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The Chromag Pilgrimage

Morgan Builds a Dream Ride

Words by Morgan Taylor. Photos by Morgan Taylor.
February 12th, 2014

It’s not uncommon for riders living in BC to catch the Chromag bug. It usually starts with a handlebar and a toque, but things can quickly get out of hand. Last fall I found myself joining the Chromag crew for one of their legendary Friday rides. It went something like this. Wait, that’s an understatement. It was actually close to 20 riders on a wide variety of rigs – but of course the majority were on Chromag hardtail frames.

On a ride with 1300 metres of ascending, 300 of which was slogged with bikes on our backs, those hardtail riders with their stubby stems and long travel forks pushed the pace both up and down. I concluded there must be something in the water in Whistler, and I had to find out what it was. I began scheming on a new build.

Chromag, Rootdown, Green, Review, Photos, Pictures, Images, Pike, RockShox, SRAM, X01, King, DOSS, Fox

Early Rootdown samples, including those used for the photos on Chromag’s website, didn’t have head badges. I was pleasantly surprised to find the huge chunk of polished steel flying the bear flag up front.

The following tenets guided my initial build: 29″ wheels, a RockShox Pike, and a single ring drivetrain. The Dekerf-built Surface frame is highly coveted, but feeling as though I might be between the M-L and the L frame sizes, I was hesitant to commit to the more expensive BC-built beauty. I knew from owning a Monk dirt jumper that Chromag’s more affordable frames are still beautiful pieces of work, and had no qualms about going with a Rootdown. The rest fell into place organically with some carefully chosen pieces and some well-timed review pieces.

The Chromag crew does some unorthodox things in the setup department: their bikes appear to be descending biased, and yet they all shred the uphill just as hard. Given that I intended to find out first-hand what the boys were up to, I heeded Chromag founder Ian Ritz’s advice on a number of points. I would have been the first to question a 50mm stem and a 140mm fork on a hardtail meant for all day pedaling. I even asked the Wizard at Fluid Function if I could have my Pike lowered to 120. But Ian was adamant that I’d be happiest with the fork at 140, and I conceded. Standover be damned, I chose the 20″ L frame size for its 620mm horizontal top tube.

Chromag, Rootdown, Green, Review, Photos, Pictures, Images, Pike, RockShox, SRAM, X01, King, DOSS, Fox

The modern hardtail brings us 44mm head tubes for tapered steerer compatibility using external lower headset cups.

Chromag, Rootdown, Green, Review, Photos, Pictures, Images, Pike, RockShox, SRAM, X01, King, DOSS, Fox

The Rootdown’s top tube gets a bend complementary to that of the down tube, which gives the bike a unique and stylish silhouette. The seat tube is a 31.6 inner diameter, which allows use of a 5″ dropper post.

Chromag, Rootdown, Green, Review, Photos, Pictures, Images, Pike, RockShox, SRAM, X01, King, DOSS, Fox

The Bear.

Chromag, Rootdown, Green, Review, Photos, Pictures, Images, Pike, RockShox, SRAM, X01, King, DOSS, Fox

Chromag’s Yokel joint on the drive side chainstay makes lots of room for big tires as well as a variety of chainring options.

Chromag, Rootdown, Green, Review, Photos, Pictures, Images, Pike, RockShox, SRAM, X01, King, DOSS, Fox

Clean welds and nice machining throughout. The Rootdown uses a traditional 10mm QR rear dropout.

Building a bike from the frame up lets you scrutinize aesthetics to the nitty gritty detail. After seeing Julian Hine’s 20″ Rootdown with a white Pike at the Friday ride, my first choice in colour would have been the same smurf blue. Alas, there were no 20″ frames in blue on the horizon. Black and red were available immediately, or green a few weeks off, and I had deal breaking nit-picks about the first two of those options. Green it was to be.

On a rainy Thursday morning in early December, I made the pilgrimage from Vancouver to Whistler. I had the same butterflies in my stomach as I’d had many times before; I love building a new bike. The butterflies were soon to be drowned by a fresh pot of java and a warm welcome from the crew at Chromag.

In person, the green colour was even more impressive than the photos I was able to dig up online: deeper than most of the photos I had found, and a great complement to the frame details. After pressing in the King headset and cutting the all black Pike’s steerer to length, I went about choosing some must-have Chromag accessories – that is, all of them.

Chromag, Rootdown, Green, Review, Photos, Pictures, Images, Pike, RockShox, SRAM, X01, King, DOSS, Fox

Colour choice was to be neutral, and it all started with a 50mm Ranger stem. The warehouse was fresh out of current graphic black OSX bars, but Cookie was able to dig up an older bar with yellow highlights that I preferred the look of after all.

Chromag, Rootdown, Green, Review, Photos, Pictures, Images, Pike, RockShox, SRAM, X01, King, DOSS, Fox

Ian was certain that with the 140mm fork, I wouldn’t need to keep much extra steerer. He was right, and the stem continues to sit right on top of the headset to this day.

