Over the years, I’ve had the ability and privilege of throwing my leg over a number of fat tire, drop bar touring bikes. From the almighty Tumbleweed Stargazer to the readily available Kona Sutra ULTD, these robust bikes with an off-road and load-bearing geometry make for great interstitial, genre-bending machines for all sorts of riding.
Yet before brands like Salsa were even making high clearance, drop bar, 29er, disc brake, production touring bikes, a brand called Singular Cycles in the UK shifted the paradigm with its Swift in 2007 and, later in 2008, Gryphon models. These frames featured high stack numbers, fit big tires, and most importantly, had rack/fender/cargo bosses aplenty.
This year, Singular debuted its custom Gryphon Titanium, and once again, I’m questioning which bike to crown “best in class.” Check out my full-length review below…
Touring Bikes: A Lifelong Love
Before we get into the titanium tourer you came here to read about, let’s talk about touring bikes themselves. A touring bike, to me anyway, is a bike with fender and rack mounts. It doesn’t matter what terrain it’s made for or what tires it uses; pavement or dirt, if you can load it with racks and bags, it’s a touring bike. Touring happens on all surfaces and terrains.
In this photo by Frank Staub, Mike Rust is shown fully loaded at base camp during the 1983 Pearl Pass Tour, with Joe Breeze and Scot Nicol in the background. Yes, people toured on dirt with MTBs!
Credit: Vintage MTB Workshop
Even my 1983 Ritchey Everest was originally sold just like this with front and rear racks as part of the “Touring Package” Tom offered as an add-on item…
Contemporary touring bikes will also have extra bottle/cargo bosses. Most importantly, a touring bike will have a geometry designed around the specific act of fully loaded, self-sufficient bicycle camping and traveling. This encompasses the S24O, or sub-24-hour overnighter, a term first coined by Rivendell that, in my opinion, applies to 75% of what most people do these days on any given weekend ride-to-camp outing.
Pictured above and below is my old Geekhouse Woodville, a dedicated multi-surface touring bike, shown with 48mm Bruce Gordon Rock-n-Road tires and custom racks. I took it on everything from paved roads, to hardpack gravel, chunky doubletrack, plenty of singletrack, and more.
My Geekhouse Woodville had custom racks, with removable low-riders for panniers, a randonneuring-inspired front rack, and a rear rack suitable for panniers, or other bags.
Touring bikes typically have lower trail numbers than a gravel bike, longer chainstays to avoid heel interference with rear panniers, and feature tubesets that are able to accommodate an extra twenty or so pounds worth of gear. When I think of a perfect touring bike, I keep going back to my Geekhouse Woodville that I had in 2012 while living in Austin, TX. It’s hard to imagine this was over ten years ago and yet, this bike looks pretty on par with what people are using these days for dirt touring.
In 2013, riding a 360-mile Yonder Journal “brevet” in the State of Jefferson on mixed surfaces with all my necessities in a Swift Industries Ozette Bag. The route would take us deep into the mountains on chunky, steep dirt roads and double track.
I took this thing all over the Austin area and beyond. I used it on numerous outings in California, from the State of Jefferson to the Eastern Sierra, Death Valley, the Inyo National Forest, the San Gabriel Mountains of Los Angeles, and more. Eventually, it was stolen and damaged beyond repair.
The Desert Moose as I’ve come to call it, loaded up for a CDT tour earlier this summer…
I never replaced the Geekhouse. Was there replacing such a machine? Some bikes enter your life for a brief moment and forever change your perspective. Eventually, I decided that I most enjoyed slower-paced tours on even more rugged terrain and ultimately bought my Sklar Bikes Pack Mule. Again, this is a touring bike. It has rack/fender mounts, numerous cargo bosses, and a geometry tuned for off-road, fully loaded riding. It’s hard to see with all the bags strapped to it but it too has front and rear racks, although I never use low-rider panniers on this since it is also a singletrack tourer.
The Sklar was my first custom titanium touring bike and it set the hook for the material’s dynamic demeanor. When unloaded, the bike flexes, absorbing trail chatter. My contact points are suspended by titanium components–the seatpost and bars are titanium–and when loaded down, every shift of your body weight causes the bike to careen in a most stable maneuver. It’s really hard to beat the loaded and unloaded feel of a titanium tourer.
