It has been a while since I’ve spent time on a hardtail. A few buddies and myself put in a number of rides last winter on the NW Oregon coast rolling fully rigid single speeds, and it was a pretty good time. Sandy trails with short climbs and zero bike maintenance equals lots of fun and little work. Not ever having to worry about shifting, or doing anything other than pedaling and navigating the trail can equal a fun and simplified trail experience. Since then I’ve sold the bike I was previously riding on and patiently waited for my latest project to arrive- a custom Wolfhound rigid 29er.
Those who know me will know that I’m a die hard 26″ rider- I love swoopy, jump filled slalom-like trails more than anything, and the larger 29″ wheels aren’t known for their handling in the turns. However, for this project, I wasn’t looking for a bike to replace my favorite all mountain steed. Instead the goal was create a versatile bike set up for getting around during the wet season and putting miles on in style. In essence, a low maintenance machine that would always be ready to be ridden. It needed to be single speed compatible, but offer options for a rear derailleur as well. Single speed is super fun, but ditching the front derailleur is a nice compromise between simplicity and having the option to change gears. Since I don’t have a road bike or a cross bike, this bike might be called into that role as well. The 700c rims that 29″ tires roll on can easily mount up slicks- with the correct size rim. Oh, and it had to be pretty. Really, really pretty. Isn’t that the point of a custom one-off? In my eyes, the hardtail never died, it just became delegated to filling a niche role. I already had a hardtail with 26″ wheels specifically for dirt jumping and straight abuse, so for XC and distance duties, 29″ wheels made perfect sense. They move quickly in a straight line, keep their momentum, and are fast on the road.
For this project I turned to Fred Cuthbert of Wolfhound Cycles. Fred is a frame builder out of Talent, Oregon, that specializes in the big wheeled hardtails. As he’s tall in statue himself, the big wheels actually make sense for the kinds of riding he likes to do. He fits into the aggressive trail rider category, and builds gorgeous 29″ wheeled bikes that are designed to take a serious thrashing. Fred has been creating bikes with curved seat stays for some time now, as he like the ride quality it bestows on the ride. He is also known for his split seat tube design that allows him to move the rear wheel closer to the bottom bracket and avoid the “long haul trucker” feel inherent in many 29″ frame designs. I wanted a Wolfhound from Fred, but I gave him an additional challenge as well- I had a specific retro aesthetic I wanted to fulfill. Could he do it? My challenge to him was to create his version of the mountain cruiser in his own style, no holds barred. Lots of frame builders have done their own take on the newsboy style cruiser. How would the Wolfhound be different?
It has been a long time in coming, but the final product is finally here.
Originally we dubbed this bike the RetroHound, but saying “hound” over and over again became redundant, so Fred came up with the “Retrosled.” With the rigid fork, I’m inclined to agree, especially when I’m banging down rough trails. Normally I have six inches of plush suspension between me and the trail. With a fully rigid, you feel every bump you roll over. Pinning it on a fully rigid ride reminds me of being slightly out of control on a sled, so the name works for me. She’s a stiff ride too- a 20mm through axle from fork leaves no question of that. Fred builds his 29ers burly. Some of them go through a massive amount of abuse, and that’s the way he likes it. This ride doesn’t get confused with a svelte carbon racer in the slightest, and that’s Fred’s style. The free floating seat tube splits near the wide (note: this has been corrected, as I initially listed it at 83mm) 95mm bottom bracket shell which contains four pressed in sealed cartridge bearings, and it results in a massively stiff interface. When you stand up to pedal, all your effort goes into creating forward momentum, and the bike goes. I asked Fred to go crazy with this build, and he complied in a major way- creating an innovative interrupted top tube. The top tube ends several inches from the seat post, and is connected to the seat tube via struts that come up from the chainstays. The curve of the top tube continues all the way to the drop outs in a flowing manner, accentuated by the brazing process Fred uses to construct his creations.
