IMG_0073 2 copy
Not A Bike Review

The Not So Hard Times Hardtail

Words Mike Ferrentino
Photos Mike Ferrentino
Date Aug 31, 2022
Reading time

This is not a new bike review.

It’s not really even a used bike review. But, since at least two of you have asked about it at some point or another, here it is. Consider this a proper introduction to the bike I ride when I am not riding a test bike. Which means, basically, the bike I do not get to ride enough. How this bike came to be is a bit of a shaggy dog story. Here goes.

The magazine I used to work for produced this annual thing called “Dream Builds,” where each editor was given free rein to build up the bike that was haunting his or her fevered imagination, whatever that fever dream may be. Naturally, the builds tended toward the ostentatious. I was invited to participate in an early iteration of the Dream Builds, but the bike I built was obviously not dreamy enough so I didn’t get to jump on that particular gravy train ever again. Then the magazine went away and became another website/magazine, and Dream Builds came back, and I had this banger of an idea:

IMG_0081

Okay, catchy named handlebars aside, what was needed was a change of pace from the high-carbon, long/slack diet.

I wanted to build an all-metal, made in the USA as much as reasonably possible, locally sourced hardtail. The ostensible name of the build was “Carbon Offset.” Aluminum rims, maybe some of them fancy titanium cranks that everyone swoons over, aluminum bars, all metal parts colored silver (the initial inspiration for the build actually came about after a possibly drunken rant against the pervasiveness of black spokes, but that’s another story), and a no-fuss approach to a modern hardtail with as little plastic adorning it as possible.

Pitching the idea to the powers that be, I was met with the equivalent of a not very enthusiastic shrug. Not dreamy enough, again. But I decided to build the bike anyway, as a personal “this is the bike I own” project. I had been thinking about a particular steel hardtail my friend Cameron Falconer had built, and I was also feeling like I was a little bit at sea in a flotilla of carbon fiber everything. There was just one small thing in the way of my plan; Covid-19.

The pandemic wreaked havoc on the entire bicycle supply chain, so it was no surprise to anyone that when I began knocking on doors, credit card in hand, the parts I desired to get Operation Carbon Offset up and running were nowhere to be found. Meanwhile, Cameron and I had been kicking this idea back and forth, I’d thrown some money at him, and now the frame was done. And, man, it sure was beautiful. But I had no parts to hang on the damn thing.

IMG_8314

Gotta start somewhere...

Frame Of Reference

Cameron Falconer grew up in Marin, in what could best be described as a bike-builder super-incubator where there was a huge talent pool of framebuilders and machinists to learn from. He morphed from a very skinny, very fast teenage singlespeed mutant into a very talented framebuilder. During that morphing, he spent years in industrial fabrication, racking up tens of thousands of hours honing his welding, and out of that stew of riding and thinking and fabricating he evolved a no-fuss, super clean framebuilding aesthetic that is very much his own. Cameron had previously built a couple ProCruiser tributes with modern geometry, and I thought they were some of the prettiest bikes I had ever seen. So I asked him if he’d be interested in building up another one, but with big wheels, Boost spacing, super short chainstays, and the ability to switch between geared and singlespeed. That’s really how this started.

His response was to lob some drawings back at me, tell me that trying to do a looptail with Boost rear spacing and the ability to have some geared/one speed fore/aft adjustability would be problematic at best, and likely incredibly expensive. He made some mention of “superfluous top tubes”, and reminded me that my penchant for super-short chainstays hadn’t always worked out. Aesthetically, the only thing I really cared about was the superfluous top tube. Aside from that I’d be happy with room for big tires and a front-center that was roughly the dimension and geometry I asked for, so I decided to let him have his way with the rest. He’s ridden mileage several orders of magnitude greater than I ever will, and has also built many, many bikes. I figured he knew what to do.

And this is what he did. 67 degree head angle, 74 degree seat angle, based around a 540mm axle to crown fork. Effective top tube is 25”. Longish 440mm chainstays, Boost spacing, hella sano rear dropout, clearance for 2.6” tires, almost fully external cable routing, and bright yellow powdercoat.

