NAHBS 2019: Best Road, Gravel, Mountain

NAHBS 2019: Best Road, Gravel, Mountain

Each year the categories of best road bike, best gravel bike and best mountain bike bring a horde of entries. Gravel was, in fact, a separate category we had to create because we were getting as many gravel bikes in the cyclocross category as we were actual ‘cross bikes. This year, gravel was easily twice the size of the ‘cross group. Go figure.

With best road bike we look for something that has the power to inspire its owner to get out for a ride. It should be a bike as capable in its performance as a it is able to turn heads at the coffee shop after the ride is over.

Steve Rex caught my attention back in 1997; in the 22 intervening years this exceptionally skilled builder had only gotten better. While he’s best known for his fillet brazing, he’s at his absolute best when he’s mixing lugs and fillets in bilaminate construction. This lugged bike features polished stainless steel lugs. And if you’ve ever spoken to a builder about polishing stainless steel, then you’ve heard the phrase “thankless task.”

From the asymmetric lines of the lugs to the flawless polish and the classic paneled paint scheme, this bike is a class presentation.

No. 22 presented a road bike with fenders. It’s rare that fenders actually enhance the look of a bike. Nevermind that fenders are a measure of regard for the rider on your wheel, what is most practical is not necessarily what makes for a handsome bike.

But when you go and make your own titanium fenders and you anodize them to match an intricate finish, well, then you’ve created an exceptional bike.

Softer lighting in a real studio would have unlocked more of this bike’s beauty. This doesn’t remotely match what we saw.

The internal cable routing was another nice touch, though by no means out of the ordinary. You can also see the mounting hardware they created for the fender, anodized to match. I’ve seen plenty of fenders painted beautiful colors to match a bike, but they are always a bit of a letdown when I see the cheap hardware mounting them to the bike; when you level up something as inconsequential as that, we know the builder isn’t screwing around. It’s a sign of chasing an internal standard.

This shot captures great welding, amazing anodization and the carbon fiber seat tubes, which will eat some of the vibration that can wear a rider down.

The Seven Axiom won the category because it ticks each of the boxes someone looking for a custom road bike is likely to respond to. Big bike companies aside, more and more people are indicating they want disc brakes. They also want a bike with clearance for at least 28mm tires. They want a killer parts pick that won’t hold them back. But most of all, what people report when they talk about buying a custom bike they want something that will fit them and their style of riding with a package that will be durable. No doubt titanium is tough, but even the finish on this bike, a coating like the ceramic cerakote, means that this bike will need little more than a wash to look good.

Using the Seven logo as a design element was an attractive way to finish the bike.

By moving the clamp into the top tube and securing the seatpost without a seat collar that rises a centimeter or more above the end of the seat tube. This allows the seatpost to flex over more of its length, offering the rider increased comfort.

It’s one thing to create a beautiful dropout that integrates the Shadow rear derailleur hanger, but joining that dropout to the frame in an elegant way is one of the many impressive aspects of this bike. This Axiom was a more than deserving winner.

T-Lab, a builder out of Montreal took one of the oldest tricks in the frame building book and maximized it for this gravel bike.

They flattened the top tube, down tube and seat tube to maximize vertical compliance and this is a technique we know works, though I’d never seen it done to this degree.

The welding was very good.

The dropouts were well-conceived and and integrated the disc brake mount in a fresh way.

Nick Crumpton’s gravel bike was an impressive offering. It can run either 650×50 tires or 700×40; not every gravel bike had this much clearance and given how much needs can vary from one area to another, so this flexibility was good to see.

Nick’s internal cable routing was among the cleanest we saw on any carbon fiber bike at the show.

Crumpton’s work is elegant, and straddles the divide between the look of a monocoque-molded frame and the custom flexibility of wrapped-tube construction. If his work wasn’t this clean his frames would need to be painted because sanding them smooth would take away layers of carbon.

The Seven Evergreen Pro SL was a stunner. With a wheelbase of roughly 1000mm, 70mm of BB drop and a chainstay of 423mm, this bike has the earmarks of a road bike, but has clearance for 700×40 or 650×50 tires.

That tire clearance was not easy to manage and required attaching the seat stay beneath the bottom bracket shell.

The dropouts provide an elegant mounting point for the rear disc as well as offering an artful window on the carbon fiber seatstays after they join the dropouts.

A pretty paint job won’t win anyone the best gravel category, but the finish on this bike, from the anodized parts, including spokes to the attractive graphics is memorable.

Seven cut windows in the lugs and created attractive points to relieve stress and of an element of visual interest.

From impressive visual appeal to an incredibly well-considered design, this bike typifies what we look for.

Olivetti submitted a handsome hardtail. With anodizing being a thing once again, someone had to go and do a bike with loads of purple ano. Seat collar,  stem, hubs, rotor spider, headset and more were tricked out in purple.

In another nod to the 1990s, the bike received a spray of green on the drive side and blue on the non-drive side of the bike, echoing the paint on Kleins.

A great trail bike isn’t just paint and pretty parts. Olivetti uses an unusual plate yoke on the drive side to increase clearance for 29+ tires while still allowing a rider to run up to a 40t chainring.

This 140mm hard tail is clean and well-considered for its job. Making it a finalist was easy.

Seven cycles just introduced a new full suspension mountain bike, the Mobius. It’s their first full-suspension model in close to 10 years is my estimate, and their first full-suspension 29er. It features 120mm of travel front an rear and the suspension design came out of the mind of Seven CEO Rob Vandermark.

We saw multiple full suspension bikes and many of them used a plate design or the flex of the chainstays rather than a traditional pivot. Only one of them seemed to offer the full range of travel advertised. By comparison, the design of the Mobius offers a much more supple and active suspension. Full suspension mountain bikes are a subcategory where custom builders struggle to keep pace with the big production companies. And while the lightest, trickest designs are carbon fiber rigs from big manufacturers, durability is an issue and the option of tripling or quadrupling durability and still having real suspension will attract many consumers.

We were almost dismayed to make Seven a finalist yet again, but the fact was the bike was too sophisticated, too well-considered, too well-finished not to make the cut.

Our winner was this bike packing rig from Mosaic. The bags are mounted to the frame through recessed braze-ons so if you take the bags off you don’t see a bunch of brazeons with bolts threaded in.

The perfect fit of the bags combined with an appropriate parts spec and little touches like the orange housing bumpers, made this bike a standout.

The titanium work on this bike is super clean and the seatstay mount of the brake keeps the rear of the bike low-key; the hydraulic hose is run through the top tube and down the seatstay.

Each of these bikes shares a combination of excellent functionality, intelligent design, terrific parts picks and gorgeous appearance. Owning one of these bike will be a source of envy.

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