My partner kicks my ass on anything flat and I am struggling to keep up. I ride a hardtail and he rides a dual susp bike. But on technical terrain and most climbs I beat him. Keep in mind our weight difference. I weigh around 75kg and he around 90-100kg. My bike is Merida Big.Nine and he rides one of the carbon Cannondales.
In live in the flat NC and I ride a 100mm travel hardtail XC machine. I did most of the Durbanville trails earlier this year on my bike and not once did I feel I need anything 'better'. I never felt that I needed more travel or that I need a dual susp bike. I could see where a dropper would be nice, but I never needed one.
I got 4477km out of my SX chain. As soon as I noticed the 0.5 wear, I replaced it. Works for me and 4477km out of a SX chain is enough. I clean my chain regularly, depending on how dirty it is, not after every ride.
I just replaced my 12 speed SX chain with 4477km on. I replaced as soon as I noticed the wear at 0.5. I replaced it with a GX chain. My plan is to replace 2-3 chains on one cassette and then go back to first chain, until cassette is no more.