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:
At Sea Otter Classic this year, Breezer was showing off a new gravel bike that will be available for 2018.
The Doppler bridges the gap between Breezer’s two current drop bar adventure bikes, the Inversion and the Radar. The Inversion is an all-road model while the Radar is more dirt oriented with 29 x 2.1 inch mountain bike tires.
The Doppler is designed for road, gravel and dirt touring and randonneuring, featuring tubeless-ready 27.5 inch wheels with stainless fenders, rack mounts and disc brakes.
There will be three different models available. The top two will be spec’d with traditional drop bars and Shimano Ultegra or Tiagra. The model pictured, called the Doppler Cafe, will feature SRAM Apex 1×11 and a 680 mm wide sweeper bar.
Pricing for the Doppler will hit under $900, while the Ultegra-equipped Doppler Team will roll out at just under $2,000 and the Doppler Pro with Tiagra 10 speed will come in at around $1250.
All models will be available this coming fall.
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The Tout Terrain brand is really built around the open road. The bikes and their designs have evolved from first-hand experience on long distance tours and expeditions. A big brother to the classic Silk Road model with 26-inch wheels, the Tanami has 29-inch mountain bike wheels and can fit up to a 2.0 tire for flotation and comfort on bad roads and gravel. Because of the taller wheels it’s only available in sizes large and extra large. Most Tout Terrain bikes are built to order to a customer’s specifications, but you occasionally see models like our test bike pre-configured in local bike shops.
The Tanami Xplore frame is built from good ol’ steel, like a touring bike should be, in this case Dedacciai chromoly. The rear rack is welded right into the frame and rated to 88 pounds. Since it’s likely to be subjected to heavy wear, the rack is made from stainless steel, as are the dropouts and all the braze-ons. The frameset also has standard dropouts, three bottle cage mounts and mid-fork eyelets.
As Americans we’re used to seeing drop bars on touring bikes, but in Europe it’s much more common to equip them with flat bars, a setup I prefer myself when running panniers. With the right grips and some bar end handles it’s easy to have a couple hand positions and control all that weight. Plus at touring speed it’s not like I’m in a big hurry anyway. I much prefer the upright comfort.
At the heart of the Tanami Xplore is of course the Pinion P.18 gearbox. Similar to a car or motorcycle gearbox, it houses most of the whizzy, toothy, spinning bits inside where they are protected from the elements. Tout Terrain has been building bikes around the internally geared Rohloff Speedhub for years, and the 18-speed Pinion is a natural extension of that indestructible ethos. It offers nearly all the benefits of a Rohloff hub, but with better weight distribution thanks to having the mass right at the bottom bracket. Tout Terrain also offers the standard Tanami model with the Speedhub.
Similar to a Rohloff, the Pinion is shifted with a dual cable system, so your shifting options are limited to the factory twist shifter. The twist shift design is perfect for a transmission like this, since it can shift to any gear at any time without stopping at the gears in-between. It can also shift while stopped, which is a feature I didn’t realize how much I loved until I used it. Each shift indexes with a nice thunk, and you can upshift to a harder gear even while pedaling hard. Downshifting, on the other hand, can sometimes get hung up. I found it a bit temperamental about having to lift off the pedal pressure just right to let it shift. It often occurred when transitioning from a flat or downhill up to a steep hill, which is exactly the worst time to get stuck in gear.
Once you get your pedal-pushing power transferred through the gearbox it’s delivered to the special rear cog via a Gates Carbon Belt Drive. The belt is a perfect companion to the gearbox, since it needs virtually zero maintenance and is built to last a long, long time. It runs smoothly and quietly, and I appreciated not having worry about getting my pants leg stained from grease too. One downside to the belt drive: If you are on tour in the middle of nowhere and have a problem with it, you’re likely going to be stuck there for a few days until the UPS carrier arrives with a replacement. A traditional bike chain can be found at any bike shop and even some big-box stores.
At first I wasn’t sure how the proper tension was achieved on the belt, but then I realized that the entire Pinion gearbox itself pivots slightly to take up the slack. Removing the rear wheel from the vertical dropouts is simple, and you’re guaranteed the same belt tension when you reinstall it. Both front and rear wheels use traditional quick release skewers.
