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Sea Otter Classic: Budget Product Picks

Our favorite bits that won't break the bank

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Haro Shift R9 

It’s easy to forget how big a role Haro played in mountain biking’s early growth period. Their three-tone paint fades and uniquely shaped frames helped define a crucial era in bike design, but much of the past couple decades have been rocky for the storied BMX name. Recently, though, Haro has reestablished themselves as a value-focused brand that doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel to make good bikes with thoughtful spec and smart geometry.

On display here at the  Sea Otter Classic was the Shift R9 27.5, with an enduro-ready 160-millimeter-travel frame and a burly 170mm RockShox Yari fork. The Shift R9 runs on an SLX cassette and shifter with XT derailleur, and it stops on four-piston Shimano MT520 brakes. For $3,300, you get a bike-park-ready shreddin’ machine that’s ready to grow with you as you upgrade, though the only important swap to make right away is probably a move to a longer dropper post. Though the standover isn’t as low as some bikes, the frame’s seat tube isn’t interrupted or bent like on many full-suspension frames, so you can fit as long a dropper post as will allow your feet to reach the pedals.

The frame’s geometry is surprisingly progressive for what some might dare to call a “budget” bike. Bikes in this price range are often holdover models with some outdated numbers, but not the Shift range. The reach on the R9 is a generous 475mm for a large, and the seat tube angle is a nice, efficient 76.6 degrees. But it’s clearly not meant to be a numb, unwieldy barge, as evidenced by the moderate 65-degree head angle, the nimble 435mm chainstays and, of course, the agility-focused 27.5-inch wheels.

For riders looking for a less gravity-focused package, the Shift R7 drops its travel to 140mm in the rear and 150 up front and swaps to 29-inch wheels. But the geometry is just as modern, and thanks to some careful down-speccing of components, it comes in at an even more impressive $2,300.

Muc-Off Inflator Kit 

Muc-Off began as a cleaner and lubricant manufacturer, and has become a full-service bike-care brand. Their booth was positively buzzing with people buying pressure-washers, tubeless accessories and, of course, cleaners and lubricants. But one highlight was this unassuming little CO2 inflator. There are a lot of ways to release this life-giving gas into your tires, but not all of them are intuitive. Some require twisting and un-twisting of the cartridge, some are “automatic” and open up when they are pushed onto the valve. But very few have an active trigger. But the Muc-Off Inflator Kit does. It’s available in a road or MTB kit, including either 16g or 25g cartridges but the same threaded inflator head. Opposite the nozzle is a robust little button that allows you to start and stop the flow of gas quickly and easily. And that head is almost entirely aluminum, and feels like a truly premium piece of kit. But surprisingly, it’s only $35 with the oversized 25g cartridges.

Canyon Stoic

Some people choose to ride hardtails because, if you pay enough, they can be incredibly lightweight, efficient and fast as long as the trails aren’t too rowdy. And then there are normal people. Riders who choose hardtails because they’re simple, affordable and actually kinda fun. The Canyon Stoic is for those of us in the latter category. The Stoic is built around a 140mm fork, which is significantly leggier than what you’d see on a run-of-the-mill hardtail. And the frame’s geometry is equally poised for rougher terrain, with a slacker-than-normal, less touchy head tube angle measuring 65 degrees and a roomy cockpit at 480mm on a large. But it’s not all business. The rear end is remarkably short, suggesting that the Stoic, despite its name, is meant to have a little fun sometimes. The 428mm chainstays make it easier to get the front wheel off the ground or slide the rear end loose if the mood strikes you. And that gets even shorter in the smaller sizes because on the small Stoic (as well as the rarely seen XS and XXS) the frame changes from 29-inch wheels to 27.5, giving all riders a more proportionate feel. And speaking of all riders, the Stoic’s price is pretty impressive. There are only two levels, but both are smartly specced.

The $2,000 Stoic 4 pictured here prioritizes quality in parts you don’t want to have to upgrade like suspension, dropper post and brakes while using a drivetrain and wheelset that will get you by until it’s time to go higher-end. But the Stoic 2, at $1,200, is a way to get you in at the ground floor but still have a great time there. It’s not cheap by any means, but the 10-speed drivetrain doesn’t offer quite as wide a range as todays 12-speed offerings, and you’ll need to supply your own dropper seatpost (and in our opinion, yes, you will NEED to), but it’s a great way to get a premium hardtail experience at a pretty reasonable price. Canyon bikes are sold consumer-direct, which helps add value, but you’ll be doing some of the assembly yourself.

KS e20i Dropper
KS e20i

Speaking of dropper posts, KS was one of the first players in that now highly competitive game. So, it would only follow that they would be one of the first to offer a truly affordable option. It’s missing a few of the fancier features like adjustable air pressure or a long, 200mm-drop option, but according to one fellow festival goer who was also visiting the KS booth with me, it’s got an excellent reputation for longevity. She’s had hers for a problem-free four years, and that’s for the low low price of $140, including the post, cable, but no remote lever, which you may already have or may prefer in one specific style.

The value in affordable dropper posts is beyond just for those replacing an existing post or building their bike from scratch. So often, bikes may come with a post that doesn’t offer the optimal amount of drop. The Haro Shift series is a great example, since it can probably fit a longer post than the stock 125mm or 150mm version. But in that case, you may be able to get the shop to swap it out for you. If you get a consumer-direct bike like the Canyon Stoic above, though, that’s not an option. So, instead of coping without the dropper you want, or dropping $300 on a boutique brand, you can get a 125, 150 or 175mm e20i for about half the price.

TRP Slate EVO brakes

TRP has proven themselves as a viable player in the high end, despite being born from Tektro, who is better known for outfitting entry-level bikes. Their products are based on simplicity and reliability, and all tend to have a solid, gravity-ready feel. If you’re familiar with the two most popularly specced brakes, SRAM and Shimano, TRP brakes offer something closer to the firm, never-spongy experience of SRAM, but with a little more early-onset power. If that sounds kinda nerdy, welcome to the way people are talking about brakes these days. Some riders find that Shimano brakes bite a little too early, and others think SRAM takes a little too much force.

On top of being the Goldi Locks solution for those who want something in the middle, TRP’s new EVO line also runs on thick, 2.3mm-thick rotors, which tend to be quieter than the traditional 1.8mm thickness. They’re also harder to bend and don’t wear out as quick. But until recently, they were only available on TRP’s top-shelf DH-R EVO and Trail EVO lines, which go for as much as $260 a wheel. But the new Slate EVOs are a more affordable trail-oriented option that you can get for just $140 per wheel, plus rotors and mounting adaptors. If you’re building something from scratch, or just find that your stock brakes are a little underpowered, the Slate EVOs are a way to get something with a more off-the-beaten-path boutique, vibe without paying boutique prices.

Photos: Ryan Palmer