Gary Fisher Kaitai (1999)

15 ratings (14 Epinions reviews)
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This bike is better than higher priced competitors

Oct 26, 2000
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Great frame and suspension, all other components are very good

Cons:Front Derailer problems

For some reason Epinions has deleted my original review of this bike for me. So I chose to do a new and improved review. I have been mountain biking now for a short time, but I have been in the study of frame and suspension design for quite some time now. The Gary Fisher Kai Tai is a steal for the type of bike that it is.

Gary Fisher is in my mind the top mountain bike designer company out there. This is of course my opinion. Gary Fisher himself is a taller man and his bikes are more suited and designed for taller riders. (Although there are an extensive number of bikes for women by Gary Fisher) When I decided to purchase my first mountain bike I did a lot of test riding. My price range was somewhere around $500 to $600. This left some of my options to be the Specialized HardRock Comp ($549), the Trek 6000 ($569), and the Gary Fisher Tassajara ($579) to name just a few. After test riding a number of bikes I found that I liked the Tassajara the best, but I was thinking of the Specialized because it was cheaper. Then I decided, for the heck of it to try one of the more expensive bikes to see how much of a difference there was. So I tried out the Specialized Rockhopper ($779) and found it made a huge difference.

The Rockhopper was a much smoother ride. I could really feel myself getting more out of each rotation of the pedals. The shocks were the main thing that made a difference for me. The Rockhopper's shocks gave a very smooth ride over bumps and took the blow much much better when I went over bigger rocks or in holes. The salesman was a very trustworthy person who pointed out the geometry of the frame itself. The Rockhopper's frame was more geared toward climbing while the $500 bikes were for more general driving. The shocks and the frame were a big reason for the price difference.

So I went home and looked at all my choices. Then I had to decide if I wanted to up my price range. As we all know that is a constant factor so I came to realize that I had to settle for a more general bike. Then I went in and the salesman had a real steal for me. It was a '99 Gary Fisher Kai Tai which is two steps up from the Tassajara. (which was probably going to be the bike I was going to get) Since it was an older model it was on sale for $579 (regularly $749), same price as the Tassajara. I took it for a test ride and was immediately impressed. I was barely pumping on the pedals and was flying. It had a much better ride than even the RockHopper, which is apparently Specialized competitor to the Kai Tai.

There is no comparison between the Rockhopper and the Kai Tai. For a little cheaper price the Kai Tai offers the effects of Genesis frame geometry. This is a type of geometry that puts your weight in an ideal position when the bike is inclined as you climb so that you get the most out of your pedaling. I'm terrible at climbing so I needed all the help I could get. This bike is made for taller riders and for climbing. However, the geometry of the frame doesn't change the distances between the seat and handlebars, or the distance between the crank and cogset. This means that an increased performance in climbing doesn't equal a decreased performance on flat ground.

The rear tire is geared toward climbing as well. It took some getting used to but now I like it. It has treads that run perpendicular to the wheel for better grip to propel it forward. This is great for accelerating and for climbing. This does however make it a little harder to handle. Take it easy going down hills until you are comfortable that your back tire won't slip from side to side. If you want more control and less climbing ability, you may want to consider another tire. Another thing about the tires is that they seem to need air every time I ride. Sometimes it will be a couple of weeks in between rides or the next day, but they always seem to run low. Don't worry though, because they stay inflated just fine while you're riding. (I usually ride about 2 to 4 hours each time.)

The frame is top of the line for a front suspension bike. If you're interested in buying a less expensive bike and then upgrading the components yourself, then this is the frame to use.

The shocks on the Kai Tai are top notch as well. They are a Rock Shox Judy type of fork. This is a significant step up from the Manitou shocks that were available on the other bikes that I have listed above. (the HardRock Comp even has a step down shock from these). You can get over 3 inches of travel out of the Judy shocks and they are tuned very well. These give a very cushioned ride which is very important for off road riding. My arms and shoulders feel almost none of the shock that they would absorb without these shocks.

The only main problem I have with this bike is the derailer system. (I don't like to call it a derailleur) I have trouble climbing as I said. If I'm heading toward a hill in say 9th gear and I start to climb, I want to be able to just jump from 9th to first sometimes. It won't let me do that. The chain won't switch from the second cogset to the first on the crankset without first going to 8th gear. This means that I have to switch the chain on the rear cogset from the lowest gear to the highest and then move down again. It's probably just an individual problem specific to my bike that I have to get fixed, but you may want to check that out for yourself if you test ride one.

The wheels of this bike are very durable. In my mind wheels are wheels so as long as they spin well and don't dent when you run into anything then they do fine. Well, the Kai Tai's wheels do spin well. And since I'm an inexperienced rider trying to keep up with some more experienced riders, I've run my front wheel into my share of trees, logs, rocks and holes and they have held together just fine. I'm not concerned with the weight of my bike. It's pretty light to me. The wheels on the Kai Tai seem to be on the heavy side, but this doesn't really bother me. I can push a bike up a hill probably a lot easier than I can ride it up.

There is one other test ride story I would like to share with you. A friend of mine swears by Specialized bikes. I figured that I might get one of those. Just to compare I decided to test ride Specialized's top front suspension bike, the Stumpjumper. This bike goes for around $1200 to $1400 depending on which one you get. I felt that the Kai Tai did just as well or even outperformed the Stumpjumper. My friend has a Stumpjumper and is also shorter than me. I've since ridden that Stumpjumper as well and I believe that they are geared more towards shorter riders. The Kai Tai however overall is just as good a bike for about half the price (or in my case, even less than that)

If you're looking for a high quality bike without spending an insane amount of money, then the Kai Tai may be the one for you. Try and find an older model one that is just sitting around the sales floors somewhere. You can probably get a great deal on one. Especially now that 2001's are out. I highly highly recommend the Kai Tai. Especially if you're a taller rider. It's a fast and comfortable ride and you won't regret spending the money on it, knowing that you have a bike that should be worth about $1500 when it's well less than that.

Recommend this product? Yes

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