How I got the Btwin Rockrider 540 MTB & went on a Manali-Leh expedition

I needed permission from my parents to take a 14-day leave from my school to go on a trip on 2 wheels for over 450 km with a lot of factors not under anyone’s control.

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Hello Everyone! It’s time for my first review, and what’s better than reviewing my most used mode of transport for the past ~6 years: my Btwin RR540, a.k.a Red Explorer!

Before beginning with my review, I want to thank my parents for giving me the privilege to purchase the bike and (spoiler alert) upgrading some parts down the line; I am forever grateful to them.

My hunt for a new bike began back in mid-2016 when I had a Schnell Master Elite (Which was bought back in 2012). While the Schnell was a huge upgrade from the Hercules I had prior to that, it had started to show its age, and further research on bikes showed me the difference between the “basic” bikes and the premium ones.

After going through multiple forums on the web, I figured out my needs and wants for my next bike:

  • Hydraulic brakes: Having a silky smooth lever with the ability to modulate the brakes with greater control is something that was on top of the needs/wants list.
  • Hardtail: Since most of my rides were going to be on the road, with a fraction of the rides being on rougher surfaces, hardtail seemed like the right option; Moreover with the arbitrary budget of 30k, a full suspension or a road bike with desirable specifications was a big stretch.
  • Quick Release on both the wheels and seat: Using a wrench to adjust the seat height or remove the wheels didn’t seem ideal.
  • Removable Derailleur Hanger: This was a no-brainer; When my Schnell fell over on the derailleur side, it bent the frame where the derailleur was mounted, which led to a lot of “jugaad” repairs done by my local bike shop, including but not limited to welding.

With all these requirements in mind, I started shortlisting bikes… and the shortlisting stopped pretty quickly; Why? The only bikes that fit the bill were:

Firefox Nuke 29er

This was a new release back then, hence stocks were extremely limited, and most of the shops in Navi Mumbai didn’t have them in stock. But apart from the stock issue, everything else was great about the bike, it had everything I wanted for the price of around 33k if I recall correctly.

Btwin Rockrider 540

This bike was a surprise find for me because I wasn’t aware of Decathlon’s presence back then *facepalm*. However, after seeing Rockrider 540 on the Decathlon website, I knew this was it; My teenage heart melted after seeing how clean the bike looked with its simple red and dark grey colorway, which was miles ahead of the tacky color options of the competition (at least in the price bracket)

Now, I had a bike in mind, so it was time to move on to the next (and arguably more daunting) task: convincing my parents to spend over 30k on a bike.

I followed a few simple formulas: “patience is key” and “recurring reminders/requests”. The proposal for a new cycle was submitted to the higher authorities in October 2016, with multiple reminders sprinkled throughout the following months while also showcasing the features every now and then.

The closest Decathlon store near Navi Mumbai was in Thane, an hour-long drive, so even getting a closer look at my potential new bike was not possible. After multiple attempts, on Saturday, January 21st, 2017, I finally convinced my parents to drive to Decathlon Thane to check out the bike in person; I was absolutely over the moon, even though they had explicitly mentioned that we were only going there to check the bike out and NOT buy it.

The hour-long drive felt like nothing, mostly because of the excitement. Upon reaching the destination, I was awe-struck with how HUGE the store was, like nothing I had seen before; The sheer width and depth of the store, with many cycles of the same kind, lined up in order of size. It did feel like a field day, albeit a bittersweet one, considering I was “only” going to get a glimpse of my bike.

I walked towards the mountain bikes section and saw the bike I wanted lined up in front of me. For those who aren’t aware, Decathlon encourages you to test their products inside the store itself, before going ahead with the purchase (you can see multiple people riding bikes and skateboards in a Decathlon store). The salesperson looked at me and took out a bike of an appropriate size from the rack and handed it over to me, basically implying to take it for a spin in the store.

Mind you, this was the first time I experienced hydraulic brakes in person, and boy did it feel good; It exceeded all my expectations which were solely based on reviews. I was SOLD. Everything was perfect, and buttery smooth; The front fork (Made by Suntour) had real shock absorption properties (and hydraulic lockout), unlike the ones found in cheaper bikes, including my Schnell. I did try out the other bikes present in the store, but I was (still) fixated on the Rockrider 540.

After the short test ride, I told my parents how great the bike felt, to which they answered something along the lines of “That’s great, but we aren’t buying it right now”, we walked out of Decathlon, empty-handed, to the supermarket below it. I couldn’t stop thinking about the bike while inside the supermarket either. The amount of thinking I’d done over the past week(s) made me forget about one thing: It was my birthday week.

I went up to the store again to give the bike one last look, my parents joined me soon after; I was ready to leave with them, however, my dad said, “We didn’t drive for an hour to go home empty-handed” and revealed that it was an obvious, hidden in plain sight birthday gift surprise! I couldn’t believe it but the bike I was looking for was now in the process of officially being mine.

The purchase process was pretty straightforward, and the bike was set up in accordance with my body proportions, and accessories (sold separately) were fitted on at the same time.

The bike was transported to Navi Mumbai in our car’s (VW Jetta) trunk with its wheel removed; It was one peaceful ride back home!

The next morning, the photographer in me decided to wake up before I did, so here are some pictures:

Red Explorer in all its glory!

Shimano Altus 9-speed derailleur does the job well under loads and the 11-32 cassette offers a decent load.

The 80mm upside-down stem comes with modular pieces to adjust the height; very clever graphics!

Can’t get over how clean the livery looks, minimal and modern.

Red calipers up in the front give the bike a sporty look.

A weird quirk about the brakes: the bike came in two variants, one with Btwin by Tektro hydraulic brakes, and one with Hayes Radar brakes; I went with Hayes (mostly due to the looks :P). Braking performance is good, with a really linear actuation.

