My-ma-ma Manzanita Sklar MX All Road with Industry Nine i9.35 Disc Wheels

While we tend to see a lot of experimentation with MTB geometry, specifically hardtails here on the Radavist, I feel like the good ol’ all-road and ‘cross bike geometries, for the most part, stay mostly the same. Sure, head tubes might steepen or slacken a half or so degree, and bottom bracket height can vary, along with seat tube angle, but for the most part, these bikes all look similar in profile. Is it a by-product of design perfection or longevity? Who knows but the bottom line is; I rarely see a road bike geometry that piques my interest and begs the question; I wonder how THAT rides.

Then Adam Sklar sent me an email, asking if I had any desire to review one of his “team” MX all road bikes. I glanced at the geometry, saw the top tube length and thought it was going to be too long for me, especially for how I’d use it. Adam informed me of this bike’s design philosophy, which is part ‘cross geo and part modern MTB. Paradoxically, in short, Adam lengthened the bike’s top tube, slackened the head tube and lowered the bottom bracket. The bike is designed to run a shorter stem, a 70mm, versus a 110mm and with a longer head tube, puts the riding position a bit more upright.

Suddenly, I was very interested in testing out this bike, which Adam eventually told me he had no intentions of asking for back. Someone had ordered the frame, which is a stock size, paid in full and realized it was too long for them, prompting Adam to build them the next size down. So in his mind, he’d rather see someone he knows ride it, than sit on the frame for a few more months. I agreed and thanked him. He also repainted it, asking me what color I’d prefer, which sent me scrambling to think of an earth tone I didn’t have in my quiver; manzanita fade.

I built it up with parts off my Firefly, which is getting an upgrade at their Boston HQ right now, along with Ergon’s new SR Pro women-specific saddle (hey, I like the shape, a lot!), topped off with some neat deep, dark green White Industries and Paul Component parts Adam had done up for the team bike run and finally, those new…

Industry Nine i9.35 WHeels

Having reviewed other Industry Nine wheels in the past, I was really looking forward to seeing what these newly-designed carbon i9.35 wheels had to offer. If any company is willing to put a lifetime warranty on their product, they’ve got to be good. After a pre-ride review, I began logging miles on my Firefly taking on fire roads and singletrack with them, as per the norm of our Los Angeles rides, sometimes getting in over my head on rocky terrain.

i9 tapped Reynolds to design and manufacture these carbon rims, which they then lace up to their Torch hubs in their North Carolina facilities. While their marketing is all about aerodynamics and speed, truthfully two things I don’t really care about, I have been pounding them on rocks and ruts for months now without having to take a spoke wrench to them once. Believe me, a 185 lb human flying through a rock garden is going to make contact with a rim once and a while…

If something should happen, within the normal scope of riding, Industry Nine proudly backs them with a Lifetime Warranty. Head to Industry Nine for more technical information regarding pricing, build specs and compatibility. Yes, I’m aware there are Shimano rotors with SRAM brakes!

Longer, Slacker, Lower

These three words have been beaten to death like a clapped out fork in the mountain bike industry for some time now, prompting me to essentially tune it out anytime I read it in copy, but when Adam’s geometry chart came across my inbox, suddenly I was very interested in how this bike would ride, especially with such a tall headtube and long top tube.

While the head angle comes in at 71º, a whole degree slacker than my Firefly, the head tube measures a whopping 180mm, a whole 25mm longer than the Firefly, consequently, the reach is shorter. It’s an interesting comparison, while my Firefly offers a more traditional road fit, the Sklar is much more upright. I think I speak for myself and Adam alike when I say I was concerned. Would it be too long? How would it ride? He often jokes about “hybrid” bikes, but all I could think of was being too upright.

I’m by no means a picky rider and can make just about any bike within the general sizing realm work for me, but this was an entirely new concept for me, on an all-road bike. After a rather long ride in Santa Rosa this weekend, that included steep mountain climbs on dirt and pavement as well as some of Annadel State Park’s rockier singletrack. I found it tracked better through steep singletrack than I’m used to on a drop bar bike and due to the snappy 420mm stays, it was easy to pull the rear around through tight turns. When I was able to open it up on descents, I could really feel the head angle doing its thing. Was it better than a bike with a whole degree steeper head angle? I wouldn’t say either is necessarily better, but a slacker head angle felt better than I thought it would. As for climbing on steep hills, getting on the nose of the saddle and pulling my weight forward really felt more stable. Overall, I really enjoy how this bike rides and look forward to logging more miles on it.

I’d say I ran this bike through the ranks of terrain and while it’s much dirtier now than it is in these photos, it still has this clean, mean look like it’s going to pounce off the road and onto the trails.

To add another layer of intrigue, this bike will fit a 27.5 by 2.25″ mountain tire – with minimal tread pattern, adding to its adaptability and capability.

