The Moots Psychlo X Build

Just a few pics from build night.

Pile o’ parts:

New Efficient Velo Tools headset press.

Build Me.

I don’t think 38c tires will fit.  (Nope).

Gentle…

I love the routing for continuous housing…

Headset time.

K-Edge Front Derailleur Mount.

Let’s build a Jones Spaceframe while we’re at it.

34c tires are much happier in the rear.

I love the cinch-bolt seatpost clamp.  Tres Elegant.

What a combo!

For me.

Focus.

 

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Moots Mooto X 27.5 YBB

I had a chance to throw a leg over a couple of MOOTO X’s at the recent Moots Demo Day at NCC, including an RSL.

Those who read regularly know my penchant for lightness and efficiency, so you may think that would be the Moots mountain bike I’d be most interested in.  I had originally thought so as well…until I checked out the 27.5 YBB they had laying around.

YBB is Moots talk for their softtail design.  This one was sporting a 650b setup, with full Shimano XTR 2×10 drivetrain.  (A note on that: the shifting was telepathic.  Potentially the most comfortable, best shifting drivetrain/shifter combo I’ve ever seen).

I took the YBB out for a test-ride that consisted of about 15-20 minutes of urban riding.  Cobblestones, curbs, grass, mulch, more curbs, and yet more curbs.

The softtail dampener is very minimal, with about an inch of travel.

That travel is accommodated purely by compliance in the seat and chainstays.

In all honesty, I had figured that the YBB was a gimmick.  I had thought that it would either be so stiff as to not offer any meaningful compliance, or so squishy as to be pedal-bob inducing.  To my surprise, it was neither.

I’m not a big fan of huge travel rear suspension for my needs here in Illinois.  My Superfish’s 80mm of rear travel is about perfect.  On the other hand, I’m not a huge fan of hardtails either…I like the bike to do some work for me–to take the edge off of hits, and to allow me to keep putting power down on rough terrain.

The YBB was unnoticeable under pedaling.  It felt like a compliant hardtail.  Even when going into exaggerated ‘out of the saddle’ pounding, it went unnoticed.

However, when hitting obstacles, I was surprised at the amount of compliance it had.  I purposefully bombed several curbs, not making any effort to pick up the rear tire, sitting on the saddle, to see what it did.  To my amazement, it completely took the edge off of the hits.  It wasn’t “140mm of travel” smooth, but it did a great deal.

In short, I had thought that the YBB would be meaningless, but it wasn’t.  If I was in the market for a mountain bike, the YBB would be on my short-list.  The BB was admirably stiff, but the bike had that wonderful Ti ride quality.

As for the 27.5 wheels, I can understand why they’re making a bit of a splash.  They were noticeably better at surmounting obstacles than 26″ wheels…and comparing the same rim/tire, the 27.5s accelerated noticeably quicker than 29ers.  That said, were it me, I’d still go 29er.  The difference in acceleration wasn’t that great (and could be overcome with a better wheel/tire combo).  But I still feel that there’s a greater difference in ‘roll over anything’ ability with 29ers.  The real application of the 27.5, in my opinion, is in the smaller size mountain bikes, for people who aren’t tall enough to comfortably ride a 29er with reasonable geometry.

In any event, the YBB–it’s a compelling and very interesting bike.  You should check one out.

Moots Vamoots RSL Review

I had a chance to put in about 25 miles on a Vamoots RSL a couple days ago.  Here are my thoughts.

For starters, it was a 58cm bike, so a bit big for me.  It was running SRAM Red (2012 version), and had what seemed to be a monstrous set of handlebars (46cm?)

So let me say at the outset, it was a bit big for me, and felt a smidge cumbersome as a result.  However, I also did a very brief test-ride on a 56cm RSL, and found it to be much more to my liking.  So for purposes of this review, I’ll talk about a combination of those two bikes…as riding the proper size cured many of the idiosyncrasies that initially popped up with the 58.

