A few years back I had kicked around the idea of getting a custom 29er frame built. I even went to NAHBS (with mi hombres Gomez and Ernesto From Wisconsin at that!) when it was in Indianapolis and talked to several builders, including Curtis at Retrotec. That eventually kind of fell off the radar. Enter 2013 NAHBS and Retrotec’s fillet brazed custom 29+ with the retro Schwinn paint job. That brought the custom frame lust bubbling back to the surface. That bike has haunted my dreams ever since. The curved lines of the twin toptubes contrasted against the straight third tube. The curved seatstays that maintain the lines of the toptube. The slight upward curve of the chainstays. The clean lines and joints of the fillet brazing . . . you either get it or you don’t.
A few months later I got in a few rides in on Gomez’s Krampus (aka Silver) and the die was cast. I normally ride a rigid hardtail 29er as well as a fatbike so the 29+ made perfect sense. The added cush to take some of the bite off the front as well as the increased traction that 3” tires on wide rims bring to the table immediately clicked with me. As luck would have it, a 40th birthday present opportunity presented itself and after few e-mails to Curtis at Retrotec, I took the plunge (A big thanks is also due to the best wife in the world).
Curtis and I discussed what I was looking for in a frame, how I wanted it to fit, riding style, and what I liked/disliked about my current bikes. He does semi production bikes (you choose from a predetermined size and then he builds it) but in looking at the numbers, I knew I wanted the longer top tube of the Large but the stand over of the Medium as well as a little more slack head angle from his typical geometry, so in the end I decided to go custom and fillet brazed because those buttery smooth joints are too much to resist (he also does TIG for MTBs and lugged is available for road) .
The one thing I didn’t quite like about the Krampus was the super long top tube (for the size) and resulting need for short stem/super wide bars. I thought this slowed down the steering a little too much for my tastes, especially in Midwestern singletrack. By going shorter on the TT and a slightly steeper head angle, my hope was that steering would be quick but not twitchy but still retain the some of the stability that made the Krampus fun.
Fast forward 6 months and my spot in the build queue was up. Curtis took a look at all my measurements and what I was looking for and came up with a set of numbers that looked like it would work well for what I was going for – a 29+ that splits the ground between a Krampus and a typical XC 29er. A little shorter toptube than the Krampus, around the same head angle (the HA ended up being 69.50, the same as the Krampus but Curtis used more offset on the fork to quicken up the steering), and short chainstays (445mm) to liven things up and help with climbing. The frame is built around a beefy Retrotec segmented, non-suspension corrected fork to keep the front end down (it also looks better).
To keeps things stiff front and rear I went with thru axles (15mm front/142×12 rear). Curtis likes to use the Syntace X-12 system for the rear. He feels it keeps things looking a bit cleaner (he even machines away material to reduce the diameter of drop outs even further). To maintain those sweet Retrotec curved seatstays, I opted to have the rear caliper mount on the chainstay. Of course, clearance is key with those large tires so Curtis uses a burly Paragon Machine works 29+ chainstay yolk and a wishbone to widen up the seatstays. While the seatstay clearance is huge, the clearance at the chainstays is a little tight but adequate. To keep things simple, I stuck with a standard 73mm BSA bottom bracket and a 1 1/8 headtube (both at Curtis’ recommendation). Tube spec is a mix but primarily True Temper and 4130 Cromoly.
As you would expect on a custom frame from a well-respected builder, the welds are perfect and all the fillet brazing is as smooth as glass. Curtis’ artistry is most evident on the twin top tubes, scalloped fork crowns, the headtube/toptube(s) junction, and the dropouts. The powder coating job (done by Spectrum) is flawless, especially considering the complexity with the darts and pinstripping work.
The best way to describe how the bike rides is that it feels like I’ve been riding this bike for years. I immediately felt completely at home. Even on the first ride. The bike fits like a glove and feels telepathic. The curved stays combined with the steel make for a buttery smooth ride. Of course, 3” tires (set up tubeless) help as well. The short chainstays keep things lively in the rear when things get tight and the bike climbs incredibly well despite the mass of the tires. With the Paragon yolk and the super stiff Next SL cranks, there is absolutely no flex in the BB region. The beefy fork up front keeps the steering spot on. Not too twitchy. Not too monster truck. Just right. This thing simply tears up twisty singletrack, bombs down the descents, and eats up any obstacles/trail chatter. I could not be happier with this bike! Every time I throw a leg over it a giant smile permeates my face.
On a bike like this, the part spec is almost secondary but still . . . I didn’t go crazy so it could be a tad lighter but at a cost of diminishing returns. As pictured it weighs 27.1 lbs (tubeless only saved me 0.1 lbs).
- Rims – Surly Rabbit Holes (setup tubless)
- Tires – Surly Knards – 120 TPI
- Hubs – Chris King w/ XD driver
- Bars – Ritchey WCS Trail Riser carbon
- Stem – Ritchey Trail 90×0
- Post – Ritchey Trail carbon
- Drivetrain – SRAM XX1
- Cranks- RaceFace Next SL
- BB – RaceFace Next SL 30mmBSA
- Brakes – XTR race
- Saddle – Ergon SM3 Pro
- Grips – Ergon GS1
For more information about Inglis Cycles & Retrotec visit – www.ingliscycles.com