I’m sure this thing will make the rounds and travel all over the state of California with a variety of wheel and tire sizes until I find the one I like best. That’s the fun of bikes like this, a few minutes of component swapping and it suddenly behaves differently, seeking out a variety of terrains, while offering up a bit of nuanced fun with each swap. I’m sure you’ve got questions, so be sure to drop them in the comments. If you would like a similar bike from Adam, drop him a line at Sklar Bikes.

Thanks to Mike from Golden Saddle Cyclery for the build and Industry Nine for loaning me these wheels to review!

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    • Jonathan

      Those bars seem to have a lot of reach from the clamp to the hoods. How does the reach to the hoods compare to the firefly?

    • Scott

      What’s the BB drop on the Sklar?

      • BB drop does not exist! But it is 68mm on this frame…

        • colavitos_ghost

          Curious about this. Would you mind elaborating?

          • BB drop is a resultant measurement of the BB height. BB height is a better way to predict how a bike will ride because it is constant across different wheel sizes and other factors.

          • AngryBikeWrench

            I’m confused. I thought BB drop was the distance from the wheel center to BB center, which would make it constant despite changes to wheel or tire size. I thought BB height was just that – the distance from ground to center of BB, which would vary with wheel and tire size. I don’t want to derail the conversation to far into the weeds and away from the bike though.

          • Ha! You are correct. BB drop is what dictates the BB height, or distance from the ground. That height, the BB height, is what actually tells you what is happening to the handling though. BB height is what helps to place the CG and combat pedal strike among other things. You can’t change one element without looking at the whole system but I digress…

            I design around BB height because it separates that variable from wheel size. i.e. someone might come to me and say “I like 63mm of BB drop on my 29er and 48mm of drop on my 27.5″ bike” but really what they are saying is “I like a 320mm BB height”. So BB height is what we design around because it gives a better indication of handling, and that is why I like it better. Bottom bracket height is the reason your bike has a certain amount of bottom bracket drop. Does that make sense?

          • AngryBikeWrench

            Got it, and thanks for the explanation!

          • Chris Valente

            Damn Professor Sklar, my ears are smoking just reading that.

          • boomforeal

            that makes total sense for a custom bike, which i imagine is built around a set fork length, wheel and tire size, etc. but even then, i think i’d prefer to know the bb drop too, at least: john’s frames, which often see different tires and even wheel sizes, illustrate why

            for a production frameset, or even bike, bb drop seems like it would be the more important number to know, especially when you’re comparing or considering build options — unless you’re planning on running it bone stock; though i’d argue that such a rider wouldn’t be concerned with esoteric numbers like this, anyway

          • Sure, BB drop is useful for looking at the stock frames, but at the end of the day, it’s really just telling you the BB height :)

  • Dr J

    Cool bike! This “mountain road bike” geo is pretty close to what I have in my 44 (70deg HTA, touch longer TT, 80mm stem, 70mm BB drop). And tire clearance is the same too.
    I wonder if this geo will go mainstream, eventually adding to variety of “gravel bikes”, which, in terms of geo are typically still closer to regular CX bikes.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/bea4c6cbb677f8c86cc4426de86e360fd4271c9cf447bb76c2bc975212887a9b.jpg

    • Damn. THAT is a good lookin’ Forty Four!

      • Dr J

        Thank you! After long winter months, this thing is finally alive and ready to roll. So far I have to say I love the cushion of 2.20″ tires and slack HTA, which makes me believe your Sklar must roll nicely too.

    • Nic K

      Awesome bike! Can I ask what rims your running?

  • Alex Boyd

    NICE!
    I love my Sklar team jammer. I build it up to blast singletrack but its just as happy in a cross race or a long gravel ride. I usually run 27.5X2.1 MTB tires, but am giving these Byways a shot. This is the bike your other bikes don’t want you to know about. Thanks again Adam!
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/647f9d4b5d24c7059ca9f30eff653511c11fb5559b4d06d67c7807ac81734f9f.jpg

    • Jake Hueber

      Did you ride Landrun 100 this year? I was admiring this bike if you did, if not there was another the same color down there. Great looking bike.

      • Alex Boyd

        No I wasn’t there, but Adam made several “Team” bikes painted like this so I bet there was one out there!

        • Yep. One was. Forgot the dudes name but he was wearing cut off jean shorts. As one should be!

    • Yeah! Love seeing you ripping that bike around Alex!

      • Alex Boyd

        Yeah dude it’s sooooo good!

  • rocketman

    I love the shape of the Sklar all road frames with that swished and curved top tube. Good to hear you like the slacker geo as I am working with Rabbit Fighter customs out of New Mexico on a very similar bike but with just enough room for 29 x 3″ wheels. It will probably run 2.6″ most of the time though. A little more MTB than road bike but the same approach.

  • Rudy Luthi

    Gorgeous bike, I saw it in person the other day. Love the direction this geometry is heading.

  • Jon B.

    The most important question; is it as fun as I think it should be?

  • Zian

    How do you decide which bike to ride?

