Do I Have to Send it Back Already? the Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer with Gevenalle Shifting

While we took a look at my own touring bike yesterday, I will say this with confidence: had I ridden the Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer prior to ordering my Woodville two years ago, I would have drastically changed my views on 650b, disc brakes and trail.

The National Forest Explorer is a low-trail, 650b bike with disc brakes and a decent, not copious amount of tire clearance. These NFE’s are made by Glen Copus in Spokane, WA and pack quite the wallop of versatility in a beautiful, forest service green package. They’re made from lightweight steel for just the amount of liveliness.

Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer with Gevenalle Shifting

As Elephant describes the bike:

“The National Forest Explorer (NFE) is the ideal bike for long days of spirited riding on dirt roads. While designed to carry a small load over the wheel for day supplies, the NFE also handles well with low-riders and a rear saddle bag for overnighting. Unlike many heavy “adventure bikes” or “gravel grinders” sold by larger manufacturers, the NFE is light and responsive, built with a double-butted TrueTemper front triangle and 4130 rear triangle.

The geometry is optimized for experienced riders who prefer nimble handling and light steering input. The fork is brazed & lugged with a handmade direct-mount disc tab and a beautiful bend that helps soak up washboard roads.”

I’d like to put emphasis on the last paragraph. No, the NFE doesn’t have thru-axles. No, the NFE doesn’t bark back at you with stiffness when you load it down and smash around on trail. There is nothing about this bike that leaves you sore after a long day of riding.

The NFE is alive. A beautifully-elegant specimen of the bicycle that dances with you on the climbs and lets you really lean into it while descending. While clearly its intent is to be a back country tourer, inspiring you to explore National Forests, we here in Austin, Texas have no such place nearby, so I took to exploring our local trails, State Parks and swimming holes.

Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer with Gevenalle Shifting

Arrival:
When the bike arrived here in town, it was spec’d with a complete Ritchey kit. Seatpost, some sort of Ritchey road bar, a stem and a saddle. I felt like a majority of the components didn’t fit the bike’s intent so I made a few changes. The saddle and post came off and on went a PAUL Tall and Handsome post with a Brooks C15. Then, in what was probably the boldest component switch, I swapped the road bars for Salsa Woodchippers. Then I attempted to wrap them with Brooks Cambium tape and after an hour of frustration, I accepted my horrible execution…

Having just come off the TDR with the Cutthroat, I liked the riding position the Woodchippers offered and since the NFE came with Gevenalle shifting, I figured it’d be a great time to test out a cockpit I’ve been considering for my own touring bike. When I realized how much room the bars offered, I fit a large Wald basket on the Haulin’ Colin rack.

The stem was ok and even though I found the size large NFE to be a bit long, all it took was a few millimeters of adjustment on the saddle rails to put it in a position that felt normal for me. Other than that, the build felt surprisingly adequate.

Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer with Gevenalle Shifting

Build:
I caught a lot of flak on Instagram for the “parts bin” build on this bike. One guy even said this bike wasn’t set up for shredding. I laughed at that comment in particular. This bike was made for shredding and the Woodchippers enabled that behavior more so than a set of road bars would.

Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer with Gevenalle Shifting

Yes, it’s built with a mix of lower-end Shimano components and it’s true, there is nothing balleur about the build that Elephant sent me but that doesn’t mean the bike wasn’t capable of being a blast to ride. In fact, nothing felt inadequate, or sub-standard. The hub’s engagement was fine, shifting was crisp and I never had to touch a barrel adjuster. Ah Shimano, you’re so good, even at the Deore level. That’s what a touring bike should be in my opinion: shit that works, is easy to find replacement parts for and any mechanic could service it.

Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer with Gevenalle Shifting

The only thing I would have swapped out, had the bike mysteriously disappeared into my stable would have been the Avid BB7 disc calipers. I really hate those things! … and maybe a generator setup.

Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer with Gevenalle Shifting

Frame:
Oh my fucking forest nymph. What a beautiful bicycle this is. Wishbone stays, check. Long, swooping fork, check. Beautiful branding, check. Unique lugwork, check. And the color! I’ve always wanted a Forest Service Green bicycle.

Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer with Gevenalle Shifting

Rack mounts, fender mounts, three bottle cages, zip-tie cable guides. You name it, the NFE (probably) has it.

Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer with Gevenalle Shifting

Even the attachment for the wishbone seat stay, an arguably difficult detail to execute in terms of frame engineering and longevity, was resolved in a smart, straight forward way. I feel like I see a lot of early builders weld or braze the stay directly to the seat tube with no reinforcement. Over time, I’ve seen these fail, but Glen simply sleaved a collar around the seat tube cluster, reinforcing this connection. Now, I’m no engineer, but it makes me feel confident.

Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer with Gevenalle Shifting

Another moment where I have no business commenting on due to my lack of engineering background is the reinforcement of the low-trail disc brake fork. I have no idea if this is a suitable reinforcement to avoid stress risers or not, but it delivers a stiff stopping sensation with no chatter or movement. It looks like the reinforcement moves up the blade enough to keep any stress risers from forming. Again, I’m not an engineer, I just see a lot of these and coincidentally, have seen what fails and what doesn’t.

Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer with Gevenalle Shifting

The head tube has two elegant lugs, or sleeves at the clusters, the fork crown has a rack mount and there’s even a pump peg. Truth told, I made it out all the way on my ride to shoot this thing, got to the trail at the right time of day and realized I forgot my Topeak pump. I figured the low-pricepoint build spec on this thing mandated a $50 pump, in lieu of the Silca pump I’ve been toting around.

Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer with Gevenalle Shifting

Rubber:
The Thunder Burt… the only tire from Schwalbe I’ve ridden that I can honestly give my thumbs up approval. Good on sealed road, good on gravel, with enough hook to catch even dusty and dry limestone corners. Good on you, Schwalbe.

Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer with Gevenalle Shifting

Shifting:
We’ll come back to this, tomorrow. ;-)

Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer with Gevenalle Shifting

Overall:
The Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer grabbed me from the get go. After a few trail rides, hauling shit to and from parks, swimming holes and even the grocery store I was in love. So much so that I was a bit upset to find that I had to send it back this week.

I’ve put in so much time these past few weeks riding it on and off-road, through the woods and between cars in rush hour traffic. The ride itself changed the way I feel about 650b low trail “rando” frames. I felt like it’s more of a rigid MTB with dirt drops than a randonneurring frame with MTB tires.

While I didn’t get to do any actual camping on the bike – I was planning on taking it to SF with me in two weeks – I did load it down as I would for a S24 trip and ride it out to a local state park to see how it handled. The NFE rides with confidence when loaded and still was able to be skidded through corners and pushed hard down descents.

The nature of the frame, with its good amount of flex feels so good with a bit of extra weight on it. One moment that did make me feel a bit concerned was when I was descending down a rather steep residential road, putting on my gloves with no hands and I did get a bit of speed wobble at the front end with the basket unloaded. More than likely this is just a by-product of the low-trail geometry and steepness of the road. I never felt it again, nor did I try to re-create that moment. Hands on the bars at all times, folks.

If I didn’t have a touring bike, I would have offered to buy this bike from Glen. It’s exactly what I thought I didn’t want, yet realized it was what I really needed after a few weeks of riding it. I cannot stress this enough. If you are looking for a made in the USA shred sled of a touring bike, the National Forest Explorer is for you.

This lovely machine comes in three sizes: small, medium and large. Check out the geometry chart at Elephant. It retails for $1285 (frame/fork) and can be built up for around $2200 complete. Holler at Elephant for more information and availability.

  • Really excellent review. Thanks for giving these bikes the Radavist treatment, they deserve the attention.

  • spiced ham

    Awesome bike but the derps are still derpy

  • I’ve heard complaints from a lot of people that the cambium bar tape is very stiff and difficult to wrap, so I wouldn’t be so quick to blame yourself for the difficulty.

    • It felt great but I’d probably still go Newbaums for cloth tape.

