Mostly, this is random stories from my various trips as I collect them, but I've a wee backlog to get through too and those will pop up occasionally.

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Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Act 3: The Bike (caution nerdsville ahead)

The final push to restarting my overnight adventures comes in the way of a new bike. I say new, it's now covered over 1,200km so I've had a chance to get used to it round my local trails. I thought it might be worth explaining what it is - and why I've arrived at this particular design.

In previous posts I've told of my fatbike and where I've been with it. Truly a revelation, the fat tyres and frame have shone on "proper" fatbike terrain like snow and ice but have also shown their capability on other, more common, conditions where the amazing traction and wide floatation transform what's possible on a bicycle. However, it's impossible to deny that there is a weight and drag penalty in many other conditions. 

I was therefore intrigued when Surly launched the Krampus. 3" tyre width promised to be a good compromise between fat and non-fat tyres. Unfortunately,  with me being 5'7" the Krampus was never going to be suitable as a bikepacking platform - wee legs and tall wheels rule out many luggage hauling options.

My previous decision to buy a custom Burls Ti 29er for bikepacking was looking pretty astute until WTB came along with 27.5+ or 650B+, whatever you like to call it. Here was the 3" tyre option for those of us shorter in leg. Of course, as a new "standard" there was the question of how widespread it would be adopted but being the impatient sort, I immediately set about seeing how I could obtain it. 

Initial investigations showed that, despite the suggestion B+ might fit in many existing 29er frames,  my Burls was not amongst them. The chainstays were simply too narrow to permit anything larger than a 2.4" tyre. Shame - the frame was otherwise ideal and the cost of converting it was simply going to be too great.

The next option to consider was too look at what was on sale.  At this time, there wasn't much and, having gone the custom route already,  I felt willing to do so again to get just exactly what I wanted without having to compromise on details. 

Step up Brant Richards and Pact Bikes. Brant was offering to work with buyers to help them arrive at a good solution to their requirements without them having to know all the intricate details. This was ideal. I'd fire over some geometry, Brant would model it and together we worked out how to fit everything I wanted into something that could be manufactured. It's a good system. Too many times I'll look at a bike (or frame, or something not bike related at all) and it won't be just what I want, requiring some compromise or other. And with a bike designer in the loop between me and manufacturer, I was a lot less likely to end up with something that handled like a dog or had some other strange characteristic.

Some of the features I decided on were as follows;

  • Clearance for a 3.5" tyre. A range of B+ tyres was only just becoming and I wanted to keep all options open.
  • The ability to use a front derailleur (new Shimano side-swing). I still much prefer 2x gear systems to give me a range for uphill-loaded cycling and faster "road" transitions. The side-swing style creates extra clearance between the downtube and the fat tyre, though it requires a different cable routing.
  • Boost rear axle. This longer axle provides a suitable chainline for the wider tyres. As a "bolt-through" 12mm style it also creates a stiffer rear end, something I'd experienced on other bikes and appreciated.
  • Aimed at 100mm travel forks. I wanted the option of fitting rigid forks and these mostly come with axle-to-crown lengths to match a 100mm travel suspension fork. I also reckoned 100mm of travel was more than enough for the use of the bike.
  •  31.6mm seat tube with "stealth" cable routing for a dropper post. This was way down the list of my requirements but seemed to offer a "something for nothing" option.
  • No rack mounts. THis was a bit of a departure for me. Previous frames always had these and I'd specified them for my Burls. However, I never used them and have adapted to the soft luggage options completely now.
  • 100mm head tube. I wanted to keep this short as I knew the taller wheel would result in quite a high bar position anyway.
  • Small BB drop. A bit of careful juggling with numbers indicated that retaining a slightly higher BB would sit me slightly higher, increasing the space between saddle and tyre and reducing the possibility of the tyre rubbing on the bottom of a fully-loaded seatpack.
  • Three sets of bottle cage mounts. Two are internal to the main triangle and the third is fitted below. This has the triple cage mount suitable for the likes of a Surly Anything Cage, providing an additional luggage carrying option.

