Thursday, February 06, 2020

Concept Bike Revisited; Part 4

It's hard to go custom when you can get something like this for such a reasonable price.
Note: This will be the last look at the Concept Bike Revisited series. You can follow backward by starting with the previous post here

Okay, I'm going to state the obvious here; Money is an object. Or to put it a better way- Money is a barrier. Last week I discussed several titanium bike choices, why that was desirable, and what were the shortcomings of each, in my opinion, for my needs. This week I am going to suggest a few steel framed alternatives that tic the "reasonably priced" alternatives to the titanium beauties listed last week.

Steel has several "titanium-like" qualities and, obviously, is a durable frame material for a bike that will see a lot of mud, grit, and poor conditions in general. I'll put up my 2008 Fargo as a proof of that concept. That bike has been put through the wringer so many times, yet it still is kicking it today in 2020. Steel. Is it "real" or just darn tough and decent? Whatever you want to think, I will take a steel rig any day and have the confidence that if I want to try to see if something is rideable, I won't be grinding through a chain stay with mud and grit. But that may just be me.

Now getting back to the "Concept Bike" thing. I have bikes already which have served me well and have come really close to what I would do in a custom bike anyway. Bikes like my Tamland, or the "Orange Crush" Black Mountain Cycles bike, or the Black Mountain Cycles MCD. Sure, none of those bikes are perfect, but to get even close to that, a steel frame which is customized for my tastes is going to cost in the neighborhood of $1500.00 and up. I could buy two Black Mountain Cycles MCD's and have change to spare. So, it has to be something worth spending the money on in the first place. 

The Twin Six Standard Rando 2.0: It could be a contender.
 The things that bug me the most when I look at bike geometry is head angle and bottom bracket height. I know that if these two critical measurements are off by too much that I will not like the bike. Take bottom bracket drop, for instance. That's the one thing about the original Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross frame that is not right for me. It is something in the high 60's of millimeters, as I recall. I believe it is 70mm on the current ones, as that was changed several years ago. 70? I could live with that. Less than that? No. It's just too squirrely going down a fast loose gravel descent for my tastes. Then there is head angle.

Many gravel bikes are running 72° head tube angles, and frankly, I think that's too steep. My MCD has that head angle. It's okay, but it could be better. In my opinion, anything steeper than a 72° isn't gravel geometry. In fact, I'd almost be willing to put 72° in that "not a gravel bike" category too. That's because I feel, and have always felt, the 71° head tube angle is where it should be at with a 50+ mm long fork offset.

So, where do you go to get this unicorn? Well, the aforementioned MCD is a great package despite the nearly too steep head angle and nearly too high bottom bracket. It makes up for those things with copious water bottle mounting choices, BIG tire clearances, and 2X drive train capabilities. Plus, it comes with a steel fork, which is another thing I'd "druther have" than a carbon fork. It is a frame and fork, which in my opinion is far too under-priced. And Mike Varley, of Black Mountain Cycles, after holding prices firm for many years, is actually bumping up that price finally. It's still a smoking deal.

Another possibility is the upcoming second version of the steel Standard Rando by Twin Six. Shown above, it looks like through axles are finally a thing. The old Standard Rando had a low, 75mm bottom bracket drop and a 72° head tube angle. I am expecting that things will be tweaked, but I have no clue where T-6 is taking this design. I'm keeping a close eye on this one.

Noble Bikes showed this steel frame/carbon fork bike two years ago at Sea Otter.
Now for a bike with its roots in the Raleigh Tamland which may be another choice. It is also a Noble Bikes design, like my carbon framed bike from Noble I have here now.

This one would feature Reynolds tubing, (if they hold true to the original prototype) and would have the lower bottom bracket (72.5mm drop) and slacker head angle, (71.5°) that my Tamland has. It was promised to come out last year, but it has not as yet. Will it ever? Who knows, but it would be a great choice, and not crazy expensive as a frame/fork. Oh, and even though the fork is carbon, if it is similar to what is on the carbon GX5 Noble makes, well I'd be fine with that. Yes, there are no fork mounts shown on the prototype. Perhaps those get added, but again- who knows? 

I should also mention that last week's titanium example from Knolly Bikes, the Cache, also comes in steel. It has bang on geometry, just like the titanium one, but the fork is an unknown, and the severely sloping top tube means only two water bottles in the main triangle. Still, it is an intriguing offering. I certainly could make that work, and it also is on the table as a choice.