At this price you better expect to get some bells and whistles on the Tanami, and it includes the dynamo hub that powers an included headlight. In fact, the dynamo cable routes right through the fork leg for a clean look. Tout Terrain offers a handful of other dynamo options to suit your needs too, including integrated USB charging.
What I’d really love to see is a center stand. The U.S. distributor of Tout Terrain, Cycle Monkey, included a carbon fiber UpStand, which attaches to a small tab at your rear hub and detaches to store on the seat tube. While it worked great when the bike was empty, a pair of full panniers were too much for its 25 gram tube. A few cool features are found hidden near the headset: a pair of bumper tabs welded into the head tube prevent the handlebars from rotating more than 90 degrees in either direction, and a small steering lock holds them in place while you’re loading and unloading the bike.
On the road the Tanami feels much like, well, a hybrid. Like many stout steel bikes, it has a smooth and planted feeling on the road. Even loaded down for a 100 mile mini-tour it never felt wobbly or uneasy. The integrated steel rack plays a big part in that.
Quirks aside the Pinion is a great system that I have no doubt would stand up to some serious abuse. Tout Terrain markets itself as a “buy it once, buy it for life” kind of brand, and with an eye-bulging price tag it’s not likely you’d be buying anything else quickly after. While the Tanami has more than enough pedigree to tackle an around-the-world expedition, I have to wonder how its lack of sex appeal will draw in American audiences. After all, our country has never been quick to embrace practicality. It’s a flawless execution of a vision, but like everything in life, you have to pay for what you get.
Sizes: L, XL (tested)
Weight: 36.5 lbs with pedals
We caught a glimpse of the new Advocate Sand County adventure machine at Interbike and finally have some details on this new bike to share with you.
The Sand County slots in alongside Advocate’s 700c Lorax, which we reviewed in our previous print issue and really loved for road and gravel grinding, but felt that it wasn’t quite set up for loaded touring. Now, that opening in Advocate’s lineup has been filled.
The frame features a proprietary triple-butted, heat treated tubeset, and full rust-proof coating inside and out. Highlights include attachments for every possible thing you could imagine, geometry suited for hauling a pannier-based load, and six sizes designed around 700c wheels and drop bars.
The excellent build kit features Shimano Tiagra (which the Lorax also sports and which we have found to be really darn good), a triple crankset and 11-32 cassette, Avid BB7 disc brakes, a WTB Rocket Comp saddle, Formula hubs, Alex Adventurer rims and 700×40 Terrene Honali tires.
The bike will sell complete for $1,600.
We caught a glimpse of the new Advocate Seldom Seen adventure machine at Interbike and finally have some details on this new bike to share with you.
The Seldom Seen, named for a character in Edward Abbey’s “Monkey Wrench Gang,” is purpose-built for bikepacking and off-road touring. It can take either 29er or 27plus wheels, and is built around the Boost chainline.
The stock build is excellent. The Seldom Seen comes with a Shimano SLX groupset (including SLX brakes), 11-42 cassette, Ergon grips and saddle (nice touch!), Stans NoTubes rims and 27.5×3.0 Terrene Chunk tires.
The Seldom Seen comes complete with rack and fender mounts, lots of bottle cage mounts and its own frame bag. It is the first Advocate Cycles bike to use the company’s proprietary quadruple-butted, heat treated, eccentric integrated gusset tubeset for an extremely strong frame. The green paint is perfect for blending on on backcountry adventures, and we can appreciate the understated graphics.
Five sizes will accomodate heights 4’11” to 6’1″. The complete bike (including frame bag) sells for $2,000.
Tester: Emily Walley
Weight: 26.9 pounds
Sizes: S (tested), M, L, XL
This year is Marin Bikes’ 30th anniversary, and it marks the introduction of an all-new “utilitour” model, the Four Corners. The neutral gray steel frame gives the bike a timeless look, while disc brakes, wide tire clearance and an upright riding position keep pace with cyclists’ expectations for adventure touring and bikepacking.
What piqued my interest in this bike was its Gemini, do-it-all attitude packaged at an approachable price point. The Four Corners is equipped with a Shimano Sora 50/39/30 crank and 12-36 cassette, wide Schwalbe Silento 700×40 tires and the stopping power of Promax Render 160 mm disc brakes. The bike’s tour-ready spec is rounded out with mounts for racks front and rear, fenders and three water bottles.
