First Ride: Otso Warakin

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The Outdoor Demo of Interbike was thin on test offerings this year, but the stainless steel Warakin from Otso Cycles caught my eye. Otso is the brainchild of the Wolf Tooth Components team, started to build off-the-shelf bikes that “were not available.” We hear that excuse a lot, especially in the last few years with the explosion of several new, small bike brands. I took the Warakin for a short test ride to see if there might be any substance to the hype. I also like shiny things.

(Try not to mind the blue plastic flat pedals on our test bike; it’s what we had.)

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Why stainless steel? The answer I got: “Why not? It’s unique.” It was chosen for ride quality and because it’s not commonly used other than by custom frame builders. The frame is indeed beautiful, though I think a black carbon fork would look better than the attempt to color match paint to brushed steel.

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Though I only had about an hour to spend with this bike, it already felt more balanced than many of the other bikes in this category. I liked it right away. When bikes like this claim to be just as adept at cyclocross racing as they are at light touring, they usually aren’t. They tend to lean much more toward one of those ends of the spectrum. While I didn’t ride the Warakin with any load other than my own 120 pounds, it gave me a sneaking suspicion that it might actually occupy that elusive middle ground. (Though it has a rounded top tube, so it’s not the “perfect” CX race bike.”)

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The ride quality of the material impressed both on smooth pavement and rough dirt roads. The Warakin stayed more stable than a traditional road bike as I meandered down sandy desert washes, and held on better than a dedicated touring bicycle when I hit the road and enjoyed leaning it hard and fast through a series of car-free roundabouts.

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Of course, I can’t just credit the material for the ride. The geometry is well balanced and I can only imagine how much more comfortable I would have been had I had the time to really set the bike up per my preferences. The numbers change quite a bit across sizes, so check out Otso’s site for complete geometry information.

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Unique to this frame is the use of Wolf Tooth’s flip-chip adjustable dropouts. I fiddled with the mechanism, and it takes no more than five minutes to adjust your chainstay length from 420 mm to 440 mm, with subtle changes to head tube angle and bottom bracket height, as well (about 0.2 degrees on each). Those changes affect how the bike handles and the tire size it will accept, which makes the Warakin truly more versatile than some of its category siblings. And because the rear disc brake mount and derailleur mount are each attached to the flip chip, their alignment self-adjusts. We’ve seen this feature on mountain bikes for a while and I’m actually intrigued to see it on a road bike, especially since Otso/Wolf Tooth kept the setup so simple.

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The price of the Warakin—complete—starts at $3,200 and weighs 22.8 pounds. Practically speaking, the frame is ready to go wherever as a light tourer or commuter with rack and fender mounts plus three bottle mounts. It has a threaded bottom bracket (yay!) and clearance for 40-50 mm tires, depending on which chainstay length you’re using.

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That’s a great deal, especially since you get disc brakes, thru axles, a carbon fork and a Shimano 105 build at that price. Alchemy sells a stainless frameset with a carbon fork plus headset (but nothing else) for $3,500. Soma Fabrications used to sell a stainless frame, but it no longer seems to be available. Spot Bicycles has a complete stainless bike, the Denver Zephyr that will set you back $5,400.

 

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Review: Shinola Detroit Arrow

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Shinola—of the famous “You don’t know shit from Shinola” catchphrase—was a shoe polish brand founded in New York in 1907, gained fame in World War II, then went out of business in 1960. Relaunched in Detroit in 2011 by a Texas investment company that bought the name rights, the new Shinola began its second life as a fine watchmaking company, then expanded to bicycles in late 2012. It now employs more than 400 people in a city still struggling to find its footing following the crumbling of the auto industry, a mass population exodus and a recent bankruptcy.

That old saying still applies: Shinola product is anything but crap. Its three bicycle models are meticulously designed, American-made and have price tags befitting the finer things in life. If you’re more inclined to bust your knuckles fixing up a Craigslist find, this is not the bike for you. If you’re willing to pay for subtle, classy, lasting quality, read on.

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Bike industry veteran Sky Yaeger—formerly of Swobo, Spot, Bianchi and Suntour—leads the design of Shinola’s bicycles. Yaeger is the real deal, a true pioneer with more than 30 years of experience in the bicycle industry. At Shinola, she is proudly focused on things like weld integrity, custom dropouts, proprietary cast fork crowns and stamped chainstay plates.

Shinola’s frames are handmade at Waterford Precision Cycles in Waterford, Wisconsin, from U.S.-made True Temper double-butted 4130 chromoly, and assembled at the Shinola flagship retail store in Detroit. That is a big part of what you’re paying for. It’s easy to balk at the $1,000 price tag of the singlespeed Detroit Arrow, but you also can’t find too many off-the-rack, American-made bikes at that price. Shinola is arguably helping to put a little spirit back into an industry that readily offshored itself and no longer gives much love to the “Made in USA” sticker.

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On the road, the 26-pound Arrow feels much lighter than I expected for a sturdy, steel townie. It is markedly smooth-rolling and quiet—I would describe the ride feel as “gliding.” The upright position lends an air of casualness to cruising about town. With only one gear, riding this bike involved plenty of climbing out of the saddle. The swept-back bars aided those efforts, as did the bike’s well-mannered stability.

While the Arrow’s intent is to be a throw-your-leg-over-it-and-go bike—reminiscent of whatever simple, two-wheeled transport you had as a kid—it is practically designed for those who want a singlespeed even in a hilly, urban environment. The Arrow not only climbs well, but is also fun and maneuverable when it picks up speed on the return descent.

