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Best XC Hardtail Up To $2000? Merida vs Trek vs Scott.


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What should a good $2000 Cross Country hardtail offer?

Are you looking for a fast and reliable XC mountain bike, having a sub $2000 budget?  Let's compare the features of three well known hardtails:


So here are the main features, that make the bike worths 2000 USD:

  1. solid, lightweight, stiff aluminium frame, with tapered head tube.
  2. suspension fork with an air spring - your MTB ride for $2000 will be a hardtail,
  3. reliable drivetrain, with wide gearing ratio: 2x11 or 1x12 (1x11 at the very least),
  4. strong, hydraulic disc brakes,
  5. preferably through axles front and rear + boost system,
  6. the whole bike weight without pedals  - 12 - 12,5 kg.

1. The frame.

If you expect your new sub $2000 machine to be a good Cross Country bike, then it should be build on an advanced, alloy frame. I say "advanced", meaning that it won't be a budget one. It should be made of the butted tubes, hydroformed and / or mechanically formed, so that it will provide a stiff platform for hard pedalling up the hills and cutting through the trails down the hill. A tapered head tube is one of the parts, that will enhance the stiffness. It means, that a lower headset bearing will be larger than the upper one and also the forks steering tube will be shaped accordingly. A common standard here is the diameter of  1 1/8" by 1.5".

All three bikes have got a tapered head tube and hydroformed tubes. All three frames are also front derailleur compatible. Merida Big Nine and Scott Scale 980 have the full internal cable routing and Trek X-Caliber has the rear brake housing routed externally. The Merida has an additional smart entry system, that allows you to clamp the housing under tension, which prevents the rattling.




2. The suspension fork.

A coil spring  on the fork is unacceptable here. For $2000 you should get a bike with a pretty light air fork. The air spring not only lowers the weight of the bike, but also allows for a precise SAG and firmness adjustment simply with a pump. The Big Nine comes with a Manitou Markhor fork, which is one of the best in this price. It weighs just about 1696 g, which is very light. A Cross Country fork must have a lockout and if it comes with a remote lever on the handlebars, that will be very helpful on the demanding XC tracks. Most of the pro riders will use the forks with 32 mm stanchions. Manitou Markhor comes with 30 mm stanchions, but it feels stiff enough for me, probably also because of its unique crown design. The Trek X-Caliber is equipped with the RockShox Judy Silver TK fork and the Scott Scale 980 has got the RockShox 30 Silver TK fork. So all three are the air forks, with 30 mm stanchions and remote lockout. Manitou is by far the lightest in this comparison.



3. The drivetrain.

What is important for you, as a Cross Country rider? The gearing ratio and of course the reliability. You need to be as fast, as possible on the climbs and the downhills, so your gearing ratio is more important on the XC bike, than on a trail, or even Enduro bike. The best options are: 1x12, 2x11 and 2x10 systems. Some racing hardtails still come with the 1x11 drivetrain, but 11 sprockets on the cassette with just one on the crankset may be too hard for long climbing. The Sram NX Eagle comes with one chainring at the front and 12 speed cassette (11-50T), which is quite optimal for Cross Country and actually 99% of the pro riders use this option. The Sram NX Eagle is the cheapest option for 1x12 drivetrain, as Shimano presented only their top XTR groupset as 12 speed. The Trek X-Caliber comes with 2x11, mixed drivetrain: Shimano XT rear derailleur, Shimano SLX front derailleur, Shimano SLX shifters and cassette (11-42T). The Scott Scale 980 and the Merida Big Nine ride on NX Eagle.



4. The brakes.

All of the sub $2000 bikes will offer the hydraulic disc brakes at this price point. The Merida comes with the 2-finger, Shimano MT-500 brakes, while the Trek X-Caliber has the Shimano MT-400 and Scott Scale the Shimano MT-201, 3-finger brakes. Of course, the MT-500 are closer to the ones, that pro riders use.



5. Through axles, boost system.

To make a long story short: the through axles and the boost system make the whole chassis stiffer. An amateur rider won't notice the difference, but it's definitely there. A stiffer frame will be more predictable, will transfer your power better to the ground and the boost system makes for a stiffer wheels and fork too. Here is, what our three bikes offer in these terms:

  • Merida Big Nine NX Edition - front through axle, rear through axle, boost fork, boost frame,
  • Scott Scale 980 - no through axles, boost frame,
  • Trek X-Caliber 9 - front through axle, boost frame, boost fork.



6. The weight.

The weight of XC hardtail, that goes up and down for 90 minutes, can be quite important. As it turns out, it can vary a lot, even for the bikes of a similar price. Here is the comparison of our three:

  • Merida Big Nine NX Edition - 11,87 kg,
  • Scott Scale 980 - 12,6 kg,
  • Trek X-Caliber 9 - 13,15 kg.

100 grams may not change much in the race, but over a kilogram is a huge difference! Merida wins here with the fork, probably with the wheels and frame too. Comparing the weight will always tell you, how much money and time the manufacturer invested in the bike. Do you see any other alloy hardtail, that could compete with Merida here?



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