Reportage

What Almost Was: the Mystic Alluvium 27.5+ Hardtail MTB

Over the years, I’ve had the honor to throw my leg over many bikes, try them out, write a review, and then send them back. While the bikes return to their companies, the experience stays with me, and in the time I’ve been running this website, I’ve developed my own belief for what the perfect geometry for a hardtail mountain bike is. About a year ago, I began talking with Adam Sklar and Colin Frazer, who were about to launch a new production, US-made frame company called Mystic. We wanted to test the waters with a Radavist edition frame, dubbed the Alluvium. After chatting about numbers and branding, we felt like we were getting closer to releasing this frame. Then the reality of such an undertaking took hold and we killed the project.

Mystic was supposed to be a small batch, limited, yet idiosyncratic framebuilding company. The cycling industry goes through waves of experimentation and Mystic’s role was to embrace these trends. Who would have thought ten years ago that drop bar bikes could have 60+cm wide bars, or clear 2.2″ 27.5 tires? AND dropper posts?

A lot of these ideas begin with small builders before being adopted by larger companies who then take those concepts and make them overseas for production, which is totally fine, but what you end up with on the consumer side is a bike that is arguable heavier, with many compromises. Mystic was looking to embrace this niche market by making small runs of one-off frame designs with no compromises and because the tubing would be lighter, the frame itself would be lighter.

Initially, their idea was to launch with two models: an AXS-native 650b road bike with no cable routing, save for hydro lines, and an off-road-tuned geometry and a 27.5+/29er hardtail. I gave Adam geometry numbers I liked and the name for the MTB. He then got to work and in the spring of 2018 built me this bike to test out. Dubbed the Alluvium, it was and still is what I believe to be the best (subjective) hardtail mountain bike I’ve ridden.

Alluvium

If you know me, you’ll know that I love spending time in the desert. The landscape inspires both the content here on the Radavist, as well as my day-to-day life. I look to the natural world for my inspiration and everything from the biomass, tonality, geology, and landscapes move me. Named after the mineral deposits that travel from the tops of mountains, down into the grabens, basins, and valleys below, oftentimes gathering in fans or other alluvial fields, the Alluvium is a hardtail designed to be descent-minded, while still climbing with the grace of a mountain goat. The platform would be dependant upon the rider’s preference of either a 27.5+ tire or a 29er by 2.6″. We then had our friend Nicholas design the branding. Even though Mystic has been killed, many of the ideas found in the Alluvium lived on through the Sklar Sweet Spot.

Build Kit

What you see here is an option we were discussing for a complete model. With a RockShox Pike, SRAM GX Eagle, Industry Nine’s Backcountry Hydra wheels, Whisky Bars, a Paul Boxcar Stem, and Maxxis tires, the bike is ready to roll, out the gate. I’ve found this build kit to be more than capable to take on trails no matter where you live. Did you catch the detail on the brake levers?

Also, keep an eye on the site for a follow-up review on those wheels this week! They really are amazing…

Geometrically Speaking

Without giving away too many specifics, the Alluvium was built with a 150mm fork, a 66º head angle and a 76º seat angle, with a bit higher BB than what the industry has been pushing on modern trail bikes, and a snappy rear end. We designed the yoke to clear a 27.5″ x 3″ or 29er by 2.6″ tire. My feeling about bottom bracket height is that lower isn’t necessarily better when it comes to a hardtail. I like to be able to bunnyhop rocks or logs and jump as well as I can. From my experience, a higher bottom bracket enables this.

With a steeper seat angle, the bike climbs with ease up tight switchbacks and singletrack but it truly comes alive going downhill. With the bigger tires and the dropper, modern hardtails like this are much more capable than the rigs of the 1990’s where, unfortunately, the hardtail’s prowess is judged. This bike ain’t your first Gary Fisher. I’ve ridden the Alluvium on trails where full suspensions reign supreme and naysayers warned of impending doom. Perhaps it’s the mysticism taking over, or perhaps over-capable bikes are sold to under-capable riders.

Detail-Oriented

While there are a lot of production bikes on the market from a variety of framebuilders, we wanted the Alluvium to be a no-nonsense bike, with the money put where it matters in terms of production. An internal dropper keeps the frame clutter-free, with removable cable guides along the downtube to make servicing and shipping the bike easier. Because I wanted the Alluvium to be a perfect bikepacking hardtail, we made the front triangle as big as possible without limiting standover. So many hardtails squish the triangle down, to allow for more standover and to increase the shreddiness of the frame, yet this drastically cuts down on framebag space, rendering these bikes not the ideal pack mule for extended bikepacking trips. We added extra bottle bosses on the downtube to accommodate extra storage as well.

The wishbone seat stay has been used by production framebuilders for decades. From Bontrager, to Nobilette, Sycip, Elephant, Hunter, and even Rocky Mountain. These assemblies can be mass-produced and used across the sizing run without modification, making production faster and thus, saving the consumer money. The same can be said about the asymmetrical plate yoke. Rather than crimp each drive-side stay to get consistent clearance, you can simply weld the plate.

So Why Did We Kill It?

This was a really tough decision for everyone involved and it’s one that addresses the bigger picture of the framebuilding world. For me, I didn’t want to make a profit from getting these bikes out under people, which would lower the cost of the frame considerably. The problem is a frame that would cost hundreds less than other comparable frames would set an unrealistic goal for all builders and undermine the industry. There is a reason why US-made frames cost more than a Taiwanese-built bike. It’s not a matter of one being better than the other, it’s a numbers game. US-builders are usually one or two-person operations. While a good deal of brands have moved onto hiring subcontractors to do the welding, there’s still a lot of work that goes into making a bike frame in the US. You’ve got to make a living wage while still offering your best work possible.

In Taiwan, the wages are lower, taxes are lower, environmental regulation is slacker – for things like paint, and larger runs are possible so all these things add up in the consumer’s favor. Now, Taiwan makes exceptional bikes with immaculate welds, so don’t confuse this discussion with frame quality. For me, it’s important to embrace the art of making things by hand in the designer’s home country. This trickles into what clothes I wear, what shoes I buy, and other consumables. In doing so, I set up a filter for capitalism and limit my consumption. Plus, it’s nice to buy things that your friends – even people you haven’t met – make in their shops.

For the US-builder, there is often so much overhead to build bikes that they’re constantly faced with raising prices when the economy itself might not be primed for even a $100 price hike. In the end, we ran the numbers and couldn’t meet the price point we had originally planned for. I won’t go into the details because it’s not a productive conversation and honestly, it doesn’t matter. I really wanted this project to happen, but it just doesn’t seem feasible at the moment.

I really love this bike. It continues to impress me. Right now, I’m planning to build it up as a 29er to see if I still love the way it rides. I wasn’t going to post about it but it feels good to get it out on paper, even if it means it won’t be for sale. Maybe one day we’ll make a bike for sale on the Radavist but right now, it didn’t feel like the right time.