Keeping in shape doesn’t have to be difficult as you move into middle age and toward retirement. The key is to find both strength and aerobic exercises that you really enjoy, not that you reluctantly do for the sole purpose of losing weight or improving your fitness. For me, stationary bikes and treadmills come to mind. I’ve owned both, and after the initial newness wore off, couldn’t bear to use either. No way could those become a lifetime activity. Fortunately there are lots of other options. Most of those that appeal to me involve outdoor activities. In particular, for about 8 months out of the year, mountain biking has become my go to activity.
I first got started in mountain biking about 20 years ago after first moving to northern Utah. The mistake I made was to purchase an inexpensive bike, which meant a heavy bike. I used it for less than a season and decided it wasn’t for me. About 3 years ago I decided to try again and bought a Specialized Hardrock 29er. It’s a hardtail equipped with mechanical disk brakes and Shimano components. At a cost of about $425 on sale, I figured it would be a good entry back into the sport. My mistake again. The problem was weight – about 35 lbs. Riding it was fun, but on the hills I found the 35 lbs to be really noticeable. If I had to do it again, or recommend an entry-level bike to someone, I would say to look at the weight. If you stop at the local bike shop, your will likely find that, in terms of round numbers, $500 buys you a 35 lb. bike, $1000 gets you a 30 lb. bike, and you may need to go over $2,000 for a 25 lb. bike. Saving $500 on a bike may not be such a good deal if you don’t like riding it, which may be the case if your area includes a lot of hills.
I wasn’t willing to part with $2k to drop 10 lbs. in weight. Last January I came across a bike from a Chinese manufacturer, Zhejiang Beiou Composites Manufacturing Co., on Amazon. It is a 27.5 hardtail built around a carbon fiber frame and is advertised at a total mass 10.7 kg. In terms of weight, 10.7 kg converts to about 105 Newtons or 23.5 lbs. It also comes with hydraulic disk brakes and Shimano components. The details can be found here on Amazon. The Amazon price is currently listed at $1,289. (I’ll also mention that they are now also offering a full suspension 27.5 for a couple hundred dollars more.)
After looking at a number of bikes at the local bike shops I decided to take a chance and buy the Beiou 27.5 hard tail sight unseen. After receiving further discounts at checkout I paid just over $1,200 with free shipping through Amazon Prime. The bike comes nearly assembled. As I recall, I only had to install the front wheel and mount the seat. The front shocks are hydraulic, so I had the local bike shop add air as I didn’t have a suitable pump at the time.
I tend to get a sore lower back if I ride for an extended period of time so I modified the bike to get the handle bars raised. In particular, I added a Delta Pro Stem Raiser for about $25 and a Ritchy Comp 30 degree stem of length 60mm for about $40. Finally, I changed the handle bar out for a Beiou carbon fiber riser bar for another $40. The catch is that the additional 4.5 inches from the stem riser meant that one of the hydraulic brake lines was too short, so I had the local bike shop add a longer hose. So my $1200 turned out to be about $1,400. Nevertheless, I would have had to make these changes on any other bike too. At any rate, for those of you who “feel it” after riding with a seat situated above the level of the handle bars, you might find relief by the use of a stem riser. I certainly did.
So the question is, how do I like the bike? I’ve ridden it for about 9 months now, putting on just under 1,900 miles. This includes a mixture of rough trails and paved road. As far as how it handles, I find I prefer the 27.5 over the 29. Seems more nimble on the trail to me, and of course the smaller frame and wheels translates to a lighter weight. Northern Utah is hilly terrain, so this has has been a definite benefit. In fact, the drop in weight has easily justified the upgrade from the Specialized. What do others think? Well, there are currently 39 customer reviews on Amazon, with 74% giving it 5 stars and 18% giving 4 stars.
The biggest concern I had before purchasing was warranty service. If I had a problem, how would the company handle it? Well, low and behold, the shock started losing air after only a ride or two. I contacted the company through Amazon and they quickly responded by asking me to send a photo of the problem. I took a picture of the fork in a compressed state and sent it to them. They quickly sent me a new fork without asking for return of the old one. The new fork was easy to install and has worked perfectly ever since. In fact, I haven’t had to add air since first setting the pressure for my weight. I had a friend take the old fork apart and he noticed a nick in an internal gasket that was the cause of the problem. Probably something that occurred during the manufacturing process. The point is though, that they handled the problem quickly and professionally.
On several of the Amazon reviews you will find the comment that the fork is only ok at best. An REI website makes the following statement about suspension systems:
“Seek out a responsive suspension system offering a smooth ride. How will you know? Comparing prices is a pretty reliable guide. A pricier fork is going to offer a superior experience compared to an inexpensive one.”
As an engineering faculty member I am suspicious of statements like these without hard data to back them up. Eventually I plan to affix an accelerometer to a bike and look at the data using different forks, both air and coil spring, and low- to high-end. I’ve looked for these studies but have not found much. Perhaps the closest work is that done by MIT researchers where they looked at road vibration on cycling performance. If I get this done, I’ll be sure to post the results…
So to summarize, I’ve been completely happy with the performance of the Beiou 27.5 inch carbon frame bike. A friend of mine recently purchased one, and as far as I know he is also pleased with the performance. At this price point, it’s hard to go wrong.