Chromag, Rootdown, Green, Review, Photos, Pictures, Images, Pike, RockShox, SRAM, X01, King, DOSS, Fox

Given the British Racing Green of the paint in natural light, the brown leather Trailmaster LTD saddle was a natural choice.

Chromag, Rootdown, Green, Review, Photos, Pictures, Images, Pike, RockShox, SRAM, X01, King, DOSS, Fox

Chromag 35mm NQR seat clamp.

Chromag, Rootdown, Green, Review, Photos, Pictures, Images, Pike, RockShox, SRAM, X01, King, DOSS, Fox

The finishing touch of Chromag kit was one of their rear QR skewers. My OCD says the brass bushing matches the yellow on the bar almost perfectly.

When I left Chromag, seriously overcaffeinated, it had been snowing long enough that the roads were covered and accumulating. To a lifelong coast dweller, there’s nothing quite like a blanket of snow and a seat heater to make everything feel nice and cozy. I couldn’t wait to get home and continue putting parts on the Rootdown.

The next few days weren’t exactly a cake walk. For all the sentimental parts of building a bike, there are always hiccups. The honeymoon hasn’t even started and you’re already dealing with incompatible parts and missing bolts and… this is why bike shops are still in business. Always bring a six pack when you want a brake line cut and bled at 5:30pm.

Chromag, Rootdown, Green, Review, Photos, Pictures, Images, Pike, RockShox, SRAM, X01, King, DOSS, Fox

SRAM’s X01 group may not be much cheaper than XX1, but it sure is a hell of a lot more black.

Chromag, Rootdown, Green, Review, Photos, Pictures, Images, Pike, RockShox, SRAM, X01, King, DOSS, Fox

A lot of the OEM X01 builds are seeing the aluminum crank spec’d to keep cost down; the carbon version is a thing of beauty.

Chromag, Rootdown, Green, Review, Photos, Pictures, Images, Pike, RockShox, SRAM, X01, King, DOSS, Fox

I chose a 30 tooth X-SYNC ring – the smallest tooth count you can fit on the X01 94 bcd spider – to which the chain has held on tenaciously.

Chromag, Rootdown, Green, Review, Photos, Pictures, Images, Pike, RockShox, SRAM, X01, King, DOSS, Fox

This will surely not be the last bike this King headset is pressed into.

Chromag, Rootdown, Green, Review, Photos, Pictures, Images, Pike, RockShox, SRAM, X01, King, DOSS, Fox

The RockShox Pike’s Charger damper lives up to the hype.

Chromag, Rootdown, Green, Review, Photos, Pictures, Images, Pike, RockShox, SRAM, X01, King, DOSS, Fox

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a tinkerer, especially when it comes to suspension settings. I usually take a few rides to dial things in. With this fork I put 80 psi in as per my weight on the left leg’s chart, dialed in a few clicks of low speed compression, and 10 rides later realized I hadn’t touched it since day one.

Chromag, Rootdown, Green, Review, Photos, Pictures, Images, Pike, RockShox, SRAM, X01, King, DOSS, Fox

The X0 hubs are still running strong.

Chromag, Rootdown, Green, Review, Photos, Pictures, Images, Pike, RockShox, SRAM, X01, King, DOSS, Fox

I’ve had the chance to ride the rear hub next to a Hope, and can confirm that while the tone is slightly different, they are comparable in terms of noise – that is, relatively loud.

Chromag, Rootdown, Green, Review, Photos, Pictures, Images, Pike, RockShox, SRAM, X01, King, DOSS, Fox

Stans Flow EX rims are absolutely bombproof – and I’ve surprised even myself by leaving the stickers on. Initial tire choice is one of my favourite midweights, the Specialized Purgatory Control 2.3 set up tubeless from the get-go.

Chromag, Rootdown, Green, Review, Photos, Pictures, Images, Pike, RockShox, SRAM, X01, King, DOSS, Fox

The trickle-down effect has Avid’s four piston Trail brakes at the Elixir 7 level this year. I went with 180mm rotors front and rear.

Chromag, Rootdown, Green, Review, Photos, Pictures, Images, Pike, RockShox, SRAM, X01, King, DOSS, Fox

The Elixir 7 Trails were nice and grippy out of the box. Lever feel has been excellent and the reach adjust is appreciated. They actually come in slightly lighter than the Elixir 9 Trails due to the lack of a pad contact adjustment.

Chromag, Rootdown, Green, Review, Photos, Pictures, Images, Pike, RockShox, SRAM, X01, King, DOSS, Fox

You might expect a RockShox Reverb after seeing the rest of the build, but I really like the lever and the operation of the Fox DOSS post.

Chromag, Rootdown, Green, Review, Photos, Pictures, Images, Pike, RockShox, SRAM, X01, King, DOSS, Fox

That’s the beauty of a custom build, right?

As soon as the Rootdown came together, I wasted no time in getting it dirty. In the first six weeks I rode it 225 km and climbed 11,000 metres. It beasts up technical climbs even with the short stem and long fork – and it descends just like you’d expect a Whistler-bred steel hardtail should. Any preconceptions I’d had about geometry and setup before riding this bike have been tossed out the window – Ian absolutely nailed it with the Surface and Rootdown.

