From Steel to Titanium… But Why?
Having owned two steel mountain bikes, the switch to titanium was a tough sell for me. Steel has a cult following in the mountain bike world that demands respect. It’s heavy but indestructible. It’s heavy but more comfortable on long rides. It’s heavy but easily serviceable if the frame is compromised. It’s heavy, but with its heft comes an avant-garde savoir faire that scoffs at the gram counters who swear that the 50 grams of shaved weight on their bike will somehow account for the 15 pounds they gained over the long winter months (No offense of course – it happens to the best of us).
The key takeaway here? It’s. Heavy.
While I am one of the avant-garde purists who laugh(ed) at the overly weight conscious, a titanium-framed bike was initially appealing to me not just for its lighter weight, but for its other strengths as well. As Why Cycles boldly states on its site, ‘Titanium is Magic,’ because it is ‘43% lighter than steel, has a higher strength-weight ratio than aluminum, is significantly more resistant to crash-damage than carbon, and has the best vibration damping properties of all three listed here.’ And as far as I can tell so far, there claim might be true: the Why S7 may very well have magical properties. Regardless, they have a lifetime warranty on the bike frame, so if it breaks due to a manufacturing defect – proving wrong the alleged magical properties of titanium – they will replace it for free.
I’ve put about 100 miles on the bike now, thanks to a sunny spring break spent in Bend, Oregon, so I have a pretty good idea of the bike’s overall feel, but keep in mind that these are my initial impressions and subject to change in the coming months as I continue to put more miles on the bike. Below I’ll discuss 1) modifications I felt were necessary investments, 2) the bike’s ride quality, 3) some complaints, and 4) a general summary of the bike.
But before I continue, I want to provide full disclosure on the details concerning the purchase of this bike. After sending Adam – one of Why Cycles’ owners – an itinerary of my ride plans this summer, he agreed to give me one of their demo bikes at a VERY discounted price. But I did pay some major Benjamins to enjoy this ride and, because of this, feel that I can review this bike objectively without having Adam (who is delightful by the way) come after me with a pitchfork. Honestly, after chatting with Adam and learning more about the Why Cycles mission, it was clear to me that this was a company I could get behind, so while I do write objectively about the bike, I simultaneously think that their adventure-oriented lineup of bikes is pretty hard to beat and should be checked out by anyone looking seriously at a lifer hardtail. Okay, enough said. Onto the review.
2017 Why S7
Purpose: Mountain Biking, Bikepacking
Ummm… none??? This bike is spec’d with some of the most quality parts I’ve ever encountered on a bike. From its Sram Eagle drivetrain, its Knight Composites Plus wheelset, its SRAM hydraulic disc brakes, and its Project 321 Hubs, this bike comes out of the box fully loaded. Even the Ergon SMA3 seat is comfortable. Believe me, while I’m the king of modifications, I wouldn’t immediately change anything about the bike. But for the sake of MTB posterity, here’s one modification I’m considering:
Handlebar Grips: I may switch out the stock Ergon GE1 handlebar grips for my tried and true Ergon GP1 handlebar grips. However, after doing a relatively strenuous 42 mile ride last week with the GE1 grips, I found them to be really comfortable and didn’t suffer from the grip fatigue I’ve encountered in the past with grips that have no wings. We’ll see about this one.
Ride Quality Strengths
Modern Geometry – Having previously ridden two do-it-all style mountain bikes – the Surly Krampus and Marin Pine Mountain 2 – I was rather skeptical about a bike with such ‘modern’ trail geometry, modern meaning a super slack head angle (67.5 degrees) and seat angle (73 degrees for the size medium). I was worried that because of these specs, the bike would not be able to climb well, constantly wanting to wheelie on anything beyond a 10% grade hill.
Climbing Prowess – Fortunately, Why Cycles accommodated well for this potential pitfall by utilizing a longer top tube length (called the reach), and I found that contrary to my preconceptions about modern geometry drawbacks, the bike climbed up mountains that were as steep as anything I’ve done on my previous rigs. In fact, I successfully climbed an absolutely horrendous 30% grade fire road on Cline Butte, near Bend, Oregon, that was steeper than anything I’ve ever encountered on my previous rides. Was I leaning as far over the handlebars as possible? Yes. Was I barely able to pedal, even with the monstrously capable 50 tooth granny gear the SRAM Eagle comes with? Yes. But I made it, and the bikes front end stayed planted the entire way. Not bad, Why Cycles. Not bad at all.
