Reportage

Happily Stuck in Hardtail Jail: A look at Spencer’s Orbea Loki

To fill in the gaps between normal, group-ride-oriented bicycle stories, we’re featuring a few rides from the staff over here at the Radavist, beginning with Spencer’s Orbea Loki.

When it was finally time for me to accept that my fatbike just wasn’t that good of a trail bike, I looked to the next best thing, a plus bike.  I finagled my way into Interbike a few years back and made it my mission to ride all the plus bikes at the dirt demo.  Turns out they were damn fun, the Advocate (now Esker) Hayduke was the winner of the day in my eyes, right in front of the newly updated Karate Monkey.  At the time I worked for a guide company that had a fleet or Orbea’s bikes, and they sent our company a closeout list with some discounted bikes at cost. I saw a swoopy aluminum 27.5+ hardtail that looked like it might just be the ticket.  I figured I could fit an XL and hopefully, that would give me the most framebag space since I planned to use this as that ever-fleeting idea of a quiver killer. 

Out of the box, I rocked it totally stock with the exception of adding a dropper post.  I quickly realized that while Maxxis Chronicles are probably the best purely plus tire out there, they are horrible trail tires.  I was lucky enough to snag a set of Terrene Tires (Chunk up front and Mcfly on the rear) on a visit to Minneapolis.  A few months after I got the bike, I got a Karate Monkey fork from Trevor at Surly for helping shoot some content for their new Packrat on Catalina Island.  I swapped the dropper for a rigid post and boxed the bike up to head to Baja with Dinah and Serena.  Oh, remember how I wanted to maximize my framebag space? Well, it turns out the only part of the seat tube that changes is the length above the top tube junction, effectively giving me the same space as a small frame. Luckily I have a lot of bad ideas and friends who know how to sew.  I sat down with Brad at Roadrunner bags and he spent 7 hours helping me craft a ridiculous framebag to maximize my frame space. The bag splits below the toptube and has stiffeners to allow me to pack all the way to where you might measure an effective top tube length with a rolltop closure.  So now with some massive framebag that I had always dreamed of let’s go back to Baja.  The bike was amazing, but the unforgiving sand made me miss my fatbike like whoa, but my new much lighter rig was much appreciated nonetheless. 

After a few more months shredding around the Bay area, I started to feel the need to tinker with something else.  I pinged my buddy Justin about extending the travel on my fork and a few weeks later I was sitting pretty on 140mm of suspension from the stock 120mm. At this time I also received a set of Maxxis 27.5 x2.8 tires (which actually were more like 2.6 on my rims).  The combination really changed how I rode and its first test was a few shuttle runs on opening weekend in Downieville.  The longer travel slacked out the front end and made me quite a bit more confident on descents and the lighter tires truly sang on the trail.  Plenty of riding and even some DH and park laps at Deer Valley in park city really had me feeling some type of way. 

The next big change was a rigid Karate Monkey fork from Surly for helping with some photos of their Packrat out on Catalina Island.  Combined with a set of Jungle Runner bars and a high rise stem I was sitting pretty on a sweet rigid touring rig.  The bars and rigid fork made for a great bikepacking rig that got put through its paces on the second DFL the divide tour and a few smaller trips that year. 

Back home the winter in Oakland I got thinking about what to tinker with next, well my bike says it can run 29er wheels as well, I wonder what that would be like? After a few months, I found a buddy selling a cheap beat-up wheelset. It sat in a pile of parts for a few months while I finished putting a bunch of miles on those 27.5+ Rekons.  When I moved to Tucson I quickly realized that they sidewalls of the Rekons were not going to last long out here and that the lower bottom bracket from the smaller tires put the cranks dangerously low for pedal striking the eternally rocky trails of the Sonoran Desert.  Finally, I found some tires at BICAS, our local bike co-op, to set up that 29er wheelset that had been sitting for a few months.  With the bottom bracket higher, narrower more nimble tires, and a bit better roll over, the setup really spoke to my new home.  which brings us pretty close to my current setup.  I always said that the one thing I always wanted was a carbon 29er wheelset, which I thought was a damn far-flung hope….

When the freehub stripped out on my 29er wheelset, I asked John if he had hookups on wheels to get me running again, expecting something like a WTB takeoff wheel or something.  He got back to me with a guy at I9 about their new 29er carbon rims that needed a review.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think that was gonna come out of my request.  So I dreamed up the most ridiculous lacing pattern that would be fun to shoot, and well damn I think I did a damn good job.  More on that wheelset when I get a few hundred more miles in on them!

Now that my bike has basically become my dream bike and it has been feeling really dialed, I figured it would be a good time to dissect it a little bit and take a look at what I actually ride.   Let’s start at the cockpit; holding at the bits and my hands is a set of Adam Sklar’s Bullmoose bars.  I was able to convince him to spend his winter in Tucson between a few other choices of places I had happened to live previously, he surprised me with the bars as a thanks.  They have an amazing sweep and at 880mm wide I finally found some bars that felt properly wide, Adam told me to cut them down and I flat out refuse.  I was literally getting run of the trail a few weekends back in palm springs choosing between knuckle punching a cactus to swerving, still not gonna cut them down.  The SLX brakes and rotors are take-offs from one of Lael Wilcox’s bikes (Thanks Lael!).  The Spurcycle bell was a gift from Jdgesus, we were supposed to arm wrestle for it, but he just mailed it to me.  The SLX shifter is still stock, but with an aftermarket clamp.  I recently gave the Ergon GA3 grips a try for some extra hand support and have been loving them.  A PNW Loam Lever keeps the dropper post feeling crisp.  I swapped out the internally routed dropper for an externally routed PNW Components one to make it easier to swap from rigid to dropper post, well actually all of the housing and hoses are now routed externally now to make any swap easier, hence all the zip ties.  The fork is still going strong with some scuffs, but the bushings are getting loose so I’m just going to ride it until it dies and replace it.  I run a smaller one-size-fits-most roadrunner framebag to carry snacks and a two-liter bladder for day rides down in the desert.  I wound up destroying the stock cranks when two of the hidden crank arm bolts fell out and I ripped my chainring off in the middle of Mag-7 in Moab.  I replaced them with a take-off Praxis set from my boss.  I run a melody of salvaged SPD pedals, I think I have like 7 pairs in rotation that I’ve never paid more than $5 for.  I recently changed the stock cassette after wwaaaaaaaay too long for another Sunrace wide range 11-speed cassette. The Specialized women’s saddle was left in our shed by a former roommate, I find wider women’s saddle comfier these days. I’d be running a Brooks C-19 cambium if the edges didn’t destroy my thighs on rowdy trails with the dropper down. On the hoops, I have a nearly clapped out WTB Trail Boss Tough which is the only tire I can find to stand up to desert riding conditions and on the front wheel has a Maxxis DFH I got from BICAS as well.  Bet you never thought you would see a $6 tire from a bike co-op on a balleur carbon rim huh?

Thanks for coming to my TED Talk on how rad those 27.5+ bikes that everyone bought a few years ago can be if you spend a bunch of time and tinker with just about every single part on them.  This bike has been everywhere from the Baja Divide as a 27.5+ touring rig to an aggressive 29er trail hardtail taking on the hardest trails Tucson can dish out. I still keep the 27.5+ wheelset around with that set of Chronicles on it for when this rig does go back into bikepacking mode. Still not sure if I’m done tinkering with this one, but this is as close to feeling content as I have been with it in the past 3 years and I’m staying in #hardtailjail for awhile longer.