It was a horrendously windy day.  My personal road bike is a Trek Madone 7, which is about as aero as you can get.  Suffice it to say that riding into a headwind, on a bike that’s a size too big, with wide handlebars, does not compare favorably to my Madone.  If you eliminated the sizing issues, you’d be comparing a very aero bike to a standard bike.  The Madone has an edge here.  Comparing it to my previous road bike, a Ridley Noah (also a very aero bike), well, the results are the same.  That’s about the only downside.

The geometry of the 56cm bike was perfect.  It had an amazing balance between sport and stability–a near perfect ride quality balance.  Turn-in was instantaneous with no palpable deflection in frame or fork–the rigidity in turns was excellent.  My bike had a 44mm head tube, but I also rode a Vamoots with a standard headtube, and my 150# didn’t phase it.  On the other hand, the handling wasn’t nervous or tiresome like some ‘race’ bikes.  I wouldn’t make any changes to the geometry for the road riding I do (although the more time I spend with the short chainstays on my Psychlo X, the more I wish all bikes were set up that way!)

The BB30 bottom bracket made power transfer instantaneous.  If you stood to climb a little roller, the Vamoots just went.  The drivetrain feel was linear and predictable.  It didn’t feel harsh or jolt-y like my old Noah did.  It just went.

Let’s talk about that ride quality.  Compared to the Noah (or heaven forbid, my earlier Scattante or some of the aluminum frames I’ve ridden), the Vamoots is heavenly.  Glorious.  It’s hard to figure out how the bike has such a comfortable ride on undulating surfaces, chipseal, rumblestrips, potholes and similar obstacles, and yet feels so efficient under power.  But–I haven’t gone totally Moots crazy.  My Madone has the same ability to be incredibly efficient under power, while having amazing ride quality over rough surfaces.  I will say that I believe there’s a significant difference between the Madone 7 and the lower grade carbon used in the other Madone series…having logged quite a few miles on a Madone 6, my personal belief is that the Madone 7 has significantly better manners and dampening ability.  Comparing ride quality heads-up, the Madone 7 to the Vamoots RSL, the Vamoots definitely has that “ti” feel, but I cannot say that it blew me away.  Let’s be fair: I’m a tough critic, both being in love with my Madone, and having a lot of ride time on some pretty sweet Ti frames.

This isn’t a criticism of the RSL.  In my opinion, it has the perfect blend of ride quality and efficiency.  I just happen to think that it shares that perfect balance with my Madone 7.  I tried a couple of the other Moots road frames, and while they had slightly better vibration dampening, they lacked a bit of the snappiness that the RSL had.  My ride time on them was not nearly as extensive as the RSL, so take that for what it’s worth.

I would have loved to log some time on the Vamoots with my ENVE wheels–dropping some rotating mass and picking up their aerodynamics and ride quality would have had a substantial impact on the ride.

What’s the verdict?

Ride quality is amazing.  Geometry is spot-on.  Handling is confidence-inspiring, even when you hit a little gravel mid-turn and slide over on the road a bit.  If you get in the drops and put some weight on the front tire, it feels like the bike will hook up in any corner.  It looks amazing.  The weight is pretty shockingly low (particularly with the wheel/tire combo my test bike sported).  It’s a very well thought out package.

So am I running out and trading my Madone?  No.

The Vamoots would be an upgrade from just about any road bike on the planet.  I’d ride it with great pleasure.  But I wouldn’t trade my Madone to get one–at least not now.  There are 2 pretty amazing sub-points here.

The first is that Moots, as a relatively small business that handbuilds their frames in Colorado, is capable of building a road bike that compares unbelievably favorably with the highest end, pro-grade, carbon fiber roadbike made by one of the largest bike manufacturers in the country.  That’s really something.

The second is that Moots does all of this in what you can truly call a lifetime frame.  With my Madone last a long time?  Yup.  Can carbon be repaired?  Yup.  But in 10 years, will my Madone look as good as a 10 year old Moots?  Nope.  There is no question that the Moots will be more durable.  It’s an investment–something you can ride forever.

