It was 1985 or 1986 and my best bud and I were headed to the Upper Perk Pool to play a little session of Home-Run-Derby followed by a dip in the pool. However, we had to head to Kuhn’s Drug Store before heading to the little league diamond. We needed some big league chew as our stocks were low. Kuhn’s was an old drug store with a set of large glass display windows with a set of steps inside that led you up and into the store. There was an old soda fountain and bar to your left, drug store in the back and magazine rack to the right. Old exposed wooden floors creaked with every step. The bell rung as you open the front glass door notifying the owners often in the back of a new customer. Super old school locked in a time capsule of 1980’s East Greenville, PA. While my buddy was tending to the big leagues, I happened to be diverted to the magazine rack. Something caught my eye: Mountain Bikes was in the title of a magazine. What the heck is this? It kind of looked like a big BMX bike with gears but meant to ride in the woods. Kuhn’s of all places was the starting point of my obsession with mountain bikes. Fast forward to 1990 and I had full on Mountain Bike Fever. As I’ve mentioned before, my first mountain bike was a 1991 Trek Antelope in fluorescent yellow with black paint splatters. That bike took me just about to every corner of our Valley and set me on a path forward to where I am today. I’ve been mountain biking now for over 27 years and to celebrate the mark, I decided to answer a question: What if I recreated my first mountain bike? What would that look like? A lot would have to change obviously but in the spirit of that new direction, I decided to also use this bike to experiment with a handful of new to me concepts that I had not yet explored. Well, just like that first mountain bike changed my life, this latest iteration of the Marauder has totally changed my perception about mountain bikes, their geometry and what defines a mountain bike. So let’s roll up our sleeves about what makes this bike click and what changes I made that opened up a whole new starting point in what I previously thought I had figured out. This bike, true to the original, basically changed everything… Geometry: Mountain bikes and their geometry have come a long way since my Trek Antelope and I hit the trails. Within the past 5 years alone there have been so many advancements it’s been tough to keep up. And certainly a long way even within the past year since the last prototype I built myself! So with this build, I wanted to break out of what I thought I knew and see how a long top tube, short stem and slack front (mind you, slack to me…) handled here in the tight technical terrain of New England. Like I mentioned above, I thought I had a good handle on geometry and what I needed from my own bikes. I want a bike that can climb just as well as it descends but be able to perform in most if not all situations between those extremes. My worry about going too slack was how this would effect slow speed handling and how responsive the bike would be in tech (which we seem to have a lot). Basically concentrating my efforts on the front half of the bike if my cockpit length were to remain the same which is typically 21.75-22″ in length from saddle tip to center of bars. The reason why I use this measurement is to assess comfort while seated climbing. I have to be comfortable while I’m seated even though my riding style is one that often sees me standing out of the saddle for a good portion of the ride. I tend to stand while pedaling vs being seated for the majority of the ride. Maybe it’s my days riding BMX but I find I’m more “ready” and a bit more fluid if I’m riding my bike “up in the stirrups” vs seated in the saddle. I also decided to up the travel of my typical 120mm Fox 34 to Fox’s 130mm travel 34. So I went with a 68° HT angle and designed around a 35mm stem length. Paul’s Boxcar 35mm Stem is a nice piece of kit! Which also brings me to head tube length. I’ve been using a 130mm long HT for some time now but wanted to gain a bit more standover closer to the head tube to see how much more clearance I can eek out. Cane Creek’s tall top cap helps to smooth out that transition a bit but there are more stack spacers than normal but the added overall standover really gives me more room out on the trail and the short stem really quickens up reaction speed of steering. Although it’s more than I’d like to look at, it does offer a bunch more standover closer to the head tube and ironically, it’s the same length Head Tube as the very first bike I ever built myself. Talk about full circle! Doing a bunch of drawings, I’ve found that for every 10mm of stem you get rid of, the front wheel moves forward by approximately 13mm (that’s .5″ for us Americans…). This throws the front wheel further out in front of the rider obviously and subsequently lengthens the wheelbase. So you gain high-speed stability and lose a bit slow speed quickness. And here is where I really wanted to experiment: Wheelbase as it relates to handling. How long is too long? How slack is too slack? I don’t know and that’s just what I’m starting to re-figure out! The rear end of the bike is set at a cool 16.45″ with a seat tube angle of 72°. The reason for 72° is the bend kicks the tube forward a bit so to replicate the same saddle position in space as a 73° ST angle, I use 72° and this places the saddle in an effective location as it would be if the tube were straight and at 73° (Editors Note: The virtual seat tube angle is 74.8° which is very close to many designers already using head tube angles in the mid to low 60° range to center the rider’s weight between the wheels. I believe this is one of the reasons why my designs thus far have retained good climbing capabilities.). Bottom