This is a review written by a Customer and friend, Colin, who's bike I built in the summer of 2016. I love hearing feedback, especially this kind. Enjoy!
Words By Colin Frazer
In 2015 I moved to Bozeman, Montana from Austin, TX for a job in academia.
Young academics tend to move a lot and the process of assembling a new community every few years is pretty tiresome. Luckily for me, I quickly found a bike shop in town that had a vibe that I immediately got along with: Alter Cycles is friendly, laid back but professional, community oriented, throws weekday rides and weekend parties, all in a small nicely designed warehouse space.
When I first walked in I had that overwhelming ‘these are my people’ kind of feeling. Not only that, but next door is Adam Sklar’s shop where he builds handmade steel frames, one at a time, day in and day out when he isn’t eating tacos.
What began as friendly conversation between Adam and I quickly turned into the sort of riding friendship that I luck into every now and again. He and I shared an exploration-oriented, ride-from-town kind of vision, plus it turned out that he could not only build bikes, but shreds pretty well too—we started to ride together fairly often.
As a long time MTB’er from Colorado and Oregon I’ve mostly gravitated towards hardtails in my time. I like the workingman’s efficiency of them, the grunting (or pushing) up steep stuff, charging climbs, picking precise lines down the tech stuff. I don’t mind limiting my speed a little bit on the descents for a bike that is simpler, requires less maintenance, and climbs efficiently. The more I got to know the local riding in Montana, the kernel of what I felt constituted the perfect Montana bike started to take shape, and it was watered by new technologies and trends in the industry including bigger tires and wider, stiffer wheels.
You see, the riding in Montana is crazy good, it basically has it all: from loam to desert, flow to tech, it’s not hard to find places to get stoked here and ride them from town, plus you're more likely to happen on wildlife or huckleberries than other people. The rumors are that the riding season is super short here due to snow, but (shhhh, don’t tell) there are plenty of low-elevation deserty places to get your fix, even in February. A lot of the riding (like most of the mountain West) involves long climbs (often steep) followed by really long descents that are often pretty chunky due to the lack of bodies to do much trail maintenance in a vast state with just over a million people. My ultimate Montana bike had to be efficient enough to get to and from some of the farther out of town trailheads, but burly enough to deal with the punchy, loose climbs and fast, steep, chunky descents. But I also wanted it to be great for the many options for overnighters here, and even multi-day tours. More than anything, the bike needed to take advantage of the B+ platform to make the shreddiest hardtail possible for all our variable conditions.
So Adam and I started talking about this dream bike every now and again on our various rides because he'd been thinking about a similar bike. It would need to be slack and low, built around a big front end, and maximize front triangle space for bags. It would need to be stiff and long, but still nimble. Building it on a plus platform would give it the extra grip in muck of Spring and allow it to ride packed snow trails, all while providing some extra cush to the rear end while sending it through the mank.
I’ve now ridden this bike for several months and I think that Adam pretty much nailed it with the geometry. To say this bike shreds is an understatement. I’d venture that it descends faster than any hardtail you’ll find, it’s an absolute screamer through anything but the gnarliest of sections, and makes you question whether anyone *really* needs a full squish. In loose, flat corners the extra contact surface inspires confidence—it’s giggly fun in flowy fast sections. Like any bike with a longer wheelbase, it takes some getting used to on the climbs, but the amount of grip you have in the rear makes the thing feel like a rock-crawler! Having ridden this bike now in Montana, Washington, Oregon, Utah and California, it is clear that this bike is at home just about anywhere.
The details don’t hurt either: Boost spaced Industry Nine rear mountain hub, and a SON Dynamo front hub laced to 50mm wide Chinese carbon 27.5 rims mounted into slick custom anodized Syntace dropouts. An XO/XX1 drivetrain with a Wolf Tooth elliptical ring makes climbing a bit easier, and a stealth dropper with a Brooks Cambium saddle, wide Enve bar and a 50mm 26 Designs stem tighten up the cockpit. The front end is plenty plush with an Alter Cycles tuned 140mm Rockshox Pike taking the hits. The rear end is tucked and stiff: 425mm chain stays to a well-curved seat tube and a T-47 BB ensure this. After blowing through two WTB Ranger tires immediately on this thing (Can’t say enough good things about tire plugs for tubeless plus tires - get you some) I changed over to the newly released Maxxis 2.8 Minion DHF (best tire ever) in the front and a Chronicle in the rear and haven't flatted since.
This is hands down the best mountain bike I've ever owned. The only problem is that now Adam can’t keep up with me…that is, until he builds one for himself! Hit Adam up for your best MTB ever or to get some details on the geometry.