Today Surly launched the Pack Rat, a road/commuter bike designed specifically for front-loaded cargo. The Pack Rat is the culmination of years of experimentation with different ways of hauling stuff on the front of bikes, with geometry and design features that offset the negative handling characteristics of front-loaded bicycles.
Why would you want to put your cargo on the front of your bike? As Surly says, “Having your stuff in front of you means it’s close at hand and easily accessible. It also allows for better weight distribution. A front load keeps the bike nimble and allows you to more efficiently use your body English to steer from the rear.” However, front-loaded bikes traditionally have their own handling drawbacks. The weight pulls you through turns with less control and makes for a less enjoyable ride. The Pack Rat’s design aims to eliminate these issues while still providing a great ride without any cargo, and it accommodates a rear rack as well.
The Pack Rat is built around a steel frame and fork with front and rear rack and fender mounts. The fork features internal routing for generator hubs, and the horizontal dropouts can accommodate singlespeed or geared setups. The frame comes in sizes 38-58 cm. As the company is starting to do with most of its bikes, Surly designed the Pack Rat frames with size-specific geometry, meaning that smaller bikes are not just scaled-down versions of larger bikes and they are designed around two different wheel sizes depending on size. Frame sizes 38-50 cm are designed around 26 inch while 52-58 cm are designed for 650b wheels. Surly states that “smaller diameter wheels keep the weight of the load lower than a 700c wheel would, thereby improving handling and ride feel.”
The Pack Rat will retail for $1349 and will be available at the end of this month. For more information about the design of the Pack Rat directly from Surly, check out their blog post.
Full Specs and geometry:
Tester: Adam Newman
Sizes available: S, M, L, XL (tested)
Price: $1,450 frame and fork, $2,650 as module with Rohloff hub
Weight: 33.7 lbs
If you’re reading this, it’s likely the thought has drifted through your mind. Maybe on a long ride, or lying awake at night, or chatting with your friends over a beer. The mythical dream. The White Whale. The Perfect Bike.
Daniel Malloy knows this dream. He thought about The Perfect Bike during his years in bike shops. He envisioned The Perfect Bike during his stint at Rivendell. He knew it had to be tough enough for the massive expedition type trips he was undertaking: it had to use legacy standards for easy-to-find replacement parts, and it had to have big tires. Definitely big tires.
Eventually the dream became too real, too lucid. He had to build it. Malloy reached out to custom framebuilder Cameron Falconer to put together a few prototypes, and they were put to the test on a grueling trek across Mongolia in 2015. Malloy took what he learned and applied it to the production models, which were welded in Taiwan and arrived on American shores this past winter.
What is your dream bike like? Is it super light? Exquisitely beautiful? For Malloy, it was a key combination of features that he couldn’t find anywhere else. He wanted to be able to run full-size fat bike tires, but he hated the super wide Q factor they required. On long trips the extra width between the pedals was too uncomfortable. He also loved the durability and simplicity of an internally geared hub, specifically a German-made Rohloff hub. Because the internally geared hub has a fixed chainline, Malloy realized it could be paired with a normal 73 mm mountain bike bottom bracket and still clear the bigger tires. As a result, with a wheel swap the Prospector can fit a 26×4 fat bike tire, a 27plus tire or even a 29plus.
Like trying to understand the plot to a David Lynch movie, you’re not going to get it unless you look a little closer. The key features of the Prospector that make it stand out in the market are subtle: The chainstay yoke is a custom-cast piece that allows the bike to fit 4 inch tires while still using 73 mm bottom bracket. It can only fit those tires with a singlespeed or internally geared hub, but it can run a single-chainring drivetrain with 3 inch tires or a double crank if you use an offset model like the Surly OD.
The dropouts are similarly special cast pieces, with a derailleur hanger on one side and a purpose-built mount for the Rohloff hub on the other. The Rohloff uses a two- cable shifter and a special junction box that needs to be secured in a certain spot. Many bikes can use it with a simple adapter, but the Prospector is speaking German right out of the box. If you want to use a derailleur or build it as a singlespeed, you can do that too with a traditional 135 mm quick-release hub.
To tension the chain the Prospector uses an eccentric bottom bracket, in this case a Phil Wood unit that Malloy asked them to make just for the bike. It uses good ol’ threads too, so the selection of bottom brackets and cranksets is nearly infinite. It can also be used for a small amount of geometry adjustment to compensate for the difference between 27plus and 29plus tires.
Above the special bits like the dropouts and bottom bracket, you’ll find a TIG-welded steel frame built from double-butted chromoly tubes. It sports full-length, external housing runs for shifters and brakes, fender and rack mounts front and rear, and triple-hole cargo cage mounts on both sides of the fork and on the upper and lower surfaces of the down tube. Each frame uses size-specific tubing, Malloy said.
