It’s a fun thought experiment to try to pinpoint when the decision to buy a hardtail might factor into someone’s cycling journey. Or, it is if you spend most of your time thinking about, designing, and building bikes like Nick Neuhaus and Daniel Yang of Neuhaus Metalworks. For me, the decision came about 18 months ago when I realized that the terrain that held the most appeal—for day rides and multi-day tours—was continually falling in the underbiking category when ridden on my drop bar gravel bikes. And even though I’m still very much cutting my teeth on more technical terrain, Nick and Daniel reached out to see if I’d be interested in reviewing their second steel hardtail design, the Hummingbird. Of course, I gladly accepted the chance to see if I could keep up with this handmade steel singletrack seeker. In addition to testing the bike on a variety of Colorado terrain, during the past three months I had multiple conversations with the Neuhaus guys about the current hardtail moment; how identity and marketing affect one’s perceptions of this somewhat black sheep trail category, and where the Hummingbird fits into this evolving conversation.
As the follow-up to Neuhaus’ first model, the Solstice, the Hummingbird is positioned as a progressive XC trail bike. The bike takes its name from a local Marin trail that rides “a razor’s edge ledge to a cliffside drop,” and the geometry reflects the demands of such exacting terrain. Neuhaus used the Hummingbird as their first frame to offer true full spectrum sizing and it comes in a remarkable 16 frame sizes, ranging from XXS to XXL+. Interestingly, some geo specs that typically remain fixed across sizes—i.e., wheel size, travel, chainstay length—get fine-tuned across this broad range. At 5’7”, I am firmly in the middle of Neuhaus’ fit spectrum and found the Medium to be just about perfect for me. If you’re interested in learning more about Neuhaus’ approach to sizing and how their innovative 3D-printed parts allow them to keep production efficient, be sure to go back and read our shop visit published a few weeks ago.
For the size Medium that I tested, the Hummingbird is built around a 29er platform with 120mm of front travel and a 66.5° HTA (unsagged); the wheelbase seems perhaps slightly shorter than average in part due to the snappy 420mm chainstays, while the 74.1° STA and 56mm of BB drop balance climbing performance and maneuverability over the rough stuff. Neuhaus lists the frame price at $2,200 with complete builds starting at $5,030. The review bike I received was outfitted with Neuhaus’ Trail build with MRP fork, One Up cockpit, GX Eagle drivetrain, and 5Dev crank upgrades. It is meant to highlight the flexible offerings in their complete builds, which also includes the option for a rider to swap in any saddle and tires they like. Find the full build kit for my test bike at the bottom of this page.
Frame Details & Backward Compatibility
The “make what you want to ride” ethos held by many framebuilders is taken to the next level at Neuhaus with their expanded use of 3D sintered components. Close inspection of the Hummingbird reveals Daniel’s signature 3D printed parts throughout the frame that serve to illustrate the brand’s intense attention to detail. The internal routing port and seal create a clean (visually and practically) transition for the dropper cable; the bottle bracket kicks away from the seat tube curve to maximize bottle clearance and dropper post insertion; the y-yoke seat cluster junction increases building efficiency; and, the chainstay yoke allows Neuhaus to maintain a 52mm chainline while still accommodating 2.6” clearance in the back.
Nick and Daniel’s intentional adherence to a narrower Q-factor (by the creeping 55mm chainline standards), combined with their use of Paragon’s hanger and round dropout, led to the wider topic of backward compatibility. In addition to facilitating faster design iterations and creative freedom, handmade framebuilding—and Neuhaus’ inventive use of 3D printing—gives them the agency to express certain values. Sustainability through repairability and backward compatibility are core among those expressed in the Hummingbird. Allowing their customers to retrofit their bikes with decades of existing technology feels paramount to their ethical compasses.
