When we first moved to NH in 2006, it became quite obvious to me given the giant cache of dirt roads right from the shop doors that a skinny tire road bike just wasn’t going to cut it when it came to my local terrain. In response, the Huntsman was born. Ironically, that first Huntsman had room for big tires. As my road riding style and preference of terrain progressed year to year, so did the trends and availability of appropriate parts. These days, what is available for us to play with is quite amazing. The result has been a standard Huntsman build that typically has room for 40mm tires, 1x or 2x drivetrain option and 2-3 water bottles. Pretty standard fare. However, from wide-range cassettes to the sheer number of tires and size profiles, the options to tune the ride are astounding. It’s within this new framework of available parts that the Huntsman SuperTrail was born. This is the road bike that’s fit for road but can tackle trails and everything in-between. I’ve built a few for clients but hadn’t explored the platform for myself (and I’d argue that first Huntsman WAS a Huntsman SuperTrail – so I’m kind of arriving full circle as it were). This past summer I slipped one into the list for myself. I really wanted to make room for 50mm tires, dedicated 1x drivetrain and utilize the front shifter to become a dropper actuator. Additionally, I wanted to carry over some of the geometry lessons and advancements I’d been working on with my 44WRD Geo (aka Forward Geometry). The resulting road bike is what you see above. Let’s dig into the details. The drivetrain set-up isn’t anything terribly out of the ordinary: Sram Force 1 dedicated. A 10-42t cassette matched to Easton’s EC90 carbon cranks running their stock spindle and a Wolftooth 38t dropstop chainring with an Enduro BSA Cinch bottom bracket. Ironically, way back in 1998, when I first started working at a shop, I had ditched my front derailleur in 1994/95 and when I was working at the shop, had the chance to build up a used S-works and well, dropped the front derailleur then too. So 94/95 was the last time I actually had a front derailleur on a bike! With this new build, I updated the brakes to Flat Mount but given the fact that the Easton / Wolftooth dropstop ring was technically a Boost spaced chainring, I also boosted the rear end to 148mm. After building with this standard and mating it with appropriate cranks I was a bit surprised by just how much clearance was achievable but in reality, it’s questionable whether this step was even necessary. 12x142mm may be all I ever needed for road and 50mm tires. With a new project I’m working on in 2020, I suspect a lot more clearance will be achievable with this set-up using a 12×142 spaced hub. But in the meantime, this was a great opportunity to experiment with different spacing options and push how much clearance I could achieve. ENVE G series bars and fork were spec’d, and I really love the flair these bars offer but more so that they offer wider than average drops/hood locations. Stem is a 70mm Thomson Elite (down from 90mm of the previous bike). You’ll notice in the above image the slightly longer front center. (I’ll get to that in a bit.) Nox Teocalli carbon rims laced to I9 Hydra hubs with WTB Riddler 45mm tires. The bike will fit 50 but I wanted to give these a try from the start. Last but not least is 9point8’s Fall Line R dropper (internally shimmed to 100mm of drop). The actuator is the front derailleur shift lever. I’ve removed the mechanism that provides the positive “click” you typically hear in an un-modified version. Once that part & spring were removed, I needed to problem solve a bit because both the shift lever and the dropper require that the cable is fixed and the shifter end is supposed to be the “head” of the cable. The workaround was to machine an in-line barrel nut with an angled tapped hole to tighten in-line and tucks up into the mechanism of the shift lever so it mimics the original head of the shift cable. Worked like a charm! I also used the existing DT shifter boss for the front derailleur as a cable guide for the dropper cable: And below, you can spy how the dropper cable criss-crosses the down tube and has a cable stop down by the bottom bracket before wrapping up behind the seat tube and entering about 2″ from the bottom bracket: A bit tricky to set up and get cable length and such dialed in but worth the nitpickiness of the whole set up. That 9point8 dropper is incredbily light and as pictured the whole bike comes in around 17/18 lbs without two bottles of water. Chainstay length stayed at a cool 430mm. I’ve tried a lot of different chainstay lengths on all of my personal road bikes and I have to say too short on dirt and you’re getting pounded, but too long and it’s a bit sluggish. 425-430 seems to be a sweet spot with larger volume tires as you have plenty of tire clearance for a front derailleur, really good chainline so drivetrain wear is at a minimum but the bike really performs across all the parameters in terms of speed, acceleration, leaning through turns, climbing and with that slightly longer wheelbase, descents are kind of it’s thing. It really comes into it’s own at speed down hill. Now on to front center which is really where most of the changes occurred. Subsequently, there also seems to be some confusion with fit between road bikes and some of these long top tube / shortish stems as of late which is balled into longer front center. What I see is a mixing of mountain bike nomenclature (Reach + Stack) with traditional road bike fit (TT / ST Length). What I think the industry has done with reach and stack only gets riders halfway there to understanding their fit. Personally, I really think there should be 3 measurements that are given: 1. Reach: The horizontal distance from the center of the bottom bracket to the center top of the head tube. 2. Stack: The vertical distance from the center of the bottom bracket to the center top of the head tube. The 3rd measurement which I refer to as: 3. SETBACK: Traditionally, this is the horizontal distance from the