Monkey Wrenching with the Esker Cycles Hayduke Hardtail in Arizona

Back in 2016, at the end of the #dflthedivide trip, there was a great little 40th-anniversary party at FreeCycles in Missoula to celebrate Adventure Cycling turning 40. At this party, there was a real nifty bikepacking rig from a small company that was right at home in a nonprofit shop. The Advocate Cycles Hayduke. Now, Advocate has transformed into Esker Cycles, and though the road and touring frames are no more, Hayduke Lives! (on). These are my impressions of this nifty hardtail.

The Esker Hayduke is a steel hardtail that plays nice with a 27.5+ setup or 29ers, and can take suspension up to 130mm in travel. It also plays nice with rigid forks, if yer into that sorta thing. The bike is very much designed around bikepacking, with plenty of bottle mounts, and even a drilled and bolted top tube for bolt-on frame bags. Oh, and Esker is very friendly with Rogue Panda designs, which makes ordering a custom frame bag a breeze! As you will find out in this review, I didn’t treat it as a bikepacking bike. Though the front triangle is massive, even on my size medium, and the longish reach means plenty of space for other bags. For reference, the frame bag I use on my medium Soma B-Side was so small inside of the Hayduke that I had room for a water bottle and then some. If you want to camp, Hayduke will get you there and have room to spare for canned beans and cheap beer.

Now, many of us have transformed all sorts of bikes into bikepacking rigs. So, one that has all the bells and whistles specifically for that type of adventure is bound work great. There’s heaps and heaps of media out there about people taking Hayduke into far flung places. But, how does it ride unloaded? Sure, you can load up all the bagels and fine yoghurt you want onto this bike and have yourself a slumber party. But when you’re not doing that, is it fun? Can Hayduke party?

Short answer: yes, yes he can.


But before I talk about that, let’s get some numbers straight and outline the build my review bike had.  My hayduke arrived with a smart build with high quality parts where they count. Suspension was handled by a Fox Factory 34 StepCast fork with 120mm of travel. The Race Face Arc 40 rims were laced to some I9 101 hubs, and their wide profile played nice with the Terrene McFly 27.5×2.8s. Shifting was handled by Shimano 1×11, which I might have the unpopular opinion of liking. The seat went up n’ down thanks to a Fox Factory Transfer. The excellent XT 4 piston brakes were nothing short of fantastic.  Race face cranks and Wolf Tooth bearings topped off the rest. The bike was shipped with a Race Face stem that was a little long for my stature and preference, so I swapped it to a 45mm Boxcar to hold onto the Esker Epoch alloy bars at 780mm, topped with Ergon GE1 grips.

This build simply worked, with nothing to complain about really. The McFlys were my only real nit-pic, as even in the “tough” casing, I managed to still have to put a few plugs in the rear, and the tread profile didn’t corner so well on the loose over hardpack dirt I ride in the Arizona Highlands and Sonoran desert. I’m sure they would be fantastic on softer dirt with less big, mean rocks. At this point, I should also just be running inserts, as I did manage to put a dent in the rim’s bead area. Sorry guys.

The XT 11 speed has gotten a lot of hate, but honestly, the groupset worked just fine for the couple months I used it. It doesn’t offer the crisp shifting I like from SRAM, but I appreciated the shifter design of being able to shift with thumbs or forefinger. The clutch could be stronger, but a hardtail is gonna’ have some chain slap regardless, especially over high desert chunder. That’s what electrical tape is for.

The Step Cast fork absolutely ruled. I tend to keep my forks open, but this bike was light enough that I didn’t mind some locked out gravel grinding out of the saddle when I got all excited that the trail was near. The fork locked out amazingly well, and never gave me any issues going down. It was dialed in periodically to account for elevation changes, but I did notice that it had a stiffer feel in terms of compression ramp up than some of Fox’s burlier options, which made the 120mm go a long way, even if it was a bit harsher.  I typically ride 140-160mm forks, so this was on the short end, but it seemed like the suspension tune balanced it out perfectly.


Now, some of you might look at this and say “67.6° Headtube!?! WHAT IS THIS, 2014?!”. To which I will reply: please calm down, there’s no need to yell. You can still have plenty of fun on this bike.”  But remember, this is a bike meant to be super versatile, with expeditionary riding at the heart of its’ DNA. A polarizing slack headtube is cool and all, but 67.6 is in line with the Woodsmoke and the Big Honzo, within .2 degrees.

If that geometry chart is on point (which I bet it is), the 67.6 head tube is measured with a 495mm fork length, most likely for a suspension corrected rigid fork. The 120mm, 29er StepCast sits at 530.2mm, and 130mm forks from the big guys will be another 5-10mm longer. So, the actual headtube angle ends up being slacker by a fair amount. Now, at 30% sag, a 120mm fork might sit around 495mm, but that means that even sagged, the HTA of the Hayduke is in line with other modern hardtails.

Sheldon Brown’s site has a lovely equation for calculating change in headtube angle based on fork length. It might not be accurate, but Sheldon isn’t known for inaccuracy.

ΔHTA=arcsin(original fork A2C – new A2C)/(wheelbase)

Solving that equation for my size medium gives me a -1.7° change in my HTA, which puts the HTA of the Hayduke at 65.9 with an un-sagged 120mm fork, which makes it slacker than the other two I compared it to, even with a shorter fork. After some talk with the engineering team at Esker, they took the 495 axle to crown measurement with a 120mm fork sagged at 30%, so the stated HTA is a reasonable estimate, but the above math does provide some insight.