  • Richard Pool

    I real dig this build not every bike needs sram red or dura ace. That price is insanely good.

    • Totally agree, I was stoked when I saw the price!

  • Shredzilla

    Making fun of the build? Bike not able to shred with that level of parts? Why does cycling attract so many people who don’t know it’s about the ride not the price tag. I mean look at this bike. If that’s not good enough to shred what is?

    Ride inexpensive durable parts and spend the rest on beer, coffee, pie, and the ticket to get there.

    • mwickedness

      could not agree more. these ppl need to take a deep breath and think about just how capable a schwinn excelsior was at shredding repack.

    • DamagedSurfer

      This all the way. I have always believed in using functional, durable components. If others want to throw money at chasing the latest greatest, good for them. I have no problem with that. Except for when snobs are being derisive towards others’ choices. Remember kids: Don’t buy upgrades, ride up grades.

  • kasual

    Wow, this was not on my radar at all, but now I really want one. Low-trail, rando setup with discs, just what the doctor ordered.

    P.s. what is your take on the BB7 — I’ve generally heard positive and my experience has been generally good (although I’ve never used a hydro disc setup)

    • Replied to Hubert above with this:

      “They just feel like shit. I like the TRP offerings a lot better and I guess I’m coming from using the Klampers recently which isn’t a fair comparison.”

      You can’t compare hydro with cable. It’s a completely different ballgame IMO.

      • kasual

        Cool, thanks. Looking forward to a write-up on the Klampers.

  • crowding

    Would have been even better with normal drop bars on it. I put dirt drops on my low trail monster cross machine at first and swapped them out after one ride, they were just mismatched to the vehicle.

    Since low grail geo transmits less feedback through the steerer and handles with a sharper countersteer on turn-in, wide bars will feel overly light with a lot of unnecessary arm movement. It’s like putting a bus’s steering wheel on a rally car.

    • I dunno if I agree with you, but good observations.

    • rocketman

      That’s Jan Heine’s take too but I also don’t agree. I’ve got Nitto Noodles in 46cm on both of my low trail bikes, a 700C monster cross and a 650B dirt tourer and much prefer it to narrow bars. I think those new Salsa Cowchippers would be a great bar for the NFE!

      • Jack Attack

        I chose Cowchippers for my NFE build. I went one size smaller than I usually do with standard road bars. Comfy in all positions and handling doesn’t feel vague on the road or trail.

  • Hubert d’Autremont

    Wondering what you hate about the BB7’s?
    As far as a mechanical disc goes they are pretty no nonsense. I thought about spec’g other mechanicals (like the dual actuating TRP’s) but most are to wide and hit the spokes.
    They are no XT Hydraulics, but when it comes down to it, they work, are available and cheap. That said, if the Paul’s klamper would have been available earlier, I’d be all over that! :)

    • They just feel like shit. I like the TRP offerings a lot better and I guess I’m coming from using the Klampers recently which isn’t a fair comparison.

      • Hubert d’Autremont

        I dig that, I don’t think they are the best by a long shot, but the TRP’s are a complete gamble on whether or not they will hit your spokes. Plus TRP wouldn’t own up to this being a problem even though every mechanic I have talked to expressed the same problem. Also no detents on the pad adjustment means the pads walk. I had so much hope for them…
        Yeah Klampers are a whole other category. Keep up the good work.

        • Fear Rothar

          Regarding Spyres, I haven’t had a problem with spoke clearance on Schmidt SON or King hubs. However, the pad “walking,” that Hubert refers to, is a deal breaker for me.

          TRP’s HyRd hybrid brakes are brilliant, though. Ironically, though, you do need to change the cable anchor position to work with the cable pull of TRP’s own RRL brake levers!

      • ABW

        I can’t tell what housing is on there, but compressionless housing is key (probably for all cable discs, but I only have experience with BB7s). When I swapped from whatever was cheapest to Jagwire compressionless housing, it was like a different brake entirely. Also, make sure the housing ends are filed/sanded flat. If you already did that… Then I dunno.

