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Project MTB: Ventana El Bastardo

We’ve been building project bikes for quite some time now -- we look at them as educational tools. They keep us inspired, focused, curious and knowledgeable. Finally it hit us -- we need to share these experiences with you in our public forum, rather than just on the phone or through emails. So here you find installment one of our Project MTB series, Ventana El Bastardo.

We’re especially excited about this project bike as it introduces a new platform to us -- the 650b wheel. 650b falls directly between the 26′ diameter and 29′ diameter wheel sizes. Sure, we’ve messed around with wheels on undeserving bikes and all that, but now we have a rig built for that specific purpose. And, because 650b gives the engineer a little more room for suspension elements (as opposed to designing around 29′ wheels), we got this party started right, with a 5′ travel all-mountain bike.

El Bastardo was conceived through a phone call (and an order from) Kirk Pacenti to Sherwood Gibson, founder and braintrust of Ventana. Godfather of the 650b movement, Pacenti enthusiastically touted its merits, citing the speed, traction and ease of rolling over obstacles that we’ve come to appreciate of 29 inch wheels, but with the quick acceleration and nimble handling characteristic of a 26. Intrigued, Gibson took the challenge and went to work to create a frame that exploited these characteristics. We finally got our hands on one equipped with a Fox Float RP23 shock, and have built it to the nines for the litmus test.

Fork

We chose the White Brothers Fluid 130 20mm Thru Axle Fork for El Bastardo. White Brothers is currently the only company producing a 650b fork, though we’ve heard rumors of at least one other manufacturer who expects to release a 650b model in the coming year. The White Brothers fork is an air fork, with a rebound adjust below the right leg. Its black anodized, CNC-machined lines are clean, and it is functionally quite simple -- set the sag with the appropriate air pressure, adjust your rebound, and forget it. We approached our El Bastardo project with performance in mind first and foremost, with lighter weights coming as a bonus. The White Brothers fork proved to be exactly that, tipping the scales right at 4.6 lbs -- not bad for a thru axle, long travel (130mm) fork built for a large diameter wheel.

We also considered building the bike with a 2009 Fox 32 F29 120, but we wanted to begin our project with a model intended specifically for 650b. We’ll save that experimentation for later.

For the headset, we selected a red Chris King NoThreadset -- tried, true and bombproof. We’re still looking for a reason to change course. Get one, and you’ll probably never think about your headset again.

Cockpit

We believe the cockpit begins with the bar and stem. We wanted a combination that provided ample stiffness, and was able to take a pounding. The Syncros Bulk 7075 handlebar with 20mm rise looked to be right, and its white finish was much in line with our aesthetic. And, we’ve always found the aggressive 9 degree sweep they provide to be quite comfortable. We mated the Bulk bar with a 90mm Syncros AM stem -- plenty strong, and just 175g.

We don’t currently feature the Magura Louise BAT disc brake in our product selection -- in the past, we’ve had issues with the lever feel. Our friends at Magura have been after us to ride the new BAT version of the Louise, so we thought this might be an opportune time to check ‘em out. After all, we’ve always enjoyed the Magura Marta SL, and BAT -- Bite Adjust Technology -- sounds like it might address our issues. BAT allows you to adjust the point at which the lever makes contact with the piston (not to be confused with pad contact.) This reportedly allows us to wrap our fingers around the lever without engaging the brake, provided quicker response and ultimately more control. After installing them, the lever had a real nice tension to it, and the lever adjustability was noticeable. It didn’t hurt that they sent them in white either!

Honestly, we would have selected Ergon grips, but Tyler at Twenty6 Products hooked us up with these CC logoed bar end plugs that were so darn pretty, we had to use them. So we went with Oury Lock-On grips to accommodate them. We think Oury is a solid, classic, cush choice for grips, and the lock-ons keep them firmly planted. But once you ride Ergon, it’s tough to deviate.

Drivetrain

Nothing shifts like a Shimano crankset, so that’s where we put our money. We went with the Shimano XTR FC-M970 Crankset in 172.5. It’s both light and durable -- in our opinion, the finest crankset available. We went with a 172.5mm length, something not uncommon on our personal larger wheeled bikes -- it provides us a couple extra millimeters of rock clearance, and turns over a touch easier. As many of us road bike as well (and 172.5mm is a standard length), it still feels natural.

We selected the SRAM PG-990 Cassette with a 11/34 ratio to allow us to analyze the 650b platform through a wide range of gears. PG-990 is a great high performance cassette -- super-durable, provides smooth shifts and is reasonably lightweight. And it mates nicely with the SRAM PC-991 chain, a favorite of ours as its easy to clean (thanks to the power link), and for its smooth shifting. It’s both light and strong as well.

To shift, we picked the Shimano XTR SL-M970 RapidFire Plus Shifters paired with Shimano XTR derailleurs, front and rear. The long cage version of the RD-M971 allowed us to accommodate the chain wrap required by the 11/34 cassette. We find traditional-style (high clamp) derailleurs to be more durable than low clamp, so we use them whenever possible. That was the case here in our selection of the FD-M971 XTR front derailleur. More often than not, you’re handcuffed to one or the other as a result of tube shaping, or clearanace of suspension elements.

Seatpost/Saddle

We selected a Ritchey WCS Seatpost -- its two-bolt head is easy to adjust, and its both solid and lightweight. The rainbow stripes are a nice touch for most any build. We capped the post with a WTB Rocket V SLT saddle. It provides excellent comfort, with a channel to relieve pressure in the tender areas. It’s damn good looking too atop our build with it’s white/red/grey detail. We finished things off with a Hope quick release seatclamp in red -- the red for obvious reasons, the quick release because there’s a bunch of us here riding Bastardo in various terrain. Thus, on-the-fly adjustability is paramount.

Wheels/Tires

Our passion for Industry Nine Wheels is no secret. They build up light, they’re as strong as can be, and their quick-engaging freehub design is unmatched in the industry. A zillion anodized colors to choose from doesn’t hurt either, especially when you’re pimpin’ your ride. For El Bastardo we chose the Industry Nine Enduro 650b Wheelset which laces their enduro hub shells and .100′ diameter spokes to Velocity Blunt 650b Rims. The enduro hub shell gives us limitless options via the Industry Nine conversion kits to adapt to most any fork/rear axle standards. The .100′ diameter spoke provides the perfect compromise -- it’s stiff, durable and strong, but its aluminum construction keeps it respectably lightweight. We went with red for both the spoke and hub for some pop. With aesthetic in mind, we didn’t go with the standard black rim from Velocity -- we were able to track down two hard-to-find white rims for a perfect match to our gloss white frame.

Given that at this very moment, there is but one tire option, Pacenti Neo-Moto, we elected to take it -- it sure beat the alternative of cutting our own. It’s a 2.3 with a moderately aggressive knob. We set them up tubeless using Stans No Tubes sealant. Getting them to seat properly was a bit tough, but once they did, we’ve had no issues. El Bastardo provided them plenty of clearance. Looking ahead, Kenda has already announced they will release a 650b Nevegal. Schwalbe Racing Ralph and a Maxxis 650b tire are also rumored. Pacenti will also release a more cross country oriented design later this year.

 
   

All said and done, she tipped the scales at 27.75 lbs without pedals. Not too shabby. Now it’s time for us to gear up, and get after it. Please excuse us while we hit the trail -- we’ll report back soon.