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Fraser’s Custom Titanium 29er Plus from Waltly Titanium

I’d noticed a number of incoming links to Spanner were from the direction of MTBR’s forums so I couldn’t resist a peek…

Handily, I found loads of people happy to share their own experience of having frames made in the Far East, some of whom were inspired by this blog (aww, shucks!).

First up this month we have Fraser, aka Dove Biker, with his own unique take on the 29+ semi-fat bike. He’s got a background in engineering and product design so isn’t afraid of rolling his sleeves up and getting stuck in to the design process.

Monster truck! Looks so right and so wrong all at the same time, I love it :-)

Monster truck! Looks so right and so wrong all at the same time, I love it 🙂

Being 5’5″ Fraser often finds he gets better results from a custom frame rather than buying off the shelf, which is particularly handy as I don’t think he’d find anything like his current machine for sale anywhere! A big fan of fully rigid bikes he rode cyclocross machines for a number of years before settling on a Ritchey P29er, shod with extra wide 2.4″ tubeless tyres to cope with his local sandy conditions.

The lure of another custom frame kept nagging at him as did the emerging fat bike scene in the UK until…

I saw reviews of the Surly Krampus, which germinated the ideas of a rigid 29er+ in titanium. The Krampus features a 490mm suspension-compensating fork, which would give it too high bars for my liking, so a custom made frame made sense.

I also like the whole aesthetic of putting huge wheels on a tiny frame – it would look ridiculous but at the same time, it was about function. It was a counter to all those massively over-engineered, heavy and unreliable full-suspension bikes my friends ride. I have had a few quizzical “WTF?” looks when out riding it, but I doubt there’s a more capable bike that suits my style of riding!

Sooo, why did you pick Waltly this time round?

This is my third Chinese custom titanium frame.  I’ve been happy with the product from XACD, but dealing with Porter is a bit of a chore and they’ve been ramping up the price of ‘options’ which bear no comparison to the actual cost.

Porter came back with an initial price of $1400 plus shipping for this frame design, and wasn’t even prepared to negotiate. The main upcharge surrounded the horseshoe chainstay yoke, like Sandman – Porter said it was so expensive as he wanted me to pay for an entire sheet of titanium plate!

I sent the drawing to Waltly and Jenny came back with an alternative design for the chainstay yoke and a price of $800 including shipping and Paypal fee so decided that it was worth a punt.

The whole design process was a lot easier, Jenny being prompt and courteous and being able to pay by Paypal meant I didn’t need to trek to the bank and pay for an expensive currency transfer.

Now the fun bit – how did you come up with the design…

Lots of excellent detail there, particularly the neat chainstay bridge design.

Lots of excellent detail there, particularly the neat chainstay bridge design.

In terms of the frame design, geometry was pretty well based on a combination of the Surly Krampus and my Ritchey P29er, with geometry adjusted for a 440mm rigid fork to keep the front end low as well as longer chainstays for rear wheel clearance.

I opted for BB92 press-fit to give the maximum chainstay width without going into fatbike territory and likewise to stick with regular 100mm/135mm MTB hubs. Headtube is IS44 to keep it future-proof.  I liked the idea of an integrated seat tube to keep the design ‘clean’ along with the inline seatstays and toptube.  Although I’m pretty light, I went with the 50mm downtube, 34.9mm top tube and seat tube, again mainly for aesthetics and durability, knowing the 3″ tyres at low pressures offered plenty of cush.

I opted for a satin-brush finish with vapour-blasted logos. I supplied a vector artwork for the “Velo Colombe” logo – which is a play on French for Dove Biker to commemorate my London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony experience.

…and did the order go smoothly?

Taken out of context the frame looks pretty extreme, it's only when put together it starts to make sense...