        • Compressionless housing seems to be the only way to make BB7s not feel mushy. I am willing to admit they have adequate power even for actual mountain biking, but beyond retro-grouchy fear mongering, the experience of riding them still doesn’t compare to using hydraulic brakes. I just switched the BB7s on my Ice Cream Truck for the Avid E7 “Trail” brakes off my Chromag, and I am now seriously kicking myself for not doing that earlier. Even more power, and a ride feel that feels so positive.

          • ABW

            Absolutely agreed, but hydro discs on drop bars are still harder to come by cheaply. If you’ve got drop bars and a small budget, your options are limited, but the options for cheap hydro discs and flat bars are getting crazy good.

          • Hubert d’Autremont

            Yeah for real mountain biking hydraulics are a must, but for touring I would rather have a cable actuated set up that I can deal with on the road. The TRP’s could be so rad but they need to address the key issues. The spoke clearance isn’t based on just the hub, but rather the rim hub combinations. I’ve tried them on a number, mostly with kings and son and phil hubs with many high end rims and they are either to close to comfort or require you go to a bigger rotor. No reason you should have to have a 160 on a road bike…

      • BB7s are terrible… Until you use compressionless housing and set them up properly. They are VERY sensitive to setup. When you get it right, with good housing (Yokozuna) and good levers (SRAM S900 carbon), they are actually pretty good. Still waiting/hoping for TRP Hylex carbon lever option. I only use carbon – so much better when you ride in the cold.

  • Woodchippers. Can you ride on the hoods comfortably and shift/brake with them? Looks like oneshands would be cocked inwards at an odd angle. Im interested in making my cx bike even more mtb with woodchippers or something similar, but very much enjoy riding on the hoods….

    • I primarily rode the hoods and only used the drops when descending. Shifting and braking wasn’t an issue. At all.

      • Richard Pool

        I ran a set of gevenalles shifters for over a year. Though shifting in the drops is doable, it is about 2 inches more annoying then any other shifter. It just makes logical since with the shifter mounted higher it will always be a little harder to reach no matter which bars are used. In no way would I say this is a reason to not buy them though. The benefits far outweighed this small annoyance.

    • mrbiggs

      I’m curious about this too. I have Woodchippers on a SS Cross Check that I use for similar purposes. Braking is no issue at all, since one can brake quite nicely in the drops. But as I ride the Woodchipper drops for more than merely descending, I can’t imagine shifting those Gevenalles in that position.
      Position in the hoods is actually pretty comfortable. It’s a natural wrist position and braking is fine.

  • Graham Sevier

    Can’t wait to get mine. I hope to use the Paul disc calipers and white ind VBC cranks. As American as I can make it.

  • Brian Sims

    Really sweet looking bike. I would like to find a lighter frame to replace my Rawland Drakkar but 650B on this doesn’t fly. I’ve got too much wrapped up in 700/29 wheels at this point. Ugh standards lock in…

    Re Thunder Burts, great tire for mixed terrain (for a few weeks). I went through a set of these expensive tires WAY too quickly for my budget. The Maxxis Cross Mark tire I’m running now has more drag on pavement but loads more traction (especially cornering traction) that the Schwalbe’s. Just my take…

  • Is it weird that I’m most excited about the photo of the shifter? But really, this whole build really does it for me. Spokane is not even that far away…

  • Henry

    These NFEs seem to be popping up everywhere and I haven’t heard a single bad thing about them. They’re beginning to making me wonder how attached I am to my Cross-Check…

  • Scott

    Glen is an amazing craftsman and executes fine details with the best. I worked with Glen for a number of years at a shop in Spokane and saw the start of Elephant and his work in person at the time. I know that anybody that gets one of these will be stoked! Congrats Elephant!

