The entry-level segment battle in 2013 will probably be quite fierce. Producers have come with new designs and specifications which are meant to attract new clients. This is how our question arises: Who offers the best equipped bike with a price between 480 and 525 euro, the most popular segment when it comes to entry level bikes. We will concentrate on the price/components ratio and not take into account the brands which offer them. Even so, you should consider that premium and more well-known brand bikes will benefit from a better finishing of the frame (not only from the point of view of the aspect but also from the point of view of rigidity and weight). However this are aspects we could only check by actually testing this bikes, so all we will do now is concentrate on the specs (component quality) of the bikes.
Cross Country entry-level bikes: what should you expect?
Because we are speaking of the entry-level segment, bikes from this category should offer balanced specs which should allow easy mountain biking, city biking, riding in the forest etc. Bikes should be multivalent but they will not excel at anything in particular. You can also use them in competitions but do not expect high performance level. Pay attention: some producers offer limited warranty to those who use the bikes in competitions. It could be a good idea to find out the conditions beforehand.
Most bikes from this niche come with 3 x 8 transmission with sprockets on a cassette system. This is an advantage when it comes to replacing them. The once that have a 3 x 7 system with a thread system will make you need to replace the hub if you will want to upgrade to 3 x 9 or 3 x 10 transmission. Frames from this niche allow installing disc brakes (in case the bike does not already come with such a system), they also support high end forks due to the 1 1/8 inch standard and they come with decent finishing considering the level of the frame. Due to all this it is an attractive option to upgrade your bike later.
At the level of components we can meet both v-brakes and disc brakes; most of them offer pretty poor performance. The same can be said about the crankset which is quite heavy. The derailleurs are entry level and the wheels (coupled with their tires) are also quite heavy.
To put it shortly these bikes are dedicated to all those who see the sport just as a simple hobby and prefer occasional rides on the mountain. If you prefer high performances (more precise control on technical routes, long descents etc.) you should look at models that have a higher price.
Between 480 and 520 euro we found the following models: Ram HT One.3, Cross Grip 124, Merida Matts 20-MD, Focus Highland Peak Disc, Trek 3900, Haibike Power RC, CTM Quadra 3.0, Cube AIM 26, Scott Aspect 660, Univega Alpina HT-500 and Ideal Prorider.
Because it is one of the most important components we will start with the fork. From all the models the Ram HT One.3 is the only one which has a Rock Shox fork, the entry-level model XC 28 TK. Next are the Cross Grip 124, Trek 3900 Disc, CTM Quadra 3.0 and Cube AIM bikes which get a bonus point for coming with the Suntour XCM fork. Although the performances of these two forks (Rock Shox XC 28 and Suntour XCM) are not extraordinary, they are an idea better compared to the Suntour XCT or RST Gila which are present on the remaining bikes.
Another important aspect for the bike is related to the braking system. At this chapter the Cross Grip 124, Haibike Power RC, CTM Quadra 3.0 and Ideal Prorider get bonus points. The first two models come with Tektro disc brakes. The latter two models come with hydraulic Shimano disc brakes (these are also the ones that offer the best performance). The remaining bikes come with mechanical disc brakes or V-brakes.
The transmission system
At this chapter the CTM Quadra 3.0 is the leader as it offers something no other competitor does: a 3×9 gear system. The rest of the models come with an 8 sprocket cassette system. When it comes to the derailleur the best equipped bikes are the Ram HT One.3 with a Sram X4 derailleur (which is equivalent to Shimano Alivio), Cube AIM 26, CTM Quadra 3.0 and Focus Highland Peak all come with a Shimano Alivio rear derailleur. From this perspective the Focus Highland Peak does well since both its rear and its front derailleur are from the Alivio series, thus having a homogenous transmission.
The tires also play an important role even if you can upgrade them afterwards without investing too much. Most tires in this niche will be entry-level, so they will not be the lightest of tires. Replacing them with a higher end model will significantly reduce the weight of the bike. At this chapter the Ram HT One.3 presents itself as the leader as it comes with a set of Maxxis Crossmark tires. The Univega Alpina HT-500, Cube AIM and Focus Highland Peak bikes all come with the well-known Schwalbe Smart Sam tire set.
Weight is also important which some producers neglect. We cannot say much here as many producers do not offer this data. In any case out of the data that is offered we can say that the Univega Alpina HT-500 does pretty well weighing 13.4 kg considering the fact that the average weight of bikes in this niche is 14 kg.
The recommended prices are as follows (we have included the positive aspects here as well):
Scott Aspect 660 – 480 euro– plus: price
Univega Alpina HT-500 – 500 euro – plus: tires, lowest weight
Ideal Prorider – 500 euro – plus: brakes
Ram HT One.3 – 505 euro – plus: tires, derailleur, gearing system
Cross Grip 124 – 510 euro – plus: brakes
Merida Matts 20-MD – 510 euro – plus: balanced price/components ratio
Focus Highland Peak Disc – 515 euro – plus: gearing system, tires
Trek 3900 – 515 euro – plus: brakes
Haibike Power RC – 520 euro – plus: brakes
CTM Quadra 3.0 – 520 euro – plus: gearing system (9 speed sprockets), brakes, fork
Cube AIM 26 – 525 euro – plus: tires, rear derailleur
As you can notice two bikes come with the most advantages: the Ram HT One.3 and the CTM Quadra 3.0. The Slovak brand is less well known. However the CTM offers the best price/components ratio as it has a major advantage compared to the Ram HT One.3: the hydraulic front brake compared to the V-brakes. Focus Highland Peak and Merida Matts 20-MD also seem to be interesting choices.
Any of these bikes are capable of handling forest trails or easy recreational mountain rides. As long as you do not choose extreme routes you can enjoy such a bike for quite a while. Choosing a bike is a personal thing which should not only take into account the budget but also personal preferences: brands such as Scott or Trek are more expensive and offer lower quality components must be considered because they are premium brands. Many care about the image a lot and are willing to make upgrades later. For those seeking offers and who do not care about the image of the brand less well known brands such as the CTM might be suitable.