John Montesi’s Dark Matter Finishing Mustard Yellow Titanium Sklar Hardtail 29er

Bikes are an extension of the rider in every sense of the word. Not only do the wheels and bars act as our contact points to the terra firma, but everything becomes more than the sum of its parts. Those parts bin grips or meticulously color-matched fasteners all create a piece of rolling poetry. Found art, master-planned, functional, beautiful.

This Sklar hardtail is the culmination of a nearly two-decade love of all things cycling. From nearly dying after being hit by a car on a road bike in Austin to riding full squish in the Yukon Territory trying to replace that trauma with stoke, touring the country on a bike that didn’t fit me at all to diving deep into the gravel world as a way to escape cars and see the sights of a forgotten America, I’ve finally learned a bit about what I really like.

From the first time I met Adam Sklar, I knew I’d found a friend who had also been through the gamut of life and bike experiences. Someone who knew about saving weight on XC race bikes and about building rusty fixed gravel rigs that are hysterically good for the soul. It didn’t take much pedaling around the parking lot or poking around the shop to know that I’d found the place where bike dreams come true. And a year after that, I assembled this spicy mustard, stone ground dijon of a hardtail, and took off for a ride that changed how I look at bikes forever.

As a recovering roadie who’s ridden short-travel full-suspension bikes most of my life, I debated the merits of a few millimeters of wheelbase, a centimeter of fork travel, a half-degree of headtube angle. What we wound up with is a bike that climbs better than my gravel bike, silently rips through the chunkiest of scree fields, encourages you to come up with the most absurd from-the-front-door singletrack loop you can imagine. It’s just rowdy enough to point down anything and just pedally enough to make you wonder what’s around every bend. On that bleeding edge between sendy and sketchy, confident and chaotic.

With 800mm bars and 29 x 2.6 tires, it feels like an overgrown kid bike, a custom-built dirt jumper, an XC bike that gave up racing, and started pedaling around with snacks and a camera. Titanium is a magic material that’s light enough, stiff enough, surreally quiet.

The yellow powder coat base with painted speckles is the result of Adam and I pushing each other, sending old photos and camping mugs and birds’ eggs back and forth. My personal color palette leans towards earth tones and grayscale, so it was a wild leap of faith to get my first custom bike done in such a bright interpretation of a desert hue. Once it’s all dusty, leaning against a yellowing aspen tree or laying on its side in the desert, it all makes sense. Dark Matter executed our vision perfectly, and like everything else about the bike, the finish gets better the more you use it, beat it up, see it in different settings.

This is the kind of bike that pushes you as a rider and as an artist. It doesn’t have any superfluous tech. It isn’t the safest color. And yet, fits perfectly, takes whatever you can throw at it, and always wants more. The beauty of this bike is in its simplicity; it’s as fun bombing down the Monarch Crest as it is doing a quick townie lap with my dog. The Cane Creek Helm is a set-and-forget fork, the geo is playful and snappy but always has your back. You can hop off a shoe-sized rock or commit to a human-sized drop. There’s an intuitive feeling to the way everything fits my body, the way the frame teaches you more about the limit of adhesion, and the way the bike responds to every situation. You can hop on and feel right at home. And yet, the more you ride it, the more you learn.

There’s a reason why all Sklar bikes, and especially his titanium frames, get the breathless praise they do. And this is coming from someone who used to be leery of everything trendy, who believed the most punk rock thing you could do was race crits on a bone stock Cannondale. I spent so much of my life, on and off bikes, trying not to try too hard. The funny thing is, that’s exactly what a well-fitting metal bike does for you. It’s not about spec sheets, it’s about a feeling. The feeling I get riding this bike transcends every internet cliche, every cycling clique, every traumatic crash I’ve ever been in. It makes me want to give every trail a ride and every cyclist a hug. It makes me want to stop and take the picture and it makes me want to ride the entire trail without ever putting a foot down. It’s given me confidence on the trail and confidence in myself.

Creative expression in how I interact with the mountains and in how I piece together a bunch of metal and rubber to celebrate all things bicycle.

Build List
Enve M7 Bars
White Industries Headset
Industry9 Stem
Cane Creek Helm Mkii 130 Fork
SRAM Eagle drivetrain (10-50 12 speed)
Cane Creek eewings Raven cranks
Wolf Tooth 34T Dropstop Elliptical Chainring
White Industries BB
SRAM Guide G2 Ultimate Brakes
Ergon Grips + SM Pro Saddle
Fox Transfer 150 Dropper / Wolf Tooth ReMote
Enve M635 + Industry9 Hydra
Maxxis Forekaster / Rekon 29×2.6
King Cage/Wolf Tooth Morse Gold Cages