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Home Mechanic Disasters

The FrankenCamber: A COVID-Era Bike Build

Words Cam McRae
Photos Cam McRae
Date Jul 2, 2021
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My timing was very poor. My 15-year old man-child had long outgrown my wife's hand-me-down 2008 Specialized Safire (essentially a Stumpjumper) in a size small and he's been sneaking rides on various test bikes lately. Unfortunately this has given him unrealistic expectations about his next bike. He has dreams of Kashima, carbon, AXS, and XTR but until he's paying his own hard-earned rubles, he'll find more modest but functional parts on his kids' menu. Or that was my plan when I figured I could find him a new bike to purchase. Alas the COVID bike boom made it impossible for me to locate any bike at all for him, new or used, except those that were priced like a used Tacoma. So we were in a bit of a pickle.

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In a couple of short years my son went from fitting my tiny wife's previous bike, a Specialized Safire in size small, to stealing my size large 29" test bikes.

I'm a bit of a packrat and I figured I had enough parts to assemble a bike for him, but I couldn't find a frame either, and I wasn't about to brave the wolves selling used bikes from 2016 for more than you'd pay for a 2021 model brand new. To be clear, I bear these sellers no ill-will unlike many snide commenters; if you are selling a bike right now you are going to pay a premium for a replacement, making getting as much as the market will bear essential. #economics

Just when prospects were beginning to look dire, my good buddy Craig asked me if I was interested in his neglected 2013 Specialized Camber Comp 29er, which he'd replaced with a Knolly Fugitive. A short time earlier I wouldn't have had much use for the bike, but I was getting desperate. What kind of mountain bike dad leaves his 15-year old offspring bike-less for the summer? I began scheming about over-forking and modernizing the Camber with a complete rebuild.

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When my buddy Craig, seen here in 2014, offered me his slightly beaten 2013 Specialized Camber, with 110mm of travel on both ends, I hatched an irrational plan to use it as a base to build a bike for my son.

The 110mm original fork wasn't good for much, the Command Post was only useful as a paperweight, and the mismatched set of brakes were underpowered. The roached 2 by 10 SRAM X9 drivetrain wasn't a highlight either. I assumed I'd be able to salvage the Specailzed/RockShox Monarch with auto sag (I was thanks to Shaun Cruickshanks of SRAM for the rebuild), and I was stuck with the 12 x 142 rear wheel. The rest would have to be replaced. The price wasn't spoken but it was understood to be a lifetime of free bike maintenance, (which I likely would have provided anyway). Either way it was very generous contribution to Luca's bike fund..

My goal with the build was to cobble everything together with parts I had around - or as much as possible. With that as my main design principle, I knew this would be a bit of a Franked-bike but I was pretty keen on that idea. My next ranked goal was performance, but right behind that was novelty; I chose quirky over easy whenever possible.

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I rode a bike similar to the one my buddy Craig offered me at a Specialized 'Global Media Launch' (those were fun) in Bend Oregon in 2012. It was my first 29er experience and I was unable to sort out big wheels at the time.

Unfortunately there was the little matter of the build to deal with before anything else and the project ended up taking much longer than I'd hoped. After the shock was rebuilt I tracked down a refurbished 30.9 externally routed PNW Components Cascade dropper to replace the pooched Command post. The post was only 108 USD and I matched it with a Puget Lever for another 29. From here I figured I could get everything out of the archives.

At that point the digging through boxes began in earnest. I managed to assemble a complete set of Magura brakes, with levers, front caliper (4-piston), and rear caliper (2-piston) all from different brake sets. I even had a little Royal Blood fluid and lines that were just barely long enough. I was confident he'd at least have good stopping power and modulation.

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After salvaging what I could, the time came to get rid of the parts that were beyond repair (like the bottom bracket) and dig through my stash of hoarded parts for replacements.

The drivetrain was going to be trickier. The 142-spaced wheel had a Shimano HG-compatible freehub without any hope of finding an XD or Microspline replacement, which seemed to make a 1x12 drivetrain impossible. Fortunately, I'd hung onto the HG-only 11-52 Rotor cassette I'd tested last year. This would serve two purposes because, while I'd been disappointed with the cassette's shifting at the time, it was then paired with a SRAM derailleur designed for a max of 50t while the new models are made to accommodate 52t, so this would be a chance for me to re-evaluate the shifting and perhaps update my recommendation for the beautiful 327 gram cassette. Continuing the Franken theme, I had an XTR shifter I was eager to link with a SRAM GX derailleur. Most of the people I spoke to thought it might work, and suggested it should in theory, but I failed to speak to anyone who had tried it.

