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

UPDATE: Component Winners Announced

Voting has concluded for the Value DH Project. Thanks for voting! The components receiving the most votes are listed below. Next we're going to build the bike, and with the money we saved we'll hit the trails in Whistler to see how it rides. Stay tuned for a build gallery, discussion with the various component companies, and feature length bike review!

Value DH Project Introduction

Our recent introduction to the Value DH Project stressed that no matter how much it seems like the industry may want us to, the fact of the matter is that not everyone can drop their life savings on a bike. It’s just not feasible for everyone to build a $10,000 bike featuring the latest and greatest carbon componentry, nor is it necessary to really enjoy your time on the mountain. Because of this, we’ve listened to your cries for reviews and features on low cost components and bikes and we’re taking action.

We want your help in identifying the best value downhill products available. With your votes we think we can build a downhill bike that’s truly affordable, yet still very capable, durable, and reasonably lightweight. We’ve already chosen the $1,600 Airborne Pathogen as the frame, now help us choose which components to build the bike with.

Component Selection Criteria

Listed below are four to six carefully selected products for each major component type. How’d we pick them? Obviously value was of utmost importance. That doesn’t mean they’re all the least expensive parts on the market - it means we think they’re potentially very good products for the money. Many of them have a great reputation for that reason. Products had to be current to make the list of voting options.

Because budgets are always a reality, we did our best to choose affordable parts. Knowing that what you pay online or in a shop with your local’s discount might be a few bucks cheaper, there’s a good chance you could score many of these products below the listed prices. To keep things consistent and fair, however, we’re rolling with MSRP values.

The Airborne Pathogen looks like a very capable frame. What components should we put on it?


We suspect many of you have experience with some of the products listed below, so factor that in when voting. Our goal here is to build a great bike at a reasonable cost. If you haven’t used any of the products, consider which parts you’d like to hear more about.

Depending on how your votes shake down, we’re looking at a total bike cost somewhere in the $3,400 to $4,900 MSRP range. Just like you would in real life, you might spend more of your virtual voting dollars on items you think really matter, like suspension, brakes, and tires for instance, then try to save a few bucks somewhere else to make up for it. Our 2013 Reader Survey results showed that you paid an average of $3,642 for each bike in your garage, so it’d be awesome to keep our project build close to that number.

The frame includes an X-Fusion Vector HLR Coil shock and FSA Orbit headset, so we're off to a good start.

Fork - WINNER: RockShox BoXXer RC

Let’s get right down to business with the most expensive component. Front to back balance is crucial on a downhill rig, so we’re ideally looking for something that will pair well with the highly adjustable X-Fusion Vector Coil HLR shock that comes stock with the Airborne Pathogen. Options include the buttery smooth Marzocchi 888 RC3 EVO V.2 with gold race coated stanchions, SR Suntour’s RUX with loads of adjustments, the new RST Killah which comes at a competitive price with a dual high-speed compression shim stack, and the inverted Manitou Dorado Expert with TPC+ damping. Also in the mix are the lighter weight RockShox BoXXer RC with the option to upgrade to a Charger Damper, as well as the made-for-budget-builds Domain RC that retains the same external adjustments and damping system in a more affordable package.

More info: Marzocchi // RockShox // SR Suntour // RST // Manitou

Brakes - WINNER: Shimano ZEE

Poor braking power or control can make even the nicest of downhill bikes scary to ride, and we’ve always thought a good set of brakes is a pair you don’t need to think about. Resistance to fade due to heat over long runs is also something to consider, especially when looking at the most affordable options. Up for vote areShimano's ZEE brakes with close to Saint-level performance, Avid’s hard hitting Code R brakes, and SRAM’s new Guide R with an improved feel over their predecessors. Hope and Magura also enter the mix with four piston stoppers ready for heavy duty use, and the latter just went through a big overhaul. While Shimano’s Deore brakes may look like an odd option, based on what we’ve experienced we think they’re up to the task when paired with big rotors.

