Reader Story: The RIG v2 - From Handbuilt Frame to a Limited Batch Production Run

Oct 14, 2020
by Jukka Mäennenä  

RIG v2 s raw anodized black.
RIG v2
Gearbox Hardtail Frame
Brothers in arms. The RIG v2's in raw and anodized black finishes

One thing led to another. Isn't that how all good stories begin? Regardless, this was what happened last year when I fulfilled a longtime dream in the form of a building hardtail frame from scratch. The market offers several excellent hardtail options, but not in this case since I had something different in mind: a hardtail frame with modern geometry equipped with a Pinion gearbox.

My journey from cutting the first Chromoly tubes to finishing a frame in an intense timeframe of two and half days can be read here - here.

Even to my surprise, the story did not end there.
RIG v2 Frameset
• Proven modern geometry
• Pinion gearbox
• Aluminum construction
• Made in Germany
• Raw or anodized black finish
• Several high-end build options
• 5-year warranty on frame and gearbox
• Prices starting at € 2965, including Pinion C1.12 gearbox, cranks, and sprockets
• More information: 4130.fi


A Case for a Gearbox

The derailleur is an excellent piece of engineering, but I would argue that the swan song is its next stage of development. Moving all of the transmission-related components inside a sealed housing – and most importantly, to the center of the bike – makes sense at all levels. Oddly enough, there is a readily-made technology for that, the Pinion gearbox.

Although it might not be quite as polished as a standard shifter, it carries a slight weight penalty, and the drag is higher than in its derailleur opponent, I believe it's still a very appropriate choice. In the case of a hardtail frame, it makes even more sense since finding room for pivots and compensating chain tension with a dedicated tensioner because of changing chainstay length aren't issues to let bother one's noggin.

Geometry – Setting the Numbers

In deciding geometry, I did a decent amount of benchmarking, which included riding some excellent hardtail frames like the Pässilä Rämäkkä and Pole Taival. Along with the majority of the industry, I've been a believer in slack head angles and roomy front ends, but the testing pointed out the importance of having a matching tail as well.
Even though short chainstay makes a friendly, playful, and poppy ride, the tradeoff in cornering and straight-line stability is notable.

In the end, the geometry numbers turned as follows. The head angle is 64 degrees, the reach was 500mm, and the seat tube height kept in the standover-friendly 450mm length. When it comes to chainstay length, Pinion limits that since the mount requires a large piece of real estate in the BB area, which makes fitting the cranks and meaty 29-inch rear tire a tight business if the CS length pushes towards the shorter end.

RIG v2 geometry chart.
RIG v2 CAD image.
The geometry table of the RIG v2. A CAD image was produced to see how the final product would look in the wild.

Why just one size, you might ask? For capitalistic reasons and since I only made a minimal batch, there was no reason to offer several sizes since every geometry setting would require a jig, which would have an extra cost. The geometry numbers listed above will provide a good fit for anyone medium-height, below or above 180cm or so.

Searching for a Manufacturer

The next big hoop to jump through to was to find a manufacturer for the frames, which was all but straightforward considering the list of requirements. First, the produced batch will be small. This leaves out almost all but the small(ish) shops who run their operations inside the house. During the search process, an opportunity of going the Taiwan-route presented itself but with a small hurdle in the form of minimum order quantities. Getting manufacturing done in Taiwan means that containers are the units in which quantities are discussed. This ruled out that option since the intention from the start was to make a limited batch of frames, not a full-scale production – and a 2nd mortgage to go with it.

The Taiwanese option came out by half-accident since I was looking for options inside the EU from the start. It is not because of some nationalistic ideology, but simply because trade within the European borders is more straightforward and cost-effective. Besides, many small frame builders and artisan workshops reside within the Old Continent, giving ample options, or at least that's what one would think.

The use of the Pinion gearbox rules out the majority of the options since not too many manufacturers have experience working with them, which leads to at least one of the following scenarios:

1) I needed to purchase the Pinion mounts from the manufacturer and the gearboxes & shifters and ship them forward to the frame builder.
2) The frames turned out with some design flaws, like less than stellar cable routing, low tire clearance, etc. The likelihood of this can be minimized with a careful design and verification process, but funny things tend to happen when you're working on something the first time around.
3) Costs get out of hand – and do so remarkably fast.

