Custom Build: Do-All Singlespeed 'Backcountry Bike'
No gears, no suspension, just a lithe titanium frame set with mismatched wheels — 27.5 up front, 26-inches on back — make up the backcountry franken-bike build by Idaho-based Contributing Editor Steve Graepel.
I have an eccentric relationship with cycling. My ideal ride is pedaling light with an overnight kit: Strap on a pack raft, maybe a climbing rack, and when the terrain gets too rough, get off and push, up talus or across a river, to get deep into the mountains or woods.
Alaskan adventurer Roman Dial coined this "hell-biking," and cartographer/explorer Casey Greene dubs the style "pack-biking." Here's a breakdown of my backcountry bike, a low-tech, ultralight build that gets me far into the wilderness on any kind of terrain or trail.
(See page 2 for helmet, shoes and gloves from the kit)
Frame: Titus Hard Core Racer
I found this used 1996 titanium frame from Titus, the Hard Core Racer Singlespeed model, online for $700. The frame gave me the platform to build a simple and durable bike ideal for backcountry junkets. It's a mechanical mullet, including a 27.5-inch wheel with a disc brake in front to roll over the crud and a 26-inch wheel with rim brakes on back. Final weight, all components included: Just under 20 pounds.
Waltworks Custom Steel Fork. $350
It's no secret that there is an open market on used bike frames. Trolling through eBay or Craigslist can reveal hundreds of diamonds in the rough. For an authentic vintage upgrade, we pimped this titanium singlespeed with a custom fork by Waltworks. A $100 deposit will put you on the list and six weeks later will put a fork in your mailbox. You can choose any color you like (as long as you like black). The ride is delicious and the durability is for life (and warrantied so). And, best of all, the cost is a fraction of carbon or suspension.
Fabric Cell Saddle. $80
It's not killer light, but it's worth every ounce in padding. Fabric's Cell saddle is constructed with two different densities: a stiff gel, interspersed with softer, hex-shaped "airsprung" cells that compress when weighted. The result is a comfortable saddle that you can navigate from for hours on end. I rehabbed a few saddle sores from a stiffer saddle through a week in the Cell and have kept it on the bike ever since.
Fabric Slim Grips. $25
Fabric bills its Slim grips as the lightest lock-on grips on the market. We haven't weighed every grip on the market, but at 75 grams for the pair, we don't doubt it. The thermoplastic grips are easy to install and have a sticky-rubber sleeve that slips over the grip, concealing the aluminum clamps. As you would expect, the grips are exceptionally thin. Our only gripe would be it's not for those who prefer a thicker gauge grip for their monkey fingers. Both Fabric's grips and saddle are offered in a bevy of candy store colors so you can get all matchy-matchy.
–Read on for the backcountry bike kit's shoes, helmet and glove picks
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Five Ten Kestrel Shoe. $180
FiveTen is known for its exceptionally sticky shoe rubber and a comfortable flat-pedal style shoe. Making a move into the clipless market, Fiveten's Kestrel takes the best of both worlds and offers a stiff yet comfortable shoe that you can ride as you like. We paired the Kestrel with eggbeater pedals and then rode them bareback on flat pedals. The shoe securely wraps around the foot using a BOA closure system.
Kitsbow All Mountain Gloves. $120
At $120, these gloves better deliver. Fortunately, we can vouch that they do. The anatomy of the hand is more complicated than the foot, where finger length and palm width make finding the perfect fit…well…less than perfect. For its new glove, Kitsbow, known for producing high-end bike kits, was inspired by auto racing. Using Pittards leather, mesh fourchettes (the gussets between the fingers), and softshell materials over articulating joints, the All Mountain Glove forms to your hand for a custom fit over time.
We were impressed by its breathability on long uphill climbs in the later afternoon summer heat and loved that you can work a phone with the gloves on. To get the custom fit, gloves run small and will stretch over the hand. The rub? Sizes run small to large and may not fit thick-fingered hands well.
Kali Protectives Maraka XC Helmet. $190
Protecting the noggin has become a booming business over the past few years. MIPs innovated in protective spaces with force dispersive low-friction regions. But they aren't the only name in the head game. Kali Protectives took a similar (but different) path to the same end game, fusing the helmet shell to dual-density foams in a corrugated fashion. The result is an ultra-light lid that spills heat exceptionally well.
We tested the Maraka and loved its wide mouth vents, which swiftly flowed air across the scalp, keeping us cool-headed on long rides over 90˚. As for the effectiveness of the dual-density foam? The science data adds up, but there are just some aspects we prefer not to field test!
Revelate Feedbag. $39
We've long been fans of Revelate Designs, but the Mountain Feedbag might be our favorite component of its bag line. The Feedbag straps to either side of the stem and velcros snug around the handlebar. A clip keeps the bottom from swaying and out of the way of the cables.
With enough room for a water bottle, two bars, a toolkit, pry bars, and a spare tube, the Feedbag replaced our saddle bags and kept our inner monster fueled all summer long. The best part? You can now avoid the sold-out line at Revelate and purchase the Feedbag at REI.
Light and Motion Urban 850. $180
Packing 850 lumens in the size of a (large) lip-balm stick, Light and Motion's Urban 850 was capable of throwing high beams for 2 hours (6 hours on low beam). This proved awesome for rapidly shedding elevation during early morning descents. Our only rub was that, while on high beam, it was too bright while road riding with the peloton. Read our full review of the Urban 850 here.