Ask Pinkbike: Upgrade an Entry-Level Bike, Zee for XC, Bracing for Autumn's Chill

Sep 16, 2014
by Pinkbike Staff  
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Here at Pinkbike we get inundated with all kinds of questions, ranging from the basic "Can I have stickers" to more in-depth, soul searching types of queries like if you should pop the question or what to name your first child. Ask Pinkbike is an occasional column where we'll be hand picking and answering questions that have been keeping readers up at night, although we'll likely steer clear of those last two and keep it more tech oriented.



Budget Upgrades

Question: Pinkbike user Nythe asked this question in the Downhill Forum: Hey Guys. I have a Giant Boulder 3 and just recently started to go to a few downhill and cross-country tracks with a mate. I've seen a few threads where people were saying that you can modify a hardtail to make it better for downhilling, and I was wondering if anything can be done with my bike. I don't have enough for a proper downhill bike and I won't for a very long time, but I was wondering if there are a few things I could change that might only add up to a few hundred dollars but would still make a difference.


bigquotesIt sounds like you're well aware that while the Boulder 3 is a fine bike for getting around on and some light duty riding, it isn't the ideal machine for proper mountain biking. The 2013 version has an 80mm travel fork, a 3x8 drivetrain, and a pretty basic build kit all around, all hung off of an aluminum frame. And while I don't doubt the frame's strength when it comes to some average mountain biking (don't go sending it over road gaps and super booters, though), it's that build kit - the steel handlebar and long stem, everything to do with the wheels, and the crankset with its old-style square taper bottom bracket - that has me worried. You should be able to sort a few things out, though, and I'd start with the bike's stem and handlebar as it will both allow you to get into a better position on the bike and make it safer to ride hard: replace the stem with something in the 50 - 70mm length range, and the wimpy steel handlebar with a nicer aluminum model that's at least 740mm wide, two items that can be had for not much money if you look around. The shorter stem and wider bar will give you a ton more confidence on the bike, which means you'll end up going faster, so pick up some higher volume tires while you're at it, but make sure that you have the clearance on the frame and fork to fit them. The stock fork might have just 80mm of travel, but it's the steel stanchion tubes and light duty construction that concern me more. Have a look on the Pinkbike Buy and Sell for a used single crown fork with 120mm of travel or less (a longer fork is going to put more stress on your frame), something that you should be able to find for around $200 USD, especially if it has a quick release axle that you'll need to fit your stock front wheel on it. You might have to invest $300 or so, and it still won't be a bike that you'll want to do any real jumps and drops aboard, but those changes will make a big difference when it comes to just general mountain biking. - Mike Levy

Giant Boulder 3

Giant's Boulder 3 looks like a great bike for getting around on, but it's not made for any sort of aggressive riding. That said, a few changes will make it much more enjoyable on some relatively tame singletrack.




Shimano Zee for XC?

Question: Piman asks in the All-Mountain, Enduro & Cross-Country forum: I am putting together a one-by drivetrain on my hardtail XC rig and I can only get the discount through the shop that I work at on a Shimano Zee rear mech. Obviously, there is no chain growth to worry about, and I plan on running an 11 x 36-tooth cassette, which is what the freeride version of Zee is rated for. So, can I get the right shifting performance on an XC bike with a short cage derailleur? If it means anything, I am going to run a 32-tooth chainring.

bigquotes You are in luck. The freeride (FR) version of the Shimano Zee short-cage rear derailleur is designed to follow the steeper angle of the wide-ratio 11 by 36-tooth, ten-speed cassette, and its cage can take up a difference of 25 teeth - which happens to be 36 minus 11. The Zee parallelogram is basically the same as Shimano's XC models and the newer ones have the Shadow-Plus clutch, so it should be perfect for the task. Your 32-tooth chainring is not a problem. You are using a one-by drivetrain, so it makes no difference how large or small the chainring is, because the cassette determines the derailleur's chain take-up capacity. BTW: the DH version of the Zee derailleur is designed to trace the more obtuse angle of an 11 by 21, or an 11 by 28 cassette, but it shares the same 25-tooth chain take-up capacity. That means you could also make the DH mech' work in a pinch, by turning in the B-tension screw until the upper pulley clears the 36-tooth cog. Make sure that you use a narrow-wide chainring. - RC

The setup w 11-36t cassette.

Shimano's Zee short-cage rear derailleur was intended for gravity riders, but the freeride model can handle an 11 by 36 tooth cassette and, at only 268 grams, it is an excellent candidate for one-by-ten XC/trailbike drivetrains.