Fimally. an odd-ball. The Otso Cycles Warrakin. This isn't steel, it is stainless steel. I know long time blog readers will remember I tested one of these a few years ago. It has the proper geometry in the "long" setting, it has huge tire clearances, is 2X compatible, and looks ace. It has three bottle mounts on the main frame, but their Lithic fork does not have bosses. Boo. I could make this work, but it is expensive. Nearly titanium money expensive. They also have the Waheela in steel with a slightly slacker head tube angle. And that costs less. Otherwise similar specs, it's just that its paint scheme is less than inspiring. (I know.....vanity.)

So, to wrap this up: Things have come along nicely since I dreamt this rig up ten years ago, and ya know.....I must have been prophetic or something, because the geometry is very close to what I was wanting back then on several bikes you can get now. It mitigates the need to go custom. Not that I wouldn't, but the choices are so good now, small variances can be forgiven. Of course, if I were to stick with my wacky under the chain stay caliper brake, then custom would be my only option. So, thankfully disc brakes, ride quality, geometry, and accessories are what they are for choices now. We're spoiled, really, and the gravel scene has expanded so much in ten years it is crazy.

Concepts ten years ago are reality today, for the most part. So stay tuned as a replacement frame and fork for the aging Tamland are sourced. What will it be? One of the beauties I have outlined in the series, or an as yet unknown?

Stay tuned.............


KC said...

Thoughts on Chumba's Terlingua? 72° ht angle, but steel and that tire clearance... that's the bike that has my attention personally. The ti version is great too but the steel looks perfect (for me at least).

Guitar Ted said...

@KC - Bottom bracket drop = 65mm? No can do. That's cyclo cross bottom bracket drop. I'm looking for something with more than 70mm in bottom bracket drop.

KC said...

Ah, missed that number. Funny, the bike I'm on now (Kona Private Jake) has a 70mm bb drop & 71.5° head angle. Just doesn't have the clearance I really want.

Skidmark said...

Greets GT, what size is your Bubble Gum Pink Black Mountain MCD, for reference?

Guitar Ted said...

@Skidmark - I got the 53cm and I am 6'1' with a 34" 'cycling inseam".

Guitar Ted said...

@Fear rothar - Thanks. Obvious BB drop references fixed.

Michael Lemberger said...

I may have asked you this long ago, but did you ever take a look at the rim-brake version of All-City Space Horse? I've done most of my all-road riding on one of those or a Cross Check, and the Space Horse is more comfortable, better at most things, and way better at descending. Both bikes have the same HT angle, but the ACSH has more BB drop and fork offset, higher front-center, and longer wheelbase. It's always tempting to pick out one or two particular bits of geometry for the sake of comparison, but the handful of builders I've talked to, who don't agree on much, tend to say that it's the whole package that matters.

Michael Lemberger said...

I forgot to include geometries for the Space Horse and Cross Check.

Guitar Ted said...

@Michael Lemberger - The whole system does matter. I agree. The Cross Check lost out in 2011 to the BMC "Orange Crush" mostly based upon the fact that the Cross Check has a VERY short head tube. The AC Space Horse looked promising, but in my size the head angle is listed at 72.5° and I decided against it based upon that. Then afterward I heard about how the ACSH was too stiff, but that makes sense since it was originally conceived as a sort of load bearing beast.

That's one item I did not touch upon this time, but 10yrs ago, anything close to what I wanted often was a touring based bike, and they are meant to ride best loaded down. I wasn't planning for that sort of usage, so I summarily scratched any touring based bike off my list in 2010.

Now days that isn't such an issue.

Michael Lemberger said...

Yeah, if you're going to own almost any Surly, you'd better be ready to stock up on steerer tube spacers. I think their devotion to a dead-level top tube bites them in the butt a little there. I love my CC with WTB Resolutes for super-rough mixes of the ATV trails, single/double tracks and logging roads found in northern Wisconsin, but it's also the only bike I own with a high-rise stem.

I own two Space Horses: one for camping and the other as my "all-road" bike. The camper handles a light to moderate load pretty well, but it's no Long Haul Trucker. Even unloaded, I don't think of it as stiff...maybe of that's offset by the plusher than normal geometry. I've done some really long rides on it unloaded and it seems really peachy to me. (I wonder if the comments about stiffness might be referring to the disk model?)

