RAD RIGS

Abbie Bull’s WZRD BCXC Hardtail

This is 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 be. We got in touch with Abbie after seeing images of her incredible build on social media. We’re taking reader submissions, so if you have an interesting mountain bike to share, please email editor@spokemagazine.com. 

What is it? 

I didn’t intend to build a custom bike. I’m not a gear freak, I can’t recite the periodic table of componentry, nor did I really know much about geometry before I started this project. All I wanted was a simple steel frame hardtail to ride during the winter and when my full suspension bike was out of action. But as fate would have it, the mainstream bike industry does not cater well for petite shredders like me, so I found myself in this serendipitous situation, commissioning the most poetic bike I could ever own.

I am delighted to share with you the story behind my WZRD BCXC (British Columbia Cross Country) 27.5-inch wheel, steel hardtail. Don’t let the “XC” give you the wrong impression. With a head angle of 63.5-degrees, this velocipede is slack enough to tackle the jankiest of Wellington tech-flow.  

“This velocipede is slack enough to tackle the jankiest of Wellington tech-flow.” 

The fully custom frame is built by Vancouver Island-based “conjurer of steel dreams” Emma-Bethany May (she/her) at WZRD Bikes. The custom paint job, inspired by The Fall of Icarus, was created by the hugely talented, Ape (they/them). The actual build was then completed back home in Aotearoa, by Jonty Ritchie (he/him) of Revolution Bicycles, based in the sub-tropical paradise of Ngaio. Special mention goes to Julia Hall, who transported the frame back from Canada for me. 

One of things I loved about working with Em was that her design process was truly collaborative. Her signature style is associated with long chainstays, low bottom brackets and “just enough” travel. Despite the fact I knew almost nothing about geometry, she listened to my aspirations for this bike and was open to making subtle changes to the frame design, adjusted to my size and riding style, while helping me to understand the trade-offs with every modification. 

My regular bike is a well-loved Transition Patrol with a 160mm-travel fork. But on a hardtail, a shorter-travel fork keeps the “sag” geometry slacker and the wheelbase longer when compressed. I was sceptical about going too short with the travel, so we agreed to design the build around a 140mm fork so I could push the travel up to 150mm if I preferred or lower it to 140mm or 130mm if a steepening head angle became an issue. 

Being small and light, I was also concerned about being able to lift the front wheel. A lower bottom bracket means more stability and more rear wheel traction while a higher bottom bracket is more playful, making jumping and manualing easier. Weighing these factors up, Em pushed the bottom bracket slightly up from her usual builds (310mm up to 315mm) to help bring the stack height and handlebars down. She also had no hesitation to build with 27.5-inch wheels, stepping away from her standard 29-inch design. 

Why this bike? 

I’m a small human—at five foot and about a half inch, I’m most certainly hanging off the left-hand margin of the vertical growth bell-curve. Following fractures in my left leg from various outdoor mishaps, mountain biking is also one of the few modes of exercise I can enjoy pain free, so I really value being able to ride all year round, any day of the week. 

“Steel is real” they say—with its durability and springy qualities, steel seemed like a versatile option and would fulfil a niche distinct from my other bike. I searched for more than two years but was simply unable to find an off-the-shelf hardtail that was small enough. I wrote to several better-known companies who do custom sizes or build to order, but even they wouldn’t build for my size. It was Chromag Bikes in the end who recommended WZRD.  

The painting laments the catastrophic loss of indigenous biodiversity from early colonial settlers and ongoing irreversible loss of species due to agriculture and development. The scientists may give us the data to know our planet is in trouble, but it is the artists who will capture our hearts and imagination. Ape’s interpretation of this artwork in their own unique style exceeded my expectations. I hope it will continue to inspire me in years to come. 

“Going through such an involved design process allowed time for reflection and enabled an emotional connection, so I’m more inclined to hold on to it.” 

It may sound contrived to be referencing sustainability while I describe the production of a non-essential item. But going through such an involved design process allowed time for reflection and enabled an emotional connection, so I’m more inclined to hold on to it—repairing rather than replacing and keeping the materials in use for as long as possible is better in the long term. 

Steel as bicycle frame material has a lower environmental impact when compared to that of aluminum or carbon fibre and Jonty helped me select components that are high quality, made to last and are easily repairable, such as the Wolf Tooth Components dropper post, Chris King headset, DT Swiss 350 rear hub and Burgtec pedals. I also selected a women’s specific Specialized saddle with MIMIC technology, which is more sustainable for my butt. 

Ultimately, why I love to ride has nothing to do with the specifications of the parts between my hands and feet, but everything to do with how it makes me feel. Freedom and adventure are what motivates me to head out on the trails and I can’t wait to explore even more with my new steel friend. 

Do you have an interesting, unusual, custom bike you’d like to showcase?

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