More info: Shimano // Avid // SRAM // Hope // Magura

Note: Weights include a rotor, though there may be some discrepancy on rotor size and whether or not adapters are included.

Wheels - WINNER: Spank Spoon 32

Wheels likely take more of a beating any other component, so it’s important to pick a set that’s in it for the long haul when dollars are short. Weight is also a factor, as too much rotating mass can adversely affect the ride. Spank’s big daddy Spoon 32 and surprisingly light but durable Spike Race 28 DH wheels both use their patented OohBah profile designed to increase rigidity. Guerrilla Gravity employs a neat strategy by sourcing various existing high-value components and building their own wheels in house that you can customize online. Then there are the Canfield DH wheels, which get things done without any fuss and recently saw a $50 price reduction. Finally, Azonic Outlaws have long been a go-to option for riders looking for a wheelset at a good price that can take a beating.

More info: Spank // Guerrilla Gravity // Canfield // Azonic

Tires - WINNER: Maxxis High Roller

As the only point of contact with the ground, tires can make or break how a bike handles the terrain. We’ve selected six possible tire options designed for all-conditions use, hoping to get the most bang for our buck. The classic Maxxis High Roller kicks things off and is a long time favorite of ours front and rear with good rolling speed and cornering bite. Bontrager’s G5 Team Issue tire has found a lot of success on the World Cup scene under Trek riders, and is a great step in the right direction for the brand. Geax, Vee Tire Co, and Kenda all present some options that will save some coin over the more heavily used brands. The formidable Specialized Butcher rounds out the voting options, and is a tire we put a lot of trust in, but it comes at close to a premium price.

More info: Maxxis // Bontrager // Geax // Vee Tire Co // Specialized // Kenda

Pedals - WINNER: Deity Compound

There are hundreds of flat pedal options that will likely get the job done, but there aren’t many that really distinguish themselves from the crowd. This selection includes pedals that do stand out thanks to their low price, design, thickness, and/or weight. Specialized Bennies pedals are a reliable option with loads of traction. Xpedo’s super thin Spry pedals come in at an incredibly low weight, which could slim the build down some. Superstar Components has a pretty thin pedal that closely resembles many you’ll find on the market, and is the least expensive of all the copies. Both VP and Deity do a good job in the nylon body game by offering pedals with metal traction pins at a great price. The classic Wellgo MG1 caps off this category with a large magnesium body that has done well for many riders over the years.

More info: Specialized // Xpedo // VP // Superstar Components // Deity // Wellgo

Drivetrain - WINNER: Shimano ZEE

A quiet bike is a happy bike, so we’ve chosen four clutched 10-speed derailleurs that are reasonably priced. Only Shimano’s ZEE group is gravity specific, but SRAM’s X9 comes in a short cage option that tucks up nicely to stay out of harm’s way. Both brands offer compact road cassettes that work well for downhill use.

More info: Shimano // SRAM

Crankset - WINNER: Shimano ZEE

While cranks may not be the sexiest component, they help transfer your leg power to the back wheel, and translate what your bike is feeling to your feet, so a solid, reliable set is pretty important. They also have to be very strong for DH use given the high speeds, big drops, and unexpected slams into rocks they'll likely endure. Race Face has been producing great cranks for quite a while, and the Respond and Chester models are no exception with their unique ability to adjust the chainline. Truvativ’s Husselfelt 1.1 are reliable and popular on complete bikes, and the Ruktion 2.0 RG shakes things up with a super low price point. Finally, the Shimano ZEE cranks bring Saint strength and stiffness to the table at only a slight weight gain.

More info: Race Face // Truvativ // Shimano

Chainguide - WINNER: e*thirteen LG1/LS1+

Dropped chains suck, literally. Each of these options offer the promise of chain retention combined with chainring protection. Both e*thirteen and MRP offer affordable versions of their popular taco-style LG1+ and G3 guides that use steel backplates instead of aluminum to keep costs down. Gamut’s bash ring style G45 was the brand’s introduction into the MTB world but still delivers today. The DMR Viral Bash also relies on a bash ring, but gains a little extra security by sandwiching the lower pulley. If you’re willing to spend a few more dollars, Da Bomb’s Recoil CGS-G is a super light guide with taco-style protection.