Dressing for Fall Rides

Question: PB user trzalica asked the following in the All-Mountain, Enduro & Cross-Country forum: Has anybody else tried wearing a long sleeve windstopper base layer (like Gore) under a short sleeve cycling jersey when temps are between 5°-15° Celsius? I'm considering this as an alternative to a long sleeve jacket or jersey on long climbs where it can get really hot And are some shorts enough for autumn? I guess that I will need leg warmers? What do you wear in autumn? I don't need something for rain because I won't be riding in it (I hope).


bigquotesAutumn rides are always a little bittersweet, since the grey and dreary winter months are just around the corner, but the riding conditions are often the best of the year. Golden light mixed with tacky trails and colorful leaves creates a recipe for amazing days on the bike. Dressing appropriately can be tricky though, since it's not uncommon to roll out of the house on a frosty morning only to find yourself sweating under a blazing sun just a couple of hours later, wondering what made you think wearing a wool sweater was a good idea. Layering is the key here, and you'll want to choose clothing that you can easily put on and take off without too much hassle. Your idea of wearing some type of windproof layer is a good one, but I wouldn't put a short sleeve jersey over it. Do it the other way - short sleeve jersey, and then the windproof layer on top. That way if you start boiling on a long climb it's easier to take off the layer that's causing you to overheat, and just as easy to put it on again before a descent. In the summer time you can get away with wearing cotton layers, but as the temperatures drop you'll want to go with synthetic or wool options to keep that sweat moving away from your skin.

Shorts are usually just fine for riding in the fall - toss on a pair of knee warmers underneath and you should be good for most of those chilly rides. Leg warmers are an option as well, but it depends how much warmth you're looking for - I find them to be too warm for most fall riding. Everyone's internal thermostat is a little different, so it might take a couple of rides before you figure out what works best, but once you do you'll be set for years to come. And don't rule out riding in the rain either - with a little extra preparation, including a water-resistant or waterproof jacket and the addition of a fender of some sort to your bike, you'll be able to extend the riding season even further.
- Mike Kazimer

n a

Knee warmers or a set of low profile knee pads are a good addition for those cooler fall rides.




Have some unresolved tech questions? Jump in the Pinkbike Forum and we'll look to answer it for next time.


68 Comments

  • 28 0
 For #1, pretty sure the fork spec'd on that is a Suntour XCT, in which case you can use the Customer Loyalty upgrade program (www.srsuntourna.com/2014/01/10/480) to get a brand new Raidon for under $200. The Raidon is a really solid fork and gets reviewed really well on budget (but def trailworthy) bikes. I'd put it on par with maybe a Recon Gold TK Air, maybe.
  • 3 0
 Also for #1. make sure your cables and housings are long enough for the new handle bars, especially if you have hydraulic brakes. I made that mistake. Had to redo all of the cables and housing to accommodate for longer reach as they would tighten when I turned all the way. Somebody before me was a little too precise on the cable lengths...
  • 20 0
 Zee is brilliant shifting, cheap and durable, use it for everything.
  • 6 0
 totally agree, all my geared bikes run Zee
  • 2 2
 so do mine in one form or another, crankset and shifter on my Specialized, Crankset, Shifter and Mech on my brother's GT. Noticed such a difference going from 2013 SLX to Zee Shifters! and the cranks too, never really noticed flex in the SLX ones until I bought a set of Zee's, boy are the Zee's stiff. will also buy a Zee mech when the jockey wheels wear on my SLX.
  • 4 1
 pretty sure zee cranks are just slx but with a different logo.....
  • 3 0
 " the Zee crank is a Deore crank with a steel axle, pedal inserts and blanked off granny ring bolts."

