Sunday, April 11, 2010

Singular Gryphon Review

As I geared up for the inaugral Kiwi Brevet I became aware of a different kind of a bike out there. A bike that would eat up big miles in comfort, and roll on 700/29er wheels. They were made of steel or ti, usually had bottle and frame mounts all over them, and used road styled drop handlebars with funky names like the "woodchipper" or the "junebug". These bars were designed for comfort, and wrangling a loaded bike over rough terrain. The bike with the biggest reputation in this market is the Salsa Fargo, but an English company is starting to make a name for itself with its new range.

Mt  Climie - 800 metres x 4The Singular Gryphon is one of their bikes, and it fits in somewhere between the "monster-cross" genre and the "tourer". A kind of a do-everything bike. Its a bike made specifically for use with a rigid front fork and drop bars. Front suspension is not an option.

My buddy Matt took delivery of a Gryphon frame and only had a couple of months to bed it in before the Kiwi Brevet, so a few long rides were in order to test it in its intended environment. With the addition of a Freeload bike rack and a front handlebar mounted bag it was set to go. The corrosion treated steel frame comes with a Phil Wood eccentric bottom bracket so its easy to build up as a single speed if desired. Mike Anderson at the Bike Hutt was responsible for putting it together and most of the subsequent tweaking. Putting drop bars on triple chain-ringed bikes comes with its own set of challenges which are usually solved by using bar end shifters, like you would find on a time trial bike, or cycle tourer. Matt used one for the front derailleur with an Ultegra 9-speed shifter for the XT rear derailleur. Avid's BB7 road-bike-lever compatible disc brakes were used to give the bike serious braking power the likes of which is missing on a traditional "cross" bike.

Pt Underwood - Kiwi Brevet -  30 degrees and 3 nasty hillsThe very styley but functional Middleburn crankset has  44-34-22 ratios up front. and 11-34 on the back. Tristan from Wheelworks built up a set of wheels that leaned on the robust side for the Brevet and Mike converted them to tubeless. For Brevet use he ran the Contintental Cyclocross tyres in 42mm format, and they rolled beautifully. Several Matagouri induced punctures were had during the Brevet but after a few stops for re-pumping they resealed.

Currently the Gryphon is sporting 2.4 inch wide Conti Mountain Kings which were fitted in preparation for a date with the Karapoti Classic that never came about.

Kiwi Brevet descent off Maungatapu into the MaitaiLast weekend we rolled up Summit road and down into the Wainuiomata Trail Park to put the Gryhpon through its paces. After trying to get used to the fact that Matt ran his brakes backwards, I was pleasantly surprised. This was only my 2nd ever ride on a 29er and it was a lot of fun. On the smooth Wainui trails, the lack of front suspension was not really an issue. The bars were very comfortable and I chose to ride on the top of the brake hoods where there was good access to the brakes. This is a no-no as these bars are supposed to be set up to ride with your hands on the flared part of the drops. Unfortunately the bike was still using the set-up used in the Kiwi Brevet.

MWainuiomata Trail Parkaybe it was a combination of the big wagon wheels and the drop bar not quite offering enough leverage given the bar position I was using but a couple of times I nearly smacked into trees as I had not quite nailed the amount of understeer I was experiencing. Remembering of course that this is not the kind of terrain that a bike with kind of bar was designed for, it still held up incredibly well all the same. From memory the Salsa Woodchipper bar on the Gryphon was 650 mm wide, way wider than my XC rig.
Despite the fat tyres and heavier steel frame, it still climbed very well and felt way more relaxed than my twitchier race bike. There was ample frame clearance for the 2.4 tyres but anything wider might be marginal, depending on the make and model. Running the tyres at 30 psi no doubt helped with smoothing out the ride, as would the steel chassis.

Matt showed how lethal the Gryphon was when despite being a relative off-road novice he could hold my wheel on all but the roughest descents. I am not sure a Fargo would be as spry in this environment with its substantially longer rear stays. The only area in which I felt really disadvantaged over my Santa Cruz race bike was in the very tight hair-pin corners, when descending and climbing.

There were no problems with the Gryphon during the 1100km Kiwi Brevet (Matts story here) where every conceivable type of terrain was experienced. It would be hard to get a more punishing test in such a short period of time. Overall a very enjoyable bike that just asks to be ridden all day. The longer the better.

Wainuiomata Trail Park

Wainuiomata Trail Park

Wainuiomata Trail Park

Wainuiomata Trail Park

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PS. More fotos and technical info to follow.

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