More info: e*thirteen // MRP // Gamut // DMR // Da Bomb

Other Components

The remainder of the build will use components included with the Airborne Pathogen frame (shock, headset) as well as a few we’ve selected from Gravity (seatpost), Joystick (saddle, bars, stem), and Lizard Skins (grips, frame guards).

Total Cost Breakdown

Hopefully we'll be able to rally it as well as Airborne's own Caroline Buchanan!

Bonus Gallery: 20 Photos of the Airborne Pathogen Frame

Create New Tag
  • sreschke

    7/28/2014 8:10 AM

    Loved the idea of this value build project. Then I saw this:


    The dual crown value build at $4499 makes this thing a real winner.

  • freeriderstab

    7/17/2014 1:48 AM

    Now this is all good and nice... but can anyone explain to me why would I spend $4400 if I could get a YT Tues with pretty much the same spec level for $3000 ?!


    7/17/2014 10:34 AM

    They won't charge $4400. Otherwise everyone would buy a frame and build it however they want if you are expected to pay MSRP on every part. There would be a discount for sure, however this is just a build the best bang for your buck off MSRP so thats what they did. What they list it for is another story

  • hamncheez2003

    8/4/2014 2:45 PM


    7/16/2014 9:43 AM

    Pretty Dissapointed in the RC choice. Goes to show people can't get over the name. The 888 RC3 V2 is a phenomenal fork and people won't even give it a chance. Seeing that Spec'd on the bike would be a much much better option.

  • Nicholast

    7/16/2014 11:07 AM

    Funny you say that because I feel the same about the 888; "people can't get over the name." But it goes to show how different our perspectives and tastes are. I prefer the Boxxer over the 888, but you prefer the 888 over the Boxxer. I guess it is not a bad time to be into bikes when there are so many good product choices out there - simply pick your flavor and buy it. :-)


    7/16/2014 12:29 PM

    You would prefer the boxxer RC over 888 RC3 EVO v2 ? thats near bottom of the line boxer compared to one of top of line Marz. Wish you could ride both back to back. Ive got a Dorado Pro, Boxxer World cup, and 888 rc3 eve v2. 888 still takes the cake

  • Nicholast

    7/17/2014 7:15 AM

    For a budget build where performance for pennies is paramount, absolutely. The Boxxer saves a pound and $135 according to Vital's numbers. That's significant.

    As for chassis, I much prefer the Boxxer over the 888. Boxxers are like Legos. You can buy an RC and swap in an air spring, Charger damper, or the upgraded black dust seals as your budget allows down the road.

  • Reinforcer

    7/16/2014 4:57 AM

    I just realize, how the hell are you guys going to pay everything in MSRP?!

  • splitsecond

    7/15/2014 6:49 PM

    Your getting hosed on the pricing CRC has this all cheaper in Canadian too
    Zee brakes complete $145/side
    Zee crank set $ 130
    Zee derailleur $67
    Boxxer rc $700
    This is over $550 savings, which brings the bike well under 4K

  • bturman

    7/15/2014 8:35 PM

    Yes, it's true that there are always deals to be had, just like we described above in the "Component Selection Criteria" section. The MSRP (Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price) doesn't change however. We needed to compare apples to apples, so MSRP values are what we listed.

  • Nicholast

    7/16/2014 11:14 AM

    Honestly, I'm glad you guys used MSRP instead of market price. Otherwise, you'd have 200+ comments saying "where can i haz Zee breaks for $137 per side?!?!?! Best i can find is $139. This test is bull****!"

  • groghunter

    7/15/2014 10:16 PM

    I'm not even sure where you're seeing MSRP on the ZEE being $250 though, everyplace I've looked quotes $230.


    7/16/2014 9:48 AM

    Jenson "$149.99
    40% off $249.99 msrp" MSRP = Manufacturers Suggest Retail Pricing.... so it shouldn't change thats what Shimano is saying they should be sold for and the MSRP wouldn't change between any vendors.... thats the point.