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The Arrow runs 38×18 gearing and is equipped with a basic, all-black build kit, leather Shinola saddle, custom chain guard, Tektro caliper brakes, cork grips, silver bell, steel fenders and 700×32 Continental Contact Reflex puncture-resistant tires. It comes in either black or white, and the frame features rack mounts for extended practicality. You can choose a step-through model or a traditional, straight top tube frame.

I did question the use of bolt-on axles (a nemesis of mine) rather than quick releases. Yaeger responded this way: “On city bikes, I have always used nutted axles on the rear and a lockable quick release on the front as one more deterrent if you just leave your bike for a few minutes and [don’t] lock the front wheel. Also, there is no learning curve to a bolt, compared to a quick release, which poses a challenge to beginning cyclists.”

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Is it worth spending this kind of money for a bicycle with only one gear? Only you can decide that. My mom’s sister-in-law likes to say that there should be a few items in life you’re willing to spend good money for lasting quality because you will use them daily. For her, it’s eyeglasses, shoes and coats. For you, it might be your bike. The Arrow doesn’t give you the most bang-for-your-buck, but statement pieces rarely do.

  • Sizes: Traditional: 53, 55, 57, 61 cm. step-through: 47 (tested), 51 cm
  • Weight: 26 pounds
  • Price: $1,000
  • More info: Shinola Detroit Arrow

 

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Jones Plus bikes with Boost now available for pre-order

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The Jones Plus Spaceframe in size 23″

Jones Bikes is now taking orders for its new Steel Plus 148 TA and the Steel Spaceframe Plus 148 TA. These updated models refine what is already an extremely versatile and fun bike by switching to through-axles front and rear and adding an extra bottle boss underneath the downtube to allow you to mount triple-boss cages for more storage capacity. The 148 x 12 mm axle spacing in the rear makes it possible to use all boost 11-speed drivetrains, and the 150 x 15 mm front hub spacing gives you the option of using one of the new Jones generator hubs designed for fat bikes.

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The new 150 x 15 mm Jones 150-F hub is also available. It features wide, evenly-spaced flanges that make for a super stiff, super strong wheel. It has a continuous axle with press-on endcaps, which makes a super solid hub-fork connection. As in other Jones hubs, the flanges are canted to match the angle of the spokes, and have cutouts, along with relieved areas inside the hub to save weight wherever possible without sacrificing strength.

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Jones also has a new carbon rim to go with the hubs. The C-Rim width is 49 mm inner/56 mm outer to make the tire more stable at low pressures. The 3.5 mm thick sidewalls are super-strong, and their blunt, rounded profile makes them less likely to cut through the tire’s sidewall under bottom-out. It’s available in both centered, and off-centered drilling so that you can build a dishless wheel in the front and rear.

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Check out all of the Jones Bikes products.

 

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First Impression: Soma Wolverine

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The original inspiration for Soma’s Wolverine was “monster cross,” but this frame’s geometry, versatility and even the screaming orange means you shouldn’t save it for just one, specific purpose. This type of bike is becoming more and more common, and we’re out to discover what sets this beast apart.

Soma currently sells its Wolverine as a frame and fork for $620, but was kind enough to build us a complete bike for testing purposes. So far, I’ve been impressed by the Wolverine’s lively and supple ride quality. As the saying goes, steel is real!

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Soma’s Wolverine promises great versatility with clearance for 45 mm tires with fenders, sliding dropouts for adjusting chainstay length and singlespeed use, as well as a plethora of rack and fender mounts. All that and the classic good looks of a Tange Prestige steel frame and Infinity steel fork with a lugged crown.

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Even though this is a custom build, it’s worth commenting on as it will affect our rides together. This is my first experience with SRAM’s Rival 1 drivetrain and I’m very impressed so far. The shifts are crisp and the Double Tap shift action didn’t take as long to adjust to as I thought it might. The 10-42 cassette provides a range of  gearing wide enough for most applications.

I do sometimes miss the very tight ratios of a traditional road cassette, though. The 42-tooth chainring on my test bike is fine for spirited riding, but would be a little tall for touring with any sort of load. I’d definitely swap down to a 38 tooth ring for any touring application. Chainrings are available from 38 to 50 teeth in increments of two.

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The Wolverine’s sliding dropouts offer a touch over 20 mm of chainstay length adjustment to adjust handling characteristics and accommodate singlespeed drivetrains. See the two bolts on the drive-side chainstay? That little piece unbolts so you can install a belt drive, a nice touch. With that feature, plus the disc brakes, this is a bike that can grow and morph with you, should you not be the type to just live with one setup for all time.

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With a handful of commutes on the Wolverine, I’m starting to get the riding position dialed. Soma set me up with its Gator bar, but I’ve struggled to warm up to this unique handlebar. This bar has a ton of reach when setup with the tops flat. Due to the wide open angle, it seems I was always sacrificing one hand position. When setup with the tops comfortable, the drops are pointed down too steeply. If you set up the drops to be comfortable, the tops slope down too aggressively. Ultimately, I’ve swapped the Gator out for a traditional bar with a little bit of flare.

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I’m really digging Soma’s Shikoro tires. Made by Panaracer, these 42 mm tires roll well on the road and offer a nice suppleness for an armored tire.

Now it’s time to remove the fenders, throw on some knobby tires and see how the Wolverine does on more aggressive rides. Stay tuned for the full review in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times.

 

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Review: Bianchi Volpe Disc and Zurigo Disc

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.

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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.

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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.

First Impressions

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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.

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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.

Ride

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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