About that fork: It looks pretty conventional, but it has a few tricks up its steerer tube. First, the offset is 53 mm, a bit more than a normal 29er fork, and the front hub spacing is actually a rear hub spacing. That is, you need to build a wheel with a rear hub to use in the front, kind of like the original Surly Pugsley. It’s a pretty smart idea that provides some redundancy to the drivetrain. Say your drivetrain blows up in the middle of Madagascar—just swap rear wheel with the singlespeed wheel you used on the front. In fact, this test bike features just this setup.
This bike certainly qualifies as a mountain bike, but compared to a modern mountain bike with very aggressive geometry and lots of bells and whistles, the Prospector seems like a throwback to a simpler time. Yes, it has a 44 mm head tube and can easily run a suspension fork, but if you’re looking to drop into A-Line at Whistler, this isn’t what I’d recommend.
Instead, I think of the Prospector as more of an all-terrain bike. Granted, I rode a size XL, but I liked the upright position, the stability of the long wheelbase and the extra room inside the main triangle for a frame bag. The 18 inch chainstays leave lots of room for big tires and mud clearance, and should keep your heels from rubbing on any rear-mounted panniers.
The handling is decidedly neutral, in a good way. In the way that you get on and you don’t have to think about it too much. Malloy designed it with a slightly taller head tube for more comfort, which I appreciated, and the reach numbers are modest compared to modern trail bikes. I rode the bike equipped 27plus wheels and tires, which I figured would be the most versatile setup of the available options. Shod with WTB’s Ranger tubeless tires, it’s a great setup for all-purpose mixed-terrain use, from singletrack to sidewalks.
While I recently spent some time on a Pinion Gearbox bike (Tout Terrain Tanami Trail), this is my first extended ride with a Rohloff. It uses a simple twist shifter to move through its 14 speeds. Malloy said he fell in love with the Rohloff because of its high build quality and durability. Some riders have been known to rack up 100,000 miles on them. I didn’t achieve quite that mileage during my test period, but I certainly didn’t have any issues with it either.
While I can’t make an honest assessment of its extreme durability (time might be a flat circle, but mine isn’t infinite), I can say that the shift quality was pretty much par for the course. It will upshift to a harder gear under power, but not as easily as the Pinion. A downshift still requires you to lift pressure off the pedals like a normal bike. A few times it would hang up between gears, or get stuck in the wrong gear. The nicest feature is that it can shift while the bike is stationary—something you don’t think you’d use very often until you have the ability to do it.
I think it’s easiest for me to sum up the Prospector this way: The frame is essentially a giant accessory for the Rohloff hub. The kind of customer that will gravitate toward it will likely have already made up their mind to use the internally geared hub, so now they’re looking for the perfect platform.
In the end, I think of the Prospector as the bicycle equivalent of a Swiss army knife. None of the tools in its quiver are maybe the best—there are better knives, and better bottle openers—but it’s really the only kid on the block who checks every box in terms of features and specifications. If you’re searching for something that can check all the boxes on your idea of The Perfect Bike, this might be it.Tweet Print
We all enjoy a good escape on peaceful back roads where dilapidated farm houses often outnumber the passing cars. Maybe there is no set route, and each intersection allows for that last-second decision with only the falling sun as our guide. Perhaps your route rolls on by a park with some dirt paths or maybe even some singletrack. Regardless of the destination, the points between A and B will provide an adventure themselves with endless possibilities, assuming your bike is up to the task.
I want to be able to jump on my bike and go as I please. I want to escape the busy roads as quickly as I can, leaving careless drivers far behind. If I see that sweet little doubletrack path through the green space, I want the ability to take it without hesitation. I want my equipment to be up for anything it may encounter, including plenty of rough terrain. What I want is complete freedom to roam. The answer to that freedom is none other than the Ritchey Break-Away Ascent. It’s exactly what a bike should be: a do-all, go-anywhere means for adventure. This steel-framed beauty relegates both one-trick ponies and niche categories.
Most cycling enthusiasts, regardless of which bike-nerd level they have achieved, are familiar enough to know that the Ritchey brand is of a finer quality. Ritchey has a long history, starting with production road frames made for Palo Alto, a Bay Area bike shop in 1974. Soon after, a partnership formed between Tom Ritchey, Charlie Kelly and Gary Fisher to produce the first production mountain bikes. Once that partnership dissolved in the early ‘80s, Ritchey rebuilt the brand into Ritchey Bikes. Eventually, as more and more of the pro peloton made the switch from steel to aluminum bicycles, Ritchey shifted his focus to working with other companies (such as Shimano) designing specific components, creating what we know today as Ritchey Designs. Almost 40 years later, Ritchey continues to lead by example, instilling the “relentless innovation” mantra at Ritchey Designs, striving to improve and perfect the products we all love to push to the limits on a daily basis.
