Long Term Relationship: A True Love Cycles Heart Breaker Review

After spending nearly six months riding Polish builder True Love Cycle’s Heart Breaker, Hailey Moore pens a long-term review of this drop-bar 29er, and compares and contrasts two vastly different build specs.

Love at First Bike

I first became aware of True Love Cycles about two years ago, when their debut model, the Heart Breaker [sic], appeared on The Radavist. With the assertive stance of a high-clearance 29er contrasted with refined design detailing and drop bars, the bike made a strong impression. The fillet-brazed frame shows, in my opinion, well-considered decisions throughout for its intended purpose as a “go anywhere, adventure-seeker.” From my observations, there’s a growing, if still niche, demand for this kind of all-purpose tourer, but, for needle-threading reasons, it’s a hard category to nail. Upon first internet impressions, I was smitten with the promise of the Heart Breaker and curious to see how it stacked up in the off-road, quiver-killer space.

The first Heart Breaker and True Love serial no. TL001

Nonetheless, after first stumbling on True Love and the Heart Breaker, I mentally filed the bike away as “very nice, I’ll probably never ride one.” However, last Spring as plans began to take shape for my partner and I to spend some time riding bikes in Slovenia and Italy in summer, I remembered the Heart Breaker. I thought it would be conceptually-satisfying to test ride this drop-bar 29er during two upcoming overseas tours: covering the Komoot Slovenia Women’s Rally, followed by a personal vacation window of riding in Italy. On a lark, I reached out to True Love with the idea. To my delight, they were in.

“I first started thinking about the Heart Breaker in 2018 or 2019,” Jan Lutyk, designer and co-founder of True Love Cycles, told me on an early June (2023) call. “I didn’t know if it would be important to anybody but it was important to me.” Through his teens and early twenties, Jan had mostly ridden long-travel, enduro bikes. But in 2017, requisite driving to the mountains and their trails to make use of his bikes became tiresome, so he started exploring the gravel domain and spent time on more nearby trails on rigid 90s mountain bikes. In short, he sold his full-suspension bike, bought a drop-bar gravel bike, and—like any good designer—started dreaming of ways to make it better.

Jan’s earlier work as a product designer—with portfolio pieces like the above Ribbon Stool—combined with his first-hand understanding of the riding experience across disciplines, gives clear form to the True Love origin story. To compliment his skillset and supplement his lack of actual framebuilding experience, he originally started the concept with friend and business partner Konrad Ippohorski, also a product designer but with more applicable engineering and fabrication knowledge. The two finally launched the label and their first bike in early 2022, after a year of dedicated experimentation and planning. After some time, Konrad moved on to other professional opportunities and today Franek runs the workshop. He is the master builder behind True Love’s six unique steel-frame offerings—that range from the all-terrain Heart Breaker to the tarmac-tailored Roadkill RS— all built around customer-specific geometry and tubing profiles.

The Plan

When I mentioned my “made-in-Europe-for-touring-in-Europe” conceit to Jan, he furthered the idea by suggesting we try to build up the bike with made-in-Europe components. Theoretically, this seemed like a creative opportunity to showcase some smaller boutique brands. In reality, though, this turned into a bit of an administrative nightmare as we tried to puzzle-piece together a wide-range 1x mtb drivetrain and drop-bar cockpit compatible with mechanical disc brakes. I ultimately turned to Josh’s Amigo Bug Out build for inspiration and the primary parts of our final dream kit included: wheels and hubs from Dandy Horse (who share a workspace with True Love); Ingrid cranks, bottom bracket, derailleur, cassette, and chainring; Campagnolo levers; and Paul Klampers (not EU-made, of course, but this build, as I would learn, would require some concessions).

Photo courtesy of Loose Cycles

Keen observers may have noticed that the build that came together for my time in Europe was about as far from this esoterica as one could feasibly get in the bike industry these days. The logistics of getting the bike to me ended up being quite involved. True Love would build the frame (have the refurbished Rockshox RS-1 fork color-matched by Velove) in Warsaw, then send the bike to Komoot’s recommended bike shop in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana, Loose Cycles. Due to some shipping delays and customs’ roadblocks, the dream kit parts didn’t make it in time. About five days out from when I would start riding the bike, Jan saved the project by emergently ordering a full SRAM group: Transmission XX derailleur, Force AXS brifters, cranks and bottom bracket. (My own little disastrous breadcrumb trail of parts would remain in limbo for the duration of the trip and finally make it back to me at home in Colorado some three months later.)

