Bang for Your Buck: the Ritchey Timberwolf 27.5 Hardtail MTB

When I first saw this frameset, I was in love. Why? Well, when a company like Ritchey makes a hardtail mountain bike that only a few months prior was something you had to order from a framebuilder, you know they’re paying attention. Before the Timberwolf, Ritchey’s mountain bike offerings were built with cross-country geometries. Personally, I like slack front ends and longer travel forks. They still climb great but the difference in descending is noticeable, especially after getting bucked for hours on end while riding our Southern California trails. Yeah, the Timberwolf is a new breed of mountain bikes, from a company founded by one of the forefathers of the sport. The best part is, you can get rowdy on this bike for hundreds less than a custom frame.

At $899, the Timberwolf comes as a frame with bright orange paint and classic Ritchey logos. Or you can buy it complete, as equipped here for $3,499 (minus the dropper post.) When people email me asking what mountain bike frame they should start out with, if buying used isn’t an option, I point them to the Timberwolf. Why? Let me break it down…

Bang for Your Buck: the Ritchey Timberwolf 27.5 Hardtail MTB

Shred for Your Buck

Yes, $899 is around half as much as most builders charge for custom steel hardtail and while there are other production bikes on the market similar to the Timberwolf, they aren’t nearly as light, nor as nimble feeling. The Timberwolf feels lively and while a lot of that has to do with the geometry, the Ritchey tubing definitely aids in that.

Bang for Your Buck: the Ritchey Timberwolf 27.5 Hardtail MTB

Complete but Not Cheap

Some people would say that $3,499 is a lot of money to drop on a complete steel hardtail, yet if you look at the components, Ritchey didn’t exactly skimp on anything. The Ritchey Trail wheels are super solid and plenty wide, with an internal width of 25mm. They weigh around 1650g for the set and I didn’t have to true them once in the few months that I was able to ride this bike. Next up, the drivetrain. SRAM’s 1x drivetrain doesn’t skip a beat, and it comes with the XD 10-42t cassette. The bike I reviewed came with Guide brakes, although Ritchey’s spec sheet calls for SLX.

The Rock Shox Revelation fork was plenty capable of tackling my local trails, yet took some getting used to after riding a Pike for so long. It’s not nearly as stiff, nor as heavy, yet I was still able to dial in the settings to my liking with ease. All this gets steered by the 35mm Ritchey Trail stem and bar, which save for the length of the stem, was a super solid setup. Personally, I’d rather run a 50mm stem, but since even the size large is a little short on me, the longer stem helped with fit. My only upgrade I found necessary on this build was a dropper post, so a Rock Shox Reverb I had in my parts bin worked fine, except for the fact that it wasn’t the Stealth verson and had to be run along the top tube, rather than through the stealth port on the seat tube.

Bang for Your Buck: the Ritchey Timberwolf 27.5 Hardtail MTB - Photo by Kyle Kelley

Point It and Go

Yes, hardtails take a bit of finesse to be able to hang with guys on full suspensions, and I’d argue their geometry is more important to maintaining speed and control than most modern full squish trail bikes, where the travel will soak up any of your riding mishaps and nuances. On a hardtail, if you line something up wrong, you’ll pay for it.

While the full suspension market relies on incremental improvements, hardtails have to follow suit with leaps and bounds. For instance, before Scott made their bikes with a 69º head angle, you had to look to the likes of Engin and Cromag to get a slack head angle. Now a lot of builders are going as low at 67º and even as I’m typing this, I can hear someone’s comment being posted about how other companies are going even slacker… Bottom brackets are getting lower and with the longer dropper posts becoming available, the front triangles are getting even smaller. Not to mention boost rear ends and yokes allowing for plus sized tires. Yeah, today’s hardtails are a different beast from what Tom was building in his garage all those years ago.

Ritchey took a stance with the design of the Timberwolf. They’re comfortable with a 140mm fork and a 67º head angle. For the masses who would or have bought this bike, it’s more than capable. If you wanna pack in a lotta rubber, the frame will clear a 2.4″ tire with ease. You can do everything from bikepacking on it, to racing XC or even just going out for a full day’s worth of singletrack.

