When we first moved to NH in 2006, the very first ting that became completely evident was just how many well groomed dirt roads were available at my fingertips. At the time I had a single speed mountain bike and a Kona Kula made out of Reynolds 853 sporting 25mm tires. And it immediately was obvious that the narrow paved roads with little to no shoulder were not going to be the safest way to ride. I’d head out for a ride on my mountain bike and ride the dirt roads to trail heads and if I bumped into 1 car in 5-10 miles it was an event. So this got me to thinking: What if I had a road bike with big nobby tires? The Huntsman was born.
From that first prototype, the Huntsman has evolved and been refined and with it’s creation, just happened to coincide with this whole trend or style of bike referred to as a “gravel grinder”. Some loath the term, but to me it does really explain the purpose of that particular “road” bike. You get it immediately. Whatever you’d like to call it, it’s a road bike. The vast majority of Huntsman’s that roll out the shop doors have room for 40mm tires and are 11 speed equipped. A good majority of these are also 1x setups. But as time wears on, and builds continue to roll out the doors, that first prototype is always on my mind. Big tires on dirt roads are just plain fun. I’d been rolling around the concept for myself and was dubbing it the Huntsman “Super Trail”. The one bike that rules all roads. So when a client requested a Huntsman but with room for 2.3″ tires… (yes, 2.3 x 2.9!) I was all ears. He had a lot of requests that required a lot of measurements and clearances to be juggled as well as compatibility questions.
As the road bike segment has evolved over the years, and most recently I’d say that’s accelerated in the past 2 years, drivetrains have been moving all over the map. 2x setups went to 3x setups, now back to 2x and dropping the front derailleur for 1x set ups but 3x setups are still available only on a limited basis in terms of what group offers that option in a triple. It used to be no matter what speed you were running, all things still worked together but then companies started changing their pull ratio’s and the geometry of the rear derailleurs so that certain groups and speeds were not backwards compatible with others or maybe they weren’t “optimized” but could work. Cassette options seemed to have touring cluster options but then went slim and trim for mostly “race day” gearing but then they had options for touring but now you can’t mix and match but.. It’s enough to make your head spin. Recently, Sram seems to have been doing a pretty good job with their introduction of XX1 that brought 1×11 to market and the ability to have road groups mix and match cassette options from mountain. Right now, for example, I’m running a Force 22 set of 11 speed levers, mated to a Force 1 long cage rear derailleur AND their XX1 10-42t cassette and a Wolftooth direct mount Dropstop 38t chainring. It’s a 1×11 setup, but I’ve got a mix of drivetrain components in there which allows me to have a pretty tight set of gears in a wide range of usable pedal power. But with this build, there was a lot of research, note taking, erasing, crossing out and more note taking to be done. After a lot of back and forth with the client, my OEM account Shimano and building the bike, I’m happy to say that this build is finally finished. So let’s roll up our sleeves and get down to business of all the details that went into this bike. Here’s a shot from the business end of things:
First off, this is physically a BIG bike. The client’s a big guy! But starting at the front end, he wanted a Schmidt Son Delux SL hub to provide power for the front and rear lights. He’s had lights before and did not like the shadow cast by the fender line/wheel when mounted on the side. Most loads he carries are small so losing that little bit of room up front to have a centered light was AOK and a compromise he was willing to make. The rack is custom as well as the Tapered fork. The bike sports front and rear lights both powered off of the generator hub so it was recommended by Peter White Cycles that they be ground in two spots and as you can see, I kept the cables running between the fender and rack. That’s shrink tubing keeping those cables nice and organized beneath the rack. The front rack is ground to the custom machined and removable light mount “pill” while the rear light is grounded at the fork crown mount of the rack. There is a custom machined stainless spacer behind the bolt that allows the ground to work and not interfere with the interface. When the light is not run, that can be removed and the bolt runs flush and clean. (I consider this stuff so that the bike looks purpose built and balanced in any mode.) Here’s a shot of the whole assembly:
And a close up of the custom machined “pill” mount for the light:
Drivetrain wise, here’s where the rub started: Client request was a triple. That’s ok, but the caveat was room for 2.3″ tires.. AND run a cassette that had a 34t or 36t cog. To make all that work, I kind of had to look into a mountain drivetrain. So I was on the phone with Sram and Shimano looking into the whole compatibility problem. Back and forth and I was initially given incorrect information from Shimano (It also could have been that I didn’t explain myself correctly or the question was misinterpreted). But I came away with the understanding that a 10spd rear mountain derailleur would work with an Ultra triple shifter set. WRONG. The pull ratio’s are different. Sram wise, all 10 speed road and mountain are cross compatible. Not so with 11 speed stuff though with both Sram and Shimano. Shimano Di2 doesn’t care as long as the front / rear derailleur’s are in the same family but the client did not want to rely on battery power when he’s in the outback. So that ruled out Di2 and he definitely wanted Shimano. So that ruled out Sram. And he definitely wanted a triple. So that ruled out a 1x or 2×11. I had to go through 4 derailleurs just to get the set up correct. The savior was a little gadget made by Jtek called the “Shiftmate”. Basically it has a pulley with two different sized grooves and a flat spot as the cross over so the cable gets looped through and when shifts are made, it alters the amount of cable pull dependent on which groove the cable initially enters and is looped around. Here’s a close up of the Jtek Shiftmate:
All the gear combinations work, the shifts are in the right location and there’s no slack in the chain in the granny when on the smallest cog. That’s a win. The only combination that is maxed out for the derailleur is the 42t x 36t combo. It shifts and works, but the rear derailleur’s take up is really maxed out so I recommended to the client that he avoid using it. So 1 combo out of 30? Not too shabby considering all the other flaming hoops I’m jumping through on this one. Now that front derailleur. Originally, I had an XT spec’d. The problem being that the pull mechanism on the front derailleurs on these suckers is bulky if the cable is entering from the bottom. The square peg being the 2.3″ tire requirement and full fenders. Of course I’m also balancing the bikes feel/performance. I don’t want the bike to feel like a slug. I want the bike to be snappy and accelerate quickly too but be stable on loaded descents. There’s that part of the equation – I could’ve added a bit of extra room back here but I did not. So that forced me to re-evaluate that area and the solution was to spec a 34.9mm Ultegra Triple front derailleur, but turn / machine a custom eccentric shim. This front derailleur is designed around a 130mm rear spacing TRIPLE. Not a 135mm spaced rear triangle like this one is which is a requirement because we wanted disc brakes. See where things start to get complicated and tolerances start to stack up? Yeah, you can see the smoke pouring out of my ears at this point. But that little eccentric shim allows me to rotate the derailleur out and forward to dial in chain line, and hit all the shifts while kicking the derailleur forward a touch to make the most of every millimeter available. Here’s a shot of that:
With a pair of stainless washers behind the bottle cage, a King Cage clears the eccentric with bottle in place and there’s mounts for 3 bottles. The bike will clear 2.3″ tires with the fenders in place – not full coverage and I used a massive Schwalbe 2.3 Nobby Nic as the test tire to make sure it all works. The rear fender has a custom machined bracket mount (which is not pictured) and it’s stainless steel too to get the fender in the right spot when in use.
Next up is cable management. There’s a lot of electricity going through this bike and cables to do the job. I can’t stand hack jobs and untidy solutions. I like keeping things neat and tidy and shrink tubing really works well in this area. Here’s a detail of a modified Di2 port, internal rear brake routing and cable routing for the rear light (yep, that “T” bracket is custom too for the rear light):
Oh and I nearly forgot! The rear light juggles the fact that it will be mounted on a possible rear rack at times too. It had to clear the fender line but what about all that extra cable? Ok, can’t shorten it so the excess is stuff inside the top tube and when you want to mount the rear light on a rear rack, pull the cable out, remove the T-bracket, attach the rear rack (4 additional rack mounts on the rear end) and keep things tidy with the Di2 grommet and shrink tubing.
Wheel wise, the wheel set was hand built by Peter White Cycles and is a pair of 29″ Velocity Blunt’s laced to a Schmidt Son Delux SL front hub and a White MI6 rear hub. 32 hole of course and 11 speed compatible. Rubber is a set of 2.1″ WTB Nano’s. ENVE Cockpit and post with Thomson stem and collar. Cane Creek 110 head set. Fork is custom with Paragon Machine Works fittings throughout the frame, fork and rack. The Fork uses Schmidt’s stainless steel dropouts with an integrated “hotshoe” for the Son Delux SL hub so no wires are needed to be removed before the front wheel is removed. Just take it in and out like you normally would. I have to say when it was all wired up and I turned the lights out and spun the tire for the first time AND the lights came on? That was quite pleasing… Drivetrain is a mix of Shimano XT and Ultegra 10 speed components. XT SPD pedals of course!
Here’s the build from the party end:
How much does this bike weigh? It weighs “just so” that’s how much it weighs. This som-bitch is battle ready and ready to take on just about anything and everything you can through at it. That’s why I call this version the “Super Trail”. There were a few instances when I was left scratching my head wondering if things were going to come together and there were a few set backs with the drivetrain which prolonged the delivery but the client was super patient which I appreciated and had warned we might run into some issues when everything comes together. That’s the trouble with builds like these. On paper they all work AOK. But when things come together, some times things have to change mid stride and I’ve got to be on my toes to make adjustments. I found myself at every step of the way thinking about new approaches, new parts and a common thought I had was “Well, looks like I have to machine another small part that no makes. That I know is something I strive to avoid. This isn’t because I’m against it, but if there is something we can stick to that is Standard, let’s stick to it. No one wants a bike so proprietary that if something does fail, they up the creek and waiting till I make another part for them. That’s not fair and that’s one of the reasons I keep things pretty clean in this regard. But I do have the skill set to go into uncharted territory if needed but that is generally a choice I make when all others have been exhausted. This one isn’t too crazy but most of the difficulties I ran into were in the drivetrain and the fact that component company’s just don’t make certain parts anymore and if they do they’re limited in scope. All in all I’m super proud and happy of this build as it finally came together. It almost got entered into a bike tossing contest but I refrained (I think that was somewhere around front derailleur incompatibility #4?). Being that it is all white, it took on a Moby Dick persona and I felt a bit like Captain Ahab chasing after a mythical beast. But it came together!
Here’s one last parting shot from head on:
This sucker is going to go places. I hope it serves the client well as we pulled out all the stops to build this Huntsman “Super Trail”. Enjoy and keep the rubber side down. Shred more. Race Less.