Marin also offers the upgraded Four Corners Elite model with a SRAM 1×11 drivetrain and hydraulic disc brakes for $2,300.
The Four Corners was designed with a long top tube—21.8 inches on the small—but also a long stem offering ample room for adjustment. An upright riding position is facilitated by a tall head tube, and the Marin bars have a 20-degree flare to the drop, which allows for a natural hand position that opens up your core. This had me in the drops more than usual, and I’ll struggle to return to a bar without flare.
On a weekend tour I split my gear between a front rack, frame pack and seat bag. It can be a struggle to fit standard-sized frame packs on small-sized frames, but the long top tube opens up the interior space, expanding storage options for shorter folks. The tires are a good middle-of-the-road rubber, offering adequate rolling speed on hard roads and off-road traction. Best of all they’re stout, making them a good fit in any terrain where you’re susceptible to punctures.
While the stock tires were capable on smooth sections of singletrack and confident when loaded down with touring gear, there’s ample clearance for swapping to larger tires: up to 700×45 with fenders or 29×2.1 without.
The bike remained poised across varying terrain, its balance un-phased by rutted dirt roads and chunky railroad ballast, proving competent to carry the weight for an extended tour. I found the gear range to be ample for touring Pennsylvania’s rolling hills, but an easier gear may be advantageous on an extended tour with sustained climbs.
For days between 45 and 85 miles, the WTB Volt Sport saddle was comfortable and supportive, even on long sections of rail trail. “The Four Corners was designed for the rider who is looking for a versatile, modern take on a touring bike,” said Chris Holmes, brand director for Marin Bikes. “[It’s] one that is equally at home with a weekday commute as it is on a week-long adventure.”
For the city dweller, it fills the niche for everyday commuting needs, and for the adventure seeker, the large tire clearance and touring capability encourages exploring on gravel and dirt. As cyclists, what tales would we have to share if everything went as planned? The Marin Four Corners is ready for a change of route and a story to tell.
Salsa’s all-road/touring line received minor tweaks and updates for 2017. The most recent big news in this cycling realm was the previous launch of the Marrakesh flat/drop bar steel road touring bike, which became available this year. So while Salsa had no new drop-bar bikes to show the Bicycle Times audience at this year’s Saddle Drive, three staple models of the line have notable updates (and color changes).
The Cutthroat is Salsa’s top-of-the-line, drop-bar mountain touring bike that has been under the butt of many a Tour Divide racer and the like. When the bike was launched, it utilized an existing carbon fork in Salsa’s lineup and looked a bit funky. For 2017, it gets its own fork that mates better to the beefy headtube, plus internal dynamo front hub wiring.
Otherwise, the only notable changes are the colors. The bike will now be offered in silver/blue and dark red. Cutthroat with SRAM Force and hydraulic brakes retails for $4,000. The SRAM Rival 22 model with hydraulic brakes goes for $3,000. The new colors with the new fork should hit bike shops in October/November.
The other significant update to a Salsa bike is the ability of the Fargo touring bike to now run 27plus, 29er or 29plus tires.
The bike got Salsa’s new Cobra Kai tubing which is made stronger to meet newer, more stringent testing standards. A slightly tweaked headtube angle accommodates a 51 mm offset fork and will still happily accept a suspension fork.
The rear end gets Salsa’s splitting Alternator Dropout so you can run this bike with a belt drive. New 2017 colors are matte warm gray (which has a unique, color-changing shine to it) and the currently super-trendy Forest Service green. Look for the updated Fargo models in bike shops by November. You can get a 27plus SRAM Rival build for $2,300 or a 29er SRAM GX build for $1,700.
Only two things will change for the 2017 Warbird: its color options and your ability to now run fenders on the bike via hidden eyelets. New colors include purple, white, teal, raw carbon (black) and red orange.
The new colors should arrive in bike shops August/September (depending on build kit). Model pricing is as follows:
- Warbird Carbon Ultegra – $4,000
- Warbird Carbon Rival 22 Hydro – $3,000
- Warbird Aluminum 105 – $2,300
We’re at Saddle Drive near Lake Tahoe this week checking out new bikes from Quality Bicycle Products (QBP), the parent company of Surly, All-City, Foundry, Heller and Salsa. Because of the proliferation of cycling events across the country, these companies aren’t launching all of their new stuff right away, but we did get a look at two updates from Surly: the flat-bar Cross-Check and the re-designed Troll.