The Vamoots RSL is an amazing bike.

 

Why Moots, Part Two.

Wednesday was Moots demo day at North Central Cyclery.

Were there some Moots bikes there?

Yeah, a few.

Ok…so there were a lot.

Just another day at a midwest bike shop, right?

I had a chance to ride a lot of Moots, and I’ll give some thoughts in the days to come.  I also had a chance to do an extended test-ride on a Vamoots RSL with a 44mm headtube.  We hit the area roads with Jason, our very friendly Moots host, and a couple of guys from the NCC crew (Tobie and Dan).

It was overcast, but we had a break in the rain and we took it.

Jason, being accustomed to photos, is smiling in every single picture.  Tobie, being accustomed to talking, is……..

So why Moots?

Regular readers of the blog know that I value local businesses.  I prefer shopping at my local bike shop to buying online.  In a perfect world, I’d like to buy American made products, from artisanal shops.

On the other hand, when I ride a bike, I want to know that it’s the best bike for the job.  It has to function well.  Preferably perfectly.  I’ll talk about how my Moots does that in the days to come.  But separate from my Moots, I spend a lot of time on my Trek Madone, which while it is handmade in the USA, it certainly isn’t from an artisan’s shop.  Trek is many things, but it isn’t a ‘small’ business–it’s a giant corporation.

So for me, the perfect bike is one that functions flawlessly, and is made in the USA, by a small business that has people I can relate to.  If push comes to shove, the most important factor there is perfect function.

Looking nice helps, too.

Moots seems to be in something of a sweet spot.  They’re a relatively small manufacturer.  Small enough that they have a highly personal relationship.  When I was talking with Jason, he would tell stories about individual welders and fabricators.  They’re not just a small manufacturer where you have a great personal relationship with their marketing or sales team–you can have a personal relationship with their whole company.  If you want a ‘stock’ build, you can get it.  If you want a full custom, they can do just about anything.  If you want something in between, like my Moots, you can do it.  And heck, if you want, you can drive out to Steamboat Springs and watch them build bikes.

Right.  There.  In.  Colorado.

About the only thing that they don’t build in-house is the house-brand carbon fork that they sell (and I believe that’s made at the same facility that makes ENVE carbon forks, because ENVE too outsources its carbon forks to ______ (Taiwan?)).

But the fact that they’re a small, US manufacturer with an artisanal shop doesn’t mean that you’re foregoing anything in product development.  They have an amazing in-house R&D facility.  They have amazing fabrication capabilities…and for jobs that they can’t currently do in-house (like some very sophisticated tubing butting), they have no compunctions about sending an individual, partially fabricated piece of tubing to another company to perform a specialized function.  They don’t cut corners–their tubing butting is done mechanically, not chemically.

In another life, I used to work on Jeeps.  In the realm of Jeep fabrication, when you’re building a roll-cage, bumper or other structure, you can use one of three types of tubing: ERW or DOM.  ERW is tubing that is made by taking a sheet of metal, rolling it into a tube, and then welding the seam.  The seam always leaves a weakness in the completed tube.  DOM is the abbreviation for “drawn over mandrel.”  DOM tubing is made by taking ERW and drawing it over a mandrel and die to process the weld site and produce a stronger tube.  Seamless tubing is made by extruding or rotary piercing tubing to make a single, unified piece of tube with no welds and no weak spots.

In the world of Jeeps, you used ERW for basic stuff, and DOM where it counted.  No one used seamless tubing.  It’s too expensive and too rare.

In the world of bikes, many manufacturers of titanium bikes use the Ti equivalent of ERW or DOM–tubing that has a seam that creates a weak spot.  Sure, they try to locate the seam to ‘protect’ that weakness, but it’s a weakness nonetheless.  Until today, I didn’t know this, but Moots uses seamless Titanium tubing, extruded from a big-honking piece of titanium.  (And yes, that’s the technical term).  No welds.  No weak spots.