The Singular Gryphon Titanium Touring Bike – £2800 Frame and Fork
Singular Cycles were eons ahead of the mainstream bike industry when it came to drop bar, fat tire touring bikes. When the Swift first came out in 2007, it made waves with its—relatively—wide rubber clearance and drop bars on a steel chassis, with mountain bike components and the geometry to match. Much like Scot Nicol, Charlie Cunningham, and Steve Potts were doing in the 1980s with their frames, Sam from Singular figured out that people like riding drop bars off-road and picked the best off-road vehicle for this new mash-up bike model.
Then a year later, Sam announced the steel Gryphon:
“The mythical mash-up of lion and eagle representing the ostensible clash between dropped handle bars and big knobby tyres – perfectly harmonious in reality.”
Sam went on to explain the genesis of the Gryphon:
“I first designed the Gryphon in 2006 as a mountain bike for the type of trails I like riding the most – relatively non-technical but fast flowing and fun singletrack. It’s great in that sort of terrain, but they are also great as a lightly loaded touring bike. A lot of the attributes which make it a good singletrack bike also make it a great off-road tourer – big wheels and a low BB for stability, but fairly low trail geometry to keep the handling nice.”
The Gryphon was a true harbinger when it was launched in 2008, before Salsa and plenty of other brands that followed had even imagined such a machine. It was the first production 29″ wheeled, disc brake, steel mountain bike frameset, designed for use with a drop handlebar. Fast forward to 2023 and there are countless drop bar, big tire touring bikes out there, yet Singular Cycles stuck to its roots and debuted the custom Singular Cycles Gryphon Ti.
This titanium chassis is a custom order enterprise. Customers can tell Singular what size tires they want and Sam, the owner of Singular, can tailor the frame to fit their needs. In this case, the custom Gryphon Ti I got to review fits a massive, 3″ tire, and has all the touring accouterments you desire, placed with intention throughout the frame.
Note: many companies just drop cargo or bottle or rack bosses everywhere and do nothing to the frame geometry to enable it to accommodate extra weight. This is not one of those cases.
An important distinction between touring bikes and what many call a “bikepacking bike” is that the latter doesn’t rely on racks or bosses of any sort. Rather, bikepacking bags simply strap directly to the bike frame and components like a seat post or handlebar. A touring bike is superior for off-road touring as compared to many of these said “bikepacking bikes” since touring bike geometries are dialed in to perfectly accommodate the act of strapping extra weight to frame and riding on dirt.
In short, if a frame has rack, fender, and cargo mounts, it’s a touring bike, regardless of wheel size, tire size, or terrain intention.
I’ve reviewed a number of touring bikes over the years, so if you’re curious about what else is in this space, give these reviews a read:
- Best in Class? John’s Review of the Tumbleweed Stargazer Touring Bike
- Big in All the Right Ways: a Review of the Kona Sutra LTD 29er Touring Bike
- The Otso Cycles Fenrir Touring Bike is a Drop Bar 29er Stainless Steel Monster!
- More Than Just a Touring Bike: A Dirty Review of the Bombtrack Beyond 2
Prior to this review, the Tumbleweed Stargazer got my vote for the best in class, yet things quickly changed…
A Titanium Overlord Emerges
Late in 2022, Sam reached out to me, asking if I’d like to review his new Gryphon Titanium drop bar touring bike. Knowing the brand’s legacy and having just wrapped up a giveaway for the Peregrine I reviewed, I was elated to ride something a little more my speed. Not that I have anything against the Peregrine or gravel bikes in general, I just like bikes with thiccccc tires and a more trail-centric geometry and fit.
The build kit comes to around $5600, plus the cost of the Gryphon frame, fork, and Laing Ti stem, which is around $3,615. You’re looking at a $9200+ bike, as shown! Yikes. You could easily assemble a much more budget-friendly kit using used parts or simply less expensive parts and it might not weigh 21 lbs but it’ll get’er done just fine!
When the box arrived, I thought Stefano, the owner of Bicyclista who orchestrated the build, had pranked me. Surely this box was empty? Lo and behold, it was not empty, and out of its cardboard chrysalis emerged a 21-pound touring tyrant. Thinking my Sklar tourer was light, at 25 lbs unloaded, the Gryphon had already exceeded my expectations.