Going back to 1985, Ritchey released the Ascent, which replaced the Timber Wolf as the company’s entry-level off -road bicycle. After a few years, Ritchey updated the Ascent’s geometry, shortening the chainstays and creating steeper head and seat angles. As stated in the 1988 Ritchey catalog, “as a result, the bikes retain their stable handling characteristics while positioning the rider further forward for more efficient pedaling.” Almost 30 years later, today’s Ascent mirrors the 1988 Ascent Comp with the exception of a few small upgrades. Those upgrades include Ritchey’s custom internal headset cups, Ritchey Logic steel tubing, disc brake compatibility, 100 and 135 mm quick-release hub spacing and fender and rack mounts for all your touring and commuting needs.
Speaking of wheels and disc brakes, that’s probably my favorite feature of this frameset, it has the ability to run up to 700×40 mm or 27.5×2.1 inch tires. Sure, it may not roll the fastest with all that rubber, but it’s going to fit wide, puncture-resistant commuting tires or even some nice mountain bike tread for singletrack action. Or, you could always throw some road slicks in there to get your speed jollies off. That’s the beauty of it; it all works!
While the versatility of the tires is certainly awesome, what makes this frameset the ultimate adventure seeker’s bike is the Break-Away frame design. Tom Ritchey built the first Break-Away model in 1999, and the first production run soon followed in 2001. Interestingly enough, Ritchey still rides the first Break-Away model today.
The Ritchey Break-Away design implements a locking compression system to achieve a travel frame without sacrificing ride quality or needing any special tools for disassembly. The frame can be assembled with 4 mm and 5 mm Allen wrenches and a few simple thumb turns for the derailleur cables. Personally, I prefer the aesthetics of the Ritchey Break-Away design over S&S couplers as it maintains the smooth lines of the TIG welded tubing. As far as the breakdown and assembly, even though no special tools are required, this is no speedy task and is not for those that lack the ability to perform intermediate-level maintenance on their bikes. You are essentially taking most of the bike apart in order to make it fit in the travel bag and then reassembling. Make sure you perform a dry run, or three, before you travel. Once you figure out how to successfully pack the bike in its bag, I would suggest taking photos of the step-by-step process so you can more easily replicate it again.
The included Break-Away soft-sided travel bag measures 8.5 x 26.5 x 31 inches, or 66 linear inches. Yes, that’s correct, that’s 4 inches over the 62 inch oversized airline baggage policy. Based on internet forum discussions, I found that travelers typically were not paying oversize fees. However, I would not rely on that always being the norm.
Although the Break-Away Ascent is only offered as a frameset, the awesome team at Ritchey sent ours as a complete bike. The frame was accented with Ritchey’s top-of-the-line WCS components, a SRAM Force 2×11 compact road drivetrain and BB7 mechanical disc brakes. This build features the company’s new VentureMax off-road drop bar, which offers a 6 degree sweep on top and an ergonomic bio-bend with 24-degree flare in the drops. I’ll be the first to admit that I am a flat bar kind of rider, and although the VentureMax was comfortable, I still prefer the leverage of a flat bar when climbing out of the saddle. Thankfully, the Ascent’s geometry is versatile enough to accommodate either flat or drop bar builds. The tubeless-ready Vantage II wheels and 27.5×2.1 Shield tires provide a surprising amount of traction for the dual-purpose, low-profile tread design, rolling well on the pavement and offering just enough side knob to stay confident on the dirt. Although the bike handled singletrack quite well, I was quickly reminded of its low (in terms of mountain bike standards) bottom bracket when taking on log overs. However, that same bottom bracket height was appreciated when letting the bike flow through gravel descents earlier in the ride.
As a whole, this is one hell of a bike. The smooth Ritchey Logic steel tubing rides like a dream, and the mountain-bike-esque geometry provides all-day comfort. I am confident that any adventure seeker would love this bike and the ability to fine-tune the build to their liking. The Ritchey Break-Away provides ample possibilities to discover the world on two wheels.
Tester: Scott Williams
Sizes: XS, S, M (tested), L, XL
Price: $1,650 (frameset and travel bag)
Weight: 23 lbs. (as tested)
Find out more at ritcheylogic.com
Editor’s Note: When we originally published this review in Bicycle Times 46, we mistakenly printed that this frame was fillet brazed, not TIG welded. Our sincerest apologies for that error.