Fail to see how they are stiffer than slx...........
  • 2 0
 zee crank is just like shimano hone i think
  • 1 0
 run a zee railer it is awesome! You definitly have to be careful on a suspension frame with an 11-36. On my bronson (vpp has some chain growth) the chain would most certainly blow up/lock out if I was in the 36 cog and hit something hard enough. Than in the 11 the b tension has to be in just the right spot to take up the slack and still shift well.
  • 1 1
 I run a Zee rear derailleur with a Saint shifter on my XC hardtail. If it's made to handle DH, then it's going to excell at XC (weight not included of course - but that doesn't matter when you're my size haha).
  • 1 0
 Only thing I don't rate in the SLX range are the shifters, especially since the lower covers fall off! Everything else is close enough to XT it doesn't matter. I've got SLX, XT and Zee cranks on my different bikes and can't detect any difference in stiffness. That being said, I've broken the clutch cam on my SLX rear mech, not hard or pricey to fix, but will probably give Zee a crack to see if it's better, although it may just have the same internals anyway...
  • 2 0
 I've seen zee hooked up to a one-up 42 tooth cassette
  • 6 0
 If you're stuck with the Boulder for long, do as the article advises and upgrade to a short stem and wide bar. Fit the biggest tyres your frame and fork allows, and possibly a get a pair of quality flat pedals. That's a good time to stop throwing money at it. If you do find cash for a semi-decent fork, better save it towards a new bike later. The previous upgrades will improve your bike's handling a lot, but it will never be a proper DH or even AM bike. Use it to sharpen your skills and then get a bike designed for the intended use
  • 2 0
 I tried a 1x setup with an FR Zee on my Devinci Dixon. I could cut the chain the shortest it could be without interfering with bottom out at full travel, but then it was slack in the 11t. I would compensate by increasing b-tension, but it was never enough, and would skip under power in the 11t. Medium cage seems a lot more idiot proof. Any idea what I was doing wrong?
  • 1 0
 I had the same problem I think that with a short cage on a full suspension you need a smaller range cassette The 11 to 36 range assumes no travel. And then I snapped that derailleur
  • 1 0
 the zee comes in two different b-links, dh and freeride, if you have the dh one, there will be too much slack in the lowest gear, as the b-link is shorter than with the freeride link.
  • 1 0
 nope, got the FR
  • 1 0
 Just jumping in to say I had the same problem, and I was trying to run a Zee FR with Hope 40T at the top, never tried on the standard 11-36. Too tight at the top and too slack at the bottom, just couldn't get it to work, and I'd call my mechanical skillz "advanced". Went back to mid-cage XT and everything is sweet.
  • 1 0
 "Make sure that you use a narrow-wide chainring." I'm buiding a Dartmoor hornet, and just wondering if I use a narrow wide 32t ring, Wich chain should I use? Is a standard XT chain compatible? Is a Kmc X10 SL compatible? Is the zee RD compatible with a bigger cog to make the cassette 11-42? How many links do my chain needs for a 1x10 32t 11-42 drivetrain steup?
  • 4 1
 Zee is only compatible with an 11-42 if you buy a medium cage and one up rad cage - instructions online. Any 10 speed chain will be compatible. any narrow wide cog will fit with any 10sp chain
  • 1 0
 Mine's the FR RD-M640 SSW 11-32/11-36t is it the one I need to fit one up rad cage?
  • 1 0
 if you want to run a 42 without rubbing then yes, otherwise, use an SLX or deore med. cage
  • 5 0
 Zee works well with a 40T cog, though...
  • 1 0
 I've already bought the zee rear derailleur then realised that a 1x10 11-36 setup will be hell to pedal the bike uphill. So definitely want to install that rad cage on it. Thank you for your help!
  • 2 0
 I've been rolling the Zee on 13-42 (XT cassette, drop the 11, add WolfTooth 42) all season and it works a treat. At first, I had the B screw all the way in, but I was able to back it off a little and still get decent shifting. No other mods, and the dérailleur and cassette were already a year old when I made the change. Not Dura-Ace crispness, but it works well for me. I'm on a Mojo HD if it makes any difference.
  • 1 0
 I've been on 12-36 with a Race Face narrow-wide 28t and the Zee FR rear mech for about a year. Been super psyched overall, it works fine. I can pretty much climb everything my XX1 friends do, depending on how hungover I am Sunday mornings sometimes I have to push.
  • 2 0
 Zee mech is fine for XC (I'm using it right now), but I'd go for the SLX if I did it over again. It's the same shift quality but gives you the option to run a oneup ring more easily/cheaply if you end up wanting to do that.
  • 3 0
 why are all the new clutch derailers breaking cable and is there a fix. my zee breaks one a week always in the same spot so did my x9 type2
  • 1 0
 I haven't heard of this happening. Where is it breaking?
  • 1 0
 Haven't broke one with my XTR setup
  • 2 0
 A cheapish nylon vest works wonders for fall riding. Won't get you too hot but it keeps your core warm and it's easy to toss in a pack or simply unzip when you're climbing.
  • 1 0
 ^^second that. Vests with arm warmers and a light ear-band is my fall go-to. I also bought a pair of Zoic Ether Quattro shorts that are very wind resistant.
  • 5 2
 That guy has a death wish if he wants to ride that Giant for any sort of DH shredding.
  • 8 0
 DH doesn't always look the same depending your age, location, level... Ask Thirion about his favourite track: you may not like it (I wouldn't!)(absolutely no offense!)
  • 9 5
 Screw your XC, and your 650B, I only ride park
  • 2 0
 Do any companies make a durable dh worthy water proof (not resistant) short? Sombrio used to and now they don't. Winter with a wet bum sucks.
  • 1 0
 Ghetto version......Cheap/Old Shorts with ductape layer on the inside !!
  • 2 0
 Mate i'm so on this!
  • 3 3
 In can say from my experience of riding XC/Trail on a very rough terrain using 3 different NW chainrings (ABlack, Works, RF) with various rear mechs, that with NW you don't really need clutch. I haven' dropped chain even once with short cage 9sp Saint, nor witch SLX and Zee when I forgot to engage the clutch and when not engaged the spring tension thus chances to drop chain is higher than with regular, no-clutch mech.
  • 1 0
 Can the Zee be run with 2*/3* cranksets as well?
Would love to have a Shadow+ rear mech instead of my standard XT one day to reduce chain bounce and I´m stuck between SLX, XT, Zee (or even Deore?)
  • 1 0
 how about a saint rd with a 11x36? doesn't it have a switch to adjust? been thinking of going with either zee or saint rd with a saint shifter for my honzo
  • 1 0
 Yep, the Saint mech works well on a 11x36. Nice upgrade!
  • 3 0
 The Saint is a little heavier than the Zee because it's two derailleurs in one. The Saint has the ability to accept up to a 28T in one setting and 36T in another setting. In the case of the Zee, you have two choices; a DH version (up to 28T) and a FR version (up to 36T). For the money and weight savings, I went for a Saint M820-I shifter and the Zee FR rear derailleur and have zero complaints.
  • 1 0
 cool thanks guys
  • 1 1
 I'll take 5 years if straight fall or winter. Summers are pure hell, too hot here for the devil himself. So hot my family jewels turn to brimstones. Rain, please God let there be rain!
  • 1 0
 Any opinions on the Zee hubs? They seem to be a good (and cheap) alternative for the 'mixed riding' crowd.
  • 1 0
 I have the zee thru-axle rear hub and cracked a freehub body after 9 mo. Warrantied, no other problems, hope it doesn't crack again.
  • 1 0
 The above is a not uncommon story: they seem to be prone to cracking, either at the freehub or the hub shell. however, it depends on the type of riding you're doing: they seem be SLX hubs with a paint job, so if you're riding trail or AM type stuff, & aren't a clydesdale, you might be fine. DH, maybe not so much.