The Troll was once a mountain bike with a few extras for touring. It has evolved significantly into a dedicated workhorse and has gone through a complete frame re-design for 2017.
The fork is no longer suspension corrected, which lengthened the head tube a bit, providing more room for a frame bag even on smaller frames. The frame is now Boost compatible, but you can use any mountain bike hub that strikes your fancy. New chainstays allow the frame to accept up to a 26×3-inch tire. Still available are post mounts for old-school brakes, which Surly says remains popular with overseas tourers.
The dropouts still allow you to run disc brakes, fenders, a Rohloff hub and racks simultaneously. It also comes with more braze-ons, including four triple bottle mounts on the fork and two more triple bottle mounts on the down tube. The complete bike will come shipped with a Jones bar, thumb shifters and Surly’s improved 26×2.5 Extraterrestrial touring tires.
When compared to Surly’s other bikes, such as the Karate Monkey, the Troll stands out as the tool for someone living on their bike doing off-road touring rather than just a handful of bikepacking trips. The new Troll will retail for $1,650 and be available in November/December. Load it up and get out there!
The Cross-Check frame and fork remain unchanged, but for 2017 Surly will offer a lower-cost, flat-bar model stocked with a MSW Pork Chop rear rack. The SRAM X5 1×9 drivetrain gets the price down to $875. This new Cross-Check build will be available in December.
Tester: Justin Steiner
Price: $620 (frameset)
Weight: 7.1 pounds (frameset)
Sizes: 50, 52 (tested), 54, 56, 58, 60, 62 cm
I’ve always been a sucker for bicycles that offer heaps of versatility. Sure, some folks will argue that aiming for versatility results in a “jack-of-all-trades, master of none” scenario, but in reality most of us are more jack than master anyway.
On paper, Soma’s Wolverine offers compelling versatility in terms of tire and drivetrain flexibility as well as options for mounting racks and fenders. The Wolverine frame is constructed from Tange Prestige heat-treated chromoly steel and butted chromoly stays. The rear triangle offers mounts for fenders and racks, and the disc brake caliper mounts to the sliding dropout.
The Tange/IRD rear dropouts offer adjustable chainstay length and the ability to run a singlespeed setup. These dropouts are also compatible with many of Paragon Machine Works’ dropout offerings, including Rohloff, thru axle, direct mount and other options.
The fork uses a flat crown and Tange Infinity chromoly fork legs with double braze-ons at the dropout for rack and fender mounts as well as mid-mount eyelets and mini rack mounts for a front rack.
A small section of the drive-side chainstay also unbolts in order to install or remove a belt for belt drive. Originally, the Wolverine was slated for development as a belt drive compatible version of Soma’s popular Double Cross. However, Soma employee Evan Baird suggested the company push tire clearance into the monster ‘cross realm to give riders more options.
The team’s effort to maximize utility then led them to lengthen the wheelbase and increase stack height to improve on the Wolverine’s light touring chops. With clearance for 45 mm tires with fenders, or 1.8 to 2 inch wide knobby tires—depending on volume and knob size—without fenders, the Wolverine holds up the monster ‘cross description quite well.
Top tube lengths on the smaller sizes run on the longer side, so be sure to take a close look at the 50 and 52 cm frames. The smallest is said to fit riders from 5 feet 4 inches to 5 feet 8 inches, while the 52 cm spans 5 feet 6 inches to 5 feet 10 inches.
Soma currently offers the Wolverine as a frameset only, but the company built up a complete bike to facilitate testing, including a SRAM Rival 1×11 drivetrain and Avid BB7 brakes. The Easton Heist 24 mountain bike wheels offer ample width for the Shikoro tires in a 42 mm width. Soma’s Rain Dog fenders round out the build and keep salty winter road spray and spring showers at bay.
A couple things struck me on my first couple of rides aboard the Wolverine. First, I had forgotten how supple and lively a steel bike can feel, even at this price point. The ride quality improvement when you jump from a basic 4130 tubeset to even an entry-level, name-brand tubeset is significant.
Secondly, the big Shikoro tires rolled very well and were incredibly comfortable. This was my first extended test of SRAM’s 1×11 drivetrain on a drop bar bike and I’ve come away impressed. At first, the larger ratio jumps between gears were noticeable, but I quickly acclimated.