Bang for Your Buck: the Ritchey Timberwolf 27.5 Hardtail MTB

Final Thoughts

The Timberwolf looks great, rides great and has components that won’t leave ya stranded on the trail. It weighs in around 28lbs as shown for the size large with a dropper and a bottle cage. You can buy it as a frameset and swap your old parts over, or pull the trigger on the complete build. Either way, you won’t be disappointed. In an age where full suspension bikes can exceed $10,000 for a complete, it’s nice to be able to shred a bike like this for under $3,500. If it were mine, I’d keep it as pictured here and ride it into the sunset every chance I’d get. As with all Ritchey frames, you can add a Heritage paint job for $450! A commando-painted Timberwolf would be so sick!

Head to your local Ritchey dealer to check one out and ask any questions you might have in the comments!

  • Dan O

    Any plans to sell that mtb cut sagebrush jersey?

    • Still working on the fit a bit and I need to get the road jerseys out.

      • Dan O

        Thanks! Looks pretty sweet IMHO.

  • Matt O’Donnell

    Great write up and definitely piqued my interest. I think I’ll be looking for my first mountain bike late winter. What bikes out there are competing with the Timberwolf, would you say?

    • The Kona Honzo, Surly Karate Monkey and mayyyybe something like the Salsa Woodsmoke.

      • Matt O’Donnell

        Thanks, John!

        • Pus one for the Honzo. The 2017 27.5+ Big Honzos would make an especially nice first MTB.

      • Adam Bowen

        Trying to decide between this and new Karate Monkey to be my only mountain bike

    • Jonathan McCurdy

      Check out Vassago. ~$1000 for their “premium” MUSA 29er, and only 600 for their Taiwanese steel frame.

      • breed007

        I ride a Verhauen (the True Temper MUSA frame) and I. love. that. bike. Goddamn rocket ship. But it’s an XC bike so it’s not really all that comparable with the Timberwolf.

        • Jonathan McCurdy

          Ah, that’s fair. But it would still be a reasonable choice for a first MTB (speaking from experience).

          How do you have yours built up? I have to agree with the rocket ship sentiment, and the steel tubing really makes the lack of rear suspension a non-issue for the stuff i ride.

          • breed007

            I have it set up as a geared hardtail. i9 24H wheelset, GX 1×11, whisky post and bars.

        • Jon R

          YESSS! Just upgraded from a Jabber to a Verhauen and it is simply incredible!

    • Sebastian Schwägele

      Definitely the Cotic Soul 275 which can easily handle 140 mm on the front and has a Reynolds 853 front triangle!!

      • Matt O’Donnell

        Interesting frame. Hadn’t heard of it before!

    • boomforeal

      if you’re planning to ride it, do yourself a favour and buy something with both front and rear suspension

      • Matt O’Donnell

        :

        • Don’t listen to him. For your local trails, a hardtail is just fine.

          • Matt O’Donnell

            Yeah, wasn’t planning to listen to him. I’ve got Joaquin Miller Park right in my backyard and I know plenty of people who blast through there on hardtails.

          • Kyle Marmesh

            built one of these up about a month ago and ride JMP and Tamarancho all the time. With shopping sales and some old parts I was able to put together a rad build for about $2k. This bike is super fun. I’ve always been an advocate for hardtails, they hold their resale value better than full squish bikes since the technology changes so rapidly and I do think it makes you a better rider—the skills you learn on a hardtail translate up but it doesn’t work so well vis versa. As far as hardtails go, this is a great first bike option, the geometry is confidence inspiring and playful on descents and balanced enough to pedal back up. Hope to see you on the trail sometime!
            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/1bf09fe58746319a359105233fe339d5d7be49f5ba76d5d504c8d306a81c34eb.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/55d3f03f9d5481b19570e791a9fdfc56a03d11d9702cd77aeb0a3395d90d3959.jpg I

          • Matt O’Donnell

            That looks super fun! I’ll keep my eyes peeled for you out there!

          • stateofnonreturn

            The dude down below is right! Parks in the East Bay and Marin are more than perfect grounds for ripping a hard tail. I moved on from FS to Hard tail, mainly financially and never felt happier. Just wait until you start dropping down on French Trail early mornings. Your soul will lit!

