Cycling

Bikes of the Bunch: A brandless 8.2 kg MTB built for less than US$3,000

If you’ve been following Bikes of the Bunch for the past few years you’ll probably be familiar with Francis Lim’s handiwork. In 2017 he shared the story of his Factor O2 ultralight homebuild, and in 2020 he told us about the Focus Izalco Max Disc 9 that he also built at home. Well, the latest delicacy to come out of the ‘FL Kitchen’, as his friends call it, is something a little different: an ultralight homebuilt mountain bike. Take it away, Francis.


We are all in awe of the bikes that Dangerholm can come up with, technically and aesthetically, but not everyone has the deep budget and technical know-how to work on their bikes at that level. This build bridges the void between stock bikes and those creations. It’s something any bike enthusiast can do; a reasonably priced bike that can hold its own in terms of aesthetics and weight against all the superbikes out there.

Hong Kong has a lot of MTB trails and a robust MTB scene. I wear my road biking heart on my sleeve but sometimes, especially on colder days, I wish there was an MTB in our cramped apartment that I could take for a two-hour ride in Lantau Island where we live. I’d love to sneak onto small village roads, climb the steep hill to the Big Buddha or ride the big, new bike park built on the south side. And as someone not technically proficient off-road, I’d need the bike to be light for an easier carry!

In short, my goal was to build a light and reasonably priced MTB, that performs as well and looks as good as any top model!

I had some components lying around, among them a grey-padded Berk Lupina saddle. This led me to decide on a grey frame colorway. I went with an open-mold frame that goes by FM-199 SL and had it custom-painted matte gray (pantone: Cool Gray 9C). For me this colorway highlights the curves and edges of the frame and goes with any accent color for components. It’s also the lightest boot axle frame in the open-mold market and the size S geometry is just what I was looking for.

I wanted to try carbon MTB wheels this time and with good experience from my road wheels in the last build, I went with the same open mold supplier. Rims were 33 mm wide, 25 mm deep, they had a 27 mm internal hookless opening and were tubeless ready. The wheels were built with DR lightweight hubs (308 g per pair) and Pillar 1420 spokes.

All of this was done through AliExpress. As you might know, most sellers don’t offer the greatest customer service but with a little bit of patience and a couple more weeks waiting, everything arrived as ordered.

Unlike my previous road builds where I had a set build list that I followed, this one took more of a spec-as-we-go approach. The pandemic is preventing full bike shop inventories and many items were unavailable. I went with shiny orange forks by Fox as they just arrived in time at the local bike dealer. 

I really wanted to use grip shifters as I prefer the simplicity of use and cockpit cleanliness that they offer but since they are only offered as an aftermarket purchase and not with the complete set, I knew I had to cobble together a groupset.

I started with a SRAM GX 12 grip shifter and rear derailleur. I lucked out in the local second-hand market when I found some weightweenie-favorite Raceface Next SL crank arms, only to get disappointed when my usual 30T chainrings were not available in any color. I did see some orange-anodized 28s which were small, but then lucked out again when I found some Leonardi Racing 12s cassettes with a 9-49T configuration that gives a 533% range and a 0.50-3.11 ratio! With some more orange Leonardi Racing bits I had my accent color on point!

Most of these purchases were done online which, even if we want to support local shops, will be more convenient as product availability is in real-time and you don’t have to be exposed to crowds – important given the regulations currently in place.

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