This setup is great for all-around recreational and commuting use, but may not offer enough gearing range for steep terrain when loaded for a camping weekend. My test rig had the 42-tooth chainring up front, which I would definitely swap for the 38-tooth for touring—the smallest chainring offered with the Rival crankset.
Just as Soma intended, the handling of the Wolverine straddles the middle ground between drop-bar commuter, monster ‘cross bike and light touring rig. Handling is quicker than you’d find on a true touring rig, but slightly more relaxed than you’d find on a cyclocross bike.
Off road, the Wolverine feels great on graded dirt surfaces or anything that could be loosely classified as a road. When you turn onto singletrack the Wolverine holds its own but the road-oriented geometry requires quick reflexes. With its plethora of rack options the Wolverine is ready for adventure.
However, it’s important to keep in mind this is designed as a light touring bike. It’s more than up to the task, but the lighter your load the more fun you’ll have. If you’re looking for a round-the-world-with-the-kitchen-sink rig, there are better choices on the market such as Soma’s Saga touring bike.
With a reasonable weekend’s worth of gear, the Wolverine’s handling and frame stiffness both felt great. In day-to-day use as a commuter rig, the Wolverine was a treat. Handling is lively and fun if you’re feeling frisky, yet mellow enough to let you zone out and decompress on your way home from work.
Set it up with fenders and commuting tires for weekly commutes. Rip the fenders off and throw on some knobbies for a long weekend gravel bikepacking adventure. Run it as a singlespeed commuter during the winter to save your drivetrain. The options are nearly limitless if you enjoy tinkering.
No doubt, there are a lot of bikes on the market promising versatility. Soma’s Wolverine is a fine example of one that offers highly functional versatility with a few features, such as the sliding dropouts and belt drive capability, that set it apart from entry-level offerings. It’s easy to see this as a versatile drop-bar solution for anyone outside of the performance road or ‘cross racing realm.
It’s now available in black in addition to orange.
The steel Space Horse has long been All-City’s most popular and versatile model, ridden by commuters, tourers and gravel grinders alike. It features the geometry of a road-meets-touring bike, room for wider tires, a bottom bracket that’s lower than a standard road bike and stability when loaded down. Now it features disc brakes, a new parts spec and a wider size range.
The Space Horse Disc will be offered in seven sizes: 43, 46, 49, 52, 55, 58 and 61 cm. The 49-61 cm fit a 700c x 42 tire while the 43 and 46 cm bikes will take a 650b x 45. The 43 cm bike has a 495 mm top tube length to fit riders in the five-foot range and the 46 cm has a top tube length of 515 mm, which is a half centimeter shorter than the cantilever Space Horse version.
Other updates include a new vertical dropout with a replaceable derailleur hanger and a 2×11 Shimano 105 parts spec. You still get an E.D. coated frame (protects against rust), internal cable routing, a lugged crown fork and hidden fender mounts. The Space Horse Disc will be priced at $1800 and will hit dealers in mid-August.
Photos from All-City don’t accurately reflect the stock build that will be offered. See the Space Horse Disc page for complete information.
Advocate Cycles is attending the Montana Bicycle Celebration this week previewing two, brand-new and custom-painted models that will be auctioned at a later date to support the Adventure Cycling Association.
The Sand County is a pavement-based touring bike, ready to take a full load of racks and panniers. The triple crankset assuages one of our minor complaints about the Advocate Lorax: its 2×10 road gearing is too steep for most loaded touring. Decent wheels and fork mounts also make this an appealing ride.
The Seldom Seen is a bikepacking and off-road touring specific model that departs from the Hayduke by having an integrated frame bag, load-bearing specific geometries, full rack and fender mounts and proprietary tubing that Advocate designed specifically for this model.
The two, touring-specific bikes will slot into the lineup alongside the all-road Lorax (which we will have a review of in our next print issue) and the Hayduke, a 27plus hardtail. Naturally, people have been using both of those bikes for on- and off-road touring, so it makes sense to see Advocate step up and offer bikes specifically for that purpose.
Photos: Emily Walley
Marin designed the Four Corners and Four Corners Elite for the daily commute and the weekend adventure, and it couldn’t be more on point. I’m testing the lower priced model, with an MSRP of $1100. It offers all the bells and whistles for fully-loaded touring in an affordable package. The Four Corners is an all-steel frame with mounts for a front and rear rack, fenders and three bottle cages.
