Saturday, April 27, 2019

Bonus Post- About That Bike

Hold on just a minute..... What about this bike?
Earlier on Saturday my usual "Minus Ten Review" post went up and I posted an image of Ben Witt's 36"er he lent me for a few months. I got a message from N.Y. Roll that asked for more information, so this is what this post is about. What I know about this bike. Maybe you wanted more about it as well? Hope so, but if not, pass on by....

Okay, so the first thing you need to know about Ben Witt is that he is a thinker, tinkerer, and loves mechanical things like bicycles, motorcycles, and cars. His father, Mark, runs an auto repair shop in Northfield, Minnesota, so Ben has been around this stuff all his life.

I came to know Ben when he got a hold of me to take a look at a 29"er design he helped develop back when he was the owner of Milltown Cycles in Faribault, Minnesota. Ben spent a lot of time working up ideas on BikeCad, a design program on the internet that allowed you to make drawings which could then be used to fabricate a bicycle frame and fork. Ben was aware of a local to him frame maker, Mike Pofahl, and Ben has had several designs brazed up by Mike over the years, including my Pofahl Special gravel grinder.

The very same 36"er as above, only in its unpainted state, next to a 2007 Salsa El Mariachi 29"er. Image by Ben Witt

Ben sent me an image one day and he was telling me about this 36" wheeled bike he was having built. The image was a BikeCad drawing and Ben shared a lot of his development thoughts which we discussed as his project went along. Now before I get to the story proper, there are a couple of things you need to know about 36 inch wheeled bicycles circa 2006-2007.

Other than a novelty cruiser built by the Coker brand, there were no 36'ers, and most definitely no "serious" 36"er bikes for gravel or dirt. 36" wheels existed mostly for unicycles. See, unicycles rely on wheel size for their "gear", just like the old time high wheeler bikes did. The taller the wheel, the faster potential speed the bike, or unicycle had. With the development of the chain for tricycles in the late 19th Century, the mechanical advantage of multiple cogs and wheel size was employed to make the basic bicycle as we know it today. So, anyway, 36 inch wheels were a unicycle thing.

Spokes, rims, and tires for 36" wheeled unicycles in 2007 were pretty crude. The tires, with a thick casing and thick, smooth rubber tread, were not conducive to any potential successful, or fun, single track activity. So, Ben got a tread cutter, similar to what a moto-cross racer would use to trim knobs on tires, and he cut his own tread pattern into the stock unicycle tires. Wheels were laced, the frame and fork was brazed by Mike Pofahl, and Ben supplied the other components. By Frostbike 2006 the beast was rideable and I rode it at Frostbike for the first time then.

Originally, the frame and fork were bare steel. Ben wasn't sure the wheels would hold up under the pressures of disc braking, and the fork, which placed the back of the front tire precariously close to the down tube, might flex enough to actually contact it. So, I am not sure the bike was considered a "mountain bike", but it was really fun to ride and the potential for what could be was certainly opened up for discussion.

Eventually Ben had another, improved 36"er built. By this time folks were catching on to the idea, and several other 36"ers started popping up. It wasn't like hundreds of them were being made, but a few here and there. The OG 36"er got painted and Ben lent it to me for a time, which is what the previous "Minus Ten" post was mentioning. I'm not sure what happened to it, but I know Ben was pursuing the sale of it at one time.

And that's what I know about that bike.....

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