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Charles’ 9B+ custom titanium XC mountain bike from Waltly

It seems like the world has got over it’s love affair with fat bikes, but still has a bit of a lingering crush for the fuller figured tyre. We’re seeing a trend now to spec clearance for 2.8″ to 3″ tyres; the perfect compromise between grip, cushioning and drag, especially on a hardtail.

But… The other interesting thing is that a 27.5″ plus sized wheel is pretty similar in overall diameter to a standard sized 29’er wheel. Could it be we can create frames that will take either wheel? So you could transform the character of your bike from playbike to lightweight racer just by changing the wheels?

Charles smart new ride…

As if on cue here’s Charles to tell us about his project. Step up to the keyboard Charles, what got you started down the direct custom path?

With a son who’s just started racing mountain bikes and with a wife and daughter who enjoy bike touring I wanted a new frame that could do EVERYTHING. But I especially wanted a great XC frame so that I might keep up with my son for a while longer!

At 6’ 1,” with a 36” inseam, I love the fit and versatility of my old M-sized Vassago Bandersnatch, but that frame feels heavy, and its 450mm chainstays often feel too long.

I’d test ridden a 27.5+ Specialized Fuze, and 29+ Trek Stache, but it seemed to me that a 9B+ combo might be the best fit for my racing/touring inclinations. Dirt motorbikes have evolved in that direction, with a plumper, smaller wheel in the back and a larger diameter, narrower, front wheel; why not try it?

What I wanted to carry forward was the same:

615mm ETT
65mm BB drop
73.5 degree seat angle
‘Alt’ bars
Low-slung toptube
Double waterbottle mounts​

​New things that I wanted to try:

​650B+ rear wheel and thru-axle
20mm shorter chainstays
Longer-travel fork
Slightly slacker head angle​​

I also wanted to stay with ‘standard’ (non-boost) wheel spacing so I wouldn’t have to buy new wheels. I’ve only got a limited family budget to keep us all in working bikes!

How did you find working with Waltly?

Posts on your blog convinced me to email Waltly. Amy Lv responded and I think she deserves a sainthood for how patient she was over ​our ​150+ emails! In hindsight, I could’ve saved us ​both ​an enormous amount of time ​by having a clearer idea of ​what I wanted. Curved downtube or straight? Tapered or 44 straight headtube? Etc.

A major hurdle was finding an elegant solution for a front derailleur. I can’t afford 1×12, and 1×11 doesn’t have enough range for me. (I ride roads to steep trails). ​So we put a lot of time into sorting ​out ​a direct mount before I saw that simply putting the bend a bit higher on the seattube would allow me to use a standard clamp-on front mech (which I can take off if I ever go 1x).

How close was the finished product to what you were looking for?

​All in all, this frame turned out great, it’s gorgeously made and was delivered without a hitch. I’ve been riding it ​now ​for almost 3 months and I really couldn’t be happier with my experience with Waltly. I’d buy another frame from them in a heartbeat​ (​but I’d start out with a clearer idea of what I wanted​)​.

Even with a 140mm travel fork I was able to build a bike that weighs a whopping five pounds less than my old bike (w/o the toolbag, it’s 25lbs)​. It’s all-around ​more ​capable, livelier and faster. I love it!

I can’t help but notice quite a few spacers under the stem there (and a fair amount of seat post showing)?

Y​es, I do use a lot of stem spacers, ​40mm worth (5mm less than ​m​y old bike​), ​but I like being able to comfortably ​hop off ​a bike ​if I need to bail out on a steep climb. Maybe if I went with less spacers​/​longer headtube, I’d have more space for ​a bike-packing frame bag, but​ ​​that’s another project. ​

Great logo – but let the bird fly free!

I did wonder about that groovy looking head badge, but is it stuck on with gaffer tape?!

​Waltly sandblasted my little hammer bird design onto the frame for $20. To keep ​my ​cables from damaging it, I​’ve​ covered it with some thick, clear mylar held on with foil tape​. This is on the Appalachian side of classy but, it works.

Hmm, let the bird fly free I say, I think it’ll last better than you think (or just use a bit of stealthy helicopter tape?).