Saddling up, I immediately noticed the upright riding position facilitated by the long headtube. The bars sit higher than what I’m used to and have a 20-degree flare to the drop. On other bikes, I’ve trended toward riding primarily on the hoods and tops, but the Marin’s upright position had me comfortably riding in the drops for long stretches of rolling hills and rail trails—a welcome change. The reach on the size small frame was a little long for me, so I put on a 20 mm shorter stem.
To get a sense of the bike’s touring capabilities, I added fenders and a front rack and loaded it down with gear for a mixed-surface tour from Cumberland, Maryland, to Pittsburgh. The ride included crushed limestone rail trail, rolling hard roads, dirt roads and railroad ballast. I carried my weight low on the front rack and the bike handled very well while weighted down.
On the small-sized frame, I was unable to include a water bottle underneath the downtube because it hit the fender. Though I haven’t tried yet, I’m speculating that the tire will come very close to hitting even a short bottle without fenders. On my trip, I used a stem-mounted cage for a third bottle.
The other two bottle mounts are placed so they’re easy to reach for day-to-day use, but they’re not in an ideal location for a frame bag. I zip-tied a cage lower on the downtube, closing up the unused space and allowing room for my frame bag.
I found the stock Schwalbe Silento 700c x 40 mm tires to be an appropriate spec, rolling well in a variety of terrain and adequately burly, so I wasn’t overly concerned with getting a flat. The Four Corners has clearance for up 45 mm tires with fenders or 29 x 2.1 knobby tires without fenders.
The Shimano Alivio 9-Speed with 12-36T gearing was adequate while weighted down over Pennsylvania’s rolling hills, but I’d go with a lower gear range for an extended, fully-loaded tour with sustained climbs.
I was thrilled with the stock WTB Volt Sport saddle. One of the biggest pains of rail trail riding are the long, flat sections of saddle time. The WTB is comfortable and supportive and I didn’t find myself sitting gingerly.
Look for the full review in an upcoming issue of Bicycle Times. Not subscribed? Sign up today for our email newsletter so you don’t miss stories like this one. Or, subscribe to the print magazine, where you can find the full review of this bike.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
From Issue #37
Bicycle touring has changed a lot over the past few years, and while riders once rejoiced for a smooth ribbon of asphalt, a rough and rocky road is now de rigueur. Right on the Trek website you see signs of this preference as the new 920 Disc is classified under the banner of “touring and adventure,” and it’s clearly been designed to peg the needle at the latter end of that dial.
I have to say, the matte green paint and knobby tires look pretty badass, like something you’d expect to see with CALL OF DUTY EDITION stenciled on the side. Besides its looks the main draw of the 920 is of course the wheels and tires, which are straight out of the Bontrager mountain bike catalog: duster elite tubeless ready 29-inch wheels with thru-axles front and rear and XR1 29×2.0 tires. There is ample clearance for a 29×2.2 or a set of fenders with the stock tires.
When not exploring the back roads of the Wild West, the 920 Disc would make an excellent commuter. The build powering those big wheels is a Sram 10-speed drivetrain with 42/28 chainrings and an 11-36 cassette, also borrowed from a mountain bike. Old-school bike tourists will appreciate the bar-end shifters, though I wish the modern SRAM versions could be switched to friction mode. The double chainrings are more than adequate for most riding, but don’t offer a huge range. This might be the first bike I’ve ridden where I was wishing for a little bit lower gear and a higher gear; usually it’s just one or the other.
Built from Trek’s 100 Series Alpha Aluminum, the frame’s tubing is aggressively shaped with a massive downtube and a distinctly kinked top tube. That kink makes room for a second bottle cage on the top of the down tube on frames size 56 and up, for a total of four on the main triangle. There are also bottle cage mounts on each fork leg that do double duty as the front rack mount. In fact, the 920 Disc includes both front and rear Bontrager aluminum racks. While the rear rack is a fairly conventional design, the front rack sits up a bit higher than a set of traditional low-riders, though with the panniers mounted on the second bar from the top the bike handles just fine with plenty of toe clearance.