Words and photos by Katherine Fuller
When I started cycling nearly 20 years ago, there were three options for the aspiring roadie: high-end race bikes, lower-end models based on race bikes and dedicated touring rigs. That was about it. Hope you liked 120 mm stems and an aggressive riding position or heavy steel with a heavy mountain drivetrain.
In many ways, the current diversification of the bicycle strata can seem based on little more than surgically subdividing the activity for company profits subsidized by tattoo-rich Instagram stories. Not so with machines like the Advocate Lorax: a product that successfully represents one branch of road bike evolution that makes total sense.
The Lorax is described as a road, gravel, commuter, cyclocross and light-touring bicycle with a geometry that puts it in league with the Salsa Vaya and Niner RLT (the Lorax price falls between the two).
The Lorax is named after a Dr. Seuss book about environmentalism and its title character who is a protector of trees. The bike’s understated look is punctuated by a graphic depicting the state tree of Minnesota (where Advocate Cycles is based). Local artist Adam Turman was tapped to sketch the Norway Pine, following an artistic trend of the company’s other models.
The Lorax is crafted of Reynolds 525 steel mated to a carbon fork, which offers a remarkably smooth ride (a titanium frame is also available). The bike comes with 135 mm quick-release wheels, but the rear dropouts can be swapped for single speed or 142 mm thru-axles. Included are Alex rims laced to Formula hubs, Avid BB7S mechanical disc brakes with 160 mm rotors, a 2×10 Shimano Tiagra compact road crankset and 11-34 cassette, a WTB Rocket Comp saddle (not pictured), Cane Creek headset and Innova Pro Flint 700x38c tires.
The frame has mounts for three bottle cages, fenders and rear rack. You can run up to a 40 mm tire (35 mm with fenders). Cable routing is external and downtube bosses offer the option to run old-school shifters. Despite not being fancy, everything works pretty well on the bike and the spec’d options help keep its cost down. The frame itself is wholly worthy of being upgraded as you see fit. Hydraulic disc brakes? More carbon? Lighter wheels? If you have the coin, go for it.
Speaking of coin, another factor that sets this bike apart is that Advocate Cycles gives all its profits, after expenses, back to bicycle advocacy. Adventure Cycling Association, PeopleForBikes, Bicycles for Humanity, the International Mountain Bicycling Association and the National Interscholastic Cycling Association are all beneficiaries—the buyer chooses which one their purchase will support.
I’m not a racer. I’m not even remotely fast. My rides tend to resemble loitering more than anything else, and yet it still took a while to get used to the upright position of the Lorax. I kept feeling as if I wanted to be more hunched over, a testament to the kinds of road bikes I’ve spent half of my life riding. The short stem mated to a rather tall head tube means you aren’t going to feel super powerful even in the drops. Even so, that riding position contributed to the fact that the Lorax is extremely comfortable.
“Comfort” is sometimes interpreted as a derogatory term when applied to a road bike, but my brain kept returning to that word as the Lorax and I got acquainted. The upright riding position, wide wheelbase, cushy tires and steel-carbon combination meant this bike cruised comfortably over rough roads, dirt two-track and even some trails. The Lorax is a bike I would take almost anywhere and is ideal for anyone who regularly rides over less-than-perfect pavement or who has opportunities to explore gravel roads off the beaten path.
The short, upright stem and 75 mm bottom bracket drop contributed to this bike’s off-paved stability. I usually ride a taller cyclocross bike that can get skittish on the chunk of my preferred neighborhood two-track. The ride of the Lorax was a stark and welcome contrast as it ate that terrain up with much more ease and confidence.
The Lorax is also touted as a light touring bike so I loaded it up with frame bags filled with everything I’d need for an overnight campout and headed for the Colorado foothills. The 11-34 cassette and 50/34 crankset provides a 1:1 granny gear ratio. On the steepest climbs, that gearing still didn’t feel quite low enough when riding fully loaded, but is a practical build for an all-around bike. (It also probably means I need to hit the gym this winter.) Notably, the Shimano Tiagra build kit is very, very good—both shifting and looking.
The bike’s front end, normally nice and light with its carbon fork, felt a little sluggish with all the added weight. Still, the Lorax trucked along with stability as I heaved myself up and over steep dirt roads. On the descent back down the canyon, I let it run fast and loose and felt completely trusting—again thanks to the bike’s stability. Other than my legs running out of options on some climbs, I would be perfectly happy with the Lorax serving as “the one” if my regular cycling life included a mix of commuting, road riding, gravel grinding and short, overnight trips.
Worth noting is that Advocate recently announced a new model, the Sand Country, with a 3×9 mountain drivetrain and a steel fork sporting bottle mounts. If you want a bike more dedicated to touring, you might want to wait to check that one out. If you want a bike more dedicated to just riding, exploring and adapting to your ever-evolving cycling preferences, the Lorax is highly worthy of your attention.
