My Bush Blasted 44 Bikes Ute Rigid MTB Tourer

Custom bikes are often the result of a person’s opinions formed by their lifelong experiences. Oftentimes, a custom bicycle does its best to address many problems or functions, resulting in a Swiss Army Knife of vehicles, aka jack of all trades, master of none. Personally, I’ve always tried to work with a builder to design a bike specific to one job, rather than fit in a slew of other functions. Over the years, I’ve relied on scalpels, versus cluttered, do-it-all devices to take on whatever kind of riding I’m interested in and while I’ve got a few mountain bikes, none of them were ideal for the kind of bikepacking or off-road touring I enjoy.

My Indy Fab


In fact, the one that’s grown to be my favorite for bikepacking or off-road touring, happened to be my first “modern” mountain bike. Or at least my first mountain bike as an adult: my rigid Indy Fab. It’s a rigid, non-suspension corrected 29’r with disc brakes and a long-ish wheelbase. While it wasn’t 100% ideal for, nor designed for, bikepacking it did the job. Yet, it lacked some of the necessary accouterment for full-on touring: mainly provisions for rack mounts, extra bottles and a tubeset resilient enough to carry not only me, but bags loaded with gear. Strapping bags to the Indy Fab often resulted in so much frame compliance that I was sure the thing was going to snap sooner than later. We all know that a broken or lost bike can be a huge drag, so I began a conversation with Kris Henry at 44 Bikes around the time this Tasmania trip was in its planning stages to make a bike designed specifically for off-road touring.

My Bush Blasted 44 Bikes Rigid MTB Tourer-35

Background Check

I wanted a modern version of my Indy Fab, made with resilient tubing, mounts for cargo cages and a front rack, with low trail and most importantly, a longer top tube, akin to how modern mountain bikes are designed. Also, I wanted to build a bike around the Jones H Bar, not a flat bar, which would offer a number of hand positions without going to a drop bar. All with a similar riding position as my Indy Fab. One of my qualms with touring bikes, or the riding position offered by many touring bikes rather, is they’re all very upright. For me, I find that if I’m riding all day at an upright position, I develop back and neck pain. Since I have gangly arms and long legs, I am most comfortable stretched out, even for hours on end. Even with my Geekhouse touring bike, I found myself riding almost exclusively in the drops. Take a look at the space between the frame bag and the head tube. That’s usually where my head tubes are on my other bikes, which have 120mm stems.

This was my initial thought process into working with Kris at 44 Bikes on my new bike. He worked with my fit, based on my current bikes and my Indy Fab to dial in where and how I’d sit on this bike. We went back and forth a bit on the longer top tube and short stem, where my belief was a longer top tube would alleviate hitting my legs any bag I might have strapped to the stem and handlebar, while aiding in the steering provided from the wide, swooped grip of the Jones H Bar.

Then, to make things even more interesting, I wanted it to be a front-loader. I like to tour with a majority of the weight up front, as long as the bike’s geometry accounts for that. It makes it easier to push your bike if need be, handles better out of the saddle and when the geometry is really dialed in, descends like a breeze off-road.

This bike would have a 70º head tube angle, 70mm of rake on the 468mm axle to crown fork. Kris recommended having the weight centered on the hub, so we went with a Pass and Stow rack, as spec’d on Ryan Wilson’s bike (which is similar in design intent, *different in execution.)

Ryan Wilson‘s 44 Bikes is being put to the test in Peru!

*Since I ride such big bikes, my frame bags are relatively big as it is, so I opted for more standover and less front triangle room, whereas Ryan’s bike has a huge front triangle for the biggest possible frame bag. Ryan’s bike also has less saddle to bar drop and a longer stem, FWIW. Again, it’s a matter of preference.

My Bush Blasted 44 Bikes Rigid MTB Tourer

The resulting build might look a little odd, especially considering what the cycling industry is currently presenting to the public as touring bikes, but it has proven to be everything I had hoped for in terms of handling and functionality. It’ll still hold its own on singletrack, unloaded but that’s not what its design was optimized for. Remember, I wanted a front-loaded touring bike, not a rigid MTB that would shred trails unloaded. It’s hard to have both.

