Please help a roadie spec a climbing MTB!

Hi there forum,
I am looking at building a climbing focused MTB and have absolutely zero clue about anything MTB, so I need help!
I am a roadie/ gravel aficionado, who loves traveling and climbing. Since I have taken up increasingly many epic climbs, especially of the mega steep variety, the more I have run into the limitations that gravel and road bikes carry.
Several of the very evil climbs have either several kilometers beyond 15% incline on poor road surface (Alto de las Animas, Nebelhorn, Alpe Fuori) and others have long off-road sections, where gravel bikes can hardly keep traction (Mount Etna, Jausiers, Mauna Kea).

I figured: “Hey, I have an excuse to get a new bike!”
I was thinking the Open with 27.5" tires and AXS Mullet gearing could be that bike, but it isn’t.
While it can get me up quite well, once at the top of such climb, it’s a long and arduous procedure to get back down. I was thinking Gravel suspension fork, but why not go full MTB, which would be the best for the job.

So, Long story short: I need a MTB, that climbs and descends well.
I am a terrible bike handler, so while I’ll do trails, it will be primary school stuff.
One thing that always kept me from buying an MTB, was the geometry: I did Etna and they didn’t have a hard tail, so I had to go with a fully. The 760mm bars were stupid wide and the hand position was terrible ( for me). The bar was bent, so that my wrists had to rotate inwards (hands pointing outwards), which I was really painful to endure for this hourlong climb.

So maybe there is a good compromise somewhere, I really don’t know:

Currently I am thinking:

  • S-Works Epic HT
  • Rock-Shox Race Day 100mm fork (44 or 51 offset?)
  • Extralite Wheels with Berd spokes
  • Conti SpeedKing Protection 29" tires (other fast/ light recommendations?)
  • some boutique handlebar (recommendations? Recommendations to alleviate the wrist issue? Recommendations on how narrow I can go without making the bike stupidly twitchy? - it appears 750 to 770 is the gold standard nowadays, but I really hate how that feels…)
  • Grips? (I have no clue what to look for here)

Additional questions:
SRAM Eagle AXS is great and all, and I have used it for several years on my Open. But I am currently in the process of transitioning all my other bikes to Shimano. So it kinda feels wrong to buy a SRAM groupset again.
Then again, the Shimano XTR looks old af. Not really interested in buying a new groupset and have them release a new one like 4 months later.
Wait? SRAM? What would you do?

Not sure if a dropper post is important for my limited application. Possibly not. I would just go with something like Schmolke or Darimo, unless you’d recommend to definitely go with a dropper.

Really looking forward to your guy’s input and learning more about MTBing.:call_me_hand:t2:

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Things can be really personal. I’ve a Cotic Solaris that I love but I’ve heard good things about the Epic.

Handlebars - when you say the bar was “bent” do you mean swept backward? You might not have the right body and arm position. You want elbows bent to almost 90 degrees but not at your side as you would do on a road/gravel bike, they should be almost like you are doing a press-up. Check out videos of good MTB riders to see what I mean. You need to get your elbows into a position that means your wrists are straight. For my long distance stuff I use Jones Loop Bars which are swept back at 45 degrees, another technique entirely, but really comfortable. Width, I’m 1.80m tall and find bars in the 700-720mm range to be about right for me. Most bars have marks on them that let you trim them down but obviously once you’ve cut them there’s not going back!

Dropper posts are really useful, possibly the biggest single advance in MTB setup in years, they let you move your body around much more freely. How many BMX/street riders do you see with a high saddle? :wink:

Groupsets? I’m a Shimano guy :man_shrugging: We’ve ten bikes in the house and the only one with SRAM is my wife’s fat bike.

I recommend not building, but buying a full suspension XC bike. There are numerous good options that will fit exactly what you’re looking for. Since you don’t know anything about mountain biking, you don’t know what compromises you’ll be making regarding each component and how it will all work together if you’re building it yourself. The fork travel/length, bar width, stem, frame size, etc., all played together to make the bike efficient and handle a certain way. XC bikes are in a great spot right now and you really can’t lose with any top brand.

Also you’ll likely pay much more building a bike rather than finding a completed bike. For your situation I don’t see any advantage building up a bike yourself. Additionally, I’d say get a dropper post since you are not a good bike handler. Not only will it be safer, but it will build more confidence in your descending. There is little to no down side to having a dropper.


What kind of surface for these climbs? For anything steep and resembling technical - rocks, roots, very uneven I’d be tempted to go towards full suspension as well, I just think they climb better and more grounded than an HT (caveat I’m basing this on myself climbing on full sus vs. locked out full sus rather than HT). It’ll be so much more grounded on the descents as well. Maybe if you’re just considering very steep fire roads etc. I’d go HT but otherwise.

I’d avoid the Speed Kings personally as well unless again you’re just riding gravel / fire road type stuff. They’re basically slicks, if you want a bike that descends well these will not instil confidence. If you’re a ‘terrible bike handler’ then you need grip, and these are the opposite lol.

Thanks for your replies so far.
I am getting a bike sizing by RETÜL soon.

That’s correct. Swept backwards by more than 6 degrees. But I think the bigger issue was the bike in general not fitting.

I agree to some degree. I am not about going completely wild. The Epic HT is delivered with the same fork I‘d go with. The dimensions of other components will be Chosen according to fit. Wheels are same dimensions, just lighter.
So what is the point of building it myself? Weight!
It’s mainly focused on climbing after all. I am not chasing downhill KOMs.