Of course, the weight that a bike industry giant like SRAM throws around can’t be completely ignored. Neuhaus did experiment with a UDH specific drop out, and as Daniel explains, decided it did not meet their standards:
“When UDH started gaining traction, I designed several dropouts and we built several prototype bikes. The designs didn’t meet our standards for two reasons: the dropouts had to be much larger, and the rear triangle had to be either asymmetric or wider. When Transmission was finally released, it had zero backward compatibility and was designed for carbon fiber full suspension e-bikes.
Instead of UDH, we use Paragon’s hanger and round dropout because: It’s beautifully machined by people who are passionate about custom bikes; it looks great with the classic aesthetics of a steel bike; this hanger standard has been around for many years, and can easily be reproduced; paragon hangers are STIFF. Stiffer than UDH’s nylon-reinforced hanger. If we switched to UDH-compatible dropouts, we would be doing a disservice to everyone who did not want to run the T-type drivetrain. Our bikes would be uglier, heavier, and more expensive. The Hummingbird’s regular derailleur hanger is backward compatible with 50+ years of drivetrains with no end in sight, and that is important for us.
That being said the team at Paragon has worked really hard to create a backward-compatible T-type slider insert. Our singlespeed and titanium Hummingbird can use this insert to use Transmission drivetrains.”
Other decisions throughout the Hummingbird reinforce Neuhaus’ design principles: according to Nick and Daniel a T47 BB allows for the best compatibility with 24mm, DUB, and 30mm spindles, and they are widely available at high and low price points. They’ve opted for external brake and shift cable routing paired with Paragon clips to make it easier for customers to care for their bikes and because the clips are reusable. Finally, Neuhaus has their steel frames and titanium frames powder coated and finished locally. While shipping the bikes to and from Colorado, or Oregon, to higher profile finishers might elevate the finishes slightly, the carbon and consumer costs aren’t worth it to them (I personally think the sparkle finish here looks pretty magnificent). Powder coating also uses fewer solvents and yields less waste than wet paint.
The goal of the Hummingbird—and all Neuhaus bikes, whether stock or custom—is to give the rider a bike with no expiration date, and one that they might come to cherish even more with time and a few scratches. In many ways, that’s antithetical to the year-over-year “improvements” seen in many bike companies today. “Most bikes and components are marketed for their performance: lighter, faster, and stiffer. If you buy a bike because it has the latest-greatest composite lay-up, suspension, and fancy drivetrain, you will eventually lose that spark once the next lighter, stiffer, faster bike comes out,” says Daniel. “But if you buy a handmade bike because it fits you well, you picked the color, you picked the components, and it was made individually for you, those reasons will still be true in five years. We hope you will enjoy the bike even more as it ages. Not all technological advancements or new standards are wasteful, but in my opinion, some don’t offer a big enough benefit.”
The Current Hardtail Moment & Design Intent
In thinking about the full taxonomy of modern cycling (at least here in the US), where you personally identify in the sport can distort how you view the whole. As someone who entered cycling through touring in the post-road, gravel age, I’m sure my own perspective is inevitably biased towards the “All-Road” and “adventure riding/bikepacking” end of a continuum that still very much includes enduro and lift-assisted, bike park downhill riding. The latter two categories (and whatever sub-genuses have cropped up in between) are all but conceptually outside of my purview of riding comprehension because—confession time—I’ve never ridden a full suspension bike.
As a result of my own orientation to two-wheeled recreation, I gravitated towards hardtails as an extension of “gravel” and dirt-focused riding. Increasingly, my focus is on routes that I feel inspired by (like the Colorado Trail, Arizona Trail, Kokopelli Route, the Baja Divide, Vapor Trail, etc.) where the technicality is more a byproduct of the place and position the route puts you in, rather than the point. At least for me. Being able to more efficiently navigate mountain bike terrain feels like a skill I want to acquire in order to experience these routes—even if there’s still a lot of inner mental pep talk happening when pedaling over obstacles and encountering some drops.
