I can put down the wrench any time I want to, honest!
Who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth? This Karate Monkey was an absolute steal at the price I got it for this time last fall. Now, after a year of riding it without much upgrading (other than my drivetrain shenanigans), I am starting to put the time into “customizing” the layout for my riding style.
I wouldn’t be in a position to make any changes if I hadn’t taken the time to get to know the bike. There are very few people on this earth with proportions odd enough to ‘need’ a custom frame, so for the rest of the uniform population like myself, it comes down to dialing in seatpost, stem, handlebars, and frame size. I got lucky, since the frame (a 20-inch) is just fine for me, but if I were buying new, I’d be buying an 18-inch. That’s just what my short torso and praying mantis legs desire.
So, how can I take this stretched-out trail bike and turn it into my ideal Mad Max-style bikepacking machine?
Well, a little upgrading never hurt anyone…
Here’s the bike in it’s current incarnation. The Sram X9 components, good wheels, and a time-tested frame were an opportunity for me to stretch my mountain biking legs, and I have done so with enthusiasm.
The first thing to go are the wheels. Don’t get me wrong- they’re rock solid. At first, I thought the Sun Ringle Rhynolites and 36 spoke hubs were way overkill for my purposes, but I’ve come to appreciate the no-hassle durability and relatively light weight (as light as wheels of this caliber can be, anyways).
Still, I’ve been bitten by the Tubeless bug, so I am building up a new wheelset. My upcoming hub choice is decidedly unexciting, since it’s the only hub I’ve used in five wheelsets.
In my opinion, the Shimano XT Disc Hub is the King of Boring Hubs.
It never breaks or cracks, never seizes up, never freezes, and never has a problem with points of engagement, or POE. It only needs repacking once a year or so, it doesn’t develop play over time, it has widely available bearings, and it uses basic 135/100mm spacing and quick releases. There is no excitement, no flashy new tech, no innovation, and no bling factor. They’re not particularly light, nor particularly stiff, but boy do they last. These are the Toyota Hilux of hubs.
For rims, I’m going with a similarly utilitarian choice; the new Easton ARC 30. These are tubeless compatible, light, durable, and best of all, cheap. I can slam the shit out of them and not lose sleep over occasional rock hits, snakebite flats, and dents along the seat. They beat out any other carbon options for me, since I don’t have to baby them.
Finally, I’m going with new contact points. A Jones H-Bar upgrade, Salsa stem, and a Thomson Elite Seatpost round out the bike’s makeover, and should put me slightly more upright to account for the long reach of the Karate Monkey’s frame.
After trying desperately to make several pairs of cheap pedals work for me, I forked over the cash for some nicer ones. I went with the VP Harrier Flat Pedal because they’re the least expensive cadillac in the garage. They’re still nice, still rebuildable with replaceable pins and a great, flat surface that plays nice with my sore feet, so I don’t anticipate any regret, other than my busted shin from our first date.
There are a couple of components you couldn’t pay me to replace; the Sram X9 GXP Crankset is just awesome. I’ve had no problems with the GXP bottom bracket, and the replaceable spider has introduced so many options for drivetrain configurations. It’s been light, stiff, and indestructible. My SRAM X9 Front Derailleur is still working excellently, so that stays. My brake levers are unexciting, so I might get around to swapping them, but I’m undecided.
As the shadows start lengthening earlier and earlier, I’m lucky the temperature around here is still so agreeable. I took the bike out for a spin today at Earl’s Trails, climbing a few miles into the woods before rocketing back down as fast as I dared on the leaf-covered trails. It feels like a last ride, of sorts. My whippy trail bike configuration is at the end of its life, and a new purpose-built mountain bike is set to emerge from the cocoon of my local shop sometime before the snow hits. Whether I’ll end up rebuilding from the frame up is yet to be decided…