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It didn't take long for the build to get messy. Until this experience I was one of the last mountain bikers alive who didn't despise press fit bottom brackets. Another proud moment in my career as a home mechanic.

The bottom bracket was looking like a bit of a problem. It was a press-fit 30 size but with sleeves to downsize the bearings and match with a set of 30mm SRAM cranks. I popped the dust covers and cleaned and re-greased cartridge bearings but once I had things back together it became apparent it couldn't be saved without new cartridges. In the end the bottom bracket would end up being the most challenging part of the project, and the task that almost had me throw everything in a dumpster.

I had other long term plans for a fork, but for now I was going to install the Marzocchi Z1 that had come stock on the Kona Honzo ESD I'd bought after being so impressed with it. The 150mm travel would push back the head angle from its orginal 70º, which was an essential performance enhancement, but also raise the bottom bracket and tip back the seat angle, which were less welcome. Thankfully the headset remained healthy.

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There was a moment just before I took this photo when I was extremely chuffed by my ingenuity. The reason it was so short lived will become clear with a closer look at this photo.

I took some scarce parts to barter with and went to see Lou at Obsession Bikes. Lou's eyes widened when I revealed my bounty of sought-after bike bits. In return I walked out with a Raceface BB30 bottom bracket for 24mm axles so I could use the set of Raceface Aeffect cranks which had also been scavenged from the rebuild of my Honzo. But first there was a the little matter of removing the existing BB, which was essentially a set of cartridge bearings nested in two plastic sleeves pressed into the frame. I used my Enduro Cup Tool to remove the 30mm ID bearings, but the sleeves just sat there staring at me. I wondered if I'd be able to press in the bearings from my Chris King Bottom bracket and return the RF BB but in the end they wouldn't fit. The good news is that the new BB would allow me to use the Aeffect cranks.

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It looks fine from this angle at least. If you have a tendency to packrattery like I do, events like COVID that have reinforced my desire to keep every bolt and derailleur hanger, are counter-productive to ones mental health and available storage space.

The only tools I had capable of removing the plastic sleeves were a punch and a box cutter. I chiselled and sliced for about 20 minutes before everything came out. Fortunately I was expecting the next part to be the easy bit. I have rarely been more wrong. The aforementioned Enduro Cup tool unfortunately does not have the correct bits to add or remove 24mm BBs, but I eventually managed to put together a clamping system I thought would work smoothly. The cups had other plans however and they were reluctant to press in evenly. Each time one side would plunge deeply into the BB shell while the other side stuck, leaving the cups at a sickening angle.

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The replacement seat post was an easy decision; PNW components makes an externally-routed 30.9 or 31.6 post in both 150 and 170mm drops (and 125). I love small companies who respond to market needs with niche products like this.

If the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, what is the diagnosis if you simply hope for a better outcome? That was me. After a few failed attempts and removals, I glopped some grease onto both the Raceface cups (as I should have done from the outset) and the BB shell with my fingers crossed. The result was less dramatic but equally disastrous.

When we were interviewing Paul Brodie a couple of weeks back he told us that he used to invoke Tom Ritchey if he got stuck on a frame building project. I instead asked, "what would Paul Brodie do?" The answer I came up with was to identify what was causing the problem, aside from the disastrous press fit scenario and my failure to use the correct tools. I removed and inspected the bolt that pulls the two ends of the Enduro Tool together and found it was bent. Once I got it close to straight with my vice, I made another attempt with the non-drive side. Voila! It was in and I was once again a hero in my own eyes.

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The drivetrain is an experiment with parts from three different companies. So far the results have been mixed.

After snapping seamlessly from despair to overconfidence, I checked and straightened the bolt once more, and worked on the non-drive side. After my third failed attempt on that side I needed a new strategy. I searched for something that might help press in the reluctant cup, like a c-clamp of the appropriate size, without success. I began opening drawers and rummaging through boxes looking for inspiration, when I had an idea. If I could block the side that was going in too quickly and deeply, the other side might catch up. I grabbed all my box end wrenches and laid them out next to me and began to press the final cup in. The first two attempts were unsuccessful because I didn't get the block between the flange and the frame early enough, but when I was removing the cup after attempt three I accidentally pushed out the cartridge bearing. This made me realize instead of pushing from the outside of the cup I could choose a smaller drift for removing frame bearings and press from the bearing seat, similar to the way the Enduro Tool would operate with the correct size bits. I wedged a 9 and 10mm box ends into the gap between the cup flange of the side that was going in too quickly and the BB shell and continued to screw the two sides together. Success! After two hours of frustrating futzing that had me close to throwing the whole thing in the dumpster, the bottom bracket was in.