FerrentinoMTBimperialV2

Okay, maybe not this. Like this, but with maybe a little less tire mass, and maybe not a bent seat tube, and not blue, and with a suspension fork. But all that other stuff is about right. And no, all the numbers aren't in there. I think they're written down somewhere, but I'm not sure where.

Spare Parts Special Mission Creep

Meanwhile, the supply chain had not fixed itself. I think trying to buy some silver anodized Velocity Blunt SS rims and getting completely skunked was what finally broke my will. Operation Carbon Offset became Project “Hey, Look At These Used Parts.” Having a barn full of used bike parts comes in handy at times. There was most of an XT drivetrain (just missing a shifter) that I’d pulled off an Ibis Ripmo purchased a year before the pandemic crushed the bike market, as well as some Magura MT-Trail brakes from the same bike. I had a Chris King Shimano-sized bottom bracket that I had been sitting on for years, waiting for an excuse. There was a set of ridiculously light DT Swiss XMC 1200 wheels that hadn’t seen a ton of use. A Hunter Smooth Move aluminum bar that had been hanging out with the Chris King bb. And a brand-new-in-the-bag-a-decade-later-reach-under-the-saddle-to-actuate Crank Brothers Joplin dropper post. It was the only 30.9 dropper post I had. It matched the very used Fi'zi:k Aliante saddle that had been kicked off my ‘cross bike for being too heavy sometime around 2005. Add in some snazzy green grips from that Ibis, a pair of Maxxis Rekon 2.6” tires, and we were in business.

Oh, and a fork. Somehow. A very sweet 130mm travel, 44mm offset Fox 34 Factory. Fortunately I didn’t have to buy any cables or a chain. Cue up clattering tool noises.

Something Old, Something New

The initial build was pretty straightforward. Everything was nuts-on straight and aligned and faced and ready to assemble, although I could probably have used some higher quality zip-ties on the brake hose and shift cable housing. Since there were no Shimano shifters to be found, anywhere, I impulse purchased a MicroShift 12-speed thumbshifter. It rules. It shifts a derailleur that is missing its clutch. The clutch got greased off by a rock somewhere up in the Lakes Basin. I didn’t even know it had happened. Tried to order a replacement one, but, supply chain… It works fine.

The first few rides were… different. The geometry is intentionally not current long/slack, and the chainstays are long, and it has a kinda low bottom bracket, and so it takes a bit of recalibrating if one has been eating a steady diet of new school geometry. The first few initial parking lot cutties felt strange; the bike seemed tall up front and required ZERO effort to steer, and also dropped eagerly into any kind of turn with a similar ease. It felt like it would be sketchy going fast. But it’s not. And that’s weird, too. It drops into turns well, and it sticks nicely once there, and in spite of the light effort is eerily stable. The front/rear balance feels super neutral and offers a ton of feedback, and I keep thinking it’s going to get squirrely when things get really technical, but it just doesn’t happen. Bear in mind, I’m not trying to put it through any of the slabtastic or shorecentric deep forest horrors that some of you are riding. But in the rutted out, blue-groove and kitty litter weirdness of coastal California it works amazingly well, albeit with a lot of loose moments from the tires.

As an analogy, the Falconer reminds me a lot of a 1972 BMW 2002 that I mistreated for a few years long ago; super neutral balance, super forgiving, makes you think you’re a better driver than you really are, probably not the best choice for a dirt jumper but what kind of soulless monster dirt jumps a 2002???

Once we got to know each other, some changes had to be made. The seatpost was replaced by a used Reverb. At some point the Reverb decided it needed a spa day, and I took the opportunity to replace it with the 9point8 seatpost reviewed a few months back. And now, belatedly, the Rekons just got plucked in favor of some 2.6” Specialized Eliminators, T9 compound up front, T7 rear. That added some weight, 204 grams per tire, but there’s a ton more bite now and burlier casings that should allow me to drop a few psi.

It’s not a looptail that can convert into a singlespeed. I didn’t get to create my Rhapsody In Polished Aluminum. There’s no bent seat tube or super short chainstays. The cables are fully visible. It’s not a plow. It makes me think I’m a better rider than I am. Excellent. When the fire/flood/earthquake/zombie apocalypse comes for me, this is the bike I’ll rescue from the flames/water/falling buildings/brain dead flesh eaters.