The bigger points for me are: first, specs are great, but the ride is ultimately what counts. I test ride a lot of bikes before I buy one; and second: I'm seriously considering a Jonny Cycles all-road, and I'm planning to just tell him what I want based on what I like about bikes I have and let him worry about all the numbers. The luxury of a custom build!

I wonder if part of the reason we play the specs game is because production bikes are designed by committee to fit a market niche, and the onus is on the buyer to pick the one that works for them?

Tom said...

There is another bike that 'could' be considered....I'm going to wince a little as I type this but here goes: Journeyman. And yes I completely agree about the frame mat'l and quick release dropouts. But those numbers...angles, bottom bkt drop, trail...I would call it spot on. I think with good tire volume I could live with aluminum/carbon fork but the lack of thru axles is very nearly the deal breaker. So, I have been planning to get an MCD when he gets his next shipment in but I can't help wondering if it's worth just sucking it up about the dropouts and going with the Journeyman. Have you been able to ride one? Thoughts?...

Tom said...

I should add if I were testing wheels then compromising on the dropouts would never be considered. I'm looking at this as a regular recreational rider who just wants a nice riding all road bike.

Guitar Ted said...

@Unknown - I have ridden Journeyman bikes only briefly- test rides after repairs- never out on gravel. I think they are okay bikes, but again- no gravel experience here.

Another bargain with great geometry AND through axles is the Sonder Bikes Camino AL:

I actually am also considering this as a test mule platform.

Tom said...

Thanks for that tip, interesting bike, even has flat mount. There is yet another consideration though and it's an intangible. Mike's bikes are really nice, he knows what he's doing and he's doing good things. It feels good to ride a nice frame you are proud of and also to support an indie who puts personal heart and soul into a quality product. So on the flip side of accepting a cheap aluminum frame and/or quick releases for the geometry, one could suck it up, accept the geo and buy the keeper - speaking as someone with more or less $1000 to spend on a frame and parts. And sorry for bending your ear a little I'm just thinking out loud. And btw, have you looked at the Crust Bombora? The bottom bkt is high but since it's 650b only that might be mitigated some?

Guitar Ted said...

@Unknown - Further to your point- I was contemplating the Camino and you know, you save a lot, but in the end, what is the value? If you keep it with a mind to run it into the ground, the answer is "a lot of value", but if it turns out you do not like it, or that you just want to flip it for something else, the resale is going to be such that you lose somewhat.

A 650B only bike is not of interest to me because I get so many wheels and tires in 700c as well. What I get, ideally, would be compatible with both wheel sizes.

Tom said...

Just looked back at your T6 Std Rando review and it sounds like a great ride. Now it looks like the new version will have through axle, flat mount, more mounts and (unfortunately) a bigger head tube diameter. Do you feel like your new MCD has that nice ride feel also?
Thanks again!

Guitar Ted said...

@Unknown - The old Standard Rando actually rides a bit stiffer than a MCD due to the Standard Rando's monostay rear. The shorter stays this produces makes for a less flexible length of tubing, generally speaking.

Tom said...

Interesting, never thought about that aspect of the monostay rear. So I think what I'm hearing is your MCD may have a little nicer ride feel than that T6 had (overall?), which inches me closer to making that $100 deposit for the new MCD.
Thank you again, I respect your opinion and this info is helpful for making a decision between two bikes I'll never have an opportunity to ride before purchasing.

Guitar Ted said...

@Unknown (Tom) - Yeah, it makes a bit of difference, but saying anything more means we'd be going down a rabbit hole, and I don't want to obfuscate the fact that both bikes are tremendous values and would work well. Think about a compliant seat post- Such a device might eliminate any concerns about the frame compliance at all. Or how about a saddle with springs, or plush padding? Or what about lowering your pressures in your tires by a few psi? See what I mean?

That said, I'd look at versatility, whether or not you can get one now, (The T-6 isn't out yet, is it?), and colors. Seriously- color makes a big difference in how you feel about the bike.

When I compare, I end up back on my MCD- for now- but the new T-6, when it is out, could work fine, I bet. Tough call, but again- both are sweet rigs. Get the one you like the look of and that supports what you want to do and ride. You can do things about compliance later.