Tester:Katherine Fuller, 5’4”, 120 lbs., Inseam 31”
Weight: 24.5 lbs.
Sizes: 49, 52 (tested), 54, 56, 58, 61 cm
This review originally appeared in Bicycle Times #43. Check out more bike reviews on our website here and subscribe to our email newsletter to get content like this delivered to your inbox every Tuesday!
Adventure outlet REI is ushering in spring 2017 with their new bike line, Co-op Cycles. This new line of bicycles increases their focus on adventure products by placing a slightly increased emphasis on the popular, and growing, segment of gravel and adventure inspired bikes. Feedback from a co-op members survey directed REI’s decision making after it was determined that members were looking to purchase bikes for adventure, freedom and fun. Sounds good to me.
Select representatives from the cycling and outdoor industry were invited to kick the tires on the new offerings and do a short mixed surface bikepacking overnight in the outskirts of Austin, Texas. Part of the Austin REI team led the ride on paved and gravel county roads, giving riders the full experience on the Co-Op ARD 1.2, their all-around, gravel/adventure bicycle.
The ARD 1.2 represents the middle-of-the-road option in terms of trim and pricing. It features an aluminum frame with a carbon fork, Shimano 105 drivetrain, TRP Spyre-C dual piston mechanical disc brakes, rack mounts and a front thru-axle.
The bike comes stock with 28mm tires and a generous amount of room for fenders. For this ride, the ARD 1.2 was set up with beefier 35mm tires as we made our way through some thicker dirt and gravel areas. There is still a fair amount of clearance with the 35mm tires, but REI doesn’t recommend using fenders with tires larger than 28mm.
The ARD 1.2 was capable of riding through a variety of terrain and was just fun to ride. The Shimano 105 2×11 drivetrain offered enough of a range to see me up and over most of what Texas hill country could dish out and the carbon fork helped dampen front impacts while remaining stiff and light.
While I don’t often ride drop bars bikes, I really enjoyed my (relatively brief) time on the ARD 1.2. It handled both smooth, flat asphalt stretches and sketchy, gravels descents with equal predictability and seemed up for just about anything else I might want to throw at it.
Available in men’s and women’s sizing, The Co-Op ARD 1.2 will set you back $1,299. If this is a little rich for your blood, Co-Op offers a more reasonably priced (the Co-Op ARD 1.1) model which goes for $849. Of course, the componentry is not as robust as the 1.2, but that is pretty typical when the price drops on a bike (top tip!).
There are also two higher priced carbon models. The ARD 1.3 has a carbon frame and fork, is equipped with Shimano Tiagra components and is priced at $1,799. The most pricey model is the full carbon ARD 1.4, which comes with American Classic wheels and weighs in at 19lbs 1.1oz(!) and will set you back $2,299.
I walked away impressed with the Co-Op ARD 1.2 and feel like REI really took their members’ feedback to heart. This bike is a great choice for a wide range of cyclists who are looking for a moderately priced adventure bike.Tweet Print
Moots unveiled a new, drop-bar 29er adventure bike. Named after Moots’ resident banana-eating Chocolate Labrador, the Baxter frame is built in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, from Moots’ proprietary titanium tubing. It will accept a rigid fork or 100 mm of suspension.
- 44 mm head tube
- 73 mm English threaded bottom bracket
- 30.9 mm seatpost for greater dropper post compatibility
- 142 x 12 thru-axle rear end spacing
- Disc 160 rotor post mount brake
- 29×2.25 max tire clearance (2.0-inch tires suggested)
- 3 water bottle locations
- Replaceable derailleur hanger
- 38/28 maximum chain rings
- Open frame for maximum size frame pack
The Baxter is available in five stock sizes: XS, S, M, L, and XL, or you can go the custom route. Orders may be placed now for October 1, 2016 delivery. MSRP for complete bike as pictured: $8,700. The one complete build kit features an Enve rigid mountain fork, Chris King headset, Shimano XT Di2 groupset, 38/28 crankset, Shimano XT brakes, Salsa Woodchipper drop bars, Fizik Gobi saddle and Mavic Crossmax wheels.
Jamis announced its early-release 2017 bicycle—the Nova Cyclocross Series and Renegade Adventure Series—due to be available in stores as early as late July, with the rest of the Jamis bike line revealed in September.
The Jamis Renegade line of adventure/gravel/all-road bikes was refreshed with two carbon, two steel (Reynolds 631 and 520) and one aluminum frames. Complete bikes range in price from $3,900 (full carbon, Shimano Ultegra, 19 pounds) to $800 (full aluminum, Shimano Claris, 24 pounds).