IMG_8427

Saving the vertical framed image for last (sorry Cam!), this was as built on the break-in ride. Note that sweet Moose tongue Joplin dropper!

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Comments

Vikb
Vik Banerjee
3 months, 1 week ago
+8 Andy Eunson Mike Ferrentino Niels van Kampenhout Cr4w DanL Pete Roggeman Mike McArthur bushtrucker

A sweet custom steel hardtail article. Great way to start my day. Thanks Mike.

Reply

silverbansheebike
silverbansheebike
3 months, 1 week ago
+6 Niels van Kampenhout Mike Ferrentino cheapondirt Pete Roggeman Spencer Nelson HughJass

Cool bike, thanks for sharing! I'd like to see more of the other editors/contributors personal bikes too!

Reply

andy-eunson
Andy Eunson
3 months, 1 week ago
+4 Mike Ferrentino silverbansheebike Niels van Kampenhout Zero-cool

And no frame bags cluttering up the view. And straight tubes. Really nice.

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
3 months, 1 week ago
+6 silverbansheebike Hbar Niels van Kampenhout Andy Eunson Zero-cool Spencer Nelson

That superfluous extra top tube serves as a perfect frame bag blocker!

Reply

Hbar
Hbar
3 months, 1 week ago
+6 Mike Ferrentino Niels van Kampenhout Mammal Andy Eunson Spencer Nelson HughJass

But bag-blocking means it has a purpose, and is not totally superfluous! So disappointed

Reply

velocipedestrian
Velocipedestrian
3 months, 1 week ago
+1 Andrew Major

Or the perfect anchor for a slim custom one...

Reply

kcy4130
kcy4130
3 months, 1 week ago
+2 Mike Ferrentino Pete Roggeman

I don't know why, but the superfluous top tube makes it look so great. Beautiful!

Reply

MikeMc
Mike McArthur
3 months, 1 week ago
+2 Mike Ferrentino Pete Roggeman

As the recent buyer of a yellow steel mtb frame from Marin, I feel seen here. Love the thumbie and run-what-you-brung vibes here. Enjoy the ride sir and thanks for the fine words once again.

Reply

chris_d
Christopher Daniel
3 months, 1 week ago
+2 Mike Ferrentino Pete Roggeman

What a pleasure to see Cameron's name on NSMB.

I grew up riding with Cameron in Marin in the late 90s/early 00s - he wanted to build frames, I wanted to machine parts. He worked with/for (not sure) a genius Ti bender named Chris who passed away far too soon, while I worked right around the corner at Paragon Machine Works.

I'm thrilled we're both still at it. He also got me into riding single speed more than anyone else, and has the "single speed world champion" tattoo to prove it! That's been a habit that's stayed for the passing decades. Even on the far side of 45, it's just a more fun way to ride a bike.

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
3 months, 1 week ago
+1 Pete Roggeman

That was a mighty fine incubator you both grew up in, with some incredible human beings as friends/mentors. Whether it was bonkers ti cruisers or replica left hand drive Campagnolo drivetrains, there was a ton of creative horsepower at work in Chris Paretich and Mark Norstad's orbits...

Reply

Joe_Dick
Adrian Bostock
3 months, 1 week ago
+2 Mike Ferrentino Andrew Major

Lovely bike! 

while no where near as custom as your bike, some years ago I convinced Ian from Chromag to make me a SS Surface with a derailleurs hanger. 

Timing/Luck got me a 44mm head tube which future proofed the frame and I have a couple 135mm hubs to keep it running. 

currently a parts bin built commuter / gravel bike with ridged fork. It’s interesting how even though the geometry is very dated and not my choice ride for anything remotely technical, it’s still a very fun bike to rip around. 

also kind of interesting to see that this is the current intended use of the latest Chromag Surface.

Reply

joseph-crabtree
Joseph Crabtree
3 months, 1 week ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

That last photo, Ft Ord?

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
3 months, 1 week ago
+1 slimchances57

Yep, down in the cuts in that canyon below the big old ammo dump sorta near Reservation Road.

Reply

craw
Cr4w
3 months, 1 week ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

Kudos to that sano build. Pineapple Bob would be proud.

Reply

cxfahrer
cxfahrer
3 months, 1 week ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

Nice!

