Ok, I'll admit it, when I decided to race in the Mellow Classic it was a complete whim. I've never been much of a mountain biking guy. Sure, I had taken the occassional romp in the woods but for the most part, my miles were either logged on the road or on the track (bmx). I also discovered rather quickly that difference between a good XC Race bike and a bad one is about 7lbs and $3000! Now, I may not have $3000 to throw at my bike, but what I do have is — a crazy, blinding, tireless obsession to scour the internet for deals and information. I've managed to land a titanium frame for under $600 and upgrade to Easton carbon bars, a thomson stem and SLX cranks for around $200. I'm shaving weight slowly, but it's also not breaking the bank. More importantly, I'm gaining knowledge and finding the resources to help continue that.
Here is what I've learned so far.
#1. There are amazing deals to be found on eBay, you just need to be patient, and know how to look. My favorite method for deal finding is to deliberately misspell words. If you're looking for a Thomson stem....type Thompson. There is a pretty good chance that there is a stem out there, and I guarantee...there aren't many people watching it.
#2. While Jenson USA and Pricepoint are still my first stops for online shopping, I'd recommend picking up a Mountain Biking magazine. There are a ton of advertisements for smaller companies all desperate for your dollar. No one is going to tell you where the cheapest prices are, you have to go find them.
#3. Make friends with the guys at your Local Bike Shop (LBS). I can't tell you how many times I've walked in with a broken something or other and those guys have come to my rescue. I can't promise that their prices will always be cheaper, but what they can offer you is knowledge. Take the time to linger in the shop. If they are working on your bike, hang around if you can. You'll not only be able to learn a thing or two but these guys are plugged into what's happening in the biking scene. LBS's are the hub of any biking community. They'll tell you about swap meets, events, group rides, or even take you out on one of their rides. Be forewarned...if you do go out riding with them, chances are they are going to be 10x the rider you are.
#4. Titanium is sexy and flexy.