  • AdamBike99

    n+1 man… n+1

  • The big boys have completely missed the boat, as far as I can tell, with Genenvalle, being the only people making “drop-bar” styled shifting available for dynasys rear derailers, in 10 speed. That’s a big market. I wonder if they will do an 11 dynasys compatible? Not that I would use 11. I have no complaints with my BB7’s on Woodchippers with DA 10 speed since a long time. Initially I had to try and detune them as they were too powerful compared to my hydros for offroading. Maybe I was lucky, or am just a pansy.

    • Nate

      I really enjoy using SRAM Apex 10s shifters with X9 Type 2 rear mech for a 1×10 conversion. Shifting internals are easily removed from LH lever, and the clutch mech makes for solid chain engagement.

      I really prefer the Shimano shifting interface though, and would swap back to Shimano in a heartbeat if they had some compatibility between road shifters and XT (or similar) Shadow+ clutched MTB rear mech.

      Totally in the same boat for the BB7s though, best mechanical discs I’ve had the opportunity to use (haven’t tried TRP Spyre or Paul though…), they perform very well on my relatively hefty Surly Straggler.

      • Donnieboy

        I love my BB7s with compression-less housing. Other riders are usually surprised by how strong they stop the bike. The technical setup is key.

  • Chris Valente

    One thing i really like is the idea of custom builders doing production lines. It just makes so much sense for customers like me that want a high quality MUSA steel frame but don’t have the need or the funds for a custom build. It may not make sense for every builder but I hope it is something we see more of in the future.

    I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of a Wraith Paycheck and a dirt tourer is on my list for the future. I would love one of these bad boys.

  • Nathan Fenchak

    “… Ah Shimano, you’re so good, even at the Deore level. That’s what a touring bike should be in my opinion: shit that works, is easy to find replacement parts for and any mechanic could service it…”

    THIS! Good enough, and durability, should be key for a touring (or mountain) bike. No reason to break the bank buying parts and not have enough cash left over to actually go and ride the bike.

    • My only complaint would be that it’s not a clutch derailleur. Those things are awesome.

      • Owen Cunningham

        pretty sure that’s a clutch on the Deore rear? no?

        • You’re right, I overlooked it because the switch is off!

          • Yeah, I flatted and must have forgotten to turn it on.

    • Donnieboy

      Well said.

  • If those were my chippers I’d rotate them down a coupla degrees. It took me a long time to get mine nailed so that I could ride comfortabley in all positions and brake effectively on the drops when hammering off-road. I really want to try that new Cow-chipper but I don’t think they do it in a skinny sizing , all 31.8 I think?

    • I never really felt they were awkward here. That’s the beauty with that bar, its rotation is all preferential.

      • Yeah, they are very forgiving and its a PITA having to reposition the brakes and redo the tape too. I hope to get my hands on some of those shifters one day to try for feel. Could be the ultimate bikepacking shifter with friction mode option. Never seen a set in this hemisphere yet tho.

  • Miles Away

    Damn. That twin crown rear brake bridge.

  • Robert0321

    Would you consider Retroshift on your Woodville?

  • Ultraclyde

    So…Those Thunder Burts…..What are your impressions of them on pavement? How do they wear on the road? I’m going to need a replacement for the Bonty XR1s on my Trek 920 soon. They’ve been great tires, but the bike sees more pavement commuting than it does dirt and the XR1s are wearing at a prodigious rate even though they ride great. I’d love to go tubeless, but there aren’t a lot of choices in an all surface but dirt-leaning 29×2.0, tubeless compatible tire. I really want something I can commute on and still hit long gravel and single track on the weekends without swapping rubber. I’m hoping Scwalbe will drop a 29″ G-One but I may need tires before that… I have some questions about the shifting too but I’ll hold those for tomorrow’s story.

    • Schwalbe’s dirt tires aren’t known for their tread longevity. They are excellent XC tires, if somewhat fragile in the sidewall, but if you’re doing the majority of your riding on road, you’re likely to experience similar wear patterns as with the XR1s. It all comes down to how much you’re willing to pay for a tire that, based on your ideals and real-world usage, is likely to wear quickly on the rear.

