It's not my intention to kick-start an all-out war in the comments section below over issues such as the global economy or environmental degradation. But I am interested in the concept of buying local; it's a positive thing... it saves on shipping costs, import taxes, fossil fuels, and you have more insight into who produced your products, how they are made and why. Who can argue against that? Actually buying local, however, is often easier said than done. If you want a banana, like really need a banana, and you don't live in Ecuador or Madeira, you aren't going to pop out and buy a bunch from the local farm shop. The same applies with technology, most Westerners want or need a smartphone, but you can't visit your local computer shop and order a custom phone just for you.
Unlike these products, building mountain bikes and components already happens all over the world, though the majority are still produced in Taiwan or China for financial reasons. That said, I have been witnessing a rapidly increasing trend of manufacturing coming back to the EU. We should bear in mind that it was only around twenty to thirty years ago that the rush to the east started. Before that, there were millions of bikes being made in Europe, with a hotbed of activity around Northern Italy and Spain as well as Southern France.
Many companies inspired me to take on this project, fueled by conversations with engineers and manufacturers who were proud of building their own products under their own watchful eyes, instead of conversing over the internet, flying thousands of kilometres back and forth, battling language barriers and calculating long-term inventory and shipping times.
The seed was sown three years ago with the following anecdote: Over dinner, Neil Wilkinson from Superstar Components mentioned that a shipment of his pedals were late by several months. Wilkinson's estimated losses from being out of stock were so large he decided it was better to buy the CNC machine needed and just make his next batch of pedals himself. I won't repeat his numbers, but those machines cost six-figures in anybody's currency.
It got me thinking... Could I build a bike that I actually wanted to ride, entirely manufactured in my home continent, Europe? I'll cut to the chase, I didn't quite wind up with a 100-percent EU-built bike, but the process proved an interesting journey. Here's a low-down on this super-bike, from front to back.
Renthal Ultra-Tacky Push On Grips
So, I thought with all of the 'Made in Great Britain' history of Renthal products that I would just order some grips and a handlebar, and be done with it. Easy. First box ticked, right? Not so fast. It turns out that every straight-gauge bar Renthal has ever made was in the UK, mostly for motorcycles and even BMX race handlebars. When mountain bikers decided they didn't like an MX-style bolt-on crossbar for added strength, we moved to fancy swaged tubes that are thicker at the stem clamping area than the grip area. The production of the FatBar we all know (and subsequently the carbon versions) have all been produced in Asia. Renthal now have a machine to swage tubing for oversize clamping areas in the UK and are making some MX bars, but currently do not have the capacity to add the MTB products to the line.
But I could arrange for UK grips. These Renthals are still my favourite grip, and the Ultra-Tacky version in black is grippy as hell – almost bonding to your gloves when riding, they last for ages and have better damping properties than most lock-on grips, plus they are super cheap – less than half the price of their lock-on brothers. The downside of these grips is gluing them on but Renthal's quick drying glue speeds up the process. If you have controls with clamps that allow them to be changed without removing the grips, it's less hassle – less hassle than finding the correct tiny Allen key for the lock on clamps, digging packed dirt out of the bolt head with a needle, and then still rounding off the bolt head...
Magura MT-T Brakes
The Magura MT-7 brakes are some of the most powerful stoppers out there. This MT-T is Tibor Simai signature edition version. Simai is a long-standing Magura athlete and general all-around German bike legend. Tibor opted for the HC3 lever, all black with chrome decals to match the polished calipers with mint-green caps, which can be swapped to other colours to customize your ride. The MT-T is a great brake, and I opted for 180mm rotors front and rear to try and keep things simple and avoid silly-sized mountain bike brake mounts and extra bolts. Originally, I was told that the brakes are made entirely in Germany, but after more investigation, I found the calipers are formed in Taiwan, at Magura's own facility. Close but no cigar, I could have gone with a number of other Euro options like Hope, TrickStuff, or Formula which are machined in the EU.