Photos courtesy of Loose Cycles

If there’s any takeaway from this aside, it’s that Marko and Tine at Loose put a heroic shift in to get the bike together—staying at the shop after hours on a Friday evening—after both the frameset and components arrived less than 24 hours before the start of the rally. Their willingness to help bring the bike to life, after getting roped in last minute, was an incredible favor, without which I would have spent a jet-lagged and sleepless night trying to assemble everything with a multi-tool in the postage-stamp sized room of a Ljubljana hostel. The shop is also a testament to bikes as a universal cultural force, and I’d recommend anyone pay a visit if in the area. This logistics tangent also serves to explain why I ended up spending an unplanned 1,000+ miles with a Transmission XX derailleur—my first experience with the hangerless system.

Geometry: Overview and Implications

The True Love is a boost-spaced platform and commonly specced with a refurbished Rockshox RS-1 fork. The 15-degree top-tube slant delicately walks the line between maximizing framebag space and allowing for a dropper post (100 mm max), without treading into shred-bro standover numbers. And, its mix of top Columbus CroMo tubing families (Spirit, Life, Zona) create a silhouette that’s robust where needed and trim where not. True Love seems to deliberately shy away from calling the Heart Breaker a hardtail, and their website tags it as an “all terrain drop-bar 29er.

Given this ‘tweener categorization, looking at the custom-tailored geo chart that Jan sent for my review Heart Breaker invariably sent me spiraling into a Bike Insights wormhole and I’ve spent quite some time trying to understand how the Heart Breaker compares to its “alt-tourer,” “ATB,” “drop-bar 29er” contemporaries. For context, here’s a quick overview of the bike and a breakdown of my review Heart Breaker’s standout stats:

Quick Hits

  • Made in Warsaw, Poland
  • Clearance for 29×2.6″
  • Boost spaced
  • Fillet-brazed/fillet-finished steel frame made from a mix of Columbus CroMo tubing (Spirit, Life, Zona)
  • Frame: €2,600; Frameset (with a carbon rigid fork): starts at €2,800  What’s included? Custom geometry, Internal cable routing, UDH-ready dropouts and derailleur hanger, thru axels, custom color (one color for the frame and one for the logos), T47 bottom bracket, bosses for two bottles in the front triangle
  • Medium Heart Breaker Geo:
    • Stack: 610 mm
    • Reach: 435 mm
    • Trail: 90 mm
    • Head Tube Angle: 69°
    • Seat Tube Angle: 74°
    • T47 BB Bottom Bracket, 73 mm shell
    • Bottom Bracket Drop: 67 mm
    • Chainstay Length: 435 mm
    • Wheel Base: 1128 mm
    • Front Center: 698.4 mm
    • Axle-to-Crown: 476.5 mm
    • Front Offset: 51.5 mm

After plugging in numerous frames that I thought might be revealed as close, or distant, geometric cousins to the Heart Breaker—REEB The Sam’s Pants (discontinued), Otso Fenrir, Kona Sutra (LTD and ULTD), Curve GMX+, Salsa Cutthroat, Surly Karate Monkey—I eventually gave up the ghost. I realized that while this quest for neat categorization is a very human impulse, it’s only helpful in identifying broad characteristics (i.e., short-reach, long wheel-base, suspension-corrected, boost-spaced, drop-bar 29er). Trying to dissect every element of the Heart Breaker’s DNA might lead me to sound like someone who recommends a band to you by going on to string together five other bands that that band kind of sounds like (“their vibe is like Brian Jonestown Massacre but with a Stevie Nicks’ vocalist, and Yo La Tengo undertones”); the irresistible notion that throwing enough words at something will help you pin it down. Ultimately, while a bike or band may exist within a certain genre—or overlapping subset of genres—there are too many independent variables to make sense of it entirely by way of comparison.

However, throwing words is my job as a writer. So I’ll offer just a few more sentences on the topic of comparison. My Bike Insights querying did result in a couple notable observations: the Heart Breaker’s most significant outlying stat seemed to be the stack, coming in shorter than all of the aforementioned models, with the exception of Surly’s Karate Monkey (configured on 29” wheels). The most analogous bike I found was the Otso Fenrir, which, after reviewing a while back, I determined I preferred setup as a flat-bar, bikepacking hardtail. With plans to ride the Heart Breaker with drop bars and 85 mm of front travel for a few weeks in Europe, I was curious to see how these on-paper comparisons played out while riding.

