RAD RIGS

Justin’s Kavenz VHP16

This is the first of a new section where we showcase interesting, unusual, rare, esoteric, custom and cool mountain bikes and delve into why and how these rad rigs came to beWe’re taking reader submissions, so if you have an interesting mountain bike to share, please email editor@spokemagazine.com. 

What is it? 

My Kavenz VHP16 Gen 6 is an odd assortment of bits mostly made up of stuff that had accumulated in my shed and bits chosen for rough riding and minimal fuss. It’s a bike that I’ll use to test parts, so the build varies from time to time, but everything that’s on there is there because it works well … even if none of it matches. It’s lived a life, it’s covered in scuffs and scratches, but somehow that makes me like it more.

The frame originally belonged to Jeff Carter, of Southstar Trails, who got it as one of Kavenz’s first production runs following its very interesting YouTube frame development series. It’s a high-pivot Horst link frame made from 7020-T6 aluminium (the same stuff Nicolai Bikes uses). 

Kavenz is owned by 77Designz, a German company best known for partnering with We Are One on their Da Package handlebar and stem project. 77Designz has been around for a while selling stems, bash guards and a number of other accessories and widgets.  

Why? 

I followed 77Designz’s Kavenz Prototype to Product project from the start and enjoyed the way they showed the process, right down to destruction testing. I also knew there were a few high-pivot four-bar bikes in the pipeline (Norco, Trek, Hope, Forbidden, Pyga, GT, Devinci, Cannondale), so I wanted to get some experience riding one.  

I’ll admit it’s not the most graceful looking frame, but it has sensible geometry (other than the short chainstays), it’s very strong (rated for a downhill fork and raced at World Cup level), it’s quite light (3.3kg without shock), it has neutral kinematics (easy to set up and predictable ride), it uses one size of common and therefore inexpensive bearing, and it has no paint so I don’t need to fret about scratches and scrapes. 

It also has some cool details, like the two-piece, machined lower seat tube section that carries the pivots and lower shock mount.

As part of the design ethos, Kavenz offers one chassis that can be travel-boosted from 120mm up to 180mm in 20mm increments (VHP16 stands for 16cm of travel) as well as mulleted, all via an interchangeable lower shock mount. Kavenz also does running updates to its frames, all of which are backwards compatible. Most recently, Kavenz designed a new modular UDH compatible chainstay that enables users to run a Sram T-Type derailleur and lengthen the chainstays, something I’m keen to do.

Wheelset 

The wheels have been on a few bikes now. They’re a set of Hope Pro 4 hubs that I laced to a DT XM481 front rim and EX511 rear rim with double butted stainless steel DT spokes and black brass nipples.  

It’s not a light wheelset, but it’s bombproof, relatively inexpensive, and easy to get parts for.  

The XM481 rim is slightly lighter than the EX511 for the same dimensions. I tried dropping the front-wheel spoke count to 28, but I started to blow up spokes, so I went back to 32-hole front and rear. 

I’ve been building my wheels with silver spokes and black nipples since I learned to lace wheels 20-something years ago. Back then black spokes meant painted mild steel and silver meant stainless steel, an association that has stuck with me.  

I prefer slightly lower spoke tension than you’d find with a machine-built wheel because I like the extra compliance on the slower speed, janky, natural trails around Wellington. 

Hope Pro 4 hubs have quite low engagement, which I reckon feels better. I’ve found high-engagement hubs can accentuate pedal kickback, which is mostly caused by the chain whipping about between the chainring and cassette. It’s a lot less noticeable on this bike because the idler isolates much of that chain whip.

I usually prefer mixed wheels, but I found the short chainstays and 27.5-inch wheel made the VHP16 oversteer too much. Chucking a 29-inch wheel out back widened the arc the bike naturally wants to carve. 

I normally run a Maxxis DHF Double Down as a rear tyre for its cornering grip, but the one I’d been running was getting dangerously worn, making the bike a bit too tail-happy. The EXO+ DHR was all I had in my shed, but I expect the rocks in Wellington will soon force a replacement. 

Suspension 

I’ve had this DVO Onyx fork for a while now. I like it because you can set it up to stay high in the travel while letting the OTT take care of the small stuff. It’s not without its issues though (the OTT spring tends to wind itself on and it’s a bit spikey on high-speed hits), but it’s relatively predictable and stiff enough for me.  

Out back, I have a Cane Creek Kitsuma Coil with a 425-pound EXT spring. You can do a lot with the knobs on this damper, but it’ll never be as good as a custom tune. I like EXT springs because they’re reputedly one of the more accurate options out there. They’re also light and come in 25-pound increments, which means you can get sort of close to your ideal spring weight. 