I had some initial discussions with BTR – the home of the legendary Ranger, Belter, and Pinner frames – but things did not line up in a way that I needed. Paul runs a very tight business with top-notch workmanship, and even though the run of frames produced would be identical, it did not enable much cost savings via batching work phases. Even though it did not work out this time around, I certainly hope to purchase a BTR frame at some point!

Made in Germany

There's one company that resides in the German countryside, which has ample experience in building Pinion frames and has an option for custom frames. On top of that, their quality is legendary.

For the uninitiated, we are talking, of course, about Nicolai Bikes.

Made in Germany. Enough said.
#germanaluminumisquiterealtoo, it turns out.

I found common ground after getting in touch with Nicolai since their catalog already holds a frame similar to what I was looking for. Changes in geometry and some aesthetic details, and we'd be good to go! Although it sounds easy when said like this, all the planning and detail sorting took a considerable amount of work, which led to an email thread almost too cumbersome to open in the final stages.

Tackling the project with Nicolai brought some considerable benefits, the main one being their work quality. I believe the quality of their welds is unrivaled in the industry and challenging to beat.

Front end of the RIG v2.
Some serious dimes were laid here.

Besides the 1st-class craftsmanship, the frames held some excellent features, like the ability to run a belt drive since the drive-side dropout sports a bolt-on structure that enables the installation and replacement of a carbon-reinforced Gates belt. Not that there's anything wrong with the traditional chain, but a belt drive can bring the care-free nature of the gearbox-equipped bike even further.

The intention was to build the frames out of steel, but since Nicolai only works with aluminum and has world-class expertise, it would have been foolish not to take advantage of it. The slender looks of Chromoly tubing and often talked about ride qualities of steel frames had to take a back seat, but the compromise was more than worth it. #steelisreal ethos has a strong following inside the hardtail community, but getting too myopic is rarely a good thing.

Going into Production

Producing a batch of custom frames isn't like shopping at your local grocery store. In other words, it needs plenty of preparation before the first tubes can be cut and mitered, and welding torches lit. Once we agreed on the drawings, a specific frame jig needed to be set according to the frame geometry.

Even though frame jigs are not something Nicolai is in short supply of, the work queue and flow are tightly orchestrated, which meant a 9-10 week waiting time. This was not a problem since we were in February at the time, and the frames would be ready to ship around mid-May at the latest. Then the Covid hit with its dire consequences. Because of that and some other factors, the waiting time was nearly doubled, which was a bummer, but these are matters that one can affect very little, and in the case of a worldwide pandemic, a delay in frame delivery is just peanuts, if even that.

Tack Welded RIG v2 frames.
RIG v2 with a tacked Pinion mount.
Nicolai was kind enough to provide photos from the build process.

Because of the postponed schedule, an opportunity presented itself for some polishing when it came to geometry and aesthetic details. First, the head angle was slackened from 64.5 to an even more gravity-friendly 64 degrees. The seat tube offset (the distance between the top of the seat tube and top tube) was increased to 70mm in the name of more standover height. With this modification, the top tube and seat stays form a straight line from the head tube to the dropouts, which made the appearance even more pleasing. This also left the needed room for gusset plates between the two tubes, giving me a bit of an old-school look. Kudos to Nicolai for being flexible with some last-minute changes!

When it came to colour options, the supply wasn't short by any means, quite the opposite. Nicolai offers an extensive catalog of different options, including anodized finishes, rare even among some of the industry's most prominent players. Anodizing is cool-looking and very durable, which makes it an excellent surface finish choice. Even though the welds and craftsmanship can be appreciated with any finish or colour, it would have been almost a crime of not having a raw finish option, and that's precisely what I did. The final choices were raw and anodized black.

 Hollowmill . The seat stay yoke is a work of art.
"Hollowmill". The seat stay yoke carries plenty of strength, but not any excess grams.