I got a Epic Evo expert 2 weeks ago and it is amazing. Great climber and so far. Only issue js handlebar clearance to top tube on controls. I knew that going in a d was replacing handle bars with enve m6 25 rise so no issues anymore.

Especially huge volcanic and alpine climbs, not usually forests. Let me just drop in a bunch of pictures of what I am looking at:


I may well go with other tires if I am hitting trails more frequently. I have ridden the Speedkings up steep off-road climbs to good success. They are among the fastest knobbies there are, that still offer decent protection. But I am open to other suggestions.

I have ridden a fully on a big climb before (Giant Trance, the only bike available). I hated the full suspension, that I couldn’t really lock out… but maybe there are more dampers that behave more efficiently.

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Re RaceKings:
I mean the 2020 ones, not the 2015 ones:

Not these:

I’m pretty sure SRAM axs isn’t much newer than the current XTR stuff. Maybe 6months newer? If that.

But on the handlebars, you can certainly go narrower than 760. Lots of pro XC guys run closer to 720 on their bikes. Though I do think that width is something that is useful for stability (especially if you bike handling is bad like you said) and is something you could get used to. You can also find bars that have your preferred backsweep and other dimensions independent of the width.

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All these climbs look very doable with a gravel bike, the only thing is that you need the right gears and right tires.

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Based on the surfaces you posted, a hard tail or short travel XC bike will work. Don’t discount full suspension being too much, on long climbs it can help smooth out uneven terrain more than you think. Any modern XC bike will have a full on lock out mode on the shock too.

There’s only one choice for grips and light bikes: ESI silicone grips. I changed to these after years of bulky lock on grips and they’re on all my flat bar bikes now.

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@MI-XC Exactly what I would have said.

Cool, yeah I’d class that as more or less gravel / fire road so HT a good option if that’s all you’re truely interested in riding. Probably don’t even need a dropper post if you want to save that weight as well.

Anything more technical, singletrack etc. Is where the dropper and full sus come more into their own.


Don’t chase only weight. More important than weight when off road is grip. You might baulk at full suspension but the added grip and traction it can afford you should not be over looked.

Consider a Trek Super Caliber?

As a roadie turned xc mtb climbing fanatic - I’d suggest a full sus but if it’s primarily for gravel climbs then a hardtail would do. I ride a hardtail and really enjoy long days out on mixed surface terrain.

Also 720 bars is plenty! I’m 5’10 (m) and ride 38cm for road.


You’re probably correct. Quite an exaggeration by me. With rumors of XTR being update this year, I am still not super fond of buying it now.

I’ll definitely look into that.

Yes, that’s true. I’m a little worried I’ll not make much use of it and carry it around uselessly for most of my riding.

The riding I am looking at mostly is not technical, but you’re right. I am looking for the sweetspot between driving a truck and driving a go cart :sweat_smile:.

You are 100% correct. All of these can be ridden on a gravel bike and all of them have been ridden on one as well. Many people even did Mauna Kea on a road bike with 32c tires.

What I am looking for is absolutely a luxury. The best and fastest way to the top and a save and smooth ride back down.
If you take Etna for example (first two images I posted) it has pretty deep volcanic sand on its surface. I know a guy who is a much better bike handler than I am who did it on a gravel bike with SRAM AXS Mullet and 42c knobbies and he had to dismount and carry the bike several times. The climbs I am looking at are often beyond 10% in gradient for several miles, have subpar surface, and are very high in altitude. So a hardtail is probably the fastest way up (unless you build a gravel bike with 650b tires and a minuscule chainring).
Where I imagine the hardtail to truly shine is on the way down. I am not looking at racing down any of these mountains. But going down some of the very steep „gravel climbs“ I did, including loose surface, sand and 20% downhill over bumpy terrain, a suspension and the „one-finger-braking“ of an MTB are a true blessing.
That’s why I arrived at the idea of using a hard tail.


It’s my no 2 on the list…
But the LBS situation in my area basically confines me to the big S.

This makes a lot of sense. I guess the only caveat would be how much paved road you have to do in order to get to the start of the climb. There’s a brutal climb I love , that if I don’t want to drive, I need to ride 2 hours in pave road to get there. So for these type of rides I prefer the gravel bike.

I did Mount Etna up to the gravel on my Aethos, and then a rented fully to the top :sweat_smile:. I know that’s overkill, but nice and fast!

I wouldn’t completely discount the idea of a gravel suspension fork! I picked up an MRP Baxter 2.0 last fall to swap into my Open UPPER for bikepacking/mega adventure rides. It has been amazing. Paired with 27.5x2.2” tires I have ridden tons of really technical MTB trails and it still feels great locked out on smooth gravel or tarmac. As pictured with the thicc tires and fork, the bike weighs 20.2lbs. I am, like you, completely new to MTB stuff, so the combo of road frame and Geo with the extra capability offered by the fork has been really amazing. Think it would be a great match for your use case.

I built the bike with an awesome hydro brake quick disconnect that lets me swap between the factory internally routed carbon fork and the suspension fork in 5min with no need to bleed the brakes, but unfortunately I am having some issues with the disconnect I am still troubleshooting so wouldn’t quite recommend the setup just yet. If I can get it dialed it will be seriously amazing.