She doesn’t come in light though- all the tubing, as well as the brass used to hold her all together come with a major weight penalty. Interestingly enough, with light weight tires and rims mounted up, I have yet to complain. I’ve spent time time climbing steep stuff in the hills, and she just goes. When it came to the geometry, I had Fred tweak a few of his normal numbers, as I wanted a ride that would focus on going up hill. He likes a slacker seat angle, since he stands alot. Coming from riding fully sussed trail bikes, I’ve become accustomed to sitting more, and being more over the BB. I wanted the cockpit laid out around a 70mm stem as well- although this is my XC bike, I absolutely hate long stems and the lack of handling characteristics that come with them. Combine a short stem with a low and wide bar, and you end up with a riding position with your weight forward and low, with your hands spread out. With the correct top tube reach, and you can climb anything the geek with his long stem can get up, and even better, your bike will shred on the descents. (when the guy with the long stem goes over the bars, you could laugh, but you’ll be way too far in front to have seen it) Fred runs a 50mm stem on his personal Wolfhounds, but this is my XC bike, so the 70mm stem was the way to go. I also hate the look of short top tubes found on a lot of 29″ bikes. Personally I think they look stupid; there are a lot of 29″ bikes out there with tall stack heights and short stumpy headtubes. The long steerers of these bikes look like a lever for snapping the headtube off the top tube to me. Since I know where I want my bars in relation to the seat, and wanted a lot of negative space in the front triangle, a flat bar with minimal spacers was chosen. Based on this, Fred came up with the frame drawing below. Game on.
The cables are all internally routed, and it results in an extremely clean looking frame. While it adds additional weight, I’m hot on the aesthetic, and the cables don’t make a sound. The Wolfhound signature fork, painted to match the frame, also has an integrated internal cable line, with a 8″ rotor specific post mount. Stiff and gorgeous, it’s bike porn at its best, with a beautiful “root beer float” paint scheme by Keith Anderson. When it came to discussing the paint, I chose a general direction for the craftsman, asked for his best, and let him go. Like Fred, Keith delivered.
While pedaling down the trail, this bike is silent, until you start to coast, and you hear the loud buzzing of the ratcheting Hadley 36″ hubs provided by Fred. He happened to have a set of silver Hadleys floating around, and although the original plan was to go all black on parts, I decided silver would add to the classic look I was gunning for. The rear hub uses a bolt on axle complimenting the front. I chose relatively narrow Salsa CX rims so that I would have the option to run smaller tires, and went with straight gauge 3x spokes with brass spoke nipples to minimize flex and maintenance. As opposed to using all black disc brake specific rims, I chose rims with silver machined sidewalls. If I really wanted to change things up with this bike, I could easily pull the geared drive train and brakes and add a fixed rear wheel. Since I have yet to see a fixie with the cruiser look, that concept sounds appealing. Not that I’m going to, but I love keeping my options open. For tires I originally chose Panaracer 29x 2.35″ Rampages. However, after reassessing the kinds of riding I actually plan to do on this bike, I went with fast rolling Kenda Small Block 8s in a 2.10 width. These tires feel killer on pavement, and since I’m using this bike to ride to the dirt, it has been a major win. To keep things simple, I’m running basic tubes with a presta valve.
In the cock pit there was no question that we were going to use a Thomson stem. For other than the most abusive riding, this is one of the most dialed pieces in the industry. A King headset I had lying around was originally slated for bearing duties, but Cane Creek graciously supplied one of their new 110.TR headsets for the build. More on this headset to come in a future post, but in the last few seasons, Cane Creek has really shot to the front of the line in the headset game with their innovative designs, and I’m stoked to have it on the bike. With a 110 year warranty, I’m never going to have to worry about it, and unlike Kings, I don’t have to tighten it repeatedly while it “sets” in.
For grips I wanted something special. I didn’t actually have to go far to source grips thanks to PDW, a local company based in Portland, Oregon. Their product, the Dapper Dan Ergo Grips were created for the job. Made of a durable full grain leather in a bolt-on design, these grip perfectly match the classic meets contemporary theme that we were shooting for. I’ve never tried ergo grips before, and since I plan to log some miles on this ride, the ergo shape looked like a great option and would keep me from wanting to try (sudder) bar ends. First impressions of this grip are pretty amazing. I’ve never owned a pair of grips that actually feel better when you’re not wearing gloves. They feel great, and match my brown newsboy theme perfectly. Thanks and shouts to the PDW guys for supplying the grips. Again with this one, a full review is to follow.