Drivetrain 

I’m a massive fan of Hope products and that goes for their crankset. I chose a Hope chainring in silver hoping to avoid the worn-tooth look, but instead it just shows how grubby my drivetrain is. The Hope stuff is just solid, good-looking gear, and I like that it’s made in the United Kingdom, a country with good labour laws. 

The shifting is taken care of by an 10-speed Microshift Advent X derailleur, shifter and cassette. This set up is cheap, solid and light. It’s a great option for people who have a fancy set of HG-freehub wheels but want more range, or for repurposing an old bike for a young rider. It’s also not ruinously expensive every time you wear out a cassette or bash a derailleur. The performance is nowhere near that of Shimano or Sram’s top end gear, but it shifts and keeps the chain on, which is 99 per cent of what I need at a fraction of the cost. 

Pedals can be a bit Marmite, but I like Burgtec’s MK5 option. The pedal body on the older versions was a bit too close to the crank arm for me, but these are about right. I like the concave shape and moderately-proud pins. It’s a stable pedal that offers plenty of grip while still allowing you to reposition your foot. They’re also hardwearing and very pretty. 

Seating 

I’ve got beef with BikeYoke—their seat posts are so smooth that they make everything else feel rough. The model here is a 213mm Revive, the longest drop available. Being a cheap arse, I use a shim with a 30.9mm post so I’ll be able to swap it easily to a different frame in the future.  

Attached to the seat post is an Aenomaly Switchgrade. This little unit lets you tilt the seat forward or rearward from a neutral position for more comfortable steep climbing or more downhill clearance. It’s a crisply executed device, but also quite expensive and it does add stack height to your post. However, it’s so good that I now want one on every bike I own. 

Braking 

I love my Hope Tech 4 V4 brakes. They’re very powerful but have such a great lever feel. I’m pretty sure they’ve improved my riding and downhill endurance by just working really well. And, like all Hope stuff, they’re rebuildable forever.

The Hope distributor kind of bullied me into running 220mm and 200mm rotors, but I’ve never found the power too much and they dissipate heat much better than smaller rotors. 

You’ll notice I’ve eschewed the internal routing for the rear brake. Internal routing is just a bad idea that looks nice (don’t get me started on headset routing). I mostly work on my own bike, and I don’t want to have to mess about with DOT 5.1 fluid every time I need to swap parts. 

Cockpit 

British Colombia company Straitline doesn’t exist anymore, which is a shame because I always thought their stems and pedals looked really nice and I associate their stuff with a fun era of mountain biking.

I grabbed this SSC stem from Facebook Marketplace for a nice price and was stoked to also find a cheap set of unused, 40mmrise, 31.8mm-diameter Renthal Fat Bars. I was chuffed when I dug up an old Straitline seat tube clamp that I’d had floating around in a parts bin for a decade or so. 

The Kavenz has a 110mm headtube, which is a bit short for my liking, and I didn’t want to cut into the reach too much by jacking up the stem with spacers, so a high-rise bar makes sense. The 31.8mm diameter Renthal bar has a really nice feel that’s got me thinking about bar compliance like never before. 

Keeping my hands on the bike are a set of pushon ODI Ruffian ATB grips. I bought these from a motorcycle shop for about $27 and they might be the best grip ever. The rubber is super grippy and is thicker than a lock-on grip while being a bit slimmer in the hand. I tend to hold on right at the edge of the grips to take advantage of proprioception (the sense of where your body is in space), so I don’t like metal lockrings there.  

Miscellaneous 

I’ve had this Specialized Zee cage for the best part of a decade and it’s still going strong. I’m yet to find one that I like as much. Tucked into it is a 26oz Purist bottle that was a collaboration between SBC Cycles and United States-based graphic artist Phil Guy (Burrito Breath). SBC Cycles founder Mark Boswell is an old friend of mine and I’m always grateful for the occasional merch package. Go check out his awesome shop and buy something! 

The headset is a pick ‘n’ mix mashup of a parts bin lower cup, Nukeproof Horizon ‘titanium’-coated snake oil impregnated bearing and split crown-race matched to a Wolf Tooth Components upper assembly in limited edition ‘nickle’, topped off with a Straitline headset top cap.  

Do you have an interesting, unusual, custom bike you’d like to showcase? Can you do better than my clapped-out rig?

Email editor@spokemagazine.com with your submission. If we’re into it, we’ll publish it.