A Can-Do Attitude – This being said, I feel that the S7 deserves to be dubbed a ‘do everything’ mountain bike just as much as the Krampus and PM2, despite (or maybe because of) its modern geometry. In fact, it descends faster and more comfortably than either of my previous bikes, likely due to the aforementioned slack head angle and plush 130mm Rockshox Pike fork although, to be fair, the geometry and components can’t take all the credit for its downhill prowess. The bike weighs in around 26 pounds, which is 5 pounds lighter than my Marin PM2 and over 10 pounds lighter than my Krampus, allowing me to literally jump the bike from side to side on the trail, choose challenging lines on the fly because of its quick maneuverability, and generally feel like I can throw the bike around, a feeling that was lacking in both of my previous bikes. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re missing out on.
More than Capable – So perhaps this bike isn’t just as capable as my previous bikes, but in fact more capable. It does well in off-road dirt, fire roads, forest roads, packed snow (of which I had plenty of on the Horse Butte Trail this past week), and various types of singletrack. The only question mark remaining is bikepacking, which I’ll be testing a bit this spring and perhaps too much this summer, with an itinerary of over 1,000 miles of bikepacking planned. Yikes.
Comfort – Also, the bike is incredibly comfortable. I had a 42 mile ride one day in Bend and felt very little grip fatigue or, more importantly, butt-fatigue, when I finished. Was it because of the super comfy Ergon seat? The magical properties of titanium? The genius frame geometry? The plush 27+ tires? All powers combined? Honestly, I can’t quite put my finger on it. But I know that if I had done that ride on my PM2, my ass would have been screaming at me. Maybe this simply means that the overall bike fit is better for me, but I think that Why Cycles struck gold with the overall comfort of this bike.
Gear Ratio – The bike comes stock with a Sram Eagle drivetrain, which includes a 32 front cog and 50 tooth rear cog granny gear, so… yeah, it’s made for steep hills and can also go 20 miles per hour at a comfortable cadence if you suddenly feel the need for speed on the trail, or just want to get a connector road over with between trails.
Tire Choice – Another awesome feature of the bike is that it comes with Maxxis Rekon 2.8 inch tires, a perfect all-purpose tire which rides well in all of the conditions I’ve thrown at it.
Eyelets Galore – The S7 comes with eyelets galore. Two on the seat tube, THREE on the top of the downtube, and THREE on the bottom of the downtube. Wowza! So many bikepacking setup options!
Internal Routing – Finally, the bike comes with thoughtfully designed internal routing, even for the dropper post, which gives it a beautiful, clean look.
If you look at the reviews of my previous two mountain bikes, the Surly Krampus and the Marin Pine Mountain 2, you’ll notice that I’m not one to hold back in the complaint department. It’s not that I didn’t love both bikes, I did. I just know what I like and what I don’t like when it comes to mountain bikes, and both had areas of improvement that I noticed almost immediately. But the Why S7 is simply hard to complain about as, so far at least, it has exceeded my expectations for what a hardtail can be. But just like the modifications section, I do have not so much a complaint as a wondering:
Is the low-ish bottom bracket going to bother me on technical ascents?
So far, I’ve had a few pretty hard pedal strikes when climbing up rock gardens, which is to be expected to some degree. There is some compromise when it comes to bottom bracket height. Too high and you feel ‘on’ the bike rather than ‘in’ the bike, with less control. Too low and pedal strikes become an epidemic on technical climbs. A happy medium is hard to find, and perhaps I’m simply adjusting to the new feel of this bike. I’ll be sure to report back on this wondering at the end of the summer when I’ll have put close to 2,000 miles on the bike.
Why Cycles is a small company based in Utah who just so happened to manufacture a grade A mountain bike for those interested in riding hard, riding long-distance, and for people like me, riding loaded (whisky included, to keep the mind sharp) for multi-day excursions. The S7, in particular, is a bike that makes a planned 10 mile rec ride with your buddies into a 40 mile epic ending with you pleading for just 10 more miles before packing up and heading out for a post-ride beer(s). Yes, you heard that right; it can dispel your hankerings for an IPA. So does this make the Why S7 magic? Only one way to know for certain: find out where Why Cycles is having their next bike demo, test ride one, and then reflect on whether it A) forced you to ride at least twice as far as you intended to, B) left your butt feeling fresh as a ripe peach, and C) made you forget that ubiquitous ritual you always do after a good hard MTB ride. First of all, if option ‘C’ occurs, simply write ‘IPA in Cooler’ on your hand in permanent marker so you don’t forget. But more important, if you have the cash and are looking for a lifer bike, consider the Why S7.