    • Depends on where I want to go. They all excel on different terrain. :-)

  • Alan

    Stylin

  • Gordon M

    The first time I saw/heard of Sklar was on The Radavist, and that’s when the itch began. Now I’m fortunate to be in the cue for Adam to build a monster cross to deliver in time for the DK200. Custom geo to offset my body’s wear and tear over the years but playful enough to include routing for a dropper post. The joy of reading this review is knowing that I’ve moved from dream to almost reality of owning one!

  • Nicholas Tingey

    Cant wait to see what you’re doing to your firefly. You better not be messing with that sweet sweet finish…

    • No way! They’ve got some new machined bits they’re going to swap and add a third bottle cage.

  • Alex Hillis

    Very interesting! I was curious about the reason for adding this bike to the stable (and was scared the Firefly was being retired… love that thing).

    The slack head angle and more upright position reminds me of my Rodeo Labs Flaanimal. First time I jumped aboard I was noticeably more upright. At first it was weird, but when I hit the dirt I realized how much more maneuverable the bike was when I could get further back behind the saddle. The Flaanimal has a shorter head tube and I’ve got a 100mm stem on it, but the experience sounds similar. Good stuff!

  • Noah Branson

    Hey John! What camera are you using nowadays?

  • Jesse Wicks

    Those bidons.. WANT!

  • B.A.R.27

    man, i would love to see a sklar top tube with a humble frameworks rear triangle!

    • Ask Curtis for that!

      • B.A.R.27

        Wow, mere hours later the next bike featured on the radavist is a curtis inglis! Ask and you shall receive :)

  • JB

    One of the favourites for the year so far. The only alarming point is that the Firefly is back in Boston! What has it done?

    • FireFly

      Top secret prototype mods.

  • Harry

    That is a nice saddle!

  • George T Rosselle

    How many ways have the chainstays been manipulated?

    • How do you mean?

      • George T Rosselle

        As near as I can tell, it looks round and skinny at the back, then ovalized/flattened (?) in the middle, and I can’t quite see what it looks like where it attaches to the bottom bracket. Whatever you did, it sure looks impressive.

  • Daniel Jackson

    John, have you ever ridden a bike with similar geo but much more rake to bring the trail down into the mid 40s? Curious how such a bike would ride.

    • I have not.

    • mid 40’s?? you crazy

      • Daniel Jackson

        But am I really? How wonderful a ride it might be. Less of that grabby on rails sensation, lighter steering, but still with added slack to better handle the rough stuff.

      • Daniel Jackson

        What was the rake on the Nutmegger?

        • The Nutmegger had around 60mm of rake with a 65* Head tube, which resulted in a mid-low 70’s trail number if I recall correctly, pretty similar to this bike now that I think of it.

      • rocketman

        Crazy like a fox… lot’s of us riding Groadie with 40mm of trail… 73 HTA and 60mm of rake. Dirt Rando! Elepahant NFE or Rawland xSogn etc.

        • Yeah, but an unloaded NFE – no rack, no basket – isn’t exactly the responsive kind of ride quality you’d need riding singletrack. I loved the NFE, but it’s a different machine altogether.

          • rocketman

            Having ridden both types extensively I feel it’s just a question of time in the saddle on a low trail bike.I ride pretty techy stuff on my low trail bike and prefer the quick turning and ride quality. With or without a front load. Great topic!

          • For sure, I had the Elephant for two months and enjoyed every second of it.

  • Stuart Hanson

    Beautiful bicycle!

    I was similarly skeptical about the long top-tube/headtube and short stem on my Sklar, but that bike handles the rough stuff better than any other groadbike I’ve been on.

  • Bryce Dillon

    Third time through this gallery, still can’t get over how perfect this thing is!

    • It’s pretty damn good! Rides even better, too!

  • Natalie Pitts

    I didn’t know if there would be another bike I’d like as much as your Crema, but here it is. Excellent choice on the color. How would you say this compares to the Crema? You’ve talked about that bike being a little shreddier and better on singletrack than the Firefly, and it sounds like the Sklar does something similar.

    • The Crema is a ‘cross geo and the Sklar is a mashup of MTB and cross. They both fit big tires in 700 or 27.5 but the geometry and fit is different.

  • Alexander Putz

    As I’m looking to build up a bike like that and trying to understand proportions with a 27.5″ wheelset – what size wheelset did you photograph it with, @John Watson?
    And any indication of your height, please, if you would divulge that?

    • These are 700c wheels. I’m 6’2″

      • Alexander Putz

        Thanks John!

  • Curious about the lighting in these photos. Is it solely lit by mid-day sun? Or did you use additional lighting techniques? Beautiful shots as always!

    • It was all natural light. Early morning desert light is the best! (although a bit harsh for the matte paint)

      • Cool! Thanks for the insight John!

        • I tend to only use natural light for photos, unless it’s a special instance, or for NAHBS.

          • I assumed natural light, but the photos have a strange, unnatural, yet very satisfying feel to them. Must be the combo of that matte paint with Mars like desert setting and great skills.