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Posts Tagged ‘KHS Alite 1000’

So here goes my review of my first mountain bike. Personally, I think its a travesty to buy a mountain bike and then relegate it to road duty (unless for the reason mentioned in my last post – a gift to a Dad). My bike has seen almost exclusive offroad duty. The only roads it rides are those which take me to its natural habitat. I’ve ridden XC, for which it was intended and DH, for which it was not. Here’s how it breaks down.

Frame

Its very hard to quantify frame quality unless you really are a balls-to-the-wall dirt jumper or an industry-insider and expert. If you’re the former, I guess you judge a frame’s build quality by how quickly it breaks down on you (or not). If you’re the latter then you know how much the manufacturer has compromised on the frame build quality (or not) in the interest of slashing prices. Yes, yes I know there’s ride quality, responsiveness on the trails, absorption of buzz and blah blah but I’m just talking about strength of the material for the moment. Can you or any journeyman mountain biker really separate the performance of the material of one alloy frame from another? I sure as hell can’t. So I’ll leave that aside by saying its made of double-butted 6061 aluminium which is generally supposed to be pretty strong for the kind of riding prescribed for this frame (XC). I will slip this one in though – one of the aforesaid industry-insiders I’ve chatted with seems to feel that this frame is comparable to the Trek 6000 series (which means it punches wayyyy over its price tag). I love the hexagonal profile of the top tube as it gives it character. Whether this improves performance, only an engineer will be able to tell you. The frame is similar to its elder sibling (the Alite 2000) in design but is slightly more compact with a shorter TT. KHS bike sizes come in odd numbers – 15, 17, 19 inches. This was a little awkward for me as I land on the cusp of two sizes – 17 and 19. After a lot of reading and advice and trying out Naveen’s 17-inch as well as the 19-inch frame of the 150 and 300, I decided to plump for the 17. One particular piece of advice I got actually helped me make up my mind – you can make a smaller bike feel larger (by playing around with the stem length and angle, the seatpost and bars) but you can’t make a large bike feel smaller. Plus, mucking around with TBH’s 15-inch was just so much fun that I had to go with a smaller one. And yes, in this case its completely true, bigger definitely does not necessarily mean better. I love how agile and nimble the 17 feels. Im still working on the fit though. I found that the stock stem made the reach too short and gave me an upright posture. I wanted something more aggressive. So we fitted a 110mm stem which was flipped to increase cockpit area. This made it a really aggressive fit which works fantastically on XC. On the DH though, it was a nightmare. I kept going OTB (over-the-bars) and realised this was because my centre of gravity was wayyyyy too far forward. I realised I needed two different solutions for different terrains. More on this later. Suffice it to say, this frame feels fantastically nimble and sporty – more so than any of the competition that I’ve tried out, including bikes which cost nearly double. Comparing it to the bikes in the same price range (at the time), such as the Trek 4300 for example is just downright unfair. Its also built like a tank. Considering how many times I’ve flipped it on the DH at Turahalli, it has nary a mark to show for it. Excellent paint job albeit the fact you might find a blemish or two beneath the surface in the form of a slight rise in the paint.

Drivetrain

With a Deore Shadow RD, Alivio FD, shifters and crank arm and Mega 9 crank, the drivetrain is pretty much unbeatable for anything anywhere near its price range (MRP of Rs.30,000 at the time). And its really all one really needs in terms of smooth shifting. Durability? Only time will tell. One thing I do know is that I for one didn’t feel any mind-blowing difference between these and the Acera on my hybrid. Which goes to show that there really is something to the claim that any level derailleur   will perform well if tuned correctly.

Wheels

WTB SX24 rims are decent budget rims. Superb looking with an all-black theme, matched with black spokes and little red nipples – a nice detail to go with the black and red theme of the bike. The hubs are no-name OEM kit which have done pretty well considering they’ve gone tumbling down the hill a few times. Only once did the rim (front) actually bend and a truing set it straight. Love how light they are and they roll easy and fast (which says something for the anonymous hubs). A slight downside is that you are stuck to presta tubes thanks to these rims and they are not only more expensive but are also in short supply on occasion. So you might want to stock up on a few before you hit those trails.

Brakes

Bengal Helix 3 hydraulic brakes – LOVE these! They grip and bite like an enraged dog and don’t require any time at all to bed in. They stop on a dime and seem to perform better than the Hayes hydraulics on the 1000’s elder sibling. The fact that they come in a red anodised theme only serves to sex things up even more. A lovely little touch which shows these guys have really thought things through is the little plastic bit which is fixed to the cable just above the calipers (visible only in the full-bike pic – sorry). What does it do? When transporting bikes without the wheels one usually has to scrabble around for a bit of plastic or something to wedge in place so the pads don’t stick together. Well, in this case, that plastic bit is always there so you don’t have to save up pieces of credit cards in future – simply pull it off and stick it between the pads and take it off when re-attaching the wheel. Methinks those of you who’ve been through the pain of having to bleed your brakes for something this asinine, will appreciate the gesture.