My Bush Blasted 44 Bikes Rigid MTB Tourer

Front Loader

Having ridden it at various phases in the “loading” process, I can assure you it rides the best when it’s got bags on it. Namely my camera gear, which has always been a bit of a burden on the bicycle. The lack of good solutions means my camera usually ends up on my back, with lenses stashed in a pack somewhere on the bike. This system of using a Wald basket bag by the folks at Porcelain Rocket and Monkey Wrench Cycles, with an added camera insert has proven to be quite handy. It eliminates dust from dirt roads (my one major qualm with randonneur bags) and there are no zippers to get clogged either. As long as the bag is rolled and snapped closed, it’s even stable enough descending rough and rugged singletrack. Then, when I want to shoot a photo, or if I’m cruising on a smooth sealed road, I just drop the camera back in or just on top of the bag. On this particular trip, I had the idea to snap a hip bag from High Above on the front for my snacks, pump and other items. It’ll fit in the front of the basket as shown, or on the back.

For panniers, I used my new Anylander roll tops (also made by Porcelain Rocket.) They attached easily to the Pass and Stow rack, leaving plenty of room if I’d like to add bottle cages to the rear side of the fork legs as well (similar to what Ryan has done.)

It’d been a while since I’ve opted out of a large saddle pack on a ride, but I didn’t mind. With a bike designed to have weight up front, and a majority of that weight being at the top of a rack, anything else in my panniers or frame bag seemed of no consequence for handling. i.e. I didn’t need to spread any load out on the back of the bike. Also, remember, there’s a 190 pound human pedaling this thing from the rear of the bike…

My Bush Blasted 44 Bikes Rigid MTB Tourer

Options for Plump

Aside from the updated geometry and heaps of braze-ons, another glaring difference between the 44 and my Indy Fab is the wheel size. This bike was designed to accept a 27.5″ x 3″ tire, perfect for various types of substrate. For this trip in particular, which I truthfully had little knowledge of the road conditions, I opted for the WTB Trailblazer 2.8″. It’d be small enough to pedal along smoothly during any sealed road riding we might do, while offering the volume and lower pressure for any sandy or loose off-roading. I hear there’s quite a bit of sand in Tassie! Also, this frame will clear a 29’r by 2.5″ with ease.

Currently, I’m giving the new SRAM Roam 60 carbon wheels a go while they’re in my review queue (more on those later) but eventually I’ll lace up a SON hub on the front for generator lamps. What I will say right now about the wheels is that if carbon wheels can take fully-loaded touring, I’m sure they will handle anything you can throw at them, or huck yourself down!

My Bush Blasted 44 Bikes Rigid MTB Tourer

Other Bits

White Industries’ new MTB 30mm spindle cranks, a SRAM XO derailleur, PAUL Klampers with Yokozuna compression-less housing and a very special PAUL stem (more on that later as well!) round out the primary build kit. Bags from Andrew the Maker, Fog City and Porcelain Rocket are all doing their jobs as well.

My Bush Blasted 44 Bikes Rigid MTB Tourer

Praise your Builder

I cannot express how stoked I am to own two 44 Bikes, especially a touring bike like that that at the end of its time will surely have countless stories to tell. If you’d like a project like this of your own, I highly recommend chatting with Kris at 44 Bikes! Many thanks to Mike at Golden Saddle Cyclery for building this beaut up!

Anything else?


What Color is That?

Desert Leather with a matte clear from Prismatic Powders.

Exploring Eastern Tasmania by Bike- the Freycinet Peninsula-57

Inspired By

  • breed007

    “Oftentimes, a custom bicycle does its best to address many problems or functions, resulting in a Swiss Army Knife of vehicles, aka jack of all trades, master of none.”