  • groghunter

    7/16/2014 10:55 AM

    PinkBike, ChainReaction & Cambria all show the MSRP as $230. Perhaps 250 is the MSRP for the M640, whereas the current ZEE brakes are the M640B?

  • LCW

    7/15/2014 6:28 PM

    Kona just unveiled the Precept 200 value DH bike for 2015... 2999

  • jerryhazard

    7/16/2014 12:13 AM

    A great deal, however; Domain fork, Code brakes, MTX wheels (not bad...) Kage shock, bash instead of a guide, and (probably single ply) Minons. Great deal, but not really comparable to what's being built here.

  • groghunter

    7/16/2014 8:03 AM

    That's true, but also brings into question whether this is really a budget build. Not sure I know anybody who's looking to build a DH bike on a budget, yet can drop $4400, but wouldn't buy one of the many complete DH bikes available for that number or less. Even if you can spend that amount of money, you'll still be better off buying a complete bike & replacing the components that don't satisfy you. Heck, if you buy that Precept, sell the fork, you'd be able to essentially have your pick of any DH fork on the market and still spend less than $4400.

  • LCW

    7/16/2014 10:35 AM

    That's what's really confusing about the article. I wouldn't call a $4400 build a "budget" or "value" build. That's out of reach of many people. I realize the people voted, and picked the components, and in most cases picked reasonably, but as a complete build cost total, it really isn't "value" at all, at least what I was expecting when Vital first announced the project build. I guess "value" has a different definition to different folks. But it also highlights the escalating costs of bikes vs what most people can afford.

  • jerryhazard

    7/16/2014 11:02 AM

    Valid points, no doubt. The "Problem" is not with Vital's idea; the voters skewed the test in the wrong direction. Had Vital just chose the more reasonable components for the lowest $$$ amount, I'm sure the price wold be much more reasonable. A product manager wouldn't spec a budget bike like this either (The Kona, and Airborne Toxin are great examples).

    Not Vital's "fault" - the trendy Voters jacked the price up....

  • lacykemp

    7/15/2014 1:49 PM

    Cool feature, guys. I like.

  • Brian Cahal

    7/15/2014 12:10 PM

    carbon, cheaper and comparable if not better parts. failed mission.

  • CombatMutt

    7/16/2014 12:15 PM

    What's the MSRP on that one?

  • groghunter

    7/15/2014 12:24 PM

    Heck, for that matter: The only reason this article makes sense at all right now is that they don't offer a Pathogen complete bike.

  • CombatMutt

    7/15/2014 2:09 PM

    7 inch travel on that bike, and it's not dual crown. Thus price will certainly be different.

  • groghunter

    7/15/2014 2:21 PM

    Yes, but it's also less than half the price of this build. My point was that if they can do that bike for $1750, a complete pathogen wouldn't cost anywhere near $4400, if they offered it(I'd estimate about $2200.) Combine that with the fact that unless you're racing, a 7" bike is probably enough bike for almost any downhiller these days, & I think it's at least tangentially relevant, at least as much as bringing up the $3300 status, which isn't a race bike either.

  • CombatMutt

    7/15/2014 6:20 PM

    Ok I understand now. But, apples to apples, and all that.

  • jumpman2334

    7/16/2014 10:22 AM

    holy hell that looks like a screamin deal!

  • bturman

    7/15/2014 5:39 PM

    "Failed mission?" I don't think so, and I'm sure others will agree.

    The components voted on for this custom build all represent good values, especially at market prices - and that's what we were shooting for here. We wanted to build a downhill bike that’s truly affordable, yet still very capable, durable, and reasonably lightweight. I think we'll achieve that, pending verification on the mountain.

    If you were to order each of the winning components online or through a local shop you're in tight with, you'd likely be able to save 10-18% off the total cost, bringing it down below the $4,000 mark.