bracket drop is 2.25″ and the bike was built around and dedicated to 27.5 x 2.8″ tires. I’ve ridden this tire with the 2nd Marauder Ti prototype and realized just how playful 27+ can be.. And boy did these changes deliver to my complete surprise! The first thing you must realize about a short stem/long tt bike if you’re used to more traditional setups in the 70-90mm stem length is that it throws the front wheel well forward of where you are accustomed. Throw a leg over a bike like this and a quick pedal up and down the block, your body position feels a bit off. All you need to do is shift your weight what seems to be a bit forward and voila, the bike feels normal. But this isn’t necessarily you shifting your weight forward. Quite the opposite, you’re actually finding your new “center”, which is forward of where years of trained habits place you. Just like on a BMX bike, where the saddle is slammed, and bars allow you to stand upright with a pedal down or pedals leveled and bent at the knees ready to bunny hop, the same thing is happening here with a slight change in how you have come to ride. And riding up and down the paved street in front of the shop, I did just this. Within a minutes time, I had my new center found and the bike instantly felt at home. Turning is also really different. You don’t steer. You get low. You lean. And when you lean, the bike really starts to hook up and dig in beneath you. And that’s just what happened out on the trail. Saddle slammed, you can get really low and push on both wheels through turns and now with that saddle out of the way, your butt can hover over where the saddle used to be (which was in the way, pitching you well too far forward, or too far backward) and you can really push down on the bike, lean and carve through a turn. Stability at speed is eye-opening. The front wheel plows through terrain, and the 130mm of travel soaks up the hits easily with only a slight change in axle to crown measurement when taking sag into account. My perception was totally turned upside down of what and how a bike “should” handle and now has me wondering just how far can I push the slackness of the front end? One attribute that slowly emerged as I tackled more varying terrain at different speeds is the bikes ability to loft the front end when needed. The slacker HT angle adds gobs of stability at speed, the longer wheelbase layers on more of this stability. Popping the front wheel up and over objects at speed is a no-brainer. Where I’ve noticed any negative attributes is in really slow speed tech. Most of the time, a slight shift in where weight is biased makes the front wheel pop easily, but if you’re in a situation where the bike is tipped a bit more forward and you need to pick the front end up, the longer wheelbase does make this a bit more challenging or slow to respond. Flat ground or slight inclines the bike responds but if you’re headed down slightly and your weight is shifted back, that ability to pop the front end is a bit tougher. That situation doesn’t happen often I’ve found as I was tending to use my momentum to roll down and through obstacles, but it was something I noted when you do happen to have to come to almost a full stop, pause and pop the front wheel. What I started doing in situations like this was to anticipate that downward slope sooner and pop the front tire sooner so I was essentially pulling a small wheelie into that situation and setting up much sooner than I typically had. But again, how slack and how long can you go? Wheelbase: Previous bikes I had built ran the gamut of wheelbases and head angles. I came full circle as I’ve built bikes for myself starting out at 69°, then going into the steeper 70-70.5° only to come back to 69°. Wheelbase was typically in the 45″ range but I was viewing this as a result of chainstay length, HT angle, and my cockpit length. As mentioned above, I wanted to see what effect on handling the wheelbase when lengthened had on the overall performance of the bike on the entire mountain. Stem length plays a role for me as I have to be comfortable while seated and climbing and again, that’s not much of the time but for me, I do enjoy a good climb so I was a bit conservative with shortening my stem from 90 to 80 and then 70mm. This bike went short with a 35mm stem and lengthened the wheelbase by close to 2″ to measure out to just a hair over 47″ with the sliders slammed. Like I mentioned above, high-speed stability is eye-opening. However, there are two notes I made that should be mentioned. First was the bikes ability to self-correct at speed. Second, was the bikes ability to smooth out chatter. Both thanks to that longer wheelbase. At speed, and I was carrying a lot more because of this bikes set up, I found myself, of course, making some mistakes. A bobble here, a bit more steering than necessary there… Whoops, I’m going way too hard into that turn. But if I bobbled, or got a bit squirrely, the bike wanted to stand up with little effort. It wanted to seek a straight line. A little correction here and there and bike found it’s footing again quickly. I had a few close calls but was surprised how quickly I could recover and pull the bike upright and back on my line again. With that added stability I was also looking to some trail obstacles I typically would pass up. I had more confidence on this bike at speed. I can move on this bike! Second, was its ability to smooth out trail chatter. The larger volume of the 2.8″ tires has something to do with this (as does the Nox Composite carbon rims, but I’ll get to those down in the component spec) but I do think that elongated wheelbase helped to layer on that smoothness. Playing with the stem length, ht angle and wheelbase again has me thinking or rather re-thinking where