Tyres

Kenda Small Block 8s – hate these! Hate, hate, HATE! Ok, let me be objective here (even though I hate ’em). This year these tyres seem to be all the rage and can be found on most mid-priced mountain bikes. They dont come cheap either, costing a whopping 2.8k each! They take a very high psi (up to 80), are folding tyres (so super light) and roll very very easily. They were designed for hardpack and are supposed to be truly grippy and fast on said terrain. Ok, so I have no doubt ol’ John Tomac knew what he was about when these were designed but he sure as hell hadn’t travelled to India, let alone ridden here. The Small Block 8s simply weren’t designed for the kind of dusty, thorn-ridden terrain we have in these parts. On the XC trails I ride around Bangalore, they pick up more punctures than a whore does STDs! Riding them with tyre liners (Mr. Tuffy – BUY!) makes life a little better but then this somewhat negates one of their major selling points – the weight (or lack thereof). On the DH in these parts they suck donkey balls! Period! To get any kind of purchase, you need to run less than 30 psi (which is ridiculously low for a puncture-prone, paper-thin folding tyre) and you’re still scrabbling around like Wiley Coyote on a ledge. Granted they were meant for fast XC, but they aren’t ideal for that application (in these parts) either. If you like to ride your bike in the terrain it was designed for (hint: it does not involve tarmac), do yourself a favour when you buy the bike and swap them for something better – Kenda Nevegals if possible or even Schwalbe Blackjacks. Even if you can’t swap, pay for an upgrade. I would even plump for the Kenda Klaws which cost about a third as much as these high-maintenance thorn-dogs! Bottom line? The Kenda Small Block 8s are a dream-come-true for all those Indian mountain biker riders who keep their rides on on the road. Did I mention I hate ’em (you decide which)?

Fork

This seems to be the most controversial part of a really well-kitted out hardtail. The RST Omega seems like a great fork at this level, on paper. Its got a hydraulic lockout, is pretty solid and takes a beating. However, its a very very stiffly sprung fork. On the wrong side of 75 kilos myself, I find it hard to extact more than 50mm of travel out of its stated 100. Even on a really hard hit it won’t go beyond 80mm and this is at zero preload. The advantage of this is that it really does handle great on the XC. The lateral stiffness it gives you only adds to the agility of the frame and its great fun. But, if you want it to travel, it won’t. Try what you might, it simply won’t. If you’re a light rider, this’ll really be a problem. If you’re 80 plus kilos, it will definitely work in your favour unlike the spongy forks which come with most of the competition. It will certainly teach you how to work your body over tough terrain and is ok for anyone who rides a lot on roads. If you’re in the US, you can try and open it up and experiment with different springs but, unlike other brands and models, there don’t appear to be aftermarket parts available for the RST Omega. As it happens, Bike Radar did a nice review of the bike where they reported the same thing but they do mention that this does tend to vary among different pieces. Take a look at the comments below the article and you’ll notice that a chap from KHS has said they supplied a fresh bunch of forks which were softer sprung, after reading the article. It could be that there are other bikes floating around out there with very different responses from the same model. One way or another, this may be one major piece of kit that you could consider upgrading, to match the rest of this bike.

Saddle

WTB Speed V – great saddle! Its a rather wide saddle so rather kind to the generous backside. While large, it isn’t overly plush so its got good support for the sit bones. Its also got a cutout design which provides relief to them crown jewels on the long rides. A nice little touch to round things off are the rough (and tough) sides which allow you to lean them of handy trees and rocks without worrying about ripping it. If you plan on some downhilling though, its width might hinder your ability to get back and behind it.

So whats the bottom line on the 2011 KHS Alite 1000?

I love the bike! Love love love it. I’m in the process of upgrading a few components but its heart will remain. I think it was the best possible bike available for the money in 2011. The younger avatar now costs 6000 more (and that isn’t even MRP) and though it comes with a Rockshox fork, the frame is the same as the lesser siblings, which wasn’t the case in 2011. The head angle is also slightly different (less slack) and Im not sure how this will affect handling. With the new import rates, get ready to pay even more for it in the second half of the year.

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Well, this post has been a long time coming. In fact, I’ve only been pushed to penning it down because I’m so excited about my upgrade that this needs to be put out of the way in order for me to talk about that.

So here goes my review of the stock 2011 KHS Alite 1000. But, putting this down involves a little introduction as to how I found my inner mountain biker.

Part 1 – How it happened

The truth is that I was a man on the roadie-mtb fence. I had a hybrid and it seemed fine. I was enjoying 70km rides with a few fellow urban adventurers and had no plans to pick a side anywhere in the recent future. That was for the first four months that is.