The comfort element of hardtails, vs. drop bar underbiking, was also certainly another motivation to dip a toe into suspension. Routes like the White Rim and the Stagecoach 400 come to mind in illustrating the unnecessary but nice smoothing effect that even 120mm of travel and a more upright, body position and slacked out bike affords. I’ve ridden both routes on rigid mtbs and—after riding the likes of Bearclaw’s ti Hardtail MTB, Otso’s ti Fenrir, and now the Hummingbird, all with 120mm forks—I’d much prefer to revisit those routes with a little more squish than just wider rubber provides.
Still, in talking with Daniel and Nick, it was instructive to be reminded of the other side of the hardtail coin. Even when considering those whose entree was mountain biking, many riders who may identify on the sendier side of the sport don’t ride bikes the way that most marketing portrays Mountain Biking. And, depending on where you live, a hardtail might be completely serviceable for the riding style and trails you enjoy.
Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that several friends have bifurcated their quivers, with one racey/all-road/gravel bike for fast miles on pavement and smooth dirt, then deploy a full suspension mountain bike that they drive to the trails when they want to go “mountain biking.” This is not a criticism but, rather, an interesting observation of how the sport is, mostly, still divided into distinct camps. Gravel bikes have attempted to fill this space: they can now, largely, serve as road bikes and they’ve also been touted as serving double duty for light singletrack and tech. But as a certain portion of riders lean into the latter side—pushing the limits of 2.1” clearances and anywhere from 30mm to 100mm of travel—they may eventually find themselves in the circlular dance that is cycling trends and decide—outside of certain race contexts—that a hardtail is actually the more appropriate bike of choice.
Meanwhile, Nick and Daniel would argue that there is a growing gap between this all-road/gravel cluster and proper mountain biking, with a lot of riders falling into the more nebulous space between. Daniel has an interesting theory that may help explain why, “As the mtb chainline and q-factor gets wider and wider, it starts to drift away from gravel bikes,”—in the bike’s fit, feel, handling, and capabilities—’I think that mainstream mountain biking culture is drifting further [away] and it’s separating further from road, gravel, trail, and adventure riding—which is where I feel like most people end up riding.” We’ve seen the rigid “ATB” try to step in to bridge this distance, but that’s a job that, I think, the hardtail is already doing.
I’m often reminded of my friend Adam’s words (quoted in my review of the Otso ti Fenrir) that “people will do anything to avoid riding a mountain bike,” and this notion came up in my conversations with Nick and Daniel. Daniel, incisively, summarizes the differences between the All-Road/Gravel and MTB camps as: Fit, Weight/Gearing, Durability, and Identity. While the first three factors are all reflections of the type of intended terrain, his final point about Identity seems poignant and, in large part, a result of how the bookend iterations of the sport are marketed. In the same way that folks can be turned off by the “fast, lycra-clad, and aggro” portrayal of road riding, the “big air” and adrenaline-forward aesthetic of mountain biking marketing can be equally intimidating. Before you quip, “well there’s just no pleasing you then, is there?” my response to this would be to reiterate Daniel’s point: neither image accurately captures the way most people ride. Sure, there is a place for inspiration in marketing and media representation but there’s also a fine line between aspiration and alienation.
That broadening of representation that we’ve seen as a result of the gravel boom has been one of the more uplifting sea changes to sweep American cycling in recent years. To me, it seems that Neuhaus is making the case that brands would do well to adopt this wider lens of marketing for mountain biking, in terms of rider types, terrain and riding style. And, rather than positing “is the hardtail the real spirit of gravel,” I think a better summation is “are hardtails actually the most representative of most cyclists abilities and terrain preferences”? Maybe?
The Hummingbird does not purport to be a do-it-all, “ATB” or bikepacking hardtail—rather, it is an unapologetic trail bike, made for precision riding over moderately technical terrain. Designed around a slackish HTA, tall stack, a moderate wheelbase, and shorter front travel, it is built to deftly handle speed. It is a bike that stakes its claim on XC-style terrain and, in this way, the Neuhaus team feels like it is an appropriate bike to serve as the bridge between the all-road/ gravel and rowdier mountain bike crowds. Still, Nick stops short of calling it an all-arounder; “We are not shy about saying that we make a mountain bike; it is a trail bike. It fits in this very specific space. We do hope that it helps bridge that gap between the gravel rider and the person who identifies as the mtb-er, but just like with chainline, as you start adding all these sub-categories, people try to generalize a bike’s use and it doesn’t really always work out in the intended manner.” Daniel follows up by adding that, while you could go bikepacking on the Hummingbird, elements of the geo—like the low standover, which is prioritized over inner triangle space—are not optimized for loaded performance.
