My middle daughter Megan (20) seems to appreciate many of the same activities as me.  Last year we had an awesome trip to the Smoky  Mountain National Park where we mountain biked, and fly fished.

Megan’s bike is my old 26in Gary Fisher hardtail.  The bike has lots of miles and it’s too big for Megan so I’m considering updating her setup.  What I’m struggling with is whether I should build or buy a mountain bike.

Build a Mountain Bike vs Buy It Complete?

I’m an Engineer so it seems like I need to over analyze these things.  The quick answer; it only makes monetary sense to build a mountain bike when the mountain bike cost is over $3,500.  Below that threshold you can get more value if you buy a mountain bike.

Download this MOUNTAIN BIKE BUILD CHECKLIST PDF – NO EMAIL necessary.  A perfect companion for shopping and tracking components needed to build a mountain bike.

What are the steps for this MTB project

  • Define the use – How is the bike going to be used

Within riding distance of our house we’re lucky to have a nice single-track trail.  No it doesn’t have mountain views or long descents (I live in Michigan we don’t even have a true mountain) What the trail does have is some climbs, small rock gardens and a mix of challenges.   The kind of trail that begs for a full suspension bike.

Megan is also in college (MSU), one of those mega schools with 30,000 kids.  She is in the outdoor club which actively backpacks and mountain bikes.   The reason I mention this is my fear of a +$5,000 bike being stolen.  So, the bike isn’t going to be used for commuting around campus and will be stored in her dorm room or car.

  • Answering the need – finding a MTB that best fits the person and use.

Megan is 5’ 3” (she might be smaller but I’m afraid to dig into the subject) So to size her we went to a couple bike shops and had her sit on and do a couple short test rides.  We found out she has a short torso and legs.  Because of these characteristics a female specific bike really works well for her.

A stand out bike was the LIV Intrigue 2 at $3,880 model by Giant.  Giant introduced the LIV brand a couple years ago to bring a fit, form and function design to women’s mountain bikes.

Another brand and model that fit well is Specialized Juliana retail $3,899.  The suspension on the Juliana wasn’t quite as nice as the Intrigue.   But the differences were so minute I hesitate to even state that.

The last test bike we tried, and a real surprise was the Diamondback Clutch 2 retailing $3,499.  With a sweet 150mm fork and a serious 130mm rear travel.  The only component I didn’t have experience with was the Race Face 1 x 11 drivetrain.

Megan spent the most time on the Liv, which has what I would consider the a higher end FOX suspension setup and the SCRAM NX Eagle drivetrain.

  • With the MTB selected, started Shopping for the Components to Build it myself.

I’ll include all the comparisons in the [download id=”4382″] but for the article, but I’m selecting the Liv Intrigue 2 as my baseline for cost comparison.

The Intrigue 2 retails for $3,885, this is a lot of cash and I’d really like to find some deals to build this for less.

MONEY SAVING TIP: Selecting a hardtail suspension can have a significant savings.  The frame and rear shock are a major cost driver.  I could slice +$400 off the purchase price easily by backing down to a HT.

  • What do I need to build a Mountain Bike?

I created a big matrix of the specs for the Liv.  The objective is to shop for deals for components of similar quality at a savings.  As much as possible I’m going to try to get new items unless I can find a screaming good deal on lightly used upgrade.

  • Frame
  • Tires Front and Rear
  • Wheel set Front and Rear (hubs included)
  • Presta valves
  • Rear cassette
  • Rear Derailleur
  • Rear Shift Cable
  • Rear Thru Axle
  • Extra rear de hanger
  • Rear disc
  • Rear Disc Brake
  • Extra brake pads
  • Bottom Bracket
  • Crankset
  • Pedals
  • Front chain ring
  • Chain
  • Rear Shock
  • Seat Post (Dropper)
  • Seat Clamp
  • Seat
  • Front Fork
  • Front Disc
  • Front disc brake hydraulic with grip
  • Extra brake pads
  • Shifter
  • Threadless Stem
  • Handle Bar Clamp
  • Handle bar
  • Grips
Mountain Bike Build Parts List
Mountain Bike Build Parts List

Break down the actual numbers plus factor in a CONTINGENCY

So after a couple hours shopping on Amazon, Ebay and Craiglist I had all the parts compiled.  Of course I lost the deal of the century on EBAY for a new 2018 LIV Intrigue Frame for only $508.  I broke up my shopping over the course of a couple days and when I finally totaled everything up, I realized the frame I had found was a STEAL.