Riding the Heart Breaker in Slovenia and Italy

Even though Jan had based the bike around my personal fit numbers, it still felt like a risky proposition for my first time riding the Heart Breaker to include a five-day tour of southwestern Slovenia. I was relieved to feel like the bike and I would get along as Tine rode with me to the start of the rally on a cool Saturday morning.

Over the course of the tour, I got acquainted with the True Love’s handling, the RS-1 fork, and the Transmission system. Forestry is one of the dominant industries in Slovenia and this was reflected in the riding: most of the route traveled wide-gravel forest roads, interspersed with occasional paved stretches through the numerous small towns and villages and, less-frequently, rocky, steep two-track.

Above women’s rally photos courtesy of Sami Sauri and Komoot. 

For most of my time during that first week in Slovenia I chalked up any observation of the bike to first impressions. I feel like I have to really spend some time on a bike to get a thorough read on its demeanor, especially under fully-loaded riding circumstances. Still, many of my initial thoughts proved to be lasting.

Day one, I made note of how smooth the bike felt, without being noodle-y on the climbs. It’s pretty light, but not exceptionally light. Impressive for steel but made heavier by my bags and gear; the “medium” frame clocks in at 2,075 g, or about 4.6 lb (including rear axle and UDH hanger), and the RS-1 adds an additional 1.7 kg, or 3.7 lb. But, you can still tell when a bike is effectively transferring the energy you’re putting into the pedals, and when some of that energy is getting lost in the frame. On many of Slovenia’s dirt climbs and, later, on Italy’s heralded, paved Giro-stage ascents, the Heart Breaker felt surprisingly efficient. I couldn’t help but wonder if the T-type derailleur was contributing to this (the shifting was certainly flawless), or if it was more a combined outcome of the oversized downtube and custom tubing profile, and the slightly lower stack, as compared to similar bikes.

Against the Fenrir, the Heart Breaker’s head tube is one degree steeper at 69° and the stack just 13 mm shorter (610 mm vs 623 mm, respectively). That seemingly minor change—in my experience—translated to making the Heart Breaker feel like a lighter-duty mountain bike intended for drop-bar compatibility while the Fenrir was trying to have the best of both worlds a bit too much. I thoroughly enjoyed my time aboard the Fenrir in flat-bar, 120 mm, hardtail mode, but riding it with swoopy bars often left me feeling impatient on the climbs.

Riding the Italy Divide; photo: Anton Krupicka

On the flats, or descending at faster speeds, it felt like any chunk that passed under the Heart Breaker’s wheels was smoothed out, like a long boat dampening the effects of choppy seas. There was a kind of buoyancy to the bike. Further riding confirmed that the long wheel base and bespoke tubing were contributing to this smooth sailing. As Jan later told me, he kept the top tube and seat tube thin-walled and super light to absorb road vibrations. The 42-millimeter downtube on my bike features a .7-.5-.7 mm butting profile to create a strong foundation for the fork. The rear triangle utilizes similarly stiff chain stays with more compliant seat stays. It’s one thing to read about the intentions of custom tubing, it’s another thing entirely to feel the epiphany of this engineering symphony in real time.

A flipside to the aforementioned boat analogy that I picked up on though was that the bike lost some of its stability when moving through sharper turns, especially on banked or loose surfaces. Riding loaded, I usually feel more confident on descents at speed because the bike feels so planted. And I did on the Heart Breaker as well—especially with the RS-1’s 85 mm of forgiveness—so long as my line was no more than a gently wavering straight shot. But on a handful of especially rough corners during this extended test ride period, I found myself skittish of speed; the sum of the longer wheelbase, tall-ish bottom bracket, and drop-bar position made the bike feel a bit tippy and insecure to bring around a bend.

I felt this most acutely once I’d isolated the frame from my touring weight, on a morning ride up and down the relentlessly switchbacked climb, Mont Bondone, outside of Trento, Italy, in the final days of my time abroad. Just looking at the route overview above will give you a clear idea of just how many turns interrupt the Bondone descent. An absolute dream on a road bike, but any hoped-for flow state elluded me here on the Heart Breaker.

Confounding Variables

While my overall riding impressions of the Heart Breaker—abroad and back home—have endeared me to the bike’s outsized capabilities as a drop-bar 29er, and have left me specifically impressed with its efficient feeling while climbing, there are some variables to parse aside from the geometry.

