Brothers in arms. The RIG v2's in raw and anodized black finishes
A Case for a Gearbox
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
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.
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
#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.
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.
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 carries plenty of strength, but not any excess grams.
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 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.
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.
A Sample Build – Going Full Moto
Gusset plates between the top tube and seat tube were added for strength, and most importantly, for the classic looks.
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.
Fully-built RIG v2. Massive thanks to Janne Pussila for this and the following photos!
Suspension duties are handled by MRP Ribbon – the coil-sprung version, of course.
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.
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.
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?
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