They order a truckload of seamless tubing and they test it themselves.  Anything that doesn’t meet their spec (wall thickness variation, strength problems, other structural deficiencies) is sold.  To other titanium bike frame manufacturers, among other potential buyers.

The tubing that survives the inspection is then formed on their in-house tooling.  They custom-build tooling to make every piece of the frame (with the exception of the aluminum chainstay on the MX Divide, that they farm out to another shop).  As Jason explained, they might make 50 sets of Psychlo X chainstays, and then put them in a bin until they use them all.  Everything is fabricated in house.

As noted above, for incredibly complicated butting, rather than use chemical butting or other imprecise methods, they ship partially machined tubing to Reynolds for internal, mechanical butting.  Everything is done in the best way possible.

This isn’t mass-assembly, hammer out parts, throw them in a jig, weld it together, box it up and send it out the door.  It isn’t 2,000 workers on an assembly line.  It isn’t shipping crates of bikes coming into the country on ships.  When my Moots came, it had a tag with the name of every person who had worked on any part of the bike.  And each of those people lives in Colorado and has a life here in the US.

Am I waxing poetic?  Sure.  No doubt.  but it’s a compelling story.  Why Moots?  Well, if you want steel, carbon or aluminum, look elsewhere.  But if you want Ti, there aren’t many companies that compete on a level playing field with Moots.  They’re small enough that they’re personal.  They’re big enough that they’ll be there to support you in 10 years, and big enough to have great R&D.  Their products are perfect.  Perfect raw materials, perfect manufacturing, perfect design.  They’re made in the US, by people who earn living wages. They look beautiful, and have a unique aesthetic.  And they ride amazing.

Doing a heads-up comparison between a Moots and just about any other Titanium bike seems a bit unfair.  Sure, the Moots is a premium product.  No doubt.  But it’s also a better product.

Don’t get me wrong…I don’t think every Moots is the best bike in its’ respective category.  More on that in the next few days.  I do think every Moots is pretty darn amazing.  I do think Moots as a company, and as a ‘corporate model,’ is pretty amazing.  Why did I get a Moots?  Because for the purposes that my Psychlo X is going to be used for, it is the very best bike on the market, from any source, in any material.

I was happy to meet Jason and see what a personable guy he was.  I was happy to hear reasonable answers to my questions.  But what really amazed me was hearing him talk about the individual fabricators and designers, and their work to design and refine both the tooling and the bikes that Moots builds.  The answer was never, “well, the factory in Taiwan couldn’t meet that spec.”  Rather, the answer was along the lines of “Jim tried to design tooling that could accommodate that bend, but we found that…”  For me, for some reason, that’s a more comforting answer.  A more personal answer.  And I’m getting that answer, and the ‘small business’ approach that I want, without giving up anything in design, technology or construction.

Why Moots?  Because there is no tradeoff.

Thanks for the great ride, Jason.

Chequame-goner.

I was really looking forward to Chequamegon this year, and felt prepared for the 100 mile race, riding the Superfish.  Unfortunately, the organizers failed to pre-order good weather, so when they received over 5 inches of rain in 2 days, the event was cancelled.  Chad and I were planning on heading up together on Friday, and we got the news just as we were about to roll out of DeKalb.  With both of us having loaded bikes and the afternoon off, we did the only thing that we could do.  We looked at the weather, to find somewhere else to ride.  The radar map showed precipitation from Canada all the way down to Peoria, IL.

So we loaded up and headed to Peoria.

We spent the day at Indy in Peoria, and had a blast.

Chad was rocking the Krampus, and I was on the ‘fish.

He was in front, and I was (perpetually) behind.

Conditions started good, and then notwithstanding weather.com’s promise, it started to rain.

The trails got a bit wet, but we weren’t making any tracks, and our tires weren’t balling up too badly.

This was about as bad as it got, with my Rocket Rons:

The Knards on the Krampus didn’t pack at all.

But…some obstacles got too slick and had to be walked.

