Category Archives: portraits
Say, for argument’s sake, that you’re the owner of Henry James Bicycles, the main supplier of True Temper tubing, various lugs and tools. You know just about every framebuilder in the USA and have seen their work in great detail. So when it comes to select a builder to construct your dream bike, who do you call?
For Hank from Henry James, he looked to Santa Barbara’s Stinner Frameworks. When he found out about the beloved Mudfoot cyclocross bikes, he wanted in, but not being on the team, Aaron and painter Jordan Low designed Hank his own paint job.
Arguably my favorite from Low, this bike has pizzaz. With matte and glossy notes, a pearl top coat and yes, stripes with fades, Hank’s bike is a show stopper. SRAM Red 22, Chris King, ENVE and cyclocross tires with minimal tread will take on the fire roads, trails and tracks surrounding Henry James’ facilities in SoCal.
In fact, this bike looks so damn good, I might have to visit them to see it in the wild… If you’re at NAHBS, swing by the Henry James booth at #636 to see it in person.
Each year, NAHBS presents challenges. Both to frame builders and believe it or not, me. As “media” it’s my job to document these bikes and deliver delicious galleries to you, the readers. Now, don’t interpret that in a negative light, because truthfully, it’s my favorite time of year.
Over the past few years, there have been plenty of spaces to photograph bikes, especially outside. This year however, mother nature dropped a blanket of ice and snow on NAHBS’ host city of Louisville, Kentucky. Which presented me with a problem…
Backtracking a bit… For the past few weeks, I’ve been checking out Google street view and photos of the convention center only to realize, I’d spend a lot of time photographing bikes indoors. Luckily, I’ve come prepared and while I don’t think everything is completely dialed in just yet, I’m a lot more confident with my setup.
Tonight, the kind people at Henry James allowed me to experiment some on their two beautiful Stinner Frameworks Disc Cross Bikes. The first one being Ryan from Henry James’ wife’s bike. Jenny’s an avid mountain biker and this will be her first “drop bar” bike. To give her confidence, Ryan decided to go with disc brakes and SRAM’s CX-1 group, the closest thing to her MTB kit. From there, Boyd‘s disc cross rims and Chris King’s components topped off this bike with ease.
As for the paint, there’s only one man who paints bikes like that: Jordan Low. His paint design and execution really brought Aaron from Stinner Frameworks’ craftsmanship… and those colors!
When South African, World Cup champion Burry Stander suffered a tragic death on a training ride in 2013, Specialized lost not only one of their riders, but one of their family members. To honor his death, they released an S-Works Epic 29r under their Specialized Projects line.
Based on their FACT World Cup geometry, this flashy frame is covered in a sparkly orange paint, adorned with African art and features a graphic inspired by the South African flag and Stander’s unique personality. The resulting product makes for an orange blur that glows in the late-afternoon sun (and is rather hard to photograph).
As far as tech is concerned, this S-Works Epic frame features a FOX/Specialized remote Mini-Brain with AUTOSAG, pushing 95mm of travel and a Rock Shox Sid Brain. Built with Sram XO1 and rolling on Roval Control SL 29 with Maxxis Ardent gumwalls set up tubeless, this thing is ready for blast off.
While I’m sure it’d take a while to truly grasp what this frame represents, Jonathan has taken quite a liking to it. All I can say is damn, look at those chain stays!
Sometimes, it’s the unexpected that delivers the most fun. Wheel size, when it comes to mountain biking, is a polarizing topic. People will swear allegiance to the 29r platform, without a blink of an eye and admittedly, I’m one that errs on that side. Being tall with long legs, I’ve kind of sworn off 27.5 hardtails.
They’ve either felt too squirrely for me to coerce or not big enough to roll out of hairbrained situations I often find myself in. If my riding ability were to be described in a word, it certainly wouldn’t be “finesse.” I need something that offers a larger diameter to correct little nuances in my riding habits. 29rs seem to deliver that.
Like a bucking bronco, those small wheels ain’t for this limestone cowboy. Or so I thought.
As previously stated in the Highball 29r post, Santa Cruz put a lot of work into developing their new 27.5 wheelsize option. While the general look and feel of the 27.5 version is almost identical to the 29r, all it takes is a few moments on this bike, particularly while descending, to tell that it is indeed, a different beast from its larger-wheeled sibling.