So now for the big one, what would you do differently next time?

Well, that’s the $1000 question, I do wonder sometimes if I should tweak a few things….

​Running a​ 140mm travel fork ​means this frame’s head-angle is now about 68.5 degrees and ​its ​seat angle 72​-ish​ degrees. More importantly, ​this frame’s reach has now dropped ​below ​420mm. This means if I’m seated and cornering fast my front wheel ​has a slight tendency to ​​drift. ​I’ve learned that I can ​easily ​solve this by ​shifting my weight forward, b​​ut still…

​I​f I ​could redesign this​ frame​, I’d spec a 15mm​ longer​​ ​ETT and a .5 degree​ steeper ​seat-angle (with everything else remaining the same).​ At least I’d start there.

I might also bow​ in the​ seatstays​ ​a bit. I never notice, but scuffs indicate that my heels do touch t​h​e​se​ ​wide-ish ​stays now and then. Plus, I think bowed-in seat-stays look cool 😉

Sounds like a good way to go. I’d suggest going a degree steeper on the seat tube, you might not notice half a degree and you can always shift the saddle slightly to give a greater range of adjustment.

How did the 650B+ experiment get on out back?

Once the frame arrived I just couldn’t resist trying a B+ rear wheel, and​… ​I LOVED ​it! Together with my new frame and parts, ​I took 10% off my quickest time on my local 90 minute loop!

Nice, there could be a bit of a ‘new bike’ effect too, but then again;

After a few weeks of riding​​ the B+ rear wheel, I rode the bike for a week with my lighter 29er rear wheel. I didn’t enjoy it. It felt harsh, slower to accelerate, and more prone to slipping out!

The original clearance, plenty of room for the tyre with the plate chainstay but that chain is pretty close! Running a single ring would help as would going for a wider, boosted, frame.

Sold! But how did you get on running plus size tyres without a wider ‘boosted’ frame?

Ahh, now there’s the rub: Running a​ ​2.8″ Schwalbe 27.5+ tire, 24-34 XT chainset​ and 11-40 rear cassette, I barely ​had ​enough chain/tire clearance​ in the lowest gear. T​his bothered me so much that I rebuilt ​that wheel with a narrower rim and tweaked the dishing to bring it away from the chain slightly. ​So Boost spacing isn’t mandatory for a 27.5+ rear wheel​, but it would make life easier. ​

How about at the front there, fancy ‘going large’?

I’d love to try a larger front wheel, but on a hardtail I suspect ​having a plus-sized rear wheel ​offers​ greater benefits. Ideally I’d like to combine a 29’ers better rolling performance with the plus size tyres comfort. I​’ll probably try​ a 29+ wheel up front, ​maybe ​on a rigid fork. Th​is​ ​c​ould be an amazing​ set-up!

Putting a larger front tyre on could help with the front end grip issues that Charles mentioned earlier, it would certainly be an interesting thing to try. You’d just have to take into account the larger overall diameter of the 29’er+ tyre when selecting the rigid fork length. The only other thing left to try is a dropper seat post, Charles put the cable run in there but hasn’t given it a go yet. I’ve been trying to convince him that once you drop you don’t go back 😉

I’m interested in the overall bike sizing that Charles has ended up with. I was surprised when he told me that he was over 6′ tall but was riding a medium Vassango. We can probably guess that he’s just got a slightly shorter torso in proportion to his leg length so finding an ‘off the peg’ bike can be tricky; a great candidate for a custom frame!

Given the amount of spacers under the stem and the large extension of the seatpost I’d be tempted to make the frame ‘bigger’. Perhaps adding 20mm to the head tube and a similar amount to the seat tube too. With Charles’s inseam I think the standover height should still be OK. You could always drop the top tube further down the seat tube and fit a small support between the seat tube and the top tube just to keep things stable while keeping a decent standover height.

Phew, another year and another set of great bikes. A big thank you to Charles and all the other contributors who’ve taken the time to share their rides with us!

Happy New Year, and happy new bikes! Have you had a frame made in the Far East? Fancy sharing your story? Do get in touch via the contacts page and I’ll see you all in 2017!