But the Fox Factory Kashima is a bad mismatch to that yellow. Intend?

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
Pete Roggeman
3 months, 1 week ago
+2 Mike Ferrentino Zero-cool

Even Ferrentino isn't enough of a legend to get colour-matched Kashima ;)

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
3 months, 1 week ago
+2 kcy4130 Zero-cool

Beggars can't be choosers, as they say...

Reply

DaveSmith
Dave Smith
3 months, 1 week ago
+2 Niels van Kampenhout Mammal

Beggars Builds as opposite of Dream Builds

Reply

cheapondirt
cheapondirt
3 months, 1 week ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

This is sweet, and I'd still like to see your Rhapsody In Polished Aluminum.

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
3 months, 1 week ago
0

One of these days, maybe. I would like to twist up some wheels for it, but the weight penalty will be a tough pill to swallow. As for the EE Wings cranks, not sure they will ever really be in the budget, and I am still carrying the psychological baggage from owning Sweet Wings cranks back in the 90s...

Reply

xy9ine
Perry Schebel
3 months, 1 week ago
0

ooooo, you had the OG's. did they (SW's) break?

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
3 months, 1 week ago
0

I don't think they broke. I seem to recall them coming loose a whole lot though. And maybe i bent or cracked the spider where the chainring attached. I know that once they were replaced with a used set of XTRs that I was a lot happier...

Reply

mammal
Mammal
3 months, 1 week ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

Great bike, thanks for sharing. I hope it eventually gets it's chrome bits and eeWings though. For some reason, I really want that to happen.

Reply

tashi
tashi
3 months, 1 week ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

Cool bike and story but I’m really here to brag that I HAVE jumped a 2002, on dirt. 

Highly recommended bad idea but check your rear shock towers condition first.

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
3 months, 1 week ago
+1 tashi

(me too...)

Reply

mammal
Mammal
3 months, 1 week ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

I haven't jumped a 2002, but a '70 Datsun 510 plenty of times.

Reply

T0m
T0m
3 months, 1 week ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

Thumbs up! That bike looks great. Many parts I know well there, like the moose tongue Joplin (bought mine almost new for $100 back when droppers were still weird.) It worked well for two seasons until it leaked. 

And yellow is growing on me, have never had a yellow bike yet.

Love my Smooth Move bars too. 3” rise, Nitto, and silver seem to aggravate the endur-bros on 7” FS. Which is seemingly every other rider around here in front range CO.

Reply

fartymarty
fartymarty
3 months, 1 week ago
+3 Pete Roggeman bushtrucker cheapondirt

My budget "Smooth Move" - Ergotecs and a little sand paper. 

Reply

bushtrucker
bushtrucker
3 months, 1 week ago
+1 Velocipedestrian

So good. Everyone needs a bike like this. Also going parts bin on the initial build actually make a ton of sense to me. Use some old parts you know to get a frame rolling then let the first few rides tell you want it wants to be long term. You see so many "dream builds" that are overly aspirational. This one is refreshingly understated.

Reply

fartymarty
fartymarty
3 months, 1 week ago
0

There a bit of "min-max" to it which I like and the parts don't overshadow frame by being overly blingy.

Reply

denomerdano
Deniz Merdano
3 months, 1 week ago
0

I love it! Looks so much like my Quamen Flatland bike. The aesthetics is bang on..

Reply

khai
khai
3 months, 1 week ago
0

That's awesome.  I was looking for one of those droppers a couple of years back for my DH bike.

So sick...

Reply

fartymarty
fartymarty
3 months, 1 week ago
0

Mike - that's a lovely HT.  The superfluous top tube has me a bit divided.  On one side I love the Klunker throwback on the other side it's superfluous therefore offends my sense of minimalism and think it would look equally as awesome without it.

How do you find the clutchless XT mech?

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
3 months, 1 week ago
0

Hard to tell if that's a serious question, Marty. The clutchless XT derailleur works about the same as one with a clutch, probably shifts a little smoother, but sometimes the chain clatters the chainstay on rocky descents...

Reply

fartymarty
fartymarty
3 months, 1 week ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

Serious question - when I ride my HT on the road w road tyres I turn my clutch off and like it more as the shifting us much lighter.  I need to try "clutch off" off road.