The Renegades feature disc brakes, front and rear thru axles (on most models), room for 700×40 mm tires and carbon forks on all but the base aluminum model. The wheels feature tubeless-ready mountain rims that are 23-24 mm wide. The full-carbon bikes have internal cable routing and are ready to accept an internally-routed dropper post (seat post size is still 27.2 mm, but there are more and more options now available in that size).
The Renegade frame geometry is “long and tall,” with three different fork offsets, bottom bracket drops and rear-center measurements available so that bike fits are consistent and appropriate across sizes 48 to 61 cm.
With a wide collection of fork and frame mounts, you can mount fenders, a rear rack, a low-rider front rack (or two fork cages for water bottles/storage) and three front triangle bottle cages.
The Jamis Nova Cyclocross Series features two carbon models and one aluminum, ranging in price from $4,000 down to $1,900.
All three models of the Nova have been updated to includes 142×12 mm thru axles in the rear. A unique carbon molding process for the top two models purports to be lighter and stiffer while being less harsh. The frames use size-specific tubing, in which top and down tubes get smaller as the frame size gets smaller, which is intended to keep performance characteristics consistent across the line. The carbon models also get a 15 mm thru-axle fork, internal cable routing and Di2 compatibility.
What the heck is this thing?
It seems completely out of left field. It’s a mountain bike with drop bars, right? Not even close. So it’s an adventuremobile gravel grinder? Wrong again. Cannondale labels the new Slate as a “new road” bike, and I’d say it leans heavily toward just that: roads. Dirt roads sure, but if you were expecting an all-terrain monstercross machine, this isn’t it.
At its introduction the engineers explained that the very reason the bike was built with 650b wheels was that the smaller wheels with larger tires kept the overall circumference of a 700c race tire. Despite the added height of the suspension fork they were able to maintain the stack height they wanted and the 405 mm chainstays. The bike’s fit falls somewhere between the Supersix EVO race bike and the Synapse endurance bike. The Slate does have a longer front center and slacker head tube, though.
So, it’s a road bike with suspension? It’s not a new idea. RockShox was building a road bike fork in the early 1990s and it had success in pro races across the brutal Belgian cobblestones. Cannondale was also making versions of its road and cyclocross bikes with a Headshok a decade ago.
This time around the Slate uses a completely new version of Cannondale’s unique Lefty suspension fork that has a dedicated following in the mountain bike world. (Nerd alert: It’s technically not a fork at all, but a strut.) Known as Oliver, it has 30 mm of travel controlled through an air spring and has adjustable rebound damping via a knob on the top and a lockout button labeled “Push to climb.” With a completely new damper designed just for the Slate, it has a high compression threshold and limited sag so it doesn’t bob into the mid-stroke while you’re riding.
What you’re really buying here is a very high-end fork with a frame attached to it. In this case it uses Cannondale’s classic aluminum construction with more compliance built in than any previous model. The seatstays and chainstays use radically shaped tubing to allow the frame to match the comfort of the fork. Err, strut. Cannondale could have used the 25.4 mm seatpost of its Synapse line for even more compliance, but instead it opted for 27.2 mm so it can accommodate a dropper seatpost. Drop bars and dropper posts will be the story of 2016. You read it here first.
The Slate we tested was the middle of three build kit offerings, with an 11-speed Shimano Ultegra drivetrain running through Cannondale’s own Hollowgram Si crankset with 52/36 chainrings and an 11-28 cassette. The shifting works well, but the feel of the cable release lever is still a bit vague for my liking.
The frame has eyelets at the rear dropouts to attach fenders or a minimal rack, but without eyelets at the top you’re going to have to get creative. A front fender is a DIY-only affair at this point. I learned the hard way that because there is no fork crown, if you ride on wet roads a plume of water shoots directly up in the air off the front wheel, subsequently spraying you in the face.
All in all, the Slate rides like, well, a road bike. The posture is classic skinny-tire aggressive, but unless you look down you might not even notice the larger rubber. The 42 mm tires themselves, made by Panaracer for Cannondale, are amazingly light and supple with a faint file tread. Both the wheels and the tires are tubeless compatible, but the Slate doesn’t ship with them set up as such.
I’ll admit, when I first caught wind of this bike I expected something more akin to a “gravel” bike or monstercross. Now that I’ve met the design team and ridden the bike, I can say that isn’t what we have here. There isn’t much room in the frame for more rubber or a knobby tread, so forget about putting mountain bike tires on it. I think it falls much closer to the “road” end of the spectrum than it might seem at first glance. As such, it has absolutely no problems holding its own in a paceline or in a group ride. It has all the responsiveness of a traditional road bike, albeit an outrageously comfortable one.