Intend Grace Stem, Stiffmaster Headset and Edge Fork
The Intend Edge is a single crown, upside down fork that is made to order by Intend in Germany. Sounds expensive, doesn't it? But at €1749 the Edge is not massively out of reach for some riders... or at least it's in line with some other top-tier forks on the market. In fact, retail price in Europe for a RockShox Boxxer can be over €2000. With 166mm of travel, a downhill standard 110mm x 20mm axle and running on Bionol veg-based oil, this fork is a rare beast. Also, it won't turn up in a pretty box. It's more likely to arrive in a recycled box from another brand, packed with used materials or kitchen sponges that will help keep the dishes clean for months to come. On paper, the fork is the stiffest single crown on the market fore to aft, but the most flexible torsionally. The Edge has plenty of other noteworthy features, and the initial rides were interesting. A full review is in the works.
I also invented the Stiffmaster headset, and cunningly let it be patented and go into production without any financial benefit to myself. Well, that's not strictly true; after a long conversation with Cornelius about why I think a triple crown fork is so much more confidence inspiring than a single crown, I placed the blame at the top of the steerer tube and stem/headset junction for flexing too much, especially with modern wide handlebars. I think I said, "If only there was a way to fix that," and I could see Cornelius' brain cogs start to turn. A few weeks later he sent me a sample that he had already designed and patented. So what does it do? By using an axial needle bearing on top of a standard headset bearing, a clamping top bearing cap, and conical spacers, the Stiffmaster increases stiffness at the top of the entire steerer tube junction, which should lend a more accurate feeling, like a dual crown fork with a direct mount stem. Intend are currently doing some lab testing and initial reports show a 38% increase in stiffness.
The Grace stem is another beautifully and lovingly-crafted product which is 82 grams light. The downside is that the maximum handlebar rise is only 20mm due to the way it is installed into the two-bolt design.
Having to use that thin gold Trickstuff (made in Germany) spacer nearly killed me with OCD, but I didn't want to cut the steerer any shorter.
Nicolai Mojo GeoMetron GPI Frame
Finding a European-made frame was the easiest task. There are many brands to choose from including medium-sized brands like Orange or Nicolai, smaller niche companies like Ancillotti, Starling, BTR, MDE, as well as many custom frame builders that can weld something to order.
I really liked the downhill performance of the Ion GPI with the Pinion drivetrain I tested two years ago, and wanted more. I bought this used frame off Mojo, which was an ex-GeoMetron test rig. I love the sizing, slack head tube and steep seat tube. Every time I ride it, I wonder why it's taking so many other brands so long to catch on. This frame is around three years old now.
In the words of the wise Ol' Dirty Bastard, "Ooh baby I like it raw." The raw frame saves money and chemicals on paint or anodizing, and you can leave it to weather naturally, brush it for a matte effect or polish it to a mirror. The best part is that scratching your paint becomes a thing of the past and you can buff out any marks. The worst part? Polishing the frame and then it oxidizing the next time it gets wet.
EXT Storia LOK Shock
Another thing of beauty. Extreme Racing Shox hail from a motorsports background and have been making mountain bike dampers for a few years. Made in Vicenza, Italy, the Storia LOK features high and low-speed compression adjustment, rebound and the LOK lever for pedalling that closes a separate compression circuit from the general damping circuit.
It looks like something that you could find on an F1 or WRC rally car and comes at a price that may offset the ten-bucks I saved on the lock-on grips. €799 + taxes puts this around four figures depending on where you live, but every unit is built to order for you and your bike.
Pinion P1.12 Gearbox
There are a few reasons why I wanted to build this Pinion bike. First is that the lack of general maintenance is fantastic. Second, I wanted to try it with a chain drive, since I have only used them with a Gates belt in the past. Third, Pinion makes 155mm crank arms. I was interested in trying super short cranks after reading some articles about power generation and why some cyclists in other sports such as triathlon are experimenting with super short cranks. I still haven't come to any solid conclusions on crank length, other than this: Nobody knows why 175mm is the 'standard' in the first place.
There are some downsides to the Pinion of course, like added weight and friction. Oh, and the grip shift-style selector. And I had a few mechanical issues that have severely limited my time on this bike so far. To be blunt, one day the gears stopped selecting properly and I had to send the box back to Pinion for a service, which took a few weeks to turnaround, including shipping.