I found Daniel and Nick’s specific interpretation of the Hummingbird refreshing, in an age where a lot of bikes are trying to be the one-quiver bike. So, I didn’t take it bikepacking; instead over the past three months I put it to the test on trails local to my home in Boulder and further afield, logging a bit over 300 miles (not the most applicable to an MTB review, but Strava doesn’t tally your hours for you). Most of my rides averaged two-to-three hours, with a handful of longer outings straying towards five hours. While none of my rides traveled machine-built terrain, my testing ground for the Hummingbird varied between blown-up 4×4’ roads, chundery double-track, tight pine-lined switchbacking singletrack, and some more backcountry flare on the Colorado trail and outside Salida as the late Colorado season finally allowed.
To put it bluntly, I was impressed by the Hummingbird’s agility from my very first ride with it on singletrack. It feels incredibly responsive without veering into the “twitchy” side of that sometimes-euphemistic adjective, while climbing and descending. It was a joy to confidently round tight, bumbly corners at slower speeds with the bike’s arrow-like precision and balance. But it was the downhills where the Hummingbird fully spread its wings; this bike wants to go fast—often, faster than I wanted to—and I was consistently surprised by how quickly it picked up speed. Accompanied by the gentle hum of the freewheel like the flutter of wings, the name never felt more apt than when careening corners and threading the needle on tight trails.
It is hard to find any real critiques of the bike itself but I do feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the factor of weight in a review of a steel bike. The best way I’ve heard to think about bike weight is in proportion to the weight of the rider. I’m ~130lb and the build kit for the Hummingbird tipped in at about 29lbs. Of course, if it were my personal bike, there are a few things I could do to lighten the load (fork, wheels) but the Hummingbird is ultimately a few pounds heavier than other similar bikes I’ve ridden. And, I noticed, especially on more prolonged fireroad climbs. Alternately, I felt the extra weight did lend the bike a planted feeling while slicing singletrack in an equally noticeable way. Just have to pick what you’re prioritizing, I suppose.
My only other nitpicks with the bike have more to do with the build components. Compared to the SID Ultimate fork I’ve been running on other bikes, I found the MRP Ribbon SL to feel somewhat harsh. I also personally prefer a more forgiving wrist angle on my bars, even when riding trail so I would probably swap the OneUp bars to something with a few degrees more sweep (the clamp area is also tight, making it a little annoying for head unit mounts; and I didn’t really care for the squared-off shape further down). Finally, the supplied Selle Italia Model X saddle was a bit too narrow for my hindquarters but fortunately Neuhaus allows prospective customers to pick their own saddle.
In short, the Hummingbird is a progressive and technologically advanced steel hardtail with design features that prioritize longevity. I found that the bike excels on that knife’s edge of higher speed riding on moderately technical trails.
- Fork: MRP Ribbon SL
- Wheels: Stans Flow MK4 wheels
- BB: Wheels manufacturing T47
- Headset: Wolftooth Premium IS42/52
- Stem / Handlebars: One Up stem and carbon bars
- Grips: PNW Loam
- Seat post clamp: Engin 2 bolt
- Seat post: PNW Loam w/ PNW lever
- Brakes: Slate T4
- Rotors: Jagwire: LR2 180/160
- Drivetrain: 5DEV Cranks/ 32t round titanium chainring, GX Eagle mechanical shifter and derailleur, GX Eagle 10-52 cassette
- Saddle: Selle Italia Model X (customer’s choice)
- Tires: 2.4″ Vittoria Syerra Graphene (tires are also up to the customer)
Check out more on the Hummingbird at Neuhaus Metalworks.