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The PNW Puget Lever isn't as fancy as the Loam Lever but it works very well.

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The Camber had a 70º head angle with the stock 110mm fork. Pushing the front travel to 150 has tipped it back to a more rideable 67.5.

I attempted to install the cranks with the bike still upside down but I soon realized the spacing was wrong and the chainring wouldn't clear the chain stay. I wanted as little clearance as possible because the chain-line was problematic, so the tight fit would be welcome. I removed the cranks and swapped the chainring around so it was dished away from the frame and everything fit nicely. Or I thought it did. Working upside down I'd decided to put the chainring on the non-drive side of the frame, opposite to the cassette. Clearly one of my finest hours working on bicycles.

Once I got everything back together without an orientation that would have the chain moving through the spokes, there was a plenty of clearance. So much so that I may look for a more deeply dished ring to improve chain-line, but for now this will have to do.

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It looks a little weird compared to modern enduro behemoths but it rides surprisingly well - on the pavement at least. Trial on dirt will begin shortly.

After airing up the rear tire and adding more sealant I spent some time trying to massage the rear derailleur toward smooth changes. I nailed down the b-tension using SRAM's new tool after checking the alignment of the derailleur hanger and I figured the bike would be GTG. Unfortunately the XTR shifter didn't seem to be pulling the perfect amount of chain. Shifting to larger cogs was consistent but dropping the other way was inconsistent. The cable and housing were new and the cable seemed to be moving smoothly. I haven't given up yet, but I have a GX shifter at the ready. Luca assures me the XTR shifts 'fine' because having top of the line components at his service is more important to him than function.

Riding the completed bike around the neighbourhood made me optimisitic. It felt solid and seemed to handle well at low speeds. The true test would be getting the bike on some challenging trails under my son who was becoming accustomed to having access to modern Norcos and Santa Cruzs for his trail time.

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For the moment my son's caviar dreams have been realized despite my caviar budget and only two appearances of carbon.

I'm relatively happy with the geo numbers that I could alter. The head angle is a reasonable 67.5º, and the bottom bracket measures 340mm. The reach doesn't feel too cramped for me so it will be great for Luca. The 1140mm wheelbase may be a little skittish at speed, but that should build character! The important part is that my poor neglected son is no longer bike-less, and he has an XTR shifter at his thumb. I'm a little concerned about the 150/110 travel and how much that head angle will steepen during large compressions, but otherwise I'm stupidly optimistic about this Franken bike. Hopefully a summer of riding will allow us to work out the kinks, rather than reveal some incompatibility I missed in the planning stages.

I welcome any and all low-dollar solutions to the problems that remain, like chain-line in the 32-52 combo for example, as well as any budget suggestions that could make the bike run better in challenging terrain.

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Comments

Dogl0rd
+3 Beau Miller Sandy James Oates Cam McRae
Dogl0rd  - July 2, 2021, 8:24 a.m.

Bike looks sick! Lucky kid

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cmolway
+2 Luix cornedbeef
cmolway  - July 2, 2021, 8:32 a.m.

I too have a covid-era frankinbike: 2013 Stumpjumper EVO with a full 11sp XT build, a 160mm Yari fork and a PNW cascade dropper and puget lever. I've been eying a new bike, but for what this one cost me, it puts a smile on my face whenever I throw a leg over it. I did have a mismatched, Hope front wheel with a white rim that was very "eye catching" until I replaced it.

Reply

boomforeal
+2 Beau Miller Dogl0rd
boomforeal  - July 2, 2021, 9 a.m.

fun article cam. last year my son was able to ride -- and basically appropriated -- his mom's bike, a base level 2013 rm instinct i picked up right before the pandemic hit and upgraded using my pre-boost parts bin. this spring he looked like a clown sitting on top of it, but i was able to find a replacement frame in XL and basically just swap the parts over, only needing to lengthen the rear brake hose to make it fit. feeling pretty fortunate when i hear friends' struggles to find bikes for themselves, let alone their growing spawn

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kurt-adams
+3 Beau Miller Tjaard Breeuwer Karl Fitzpatrick
Kurt Adams  - July 2, 2021, 9:59 a.m.

Great article! Super fun to have projects like this for the kids! My wife often questions whether its for the kids or for my personal bike nerd satisfaction....hahah!

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cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - July 2, 2021, 4:42 p.m.

Thanks! Definitely some fun for me there as well. I had to do something similar for my wife recently though so it was tough to find the bench time.