        • boomforeal

          i’ve usually found that people who start riding on full suspension mountain bikes progress more quickly and have more fun ¯_(ツ)_/¯

          • Matt O’Donnell

            And I’ve always heard that people that start on rigid or hardtail develop better bike handling skills since they’re not “relying” on the forgiveness of full suspension.

          • breed007

            For your first bike, don’t overthink it. Just get one and ride. You’ll figure out what type of bike you prefer in time.

          • boomforeal

            i’ve heard that too, exclusively from older male riders who learned to ride on rigid bikes or hardtails

            it may be true that “people that start on rigid or hardtail develop better bike handling skills”. but its probably even more true that such people are more likely to give up on the sport than those who start on full suspension bikes

            regardless of your skill level, a full suspension bike provides more control, is more comfortable to ride, and will let you ride difficult terrain more easily, and ride more quickly in just about any circumstance

            if you’re either a) hell bent on being a tough guy, and not some sissy who “relies” on the forgiveness of full suspension, b) really worried about what older male riders will think of you, c) interested in buying a bike you can take pictures of and post online – by all means get a hardtail

            if you’re genuinely interested in getting into mountain biking, progressing and having fun, in my opinion, you’re better off buying a fully. you can get a descent one for the same ammount as what you’d be spending on this ritchey

          • Matt O’Donnell

            Those certainly aren’t the reasons I’m looking to get a mountain bike (okay, maybe a tiny tiny bit C, let’s be honest, I do have a Jordan Low paint job on a bike, so I like pretty bikes). But my main two reasons are to: have fun and get better a bike handling in a way that will also help in my cx riding.

          • breed007

            Hardtails also give you the option of saying “Yeah, dude, I’d hit that drop, but I’m on my hardtail.” FS bikes don’t have that option.

          • a) all mtbs are fun ( maybe not magnas )
            b) run what you brung
            c) anyone who gives you a hard time about what you brung is probablty not someone you want to ride with

          • I don’t know about your a) b) or c) points, but I just prefer them. People have preferences that aren’t outlined by such cynical categories.

          • boomforeal

            sorry john, did you miss the part where i mention i only have a hardtail? i totally prefer them, and would ride nothing but if i could get away with it – but as you say i have access to some pretty hectic trails

            those three “cynical” categories were the kinds of new riders i can see being better off learning on a hardtail. again (unless you’re riding nothing but superbuff trails or have a really limited budget), in my opinion, AS SOMEONE NEW TO MOUNTAIN BIKING you’ll have more fun learning and riding on a fully

          • stateofnonreturn

            You would on Second Divide and have a hell of a time :) I actually found the chewed up part of Sunrise more demanding and challenging than the 2nd Divide. Second Divide felt like the holy grail of Nor Cal Mountain Biking, even on a hard tail!

        • Get fast on an HT. Then get a full. Then ride that full like and HT.

      • trololo

        “if you’re planning to ride it”
        love the snark. but seriously a FS can be totally overkill in parts of the USA / world.

        • boomforeal

          i’ll cop to having bought a bike because it was pretty and cool. doesn’t make me a bad person

    • Dan

      I’d say the Kona Explosif seems like a pretty close competitor. Bit of a stouter fork with the 34, and the option to run single speed with the sliding dropouts. Still a great steel frame, with a really classic looking silhouette. They come as 120mm up front, but a lot of people are converting them to 140mm with a $50 part if you feel like you need more travel / slacker angles.

      • Good call. The Explosif would be a super fun first trail bike. I have a steel Kona Honzo in my garage and I’ve also ridden the current crop of Ritcheys. The Konas are beefier/heavier, a bit more oriented towards descending ( slacker and longer ) and can really take some abuse. The Ritcheys are a hair more xc style and get a lighter/livlier tube set. For you tall people out there, the Konas also have a legit xl size.

  • Trevor H

    Man I wish this were offered in an XL frameset (I’m 6’4″); I’ve been waiting for Ritchey to update the geo chart and add that as an option…

    • Yeah, I ride XL frames across the board. The large was a bit too short for me but I made it work.

      • neil

        @johnprolly:disqus how tall are you? I know sizing for bikes goes way beyond simple height, but I always see you mention that you ride XL frames. I’m just curious as someone who has always struggled with Mountain bike sizing at 6’2″between L or XL.

