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John’s Titanium Monstercross by Waltly

Hmm, not very busy around here at the moment is it? Perhaps something exciting has been happening in the background? Stay tuned and watch this space I say!

In the meantime we need to be inspired by some more excellent projects. Something like John’s monstercross machine should do nicely:

The ‘monstercross’ category is another stage in the continued blurring between the different genres. Is it a cyclocross bike that can take larger, mountain bike sized, tyres? Or a mountain bike with dropped handlebars? Either way they’re proving a popular choice with those people who like their epic rides on a mix of surfaces…

How did it all start, John?

I’ve wanted a titanium bike since the mid 90’s and over the years I’ve come close to ordering one from several manufacturers but never actually done so.  A dalliance with a UK manufacturer didn’t bare fruit, although I did get XCAD to do a drawing for me but I bottled it in the end as the idea of going direct to a Chinese factory seemed a bit risky!

Aha, toes dipped in the water then; so what gave you the courage to take the plunge?

Fast forward to the 2017 Dirty Reiver gravel event which I entered on my Specialized AWOL. Throughout the event I found myself casting envious glances towards the ti gravel bikes from various manufacturers, they all looked great. After completing the event I decided that a titanium version of the AWOL would fit the bill nicely, so I started to look around. The Moots Baxter was a very strong candidate but then other factors started to come into play…

Unfortunately when looking around at various ti options there’s a lot of what I’ll charitably call “pro-USA patriotism” around, seemingly based on the dubious premise that only white Americans can weld titanium! The more I looked around the more I wanted to get a Chinese custom frame built just to see what the end result would be like and, given the price difference, if it turned out to be terrible then I’d not lost much.

Which then leads to the question of how you selected who to work with?

After reading about Waltly on this fine blog [aww, shucks!] as well as on some forums I thought I’d give them a go, I wasn’t feeling sufficiently fired up to deal with Porter’s level of enthusiasm and I’d seen a pretty ropey review of Titan’s work [an old one perhaps? I’ve not seen anything bad recently…]. I got answers back from Sumi at Waltly the same day and this continued pretty much throughout the order process.

I can’t praise Sumi enough, really pleasant to deal with and great at getting back to me with answers to my various, frequently naive, questions. Having dealt with a variety of UK and US based companies over the years they could all learn something from Waltly’s approach to customer service! 

What was interesting was that over the course of the conversations we chatted about what we’d done on the weekends etc. and it was an eye opener in some ways to hear that Sumi had weekends off, went to the beach with family and just generally did “normal” things. From the anti-Chinese sentiment on some forums you’d half expect Waltly’s staff to be working 24hr days, alternating between making bike frames and plotting the invasion of the USA!

Which in itself is a nice insight! Time to sharpen the virtual pencils then, how about the details?

At the outset I’d explained that I’m about 100kg [15.7 stone] and although this was to be a gravel bike, rather than a mountain bike, I still wanted it to be bombproof. I said that if I asked for anything which might compromise the strength they were to say no.  As a result the frame has quite thick tubing with large diameters and no internal cable routing. In fairness I didn’t really want internal cabling anyway as it’s not so practical for adventure biking.

After about 100 emails back and forth I had a design I was happy with, basically a ti AWOL but ever so slightly longer to enable me to run an inline post and with a shorter headtube for aesthetics.  Once the longer Whiskey fork was fitted the riding position was bang on the same as the AWOL. I’ve gone with a screw thread BB, bolt through rear, no front mech mount, wishbone rear stays (because I like them) and no mudguard mounts (because I don’t like mudguards!).

Spec for bike is:

Waltly “AWOL” frame

Whiskey carbon mtb fork (15mm bolt through)

Hunt 4 Season Gravel Disc wheels

Panaracer Gravel King SK 43mm tires (frame will easily take 2.1in 29er tires as per design brief)

Sram Force 1×1 but with XX1 chainset

Easton carbon bar and post, alloy stem

Hope headset, BB, seatclamp

Fabric saddle and bar tape

Sounds pretty fair to me, how was ‘the wait’?

So I paid the outstanding balance and a couple of weeks later I got the photos of the completed frame through, one image of a weld didn’t look great so I asked for some more from different angles, Sumi got them back to me straight away and they looked fine, the initial photo just having funny lighting. As it all looked good I signed that off and waited for it to arrive into the UK…

The unboxing!

Within a week I’d had the frame delivered and first impressions were great, very neat welds etc and the graphics which were polished into a blasted frame looked good.  On closer (very close!) inspection a couple of the rings on the stays are slightly wonky and the “Made in China” logo has a slight shadow to it, but to be honest these were so irrelevant I wasn’t overly concerned. 

Other minor issues – there was quite a bit of sand in the frame, the threads all needed chasing and the headtube was possibly ever so slightly ovalised but everything has gone together fine.

The frame weight was 4.4lbs which I think is pretty respectable given the brief of making it as robust as possible!

The riding!

The initial ride around Grizedale was great, the riding position was spot on and the bike itself seemed less flexy than the AWOL so better out of the saddle.  The build kit is mostly all new but for the crankset which I still need to change. I can’t wait to get some longer rides in! 

I’m hoping to get a place on the Dirty Reiver again so there’ll be plenty of training rides going on over winter and the riding position in the drops is one I can stay in all day.

Sounds like everything went to plan, is there anything you’d perhaps do differently next time?

I’m not sure I’d do anything different if I was ordering this frame again as it’s exactly what I was after.  I’ll probably give it a year or so to see how it goes then maybe look at an out and out road frame to match.

So for about £700 delivered inc taxes I’m pretty chuffed. The bike has had quite a lot of positive comments, both from those who know the background and those who don’t. As long as it lasts the next couple of years then I’ll be happy!

Good times all around! It’s an interesting point that John raises about the ‘casual racism’ that you’ll find as soon as the subject of Chinese made frames is raised on forums around the Internet. Probably the best antidote to which is to carry on documenting the real world experience of people who are having frames made and then riding them 😉

Some of that caution perhaps rubbed off on John though as he was slightly concerned about frame strength. I counseled that he’d be fine as all the mountain bike frames I know run 0.9mm tubing all over; and he’s not that big a chap(!). In the end he did go with 1.2mm wall thickness tubing on the downtube and chainstays which would have ‘dampened’ the ride a little. Although they could be contributing to the positive ‘stiffness’ in the frame that he’s experienced. I’m just pleased to see that it doesn’t appear to have added much weight as 4.4lbs is pretty reasonable.

John certainly hit it off well with Sumi – I think that’s a key factor in deciding who you’re going to work with. People often ask me about which company they should use and I’ll always advise getting in touch with them and seeing who you ‘click’ with.

It’s pretty common that sand blasted frames need more cleaning out when they arrive but it’s a shame that the bottom bracket threads weren’t better finished. Other than that it sounds like the frame was spot on quality wise.

So… another happy customer! I think John should be enjoying his frame for many years to come yet.

Have you had a frame made that you’d like to share? Do drop me a line via the contact form and let me know…