Monday, October 30, 2006

Badger Cycles "Dorothy" Final Review

The Badger Cycles Dorothy test period is now complete and it’s time for my final verdict on this “custom stock” frame from Kansas. If you haven’t done so already, please check out the “First Impressions” ( that I posted on the bike, which details some of the specifics on the build and what will be changed from the proto type that I rode.

The test period was three weeks in which the bike was ridden in several different areas that varied widely. From pavement, single track, tight twisty trails, and wide open downhill service road runs, I tried to put the Dorothy through as many different situations as I could in three weeks of riding time. Trail surface conditions ranged from buff dirt, to rooty, rocky trails, to muddy tracks, and everything in between. Through out the test, I kept the basic set up unchanged with the exception of swapping out the Moots stem for a steel Salsa CroMoto stem that tightened up the front end tremendously. There were some tire pressure changes and shock setting changes made to help evaluate performance that I will mention along the way.

Without further adieu, I will let you all know that this is quite possibly the best mountain bike I have ever ridden. That’s a grandiose statement, I know, but I shall explain. I have ridden hundreds of different mountain bikes since I started riding eighteen years ago. I have a certain criteria that I like to employ when I evaluate a part or bicycle. It’s pretty simple, really. It must not make itself apparent while riding. In other words, if I can ride and not give any thought to the part or bicycle, then that’s a very good thing. My bottom line is fun. Yours might be going fast, or winning races. Any of these things are achievable on the Dorothy, if you can bring the goods. The best thing is, the Dorothy won’t get in your way while you’re doing it.

The Dorothy is the most transparent frame I have ridden in terms of handling. It is completely neutral. There is no hint of pushing in the front end or swapping ends from the rear. It really prefers a light touch on the controls. It seems to take a line in a curve and hold on to it tenaciously, or as long as your tires can hold out. Rob Pennell, head torchmiester of Badger Cycles, says that was the plan all along. Normally a custom frame builder that tweaks designs to fit personal riding styles and preferences, Rob had to take a more “neutral” approach to the design of the Dorothy. It had to work for a broader range of riding styles. “It really doesn’t come alive until you get it above 10 miles per hour, that’s where I designed it to perform its best at.” He also explained that the rider doesn’t have to put a lot of body English into the bike to get it to turn, climb, or descend. “There is a three inch area centered at the saddle that the rider can do almost all of his work from.” Rob thought that this would be a better approach, conserving precious rider energy, especially in longer rides and events. I would have to agree. The Dorothy definitely handled a whole lot better with a “quiet” rider on board. Trying to manhandle the Dorothy wasn’t a good thing.

That said, I was quite pleased with the way that the Dorothy’s balance worked in techy, twisty single track. It was easy to loft the front end, even though some of the geometry numbers wouldn’t indicate it, the bike climbed short steeps really well. Mashing the pedals single speed style revealed very little flex in the frame. The frame clearance for mud was exceptional, by the way. The bike was well mannered at several air pressure and shock settings. Almost any preference in these two areas should be accommodated by the Dorothy.

High speed handling was uneventful. In fact, the Dorothy felt as if it would go even faster than I dared to and it wouldn’t have gotten upset. Long fire road type descents were stable. Fast single track riding was where the Dorothy really came alive, though. It was on this type of trail where I felt the Dorothy outshined about every other trail bike I’ve ever ridden. I never once gave a thought to the bike, handling quirks, or anything. Just ride and smile.

The Dorothy is at once a throwback, (steel fillet brazed hard tail) and a thoroughly modern trail bike. (29”er, computer aided design, current geometry and butting profiles) It’s an artistic tour de force, what with the perfectly radiused fillets making the frame tubing look completely liquid and flowing. The bottom line is that it’s a fantastic handling, high performance, state of the art 29”er. Ben Witt, of Milltown Cycles, the shop that the Dorothy is exclusively available through, told me that Rob’s custom work is even better. I find that hard to believe that a bike could ride better than the Dorothy does for its intended purposes. The Dorothy isn’t a “cheap” frame, but it is a great value for what you get. By the way, the Dorothy can be had with a rigid Badger Cycles unicrown fork painted to match, if your tastes run that way.

If you are looking for a high performance geared only or single speed steel frame that’s top of the heap in terms of handling and looks, check out for further information

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