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Value DH Project: Building The Best Downhill Bike For Your $$$

It’s time to get real. Great bikes don’t have to be expensive. Help us build one of the best values in downhill.

Value DH Project: Building The Best Downhill Bike For Your $$$

These days you’re more likely to see the latest and greatest $10,000 full carbon race bikes on websites and in magazines than you are the bikes that the average guy can afford. We’re guilty of it too, but we’ve listened to your cries for reviews and features on low cost components and bikes and we’re taking action.

Over the past few years we’ve started to see prices on the rise, at least at the high-end of the spectrum. In a time when anyone with a huge bankroll can purchase nearly identical components to what the best Pro athletes are riding, it’s easy to lose sight of reality. We’re all guilty of it, and there’s nothing wrong with lusting over the best in the business - we’re mountain bikers, we love good gear, and deep down most of us are bike geeks who dork out on millimeters, materials, and construction techniques. The fact of the matter is that not everyone can drop their life savings on a bike.

Here on Vital MTB, our 2013 Reader Survey results showed that the average cost of a bike in your garage is $3,642. That’s still a healthy number of piggybanks full of nickels and dimes, but it’s far from the expensive offerings that often get showcased. Lucky for us, there are several brands that understand where you’re coming from, that you may not want to spend $2,500 on a set of wheels, and that the bulk of riders aren’t rolling in cash with a Doctorate degree. Honestly, we think many low and mid-tier products are damn good, and often times the price hike for the best stuff is far from justifiable.

This is where you come into the picture. Our goal here is simple: we want your help in identifying the best value downhill products available. With your votes, we think that we can build a downhill bike that’s truly affordable yet still very capable, durable, and reasonably lightweight.

We’ve already chosen the frame, and over the next few weeks we'll be asking you to help us choose which high-value components to build the bike with. Then, with the money we saved, we'll hit the trails in Whistler to see how it rides. Just how good of a bike can you get for your hard earned money? That's exactly what we intend to find out!

Airborne’s Pathogen DH Frame

Value DH Project: Building The Best Downhill Bike For Your $$$

At just $1,599.95, the Airborne Pathogen is one of a few 8-inch travel downhill frames that rings up for less than $2,000. The 7,000 series hydroformed and double-butted aluminum frame comes with a headset, a highly adjustable X-Fusion Vector Coil HLR shock, and three shock springs to help you dial in your ride. Talk about impressive!

How are they able to bring the Pathogen to market at a price that’s $1,000 to $2,000 less than most frames in this category? Airborne says it’s simple:

“We’re a small group of guys who love to ride just as much as you. Airborne’s mission is to build bikes that are easier to afford without sacrificing quality. We sell direct to the consumer and don’t have the additional mark-up built in for distributors and/or shops. We also operate very lean and don’t make a large margin on what we sell.” -- Airborne Product Manager Jeremy Mudd and Marketing Manager Trevor Gay

Specs and Highlights

  • 8-inches (203mm) of rear travel
  • Modified single pivot suspension
  • 26-inch wheels
  • Tapered headtube
  • Replaceable 12x150mm dropouts
  • 83mm BSA style bottom bracket with ISCG05 tabs
  • IS rear brake mount
  • Standard size sealed bearings with dust caps
  • Internal cable routing for the rear derailleur through chainstay
  • 240x76mm shock with 22.2x8mm bushings
  • Claimed weight for a Medium frameset excluding shock: 9.5-pounds (4.3kg)
  • Measured weight for a Large frameset with shock and axle: 12.4-pounds (5.6kg)
  • Available in “Warning Yellow” or “Black Plague” colors
  • Includes FSA Orbit headset, X-Fusion Vector Coil HLR shock, 3 different spring rates, and 12x150mm Maxle
  • Price: $1599.95

From the headtube to the dropouts, the Pathogen is a clean and polished package. Attention to detail is apparent throughout, and it's clear they didn't cut any corners when you inspect the frame up close. While it may not be the lightest, it certainly looks stout in all the right places.

The bright yellow frame is sure to attract some attention. Graphically the bike looks pretty dang good, too, and we expect the final build will be a real looker.

The included X-Fusion Vector Coil HLR shock is the brand’s premier downhill shock, normally retailing for $549.99. It offers external rebound, high-speed compression, low-speed compression, reservoir pressure, bottom-out, and preload adjustments, allowing you to really fine tune the ride.

Geometry

On paper the Pathogen paints a promising picture. The 64-degree head tube angle says it’s a bike that can handle the steeps, while the 17.4-inch (442mm) chainstays encourage us to think that it’ll be a pretty quick handler. The 1.3-inch (34mm) bottom bracket rise puts the bike up a bit higher than we think is ideal for railing turns and staying planted, but it should give the bike a playful, poppy feel that’s well suited to park use while also improving crank/pedal/chainring clearance.

Sizing is interesting in that all the sizes have the same standover and seat tube heights, and the reach and top tube lengths increase across the range. The listed 15, 17, and 19-inch sizes are "effective," and more of a reference against other brands than a real measurement. All of them are low-slung and ready for any height rider, depending on preferences. Since we prefer a longer reach and a stable bike, we’ve opted for the Large 19-inch frame for our project. Standover for all three sizes is 28.5-inches (724mm) measured with a RockShox BoXXer fork (axle-to-crown height of 537mm) and 2.5-inch Maxxis Minion tires.

In Action

Multi-time 4X World Champ Caroline Buchanan is no stranger to the DH scene, and her input was considered during the two years of development and testing prior to production of the Pathogen. USA Pro Josh Patton and a host of Airborne employees also played a big role. Previously Airborne offered the single pivot Taka, and the move to the Pathogen’s modified single pivot design improved on a large number ride characteristics. We’re excited to see how things play out on the trail…

If you're jonesing for more frame details, cruise over to www.airbornebicycles.com and have a look around.

Current Project Cost

Together let’s build a bike that’s worthy of taming of the mountain without breaking the bank. Stay tuned for your chance to help choose the components over the coming weeks [UPDATE: VOTE NOW!]. Have some ideas already? Feel free to leave us your suggestions in the comment section, below.

Bonus Gallery: 20 Photos of the Airborne Pathogen Frame

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