I’m planning to upgrade my neglected Kona Lava Dome and I’ve got approx. £1,000 to spend on a replacement (give or take a little with wife not knowing), but not sure whether to go down the hardtail or full-suspension route. Any advice would be much appreciated.
Andy, Shropshire

These days, a grand gets you more susser than you’d perhaps expect, as our group test of £999 bouncers in the last issue (June) highlights.
They may not be the lightest fully sprung rides on the block, but the fundamental suspension designs tend to be sound at this price, as do the main frames that bind them together. Beyond our test line-up of ’08 machines, one obvious option to get more from your hard-earned grand is to scope out deals on last season’s bikes. It’s not unreasonable to expect a 500 quid saving on a previous season’s model when shops need to shift final units. Find something two seasons old and the deals are better still. But, beware of potentially obsolete or already discontinued suspension configurations, as you could end up in no man’s land when servicing beckons.
Just keep a close eye on the designs and avoid ageing platforms that are about to be superseded.
On the other hand, if you want to maintain the simplicity of a hardtail, clearly £1,000 gets you plenty of bike, as those half-dozen we tested in April’s issue displayed.
Ultimately though, if you want to push the envelope of your technical ability and ride harder for longer, make the upgrade a fully suspended one. If you do decide to maintain your equilibrium with the benefits of a hardtail’s light weight and efficiency, thankfully these days most of them are of the more relaxed, trail-friendly persuasion.

I’m looking at tackling the classic coast to coast route this summer and while I’m using the packhorse service to carry my overnight baggage, I’m after a decent-sized hydration pack as I’ve got the feeling my regular Lobo won’t be up to all the emergency spares and trail food I’m planning to carry. Could you recommend something around the 20-litre mark?
Rusty, Notts

You’ll certainly require more than just a compact trail pack for what basically amounts to five back-to- back epics — sorry to rub it in. Once the three-litre bladder’s in place, there’s not an awful lot of room remaining in a Camelbak Lobo, at least not for the sort of back-up clobber that you should carry on a prolonged voyage.
A few spare tubes, jacket, waterproofs, first aid, lights, even a lightweight stove for a brew, copious amounts of trail fodder and the list goes on. The choice of trail packs is obviously huge, so we’ve narrowed it down to a handful.
Camelbak’s substantial range has decent options, such as the all new Hoss (tested and rated highly back in April’s issue) with a 23-litre capacity and DVIS back panel, but it’s not cheap, at £110 (
The North Face offers the formidable 18-litre Megamouth, with Nalgene bladder and E-Vap back system, at a very reasonable £65 (
Then there’s Deuter, who forged the way with back suspension systems enabling effective air flow between pack and body. Its latest offering is the fully waterproof DS Bike 18 (, with an 18-litre capacity. What it lacks in internal divisions it more than makes up for with its Dry Shield, proofed bonding design and waterproof zippers — worth considering when a wet eight hours in the Lakes beckon.

I’m just starting out dirt jumping and freeriding and I’ve got £400 to burn. So far I’ve been looking at the Giant STP1 and Mongoose Ritual Dirt, or should I be looking elsewhere?
Mike, Staffs

Well, for starters you’re looking at two fundamentally different packages here. The Giant’s a fully rigid build (in the UK at least) and is designed purely for dirt jumping on a budget, and while the lack of a suspension forks means you’re getting more ‘Fluid Formed’ aluminium for your buck, things are likely to get a bit interesting should you want to go FRO with at least some front-end bump munching.
Ever-competitive on finishing kit, the Mongoose at least gets you a suspension fork, albeit a fairly basic 100mm travel RST affair, alongside a steel frame designed to survive the worst lip casings and obligatory bike ghostings.
Don’t feel you have to be pigeon-holed into a specific jump bike though. You could learn your trade equally well on one of our annual Dirty Dozen bikes, such as Kona’s Blast or Commençal’s Normal, with layouts that could cross between trail and dirt. If you do go down the specific dirt route though, worth a look is 2008’s Commençal MAXMAX. At £299, it leaves you a ton for the piss pot and padding, so you’re prepared for when stunts go bad.

I’ve just been given a 10-year-old Trek 7000 ZX. Apparently it’s a decent frame but could do with a few upgrades. I’ve not done much mountain biking before but live in the New Forest so would like to get into it. I hear a lot about XT cranks, hubs and chainsets etc, but would modern things fit such a bike? I’d also like to replace the Judy with a fork that doesn’t bounce around so much.
Justin, The Ether

Sorry to shatter your ride-pimping plans but the ‘throwing good money after bad’ adage springs to mind.
Maybe we’re being a little harsh; back in ’98 the 7000’s aluminium frame was up there with the rest of the XC hardtails of its ilk. However, things have moved on a fair bit, even with the simple old hardtail. With geometry designed around a fork with a maximum of 80mm travel, you’re limited to one or two XC race-specific forks for an upgrade, so budget options are less likely.
As far as tarting up the Trek with the likes of a Shimano XT drivetrain parts goes, yes most of it could be shoe-horned into place, but it’s an expensive way to do things. Our advice is to enjoy the hand-me-down as it stands, replacing only what’s necessary to keep it rolling until you’ve found your feet on the trails.
Upgrades such as tyres will have a lot more discernible effect than high-end cranks. Once bitten by the biking bug — and you will be — you can chop the dusty rig and join the trail-riding noughties.