Living with Red Explorer is a breeze, nothing bothers the bike, be it flowy roads, or trails; The 27.5″/650b wheelset offers the best of both worlds; The agility of a 26er, and the smooth, fast rides of a 29er.

My first proper cycling expedition was a group event organized by Pedal Thirst Adventures to Tamhini Ghat in the month of October 2017. An overnight camp and riding the bike for 130 km sounded like bliss, so I went for it. I met many like-minded people, it was a great experience overall!

Tamhini Ghat ride had its ups and downs, literally! Going down the road at speeds of 50+kmph knowing that your bike can handle it is a new and awesome feeling!

That’s me! Tired, drenched in sweat, and being bullied by the sun, but with a smile across my face because I was getting to explore new places with my Red Explorer.

At the end of this trip, the group leader proposed the idea of doing a bigger trip: Manali to Leh on our bikes.

Nothing was confirmed yet, but I was again super excited about it and potentially being a part of that trip. This meant a few things to me:

  • I needed permission from my parents to take a 14-day vacation from school in the month of July 2018. Not just any ordinary vacation, but an expedition on 2 wheels for over 450kms with a lot of factors not under anyone’s control.
  • Even though my bike was performing great so far, upgrading a few crucial parts felt like a good idea. Getting permission for the same would be an interesting task.

Now, the research phase of getting a few parts upgraded has officially begun. Since the entire bike industry couldn’t agree on a single standard for all the parts, it was a pain to figure out which parts were compatible and which ones were not. I had intended to upgrade the following components:

  • Drivetrain: I always loved the SRAM style shifters (i.e you can shift up and down using just your thumb) and also felt the need for smoother and more reliable shifting. Added gears would be a bonus.
  • Brakes: This was an upgrade that I actually needed since the stock brakes felt lacking at times, plus finding brake pads for Hayes calipers was difficult and more often than not, an expensive affair.
  • Pedals: There’s something about metal platform pedals grabbing onto your shoes and keeping them in place, which the default Wellgo composite pedals couldn’t offer.

For the drivetrain, I decided to go for Shimano SLX M7000 Derailleur and an 11-36 10-speed cassette, paired with a KMC X10 Chain. Huge credit goes to Sheldon Brown for clearing out all the doubts I had in my mind regarding the conversion from a 9-speed to a 10-speed cassette.

Brakes were an easy choice too; Shimano SLX M7000 Brakes in the front and rear, with the fronts getting a bump in rotor size too, going from 160mm to 180mm. An additional post-mount adapter was required to accommodate the bigger rotor.

Getting pedals without actually seeing them in person was a gamble which thankfully played off wonderfully in my case; I went for Xpedo SPRY for their lightweight magnesium build and aesthetics!

Since most of the parts were wildly overpriced in India, I ordered them from Bike Components, which is based in Germany. This move would however later bite me in my butt when India Post asked for customs duty upon delivery, but I guess you lose some to gain some.

All the parts arrived in a big box safely; The cardboard did its job pretty well.

These were all the parts, customary top-down shot!

180mm vs 160mm rotor; The additional 20mm goes a long way in slowing down your bike quicker while dissipating more heat in the process.

SLX Brake levers look and feel amazing, adjustable levers are a sweet touch.

Here’s a short clip showing the derailleur in action!

These upgrades were worth every penny; Each and every part has held up to the test of time, which included a lot of moisture, a few falls, and all types of terrain, be it the smooth tarmac or wading through a river!

With upgrades out of the way, the next step was convincing my parents for Manali-Leh trip; Long story short, it was difficult to convince my mom (who had a lot of questions regarding the safety and my abilities), but in the end, just a day before the trip was scheduled to commence, my mom agreed to the plan, and I’m once again so grateful for that.

While my Manali-Leh expedition on my bike deserves a separate thread, I can’t recall all the details of the 14-day long trip, so I shall let pictures do the talking!

Various accessories attached to my bike

  • Axiom Journey Bike Rack: Built like a tank, can carry upto 70kgs and adds rigidity to the bike frame
  • Ortlieb Back Roller Classic Waterproof Pannier: The industry standard for bikepacking adventures, truly lives up to its waterproof claims if used properly. Very easy to mount and dismount. With a total of 40 litres of combined storage, it easily stored everything I needed for the trip.
  • Voltaic Arc 10W Solar Panel with Xiaomi Powerbank: This setup helped to keep all my gadgets fully charged. The solar panel trickle charged the power bank over the course of the day.
  • GoPro Hero5 Black: Run-of-the-mill action cam; Was mounted with really cheap bar mounts.
  • Casio Tough Solar Watch: A solar-powered watch to keep track of time and set intervals for breaks. This stayed on the handlebar.
  • A very cheap bungee cord (more on this later)
  • American Tourister Backpack with Quecha Rain Cover

Scenic routes and great company made me forget that I had to attend regular school classes after 2 weeks…

Conquering the Rohtang Pass was a huge achievement for me, but also a massive middle finger to all those people who had to give in their unasked opinions about my strength to my parents.

Deepak Taal and Red Explorer in all its glory!

Many passes were conquered throughout the 450km journey.

Remember the cheap bungee cord I mentioned earlier? It snapped and its hook managed to leave a deep scratch on my rear brake caliper. It could’ve been a much bigger issue, but I believe luck was on my side back then!

Before going for an impromptu bike wash session…

Washing the bike in a cold water stream; Not a common sight to see!

These were some of the many pictures clicked during the trip. The bike gave me no trouble throughout the journey, apart from a puncture which was fixed quite easily.

Here’s the vlog of the entire trip.

Check out BHPian comments for more insights and information.

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