Cari’s Elephant National Forest Explorer Touring Bike

No bicycle is ever a completed work. At least in my opinion anyway, but sometimes a bike is at a place where you step back, look at it and smile. The other day I caught Cari doing just that. Smiling as she looked at her bike. She then said she’d like to photograph it in the forest. We were in Santa Cruz at the time and had just finished up a killer loop through the redwoods and down to the coast.

Let’s back track a bit. Around NAHBS last year, she mentioned that she’d like an upgrade from her current bike, an old Nishiki road bike that was a couple sizes too big for her. We looked at the market’s offerings and discussed what ideally she’d like in a bicycle.

Once she had a budget, it was easier to nail down exactly what her options were. I knew NAHBS was coming up, so I emailed a few builders, including Elephant to see if there would be any deals rolling around. Throughout this whole process, I couldn’t stop thinking about how the National Forest Explorer was a perfect “all-rounder” bike when I reviewed it. You could tour on it, ride trails and use it as a grocery getter. Since we have endless dirt, right from our front door, the idea of having a nice, plump tire for Cari was a plus. Anyway, John at Elephant told me he’d have a size small, complete, at NAHBS for sale after a customer backed out at the last minute.

NAHBS came and went, we picked up the bike and began riding all over Los Angeles. Fast forward a few months, a few part swaps and here it is.

Cari's Elephant National Forest Explorer Touring Bike

As for part swaps, we kept the Gevenalle shifters and the Shimano derailleurs, but changed out the wheels. We ordered a new wheelset from Golden Saddle: a White Industries rear hub and a SON front generator hub, laced to Velocity Blunt SS rims. While the Sugino cranks offer a great rear range, we added a Sun Race 11-42t 10spd cassette to make steep climbs a bit easier. The Supernova lights made a world of difference. No more “I forgot my lights!” as the sun was setting. A Thomson post holds her trusty Brooks B17S saddle and a Thomson Stem, with Brooks tape kept the cockpit comfy. A King headset, just ‘cuz and Soma Cazadero tires, set up tubeless (kinda, anyway) offer a bit of traction in the dirt. A Sim Works Potluck rack, trusty Wald basket and those nifty Monkeywrench Cycles Porcelain Rocket bags add a level of functionality to this bike for urban riding.

The biggest upgrade, in terms of confidence when riding off-road however were the Paul Klamper disc brakes and Yokozuna compressionless brake housing. It made a world of difference coming down a multi-mile descent.

Cari's Elephant National Forest Explorer Touring Bike-41

Who knows where this bike will go, or the sights it’ll see, the important part is she loves riding it and wants to take on a multi-day tour, which leaves me beyond stoked!

  • Beautiful! Beauty in form, beauty in function.

  • Jack

    Saw those Simworks racks at NAHBS and the sweep on them is hawt hawt! Seems like the pannier tube is a little high but I haven’t been lucky enough to try one out.

  • Daniel M

    How is the headlamp mounted to the fork? that detail is blurry. I am also figuring out a solution for my bike…

    • The Supernova light mount to a rack mount.

  • I’ve been looking for something a little smaller than the regular porteur rack. My local Specialized dealer cannot get the pizza rack in. The Potluck looks great and I wonder if it will fit a Salsa Vaya fork with 700c tires? It needs to be able to take a little pounding. I live in Knoxville TN and sometimes veer onto the Dirty South (urban wilderness) trails while out running errands.

    • I’ve seen them on plenty of 700c bikes. You might have to get random rack hardware to make it work, but they fit on everything from Stragglers to Vayas.

    • Nicholas Tingey

      Pizza racks are back instock! I’ve got one that should be here soon.

  • Andrew Wade

    Looks pretty complete now. Did you have any issues getting the rd to wrap that 11-42?

    • No, but we’re going to put the wolf tooth link on it to make it smoother.

      • Evan Feekes

        The 11sp Shimano mountain stuff is very, very close to the same cable pull. It is what Shimano recommends if you’re doing 10sp with a wide range cassette.

    • John Steele

      Andrew, this is John: The guy you met at the toaster house in 2015. I got you a burrito, remember? Anyways, check your fb. I’m riding across the country and I need your expertise. To all others, sorry for this comment.

  • Bluejaystr

    How’s the brooks handlebar tape? Is it one of those things you should get once you have the whole cockpit set up dialed in as to not unwrap it or can you reuse it at least twice?

    • Jake Kruse

      I have been using some Brooks tape for close to 4 years? Super durable, can be re-wrapped many times.

  • Brian Richard Walbergh

    Holy gear range envy! Actually whole bike envy. Still kinda wish I could have afforded one… I like my Wolverine but, damn.

    • Hey man, no knock to Elephant at all, but I can’t imagine a situation where a Wolvie doesn’t check (almost) all the same boxes! That’s a nice bike!

      • Justin Pyatt

        I own a wolverine, and it definitely ticks a lot of the same boxes, but I still lust after the elephant mainly because I like the styling and all the little custom touches that make it a more “special” bike. I’m sure there are geometry differences and the overall ride is different between the two bikes, but ultimately they do pretty much the same things, just one has more attention to detail.

        • Agreed- you get what you pay for with quality Made In USA bikes like the Elephant. Just don’t let it stop you from riding the tar out of the Soma in your garage :) You can always upgrade later!