The End-result

When a pallet with the N logo finally arrived, it was like Christmas in the middle of August! Unboxing the frames was done with shivering hands, and once I unwrapped the first raw frame, it was clear as a day that all the work and wait I had gone through had been paid off.

The BB area sports the Pinion bracket.
The Pinion-specific bracket provides the mounting points for the gearbox.

Nicolai truly delivered when it came to quality and craftsmanship. From the headtube to the hollow seat stay, the frames radiate quality. The dropouts alone have spent a considerable amount of time in a CNC mill. Getting anything even remotely nice and detailed would be very hard or even impossible with modest order quantities while keeping the price competitive.

RIG v2 dropouts a piece of modular art.
Dropouts are a functional piece of art, providing the necessary chainstay length adjustment for getting the chain tension just right. It's worth noting that the drive-side dropout has a bolted joint that enables a belt drive.

Gusset plates between the top tube and seat tube were added for strength and most importantly for the looks.
Gusset plates between the top tube and seat tube were added for strength, and most importantly, for the classic looks.

A Sample Build – Going Full Moto

A story like this would not be complete without some photographic evidence of a fully-built bike. The sample build in question belongs to Kari, the first customer who gets a hold of a RIG v2 frame. The build was done with "good taste," to put it mildly. In other words, componentry was of the finest quality, including MRP Ribbon Coil fork, Onyx Racing Products Classic hubset, Chris King Inset, Burgtec cockpit, and European-made Continental rubber. Stopping duties are handled by Italian-made (and still somewhat rare) Braking brakes. The finishing touches include AVS handguards, which pay homage to Kari's Motocross background.

Rig v2 full build. Photo Janne Pussila
Fully-built RIG v2. Massive thanks to Janne Pussila for this and the following photos!

Rig v2 full build. Photo Janne Pussila
Suspension duties are handled by MRP Ribbon – the coil-sprung version, of course.

Rig v2 cockpit provided by Burgtec. Do note the color coordinated hoses. Photo Janne Pussila
Colored hosing makes a nice finishing touch in the cockpit area, which is already stocked with Chris King headset and Burgtec stem & handlebars. The Braking brakes have steel-braided hoses to handle the extra high pressures the system uses. Despite the sturdy hose construction, cutting hoses to proper length can be done by any half-competent mechanic and requires no additional parts.

Rig v2 full build with Onyx Racing hubs. Classic model in Anodized Candy Blue color. Photo Janne Pussila
Silent killer. The Onyx Racing hubs utilize a sprag clutch mechanism which is unique in MTB and BMX use. The system offers instant engagement and is completely silent. Making things even sweeter, the Classic hub line is delivered with hybrid-ceramic bearings as stock.

Pinion Gearbox the powerhouse of the Rig v2 bike. Photo Janne Pussila
The Pinion C1.9 XR gearbox forms the core of the bike. 568% of range, the center of gravity in the best location possible, and maintenance needs that resemble negligence – what's there not to like?

In Closing

Here you go. That's the story of a one-off frame project that turned into a production batch. Many things were learned, and some of them were very unexpected, but everything came together nicely in the end. One thing that's for sure is that I will continue making frames when I see an idea worth pursuing. It remains to be seen if any of those will hold as much potential as this.

If you're in the market for a modern hardtail frame that can handle everything from long weekend loops to enduro races and bike park shenanigans, consider the RIG v2. More information and different build options can be found in the link below.

RIG v2 Frameset


63 Comments

  • 39 0
 We neeeeed m0ar of this in here! What a great story, and greater bike. So very well done sir.
  • 7 0
 Thanks a ton! It means a lot to hear feedback like this.
  • 1 0
 @jukka4130: Hi, Did you count weight comparison with similar range clasical drivetrain? whats the weight penalty of this pinion? i want it so many years, possibly with Belt... thx
  • 5 0
 not, personally, feeling the fit philosophy, but this is just an awesome project and rly good build quality! well done!
  • 4 0
 Thanks and kiitos!
  • 1 0
 Amazing project with its background, history and result! I am no fanboy of Nicolay aesthetics but your frame looks pretty wellm :-). Geometry seems very promising and use of ONYX hub got me really after using the gearbox. Gearbox and silent hub are my go-to-dream.
.
I'd like to ask you how was Pinion supportive towards you? Have they provided you specifications of mounting interface? Or did you have to buy the gearbox first, to show them you're serious? Did you have to fill the long questionare? Do you source the gearboxes directly from Pinion, or through one of their sellers?