Other factors like stand-over height, bent downtube to ensure fork control clearance and tube shapes/sizes were arrived at between Brant and myself and, with a final check-over of all the numbers, the frame was ordered. made and delivered in a few weeks.

With all of that coming together, I also had to consider some of the other components. 
  • Rims; The first proper B+ rim available was the WTB Scraper i45 rim. This promised a nice wide rim and tubeless compatibility at a reasonable weight.
  • Hubs; Hope Pro2 Evo. I've used Pro2s extensively without issue and again there was little choice at this time.
  • Tyres; My original tyre choice was the Panaracer FatBNimble 3.5" front and rear. Light weight and a tread pattern similar to my beloved 45Nth Husker Dus on my fatbike.
  • Drive train; Shimano XT M8000 2 x11 for the gear range and suide-swing mech.
  • Brakes; Shimano XT M8000 again. I've always liked the fell of Shimano brakes and these offered a simplified brake/shifter arrangement to reduce handlebar clutter.
  • Forks; I found some rigid carbon forks through ebay that took a 15mmx110 Boost axle and had the correct A2C height. A bit of a long-shot but the only option I could find. Suspension forks are Boost Rebas. The only models available were 100mm travel with a bar-mounted lockout or 120mm travel with a crown lockout. The lockout isn't a feature I use a lot and I prefer not having that additional cable (bar clutter and bar bag mounting issues) so I opted for the 120mm to try out and reduce travel if necessary.
So - what does it look like and how does it go?


First build - FatBNimbles, rigid forks, Loop bars

Initial impressions were favourable. Light, easy rolling, seeming to pick-up and carry momentum from nowhere, comfy and grippy. Everything I was looking for really. And then it got wet. Frankly, the front tyre became a liability. With a profile wider than a standard MTB tyre but not as wide as a 4" fat tyre, the front end would just skate across any thin mud and I'd lose control. Luckily, salvation was at hand. Unlike the 29+ tyre market, B+ was coming on stream really quickly and I bought a 3" Nobby Nic for the front. This made a huge difference to grip - and therefore confidence - without it feeling like I was getting a lot of tyre drag. 

I also fitted the Rebas to replace the rigid forks. I'd been happy with rigid on my fatbike, though as I explored its capabilities on a wider range of terrain, I'd come to understand how suspension and fat tyres might work. As an initial option, I just fitted them with 120mm travel (in theory more than the frame was designed for) and again it just seemed to feel "right" from the first ride. As a result, I've left them on. With a few more subtle changes, the bike now looks like this.

Nobby Nic, Rebas, flat bars

Nice dropouts and the 12mm axle.

Additional bottle/Anything mounts

It had to have a name!

Tyre clearance ample with FatBNimbles

"Asymmetric" chainstays 

Plenty of clearance in the Boost Rebas


In summary, I'm really pleased with the frame - and the bike it has helped me create. Inevitably, there are a couple of minor tweaks I'd make if I was doing again, the most important being that I tend to clip both the chainstays and seatstays with my heels. This has been a problem with all my bikes and it's mainly because I pedal like a duck!

Some things I've still to play around with are; a more extended test using Jones Loop bars, fitting and riding the 29er wheels I also built, fitting the rigid forks again, trying a different rear tyre, maybe even fitting a B+ front and 29er rear. 

And the name? Well, though I like the look of Titanium frames, I do think the bare metal needs something to break it up. I ordered some decals from RetroDecals and was looking for something in addition to the Pact logo. Brant had taken to giving some of his frames names like Fatcat and Battlecat. I thought Wildcat was appropriate given that Speyside is a home to the rare Scottish Wildcat and the frame had been conceived - and would be largely ridden - here.


Loaded up

Cat and Dog