  • boomforeal

    how’d you like that front tire?

  • donttest

    Personally I think that the Salsa Timberjack is a much better value. Sure the Timberjack doesn’t have the fancy wheelset, it weighs a lb more than the Timberwolf, and is aluminum. But the Timberjack can take the coveted 27.5+ tire. In terms of shreddibility thats key. Or a 29er tire for those fast fire roads. And at $1400 you still got coin left over.

    • Yeah but aluminum bikes are a whole different ride quality.

      • donttest

        I agree with you, except in the plus bike category. There is so much flex and give in a 3″ tire that you’d be hard pressed to discern what frame material you’re riding.

        • You can still feel a stiff frame through big tires, period. Even a fat bike.

  • JC

    Hey @johnprolly:disqus – Contact Giro about your Montaro. The fading of the “Matte Flame” colorway is a known issue and they’re replacing them now.

    • I like the fading though! I’ve got a black one too.

      • JC

        Black is the way to go, dude! They crushed it in the aesthetics dept for ’17

  • Dexter

    Don’t know how well known they are over the water but On-One make a mighty similar frame (the 456Evo2 or 45650B for you larger wheeled peeps) for peanuts in comparison. I’ve got the 26″ 456Evo2 and it blows my socks off every time I ride it. UK designed, Taiwan made but with considerable care and attention. Also comes in Raw which shows off the brazing which is cool AF.

    • fpjoran

      They’re nice. But the tubing used in On-One frames is quite heavy. Still great value though.

    • hansgman

      “Taiwan made but..”

      These days who other than asian shops have more experience with building bikes?

      • No one is arguing that Taiwan factories can build great bicycle frames.

  • jbkenney

    Transition TransAm 27.5 has been around for years. Built around a 130mm fork, 67.5 HT, 418 chainstay, clears 2.5s. Also sold as a complete for under $2k with a no nonsense build. Shame they don’t have it for the 2017 model year…

    • Top tier was $4,000 – base level was $2,000. Those are great pricepoint options for sure! Wonder why they got rid of it?

      • jbkenney

        I’m sure it’ll be back eventually in some form, they seem to give a different model a break every year.

        • I heard they’re retooling it as a +’er.

  • Adam Sklar

    Yeah I remember back when 67 was slack ;)

  • Benny Watson

    Dear bicycle industry, PLEASE get over this orange obsession! At least offer other options. Looks like a great frame at a good price, but adding the cost of repainting makes it tough to swallow.

    • You mean 27.5…. ;-)

      • DaymanDaryl

        Oy! Why do we need to two names for the same wheels use…especially when 27″>29er>27.5″. Lol.

    • Andy Moore

      I’m far from orange averse, so perhaps I failed to note the sensory onslaught you are sensitive to.

      Doesn’t it seem a little over the top to call a single offering (with custom paint optional, esp) an *orange obsession*?

      • Benny Watson

        It’s a football thing.

  • LeoK

    I was looking for a full suspension bike until I kept finding myself admiring steel hardtails such as this Timberwolf. That’s when I decided to get a modern steel hardtail. I was planning to build up a steel Honzo from scratch and then found out about the Chromag Wideangle by accident. I pulled the trigger and couldn’t have been happier. I’ve ridden it everywhere including Snow Summit and Mammoth bike parks. It can handle single diamond trails with ease. Double diamonds are doable, but they’re beyond my comfort/skill level.

  • Fear Rothar

    The frame-only price on the linked page is $1,199.95, not $899. When something seems too good to be true…

    • What country are you in? See attached… says $899

      • Fear Rothar

        Oh, that’s interesting. I’m in the U.S. but the default region that came up was “International.” I was able to manually change it to “USA” and now see the $899.95 price. Cheers!

  • floody

    Heck yes a commando painted ‘wolf would be sick!

    It’s a petty gripe I have, however, I’ll have it anyway.
    Kinked downtubes give me the sh!ts. On a do it all hardtail…I dunno, is a remote a necessity? Like…really? I’d like to see more of these types of bike set up for a manual adjuster and an external lower cup, with a straight downtube.

  • Matt O’Donnell

    Worth noting that this weekend they are knocking $1000 off the complete on their website.