Bringing it all to a halt is a pair of TRP’s Hylex hydraulic disc brakes, which stand out for their stopping power but are also distinctive for their ergonomics. The main body of the lever houses the master cylinder, and to make room they are quite long. So much so that if you swapped these onto another bike, you’d have to shorten the stem by 10 mm or so to compensate to achieve the same reach to the hoods. The compact bend of the handlebar keeps things pretty comfortable though. I also swapped out the stock stem for a shorter one to dial in a perfect fit.
I loaded the 920 up with panniers and hit the pavement for a 100-mile overnight road ride, and then ditched the racks for some forest road exploring. It’s perhaps a bit too heavy for all-out gravel racing, but I found it’s an excellent companion for all-day back road explorations and dirt road rambling. Despite the aluminum frame, the big tires are more than enough to soak up the road vibrations, and the Bontrager saddle and I got along just fine.
While the basic layout of the 920 Disc is fairly traditional, the details are anything but. Shift cables run internally and the frame is equipped with a port for the Trek DuoTrap S speed and cadence sensor system. The hydraulic brakes might scare off some traditionalists, but they are much appreciated when you’re careening down a mountain with 70 pounds of gear. Purists will also scoff at the notion of an aluminum frame and fork on a touring bike, but if you really think you need a frame that can somehow be pieced back together on the side of the road by a good samaritan with a blowtorch in Uzbekistan, so be it. But I doubt you do.
The other refrain I’ve seen echoing through the message boards is that Trek copied the Salsa Fargo, as if that were the first bike with 29-inch tires and drop bars. While the Salsa is at heart a mountain bike and can run a suspension fork, the 920 Disc isn’t meant for singletrack. Think of it more as a Subaru Outback than a Jeep Wrangler.
The stock tires are most at home on double-track or gravel, but they roll well enough that I left them on for road rides as well. Because they are tubeless ready the bead sits incredibly tight on the rim and fixing a flat requires very high air pressure, some strong thumbs and a bit of cursing to get the tires to seat properly. I recommend setting them up tubeless from the beginning to shed weight and eliminate pinch flats.
While the 920 is meant for more rough and tumble adventures rather than smooth pavement, I would still choose it over the classic Trek 520 model for traditional road touring. My mountain bike experience has made me a big fan of hydraulic disc brakes and thru-axles—modern features that have earned my trust. Whether you go slicks or knobbies, with racks or without, the 920 Disc is a versatile bike that is ready for your next adventure.
- Price: $2,090
- Weight: 24.8 pounds (without racks), 27.5 pounds (with racks)
- Sizes: 49, 52, 54, 56, 58 (tested) and 61 cm
- More: trekbikes.com
The carbon Ibis Hakkalügi I’ve been riding the past few months technically falls under the cyclocross category, but the company extols the virtues of the bike’s versatility on any surface, so I took Ibis up on the invitation to add one to my bike rotation for an extended period. I also made a few modifications to the Hakkalügi to suit my needs as a thrill-seeking non-racer. Besides, Ibis sponsored racers like world master’s champion Don Myrah have proven the Hakkalügi’s racing pedigree, and I saw its potential as something else entirely.
First, the ‘cross tires had to go. The stock wheelset came with low-pressure, tubeless Michelin Cyclocross Mud 2 tires, and because I rarely drive somewhere to ride my bike, I wanted rubber that I could inflate to 85psi, worked well on asphalt, and was wide enough for hard packed dirt. To do this I swapped out the stock wheels (Stan’s NoTubes Iron Cross tubeless rims, Ibis Speed Tuned disc hubs) for Bontrager Affinity Elite wheels with Michelin Pro4 Endurance 700x28c clincher tires and the stock Shimano rotors and cassette. Weight of the former was 6.61 pounds, and the latter was 7.12 pounds.
I topped off my creation with a 491 gram Selle Anatomica X Series leather saddle to ease the nagging pain of a pinched sciatic nerve, added the 410 gram Moots Tailgator seatpost rack and bag to bring extra clothing, and strapped on a 475 gram Rivendell Brand V Boxy Bar bag for my camera and food. I also installed a pair of Shimano 9000 pedals. Presto! The Bicycle Times makeover was complete. Complete bike weight went from 17.48 pounds to 22.11 pounds, converting a race horse into a work horse.