Ok, maybe it’s not all that different, but there are a noticeable points.
For one, the headset. While it’s a small detail, the bottom cup is a standard, press-in on the 29r and integrated on the 27.5. Because of the smaller wheel size, the chainstays could be shortened, thus the wheelbase loses some length, as well as steepening the seat tube angle to a 72.5º. But what I noticed, almost immediately, was the slacker head tube angle.
It seems like 69º is the magic number for hardtails (I should add that the Chameleon is also a very fun bike with a 67.3º head tube). It takes them from the category of XC race-specificity and dangles them over the all-rounder, “stunt” zone.
A 69º head tube angle is just right: not too slack to drop it into the AM range, or to make climbing a battle fought with a wandering wheel, nope. It’s just slack enough to make descents a complete blast. Even with the lower stack height (604mm versus 633mm on the 29r) frame, I never felt like I was going to fly off the bike descending. For reference, I rode the XL model.
Whereas I felt a lot of apprehension to fall in love with the Highball 29r, the 27.5 was love at first flight… It just whipped around so well.
The Highball 27.5 has all the technical advancements as the 29r, it’s just in a different realm in terms of handling on descents but we’ve already discussed that. Let’s look at the frame.
With the new layup, the lines are cleaner than ever and without the external routing, you can really focus in on the body language this bike is throwing around. Even sitting still, posing for a photo, it appears to have a meaner stance than its sibling.
Granted, having ridden the rather stealth-like black and red bike with XX1, this blue frame with XTR looks a bit flashy. Although, with a price. Take note: with the ENVE wheel upgrade, suddenly you’re in the $8,799 water… Thankfully, the XT package without ENVE is only $4,299 with the CC-grade carbon.
Another great detail on the Santa Cruz Highball is the new disc caliper design and placement. This new position eliminates the need for a chainstay / seatstay bridge. Although it does make it a slight pain in the ass to adjust on the trail with a compact tool.
Now onto what seems to be the deal breaker for a lot of people, just based on internet chatter and commentary over the 29r. The 27.2 seat post. Since there are so few options for a 27.2 dropper and no cable guides or internal routing for a stealth post, you’re pretty much stuck with a Thomson dropper post and some zip ties, which is what almost everyone did on the media launch.
Personally, I can ride a 100mm hardtail just fine without a dropper, although it does add a certain amount of versatility to the bike, especially if you throw a 120mm fork on the front end.
Before to write off Santa Cruz’s decision to go with a 27.2, attempt to understand their rationale. Ever ride a standard 30.9 post for hours on end during a marathon on a hard tail? Yea, it ain’t comfy. The 27.2 diameter does allow the seat tube to be elegantly reduced, resulting in a lot more compliance, which is a good thing for your butt.
That’s really the only initial concern I felt the need to address.
With a rowdy, confident stance like that, the new and improved Santa Cruz Highball CC 27.5 drew me right in. After an afternoon descending singletrack, I was sold. Maybe XC-oriented 27.5 hardtails aren’t that bad afterall? Or maybe the Highball is just that good.
Photo by Sven Martin
If I were to chose between the two, based on ride quality alone, I’d lean more towards the 27.5, without discrediting the 29r’s confidence-aspiring ride characteristics. The stability and shredability of the 27.5 platform translates so well to the Highball and all I needed was one, 10-mile descent to change my opinion.
The Santa Cruz Highball CC XX1 starts at $6,299 ($500 cheaper than the previous model)
The Santa Cruz Highball CC XTR starts at $6,799
The Santa Cruz Highball CC XT starts at $4,299
The Santa Cruz Highball C S starts at $3,199
The Santa Cruz Highball C R starts at $2,799
The Santa Cruz Highball CC frameset is available in black or blue for $1,899.
One thing to note is the 27.5 Highball has a size small, while the 29r does not. In return, the 29r has an XXL, while the 27.5 does not.
…and for or those seeking a weight comparison…
CC carbon size M matte black w/XX1 kit: 19.61lbs / 8.89 kg
CC carbon size M matte black frame only: 2.58 lbs / 1172 g
Specs and other information can be found at Santa Cruz. You can also compare my notes to the 29r version at Shredding the All New Santa Cruz Highball CC 29r MTB.