It might have been stolen.  So your probably wondering what the totals are.

BUY the LIV Intrigue = $3,885

Build the LIV Intrigue = $2,287 (NOTE this included the EBAY Frame Deal)

liv frame ebay
liv frame ebay

When I priced a new LIV Intrigue Frame from the LBS it added = +$812.  For a total = $3,099

  • How much is my time worth building a mountain bike?

Like most folks I’ve got a lot going on.  A house that seems to be falling apart.  A wonderful family that includes three kids and glorious wife. Plus a full time job and a couple little side jobs to pay for my mountain biking passion.

I estimated I would have 4.5 hours including shopping time actual build was a little over 3 hours.  If I said each hour is worth $50.  I would have a labor cost of $225.

  • Cost savings that weren’t quite equal.

Ok, I’ll admit some of the components I picked weren’t quite as nice as the Liv Intrigue.  To equal things up a little I’ve detailed those items.

  1. Wheelset – The wheel set I selected isn’t as nice as the Giant setup on the complete bike. Saving estimate = $220
  2. The Handlebars aren’t quite as nice and the Liv purchase bike. Savings estimate = $45.
  3. You could debate that the Shimano brake-set I selected isn’t quite as nice as the LIV purchase bike. I’ll toss $50 savings to quite the complainers.
  4. If you look closely at the cost summary you’ll notice I added a 15% contingency.  Like any project unknown items pop-up, something gets broken or an extra tool is needed.

Some other Mountain Bike Items that have a Value

Does a factor warranty have any value? The Liv comes with a lifetime warranty on the frame.  Plus my experience has shown having the local bike shop service a bike purchased from them carries an implied warranty.  I’ve had bikes tuned up for free, cleaned and wheels trued.

Tools, If you didn’t have the tools to actually build the bike you could easily add another $400.  Luckily I have most of the tools available to build a bike.   If you’d like to read about the tools needed go to The Ultimate Mountain Bike Tool List for On and Off the Trail.

GRAND TOTAL for Build versus Buy a Mountain Bike

Again you can download the below, plus see some of the details behind this summary.

Buy v Build MTB
Buy v Build MTB

If I total everything up to equalize the components and add in labor what do I get?  Purchase the bike for $3,885 or build it for $3,630.  So what should I do?  Once you start down the road of getting a couple items you’re basically committed to building a bike.  It’s fun, I’ve done it in the past, and I’ll probably do it again in the future.

MTB Tools I Love and Recommend

Bike Hand Repair Stand
Bike Hand Repair Stand
Bike Hand 37 pcs Tool Box
Bike Hand 37 pcs Tool Box
Topeak Smartgauge D2 Air Pressure
Topeak Smartgauge D2 Air Pressure

I own each of these tools and only recommend things I own and use.

  • Bike Hand Bike Repair Stand.  Nice mountain bikes don’t have a kick stand so keeping your MTB safe but conveniently stored is essential.  I keep my bike on my stand whenever I’m not riding it.  This makes it easy to lube the chain, inflate the tires and adjust the derailleur.  Highly recommended – Bike Hand Bike Repair Stand (👈 Link to Amazon to see what thousands of others have said)
  • A basic MTB toolbox for replacing a chain, adjusting brakes and dialing in the fit.  Bike Hand has a 37-piece box that has most of the specialty bike tools to keep your MTB properly maintained.  The Bike Hand brand is value packed for the avid rider.  Check out the competitive prices with this link to Amazon 👉 Bike Hand 37 pcs Bike Repair Tool Kit
  • Get a good air pressure gauge, if you get just a tiny bit serious about MTBing you’re going to start playing with tire pressure.  A couple psi can make your tires sticking or not.  Get a good gauge, I highly recommend the Topeak Smartgauge D2, it’s accurate, flexible and easy to use.  An Amazon best seller, here’s a link 👉 Topeak Smartgauge D2
  • Carry a multitool with you on every ride.  I’m serious, most of the time you can MacGyver something to get back to the trailhead if you have a multitool.  I’ve got the Crank Brothers M19, it’s worn, rubbed and abused – but it still works.   Thousands sold on Amazon – check it out with this link 👉 Crank Brothers M19

David Humphries is the creator of DIY Mountain Bike. For me a relaxing day involves riding my mountain bike to decompress after a long day. When not on my bike I can be found wrenching on it or making YouTube videos at 👉 DIY Mountain Bike Read more about David HERE.