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YDiv
-2 Cam McRae Luix Tjaard Breeuwer Beau Miller Mammal Greg Bly jaydubmah Konrad
YDiv  - July 2, 2021, 10:07 a.m.

B tension was set at sag or in the stand? Sometimes that can make a big difference in shift consistency. And presumably chain length is also correct.

Budget hack: Make an account on pinkbike, message every person selling a $9000 bike, pose as a broke dude who just really wants to shred, tell a really sad story that may or may not be true (like "cracking" your frame), don't tell them that you might already have gotten a warranty of replacement, ask if you can pay 1/4 of the price. Then ask if they'll take a cashier's check.

If your trail karma is good enough, you might just get lucky ;)

Reply

YDiv
+2 Luix Rick M
YDiv  - July 2, 2021, 12:22 p.m.

Disclaimer: The "budget hack" was written entirely in jest. Nor am I making fun of people who don't have a lot of money.

Reply

mammal
+4 Cam McRae Luix dsciulli19 Zero-cool
Mammal  - July 2, 2021, 10:30 a.m.

Can you slam an angle set in there (-1.5 or -2) and then lower the fork to 140? That would be a great addition.

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cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - July 2, 2021, 4:46 p.m.

Good point. Certainly worth investigating. 

Something I failed to mention is that I hope to be able to find a frame before too long and everything aside from rear wheel, BB, and headset should swap right over. An Angle set is likely worth it though even if it’s only for the summer.

Reply

hongeorge
+1 Cam McRae
hongeorge  - July 5, 2021, 12:48 a.m.

You're not going to buy another press-fit frame and swap over the BB?

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - July 5, 2021, 9:51 a.m.

That sounds like such fun!

Reply

dsciulli19
+1 Cam McRae
dsciulli19  - July 6, 2021, 7:09 a.m.

Came here to say this. Teetering on the edge of doing this for my 2011 Rumblefish as well.

Reply

SpencerN
+1 YDiv
Spencer Nelson  - July 2, 2021, 11:14 a.m.

Re: improving the chainline... what about taking a couple of the smaller/harder cogs and tucking them behind the 52t?

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YDiv
0
YDiv  - July 2, 2021, 12:18 p.m.

That's a pretty interesting idea. Not sure if the Rotor cassette comes apart in multiple pieces like 11spd Shimano though? You could then screw in the limit screw to compensate, but I feel like there might be some issues with top speed, particularly if they like to ride fast, or even just on the road.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - July 2, 2021, 4:47 p.m.

This comment has been removed.

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - July 2, 2021, 4:47 p.m.

This comment has been removed.

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - July 2, 2021, 4:47 p.m.

This comment has been removed.

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - July 2, 2021, 4:47 p.m.

This comment has been removed.

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - July 2, 2021, 4:47 p.m.

This comment has been removed.

cam@nsmb.com
+1 mrbrett
Cam McRae  - July 2, 2021, 4:47 p.m.

If I could get rid of them entirely I would! Just added weight.

Reply

mrbrett
0
mrbrett  - July 2, 2021, 6:29 p.m.

Not sure which one to reply to, but a smaller chainring "solves" a lot of the chainline issues by simply not needing that low of a gear. Like, he will be climbing in the next higher gear or two in the cassette.

Reply

slimshady76
+2 Mammal Pete Roggeman
Luix  - July 2, 2021, 8:06 p.m.

An economic way to improve the shifting of that Rotor HG cassette would be swapping it for a Sunrace one. Your son would still have a decent 11-50 ratio and those aren't that hard to find online.

Also, the Superstar Slackerizer -2° headset is a wonderful and inexpensive way to modernize a bike's geometry. Shipping charges might be a problem though, as Superstar seems to dispatch their products overseas via Olympic swimmers judging by their pricing scheme.

Reply

mammal
+1 Luix
Mammal  - July 3, 2021, 7:53 a.m.

I was going to say the same, but with sunrace 11-46. Perfectly fine range with a 30T ring, and less heinous on the chain line.

Reply

xy9ine
+1 Cam McRae
Perry Schebel  - July 2, 2021, 1:30 p.m.

good stuff. a very familiar scenario (also bodged / updated a couple of our old bikes to suit the growing brood).

Reply

kavurider
+1 Cam McRae
KavuRider  - July 2, 2021, 3:28 p.m.

Love articles like this! Great job on resurrecting that bike! They all need homes.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
+2 Luix Greg Bly
Cam McRae  - July 2, 2021, 4:49 p.m.

Thanks! Once we’re done with that frame it will likely go to Bikes for Tykes or something similar.