The carbon fiber Hakkalügi frame was designed with modern standards, including a BB86 press fit bottom bracket, 140mm post mounts for the rear brake, tapered head tube, and compression molded carbon dropouts. Matched with an ENVE CX fork and traditional mountain-bike-standard 135mm rear dropout spacing, all this adds up to ride that Ibis promises to provide ‘the responsiveness of a large tube aluminium bike combined with the suppleness of a titanium frame’.
So, did it deliver? Yes, and then some.
Oversized tubing became the norm with aluminum throughout the 1980s after decades of 1-inch diameter steel tubing ruling the roost. But aluminum—while light—can be stiff and unforgiving when bicycle tubing is welded together, so titanium frames became commercially available and popular in the late 1980s. They were light, stiff but not too stiff, supple like a custom steel frame, but spendy (like, twice as expensive as a custom steel frame). Ibis has offered steel, titanium and aluminum frames through its production run between 1981 and 2001, but when the brand was resurrected in 2005 carbon fiber was king, and manufacturing wasn’t such black magic anymore, so carbon Ibis models were introduced.
The rim brake Hakkalügi (now discontinued)—first introduced as a TIG-welded steel frameset in 1997—returned to commercial glory built with carbon in 2009. The current Hakkalügi Disc shares the same carbon layup as the Ibis road bike, the Silk SL (also discontinued), but with an extra layer of carbon added to the top and downtube for greater impact protection, without much weight penalty. Ibis reports that the frame weight for the 58cm size (which I tested) is approximately 1,050 grams (2.3 pounds).
The ENVE CX Disc fork weighs 460 grams, and would retail for $549 separately. I’m not overly concerned with riding a light bike because I’m not a light human (6’1”, 188 pounds), so I like bikes that weigh what they need to weigh for my chosen purpose. The Ultegra 11-speed mechanical group performed as expected: smooth, flawless and responsive. The Ultegra crankset is my favorite because like my faithful dog Gromit, it will never disappoint or let me down; spot-on shifting in all situations. The ‘cross gearing chosen by Ibis (a 36/46-tooth crankset mated to an 11-28-tooth cassette) worked well for my purposes, and I was never left wanting lower or higher gearing. Nothing but praise for Shimano.
The caveat with adding the extra versatility (and weight) was pushing the bike beyond its original cyclocross-racing intent, but the Hakkalügi delivered. Short or long road rides into Portola Valley or quick jaunts through the Los Altos hills were enjoyable because I was comfortable and never fought the bike. Steering felt stable and intuitive, partly due to the traditional and relaxed 71.5-degree head angle (compared to the steeper and more aggressive 74 degrees on my Felt F2), tapered headtube, and stout fork.
I always try to fill the fork and frame with the largest tire possible, but in this case I was going for a split personality machine for asphalt and dirt. While max clearance was 700x38c, I shrunk down from the stock 700x33c knobby tires to 700x28c smoothies, I still benefitted from the longer chainstays for a cruise-friendly wheelbase (43cm and 103.7cm, compared to my Felt’s 40.7cm and 100cm, respectively). The geometry of the Hakkalügi was what attracted me to it in the first place, and my component and accessory experiment played out perfectly.
While I remain a fan of custom steel and titanium, I like what Ibis has done with carbon on its drop-bar bike (its mountain bike offerings are always making headlines). The head tube is 15mm taller than my daily rider, the Felt, and the top tube is 1cm shorter. This was a little hard to adapt to initially but 30 minutes into the maiden voyage—and after fiddling around with my saddle height and reach to the handlebars—I was comfortable and enjoying the bike. As all-surface bikes—road bikes with disc brakes and larger tire clearance—become more popular, I’m sure we’ll see more bikes on the roads and trails resembling my Ibis experiment. And that‘s a good thing!
- Frame: $1,450
- Shimano Ultegra Hydro kit (including ENVE CX Disc fork): $2,350
- As tested price: $3,800
- Complete stock bike (minus pedals): 17.48 pounds
- Substitutions: Bontrager Affinity Elite wheelset: $800; Michelin Pro4 Endurance tires: $60 (each); Selle Anatomica Series X saddle: $100 (Holiday price; regularly $159).
- Add-Ons: Shimano 9000 pedals: $280; Moots Tailgator bag system: $165; Rivendell Brand V Boxy Bar bag: $90.
- Complete repurposed bike: 22.11 pounds