We rode conservatively, preferring to save the trail rather than doing macho attacks that would have left ruts.

We finished a great day of riding…

Riding with Chad on a mountain bike perpetually reminds me that I still brake too much.  His riding is elegant–riding the Krampus like a big BMX.  I catch him on the flats and on the climbs, but on the downhills, he just walks away from me.  Particularly when things got a bit greasy, I slowed way down, and he plowed through.

We found a nearby cistern to wash off at.  A little Bob Evans dinner, and we headed back home.

Moots Psychlo X: The Why.

I don’t get sick of looking at the pictures, so here it is again…

Much of the build is carryover from the Vaya…things that work perfectly, like the ENVE 29XC wheels and Bontrager CXOs.  The drivetrain is carryover until Sram Red 22 hydros become available.  But this is about the bigger question: why a Moots?

Why would I tear a beautiful Ti Vaya apart to build a Moots?

Well…it’s complicated.

First things first: the Vaya isn’t going anywhere.  With previous bikes, when I’ve replaced them, they were gone.  When the Ridley was replaced with the Madone, the threadlocker on the Madone wasn’t even dry before the Ridley was for sale.  The Vaya, not so much.  It has a special place in my heart.  I can’t bear to part with it.  I’m not sure how it will next be built up…singlespeed?  Flat bar?  Touring rig?  Other?  But it’s not going anywhere, and no, it’s not for sale.  It’s an amazing bike…and I’ve logged 5 digit miles on it, in the several years I’ve had it.  (Low 5 digit.  Very low.  But still…).  I love the Vaya.  It’s an amazing bike.

When North Central Cyclery became a full-on Moots dealer, Tobie picked up a Psychlo X. He followed in the footsteps of Aaron, who has been a Moots road rider for years, and who recently upgraded to a Psychlo for gravel.  There’s a certain panache associated with Moots.  Those who have ridden them talk about a special ride quality.  Those who look at them talk about how beautiful they are.  As Tobie’s said, Aaron’s no dummy.  If he believes that there is a tangible difference in the ride quality, there’s something there.

I’m not a cyclocross racer, nor do I have intentions of being one.  But I do love gravel.  Everywhere you look, people are talking about custom gravel geometry.  Low BBs.  Long chainstays.  Relaxed headtubes.  Clearance for monster tires.  People are trying to custom-build bikes that are like the Vaya.  I understand that…the Vaya is an amazing gravel bike.  But while the trend is towards long, low and stable, after spending a few years on the Vaya, I wanted the opposite.  I wanted a BB that was higher than the Vaya, both for the change in handling feel, and for the extra pedal clearance when riding B-roads.  I wanted shorter chainstays, for livelier handling and for zippier acceleration.  I wanted a bit more aggressive headtube angle.  I wanted those for my gravel riding–I wanted a bike that was livelier, more athletic, and more lithe.

The Vaya has 71.5 degree headtube angle, and I have a relaxed fork on it.  It has 450mm chainstays, and 75mm of BB drop.  It has a wheelbase of 1039cm.

When I started thinking about geometry, I wanted to go a smidge more aggressive on the headtube.  Maybe a degree…72.5.  I wanted to go a lot more aggressive on the chainstays.  Maybe 2-3cm.  I wanted the BB to be appreciably higher…a cm or more.

The Psychlo X has a 72.5 degree headtube.  1 degree more.

It has 42.3cm chainstays.  2.7cm shorter than the Vaya.

It has 6.1cm of BB drop, or 1.4cm less than the Vaya.

When I looked at custom geometry, I was looking at the Psychlo X.

But I wasn’t happy with the stock build.  I looked at the Psychlo X and the RSL version of the same, and neither was satisfactory.  I wanted rack mounts, in case I want to throw racks on.  (Having tried fenders on the Vaya, I was comfortable skipping fender mounts).  I also wanted a third bottle mount, under the downtube, for extra hydration on longer rides.  (Of note, the Vaya has a third bottle mount that is totally useless–even a short bottle hits the front tire, with every cage I’ve tried).