Contrary to popular belief, you can shred a 29r – even a XC race-ready 29r. Those big wheels have a bit of a stigma attached to them and while they may not be as flickable as popular opinion would suggest, there’s a lot to be said about a lightweight rig being just as happy on flat as it is with a bit of rubber side up action.
Santa Cruz has kind of neglected their Highball over the years, not intentionally, but with the popularity of their Nomad, Bronson and even the Tallboy, they’ve been busy working on their all-mountain and trail bikes, while leaving the Highball sitting in the corner – void of dunce hat at least.
While the main silhouette of this bike reads the same – hey, it’s a hardtail, how different can it really be? – the Highball got a revamp from the ground up, including a new 27.5 wheelsize – more on that to come. For now, let’s just look at the 29r…
Today’s been a busy one, but those are usually the days where a quick ride will do wonders to reset your mind. Earlier this afternoon, Jonathan and I hit the trails, before shooting photos of his SWorks Epic. The lighting was perfect and this time of year, Central Texas does not disappoint on the weather.
More on this to come…
Selecting the appropriate bicycle for an event like Eroica California can be daunting if you don’t know what you’re doing. While these three bicycles don’t represent your only options, they do present some interesting notes. Ranking these noble steeds in rarity (i.e. cost) helps put things in perspective. As stated however, these are not your only options…
You’ve got exactly two months to find yourself a bike. Start by looking local. Craigslist, your local shop, swaps, flea markets, classifieds and eBay. Don’t go overboard. If this is going to be a one-time deal for you, why not ask a collector friend to borrow their bike? Or, if you want to go down the vintage bicycle rabbit hole, there are two options in this trio that are sure to whet your whistle. Or bell…
A few people have asked what bike I was pedaling around on the Eroica California course. While it doesn’t meet the pre-1987 guidelines, it’s vintage enough for my tastes. The MX-Leaders have always had a soft spot in my heart. Arguably the most significant bikes to ever leave the Merckx factory, these were race-ready, pedigree machines. Made with Merckx’s proprietary lugs and Columbus MXL tubesets, they were some of the stiffest steel frames at the time.
Perfect for the US team Motorola, or in this case, team Telekom. This frame in particular was Brian Holm’s and while a majority of the MX-Ls were raced with Dura Ace 7400, the bike’s owner, Mark Riedy, decided to go a bit more practical – and classy IMO – with a 10-speed Campagnolo gruppo. He then topped the cockpit off with an ITM stem.
There’s something about the Telekom paint jobs that always did it for me. Flashy, yet classy and an undeniable style. I’d love to add one of these to my collection some day.
Simple, straight forward and built with no nonsense parts, this titanium cross is just one example of Lauren Trout’s frames built by hand in Austin, Texas at Saila Bikes. With so many people building with 44mm head tubes, curved stays and disc brakes, it’s nice to see one with a 1 1/8″ fork, straight as an arrow stays and canti brakes. That’s the beauty of custom thought: you get what you want.
Even with SRAM, ENVE and Chris King, you’re looking at a custom, handmade, titanium bike for under $5k as shown, which is a damn decent pricepoint for a frame that will most likely last you for decades and while others charge near that for a frameset, Lauren Trout learned how to weld and wield titanium at Seven Cycles.
Shooting builders in their workspaces is one thing, but their craftsmanship shines when you can photograph the finished product. Just look at those welds… stacking dimes.
In Seattle, a local staple has closed its doors. Back in September of last year, Elliott Bay Bicycles, home of Davidson Cycles, shut down. Luckily the in-house brand of frames, made by hand since 1973, by Bill Davidson lives on.
Even though Davidson is a Seattle-based framebuilder, his work can be seen from coast to coast, from vintage steel to modern composite. Although Bill only currently offers road frames, he makes them in a variety of materials. As a Davidson customer, you can chose between composite, steel or titanium, all of which are done in house. While the modern bikes have their own character, there’s something about a frame from the late 80’s and early 90’s. They all have a certain finesse that’s harder to achieve these days with modern materials.
This particular frame was most likely made in the mid to late 1980’s, if the 1″ threaded steerer and internally-lugged unicrown fork is any indication. Chris scored it off eBay as he was looking for a traditionally lugged frame to kick around town on. Fit with a mix of Campagnolo 10-speed, the bike looks like a classic road from the 80’s, yet has the technology from a modern road group.
Bottom line, she’s a looker. See more in the Gallery.