10 Top Budget Bikes: Tested, Reviewed & Rated!

Page 10/12 > Our choice of the top race-ready bikes under 13k. Words: Oli Munnik | Photography: Nick Muzik

Intro/Testers | Merida Big Nine 500 | Giant Talon 27.5 1 | GT Zaskar 9R Sport | Silverback Sola 2 | Momsen AL429 29er | Titan 29R Elite | KTM Ultra Sport | Specialized Rockhopper Comp | Trek X-Caliber 8 | Avalanche Envi 29 MTB Tandem | Final Verdict

Bike review: Trek X-Caliber 8

Trek X-Caliber 8

Best Ride

Although Bianchi were the first to offer 29-inch-wheeled mountain bikes, Trek – under the guidance of Gary Fischer – is widely considered to be the pioneering brand that truly catapulted 29ers into the mass market. The X-Caliber hardtail range is descended from over 15 years of 29er R&D, in which Trek have been refining their big-wheeled mountain bikes to offer handling to suit the bigger wheels. Trek’s answer to those who complain that 29ers are sluggish in tight sections or at low speeds is G2 geometry, featuring a custom-offset fork and advanced frame geometry.

The X-Caliber 8 instantly stood out from the rest of the test fleet with its simple-but-strong blue frame colour. The handlebar, stem, seatpost, saddle and wheels are all made by Bontrager, Trek’s reliable in-house componentry brand. The tyres, also by Bontrager, were high-volume, and impressed us with a comfortable ride and good grip. The rest of the spec, comprising 9-speed SRAM X7 and X5 components, was slightly less exciting when compared to the
other bikes.

Despite the slightly lower spec, after testing it at both high and low speeds we found that the X-Caliber 8, which features Trek’s G2 custom-offset fork, handled superbly; offering a predictable yet lively and engaging ride in every instance, no matter how hard we pushed it. We found that the X-Caliber 8 was the best performer in terms of ‘out-the-box’ handling and ride experience. Another plus is that it’s the cheapest of the test bikes; so if you can stretch budget, think about trading up to the X-Caliber 9.

WHEELS: 3.5/5
FORK: RockShox XC32, coil spring, 100mm
WHEELSET: Bontrager AT-850 double-walled rims laced to Shimano RM66
TYRES: Bontrager XR1 29”x2.2” front and 29”x2.0” rear, folding bead
WEIGHT: 14,1 kg
*R10 999

[*This article was first published in the April 2014 issue of Bicycling Magazine. Prices are subject to change. All prices were correct at the time of going to print]


15 Responses to 10 Top Budget Bikes: Tested, Reviewed & Rated!

  1. Francois Esterhuizen May 22, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

    Hi guys.

    Well done on a great article. Very good reading.

    Two things I really liked:
    1. A proudly South African brand winning the overall shootout. Go MOMSEN!!!!
    2. Well done on featuring the ENVI 29er tandem. Tandems are a wonderfull way of sharing your passion for cycling with the rest of the family.


  2. kobus oosthuizen May 22, 2014 at 3:43 pm #

    It says at the top – “Our choice of the top race-ready bikes”

    Not all of mountainbiking is about racing. People who take up mountainbiking and are new to the sport are misled to believe that next to buying a bike, the logical next thing to do is to race.
    This has given rise to people buying the wrong bikes for their needs, and soon the bike is standing in the corner of a garage with two flat tires.

    It’s truly sad that mountainbiking in SA is fuelled by what people are fed on TV and by magazines, and that the sport is about, and ONLY about Stage Racing and Marathons. Trailriding is banished to the sidelines as a “fringe activity”, when really that is what it should be about – about hitting the trails with friends.

    It’s not a race.

    Dont believe me? Look at the panel of testers at the bottom of the review, you can tell that all but one are marathon racers.

    • Ian May 23, 2014 at 2:25 pm #

      Kobus, I suppose many people would agree with you but by nature we humans are competitive. Its great to be able to measure your progress by improved times/positions in the classic races. The lighter and faster your bikes is, the more of an advantage you have. No, we don’t need fast, racy bikes, but they are nice to have. We don’t need BMW’s & Audi’s, but they are nice to have too.

    • Teresa June 20, 2014 at 11:51 am #

      I agree!

  3. Jaco Mey May 22, 2014 at 4:08 pm #

    Incorrect info on the Merida. Comes with Rockshok 30

  4. Riaan May 29, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

    Ek het so pas vir my n Silverback Solo 2 gekoop en is baie gelukkig het voorheen a 26 Mtb gery met 8 spoed die verskil tussen die twee is hemel op aarde

  5. Karen June 17, 2014 at 4:14 pm #

    Sola2… boyfriend’s first ride and a MTB’king “newbie”, in Tokai… ended up pushing the bike back to the car due to 2 buckled rims! :(

    • Ian D June 19, 2014 at 8:41 pm #

      That Tokai ride must have been seriously wild … if you try hard enough, anything will break.

      I have seen both a Ghost and a Giant with buckled rims but that is because some XC bikes get ridden as if they are downhill tractors!

      My Sola 2 is still going strong after 400km (mostly offroad) and looks set to do many more km than that.

    • Ettienne August 20, 2014 at 9:17 pm #

      Hi Karen,

      Funny, i buckled both rims of my Sola on an average ride as well. Cost me a few SAR to repair. Until now i really did think that it was my fault.

      Silverback should investigate this if possible!

      PS. I do think that its a beautiful bike. It is my 3rd Silverback.

      Regards, Ettienne

  6. doulin cosby July 15, 2014 at 3:01 pm #

    Absolutely enjoying my Trek x caliber, only been riding for two months after moving from quad racing,decided why not enter a race because believe that’s only way to really not only push urself but bike aswell and to my surprise I got a first place, I’m not really riding fit so I’ll give the win to my Trek x caliber

  7. deego July 21, 2014 at 10:20 am #

    merida big 9 500…love it

  8. Ray November 2, 2014 at 11:32 pm #

    I like my 2014 Silverback Sola 3. Am enjoying it and all works well. Re the buckled rims- funny, last month I buckled the front rim on my mtb while coming down a tame drop-off. Silverback.. rims? Hmm. Was fixed free as the bike had its 3 month service thank goodness. Never happened on my old Specialized 26, upon which I had a few lively wipeouts.

  9. Kate November 17, 2014 at 9:00 pm #

    I went to a bike shop to see if I could have a look at the momsen, they sourced the AL429 at R18000. Anyone know where I could get one for R13000?

  10. Beend June 20, 2015 at 9:55 pm #

    I love my Merida big nine 500, what a great ride and no problems todate!

    • Billy October 26, 2015 at 2:54 pm #

      I am in the market for a MTB with dual suspension. It is less about the sport and more about getting out of the house and ride with friends.

      I test rode Pyga 29er, BMC SF03, Specialised Comp Camber 29er. They seem to be all in the R40K plus region. I am not an expect when it comes to the “components” so any help will be appreciated for my kind of riding requirement. Budget R30 000

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