I wanted a standard, threaded BB like the Psychlo X has, because I didn’t want a pressfit bottom bracket on my gravel bike.  Pressfit has some good applications, but on a gravel bike, I just don’t need the potential for creaks or looseness.  It solves a problem that I don’t have for this application.  So while I’m customarily drawn to superlight bikes, I opted for the standard Psychlo to avoid the pressfit bb.  Chris King, to be specific, because the CK bb on the Vaya went through hell and back without a single complaint.

I wanted disc brakes, because…well…I like my brakes to work in all conditions, and I’ve put my discs to the test.  Disc brakes.  I’ve read the many people suggesting that cantilever brakes or some other brake format is superior for gravel.  I’ve had my discs in water over the hubs.  Mud that locks the wheels to the frame.  Rain.  Snow.  Ice.  Gravel.  Grit.  I love my disc brakes–they work.  Always.  Going to hydros will be even better.

But in the realm of the fork, I didn’t want the straight steerer that the Psychlo X has.  Look for good options for carbon fiber forks with straight steerers and disc brakes.  There aren’t many.  (Really, there’s one).  While I don’t need “the extra rigidity” of a tapered steerer, it’s the wave of the future, folks.  A straight-steerer carbon fork with disc brake mounts is just no longer a viable option (unless you’re willing to go China carbon, or you’re willing to accept an alloy steerer/carbon lower combo).  ENVE makes a beautiful tapered steerer carbon fork with disc mounts (as do several other brands), and that was the way I wanted to go.

There’s a move underway in some gravel bikes to go to a thru-axle up front.  I resisted that urge.  Frankly, I don’t see the point.  I never had an issue with rigidity with a straight steerer and standard QR front.  With a 38c tire up front and my massive 150# of weight, I’ve never seen any deflection of any kind, or any issue that suggests that a thru-axle is anything more than added weight for me.  Again, for my riding, that solves a problem I don’t have.  So while I could have gone to a thru-axle (and swapped end caps in my DT240 front hubs to accommodate that change), I didn’t do so.  The front end has clearance for big tires…not sure how big, but 38s fit with plenty of room, and I suspect 40s or 42s would as well.

That brings us to rear tire clearance.  NCC is working on a custom spec’d Moots with monster rear end clearance.  I contemplated that option.  To get the monster clearance, the chainstay length increases, along with a few other trick changes.  On the Vaya, I ran 35c tires for the vast, vast majority of time I had it.  I appreciated going to 38c tires, but the bigger change was going tubeless.  I’m confident that a 34-35c tire, set up tubeless on the right rim, will serve all of my purposes.  Frankly, a 34c Bontrager CX0 set up on a wide rim like my ENVE 29XCs has a wider, flatter footprint than a 38c tire on a narrower rim.  So while the popular belief is that “wider is better for gravel”, I don’t see the compelling need to go wider, in the rear, for my riding.  I’ve gotten a few miles in on the Moots thus far, and the 38/34 tire combo seems about perfect.  The 34 hooks up in just about everything I’ve thrown at it, and the 38 has enough volume to track through loose gravel with ease and confidence.

The short chainstays are amazing.  On short climbs or out of the saddle efforts, the bike feels like someone wound up a rubberband….it just shoots forward.  It’s amazing.  That said, the shorter wheelbase will undoubtedly impact handling and bump-compliance.  Details will be forthcoming.

I could talk about tube butting methods, welding, and similar matters, and compare the Vaya and the Moots on those points, but the relevant discussion should focus on ride quality.  The Moots certainly has a more technologically advanced build and tube-joining method, but that’s for naught if it doesn’t produce a superior ride.  So I’m going to work on reviewing that ride quality and comparing it to the Vaya that I know and love.

In the days, and rides, to come, I’ll be talking about the ride quality, the ‘zippiness’, and whether there is a compromise between ride quality and speed.  And I’ll be honest about everything I see and feel in the bike.  Thus far, I’m impressed.