Regarding bike weight: I like touring in dry and arid places, where water is either non-existent, or its availability at few and far between sources. As such, carrying water is my primary objective on these routes. Water is heavy. When your bike and gear are already heavy out of the box, suddenly that 3000′ long slog up a chunderous mountain double track gets even more arduous. A light chassis allows for more weight to be carried and what I’ve found is loading down these light frames makes them come alive.
Gryphon Frame Specs:
- 34mm ID head-tube – for a traditional 1 1/8″ steerer fork
- Single chainring
- 73mm BSA threaded bottom bracket shell
- 142×12 or 148×12 OR 157×12 frame spacing
- 100 or 110 fork spacing
- Internal dropper-post cable routing
- Bolt-on cable guides on underside of the down tube
- Three bottle cage mounts – seat tube, down tube, underside of down tube
- Post mount rear brake on the chainstay
- Clearance for up to 29×3″ or 27.5×3.0″ tires
A Unique Build Kit
It wasn’t long ago that if you wanted a mountain bike drivetrain and drop bars, your options were slim pickin’s for shifting. Either a barcon (or bar-end shifter) had to be deployed, or a Ratio kit installed into your levers and derailleur. Or… gasp. Electronic SRAM AXS Eagle! What makes this Gryphon’s build kit so great is the use of the Ingrid RD1-R12S long cage derailleur.
This unique 12-speed mech can throw to 46T (Short Cage) and 52T (Long Cage) cassettes and is compatible with Campagnolo 12 Speed brifters, or as early Campagnolo levers were known as a brake/shifter.
Even with the second-gen XL Fab’s Chest, the shifting paddle had enough throw to clear the side pouches…
If you’ve ridden modern or vintage Campagnolo brifters, you know they’re ergonomically superior to other systems. Sorry SRAM/Shimano fan people; heavy opinions herein! They’re unique in that the thumb nub allows you to throw down the cassette with one swipe, immediately dumping from the largest to smallest cog with one pressing. For shifting up the cassette, a simple paddle swipe is needed. Even in the drops, you can reach the thumb nub to shift for a more speedy gear.
Experiencing this on a drop bar bike with big tires is phenomenal. The shifting is sharp, and precise, never skipping a beat and the modulation of the levers with the Paul Klamper disc brakes is profound. Matched with the Ingrid cranks and chainring, the drivetrain resonates in humble precision.
The lightweight Chris King wheels, using CSS Composites carbon rims, never skipped a beat, and the meaty Bontrager 3″ tires felt like rolling on clouds at 20psi in the rear and 18psi in the front.
Regarding the tire size, 29+ is such an incredible wheel platform. Especially for touring. It excels in many environments but for me, I’d rather have high-volume, lower-pressure tires than any sort of gimmicky suspension or damping components. Here in Santa Fe, a 29×3″ tire provides lots of traction in our kitty litter climbs and monster trucks over slick roots and rocks. For a rigid touring bike, a big tire just adds to the comfort.
I mentioned before that titanium contact points are divine. The Thomson seatpost flexed, alleviating washboard or trail chatter, and the Singular Laing Ti Stem allowed the wide bars to sway when you’re out of the saddle cranking.
This entire bike as pictured above sans touring bags and rack, tipped the scales at 21 pounds for the size XL! Yet weight ain’t the most important thing, as I’ve said multiple times: the geometry has to be dialed!
Size XL Gryphon Titanium geometry above…
Before we go any further, let’s look at the numbers. The Gryphon takes a middle-rung approach to off-road geometry, placing it remarkably close to my Sklar tourer, although its stack numbers are higher and the reach numbers shorter (since it’s designed to be ridden with drop bars.)
However, the angles, bottom bracket drop, and chainstay length are very close to my Sklar’s geometry. A 450mm chainstay is pretty standard for a 1x drivetrain-equipped 29×3″ wheeled bike. The 70º head angle and 79mm of trail allow for front-loading, and the non-suspension-corrected fork makes the bike look confident in its design intent. “Load me up!” it screamed at me but I didn’t heed the call for a while…
Riding the Gryphon…
Coming off of my Black Cat Swami purchase and my Hudski Doggler review, I’ve been spending a lot of time this summer on rigid bikes. As such, when I first took delivery of the Gryphon, I was in the throes of other bike reviews and had relegated the time spent on the Gryphon to my early morning singletrack loop.