center of the bottom bracket to the saddle tip. To make this measurement even more universal, I’d suggest that this measurement is a horizontal measurement taken from the center of the bottom bracket to the intersection of the seat tube centerline that is in-line with Reach’s reference point (the center top of the head tube). That gives riders, especially road cyclists, a lot more information. Otherwise, reach and stack really leave you hanging out in space with no idea what that void is between BB center and saddle. This all ties into what I’m going to state below. Most builds for clients I chop a good 10mm off their stems right out of the gate. This throws the front tire forward by about 1/2 inch which reduces and/or eliminates toe overlap, increases front center and lengthens wheelbase which all have a positive effect on stability and handling. I also have always built around 70° head tube angles but for this bike, I chopped an additional 20mm off my stem (70mm pictured) and put the head tube angle at 69°. Not crazy like Evil, but just enough to get that front wheel out in front, increase wheelbase and slacken the head tube to increase trail which increases stability. Which is exactly what you want on dirt. For me and my size (I’m 6’1″ with a 34″ inseam) I’d probably benefit from an 80mm stem mated to a 69° HT angle. I think there’s a range of 70mm, 80mm and 90mm that fits a good swath of riders from 5’0-6’2. Turned around a bit? What you need to understand is that I haven’t changed my fit or cockpit length. All I’ve done is exchanged top tube length with stem length. So I removed 20mm of stem length and added 20mm of top tube length between this build and the previous which ran a 90mm stem. And when I say cockpit, that’s the center of your bars to your saddle tip as a horizontal measurement with the saddle centered on the rails. So when you look at gravel bikes that spec reach and stack, to get a more complete picture, take a measurement like so off of your existing road bike: – Center of bars to tip of your saddle on the horizontal – Saddle tip to center of rail/seat post head connection – Saddle length – Center of bottom bracket to center top of saddle Those 4 measurements can really assist you in looking at and comparing reach/stack. What we’re looking at are contact points that triangulate you the rider on your bike. Don’t look at what your stem length is or how long your top tube is. What you want to look at is your cockpit, your setback, your saddle height and your saddle length. If your saddle is not centered and is pushed forward by quite a bit, chances are that frame is too long. The opposite is true if the saddle is pushed way back on the rails. The bike’s most likely too short. I have seen some riders who just need a literal shit ton of set back and they seem to be at the extreme ends of the spectrum aka “few and far between”. However, for most, the above can really help guide you. But what you need to get from all of this is that designing around a slightly shorter stem throws that front wheel further out in front of the rider which drastically increases stability and agility on rough terrain. And boy does it increase stability and ride quality on this bike. It hauls downhill, rails corners with a ton of stability, climbs with the best of them, and with the increase in trail the bike really wants to seek a straight line when the going gets tricky. This isn’t to say it’s a slow bike and can’t be turned on a dime quickly. There’s some secret sauce going on with bottom bracket drop: The lower the riders center of gravity, the quicker the bike will “feel” when turned. How low? As low as you can go without making it a pedal basher in corners kinda low. And all of this is to be looked at as a system. No measurement can be isolated without considering the rest of the system. Which is what makes all this so much fun to tweak parameters on prototypes so I can apply those lessons to customer bikes and a future production Huntsman. Yes, I’m working on a production Huntsman and a production Marauder. To be continued and that’s all I can say for now. There’s another project ahead of those that has to happen first. But I digress. Other details included applying the lessons learned of anodizing: Room for 50mm tires and a seat stay bridge that hugs the tire profile: 12×148 BOOST rear spacing mated to a Easton EC90 crank (the spindle on that one is on the wide-ish side): WTB Riddler 45mm tires. These are great tires coming off a set of WTB 42mm Resolutes which roll equally fast but are just a bit quieter on hardpack and pavement compared to the Resolutes “hum” on the same surfaces. Both tires were great and I’m looking forward to trying out a set of WTB 50mm Ventures. So to bring things full circle, here’s a picture of the 2nd Huntsman prototype: Check out that front center! And that’s 2012. 8 years later and I’m back where I started. And that one utilized a curved seat tube which I debated for this one but kept things where they were in that regard without a curved seat tube. Maybe the next one. But until then, this latest prototype has been a ton of fun to ride and compare notes. Short stem, long front center, slackened head tube angle, lower center of gravity. Pretty much all the attributes of my mountain bikes distilled for road use. I tend to work in subtleties and don’t make major changes between bikes. The reason for this is to gradually assess how different attributes affect how the bike handles. Too drastic of a change or too many changes at once, and sometimes it can be tougher to decipher what exactly is going on whether it’s positive or negative. So although this takes more time, I think the bikes that go out the door reflect that dedication to making the bikes better for the long haul. The next biggest update coming down the pike is the addition of a yoke but that’s still a ways out. Till then, I’ll keep riding and assessing this platforms positives and negatives so I can pass the good stuff on to client builds and discard what’s not working. Till next time: Stay safe and keep pedaling.