A number of my fellow editors have asked, "Wait, isn't the 'maintenance-free and super-reliable' thing supposed to be the big selling point with gearboxes?" My response? I still like them and this problem would be solved if they were more mainstream and had a bigger dealer network. But, let's get back to the bike in question. Upon completion of this current build, I snapped two chainrings on two consecutive rides powering up some steep climbs. I put this down to a different location of the jockey wheel tensioners. After moving back to my original setting, I have had no further issues with the chainring, but have been losing the chain. Pinion are about to release some heavier-duty rings aimed towards more extreme types of riding – I think I will go back to the silent belt drive.
Connex 7R8 Chain
Connex by Wipperman has been making chains in Hagen, Germany, since 1893. SRAM also produce most of their chains in Portugal, so that would have been another option. I went for the Connex 7R8 single speed chain that should be thicker and tougher than multi-speed chains and it's nickel-plated for corrosion resistance.
Superstar Nano Pedals
Most UK riders are familiar with Superstar Components. Starting in his bedroom, Neil Wilkinson was buying brake pads in bulk from Asia and selling four pairs for £20 earlier this century – a quarter of the price of big-branded counterparts. Since then, a lot has changed and Superstar is now a massive operation in Lincoln, North East England. They have some big news coming soon and I can't divulge too much, but they have slowly been acquiring more and more machines and adding more UK-made products to their line. This pair of Nano pedals was one of the first ever created by their UK machine and has lived on many of my bikes – they always seem to be there for me when I need them. A big platform, supplied with short (8mm) and long (10mm) pins and a quality finish. The Nanos have taken plenty of abuse and still spin smoothly. Their downfall has been knocking the pins out along with the threads from the alloy body. At £49.99 they are probably the best value EU component on the whole bike.
The EU has hubs covered, and the choice of Hope is probably a less exciting choice than some of the more exotic options out there such as Tune, Acros, or Spada. Then again, Hope's hubs are trusted by thousands, they are simple and easy to source parts for. I was looking for a hub that could work with 15mm and 20mm axles at the front, and I wanted a single-speed option for the 142mm rear hub, to give symmetrical spoke spacing and have some leeway for adjusting the chain line. The Trials/SS hub from Hope features a four-pawl ratchet with 88 teeth of engagement, giving a 4.1º pickup. This is half as much as standard Hope hubs, which I thought could speed up the connection considering the extra slack added by the Pinion freewheel to the system - and the clicky sound is even nicer. Hope explain that their billets come from Italy, the pawls are made in the UK and the bearings are from Schaeffler in Germany.
Mavic EX830 Rims and Claw Pro XL Front Tire
I haven't built any wheels in years, so I thought I should refresh my skills and lace these up myself. When I finally completed the bike build, I headed out for the first ride, brimming with stoke. The dream was over by the second rock when I split the rear tire and set about trying to plug and patch it back together. It was at this point that I saw the 'Made in China' small print and nearly launched the entire bike off the side of the mountain I was descending.
It turns out there was some miscommunication between Mavic and myself, which is explained by Michel below. Anyway, the Mavics are now built up and on the bike. But I chose these rims as they are alloy, cost €75 and look nice in anodized black. If you have problems burping tubeless tires, then these rims are for you. Getting tires on them was very tough, though they are built to ETRTO accurate standards, but once they are installed you will have no further problems (maybe I was unlucky with tire choice but tried four different tires). The softly-tensioned spokes and alloy rims are forgiving, plus they track, absorb and grip superbly.
The Claw Pro XL Front tire is interesting and needs more testing if the ground ever gets softer and damper on my local trails – winter has been too kind recently. Sam Hill used this tire last year to win the EWS, so it must be a decent all-rounder. On hardpack and rocks it's sketchier than a dedicated dry tire, but in medium conditions, it feels safe with a very controlled breakaway. The casing is also tough, though it's not a downhill tire and weighs in at around the 900-gram mark.
Hutchinson Toro Rear Tire
Hutchinson has been making tires in France since 1890 and is the only bicycle tire producer in France, and produce tires on Mavic's behalf. The relationship with Mavic and Hutchinson goes way back to '99 when the brands developed the UST system together
along with Michelin – a system I think has been overlooked in the industry, despite the collaborators trying to make it a standard from day one. Why do I think it has been overlooked? It is not a perfect
solution, but it is the only tire and rim system to date that is designed to work in unity – the square locking beads of the rim and tire match each other, both are airtight so no sealant is needed, allowable bead stretch is measured and all of the above need to comply with independent lab testing to be allowed the UST badge. Basically, the UST system solved most of the tubeless problems that people still suffer from today nearly twenty years ago. Anyway, flying off on tangents aside, this tire isn't even a UST version and Hutchinson didn't have the 2.4" size available when I needed it. I opted for the 2.25" option which I split nearly resulting in the thrown bike mentioned above.