Rockshox RS-1

The most obvious has to be the RS-1 fork. Prior to receiving the Heart Breaker, I’d never ridden a suspension fork with less than 120 mm of travel. I was curious to see if the RS-1 felt like a worthy weight tax for the relatively minimal travel. Unequivocally, the fork improved straight-shot descending—to a kind of ridiculous extent. It was such a blast to get into the drops on any wider gravel road, or two-track, with hardly ever a mind to feather the brakes. But after spending more time with the bike and brushing up on the RS-1’s mixed reviews, I’m wondering if it might have played a role in the bike’s less secure feeling on off-camber, or winding, descents.

Originally released in 2014, the RS-1 was designed as a lightweight, short-travel XC fork and bore the heavy legacy weight of carrying the same name as Rockshox’s original 1990 suspension fork. The inverted shock was praised for its small-bump sensitivity, self-lubricating design, and unyielding lock-out. However, it was equally critiqued for its lack of lateral stiffness—a flaw that seems easily attributable to its single-crown silhouette—proprietary hub, and resultant high price point. Today, the RS-1’s pros readily recommend it as a companion to drop-bar riding, and it’s been cool to see True Love resurrecting this short-lived component.

However, I can’t help but wonder if the original stiffness (or, lack thereof) concerns about the RS-1 are still present under the reduced forces that accompany bikepacking and drop-bar touring (as compared to, say, full-tilt, flat-bar, XC racing). (To be fair, True Love doesn’t recommend speccing larger-size Heart Breakers with an RS-1 and has built up bikes with burlier, longer-travel XC-style forks). As of yet, I haven’t swapped forks on the Heart Breaker to compare, and I haven’t ridden it with a flat bar (yet!) either, so I can’t do anything more than speculate. But I do think it’s a worthy speculation. I’d be curious to ride the Heart Breaker with both my SID Ultimate 120 mm fork (dialed down to 100 mm of travel to reduce extreme geo impacts) and fully rigid.

Even as True Love continues to explore other fork options for this drop-bar 29er—one Heart Breaker has already featured Cannondale’s Lefty Ocho, and another in the works will be paired with Intend BC’s inverted Samurai—Jan continues to advocate for the RS-1’s early-stroke sensitivity and takes satisfaction in scouring ebay to keep these parts in circulation.

Transmission vs Campy/Paul/Ingrid

Admittedly, I’ve spent just a fraction of the time riding the Heart Breaker with its intended Euro build kit, as compared to the 1,000+ miles I rode with the SRAM setup. From a pure riding performance standpoint, I have to say that it’s my impression that the SRAM drivetrain performed marginally better. Afterall, even though it was a bit of a mixed-ecosystem setup, all of the components were designed to work together. I’ve never experienced crisper shifting as I did while grinding up 15% climbs, on a ~40lb+ bike, as I did when the T-Type derailleur was threaded directly into the Heart Breaker’s custom UDH dropout. The whole system—bike and drivetrain—felt remarkably stiff and efficient while climbing. Because the previous derailleurs I’ve ridden most have also had aluminum cages, I’ll back SRAM’s claim that Transmission shifts instantly and fluidly under load (which Travis Engel wrote more extensively about). Equally notable was that, upon returning home, when I got out the trusty chain wear indicator, the tool didn’t even fall through on the .5 side.

Jeremy Cooper helping with do a full parts swap at Full Cycle, Boulder, CO

Glowing review of the wireless SRAM setup aside, I will also say that aesthetically and, perhaps, tactically, I prefer the alternative build. The Campagnolo Chorus levers feel more appropriate for my size of hands, and I like feeling like I’m in the proverbial front row when I’m on the hoods. The thumb shifter was serviceable for this work-around configuration, though I can see why others have said it’s too easy to unintentionally double shift. It’s also clearly not designed for shifting from the drops—you can but just barely, by reaching awkwardly high with your thumb. In total though, I found the more minimal ergonomics pleasing and the shifting functionality satisfactory.

While I can’t argue that the Klampers perform equally well to disc brakes, they’re the best mechanical brakes I’ve used and, for adventure riding, their immediate serviceability is worth the trade-off, imo. Plus, they just look right on this bike, as do the Ingrid bits. Josh pointed out that SRAM has taken steps to make quasi-repairable derailleurs in the initial Transmission announcement, but the Ingrid RD1 derailleur is fully rebuildable today. It also offers cross compatibility with drop bars or flat bars, and with SRAM, Shimano, and Campagnolo, thanks to the option to customize the cable fin and cage length.

