  • You don't need top of the line parts either. For instance, Shimano has Deore, Deore LX, Deore XT and Saint lines of components (Excuse me if I'm forgetting other MTB product lines). Each has its performance level, but even the least expensive of these, is very good. (personally I use mostly Deore). Take into account why one is better than other. Sometimes it is because of weight savings and in order to make lighter parts they are often made of more expensive materials and with more complicated processes, the price difference can be very significant compared to the performance upgrade obtained. But if what you want is to practice, to simply ride, i.e. you are not racing (for money) you are perfectly fine with the (little) heavier options, or the not so polished ones. Remember top of the line parts are often used by professional riders, who get paid for winning... on the other hand, you and me pay for riding.

  • Depending on what you are riding, you may be fine with just 8x3 speed drive train (8 cogs in the rear, 3 chainrings in the front). The price difference going from 8 to 9 cogs can be quite big, and you have to change the shifters also. Now there is even 10 cogs for mountain bike, which can be even more expensive.

  • The other sacrifice you can do is time. If you don't expect to obtain your components right away, you can wait until you find a good sale on the item you want. You will have to work constantly watching prices on line and on local stores. Meanwhile you keep saving money so you gradually increase your budget.

Finally, you can also buy only the frame and keep as much as you can from your current bike. When you get the new frame, check which parts fit and decide which ones you will keep and which ones you have to change/want to upgrade. The shopping list for components just got a lot shorter. Usually you can keep fork, stem, handlebar, grips, shifters, derailleurs, bottom bracket, pedals and tires. Crankset, cassette and chain should be inspected to determine if they are still usable. If they still have some usable life, you can safely shift them to the new bike, and remember to change them in the same date you would if still in the previous bike. In your case you mention disk brakes, so these should be in your shopping list, along with either a disk compatible wheelset (easier way) or disk compatible hubs and spokes(to re build the wheelset on your own or take it to a bike shop). If you choose cable actuated disk brakes, you can keep the levers, since linear pull (a.k.a. V-Brakes) brake levers are compatible. Otherwhise you need hydraulic levers and hoses.

The final step, after assembling the new bike, is to sell the remnant parts from the old one, thus recovering part of the budget.

This way you can delay your spending, which can be easier on your wallet or may allow you to gradually increase your budget so you can upgrade components as needed.

As previously said, everything is a sacrifice. You may not get a magazine cover worthy bike right away, but if your patience allows it, you'll end up with a bike that is unique, comfortable, excellent performer and you will feel perfectly fine about riding it! :)

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Thanks! I've never even considered harvesting parts from my current bike, much less cross-compatibility especially with using v-brake levers for mechanical disk brakes –  tech_geek23 Dec 5 '12 at 15:26
    
Great answer. Interesting process. I would be curious to see a spec list from your bike and what you would consider to be a similarly priced new bike. I would be interested in building up a new bike using your method but am a bit skeptical that it is actually a good way to save money. –  sixtyfootersdude Dec 9 '12 at 4:40
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Upgrading parts is likely to be the most expensive way to get the bike you want. Depending where you are, second hand is the way to get a good bike for the lowest $$$, provided you are careful. The next least expensive option is to go for an end of season new bike. In the end, it costs a lot less if you use the proceeds from selling your old bike rather than upgrading it.

29'ers (I have one), give quite a different ride to a 26. Try one out to see if you like it, however if you stay hardtail, I think it's a good way to go. If you are a heavy 6'6, consider the 29'r has longer spokes and the wheels are therefore weaker than a 26 (all else the same). As I am under 70kg (150lb), its not something I have to worry about. Also think about the shock - is it stiff enough for your weight, although the only thing that makes a significant difference at this level of bike is more money, and unless you are over 250lb you should be OK (Trek states 136kg max fro their bikes).

The Mamba looks like a reasonable fit for you in terms of budget and the riding you propose - it will hold up with OK quality parts, I imagine a bit heavier than ideal, but it won't be a dog either. Trek make good bikes and have a good reputation (where I live) for support - which is important.

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I'm only about 170 lbs so the added length of the wheels shouldn't be an issue. And given that in the fall of 2013, I'll be a freshman in college and would need something reasonably priced now. Also, just off the top of your head, how much would you estimate I could get for a 2011 Trek 3700 non-disc brake? As far as support goes, I have an awesome LBS near me (bicycles inc) who specializes in Trek and Specialized bikes –  tech_geek23 Dec 3 '12 at 2:18
    
I have no idea about your local prices - normal rule of thumb would be about 1/2 retail for a good condition/low usage bike. As for disc vs non-disc, well setup, good quality V brakes will outperform cheap (cable) discs. They are harder to setup well though and don't skimp on cheap pads. Discs have only been around (en mass) for 10 years - before then some pretty impressive riding was being done in V brakes (and earlier than that, cantilevers). Don't underestimate the ability of a skilled rider to out perform the best equipment money can buy..... –  mattnz Dec 3 '12 at 3:21
    
I know that my LBS has a '13 Trek Mamba for $929 vs. Trek's MSRP of $1100 which has Hayes hydraulic discs –  tech_geek23 Dec 3 '12 at 3:26
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