Here in Oregon, we have endless dirt roads through the misty coastal mountains, and this is where I had the most fun on the Slate. The fat tires neutralize high speed vibrations from the ground while the Lefty Oliver eats potholes for breakfast. While the lockout button is within easy reach, I felt fine leaving the compression open all the time, and the Oliver was only absorbing bumps and not watts. I took the Slate through all kinds of pavement, gravel, dirt, mud, roots and rocks and it really is a versatile machine.
Yes, a more aggressive tire would have been appreciated when I started venturing into some singletrack, but that’s really at the very edge of this bike’s intended use. What is the intended use? The Slate is for anyone who wants a really, really comfortable road bike. With the current state of American roads and infrastructure, perhaps that isn’t a bad idea. Here at Bicycle Times, we’re big fans of pushing boundaries in terms of where you can take your bike. Maybe it’s a new road, after all.
- Price: $3,520
- Weight: 20.9 pounds
- Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL (tested)
- More info: Cannondale Slate
Testers: Eric Mckeegan and Jon Pratt shared this back-to-back review in Bicycle Times Issue #38
Bianchi has been at the bike game for a long, long time. One hundred thirty years to be exact. Almost as old is Bianchi’s signature celeste green, perhaps the most recognizable color in cycling. While much of Bianchi’s history revolves around road racing, it has also had much success in the urban market and with a line of now extinct singlespeed mountain bikes.
The Volpe (silver) and Zurigo (green) represent the road bike market’s move from racing to more general riding pursuits. In years past these bikes would have been categorized as cyclocross bikes, but now fall under the banner of “all-road” bikes, a much better term to describe sturdy, versatile drop-bar bikes that can commute, tour and maybe even see the start line of a dirt road race or cyclocross course.
It isn’t often we get to ride two such similarly equipped bikes from the same manufacturer at the same time, so we assigned a pair of riders to ride them both and report back. Both bikes have Shimano 10-speed Tiagra drivetrains with compact cranks, Hayes CX 1 disc brakes and nearly identical geometry. Both bikes have rack and fender mounts, too.
Of the two, the Volpe is probably the more familiar—the rim-brake version has been a favorite of utility cyclists for years. This steel-frame stalwart has low-rider rack mounts on the fork, downtube cable adjusters and a well-padded WTB Speed V saddle. The Zurigo has an expensive looking celeste paint job adorning its aluminum frame and carbon fork, a racy Selle San Marco saddle, and tubeless-ready rims. The Zurigo pictured here is the 2015 model, but will be updated for 2016 with a SRAM Apex drivetrain and a price increase to $1,700.
Eric: The Zurigo is perhaps the most expensive-looking $1,600 bike I’ve ever ridden. All that green should look tacky but this bike manages to be understated, classy and attract attention. It also looks and feels racy. The Volpe looked and rode like an old friend, although after a few rides I installed a more sporty saddle to try to get the fit and feel more similar between bikes.
Jon: I couldn’t agree with Eric more. The Zurigo looks and feels the racier of the two bikes. A bit too over-the-top with the colors for my taste, but it is classic Bianchi. Immediately, I felt like the Volpe was “my bike.” Understated and comfortable.
Eric: My first long ride on the Zurigo was a doozy. A road spin to watch a Red Bull mountain bike event, followed by a group mountain bike ride, and then ride back home. Even with the street tires the Zurigo was game for some dry trails. The drivetrain wasn’t very happy be bounced around off-road, and it paid me back by bouncing between gears, but all in all, it was a willing companion for this type of riding.
The Volpe struck me as a much more laid back ride, and where the cyclocross racing heritage of the Zurigo had me attacking climbs, the Volpe took a kinder and gentler approach. Easier gears, sit down, relax, we’ll get there. One of the main things that stood out to me was how much of the ride feel was about things other than frame material. I noticed the saddle, the handlebar height and the tire pressure much more so than any perceived diff erences between the frame and fork. That said, the Zurigo felt lighter and stiffer, but less forgiving than the Volpe.
Jon: To sum up my riding experiences with both bikes, I’ll harken back to the day Eric and I met up at a coffee shop downtown to swap bikes. I had ridden down on the Volpe, feeling at ease. It lazily darted in and out of alleyways and felt compliant as I navigated the sometimes broken streets of Pittsburgh. The Volpe wanted me to keep exploring. The combination of the saddle and handlebar height made my experience on the Volpe a very pleasant, relaxed one.