    Not just custom bikes have that problem. I read the phrase ‘quiver-killer’ as ‘here’s a reason our marketing department came up with to justify this really high price tag.’.

    • DaymanDaryl

      +1 This phenomenon happens more with production bikes.

  • Patrick Jonathan Neitzey

    Love the stance of this thing

  • Alan

    Foggg Ciiity

  • Tyler Morin

    Definitely dig this bike, especially love the paint!

  • Igor Shteynbuk

    Awesome write-up and photos as always John! Is the front end suspension corrected?

    • DaymanDaryl

      468mm axle to crown fork

  • recurrecur

    Did you carry more water than just under the down tube?

    If you set it up with the bottle cages on the fork, I’d love to see a pic of that. I’m more and more interested in the bikepacking bag setup over the traditional pannier touring setup, but carrying water is one serious question I have.

    • You can see Ryan’s bike with extra bottle cages in the article above.

    • Yeah, I had a 3L hydro bag and that bottle just in case.

  • Lee Price

    Beauty , love the passion and commitment . best of

  • Robert Mead

    amazing…What thermos/straps/bottlecage?

    • King Cage, ski straps and a Liberty bottle works.

      • Robert Mead

        thank you john

        • Robert Mead

          can i set that bottle in a standard kin cage ti?

    • Sebastian Burnell

      voile straps / (King) Many Things Cage

      • Robert Mead

        thank you

  • So good! Definitely have to get my Pass & Stow painted to match one of these days.

    • It worked out perfectly. The only rack he had in stock was raw, so we shipped it to Kris and got the powder guy to coat it along with the frame.

  • sturtlovinggood

    This bike is like a used pay phone – dialed!

  • nothingfuture

    Lovely rig.
    Gotta know: what’s the tiny bell? Imma have to get one of them, whatever it is…

    • bushtrucker

      Spurcycle. Worth every penny.

    • Chris Valente


    • Spurcycle.

  • Ian Stone

    Post the Speedvagen already

    • I know, I know. It was a shit week before Tassie with my Geekhouse being stolen and having to deal with all that.

    • This fukn guy

  • Sebastian Burnell

    Fantastic… Two Names pop into my mind: “Rommel, der Wüstenfuchs” or Gila Monster…

  • Noel Smith

    Fuck me, another incredible build/bike, they just keep coming.. must handle like a Cadillac with that long rake. Side note, would love to see a photo of the full stable someday, what are you up to now 15?!

    • Patrick Jonathan Neitzey

      Full stable gallery would be dope.

    • I’m at 8 now: Urban Racer, 44 Hardtail, Argonaut, Crema, Speedvagen OG1, Indy Fab, Firefly and this bike.

      • Trevor H

        Dang, some people have ended up with some pretty cool bikes you used to own.. Still a bummer about both of your Geekhouse touring bikes.. Hopefully there is eventual resolution to the recent one..

      • Noel Smith

        I love how your beater/townie is like 6 grand..

  • bushtrucker

    Man, is that the new TSR ring? Looks gnarly.

    • Yep!

    • Smithhammer

      No kidding. Serious teeth on that ring!

      Looking forward to hearing more about that ‘special’ Paul stem….

  • Psyched to see that Fog City saddlebag, Jim and I chat on instagram a bit and he’s a great dude and makes awesome stuff!

  • Lucas Nilsson

    did you manage to polish the paint from the cranks that much in just a few days?

    • I’ve been wearing really wide hiking boots, so they’ve been rubbing a bit. They also rub on all my cranks, so any bike that has aluminum cranks has similar wear.

  • Ritter Rost

    Nice cutlery choice! Gotta love the Griptilian.

    • Wyatt Cave

      Love mine to death. Goes with me every ride…

  • Kawika Samson


  • The geometry still looks SUPER weird to me, but then again, I tour on a Pugsley… such a cool build, with tons of inspiration. Love the setup!

    • Yeah, I’m a gangly guy. Lonnnnng legs and long arms. Fits me like a charm.