It’s a ride that pushes the limits of a rigid bike without too much consequence. Mind you, this build does not feature a dropper post; the device that makes rigid bikes all the more shreddy. Learning to steer this 29+ wheeled ship without a dropper down steep and rocky terrain was a lot of fun. Since it is lighter than any bike in my quiver at the moment, it was obnoxious how fast it helped me climb my go-to trails.
As discussed earlier, the geometry is even-keeled, coming in closer to an XC bike than a trail bike, with a 70º head angle, yet the riding position–strictly in the drops for descents–really drops you into the bike, rather than atop it. The pioneers of drop bar mountain bikes knew that having your hands in wide, flared drop bars provided better ergonomics and a more comfortable riding position.
This fit and form philosophy of drop bar mountain bikes will be investigated deeper in the near future when I feature this 1983 Steve Potts but, in short, drop bar mountain bikes are typically set up for the rider to be engaged in the drops 90% of the time while riding on the tops of the bar is usually reserved for long climbs. As with this 1983 Potts, even while climbing technical terrain, I found the bike to excel while pedaling in the drops and to be just outright awkward if my hands were on the hoods or the flats.
Thanks to the high stack height and large head tube on the Gryphon, the need for a super high rise “LD Stem” is omitted in favor of the 90mm tall Laing Ti stem.
As with many titanium bikes, the Gryphon was incredibly lightfooted while unloaded on gravel roads, doubletrack, and singletrack. This is where the eagle of the mythical creature comes into play. It wants to soar through the woods and careen around corners while still being able to course-correct under the slightest input. If an eagle is anything, it’s stable.
I’m 6’2″ and 190 lbs with long legs and long arms and the XL felt perfect for me. My body weight was enough to keep the light chassis planted but I could tell the Gryphon wanted to have some extra weight strapped to it.
…Touring/Camping with the Gryphon
Here’s where the duality of the lion comes into play. I love the symbolism the Gryphon evokes. An eagle and lion, forever intertwined, in a creature embodying the best characteristics of both animals. After riding the bike unloaded for months, I finally had a window of opportunity to take the Gryphon on a S24O with a local group here in Santa Fe. We looked at that gallery on Saturday.
The route we chose was similar to the route I took the Tumbleweed Stargazer on; a big, 20-mile, 3200′ climb to an aspen grove in the Santa Fe National Forest.
I added in a singletrack bonus the next morning, climbing Pacheco Canyon to the Winsor Trail, then down Winsor, up Chamisa to Saddleback, Juan, and finally up through Dale Ball. Here’s the second day’s route. This is a ride I do frequently on my full suspension, hardtail, and rigid mountain bikes, so it offered up a good litmus for testing how the Gryphon would handle fully-loaded singletrack.
There are plenty of moments where not having a dropper post demanded some interesting body language, particularly on two steep rocky v-notch chutes on Saddleback, but as soon as the terrain opened up it was easy to pick smooth lines through the rocky sections of trail.
The added weight to the rear and front of the bike created a unique sensation, planting the frame to the terrain due to the additional (high) weight. When you’re out of the saddle, in the drops, pointed downhill, the rear rack, pad, and chair helped the rear end from bucking around like a Pronghorn, and the additional weight at the handlebars made for a slight counter-steering sensation. Suddenly, sharp abrupt maneuvers felt more controlled, whereas riding the Gryphon unloaded made these moves feel more acute.
Even climbing loaded down with the gear range, fat tires, and upright riding position was a cinch. The short and steep climb up Chamisa is one that, at the end of a long day, can be a real grind. Instead, I found myself out of the saddle, mid-cassette as I danced uphill with this bike, frame gently flexing along the way.
One last touch point is the ability of titanium to be engineered in a way in which the frame will flex slightly while loaded, which, in my opinion, makes for a more comfortable experience at the end of the day. You’re not pushing against a stiff frame like you tend to with steel touring bikes and aren’t getting rattled around like you can with carbon frames. There’s this sensation that I like to describe as a dance as the frame moves with each pedal stroke…
Where the Gryphon Excells and How I Would Order One
It’s hard to play the “best” game in bike reviews. So far, the only production bike that comes close to the Gryphon is the Tumbleweed Stargazer. Yet, it is limited to a much smaller tire, and while Tumbleweed made a titanium version in a small batch last year, I haven’t ridden that yet, so I can’t compare it to the Gryphon Ti.