After a relaxing, tasty espresso, I headed home on the Zurigo. It felt like it was begging me to stand up and mash. Find the quickest route home and go. The bike felt snappier, more rigid and not as friendly to the errant pothole or crack in the street. As Eric pointed out, a lot of that feeling is directly related to the seat, tires and handlebars.
Which Would You Choose?
Eric: Normally, I’m a steel guy. But something about the Zurigo clicked with me. I could use a racier bike in my stable, and my mountain bike background is very attracted to the tubeless rims. While I don’t plan to mix it up on a cyclocross course anytime soon, this would make a fine race bike for dirt roads, although it does lose a few points to purpose-built, all-road bikes with its cyclocross racing genealogy. And those rack and fender mounts would make this a great winter commuter in areas that salt the hellout of the roads, such as my home city of Pittsburgh, no worries about rust.
Jon: While I feel the Zurigo is a fine bike, and both bikes are great deals at their price points, there’s no doubt I would buy the Volpe. It better fits my riding style, which tends to be a slow exploration of urban cityscapes or a short run the store. Where the Volpe felt like a bike I had been riding all along, the Zurigo’s racier touch made the bike feel like it was something I borrowed from one of my friends and could never really get comfortable on. I can see why so many people around town choose the Volpe as their go-to urban commuter.
- Price: Volpe – $1,500; Zurgio – $1,600
- Weight: Volpe – 26.3 pounds; Zurigo – 22.6 pounds
- Sizes: Volpe: 46, 49, 51, 53, 55 (tested), 57, 59, 61; Zurigo: 49, 52, 55 (tested), 57, 59, 610
- More info: bianchiusa.com
The Jamis Renegade was one of a handful of interesting adventure bikes that caught our attention at this year’s Interbike show. The Renegade brings a healthy dose of technology to Jamis’ line of adventure bikes, which had been anchored by classic steel touring bikes like the Aurora and Bosanova.
Two models of the Renegade will be offered; the $2,399 Expert and the $4,199 Elite. Both bike utilize the same frame geometry, but are constructed with different carbon fiber raw materials and spec’d with different components.
On paper, one of the most interesting aspects of the Renegade is the attention Jamis paid to the frame’s geometry. Jamis’ goal is to provide consistent ride quality across all sizes of the Renegade. In order to do so, it is producing bikes with three different fork offsets, three different bottom bracket heights, and three different chainstay lengths.
Smaller sizes have shorter rear center lengths, lower bottom brackets, and slacker head tube angles with more fork offset to reduce toe overlap. As frame size increases, the chainstays lengthen, bottom bracket gets a little taller, and the headtube steepens while fork offset decreases. Since I’m unable to ride both a 48cm and 61cm frame in addition to my size 54cm, I can’t weigh in on the results first hand, but I will say all of these moves make perfect sense conceptually.
But, as interesting as all that tech might be, I was excited to get my hands on the Renegade and see how this technological wonder felt on the road. It’s been a while since I’ve ridden a fancy carbon road-ish bike with components on the high-end of the spectrum, and I’m simply blown away by the Renegade’s performance. It’s fast and responsive and all the components work like a dream. I’m afraid I’ve become awfully spoiled by the Renegade’s Shimano hydraulic disc brakes. The power and modulation are simply incredible. The Ultegra-level, 11-speed drivetrain is equally impressive. Shifts are super quick regardless of the situation.
Let’s delve into some of the interesting specifics of the Renegade…
Jamis’ Enhanced Compliance Offset (ECO) fork sweeps the fork blades forward a bit more than usual to increase vertical compliance, but rearward facing dropout maintains the desired offset. Just below the 12mm RockShox Maxle thru axle you can see the removable fender eyelets. Due to the forward location of the fender eyelet, the stays of some fenders will not be long enough. Only two of the four stays on my new Planet Bike Cascadia ALX fenders (sold separately) would reach, and even those are a stretch.
The rear fender and rack eyelets’ location is more traditional, making fender fitment much easier. Note that burly mounting interface for the rear brake.
These shiny aluminum fenders look awesome on the Renegade. Kudos to Jamis for producing a performance bike with practical details like rack and fender mounts.
Speaking of burly, the Renegade’s EVO386 bottom bracket is massive. Fortunately it provides a very stiff pedaling platform.
I swapped the stock 100mm stem for a 90mm to shorten up the reach just a little bit. The Ritchey Comp Logic Curve handlebar has a nice bend, but I can’t help but yearn for a handlebar with a little bit of flair on a bike like the Renegade.
Internal cable routing keeps things tidy and clean.
So far, so good on this test, but I’ve only been on the bike for a couple of weeks. Stay tuned for the in-depth review in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times Magazine. Support us by subscribing to the magazine or our weekly email newsletter. Either way, you’ll have all our best content delivered conveniently.Tweet Print