      • Tom Urquhart

        I’m 6’8″. Got my first custom bike last year…its such a great feeling being on a bike fit just for you, no matter how oddly shaped you may be.

  • charlesojones

    Is this your first bike with the Jones Bar? How do like so far??

    • Yes. Truthfully, I really love it for this sort of application. It reminds me of the Nitto Bullmoose on my Indy Fab, just exaggerated a bit.

      • charlesojones

        I’ve always preferred drops to flat bars just for the variety of hand positions. I’d like to try a Jones though.

    • Alex Hillis

      I’ve had a Jones 29er for a few years with a flar bar. Liked it fine with the flat bar, but I changed to a h-bar because I mostly use the bike for longer gravel rides with singletrack bits thrown in, rather than pure XC mtb rides. The multiple hand positions are nice when cruising, and the backsweep of the bar allows you to get way over the back wheel when descending steep dirt. Helpful since I don’t use a dropper. Also, the loop makes it easy to attach bags for touring.

  • This is so good!

  • Alex Hillis

    If no saddle pack… add a dropper!

    • Didn’t have one in stock at the shop when I built it up and I was pinched on funds to buy one. I’d LOVE to have a dropper on a rigid tourer though! My bikes are so big that I can still run a saddle pack and a dropper with no problems. I am still waiting for the PR dropper packs to… drop! ;-)

  • Vegilasagna

    How “floppy” is the front end loaded and unloaded when leaning the bike against something for “parking”? That seem to be a tough part of figuring out geometry on bikes meant to carry stuff sometimes, and annoying when it’s not good. Sucks to get off your bike and have it fall over right away because the front wheel rolls away to one side.

    • Wheel flop isn’t bad at all. I’ve ridden it unloaded on pretty technical and steep singletrack with no issues either. Some right corners get tricky but for the most part, it’s a lot of fun.

  • Eltigre

    This bike’s stance reminds me of the gorgeous mountain bikes of the 90’s. Well done Kris at 44Bikes and John for acquiring it and consequently stoking my enthusiasm for bikes!

  • Rob X

    This rig has got me feeling a way… I love those PR panniers and basket bag, but the whole not-waterproof thing is a deal breaker for me.

    • AdamBike99

      Swift has you covered there. Check out their new Sugarloaf bag for the Wald 137 basket!

      • Rob X

        oh yeah, I’ll well aware! I’ve been rocking my old Chrome front rack duffel recently and it’s still holding up well. I’ll swoop a new one when that guy wears out.

        • In all fairness it pissed rain on me, my bike and my bags for about 24 hours and they stayed pretty dry on the inside. I also keep my clothing, bag, pad, camera gear and electronics in dry bags which act as compression sacs as well. It makes sure the panniers stay organized as well.

  • Michael Anderson

    Why do you want most of the weight over the front wheel?
    Doesn’t that affect the steering?

    • Matt O’Donnell

      It’s much more stable with the weight over the front wheel. Look at where the majority of your weight sits on a bicycle: over the back wheel (at least much closer to it than the front wheel). This evens out the weight dispersion. Ever ridden a traditionally fully loaded bike up a super steep grade? I feel like I’m going to pop a wheelie if I don’t adjust a ton of my weight onto the handlebars. Then on the descents, having the weight over the downhill wheel is much more stable. Sure, it might slow your turning responsiveness, but I’ll trade that for stability any day on a long tour.

    • This bike is low trail. It’s designed to take a front load as well as keep that front load low and stable. That way when you’re out of the saddle climbing, the bike doesn’t swing back and forth like it would with panniers. The common misconception about touring bikes is putting weight evenly on the front and back “evens it out” – when in fact, the rider (who usually weighs more than the load) evens it out more. Also, on a rig like this, you’re more likely to have to push up some steep singletrack and having the weight up front keeps the bags out of your way.

      • DaymanDaryl

        The fork has a lot of rake (70mm), but the resulting trail is about 59mm with a 70* HTA and 70mm tires. Perhaps low for this genre, but about twice as much trail as a Jan Heine Special.

