Building a 20-pound XC Rocket on a Budget [Reader Bike Check]

Kyle MacDermaid built up a lightweight, race-worthy mountain bike, based around an aluminum frame.
Photos courtesy of Kyle MacDermaid

Good cross-country bikes are meant to be light. The more weight a bike carries around, the more energy a rider expends trying to make it go as fast as possible, and unfortunately in the bike industry, lightweight often means expensive.

But, that doesn’t always have to be the case. With planning and research, riders can make a lightweight XC bike – or any bike for that matter – much more affordable than what it would normally retail for. That’s exactly what Kyle MacDermaid did, and then took he the bike to the races.

MacDermaid is based out of Royal Oak, Michigan. He told us about his aluminum-framed Specialized Chisel, which he’s piloted to success in many XC races, while saving money in the build process. He shopped for used parts and went with a metal frame. Still, he says his Chisel weighs just over 20 pounds with pedals, and he estimates it’s cost him about $3,500.

While that’s not pocket change, there are pages full of bikes that also weigh 20 pounds and cost twice as much. His Chisel is a size large, and he has a Fox Factory 32 fork, a Shimano XT Di2 drivetrain, Roval Control SL wheels, and a Specialized S-Works cockpit.

How did you plan your build to be more affordable with such high-level component choices?

I bought the frame partially built with components I wanted for about $2,000. I bought the wheels technically used, (they were still in the box) and saved a bunch there. I moved over some components from previous builds (carbon bars, post, etc.).

If I build another bike in the future, the wheels, bar, post, and even crank if I can, will all go over to the new build. That really helps you save a lot of money in the long term. I ran my first set of carbon wheels for five years. I’ve now used these wheels for 2+ years, and they are still rock-solid perfect. Moving over components like that can help you a lot over time.

How did you find the parts for your build?

I had plans to 100% build from a frame, but I actually found my bike partially built on Ebay from a guy out East. I bought the complete bike from him, as it had the frame, a Fox 32 StepCast Factory fork, full XT drivetrain (with Di2 which I probably wouldn’t have sprung for, but I love now) and a few other bits.

I then sourced some lighter wheels, (Roval Control SLs) and tried to get the lightest components I could as I wanted to build a really light aluminum race bike. I swapped to an XX1 11-speed cassette, the bike already had a Race Face Next R crankset, and I added some lightweight Ashima rotors. (We don’t have big hills here in Michigan.)

How long have you been mountain biking and how did you get into racing?

I got my first real mountain bike in [around] 2004, then had it stolen within a year. I bought another in 2007 and have mountain biked since. I grew up racing motocross, and rode a lot of BMX/dirt jumping as a kid. I did my first race in 2010, Mud Sweat and Beers, I got 3rd overall in the short race, and thought it was fun, but really didn’t start taking racing seriously until 2012.

I raced Single Speed Sport/Beginner and I think I won 7 or 8 races in the series here in Michigan (MMBA CPS), then moved up to Expert that fall. I did okay in a couple of races that fall, but I didn’t have the winter training down, and the next spring I came out and got spanked.

It took me until June to get on form and be competitive, and then I won my first Expert race, still in Single Speed, this time SS Expert / Elite. I actually didn’t own a geared bike from 2007 until 2015. I only rode single speeds. From 2013-2014 I competed and won a lot of races in SS/EE, and took some runner-ups and won a state title too.

I went to the USAC XC nationals at Bear Creek in 2014, and was running top 10 and moving forward before flatting. After that year I decided to start trying geared races in Elite, since I felt I was kind of plateaued on single speeds, and racing the same people over and over in our area. Moving up to Elite was a bit of a struggle, and I was mid to back of the pack for the first couple of years. Now I’m mid pack to an occasional podium, but I’m enjoying racing in deeper fields with faster people. Plus it’s fun to say you race “Elite.” We have a Master’s Elite category here in Michigan, I’m looking forward to that when I turn 40 (I’m 36).

How has it been racing an aluminum bike in a field where the majority of the riders are probably on carbon?

I’ve never really thought it was a disadvantage. I won my first Expert race on a 24lb. single speed, but it had decently light wheels on it (Stan’s Crests). I won my category at Iceman Cometh, and finished top 10 overall for amateurs out of nearly 5,000 on a 23lb. geared hardtail.

In both cases I was racing people on 18lb. bikes, but I don’t think it was ever a huge difference. With this Chisel build I ride now, I frequently have as light or a lighter bike than a lot of people I race against, even though they have carbon frames. My build is just over 20lbs., with bottle cages, pedals, everything ready to go.

I’d get a lot more comments in the past. In my first MMBA race I was on a 5-year-old Gary Fisher Rig, and a guy in the race commented that he “used to have that ol’ thing.” I went from the gun and never saw him again. I got a few comments when I first moved up to Elite, being on an aluminum, geared bike, but since I’ve gotten on the Chisel, most people don’t say anything. Most racers now know how good some of these aluminum frames can be now. I race a Specialized Allez Sprint on the road too, which has the same Smartweld tech, and it’s a very common bike at Crits.

I started riding aluminum bikes simply because they were cheaper, and as I got into racing I was just out of college and pretty broke. As time went on, I built a few higher end aluminum builds (singlespeed at the time.)

Once I got to racing in Expert and Elite categories, everyone was on carbon, and it was fun to be basically the only person on an aluminum-framed bike. I liked to show you didn’t need to spend $5-10,000 (or more) on a build to be competitive, especially with frames like this Chisel. They are really light, and a lot more compliant than in the past.

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