Reply

kavurider
+1 Cam McRae
KavuRider  - July 3, 2021, 6:29 a.m.

Would a Tanpan maybe help with the cable pull issue? You can sometimes find generic ones on eBay.

Reply

Konrad
+1 BadNudes
Konrad  - July 2, 2021, 8:09 p.m.

If you are still running the mismatched shifter/derailler combo, set your cable tension in the middle cog of the cassette. That way when you are shifting in either direction, it's only half as bad. Also, play around with clamping the cable at the opposite side of the intended clamping point. It might change the leverage ever so slightly in favour or out of favour. It's worth a try.

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cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - July 5, 2021, 8:34 a.m.

Good tips Konrad! Thanks.

Reply

Skeen
+1 Cam McRae
Skeen  - July 2, 2021, 11:18 p.m.

From hoarding bolts and fluctuating self perception of mechanic skills to frakenfixing my son’s  bike (at least the mounting bracket for his toddler seat) I could relate to the details and enjoyed your writing Cam!

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cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - July 5, 2021, 8:50 a.m.

Thanks Skeen!

Reply

skywalkdontrun
0
skywalkdontrun  - July 4, 2021, 10:57 a.m.

I was always under the impression that the throw ratios between Shimano and Sram were different, and would therefore make cross compatibility impossible, but that may be old knowledge.  I would also look into a BikeYoke yoke to be able to replace the rear shock.  If memory serves, replacing the yoke also bumps travel up by 5mm.  The camber also is the same front triangle as a same gen stump jumper, so if you can find the back end of a 2014-2016 stumpy you could bump travel further as long as you get a longer stroke shock.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - July 5, 2021, 8:36 a.m.

Excellent tips! If we end up keeping this for longer (and it works out well for Luca) I may dive into that sort of exploration. A rear end from an older Stumpy (same gen) would be sweet for sure!

There certainly was a time when the throws were different but they are certainly very close at this point because the shifting is close to where I want it to be. More futzing to be done for sure.

Reply

heckler
0
Sven Luebke  - July 5, 2021, 11:22 a.m.

too late now, but there was a 26" medium Ibis Mojo with King hubs for sale for the longest time for $1200 which sold in a day for $1500 late last year.   If this article were last fall, or you'd put the word out on the forums, I bet a solution would have easily come to you...

Have you rebuilt the shock and fork yet?  At least a clean and lube?  Easily done in my basement for beers on a rainy weekend.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - July 5, 2021, 2:06 p.m.

Shoulda coulda... This solution is sort of dual purpose because everything aside from headset, BB, post. and rear wheel will transfer over to a modern bike. And it has cost me very little out of pocket thus far.

Fork is new and rear shock was indeed rebuilt but thanks very much for the offer.

Reply

piglet
+1 Cam McRae
Peter Scowcroft  - July 5, 2021, 12:31 p.m.

Nice idea, I've done something similar on a 2012 camber.

That head angle looks a bit scary, especially with such a long fork. 

Wifey has a 130mm lyrik on hers and I machined up a 2 degree angle adjust. 

The 130/110 is a better fit and the extra 2 degrees makes a big difference. 

Her rear shock is a push tuned fox van. 

The bike flies!

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - July 8, 2021, 11 p.m.

Interesting that you think the HA is scary with the long fork, considering it would be significantly slacker with a shorter fork! I'm thinking of both an angle set and a mullet set up to make things both lower and slacker.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - July 8, 2021, 11:20 p.m.

ON TRAIL UPDATE (a drumroll please)

I dragged Luca on a ride on the only decent trail near Scotch Creek on Shuswap Lake. It's steep enough to be way out of his comfort zone but I told him to just ride the parts he felt comfortable on. On a couple of sections he opted to walk I yelled at him to leave his bike and I hiked up to ride it down. The first thing I noticed was that the Magura 4-piston caliper up front was incredibly grabby but also very powerful, which was a dangerous combo. I was able to feather enough to make things work but the bike felt a little sketchy otherwise. The short overall length and particularly the reach made it feel very small and scary for me. It fits him a little better but it'll take some getting used to.

I'll try some soap and water on the rotors in case they are contaminated but this may have just been a case of them being too new. Other thoughts include mulleting and installing an angle set, if possible. What the bike lacked in stability it partially made up for with agility. It also felt nice and solid, but I still opted to skip the nastiest line at the end of the trail on it, despite rolling it rather easily on my Yeti. The biggest sensation was that I was back to the days of being on top of the bike rather than within it like I am on a modern frame with a reach over 475mm. 

There is more work to be done but I am not completely discouraged by the preliminary results.

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