I am looking forward to getting the size I needed soon, as I have been impressed by the Toro on short test rides in the past.DT Swiss Competition Spokes and Squorx Pro Lock Nipples
I have had great success with DT Swiss wheels in the past. I chose the Squorx Pro Head Lock nipples as they can seemingly be set at any tension and retain it. I like to loosen the tension off on most wheels from stock, but this can lead to wheels falling apart quickly and needing constant tensioning. The Pro Lock nipples just stay in place and never seize. These spokes were made at the original DT Swiss plant in Biel, Switzerland, and the nipples are from DT's plant in Poland.
Vecnum moveLOC 200mm Dropper Post
I am more than comfortable riding with a 150mm dropper, but there are many riders who have a shorter inseam than me and swear by a 150mm drop or more, so I thought I should get a 200mm drop post and get used to riding it. The only other options I am aware of in the same length is from Canadian brand 9.8. Eight Pins offer one too, but it's frame specific. The Vecnum moveLOC does not offer infinite adjustment; instead, it has presets at 0mm, 40mm, 100mm, and 200mm. So far, I don't mind forgoing the infinite adjustment. It's great to have the full height for efficient pedalling and then drop it 40mm for more technical climbing. Yes, I know this is possible with an infinite adjust, but it is also handy to have it click into a habitual place each time.
Probably the best feature of this massive post is that, if I were ordering a custom version of this frame, I could knock about 150mm off the seat tube height, lower the top tube and transform it from something that would be well camouflaged against a prison gate into a racey little number.
66Sick Espacio Libre Saddle
66Sick is a German-based brand offering the Espacio Libre saddle in two different (129mm and 144mm) widths to suit your sit bones. Made in Italy by Selle Italia, the triple layer foam construction is comfy enough for long rides but I found the covering to be slippery with some of my riding short materials. 66Sick have just updated the cover material and are sending a new version over to check out.
My biggest defeat was being beaten by the handlebar. I could have gone carbon with handlebars made in Germany, including BikeAhead Composites or Tune, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. With all of that glorious raw aluminum on display here, I wanted to keep this machine alloy all the way. I like this old Kore bar that came on my girlfriend's second-hand bike – it's 800mm wide with a 15mm rise. It was also one of the few bars that I had that would fit into the Intend Grace stem (the clamp design doesn't allow you to fit a high rise bar). Of course, you could probably nitpick a few more bits and pieces on the bike as not being truly EU-built. The rear sprockets were borrowed from an old cassette and not every single bolt or pedal pin is made in the EU, and materials are sourced from different places, but sometimes you just have to publish the article!
I also learned this: When you first pose the question about whether or not a product is from the EU, the initial answer will be an assertive "Yes," but after digging deeper you find that it's not always 100% true. Things like pedal pins, bearings and seals often come from elsewhere in the world. Superstar conceded, for instance, that their axles are made by a specialist in Asia. The same cold-forged product can be made in the UK, but the minimum order of one million plus makes it impossible to go EU-built on that small piece of the puzzle.
Finally, I found that just because something is made in the EU it doesn't necessarily mean it will be of a higher quality or perform better than products from the East. It also doesn't mean it will be in stock, arrive on time and or be impossible to break. Oh, and aside from the grips and pedals, it probably ain't going to be cheap either – excluding the handlebar, the bike as it stands is a few Euro's short of five figures.
Is it any good? Well, of course, I love it, I have to after I just spent six months building the damn thing. I've had a few rides on it so far and have been blown away by the grip and downhill performance, though, not so much in the other direction. I will be tweaking the setup to make it more lively in the middle ground, I think I can easily sacrifice some of the traction and still be well within my limits but speed things up where grip is not needed. Expect more in-depth reviews of many of the components in the future as I get more time on them.