Thursday, October 26, 2023

Gravel Mutt v3: Verdict

I've been running the Gravel Mutt v3 rig around the city enough now to know what I do and don't like. I thought I'd hop on here and list those things here and then give an overall verdict on the bike.

Things I Like

The bike is steel, obviously, and while it has no fine pedigree as far as the alloy used in the tubing, it does exhibit all those "steel ride" attributes you'd want in a steel bike. In fact, it rides so springy-smooth that I keep thinking my rear tire is low on air, but it isn't. It is a little disconcerting at first, but you get used to it.

So, I'd keep that part of the bike. Smoothness is good, but if it makes the bike 'noodly', well that's another thing altogether. That'd be no good. I'm happy to say that the ol' Schwinn probably has thick enough tubes that it keeps the lateral flex in check enough that I felt no issues. I can torque on the bars and the entire front end stays under me. I've had old steel bikes that I could almost laterally sweep the front tire off the ground while torquing the bars with the rear wheel staying vertical. Scary! 

The 1" head tube is a keeper as well. One inch steer tubes definitely track better over rougher terrain. While head sets for threaded one inch steer tubes are not common anymore, I could do 1 1/8th as long as it was a straight tube, not tapered. 

The geometry, mostly, is pretty good. The head tube angle is great, the seat tube angle is fine, but I'd go for a touch more bottom bracket drop and a tiny, tiny bit longer front/center. 

Back to the frame. The material isn't all CroMoly, so while that's okay, I would probably like a full CroMo set of tubes if for nothing else, the slightly lighter weight. Otherwise? I dunno.... As long as steel is put together well, CroMo is nice, but High Tensile Steel in small amounts and in the right places is not such a bad thing. But yeah.....if I were to get a custom based upon this and that Honeman bike, it would be CroMoly steel all the way. 

What I Would Definitely Change:

I'd have true, single speed-specific rear drop outs. In fact, I would take a grinder to this frame and open that drop out up. It would make for a tensioner-less set up, but I would gain a bit more clearance with the tires as well. 

If I were going full-custom, there would be through axles. They just make more sense, especially so on a single speed bike. Even if you stick with cantilever brakes, which I would have added to this Schwinn if I were to make it a long-term Gravel Mutt option. 

More bottle mounts. One would not cut it for me and that's all the Schwinn has. What the heck? Were camels riding Schwinns in the late 1980's? I am pretty sure hydration was a thing, even then. Anyway, if I had my druthers, this frame would have a lot more water bottle bosses.

Sorry kickstand freaks, but the kickstand plate is not a thing I want to have. Ironically, it may be part of the reason for the slack geometry. To shoehorn that in there, you need room and a slacker seat tube allows for that along with slightly longer stays. 

Then there is the biggie- tire clearance. This bike is safe to ride with the 37mm tires on these slightly skinny rims as is, but you've seen the gravel around here, haven't you? It's chonky and deep. These tires would be pinging around, searching for a clean track to roll on the entire time you would be on gravel. 

My ideal bike along these lines would have a minimum of 43mm tire clearance and 45mm would be ideal. So, yeah.... This frame is no where near to providing that option. It would be just fine if I lived in some other areas, but in my locale, where we may have some of the roughest gravel around, it doesn't work. 


This is about as good a "gravel mutt" as I've done. It's very close to doable for here but for that critical tire clearance issue. The geometry is really pretty close to perfect for me. The steel frame is lively yet not a wet noodle in corners or under hard torquing/accelerations. It's got a couple of glaring issues, water bottle mounts being one of them, but I could work around those. This bike, as is, would be considered by me to be a in-town rambler though. So, close, but no cigar. 

I am glad I built this up and gave it a go though. Now I have an even better handle on what my future single speed gravel bike should be like. This will get torn down and returned to the Cedar Valley Bicycle Collective where I got it from as it was when I picked it up. 

Why? Because I have waaaaay too many bikes! I don't need another urban cruiser sitting around and taking up valuable space in The Lab. So, this one will be going away soon. It was never going to be anything else but an experiment.

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