While riding with the RD1, I’ve noticed that the shifting crispness isn’t quite as unimpeachable as Transmission’s. This could likely be the limitations of cable-actuated mech, or the fact that way back when Loose was first building the bike, they had to shave a millimeter or two off the driveside dropout so that the Transmission XX derailleur would snug up perfectly. To make the axle work with the Ingrid setup, a few washers were added—so there could be some unintended, marginal play back there.

Like the header said, there’s a few too many confounding variables to make a definitive call on the isolated shifting performance of the two systems. But, I can say that while I never had any issues with the SRAM setup, I’ve heard of—fairly catastrophic—failings of electronic systems when they’ve been in the wild for too long. At some point, there’s no more troubleshooting to be done from the field (I, for one, wouldn’t ever want to replicate Lachlan Morton’s stick-assisted tringle-speed for all of New Mexico while riding the Tour Divide). For this reason, I’ll probably continue to run mechanical drivetrains for the really long and/or really remote stuff. My internal jury is still out on committing to hydraulic vs mechanical brakes, at least for a bike like the Heart Breaker.

Flat Bars vs Drop Bars

I first started stewing on this question for the modern ATB-styled bike while reviewing the Fenrir. For Otso’s version of a bikepacking hardtail, I ultimately landed on a preference for flat bars. For the Heart Breaker, I’m not so sure.

Given all of the groupset run-around, and being in the midst of winter in Colorado, I haven’t had the time or conditions to consider doing another bout of extensive parts swapping. But I’m really curious. Part of me wonders if the more upright position of a flat bar would balance out that insecure feeling I noted when taking the Heart Breaker through sharper-angled terrain. That same part of me wonders if it would make the bike feel even more capable while climbing out of the saddle, thanks to the extra leverage. Alternately, I also wonder if a flat bar would cause me to de-weight the front wheel some, resulting in more wandering steering at slow climbing speeds. And, would a flat bar bring the mainstream espoused stiffness limitations of the RS-1 into starker relief? I don’t have these answers but the fun thing about bikes is they offer no end to such puzzling propositions as the above, so, if you’re inclined to tinker, there’s always a new experience to be had.


Whether in the context of a bikepacking race, or a race-cation-paced bike tour, long-distance, multi-day riding is my absolute favorite way to be on a bike. Throw in loads of climbing and I’m even happier. I’m comfortable with the idea that for most mixed-surface routes there is no perfect bike, nonetheless, I’ve still been on a mission to find the bike that I feel most comfortable on for my most preferred style of riding. Of the similar bikes I’ve ridden, I’ve been most impressed with the Heart Breaker’s balance of comfort and relative climbing efficiency. The lower stack makes it stand out as a more stream-lined silhouette among its drop-bar mtb contemporaries and, for now, I think the RS-1 fork adds more to the ride than it compromises. Still, as in any long term relationship, I still have some things to learn. But, I can say that I’m committed to this bike as my go-to for long-distance rides for the foreseeable future—I just couldn’t stand the heartbreak of sending it back.


  • Custom fit
  • Custom tubing profile has proven to provide an exceptionally smooth ride without greatly impacting climbing performance
  • Beautiful frame (ok I’m biased)
  • RS-1 improves the ride quality on some terrain


  • Custom pricing: frames start at €2,600 ($2,814 USD)
  • Combination of longer wheelbase and BB height can make the bike feel too tall on some descents
  • TBD on flat-bar compatibility; geo and drop bars could limit comfort to modestly-technical terrain

Build Specs

Frame: True Love Cycles Heart Breaker
Fork: Rockshox RS-1
Bag Support: Ghetto Patent
Stem: Paul Component Boxcar 50 mm
Handlebar: Zipp XPLR 46 cm
Seatpost: Thomson
Saddle: Brooks B17
Bar Tape: Brooks Cambium Rubber Bar Tape
Headset: Chris King
Bottom Bracket: SRAM/ Ingrid
Levers: SRAM Force AXS / Campagnolo Chorus 2×12 Road
Cassette: SRAM GX Eagle 10-52T / Ingrid 10-48T
Chainring: SRAM 34t / Campagnolo 32t
Chain: SRAM / Campagnolo
Derailleur: SRAM Transmission XX / Ingrid RD1
Brakes: Hope RX4 / Paul Component Klampers
Crankset: SRAM / Ingrid 
Pedals: Shimano M520
Wheels: Dandy Horse Hyperion 30 GRX
Tires: Rene Herse Fleecer Ridge 700 X 55

See more at True Love Cycles.