the combination of too slack and too long starts to affect overall ride quality and performance attributes. I certainly haven’t found it, but I’ve managed to redefine a new starting point for myself. I can go faster. I can go harder and I’m admittedly having way more fun riding than I have in years. In long extended tech sections, the bike does not bounce around like previous versions had. Thank you longer wheelbase with slacker head angle. I’ve already redrawn the next iteration 3 times and slackened the head angle to 67° resulting in a 47.5″ wheelbase. Is that too slack? Not enough? We’ll see. Standards: Or so-called “standards”. Slowly with each new bike I’ve built myself, I’ve been replacing my forks and upping travel from 120 to 130mm. I’ve also gone boost 110 front but I’ve also made the big step to 157mm TA rear spacing on all my own personal bikes. This allows me to use either a 73mm bb shell with a chainring flipped on a RaceFace Cinch Crank or I’ll use an 83mm bb shell width for the same chain line. All of this depends on the material, but also drivetrain performance and crank spacing. 157mm allows me to create gobs of chainstay and tire clearance with good chain line. This bike was built with a 157mm rear TA and a T47x73mm BB shell width with a 6mm offset chainring flipped which resulted in lots of clearance for varying tire widths: Next up was going with an internally routed dropper entering the down tube and exiting around the back of the bottom bracket shell to wrap up into the seat tube: This is simply a chance to see where a relatively “normal” crank plays with these wider standards in case a client has big tire dreams but requires a relatively narrow crank stance. Result? Success. Good chain line. Normal crank width. Good power transfer. Lots and lots of mud clearance and tire clearance! A tapered head tube is a must and not even negotiable. Wide bars? 760 is normal for me. I’d like to try some of ENVE’s new 780’s actually but I often get questioned about handlebar width and honestly, this is something you need to experiment with as everyone’s shoulder width varies. Start with the stock length and move the controls/grips in .25″ at a pop. Ride like that for a week and then trim. You can take length off but it’s a bit tougher to put it back on! Just know that the wider the bar, the more you will pitch forward so you can combine a slightly shorter stem with a slightly wider bar to get the same relative position that is comfortable. I find I have more leverage and better control with a wider set of handlebars but just like the bike itself, the handlebar width has to be proportional to your physical stature, so don’t be hesitant to find your own width. Which leads me to… Components: The drivetrain is XTR M9000. Stockpiled well before Shimano released their latest version of XTR. Oh well. Next build. ENVE Mountain Risers and of course, those are discontinued too. Race Face NEXT R’s with a Wolftooth dropstop 32t chainring. Rounding out the bottom bracket area is Enduro’s T47 bottom bracket. I’ve had one of these on another bike for 3 seasons and it’s going strong. Next up are wheels and it’s an important part of the ride quality discussion. I was really curious about carbon hoops and after a few discussions with friends (Thanks SHOOGS!!) settled on a set of Nox Composites Kitsuma’s laced with DT Swiss double butted Comp spokes to a pair of Industry 9 Torch Classic hubs (110 F/ 157 R). Lightning quick engagement with a whole new level of ride quality that again opened up my eyes to a whole new world. Lacing carbon rims is amazingly straightforward and a joy to work with to get them true and up to tension. Out on the trail, it’s a completely different ride. They soak up hits and chatter and deliver stiff power smoothly. I don’t exactly know what’s going on down there as the wheel turn but they’re fast and stiff without being harsh. It’s been quite the experience: Next up is tire choice which is essential to the equation of ride quality. I was really curious about Maxxis Rekon’s so I went with a Maxxis Rekon 2.8 up front… And a relatively fast rolling choice in the Maxxis Ik0n 2.8 out back. Hardpack, dry conditions, these tires excel. Wet and muck they hold their own. Where I found them to be less than ideal is when it has rained and the rocks/roots have a bit of a slime to them. The bike needs to be upright. The increased volume of the tires helps this but marginally so. WTB has some new tires arriving apparently in August that I’m very curious about as WTB’s have been very supple in addition to having gobs of traction in every condition I’ve thrown at them including those wet slimy roots and rocks days. So I’m curious how these tires will compare. Sidewall protection is excellent. I’ve only been riding these for a few weeks and time will tell but so far so good. Finding that just so tire pressure took a few rides but it’s below 20PSI and above 15PSI. That much I know! But good durable tires in a variety of conditions with an emphasis on dry hardpack are these tires to a “T”. Headset? Cane Creek 110! Their little ingenious lips on the headset cups allow you to place/position the cups before pressing them into place and makes installation a snap. And the sucker just plain works. Dropper wise, I went with a 9point8 Fall Line. Set up was surprisingly simple of this internally routed post. I really, really like how the cable attaches to the base of this post. Other internally routed posts (Fox and Thomson come to mind) although have been incredibly reliable, are often trying to keep the cable in place when first setting them up. 9pint8 uses opposing fixing bolts in addition to the end of the cable assembly physically threading into the post. It simply won’t come out when you insert the post which