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
3 months ago
0

I've found the best option for a clutchless system is to pick up the last generation pre-clutch Shimano XTR or XT Shadow rear derailleurs (work with 10spd or 11spd shifters). I find the spring tension is much higher than the newer derailleurs with the clutch off. It's still much noisier than using a clutch if you're hammering down jank (for trail use I like to run a Shimano clutch derailleur detuned to a similar tension to what SRAM runs) but the shifter action is much nicer.

Reply

fartymarty
fartymarty
3 months ago
+1 Andrew Major

I've just turned the clutch off on my Zee.  The shift action is so much nicer.  I will let you know how it holds up to proper riding.  I'm running a top guide so chain "should" stay on.

Edit - Andrew - I haven't detuned the clutches on the Zees i'm currently running however have done on previous Zees.

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
3 months ago
0

Have you already tried taking the cover off and de-tuning the clutch? There is a happy medium, though it don’t be as smooth shifting as no clutch.

Lynx
Lynx .
3 months ago
0

Something people also don't take into consideration is on FS bikes, if the clutch is too stiff/hard, it can effect small bump sensitivity, especially on bikes with more reward axle paths. I've run an XTR 10spd clutch RD off on my FS bike to check this and found that it did actually help, but you do get some noise/slap. Best option is to definitely tune it to be just a bit harder/stiffer than with it off, enough that it takes some decent effort to move it, but not so much so  that it leaves a mark on your fingers/hand. Much prefer the newer 11spd RD that will work with 10spd for this ease of adjustment and also they're designed to accommodate bigger cogs straight up, not winding the limit screw all the way in, add on connectors etc.

Reply

fartymarty
fartymarty
3 months ago
0

Lynx - I heard Chris Porter mention this in a podcast.  It makes sense as it force acting on the suspension and has the ability to affect suspension performance.  I'm running my clutches off atm - if the chain stays on I will probably keep it off.  I can deal with chain slap with a bit more mastic tape / fluffy velcro / STFU.

Reply

Lynx
Lynx .
3 months ago
0

Mike, I'm really digging this bike, LOVE the colour of the frame, your friend did an amazing job. Not so sure on that extra TT though, not into things for no reason, so if I'd have done it, I'd have sat it a bit lower down for use to strap a custom frame bag into. Have you considered going all artsy, fartsy and doing blue(or red) cables and accessories parts on it? I think that'd look sweet - hubs, nipples, stem faceplate, seatpost clamp, fork decals, grips :-D

Oh I'm with Andrew on this one, but for me if it's a do  it all HT, has to have sliding adjustable drop outs, so you can have the best of whatever world you feel like trying  - 142 rear, 148 rear, 157 rear, short stays, long stays.

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
3 months ago
0

Colored cable housing is one of my pet peeves. If I had been able to do the Rhapsody In Silver color scheme, I would have tried to run stainless hydraulic lines and grey housing, but that is the extent of what I deem allowable in bike decoration. I also get a mean squinty look in my eye when confronted with spoke wrap, excessive brand decals, clashing colors, and any sort of mascot or bling.

As for the sliding drops, after the initial decision to scrap the looptail, I thought long and hard about my own versatility needs and figured that IF I wanted to ss the bike, I could always go the eccentric hub route, but in reality if I wanted to go gearless again I would do it with a dedicated bike. I also don't see the point in being able to swap out rear spacing, since that usually involves also swapping out cranks to get the chainline correct. Basically, I wanted this to be a bike that would prevent me from experimenting.

I'm finishing up a block of time on a Kona with adjustable dropouts right now. I futzed around with them during the first couple weeks, then left them where I liked them the most for the rest of my time on the bike. This probably says more about me than it does about the bike. I am anti-faff.

Reply

fartymarty
fartymarty
3 months ago
0

I completely agree on lack of decals.  I remove as many as I can to have my bikes as simple looking as possible.

Adjustability is good but I see why you have KISS.  My Krampus is the ultimate faff bike - SS, geared, rigid, bouncy forks, skinny tyres, plus tyres or combos of the above.  It doesn't get boring as I'm constantly changing things -  but there are times I want less adjustaility and just have a geared HT.

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