Now, all that is nice to know, and it’s just me doing my due diligence.  I’ll be honest, I didn’t read that geometry chart at all before I rode the bike. I just rode it and had a blast. The seat tube is nice and steep for climbing, but nothing insane. You can still wheelie, Spencer. The wheelbase is a nice middle ground at 1155mm for a size medium, with the back end being nice and tukt. Effective Top Tube and Reach are in trend with modern hardtails. The BB is low enough to be stable but not crazy low, which I appreciate.

Aesthetics and Frame Details

The frame itself has a strong and modern, but not imposing profile. Simple and clean lines come together in a classic and predictable way, but with some nifty details. An ever-so-slight bend in the seat-tube makes it #tukt, and the mounting points for the dropouts actually make the rear triangle almost a trapezoid of sorts. Cable routing is handled in a no-nonsense way thanks to some Wolf-Tooth bits, and the dropper routing is nice and clean. Overall, there are heaps of aesthetic and functional improvements over the Advocate iteration of this bike, from the cable routing and mounting solutions to the threaded BB.

The monkey wrench on the top tube makes those who know happy, and looks cool even if you’ve never read Abbey. I’m not crazy about the font that Esker has chosen, and I do think they had something special with the Advocate head tube badge. Overall, the bike has a clean and sturdy appearance contrasted nicely by that fire engine red paint that has a wonderful subtle sparkle to it. I like sparkles.

The Ride

Bout damn time, eh? I’ll just say it: out of the box, this bike freakin’ rips, and will only go faster when set up appropriately for rider and terrain. The first few rides I went on I felt a bit uneasy, getting used to the tire tread. That was before I swapped my stem, added 3x as much sealant as I needed, aired down a bit, and tuned my fork. After some fiddling, I felt supremely confident on this bike, save for some loose corners and the tires. It climbs like you would expect a short travel hardtail with touring DNA and a steep seat tube to: very, very well. I found myself sprinting up fire roads and crawling over backcountry obstacles with ease that I have not experienced on most other hardtails I’ve ridden. The steel frame absorbed chatter wonderfully, and flexed where it needed to, while maintaining a stiff rear end.

Once I got everything dialed in, I was hitting descents and poor choice lines with confidence that I wouldn’t associate with a 120mm hardtail. The only thing that held me back was my confidence with the McFly’s on my local terrain, but tire choice is an easy thing to change. The ride quality of this bike’s geometry and quality of tubing (which is custom drawn, quadruple butted, and customized for each size) made me grin like a doofus, and had me getting airborne and flicking into turns like I was riding a full sus. George Washington Hayduke got rowdy, and so does his 2 wheeled namesake.

Although the terrain around here can definitely warrant a big bike, most of my backyard trails are more enjoyable and faster on a snappy, short travel rig. This is probably true for many riders, and the geometry and ride quality of the Hayduke make it an enticing option as a “quiver killer”. With multiple wheelsets and a spare rigid fork, they Hayduke offers a versatile option for those who want to explore their local trails and have a blast, then swap some parts around and ride some long routes in the middle of nowhere.

Let me put it this way: I liked this frame so much, I bought one. I can’t wait to use it as a platform for all sorts of configuration experimentation, which I’ll be sure to share with y’all.


It’s hard to say much bad about this bike build. The tires were not ideal for my terrain and riding, and the stock stem was a little long for my taste. I like a bit tougher rims, and most likely would have chosen something like the WTB Asym i35, or I9 Backcountry.

The one thing that stood out as strange to me is that the derailleur hanger is integrated into the dropout, which could get hairy if you’re really in the sticks and you bend something. Now, the dropouts are BURLY, and you can get them in different flavors depending on your axle spacing tastes and desire for singlespeed. Personally, I’d choose the sliding/rocker dropout so that if you did manage to bungle your mech, you could run it SS and get out of wherever this bike got you. It’s not a substitute for a replaceable hanger, but it would work. For what it’s worth, I’ve heard that Esker is working on a solution for this.

Final Words and TL/DR

-Versatile frame platform
-Progressive but not extravagant geometry
-Modular dropouts for many tastes
-No-nonsense cable management
-High quality at a reasonable price
-Adventure specific details

-Derailleur hanger integrated into dropouts could be an issue for backcountry touring
-Stock tires maybe not suitable for certain areas
-Stock fork tends to be more “supportive” than “supple”
-Old advocate head-tube badge was too cool to get rid of

G.W Hayduke, is one of the most (in)famous literary folk heroes. Hayduke was bent on giving a voice back to the every-day person who feels helpless in the face of environmental degradation, even if it meant blowing some stuff up along the way. This simple steel hardtail manages to distill some of Hayduke’s ethos.

It’s not wildly expensive, and opts for utility and practicality, with just enough progressive shreddiness hidden in its geometry to get rowdy. This simple bike has the capabilities to be a do-it-all adventure rig, while also being progressive enough to ride most trails without feeling under-gunned, even though on paper it might be. If any bike I’ve ridden embodies “Shred Lightly”, it’s this one. Hayduke is built to get the hell into the woods and stay there while having the chops to cause quite the ruckus on it’s way there. Whether you fill your frame bag with monkey wrenches or snacks, that’s up to you.

Frame: $750 USD

Builds start at $2200 USD

See more at Esker Cycles