made for getting the final length of the cable housing a snap. Thank you 9point8! I had purchased the shim kit but with this being my first experience with a 150mm dropper, I can’t see myself ever limiting it and going forward will only run 150mm droppers. Amazing what an extra inch / 25mm of drop can do! And the funny thing about droppers is for me I came late to the party on that one but now that I’m used to one, I have it slammed pretty much the majority of the ride. I bet that thing doesn’t come up for well over 85% of the ride. Which on one ride the next morning found the inside of my right thigh completely fried. I simply was not used to using my legs that much to pump through obstacles and support my weight not to mention now that I can get as low as I can. I’ve often found myself really sinking low in tech and most times only millimeters from the top of the top tube or saddle slammed now that I can get THAT low. Carrying speed through turns is amazing. No, I don’t have stats on this. I don’t use Strava nor do I use a GPS all that often. But I am certainly going way faster and carrying a lot more speed in addition to tackling obstacles I was passing up. Wolftooth’s light action dropper lever does the heavy lifting here and, my own opinion sets the standard for aftermarket dropper levers (9point8 has Wolftooth make a dropper lever for them – it’s near identical to the Light Action version with the exception of the paddle). Now that I’ve used one, I won’t go back to NOT using a dropper. One thing I did note was the Fall Line being a bit sticky at first upon its return. A few rides and a lot of up and down and it seems to have smoothed out on its return without any stickiness apparent. Perhaps it’s a lot like a Fox fork where they have a break in period? I can’t comment on longevity. Again, I’m only a few weeks in but so far so good! Grips and saddle are Yeti Speed grips and Selle Italia SLR with Ti rails. Grip wise, I’ve been trying a set of ESI Chunky grips. My only gripe is they start to hurt my palms on downhills for some reason. Swapping back to the tried and true ODI Yeti speed grips and well, no more hurt on downhills. It must be the rubber compound or something that I’ve grown to like. It’s soft on top with a bit of firmness underneath where the ESI’s feel a bit too soft. On flat ground those are great. But the ODI’s still are my go-to favorites. Whatever saddle you settle on, it will just fit. That saddle for me is the Selle Italia SLR. But if you have a problem bending rails like I have, invest in a Ti railed version. No more bent rails. Handling: Here’s the last piece of the puzzle where you take all of the above put it into the “framebuilder blender”. What comes out on the other end is realized on the trail. Well, for starters the bike can climb. And it’s fast… Really steep terrain, you still need to use the tried and true method of bending at the elbows, lowering your chest and eventually scooting forward on the saddle depending on how long/steep the climb is. Getting out of the saddle and standing to climb is a natural progression. Slow speed turns, let the front wheel drift a bit and then lean through the turn to compensate for the slightly longer wheelbase. Reaction time is still quick! But this bike loves to be leaned into turns. And you can lean it really hard. On flat ground, it accelerates well and the rear wheel is planted on strong out of the saddle efforts. Descending is a totally new experience and speed and stability are far greater than I previously experienced. And bunny hops with 27.5″ wheels? Forget about it. This bike can be manhandled up and over objects. It really wants to get airborne! Downhill sharp switchbacks are a cinch with saddle dropper and weight shifted back. No need to do odd wheel pivots. Just lean the bike and let it rip. This bike wants to go. The Bottom bracket is as low as it will go without being a pedal bashing experience further emphasizing a low center of gravity and hence more control. Slow speed or high-speed tech is gobbled. The one attribute I noticed being slightly less responsive is the ability to pop the front end over an obstacle when your weight is biased a bit more forward. On shorter wheelbase bikes, this still was easy to do but it seems a bit more effort on this longer wheelbase bike but with all the benefits unfolding above, setting up a bit earlier for these types of situations seemed to remedy that slow reaction time. I’ve been having some of the most fun rides I’ve had in a long time with this bike, finding obstacles large and small to play off of and transition into and over. Simply stated: This new set up is a blast! I believe in a bike that performs all over the mountain. One that climbs as well as it descends and can perform on a variety of terrain in between. What I’m after is a well-balanced mountain bike. So far so good with this new build that totally reshaped what I “thought” I knew about how I build the bikes I do. I’ve built bikes like this for customers but this is the first one I’ve built for myself and now it has me asking just how far to push the next iteration. How long can I go? How slack can I go? Some have called this modern mountain bike set up “Forward Geometry”. Whatever you’d like to refer to it as it’s definitely modern and the future of how mountain bikes will be built and will perform here at 44HQ. It’s the continued refinement that I’m after and finding that balance of the complete package that performs on the entire mountain. That’s a mountain bike to me and that’s what I’ve been in pursuit of here at 44 Bikes. Where this bike leads me, only time will tell. I still have a lot left to learn, that is for sure! Here’s the build set via Flickr for those who want to see the entire bike coming together. Enjoy.