Chromag, Rootdown, Green, Review, Photos, Pictures, Images, Pike, RockShox, SRAM, X01, King, DOSS, Fox

A large-framed 29er hardtail just looks proportionally “right”. Though I might be biased. I think I’ll go beast a grunter right now.


The Chromag Rootdown. It’ll make you wanna beast a grunter.

  • morgman

    Eternal hardtail ambassador and all-around good guy Andrew Major posted a very concise “review” of the Rootdown in our 29er thread when I was putting this bike together, which I feel is worth re-posting here:

    1) Do you like hardtails? If you do then Chromag makes awesome hardtails! If you don’t, then nothing Chromag is doing is going to magically change your mind.

    2) Do you like 29ers? If you do then the Rootdown is awesome! If not then check out their 26″ or 650B offerings.

    3) Do you want a Canadian made bike (Mike Truelove in Squamish / Dekerf in Vancouver)? Then check one of their high end offerings. Want to join one of the most inclusive brand-clubs in the Sea-to-Sky at a lower price point? Their Taiwanese bikes have the same geo but with heavier tubesets.

  • DanLees

    That’s lovely!

    However you lose points for headset logo misalignment. ;-)

    • morgman

      I saw it as we had begun pressing the cup in, and decided that the King logo facing the drive side was acceptable.

  • Cookiesville

    Really nice bike there Morgan. Perhaps a Show & Shine contender! The Taiwan bikes are more affordable because several builders hand build each frame where as the Canadian built frames are built by one of 2 people who are at the top of their craft.

    I really like the article. Truths in there.

  • pedalhound

    Would love to add one of these to my stable (of currently one bikes…lol)…so nice.

  • Poz

    Another great article Morgan. Lately I’ve been coveting a chromag frame to replace my Stiffee. This article does not help!

  • Ole_Gloschne

    Looks amazing. I apologize for belaboring an annoying subject, but I’m curious your reasons for your wheel size choice?

    • morgman

      Hardtails are already at a disadvantage, so the big wheels help smooth things out a bit. Plus I’m the 29er apologist on the NSMB crew. I am contractually obligated to be like this.

      • Ole_Gloschne

        Haha right on. Thanks for the reply

  • boomforeal

    gorgeous shots as usual morg. but, the bike is still prettier in person ;)

  • Feral

    Beauty. Makes me really consider converting from Stylus to Surface (or just buying a Surface).. We’ll have to see what finances look like this summer.

  • Feral

    Although I guess I really should try one before I commit. Anyone mid-island have a Surface or Rootdown in L/XL that they’d let me cruise around on for a few minutes?

  • nouseforaname

    9.5/10

    Lovely bike. Don’t like your rear QR position.

    • morgman

      You a rear-facing kind of guy?

      • walleater

        As another Brit, I finally got tired of Canadians telling me that I was closing rear QRs ‘incorrectly’ by having them facing backwards so relented and tighten them forwards. I guess we have a fear of big bushes….

      • nouseforaname

        Any direction; as long as you can get your fingers under it, and it’s not touching anything.

        Maybe you’ve got more manly hands than mine..

      • morgman

        So we’ve got one argument for function, another for usability, and mine for aesthetics. I’ve never had problems with catching forward-facing QRs on things – your derailleur is in a much more precarious position. The Chromag skewer is shaped such that the tip tucks away safe from snags in this position – and it’s protected by the frame better than if it was dangling out the back. I take this on a case-by-case basis and do position my DT through axle handles out the back, so… whatever. The off-centre headset logo is probably a bigger issue.

  • hampstead_bandit

    very nice frame and great article

    would consider this frame very durable and a “keeper”

    in contrast I am riding a ‘big brand’ carbon fibre 29′er hardtail and am on my 3rd warranty frame in 2 years of mild, UK cross country riding. Frame weighs 1.18kg for 17″ so that might have something to do with that problem.

    Tempted to go back to steel, once my 3rd frame eventually cracks and I get a brand new, boxed frame under warranty, which can be easily sold

  • LostBoyScout

    Sweet, I was the Hope hub tone-check guy. Hahah

  • leverfingers

    Nice bike. Welcome to the “club”. Two things tho: Hardtail gives one the advantage over hinged frames. And the frame will outlast the king headset, or at least be it’s last home – if you want it to.

  • TRD

    Whats the final weight?
    (sorry if you mentioned it and i missed it…)

    • morgman

      It’s a hair over 29 pounds as you see it.

      • TRD

        Very nice, its a good looking ride!

  • Jesse Edwards

    That green with that seat is making me want this thing bad. This bike, on paper, is everything I want, except the weight. But, I’m a fat ass who can’t even notice if my water bottle is on my bike or not, so half pound ain’t really gonna mater over current ride. Nice review!

  • Matt Bradshaw

    What did this cost in total, around four grand. Not judging the second i have enough cash I am gonna build up a long travel steel hardtail