It so happened that my Dad was due to retire some time April last year. I was racking my brain for a good retirement gift when my mum happened to mention that Dad was toying with the idea of an old beat-up bike to potter around on when he retired. This cleared things up in quick time. A bike it had to be. But what sort of bike? A comfortable one! How is this related to my Alite 1000 you ask? Well, allow me to lead up to it.

So, I paid Venky (at Wheelsports) a visit to see what he had to offer. I had seen a couple of Merida Crossways and they seemed like nice hybrids at a decent price and decided to investigate. After 5 mins of inspecting the Crossways, I had made up my mind. These were a real disappointment – not terribly pleasing looks, average specs, ok-ish price and sub-optimal finish.

On turning around though I stopped at the sight of an infinitely more pleasing machine. It was a mountain bike. And it was red! It was the new KHS Alite 150 and it was downright hot. I’d seen pics of the KHS range online and wasn’t overly impressed. In the metal however, it was a different story entirely. They were gorgeous! I checked out the specs and the entire range (150, 300, 500, 1000 and 2000) blew the competition out of the water on every. Understand that this lad had no clue whatsoever what this whole mountain biking thing was all about. The only offroading I’d done involved lugging my Trek 7100 to Sarjapur to join a crew who were recceing the route for the BBCh XC race in 2011. It was tough going that day what with my 700x35c tyres making life in the sand rather difficult.

After an evening talking to Venky, I went back home with a few thoughts to ponder. I figured that the most comfortable ride my Dad could get would actually be a hardtail – front sus and fat tyres taking any possible edge off a commute. Speed wasn’t even a consideration since it would be used for general pottering around and my Dad is in no hurry to get anywhere. Then, to take care of any possible fit issues, and to take into account the fact that my Dad would be riding again after a gap of 40 years, I decided that an adjustable stem wouldn’t be a bad idea. Bounced the idea off Venky and he was happy to oblige. I figured the 150 was just too low-specced for my liking and the 300 hit the price-performance sweet-spot, so the Alite 300 it was.

Adding a twist to the tale, I saw the 2010 Alite 300 lying there which looked even better than its more recent counterpart. It turned out that it was a 15 inch frame which would work well for a lady because of its rather low top-tube. The Better Half’s (TBH from now on) birthday was a month away and I had been seriously considering a bike as a gift. Stumbling across this one was something of a sign which I just couldn’t pass up.

So, after having visited Wheelsports to check out the feasibility of a hybrid, I walked away with not one, but two KHS Alite 300s. Venky was really helpful and was happy to customise one of them for my Dad and hold the other for a month until TBH’s birthday came around (we both like surprises you see). The silver coloured ride was loaded into the car and I drove it down to Madras to show up on my Dad’s first day of retirement with a present he never expected. The black and red beauty showed up in our living room a month later with a red ribbon around the top tube to much astonishment and petting (as one can hardly help stroking beautiful metal).

Over the next couple of months I discovered the joys of bouncing a fork and trying to pop wheelies on a mountain bike that’s a little small for you. In fact, I found myself having so much fun in my basement on TBH’s bike that, in my mind’s eye, the sheen on my snappy (relatively new) Trek 7100 was beginning to dull. We also took the Alite 300 back to Venky a couple of times for a little tweaking. Each time we did, my eye lusted after a ride which usually lay in a corner – Naveen’s Alite 1000. The 2011 Alite 1000 actually has an identical paint job to the 2010 Alite 300 so it actually looked like TBH’s bike’s elder sibling. After much soul searching, and keeping in mind the fact it wouldn’t be great to bust TBH’s new ride, I decided I had to have a hardtail. Again, Venky and Naveen went way beyond any call of duty. I was lent Naveen’s Alite 1000 to ride for a few days to see whether it suited me. I swapped my 7100 with him so he could commute on that while I tried out his bad boy.

The very first day I took it home, I was mucking around in the basement parking area. I’d never used disc brakes on a bicycle before so I had no idea what I was dealing with. I grabbed the front brake and ended up doing a stoppie which threw me over the bars! My left knee painfully whacked the bar and that was that. I spent the next week or so limping around with my knee swollen. My obsession with the bike though, would brook no opposition and I ended up doing a 15km ride where I ended up pedalling with basically one leg.

I could stand it no longer. I had to have it!

Venky, as is his wont, gave me a fabulous deal and I rode the 15kms home with my new bike.

That was in June 2011.

Over the last ten months I have ridden the bike almost exclusively offroad. I have ridden XC around Sarjapur, Turahalli and Airport road and taken many a (painful) toss on it while attempting the downhill track at Turahalli.

There are things I love about it and some things I hate about it but, in its entirety, it has helped me understand the kind of riding I enjoy and the kind I don’t. I’ll get into those details in my next post.

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