All the best to your project! Keep up!
  • 5 0
 Pinion, Onyx hubs, and a hardttail frame equal a fully silent ride that needs to be experienced 1st had. Getting in touch and establishing a relationship with Pinion was very straightforward. They do have some requirements when it comes to plans on how to produce future frames. Pinion deals only in a B2B manner.
  • 2 1
 Holy Moly...that first build is quite a thing. A very fine Rig as we would say down here. Thank Huey I don't have the skills to do it justice nor the coin to appropriately compensate you for your efforts. However, my thanks to you for doing this exercise is a very cheerfully given freebie. So...thanks!!
  • 2 0
 Thanks for saying thanks, as they say!
  • 1 0
 The blend of CNC'd parts with tubes looks incredible. Super jealous of the pinion gearbox, that's on the to do list one day! Excellent planning and design work, that bike is a stunner! Reminds me of a hardtail version of my Transition Tr250! Best of luck!
  • 2 0
 Thanks! That's the way I truly felt when I received the frames and saw the end-result firsthand. The seat stay yoke and dropouts are a piece of CNC'd art. Pair that with the heavy-duty aluminum tubes and second to none welds, and it's a full package (although I say it myself).
  • 1 0
 This is so awesome! It is (one of) my dream jobs to build both my own frames as well as machine my own line of components. This bike is extra awesome because it has plenty of machining in it as well. I would like to make Titanium hardtail's for downhill, with modern geometry, though that would get rather expensive trying to gusset and overbuild things out of Ti... If I had that much extra cash, I would buy one of these on the spot. You did an amazing job with this, Beer
  • 1 0
 Thank you, sir! The joy of making things is something that's hard to replicate in any other way.
  • 1 0
 @jukka4130: It is the only way to go... I hope to see more stories on your future endeavors!
  • 1 0
 @rosemarywheel: We'll see what's going into the pipeline next.
  • 4 0
 So. Good. Really good read too, cheers dude
  • 2 0
 Thanks a lot! That was certainly nice to hear!
  • 2 0
 I hope the last photo is with the wheels straddling a bump and the fork bottomed out. That pedal is almost scraping the ground!
  • 2 0
 The geo chart can be found above. BB height is quite standard.
  • 1 0
 Love to see somebody doing their own thing! Find their own way to make something happen. Nicolai aesthetics are a bit marmite, but it definitely looks like a killer bike. Not many people offering Pinion!
  • 1 0
 Nicolai aesthetics can divide opinions. I am a fan though. The welds alone are a work of art. The reason behind the RIG v1 project was that there weren't proper Pinion-equipped frame options. Then one thing led to another.
  • 2 0
 what happened with this Nicolai GLF
have one and love it in both as 29" and 27+

is its cheaper than original "N"?
  • 1 0
 Pricing is competitive. Details and build packages can be found here:

www.4130.fi/rig-v2-frame-set

And there's a Finnish version as well:

www.4130.fi/rig-v2-runkosetti
  • 1 0
 @jukka4130: pricing is really competitive.

are you going to sell bashguards for pinion??
i need one
  • 1 0
 @vitality: No plans at the moment.

