2018 NAHBS: Best Mountain Bike

2018 NAHBS: Best Mountain Bike

When NAHBS organizer Don Walker tapped me to be chief judge, I relaxed a great number of rules. I stressed to builders that our job is to recognize great work rather than find out who follows rules best. In many judged competitions the finalists for Best in Show are drawn exclusively from the winners of other categories. Dog shows are a great example of this. With NAHBS, such an approach would be fair; we consider practically every bike at the show. We can’t actually consider every bike at the show; one of the only hard and fast rules is that a builder must be an exhibitor to be considered for an award. Bikes displayed in the booths of SRAM and Shimano or other component manufacturers aren’t eligible, unless the builder has a booth.

Adam Sklar won for Best Mountain Bike last year. As much as I like his work, I can’t say I thought of him as some mountain bike genius with an unusual insight into what makes for a great knobby-tire bike. After this year I’ll know to keep an eye on him. This long-travel hardtail is a great example of how steel has remained a practical material for making mountain bikes.

The powder coat finish of orange teardrops on purple is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The fact that it’s powder coat is cool for two reasons; first, it’s hard as hell to do a finish like this in powder. Second, because it’s a powder coat finish it is durable in a way that wet paint never will be.

Intricate details like this used to be flat-out impossible.

Finish is not what sent this bike to the finals, though. It was a well-designed bike and the use of this tapered head tube is one detail contributing to that.

One factor that can eliminate a bike in a hurry is when the bike has no clearance for mud. Even with sizable tires, the Sklar had plenty of room.

Internal routing on the dropper post and flattened down tube for increased lateral stiffness were other great touches. And yes, I believe having a dropper post on this bike was very important. A hardtail without a dropper is a bike that’s next to impossible to descend on; you give up a lot of maneuverability, and speed. This is a bike that I know plenty of riders would kill to have.

That I know riders who still race cross country isn’t that surprising. That I know guys who are still doing 24-hour races is completely shocking. But I do. This bike from No. 22 is aimed squarely at guys doing long cross country events, such as 24-hour races.

Mud clearance on this bike was excellent. And the welding was exemplary.

No. 22 has staked out a spot for themselves where anodizing is an integral part of the look of their bikes. All their bikes on display this year featured anodized, bead blasted or polished finishes.

This brake bridge touch elevated a basic detail on bikes and turned it into an artful flourish.

I’ll admit that my interest in riding a 100mm hardtail with no dropper post is, well, asymptotic. In terms of function, nope. In terms of form, it’s a beauty. Part of the job of the judges is to see through our own preferences and recognize a bike that accomplishes its design goals. And this bike is very well done. It was lighter than the fingers of a pickpocket, due to careful component choices, like this Lefty fork.

The Altruiste. Arguably the most creative bike in the show.

This gives a great view of the curved seat tube and how it allows the DVO shock to pass by. One of the advantages of this design is that builder Gabriel Lang used full-sized tubes, rather than a number of tiny tubes and as a result he was able to use larger, more durable bearings. This bike will be able to handle a lot more riding between services.

When you look at the selection of the BMX crank and the bearings that allow the unified rear triangle to move concentrically around the bottom bracket, it’s so well done it looks like an obvious choice. The design will bob more than other designs under pedaling, but it will hook up on chunky climbs, but unlike many other designs, it will never give the rider any kickback as the suspension moves.

There are other less expensive choices for forks, but the choice of DVO was like many of the other choices on the bike, such as the Industry 9 wheels: They were great choices made to emphasize performance on a bike that will see some significant air time.

Despite the off-center mount for the shock, the way it is joined is square and will keep loads distributed so that the bearings won’t wear prematurely.

The rear triangle is elegant; just eight pieces of tubing. Most steel full-suspension bikes I see have a truss-type design in order to maintain stiffness. But all that extra tubing means more weight and more brazing or welding, which drives up the cost of the bike as well. So heavier and more expensive. Thanks, I’ll pass. That’s what made this bike so intriguing.

What you can’t see in any of these photos is how Lang welded a second tube inside the down tube to reinforce it. The other tube was welded at an able to the down tube. The upper potion is welded at the 12 o’clock position, where the shock is mounted, with a gusset added. The bottom portion of the reinforcing tube is welded to the down tube at 6 o’clock, just ahead of the bottom bracket. And yes, welding the tube within a tube was not easy.

We saw a number of great mountain bikes this year. Cutting the field to these three bikes wasn’t easy. The Altruiste was the most unusual of the bunch and because it was intelligently executed and intelligently built, it was a deserving winner.

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    1. Author

      It will bob some due to pedal forces. Most people pedal boxes to one degree or another. The downstroke causes the bottom bracket to sink. This tends to be a bit more pronounced with a concentric pivot.

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