    There were less expensive parts listed as options that didn't receive enough votes to win, though we still think they're good parts. One goal of this project was to identify those products. We still hope to review many of them outside of this project to let you know how they perform.

    As you pointed out, this project also reinforces the value of some budget level DH bikes. Some companies are doing a great job, and the total MSRP value is a touch higher than some of the best budget level complete DH bikes. That's the way the cookie crumbled and the votes shook down. This is proof that putting together a good looking custom spec for less than $4,000 isn't an easy task, though we imagine it's a little easier at the manufacturer level. Regardless, we think the components chosen will make for a great ride, even if it is a touch more expensive.

  • groghunter

    7/15/2014 10:12 PM

    I'll give you guys some credit in one case specifically: people don't know how good those deore brakes are. I guarantee they're stronger than the juicy brakes I bought back in '04, and raced DH with for a few years after. Personally, I'd probably opt for something a little more robust for a DH build, but on next 5" or less bike I build, I'll find it hard to justify spending any more than $120 on a pair of brakes.

    edit: I had forgotten that new deore even supports IceTech pads. even harder to justify spending more on brakes.

  • erich.moorman

    7/15/2014 10:10 AM

    I would have stuck with the Hope brakes.

  • Brainman

    7/16/2014 11:25 AM

    Me too, and I cant understand why People choose the Zee. I thought the idea was to take the best price / performance ratio.
    So why they have chosen a brake that is more expensive but not better.

  • Triber66

    7/15/2014 9:25 AM

    I'd be very interested to see how this would compare to a specialized status for $3300.

  • Nexus_mkIV

    7/15/2014 7:55 AM

    I'd just get a Norco Aurum 6.2 and be done with it. Save $755 at msrp. Even if Pathogen build averaged 15% off on every part, it still wouldn't be as cheap

  • CombatMutt

    7/15/2014 5:36 AM

    Clearly, Shimano has done an excellent job of advertising their Zee brakes.

    The reason I say that is because they were the most expensive brake option. The Codes would have been perfectly fine, and the price would have been $290 compared to $500. The crankset was a little puzzling as well; Raceface could have been had for less cash, or for the same amount, could have gotten a bash guard as well.

  • Cougar797

    7/15/2014 7:09 AM

    Haha welcome to the world of bike industry. When every piece of advertising you see on the internet tells you zee is the greatest thing since sliced cheese, consumer logic says it must be. It's good value yes, but I wanted to see a truly budget build.

  • groghunter

    7/15/2014 8:02 AM

    To be fair, you can easily find ZEE brakes at ~$300 for a pair, it'd be silly to pay $500. In real world pricing, the ZEE brakes are actually some of the best deals available for a 4 piston DH brake. But if we're looking at retail cost, not opting for Hopes at ~$100 less mystifies me.

  • bturman

    7/15/2014 12:59 AM

    Component winners announced! Your votes should make for a great build. Cheers to everyone for participating in the polls and discussion. We're excited to throw a leg over your creation and see how it rides.

  • P-DUB

    7/11/2014 12:22 PM

    Rockshox Boxxer RC. The worst dual crown fork I have used. With no high speed compression adjustment, there is no way to control the dampening. At high speeds, I could never get it to feel right. The ten clicks of low speed compression go from harsh feeling to even more harsh with each click in. I had one that came with a devinci wilson XP. I rode it for one day and it was so bad, bars were ripping out of my hands, I felt every hole and big compressions were painful, I started getting blisters on my hands and I have never gotten blisters before. I changed spring weights, tried every setting, talked to mechanics. They told me the dampening in the RC doesn't work, the oil pushes around the shim stack instead of through it, causing harsh dampening. I then mounted up my old Fox 40 RC2 and it felt great. Everything was right again. That Boxxer RC is a joke of a fork. Put an AVA cartridge in it.

  • gavelliott

    7/11/2014 1:12 PM

    What year was the devinci M8?

  • P-DUB

    7/12/2014 12:56 AM

    2013 Devinci Wilson XP

  • alexisfire02

    7/11/2014 10:48 AM

    I just went through and tried to pick based on value for a budget build. The results are a disappointing popularity contest so far

  • CombatMutt

    7/11/2014 3:43 AM

    I've never used nylon pedals. How do they stand up to abuse compared to the aluminum flats?

