Winter is coming and the season of buggered bearings is almost here.
If you’re planning a big winter of riding, it might just be time to build up a tough, simple winter hardtail.
It’s obvious to say it but winter isn’t good for bikes. As the dust turns to mud, those posh full suspension bikes get a serious pounding …and so does your wallet keeping them running.
Grit gets hammered into bearings. Fork seals get scoured with cack. Shorts and shoes get covered in gritty muck which scrubs paint away.
You spend your life washing and re-lubing your bike. Then stripping linkages and regreasing bearings. Before you know it, you’re saying things like “nah, I can’t be bothered to wash my bike for such a short ride”. Ever heard a mate say that? Yep, us too!
One solution is just to crack on and embrace the garage time. We all love bikes, let’s spend more time tinkering with them, right?
The other solution is a cheap, tough, winter-friendly bike that you can wash quickly and doesn’t need much maintenance. Perhaps, a hardtail?
How about a hardtail?
You might have a weekly night-ride that doesn’t need loads of travel or the slackest angles. You might do a few rides a month on surfaced trails, rather than natural stuff. You might also spend a bit more time at the skate park, pump track or BMX track through the winter. Yep, all perfect for a hardtail.
We’re not going to suggest you spend a fortune. It’s about making the best bike you can for the least money and then piecing the rest together from the garage, the bargain bin or scrounging from your mates.
You need something that’s got good enough geometry and kit that you can ride confidently in crap conditions but that isn’t so fancy you mind getting it beaten up. It needs to be affordable without making you a worse rider, right?
We’ve set our upper limit at £500 – a decent amount of cash to spend but not outside of most people’s limits, with a bit of saving.
Here’s our pick of hardtail frames for less than £500:
Dartmoor Primal 27.5 £245
We reviewed the Dartmoor Primal a few years back and had an absolute blast – racing it at a tonne of events and even throwing it down some UK uplifts with no trouble at all. Our 17 stone test pilot did his best to kill it and it just kept giving.
Since then, the bike has had a few updates to make it a bit lower, a bit stiffer and now come with a hydroformed design.
The Primal takes 27.5″ wheels, a 130-160mm fork and will run up to a 180mm disc rotor. It has a 67d head angle and a 440mm reach on a large. The geo is one of the roomiest of the bunch we’re featuring but is also one of the steepest head angles …for the money it’s hard to grumble though.
At just £245 the Dartmoor Primal is one of the cheapest in this test and should create a really tough, winter proof bike for without hammering your wallet.
Ragley Piglet £339
The Ragley Piglet is one of the few steel frames that’s the right price to fit in this list. It’s Ragley’s ‘trail’ hardtail – designed around a slightly shorter travel fork.
For just £450 (but actually much cheaper online) you’ll get a tough and light-enough 410 cromo frame that’s designed for a 130mm fork. With a bit of changing of headset cups you can also run a 120mm or 140mm fork. The Piglet also takes 27.5″ wheels with room for 27+ and takes an internal dropper and can run a 1X or a front mech. Oh, and it has a lifetime crash replacement.
The geometry on the Piglet is really decent and a 65.5d head angle should offer plenty of confidence on the trails, with a decently roomy reach of 450mm on a large.
The Ragley Piglet is £450 but is available for loads less online. CRC are currently selling frames for £339 here.
Ragley Marley £250
The cheapest of the bunch at just £250 (cheaper online) and absolutely ideal if the geometry suits you and you want a decent frame on a tight budget.
The Ragley Marley is built around 27.5″ wheels with up to 2.4″ tires and a fork up to 140mm. It’s made of 6061 alloy, exactly the same as most others in this list, and comes with a lifetime crash replacement.
The numbers on the Marley aren’t anything ground breaking. The 65.5d head angle is great on paper but the modest 412mm reach on a large might feel a bit cramped for some riders that are used to longer, more up to date bikes …particularly when you’re out of the saddle and charging down a hill.
Nukeproof Scout £267
A fun to ride alloy frame that our race team spend loads of time on.
The Scout is an alloy T6 6061 frame and there are 27.5″ and 29″ wheeled versions to suit your style. The Scout 27.5″ version isn’t the slackest frame on test here, but is perfectly decent enough for most singletrack riding with a 66d head angle and a comfortable reach. The Scout is designed to run up to a 140mm fork.
Nukeproof have just released the 2018 Scout frame, with a bit of a redesign to be longer and slacker, but there’s no sign of frame sets just yet. The good news is that there’s plenty of 2017 frames around and on sale.
The 2017 Nukeproof Scout is currently on sale at CRC for a very reasonable £267.