@housem8d: Thanks for the link! That was some new information.
  • 1 0
 @housem8d: i wait already 5 month for delivery
  • 1 0
 @jukka4130: zerodebikes.com/products-list/taniwha-chain-ring-protector
gates belts are little pricey, guest how i found it out?
you need katipo version. if you planning to get more than 1 pm me, i join order
  • 2 0
 "a hardtail frame with modern geometry equipped with a Pinion gearbox."
Like the Nicolai Argon GLF?
  • 1 0
 Yeah, I was curious if there are any substantial differences between the two.
  • 1 0
 @MorganBH: I do think that the differences in geometry are notable.
  • 2 1
 @jukka4130: which ones in particular and how do you think they affect the ride?
  • 1 0
 I was wondering the same thing. AFAIK Nicolai offers an option to tweak the stock geometry. So basically this is a small batch of custom Nicolais in case someone else wanted to get the same geometry tweaks as Jukka.
  • 1 0
 I think we need one with a derailleur hanger as well as the gear box so we can have a bike with ALLLLL THE GEARS!!!!
  • 1 0
 pf just slap rohloff in addition to pinion
  • 1 0
 "and maintenance needs that resemble negligence" music to my ears Jukka! Great job on the bike!
  • 1 0
 Haha. Glad to hear that. If one wants to minimize the maintenance needs, a belt drive is an option worth looking into. When there's no chain that needs to be lubed, the drivetrain is pretty much as care-free as it can get. Only a fully enclosed version construction would top that.
  • 2 0
 Beautiful. I've always wanted to throw a leg over one of these.
  • 2 0
 looks amazing
  • 1 0
 So awesome what a legend.
  • 2 0
 Hah, thanks! The biggest compliment one can receive!
  • 1 0
 What an amazing story! Stunning frames ! All the very best to you !
  • 1 0
 Thanks! Feedback like this is much appreciated.
  • 1 0
 I wish my knee would let me ride hardtails still. I do love them so.
  • 1 0
 same here....
  • 3 3
 All of this awesome doesn't fix the poor ride quality of aluminum hardtails...
  • 1 1
 I do respect your opinion, but I do not find much of a difference between different materials given that the frame is designed for a gravity-focused purposes.
  • 1 0
 So, nicolai called. They want their frame back
  • 1 2
 Though it was an e-bike frame at first?
Good idea, but still think hard tails should be steel or titanium?
  • 5 0
 Steel is real and titanium is just... cool as a cucumber (or something). Things like available manufacturers, costs etc. come into play very fast. When doing small scale production like this, options aren't too many.

When it comes to build-quality, Nicolai really delivered with their industry-leading aluminum expertise which carries over to ride characteristics as well.
  • 1 1
 @jukka4130: Would you try using elastomers in the gear box mounts do not know if would work good?
But would be interesting to try, right?
  • 3 0
 @aljoburr: Can't think of a reason why you'd want the springiness of elastomers introduced into the drivetrain? Besides, the interface between the gearbox and the frame mount is very precise. No room for anything extra in there.
  • 1 2
 @jukka4130: Just an idea?
But one thing that would defiantly work good is covering that chain?
  • 6 0
 @aljoburr: Sorry, but I am not able to follow your chain of thoughts here.
  • 1 0
 @jukka4130: I agree, not sure where the elastomer thing came from but regarding the chain, he might be referring to a chain oiler or chain guard device. Again, not sure why. Or possibly it's just verbiage, maybe a chain guide. But I assume with proper tension that chain can't go anywhere with only the single chain line.
  • 2 0
 @iammarkstewart: Exactly. The drivetrain is identical to a regular single-speed version. In other words, the CS has a length adjustment that is used to achieve the proper chain tension. With a belt drive, the correct tension is even more important.
  • 1 0
 Well I want one.
  • 1 0
 That is certainly nice to hear! Could not ask for better feedback.
  • 1 0
 @jukka4130: but I only just built my new hardtail this week haha! Question, how is the gear box mounted to the frame? with through bolts or just screws?
  • 1 0
 @TobiasHandcock: 6 torx bolts 3 on each side
  • 1 0
 @vitality: Exactly.
  • 1 1
 @TobiasHandcock: Just like how you mount a e- bike motor, just a pity can not use both at the same time?
  • 1 0
 @aljoburr: Unfortunately not.

Although, there's a really cool e-bike drive system coming out which combines the two: motor and a stepless gearbox all in one. Check out the story below.

www.pinkbike.com/u/Revonte/blog/under-the-hood--a-peek-inside-the-automatic-and-stepless-revonte-one-drive-system.html

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