    • rocketman

      big difference is the low trail design of the NFE besides the MUSA frame. The low trail steering is significantly better than the Soma with a front load

      • Brian Richard Walbergh

        I ride with a basket and bag set up in the city and it takes the load (probably 10-12lbs) alright, better now that it is 650b. With 46cm Cowchippers, 2.1″ Tires, a full front load (handlebar roll, 2 everything cages—probably 12-15lbs) half frame bag, water, and a full seatbag it rides like a dream! Nothing like riding hands-free for a few miles on a long day of gravel. I still am curious about low-trail geometry just not sure it is needed for what I use it for.

  • Ryan

    That 1st shot is amazing.

  • Area45

    I would’ve bought one of these, but the redesigned fork crown and lack of DT shifter option was a deal breaker for me. This version looks so damn good though.

  • JohnD

    sweet! what kind of saddle bag is that?

    • Kurt Schneider

      Looks like a Brooks B-17S. (The “S” designates a women’s model.)

  • Scooterbug Likes Bikes

    How good are the Paul Klampers? Ive got BB7’s set up compressionless on my AWOL and they’re good but not great.

    • I’ve had great experiences with them. That said, “good” is a hard word to qualify. What feels good to me might not feel good to others. Cari loves them and noticed a huge difference.

      • Brian Kaeter

        I too have a 2015 AWOL Elite and swapped out the TRP Spyres for mountain BB7’s with compressionless housing. No matter what I did with the Spyres they felt squishy, rubbed, squelled, and the stock pads wore incredibly fast in wet conditions. I have felt Spyres on other bikes that felt great, but for some reason on the AWOL they were awful. I think it’s because the AWOL has a very compact rear triangle with the brakes, fender mounts, and rear rack all jammed very close in the corner. The medial rotational adjustment capability on the BB7’s made all the difference. I’ve wondered how the Klampers would compare but it’s hard to justify since you can find BB7’s for $40.

        • Andrew

          Agreed, having built up several AWOLs the spyres that come stock always feel pretty awful. But the TRP spykes are the best cable discs i have used, miles better than bb7s.

          • Brian Kaeter

            I sold my Spyre calipers with no rotors or pads after riding them 4000 miles on Ebay for more than I paid for new mountain BB7’s with new rotors and pads. I still contend that the BB7’s are better. Never tried the Spykes, but they are a lot more than the BB7’s.

        • Rider_X

          Mountain BB7? The cable pull ratio for the mountain version is not compatible with road STI shifters. Did you switch to a flat-bar setup?

          • Brian Kaeter

            I am using long pull Tektro levers with the mountain BB7’s on the stock drop bars. I also replaced the entire drivetrain after my tour to Alaska. 10sp XT road triple 44/34/24 with a 11-34 cassette shifted by Microshift BS-M10 bar ends. 20-112 gear inches! I pitted the hubs on the stock wheelset so now I’m rolling Velocity Cliffhangers too.

          • Kurt Schneider

            I’m also using the Tektro long pull levers, along with Spykes, on my Fargo. Nice combination. Very happy with the performance.

  • SlowPokePete

    I’ver got Klampers on my Ahearne and they work very nice…not quite hydros, but almost.

  • John, what do you think a build like this would cost regular folks?

    • My pricing on the frameset was close to retail, which is: $1385 (we paid more than that for the complete which included the Shimano, Sugino and Shifters)
      I bought the wheels from GSC: around $2,000 ($300 SON hub plus lights – $200 front $100 rear, $300 T11, Blunt SS $120 x 2, labor and spokes + cassette)
      Thomson bits $150
      Tires $160
      Sim Works Rack $150
      Wald $15
      PR bag $80

      All in all, it probably came close to $5,000 after labor, etc. I pay for all my parts through Golden Saddle. It supports them and it’s a write-off for me at the end of the year.

  • Peter Chesworth

    Cycling’s answer to a 1968 Alfa Romeo Giulietta. Swift, light to the touch, asthetically on point and improving with age. Indeed, “No bicycle is ever a finished work”.

  • Smithhammer

    “Who knows where this bike will go, or the sights it’ll see…”

    It’s hard to pin down, but some bikes just have it – they embody the desire to explore and ramble, whether for an afternoon or a week, often with no specific goals in mind beyond that. These are the bikes that excite me the most.

  • I am curious about the combination of this fork with disc brakes. Do you feel a difference to a more rigid setup? Usually everybody tries to go as stiff as possible when it comes to using discs on the front.

    • nielubieto’em all

      I doubt rigidity is of concern on such bicycle.

      • I was talking about the stiffness of the fork blades only. Curved blades are much more flexible (desirable for riding) but the disk brakes tend to flex the fork too much during breaking which gives you mushy braking sensation. That is why i asked someone who rides such a setup about how it feels.

  • Steven Garen

    what size chainrings are on that sugino crank? Looking to get the sugino swiss cross 48/34 with sunrace 11-42 in back.

  • Rom Woodhouse

    That is just a stunning bike. Enjoy your adventures!

  • Martin Pont

    How did you get the rear derailleur to play nice with the cassette?

  • Mark Rothschild

    Long time Santa Cruz dweller,now in the home of Elephant Bikes,the land of Spokanistan. Ocean and Redwoods,and decades of ‘Cruz’n.

    • Aulis Veikko

      You cannot call Spokane Spokanistan after 4 months, you Californication butt-munch, especially coming from Santa Cruz. This town is amazing and you can pretty much do whatever the hell you want here, whether you crave city, wilderness or reconfigured bipolar space-alien. I was born in LA. If there’s one thing Washingtononians hate, it’s Californians. Try not to be the dick that earns the reputation they expect.

  • Jonny Fong

    Great bike John and Cari.
    I’ve got a small on order due in a couple of months. It will have the newer unicrown type fork but I don’t expect any performance changes. Total bang for your buck bike!