  • CaseyBurrows

    7/11/2014 7:28 AM

    The nylon is fine, but the pins fall out immediately if you don't loctite them. Even with a full set of pins, they aren't grippy enough. Good luck if you live somewhere that gets ANY precip.

  • alexisfire02

    7/11/2014 10:46 AM

    I don't know what brand he is talking about but deity nylon pedals have been awesome. Half the people I know ride them and they never have problems

  • jerryhazard

    7/12/2014 5:20 PM

    I have them on two different bikes. Lost my first pin a few days ago, and I ride in some rocky terrain. The nylon is no more slick than aluminum when wet. Mine are scuffed up pretty good, but holding together and still solid. Plus, you can replacement pedal bodies from Deity for cheap.

  • groghunter

    7/15/2014 8:10 AM

    I've got the E13s with the nylon outer plates, and being able to freshen up the pedal for $15 bucks has been super nice. If there was grip problems because of the nylon, the E13s would be the worst, as the pedal surface is shiny. But in reality, they're some of the grippiest pedals made, they just cost too much. Might try out these Deity pedals soon.

  • televisual

    7/15/2014 8:54 PM

    I also ride these on two bikes - my DJ and DH bikes. The great things about nylon pedals are the light weight, they don't explode like polycarbonate when you hit them, and they slide over rocks better in my experience than aluminum. The fact that the Deity pedals are so cheap for replacement parts is killer as well.

  • PaucH

    7/10/2014 9:26 PM

    what if Zee 10sp 11-36 cogs and RD with Saint Shifter for freeriding and that double tap shift.. is Boxxer RC internals same with Domain RC? from what I knew Domain is jus burlier with steel stanchion. if yes id go for Domain for bombproof and reliability.. cheap and reliable bike that can last years of abuse and crashes..

  • bturman

    7/10/2014 10:17 PM

    You're right, the Domain RC and BoXXer RC are very similar. They share the same Motion Control IS and Rapid Recovery damping systems, external adjustments, lowers, crowns, and steerer. For the $150 difference you gain a better axle system and sexy Fast Black stanchion treatment, while also losing 563g (1.25 pounds!) thanks to the tapered wall aluminum stanchions. There may be other upgrades as well.

    The tradeoff is stanchion durability and cost, as you mentioned. Some also argue that the Domain's 4130 tapered wall steel stanchions with Black Silver finish provide a more supple ride than those on the BoXXer.

    Thinking ahead to possible upgrades, I wonder if the Charger Damper (or Avalanche cartridge) would fit in the Domain? It should, in theory.

  • alexisfire02

    7/11/2014 10:47 AM

    It does not. As far as I've been told it doesn't fit the rc boxer either

  • Nicholast

    7/11/2014 11:04 AM

    That is incorrect. The Charger Damper upgrade does fit the Boxxer RC. From RockShox' website:

    If you own a BoXXer Race, Team, RC, R2C2 and World Cup from 2010 onwards (35mm chassis), you can update your fork with the Charger Damper™ Upgrade kit.

  • FastNate

    7/10/2014 9:19 PM

    This is a really sick idea! Goodwork VitalMTB. Will keep a close eye on this

  • Reinforcer

    7/10/2014 7:36 PM

    What about Shimano Saint chainguide?

  • bturman

    7/10/2014 8:45 PM

    From what we could find, the Saint SM-CD50 guide MSRP is between $140 and $175 with a single bash portion.

  • Reinforcer

    7/10/2014 9:13 PM

    Wow! That is like twice price that I paid for!

  • CombatMutt

    7/10/2014 6:25 PM

    I was a little surprised at some of the frontrunners for this build.

  • bturman

    7/10/2014 6:32 PM

    Definitely interesting to see how things are shaking down. If anyone has questions about any of the components, post them up!

Show More Comment(s) / Leave a Comment