Agree? Disagree? In my opinion, this is the one of the best looking hard tail bicycle frames I’ve looked at. Which is awesome, because it’s mine. Created for me by Fred Cuthbert at Wolfhound Cycles in Talent, Oregon, this frame is the result of a dialog that has been going on for some time.
You see, I’ve always loved the lines of the classic cruiser bikes. I even had a 1960’s era Schwinn Middle Weight Cruiser I was restoring at one time. However, my biggest issues with cruisers is that as transportation, they were all style, and lacked function. When Merlin released their cruiser reproduction masterpiece in Titanium, the Newsboy, I was all over it. However, I never managed to get my hands on one of them. There were a few things about it I would have wanted to change anyway, as I dislike the look of short head tubes. (I ended up satisfying my Ti urges by acquiring a Seven Sola instead, which also had a short “east coast” head tube; it was a great functional bike that served me well, but I ended up selling it a few years later.)
First, a full disclosure: Fred/ Wolfhound Cycles is a client of mine. Much of the photography featured on the Wolfhound website is from me. I also help out with web projects. I’ve known Fred for sometime now, and have had the opportunity to watch him grow as a craftsman. In the last few years, when he started toying with modifying tube shapes to tweak riding characteristics, I thought the lines were very pleasing to the eye. When I told him of the idea I had for a frame inspired by vintage cruisers, he stated that it wasn’t really his thing, preferring to leave the cruisers to other builders like RetroTech and Coconino Cycles, but he was intrigued in the concept.
As fellow bike geeks, Fred and I have talked bikes for a long time. When my slot on the waiting list came up, it was time to get serious.
Love them or hate them, the big wheel 29er mountain bicycle is here to stay. They have especially taken off for hard tail trail riders, as the larger wheels roll over obstacles more easily due to the decrease in approach angle, essentially smoothing out the trail. And why not? As a rider that leans heavily to the freestyle aspect of our sport, I utilize bicycles for transportation as much as I can in my day to day life. Ideally my motorized vehicles’s primary function is to transport me to the trail head. When it comes to running errands, or a cardio/ fitness ride in an urban environment, a bike with a full length seat post is key. I love my Black Market, but you won’t see me pointing to a mountain in the distance, and throwing a leg over the dirt jumper and pedaling there. For rides like that, when long stretches of pavement are in the mix, it is hard to beat the efficiency of a hard tail. I love ripping me some downhill trails, but I’ve always been a bike guy. As a tall guy, Fred has been on 29ers for some time, and has been trying to get me on one for a while now. After a few good rides on a few fully sussed models, I agreed that for the right kind of bike and the right type of rides, the big wheels had their appeal. Since then I picked up an On-One Inbred frame and set it up with a rigid fork and a 29er front wheel to try out the big wheel in a 96er format. After spending some time on it, I finally gave in, and let Fred have his way, and committed myself to the big wheels.
It’s all about style
Style is important for many of us on the bike- many freeriders, having evolved from our freestyle BMX roots, realize that a trick isn’t worth doing, unless it looks good. (and why we don’t post pictures of no-footers- move those feet further!) Having a matching kit, a custom painted helmet or frame, this is relevant stuff to a lot of us. So when it came to breaking down and commissioning a frame to be built, (again, what is a custom frame if not the ultimate in style- a one off bicycle built just for you) the style of the bike was a key element. If I just wanted a generic double diamond frame, I would have stopped a while ago- I have a one of those. Several, actually.
Choosing the right frame builder
Commissioning a custom frame is much like commissioning a painting. You don’t ask a Van Gogh to paint a photo realistic image of the CEO of your company. That simply isn’t his style- plus he’d probably get frustrated and cut off his other ear lobe. You choose your builder because you love his work, and what he is already doing. As a painter, I should have realized this long ago. However, I made this mistake not once, but two times. The first time was way back in 1996-97, when I asked a riding friend at the time, Joshua Ogle to build me a custom hard tail that would be used for dirt jumping and dual slalom racing. This was long before guys like Carter Holland were around to create and market bikes specific to “our” niche. Back then, the guys I rode with would just buy a relatively inexpensive XC frame or bike in a small or extra small size and put a short stem (the Azonic shorty was the one to run at the time) and riser bar on it. (the bikes broke often, but that is how it was back then) Mr. Ogle’s specialty was building bikes for hard charging XC and single speed fanatics. He seemed confident enough at the time to take on the project. However, when the frame was finished and he was boosting about the svelte and light weight frame he created for me, I realized that it was less than I hoped for. I wanted short short chainstays that would manual for miles. He delivered chain stays that were slightly shorter than his usual XC bikes, as he was unable to deliver on the length I requested, as he didn’t have the know-how or desire to do the job right. In addition, because he tried using his usual construction techniques, the clearance on the rear tire was a joke- the largest tire I could fit was a 1.9 or 2.0, and it rubbed quite often.
Was it his fault? Looking back, I would have to say the blame was mine. If I had him build me one of his trademark XC frames, it’s possible I would be riding it today- his bikes were beautiful, and performed admirably for the kinds of riding Josh himself loved to do. Either way, I’ve never been able to part with the bike. At one point a few years ago Josh cut off the rear triangle and put a new rear end on it, and the tire clearance was no longer an issue. While it is too small for me, it happens to fit my girlfriend Inga perfectly, and she loves it. Happy ending.
That is why when Fred began curving the seat stays on many of his builds, I came to the realization that Fred was the guy for this project.
Build that sh*t
When I talked to Fred about this project, I spend a lot of time sending him images of various cruisers, and bikes in general. With each image, I explained what I liked about it, and what I didn’t. The important thing was to communicate my sense of style, and the aesthetic I was going for. Then I let him go. I asked him to make me a bike that would challenge him, and bring out the best in him. I wanted to turn the artist loose. He knew what I liked, and I wanted him to have the freedom to express himself with this project. In return, I would do my best to capture the work when it was finished as an image, with my camera. He agreed, with one rule: I didn’t get to see the frame until it was finished. I agreed. As a painter, I hate when people walk up and look at their portrait as I’m painting it, picking out the flaws in the half finished work. It was on.
Enough babbling, more about the bike
- It is built for 29″ wheels, with a 20mm front axle
- It can be run single speed or 9-speed, with build in chain tensioners (hanger hasn’t been attached yet)
- Internal cable routing for clean lines, with sealed internal conduit to keep water out
- A split tube on the seat tube enables a tight rear end- yes, manuals on a 29er!
- The seat tube angle should be effectively 73 degrees (I wanted it to be able to climb)
- Longer top tube than usual- designed for a 70mm stem for my preferred handling
- The long reach/top tube will offer plenty of toe clearance with the large wheels
- Long head tube designed for no headset spacers; the plan is to run 8mm of spacers
- Long head tube will create a stiff front end- plus I personally really like the aesthetic
- Designed to fit 2.35+ 29er tires
- Curved seat stays will add vertical compliance
- Extra wide (95mm) BB shell with press in bearings
- BB has additional set of bearings (4x Phil Wood)
Stay Tuned for Part II, Q & A with Fred, with images of the bike in progress.
What do you think? The ultimate in bling, or just too much? Sound off in the comments below or drop me a line on Twitter