If you read previous posts, late last year I traded my Eastern Traildigger 26" DJ bike for an old school Gary Fisher SuperCaliber. I was super excited but promptly lost my new-to-me woody when I found cracks near the water bottle mounts. With a broken frame, I had all these old and new components needing a place to go, so I went to www.bikeisland.com and found a 18" Kinesis frame for $185 (I should've went with Nashbar, but oh well).
With an urban smasher in mind, I built it around a Surly 1X1 fork, 2.35" Schwalbe Big Apples, a big Race Face Atlas all-mountain handlebar, a homemade double crankset (22/39) and an 11-34 8 sp. cassette. I have both front and rear racks, v-brakes, square taper cranks and BB, and a bell. The entire bike weighs 31.08 lbs., as shown. Dalmatian not included.
I don't know what it is about this build, but as heavy, generic, and old-school as it is, I am just having a blast on it. Since the Big Apples are so, well, big, they provide a comfort on the road that can't be had with skinny road tires or even wider cyclocross tires. Let some air out to 25-30psi, and they climb dry rocks just as well as mountain bike tires and handle fireroads and dry singletrack just fine. Take it easy in the mud,though. The 26" Big Apples sit at, actually, a larger diameter than my 700 X 28 road bike wheels and tires - so you get a slight benefit in a larger rotational mass. I successfully mounted them ghetto tubeless which is holding together very well.
This is now the only aluminum bike I own (except for my beach cruiser) and I'm actually enjoying the stiffness of it. It mashes the hills quite nicely and combined with the fat tires, is not jarring at all. I am not at all delicate with this bike, and it is taken through the rocks of Santa Teresa County park at least 3-4 times a week.
Since this bike is not fancy, very understated and unassuming, it's not a conversation piece unless people know what they are looking at. Adding more fun to the mix, I climb past guys on $2000 full suspension mountain bikes all the time on it - and it looks like a commuter bike.
But, best of all, it has become a jack of all trades. My daily rides are, at a minimum, 50% dirt and 50% road - sometimes more or less either way. And this bike seems to be doing both very, very well. Of course, it's not going to perform like a 15lb. road race bike or the newest technology carbon fiber all-mountain bike, but it can, and will, hang with those bikes on many occasions. I can spin up trails in the granny gears, or mash on the flat asphalt streets in the 39T chainring and 11T cog.
Don't discount these $99 generic frames. Often times they will have lifetime warranties against defects and they are often made by the same hands behind any of the big name frames.