        • Not everyone wants to ride / attempt to shred the Jan Heine Special and Jan ain’t riding a 2.8″ / 3″ tire either. That alters the trail number…. The trail on this works great for my riding style. I wanted to still ride local singletrack on this bike when it wasn’t loaded down, but wanted it to ride well loaded. It’s all a matter of compromise.

          • DaymanDaryl

            Depends on your rounding and unit conversions

          • DaymanDaryl

            Don’t apologize. Feeling the difference in 2mm of trail is the bicycle equivalent of the princess and the pea!

          • Thanks for all the thoughts. Let me see if I can put down some thoughts that may (or may not) lend some clarity to the discussion. The comparison isn’t apples to apples and you need to consider the bike and it’s application because different numbers from one bike will not necessarily translate well to another application – and as John aptly notes: “Jan Heine ain’t riding a 2.8/3″ tire”. One factor I’m not sure I’ve read with regards to Trail when designing around a front load is front axle location in relation to the load. The basic principle is: Center the load beneath the axle. So less rake will push the axle further behind the load. So, for example, when you turn, that translates to more “flop” as the weight is not balanced. Head tube angle plays a part in this… as does bottom bracket drop, and chain stay length as those three factors are really driving how the bike handles. So you can’t just look at one piece of the puzzle in isolation. You need to look at the bike’s geometry as a whole, what the wheel size / tires will be and you’re also considering terrain/application among other things like the riders gear set up. But, the biggest take away is “load centered over the front axle”. This helps to produce the most predictability and stability. To most readers, they’ll recognize and understand the term “low trail” – it’s a bit more of a short hand version for the above (my opinion). So although 70mm might seem like a lot of rake, for this bike designed around what John would be tackling day in and day out on a dedicated mountain bike that is a bikepacking rig running 2.8-3″ tires, it’s a sweet spot IMO. And according to my drawing: Trail is 57.15mm with a 3″ tire. If you were to put a different set of wheels / tires on, Trail would change in relation to the rise or fall in height do to the different overall diameters of the wheels. But I’d be willing to take an educated guess the bike would still handle similarly which then calls into question putting so much emphasis on Trail as a number but rather focusing more on what the overall geometry of the bike is in total.

  • DaymanDaryl

    How’s the strut on the Pass and Stow? Seems like the weak point on an otherwise beefy rack, especially since the fork has so much rake.

    • I had a lot of weight on the rack and never felt like it wasn’t beefy enough. The strut is kinda like a beefier version of what Nitto makes for their racks. You’re supposed to bend it to fit your ATC, rake and mounts.

  • KT

    wow this thing is sweet – nice work Kris!

  • Andrew Mc

    @johnprolly:disqus What does the wheelbase measure on this thing? It looks amazing, by the way.

  • Barack Hussein Obama

    All of Kristofer’s frames are perfect. When I can finally get out of this oval office I may have him build me a frame.

  • Lewy

    I think this is about the 10th time I have come back to check out this bike. I may be in love ;-)

    • I need to unpack it from Tassie and ride it again. I’ve just been so busy.

  • Beardman Bicycles

    What are we talking in terms of bottom bracket drop on this build? John – looks like a sweet bike / build! Kris is a great guy – he is always willing to chat / and lend advice – and putting out some great bikes :)

  • PNT

    This is the bike I like the most from all your rides because it’s so studied. Just what you need. Form and function perfected! Cheers.

  • Edoardo Buenventura

    Hey John,
    Sick rig! I’m thinking of building a similar rig to take on the TAT one day. What’s the tooth count on the chainring, and the spread of the rear cassette on this tourer? Did you feel that the 1×11 set up on this ride was a good spread for the terrain and elevation gain you experienced in Tasmania? Anything you would change about the drive train in terms of gearing?

  • James Noorkõiv

    Awesome ride!
    Where can i get the basket bag you have on this rig? checked both Porcelain Rocket and Monkey Wrench Cycles sites but they show nothing…….