NS Bikes Eccentric £200 – £440
Nah, don’t worry, the name doesn’t mean it has an eccentric bottom bracket. The name tenuously implies that NS are giving you loads of options of wheel size.
There’s actually three versions of this frame – the NS Bikes Eccentric Alloy Evo, the Eccentric Djambo Evo and the Eccentric Cromo 29″. All versions are designed to run 130 – 150mm forks and look to have some really nice angles, including a slack 65d head angle on all frames.
The Eccentric Cromo 29″ is the steel version and is the highest priced around £450 – £490 and is, they claim, one of the very best hardtail frames around. That one is for 27+ and 29″.
The Alloy Evo is the lower cost, less posh alloy version of the cromo 29. That one takes 27.5″ wheels only and is £289.
Last, but not least, the Djambo Evo is designed around 27+ or 29″ wheels and costs up to £275.
Bird Zero AM and Bird Zero TR £375 – £425
Swinley born Bird swooped in from nowhere a few years back and impressed us with some really well priced, well built frames. The Bird Zero AM is designed, Bird say, for “brutal” riding and the numbers don’t disagree …65.4d head angle, 450mm reach on a large, designed for a fork that’s up to 160mm.
At £425 the Bird Zero AM is at the top end of the budget … but looks like a great choice if you’re looking to build a longer travel bike.
If you’re budget is a bit lower and fork a bit shorter, the Bird Zero TR is just £375. The TR is slightly steeper and made for a slightly shorter travel fork but is a bike we’ve had loads of success with a Mini Downhill races, piloted by Team Mechanic Dru.
Commencal Meta HT AM 2017 £210
Coming in well below our budget, the Commencal Meta HT AM 2017 is just €299 – about £265 at the moment.
Currently on sale, the frame is triple butted alloy 6061 and fits 27.5″ wheels with room for a 185mm rotor. It has a decently slack 65.5d head angle though is one of shorter frames on test with a modest 412mm reach on a large (440mm on an XL, with a 520mm seat tube length).
There’s frames with more up-to-date numbers but if you’re not fussed about a big, long bike the Commencal is a great price.
Orange Bikes Crush 2017 £470
The aluminium-built Orange Crush has had a redesign for 2017 and is now a bit slacker with a 65d head angle and is one of the roomier frames of the bunch, with a 450mm reach on a large. There’s the less aggro Orange Clockwork for a similar price … but we’d recommend you stick with this.
The Crush is Orange’s proper hardcore hardtail and is one of our favourite alloy frames right now. It’s designed to take up to a 150mm travel fork and around 27.5″ wheels with a 2.4″ tire. It’s a frame that is great fun on steep, aggressive terrain … but that doesn’t have extreme, takes-a-bit-of-getting-used-to angles.
The Orange Crush is priced at £470 and doesn’t seem to be available much cheaper online.
The Orange Bikes website can find you your nearest dealer and Sunset Cycles look like they have stock with free UK delivery.
Pipedream Sirius 4G £499
At the very top of our budget at £499, the Pipedream Sirius features some of the most progressive, modern geometry of the bunch and is one of the few here that’s made of steel.
The slack and roomy Sirius has a 65.5d head angle with a 140mm fork and a 439mm reach on a large, it also has a low 64mm bottom bracket drop and can take 27.5″, 27+ or 29″ wheels with tyres up to 2.8″.
We had a blast riding and filming on this bike – and you can read the full review here. If you’ve got a bigger budget and you want the beardy pedigree of steel, you can’t go far wrong with the Pipedream.
The Pipedream Sirius 4G is available on Pipedream’s website here.
DMR Trailstar £439
Last but not least, another one that retails at a quid less than our £500 budget …and another steel build.
The DMR Trailstar got a make over back in 2016 to transform the classic dirt jumper into a do-it-all, aggressive and modern trail razzer. We tested the bike last year and despite the swoopy top tube splitting opinions like Marmite we found that it was fun, tough, easy to chuck around and had loads of tire clearance for muddy conditions. The matte black anodized version is really winter friendly and will still look smart after a winter of ‘orrible weather.
The Trailstar takes 27.5″ and 27″ tyres (up to 2.8″) and is built for 140/150mm forks out of 4130 cromo steel. It’s not the lightest frame at 2.8kgs but it feels solid on the trail and did a great job on big, muddy days out in the hills.
You can read our review here … and you can buy a DMR Trailstar frame for £439 here on ProBikeKit.
If you’ve built up a hardtail, we’d love to see it.
Tag us on Instagram with #wideopenmag and show us your winter whip!