Seat/ post/ handlebars
For the seat and post I originally chose a Brooks saddle B68 saddle, as it was the only Brooks model that matched the brown hue (and the grips) I was shooting for. Unfortunately for me, simply picking a saddle from a photo in the QBP catalog wasn’t the best plan; the B68 is intended to be a city or trekking model, and is rather wide. After the first ride, I was forced to swap it out, and it was just too wide to be functional in actual trail riding. I’m still looking for a replacement that will match the overall theme, with a brown Specialized model filling in nicely in the meantime. For the post, we chose an inexpensive Truvativ model for the time being. I have a Gravity Dropper I was planning to use on “real” trail rides, but can’t stomach the thought of the extra cable. The Gravity Dropper Classic is known as one of the most “ugly” adjustable height posts on the market as well, and to kill the style of this bike at the very end would be an insult to all the hard work that went into it. At the moment I’m eying the new Hilo adjustable height seatposts from X-Fusion. With clean lines and an all black model, it looks minimal with heaps of riding performance. Their design converts from lever actuation to remote handlebar actuation. With this build, cables=bad, so lever good.
Bars are Salsa Pro Moto Flat bars. 28″ wide.
Cranks, bottom bracket and chain guide
Crank duties are being handled by the Truvativ Stylo OCT 1.1G. Nothing too fancy here- just the best XC crankset for the money with a nice clean aesthetic, and a light package featuring the hollow OCT tech from SRAM. We yanked the bash guard for an ulta clean look, and went with a 180mm length for extra leverage up steep inclines. As mentioned previously, Fred has been using an integrated BB shell with four Phil Wood bearings pressed in.
The press in bottom bracket and the split seat post design created some issues with mounting a chain guide. For this we were lucky to source the 1x Guide from MRP. MRP makes the best guides in the business, and the 1x is a super clean design that does exactly as promised- retain the chain. After I received the guide, I handed it to Fred and waited. And waited. Custom bike builders are often on their own timeline, and it never is fast. However, Fred’s solution to mounting the 1x is clean, and the guide looks and works incredible. Apologies to MRP, Fred has an aversion to logos and removed the branding. The end result though is a minimal solution to the chain retention issue that to date has worked flawlessly. Full review on the 1x to follow. The only drawback to the ultra wide BB width has been with the chain line in low gears. However, this only becomes apparent when pedaling backwards. For long term pedals I’ve settled on some basic XT SPD models I had lying around for riding the trails. Good and reliable.
Drivetrain and brakes
For braking and drive train duties, I turned to SRAM. I had a set of X.0 shifters set aside for this build. They shift great, and are clean looking and light. For the 9 speed build, a short cage derailleur offers clean shifts, and the drive train is not far off from my trail bike. I had some Avid Juicy Carbon brakes lying around that are doing the job; initially I had issues with air in the lines, but I’m unsure whether it is from the installation (which I didn’t do) or the brakes. Bleeding the brake has resolved the issue, and to date, they more than do the job. Especially with the Formula rotors Fred had lying around. (running an 8″ in the front, 7″ in the rear) They look great, and are a nice upgrade from the stock Avids. I’ve just received some SRAM Matchmaker clamps(not pictured) that combine that consolidate the shifter/ brake mount and give the bar a super clean feel.
Hitting the dirt
It seems like it’s been forever since this project was started, but I’ve finally hit the trail and gotten the tires dirty. So far it has been really, really fun. Riding a fully rigid bike is not the same riding experience as riding a contemporary trail bike, even with the high performance components we’ve hung on it. The rocky technical stuff feels a lot more rocky and technical, but the climbs all feel way shorter.
I had some solid opinions on how I wanted this bike to ride, and it hasn’t disappointed. First impressions have been great, and it has been a fun tool for cranking out miles in the hills. It is strange to be on a fully rigid ride again, but this bike is a blast for rides where I just want to keep it simple- a waterbottle in the cage, and a tool in my pocket, and I’m out the door and heading up into the local park trails. It’s funny, I don’t really think of the big wheels when I’m riding as much as I think, “damn, no suspension.” When I’m banging down a rock strewn trail, I’m not thinking, “it’s nice that my wheels have a slightly larger diameter for rolling over shit,” instead I’m usually thinking, “damn, my seat’s high.” I’m sure I’ll have formulated quite a few opinions after spending more time on the bike, but right now I’m just enjoying being on a bike that cranks fast up hills, and is fun to roll through the dirt and over grassy hills. I’m having a blast, and with this bike that was the goal. Did I mention it looks good? Mission accomplished.
Thanks to everyone that made this build happen: Fred @Wolfhound Cycles, Keith Anderson, Cane Creek, PDW, MRP, and Jon @SRAM.