      • Donnieboy

        Smart Sams are Schwalbe dirt tires and wear quite well. Thunder Burt are different. Different compounds for different purposes; not one in the same. It isn’t the brand, it’s the construction and intended use.

    • Mark Reimer

      I rode 29er TB’s on a gravel tour this spring, Seattle to Portland and then the Oregon Outback. The tires were new when I left. 1,200km and they’re full of little slashes and holes. My buddy had the same tires, also new, and he had a dime-sized hole blowout on a descent, twice. They roll SOOOOOO nicely but that comes at a price. I wouldn’t suggest using them with a load like I did, it really sped up the wear and tear. But they definitely ride very nicely.

  • Alexander

    Do you think this would be a good city and road tourer with a pair of Grand Bois 42mm Hetre’s mounted, or is it strictly a wilderness beast?

    • cookietruck

      it’s perfectly fine with 42mm tires and commuting…

    • A guy in town has his set up with Hetres and fenders. It looks great!

    • Stadia

      Big Ben 650b x 48 would be my choice.

  • Robert Franklin

    For those who are better at reading geometry charts than I am: what are the differences between this and my Straggler, other than being pretty? This setup is already similar to how I configured the Straggler: Gevenalle with TRP HY/RDs.

    • this is much lower trail, is 650b and is over half as light.

      • Robert Franklin

        Thanks John.

      • paul gardener

        I know I’m a bit late, but the frame and fork are only 300 grams lighter than the straggler. That’s not very much. The same weight as the Cross check.

    • Donnieboy

      Fork on this will flex and be more comfortable. The headtube of this is taller as well, so assuming you don’t have a high riser stem added to bridge this gap with the straggler, the NFE will be a more upright riding position, lending to less pressure on the hands and less pelvic tilt (taint pressure). The straggler is a disc version of Surly’s cross check, which is closer to race geometry than the NFE (lends to a smaller frontal wind profile). So if you want faster, smaller wind profile you take the straggler (and there are arguably better bikes for this purpose). If you want a more comfortable longer ride, you take the NFE (and there are arguably better bikes for this depending on what you want). NFE looks great though, love the theme and construction.

  • Charlie D

    I think the build looks solid as hell. I’d be curious how you would feel about riding a smaller bike with higher bars, or just shorter stem and higher bars, in order to ride the woodchippers as designed? You prefer to ride the hoods? Cool bike…

  • What cassette is that?

  • Lemontime

    YOUR CLUTCH IS OFF OH FUCK

    • Jonathan.

      Too many pingerz Harry?

  • OMSC

    In the event anyone’s interested, here’s mine: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cwmcmillen/sets/72157656605491545. Loving it so far! The Radavist review waas fantastic–nice work.

  • AaronBenjamin

    This bike is rad. Love it. Next MTB will be forest service green, I tell you!

  • bxc

    What kind of camo saddle bag it use???

  • Ride Alongside

    I have also always been interested in a USFS green steel bike. Loving the concept of this one. Looking forward to reading more…

  • Sam Powrie

    Hi Robert, I’m researching an appropriately sized NFE for myself. I see that you’ve reviewed a Large size. I’m presuming you found that it suited you OK (can’t see any comments about how you actually found the L size). Can you please tell me:
    – what your own height and unshod pbh is?
    – how you found the stand over on the large-sized NFE?
    – did you have any comments about the sizing?
    Many thanks,
    Sam.

  • Mark Rothschild

    Glen was one of Santa’s Elves that escaped,”Santa’s Village”, in Scott’s Valley, hitching over Mt. Herman Rd. and Hwy 9….

  • alex

    Hey John, his site is a bit skeptical about the 50/34 compact crankset, but my plan for my build was a parts-bit style like this using the same cranks. Did you have any issues? What’re your thoughts on that?

    • Creede Elliott

      Same, I believe that the shifting mechanism on the front mech specific shifter is friction and because of that should work with both the road and mountain shimano FDs, but I just don’t know.

  • Shyone

    Sorry to jump on this thread so late, but how do you feel the Cutthroat and the NFE compare in terms of ride and handling? Thanks.