They are cup & cone style bearing, though: blargh.
  • 2 0
 Yeah pretty sure all the zee drivetrain stuff is SLX with different fit & finish details (or at least from what I've read/seen). And obviously the shorter RD cage... basically Zee is the short and mid-short version, and SLX is the mid-long and long version of the same mech.
  • 1 0
 There may be a bit more to it, as there are different calipers on the brakes, & there isn't a 150mm SLX hub, but essentially, it seems to be that way.
  • 2 0
 Since when did everything get so proper?
  • 1 4
 """Question: Piman asks in the All-Mountain, Enduro & Cross-Country forum: I am putting together a one-by drivetrain on my hardtail XC rig and I can only get the discount through the shop that I work at on a Shimano Zee rear mech. Obviously, there is no chain growth to worry about, and I plan on running an 11 x 36-tooth cassette, which is what the freeride version of Zee is rated for. So, can I get the right shifting performance on an XC bike with a short cage derailleur? If it means anything, I am going to run a 32-tooth chainring.

bigquotes You are in luck. The freeride (FR) version of the Shimano Zee short-cage rear derailleur is designed to follow the steeper angle of the wide-ratio 11 by 36-tooth, ten-speed cassette, and its cage can take up a difference of 25 teeth - which happens to be 36 minus 11. The Zee parallelogram is basically the same as Shimano's XC models and the newer ones have the Shadow-Plus clutch, so it should be perfect for the task. Your 32-tooth chainring is not a problem. You are using a one-by drivetrain, so it makes no difference how large or small the chainring is, because the cassette determines the derailleur's chain take-up capacity. BTW: the DH version of the Zee derailleur is designed to trace the more obtuse angle of an 11 by 21, or an 11 by 28 cassette, but it shares the same 25-tooth chain take-up capacity. That means you could also make the DH mech' work in a pinch, by turning in the B-tension screw until the upper pulley clears the 36-tooth cog. Make sure that you use a narrow-wide chainring. - RC"""

I've been running this setup on my 110mm Superfly and it's been working perfect. 11-36 in the rear. Zee short cage, 36 Raceface NW in the front. Zee 10 speed shifter. After finding the sweet spot on the B - Tension screw I never had an issue with dropping a chain. Shifting is great. I'm also using a Shimano 11 spd. chain.
  • 1 2
 Fox 36 float 2015 to dh?good choice?
  • 4 0
 i would go 36 van 26 180mm.
  • 5 0
 2018 fox 40 with double KASHIMAAAAA
  • 1 0
 I love my X-Fusion Metric. It's a little less than a Fox 36 for an incredible fork with quality to back it up

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