REEB Lickskillet: the Mad Max Gravel Racer

For the astute bike nerd, with the unfettered access to the internet that many of the socially distant are currently experiencing, it is evident that hardly a day passes without some bike brand announcing their revolutionary new gravel bike into an increasingly crowded marketplace. Shorter chainstays! Bigger tire clearance! More braze-ons splooshed all over the frame! Into this current apocalyptic wasteland of the gravel racer without a race is born the Lickskillet. Springing from the loins of REEB (yes, that is BEER spelled backward) the venerable bike/brewing company in Longmont Colorado. As they say, each REEB is “Barn Built Because it Matters”.

“Apocalyptic wasteland” is what the aesthetic of this bike immediately brings to mind. To mix my metaphors as thoroughly as possible, the rough-textured powder coat finish is the same color as the lightning sand in the Princess Bride, and the lack of shiny appointments creates a mean Fury Road Warboy look that makes me want to mount up some bags made from leather and metal and disappear alone into the wilderness to wait out the rest of the quarantine in peaceful solitude.

On to the salacious details:

The bike that REEB sent me to try out is a bit of a Halo build with an all-ENVE cockpit, Shimano GRX 810 1x drivetrain, Industry Nine’s brand new carbon gravel wheelset, and my personal favorite saddle for gravel riding, the Ergon SR-Pro in the narrow width that fits my narrow bum perfectly. In a 57cm frame with this build kit and 43cm Panaracer Gravelking SK tires mounted tubeless with 2oz of Stan’s sealant in each tire, the bike weighs in at 20.5 pounds on the nose. VERY respectable for a steel bike in a large size, but then again this setup retails for $6499 so it damn well better feel like every dollar was well spent.

So what does this bike bring to the table in a world filled with exciting new antichrist bikes and titanium drop-bar super-shredders? Enter any bike shop in the country and ask the greasy dude in the back about the mystical ride quality of steel bicycles and you better be prepared for a long-winded soliloquy in praise of STEEL. Bearded men in jorts and sleeveless Gwar T-shirts wax lyrical on group rides and at bars about how steel “just rides better man,” and if track bikes and fixie culture have taught us anything, it’s that steel IS in fact, real.

REEB uses “Vari-Wall THERMLX Air-Hardening, Seamless, Heat Treated Steel” and after a quick Google search to find out what the hell that is, I pulled this text directly from the tubing manufacturers website: “Our Vari-Wall THERMLX material has a unique chemistry that is a meticulous blend of alloying elements including molybdenum, vanadium, and chromium. Our material is designed to air harden as it cools from high-temperature TIG welding. The alloy blend produces a fine grain microstructure with superior strength and toughness. Vari-Wall THERMLX is the ONLY steel in the industry manufactured to AMS Aerospace Standards. This means our raw material is inspected and certified to aircraft standards at every step, ensuring the cleanest defect-free steel on the planet. Maximum tensile strength up to 1200 MPa.”

See what I mean? That shit is clearly real as hell.

The Lickskillet rides like a true race bike, springy when you need it, stiff where you like it, with a hint of neck pain from too much saddle drop at the end of a hundred-mile gravel ride. It feels completely apocalypse-proof and absolutely feeds into my current Mad Max solo gravel racer fantasies. The roads where I live and ride are rugged and brutal, and our famed muddy conditions any time it rains are the stuff of legend in the gravel world. Solid tire clearance coupled with a finish that has more in common with truck bed liner than paint is a welcome combination on a bike meant to tackle the most rugged roads you can find.

The truth of the matter is that the bike rides like a $6500 bike and makes that price point seem slightly more reasonable, which is frankly not an easy feat when there are bikes out there that look similar, are made of fancy tubesets as well, come close to this weight, and ALSO retail for thousands less. There is a lot of honesty in the claim that high-end steel has a sort of mystical ride character that is especially evident on rough and rugged terrain, and this bike illustrates that claim better than most.

I do have a few complaints. For one, the cable routing to the rear derailleur needs another braze-on to keep the housing from protruding too much; it hits the back of my shoe with every pedal stroke. I’m all for a clean and uncluttered aesthetic, but with the massive front triangle, this bike should embrace the current trend of adding an additional set of bosses inside the frame near the head tube to allow the use of a third bottle inside the triangle, and it should also have bosses on the top tube for a bolt-on gas tank-style bag that every gravel bike seems to have these days. I’d also like to see singlespeed compatibility built-in at this price point rather than as a custom option in efforts to make the bike a bit more competitive with other premium MUSA frames.

If we are all being honest with ourselves – more important now than ever, I think – nobody actually NEEDS a $6500 steel race bike to join their local group ride or to race the Mid South or Dirty Kanza. There are American-made titanium gravel bikes out there that cost the same as this steel bike but then again, nobody NEEDS a $90,000 fully built-out Adventuregram van complete with satellite tv and a fully stocked organic kitchen to take to the mountains once per year and nobody NEEDS a bottle of 25-year-old single malt whiskey to drink while they have a Zoom cocktail hour with their quarantined friends, but there are some things in life that are not about need. I like bikes more than I like most things. Bikes are the means by which I connect with the world and also escape from the world when necessary. It’s okay to have an expensive hobby if it makes you happy, and it’s not wasteful to invest in your mental health. Bikes are great, and we should all ride them more no matter how apocalyptic the world becomes. And if shit in the world gets all the way there, this bike is ready to take you beyond the Thunderdome, even if only for a little while. Just watch out for Master Blaster.