Putting that out there, the reason I’m giving the Gryphon Ti such high rankings in the touring bike/drop bar MTB spectrum is both due to the massive tire clearance, the frame material itself, the size-dependant tubing selection and the engineering Sam puts into each order, and the fact that it is customizable. Even the fork on the Gryphon Titanium is divine, with its smaller diameter blades than others on the market it was able to flex and reduce corrugation or trail bumps. If you want a slightly longer front center, or a smaller frame geometry specifically designed around a 27.5+ wheelset to eliminate toe overlap, Sam can do that too.
While this process will take a lot longer than just hitting “add to cart” on a website, if you’re forking out this kind of money (£2800/ ~$3,427 frame and fork) then you want it right.
If I were to order a Gryphon Titanium, I’d go super boost on the rear end for sure. While this Gryphon clears the 3″ tire fine, as you deform the chainstays to clear a tire that size, you have to bend them abruptly to attach the stays to the bottom bracket shell. This is due to the chainring clearance as much as it has to do with the tire clearance. There’s a tentative balance here between chainring size, tire size, and drivetrain alignment. Sometimes Sam will spec a titanium plate yoke for this intersection but he was able to design this particular frame without one.
My reason for wanting a super boost frame is simple: chainline.
Travis penned a piece about the 55mm chainline in relation to a modern mountain bike chassis. On a 148mm spaced–boost–frame, the chainline comes in around 52mm, which is the measurement from the center of the bottom bracket to the chainring. A 148mm (boost) frame might have a healthy chainline but if you’re going custom, why not optimize it even more? This is why Adam Sklar and I designed my 29×3″ tourer with super boost rear spacing.
Thanks to Pivot for laying this all out in a nice and neat chart!
My 29×3″ tourer uses a 157mm rear end, and that additional width allows for a 56mm chainline, giving much more space to the potential tire/chain interference zone and drastically reducing drivetrain wear. Now, this makes sense if you’re going all-in on “custom” but I can see why people would just want to stick to boost wheels. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?
I will say, super boost wheels aren’t the smartest for a remote touring bike. If something happens to the rear wheel, you’ll be hard-pressed to find another super boost wheel to swap in while touring remote places. Yet, I had no plans for touring in Africa, Asia, or South America on this bike when we designed it. I just wanted a dedicated desert tourer…
TL;DR and The Take-Away
We’re trying to keep our reviews digestible, under 4,000 words, but I could write about this bike for another 3,000 words easily. The Singular Gryphon is a titanium chariot, built with touring in mind but is an ample ally unloaded on your favorite dirt roads, double track, and singletrack alike.
As the duality of the eagle and lion is implied with the name of this mythical creature, it is lightfooted and nimble unloaded, like an eagle surfing thermals, but transforms into an apex tourer when loaded down. It’s the best production modern touring bike I’ve ever ridden. The riding position that a drop bar, big tire touring bike with a lot of stack provides is perfect for the way I like to ride in my local terrain.
The Gryphon’s titanium frame and fork flex in the right way and a balleur build kit as displayed results in a feather-like 21-pound total weight. I have ner’a nitpick about the frame itself while noting if you go to the extreme in tire size, you might want to consider a wider rear end for chainline health.
For those worried the Ti Gryphon is too rich for their budget, Sam also has a Steel Gryphon (frame/fork $1,150.00 USD).
If we were to rate bikes on a 1-10 scale, this one goes to 11.
- Ultralight for a 29×3 MTB at 21 pounds for the XL as shown.
- All the touring mounts you’d need for racks, bag supports, cargo cages, fenders and the like.
- A proper drop bar, big tire-tuned geometry
- Handles exceptionally well when loaded and unloaded
- Can be custom-built with parts of your choice
- Can be custom designed around specific geometric requirements.
- Well priced at £2800 (including UK VAT) for a titanium frame and fork
- Not an “in stock” item; requires a 3-month wait for production
- Expensive (as all titanium frames are) – yet Singular also makes a Steel Gryphon for much cheaper.
Singular Cycles offers the Gryphon Titanium as a “custom build” through its overseas manufacturer partners. As such there is a 3-month wait time for delivery. It comes in four sizes, from small to x-large, has all the touring accouterments you need, and has ample tire clearance. See more at Singular Cycles.