Taken out of context the frame looks pretty extreme, it’s only when put together it starts to make sense…

Once the design was finalised, I paid a deposit by Paypal and was told it would be about 6 weeks. On-cue, I received an email from Jenny with lots of photos of the frame. I did notice that a slot had been cut in the back of the seat tube despite having specified the integrated seatpost (I was planning to fit an internal-expanding seat-topper) Anyway, following an email exchange, I agreed to a weld-fill and polish rather than cutting the post down.

Having made the final payment, a week later a big box turned up unannounced, which was nice because it had obviously got under the customs radar, so not duties and VAT to pay.

Sounds pretty good so far – now to break open the bubble wrap and see what the postman delivered…

Unpacking a new frame is always a great experience and this was no different. There was absolutely no problems in terms of the finish of the frame – all threads were clean. One of the bottle cage bosses was about 2mm out which is no great shakes in the scheme of things. No problems in the build – I was able to move all the parts from my Ritchey, no need to cut cables etc.

Comparing the Waltly build with my XACD frames, I’d say that the Waltly benefits from better quality production – forged drop-outs, brake mounts, tapered chainstays  – I’ve seen these same details on branded frames that retail for £2000 and high level of certainty they came from the same factory.

Transmission is 2×9 – as Krampus is single chainring, I was interested to see how it would cope with a double-ring transmission. We have lots of steep, sandy terrain in these parts that requires seated climbing in a low gear to maintain traction – kick hard and you’ll simply spin-out and start walking. The photo of the chainstay yoke shows I’ve got more than double the tyre clearance of the Krampus too – pity no-one makes a 3.5″ wide 29er tyre.

And finally, time to throw a leg over the monster and see how she rides 🙂

Wide BB92 bottom bracket and plate chainstay ensures tons of clearance where it matters - nice design!

Wide BB92 bottom bracket and plate chainstay ensures tons of clearance where it matters – nice design!

A short, shake-down ride showed there was slight chain rub with the tyre in the lowest gears, but it stayed in place.  I decided one of my regular 50 mile cross-country loops down and around the North Downs would really test the handling. Surprisingly, despite the fat tubes, it still had that nice muted ride of titanium in comparison to the steel Ritchey.

I’m running the Surly Knard tyres tubeless on Velocity P35 rims – 10 psi in the rear and 8 psi front and the extra grip over my regular 2.4″ tyres is really noticeable – the overriding impression is a bike that will simply roll over anything and keep going all day.

The biggest revelation was the downhills – this bike really is like a huge BMX – the round profile of the Knards means you can lean into berms at ridiculous angles and the fat tyres remove a lot of trail chatter.

In terms of my expectations – yes, really pleased with the frame and the whole process of dealing with Waltly and wouldn’t hesitate in dealing with them again.

Which is just what you want to hear, I think we can chalk up another win for Waltly! You can see there’s been plenty of midnight oil burnt over the drawing board with Fraser’s frame. I particularly like the use of a wider BB92 shell to give extra width for the plate chainstay yoke, it’s also interesting that Waltly helped by chipping in with ideas on how to tweak the design to make the frame in a more cost effective way. The BB92 shell does restrict the push-fit bottom brackets that are available but I think it’s a worthy compromise given the nature of the bike.

Tips for the future? With the increased availability of 11 speed rear ends I think it would probably be safe to run it as a single ring setup now, which would keep things simple and hopefully allow you to tune out the chain rub on the huge tyres.

I can see Fraser’s point about the chunky frame tubes too, they do seem in proportion, although he could have gone smaller if he’d wanted too. The overall size of the frame is going to keep the weight low as well but you could always investigate double butting the main tubes to shave a few grams off.

To be fair to Waltly the frame drawing does show a slot in the seat tube so you can’t blame them too much for building it like that. I guess it’s always best to get any changes you want made put on the drawing so you don’t have to worry about anything being lost in translation.

Well that wraps it up for today but don’t worry, I’ve got a few more lined up to show you shortly so keep your eyes peeled… In the mean time if you’ve had a frame made in the Far East and you’d like to share your experience do feel free to get in touch via the Contact page – cheers!