Elephant on the trail

The Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer, on Trail 365A, slightly southeast and decidedly upward from El Rancho Pendejo.

The Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer, on Trail 365A, slightly southeast and decidedly upward from El Rancho Pendejo.

The Pacific Northwest has come to the Southwest in the guise of an Elephant Bikes National Forest Explorer.

This steel bike by Glen Copus out of Spokane, Washington, is intended for dirt roads, commuting and bike-packing. It’s my first 650b model, so I’ve been having fun with that after a steady diet of 29ers and 700c loaded tourers.

The NFE came with a whole raft of PNW goodies on the side: a matching Haulin’ Colin porteur rack (Seattle); a Tubus Duo low-rider rack (Auburn, Washington); an Ozette Randonneuring Bag and Jr. Ranger panniers from Swift Industries (Seattle); a Pika seat bag from Revelate Designs (Anchorage, Alaska, and Springfield, Oregon); and Gevenalle GX shifters (Portland, Oregon).

I don’t get to spend a ton of time with the NFE, so it’s kind of forced its way to the head of the Adventure Cyclist review queue, as elephants will do. At the moment it’s just a bike, stripped of racks and bags, but it will soon become a beast of burden.

Just call me Hannibal. Lemme at them Alps.

The Elephant NFE up against the Wall of Science.

The Elephant NFE up against the Wall of Science.

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25 Responses to “Elephant on the trail”

  1. Steve O Says:

    Gorgeous. Keep up the bike porn.

  2. khal spencer Says:

    test….

    • khal spencer Says:

      Ok, for some reason, my first post bounced. 650b=27.5, without the link.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      More numbers! More! Ignoramus that I am, I had no idea that the 26-inch wheel has faded almost completely to the dim recesses of the big-box bins. Ever’thing of quality is mostly 29 and 27.5/650b now.

      Happily, I still have my DBR ti’ from the mid-Nineties. It’s a 26-incher, cost more than three large back in the day, and like the NFE it’s a product of the Pacific Northwest. I rode it the other day for shits and giggles, and you know what? It’s still a pretty nice bike.

      • khal spencer Says:

        Yup. I still get a great deal of fun out of my 2005 Stumpjumper with its 26 inch wheels. I suppose if I was a real expert, it would be a piece of trash. But its not.

      • Larry T. Says:

        Same here. We have 26″ wheel MTB’s here in Italy (ancient 7 speeders) and in Iowa (wow, 8 speeds on these) so I win any contest of combined age of rider and bicycle. I put a set of Vittoria (formerly GEAX) 2″ Saguaro tires on the 7 speed one and I like ’em so much I’ll try to dig up a set for the other bike too. They ride very nicely on the road and don’t seem half bad on dirt either, probably due to high-thread count casing and lightweight folding bead as much as anything?

      • Debby, south of Longtucky Says:

        I still have my 2000-vintage Specialized FSR, with its 26 inch wheels. If I got some handlebars with about a six inch rise I could probably still ride it (my neck is completely shot now).

        I was a little surprised to learn that 26 inch wheels have faded away. Even the 29s are going out of style, it seems. Change for the sake of change.

        One of the motorcycle forums I hang out in has a ongoing thread about mountain bikes. People are paying $3000+ for their mountain bikes now, and they seem convinced that they have to spend that much to get “quality”. I suppose when the next wheel size comes along to replace 27.5 they’ll all be convinced they have to have that too.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      DBR Axis TT

      The DBR Axis TT mountain bike, circa 1995 or thereabouts

      Overuse issue with the neck, Debby? Or crashes? My neck and back aren’t what they once were, either, and I’ve had to come up quite a bit on all my bar-stem combos. I find the Jones bar very comfortable off road; it helps give you a much more upright riding position.

      My mid-Nineties DBR titanium mountain bike (above) was in the $3K range, which was insane for that era. My team got a killer deal on ’em, is the only reason I have one.

      As regards the industry, sheesh, who knows what the thinking is there. They’ve been chasing The Next Big Thing® since the mountain bike went thermonuclear back in the day. Cyclocross, fat bikes, 29er, fixies/singlespeed, 650b/27.5, gravel bike, adventure bike, all-mountain, enduro, yadda yadda yadda.

      It’s not unlike the auto industry, which foists annual redesigns and weirdo concepts on us, like the sport-utilty vehicle (a high-zoot pickup with a camper shell that doesn’t leak) or the “crossover,” which I guess is a smaller version of that.

  3. Pat O'Brien Says:

    Like those shifters. Sent the link to my LBS. I think I am seeing BB7 brakes. I am real close to ordering TRP Spykes for my Niner MCR.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I’ve been wanting to try the Gevenalles, Pat, so I was glad to see ’em on the NFE. I’ve been thinking about a pair for the Double Cross. But I’ve gotten used to bar-cons, even the friction variety, so maybe I’ll just leave well enough alone.

      Brakes are indeed BB7s. Cranks are 105 (50/34) with a 12-36 cassette. Derailleurs are Deore Shadow (rear) and CX70 (front). Hubs are Deore, rims WTB i23 Frequency.

      The Schwalbe Thunder Burts hook up really well on our sandy trails, even when pumped fairly high. Much better on steep, loose bits than the Hutchinson Pythons on my old MTB.

    • Pat O'Brien Says:

      Have you got a final opinion on the TRP Spyre or Spyke brake sets ?

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        I’m far from an expert, Pat, but I like its dual-piston setup over the usual hammer-and-anvil arrangement. Adjustment seems less fiddly.

        But I’m still not sold on discs in general. In recent weeks I’ve ridden three different disc setups, but I’ve also ridden my old DBR ti’ road bike (Shimano 600 road brakes with R50T pads) and mountain bike (elderly XT V-brakes), plus my Steelman Eurocross (Paul’s Neo-Retro and Touring cantis with SwissStop green pads) and Soma Double Cross (Shimano BR-R550 cantis with stock pads).

        Of them all I would say that only the Shimanos performed noticeably less well than mechanical discs.

        I think the modulation is better with discs, especially if you’re inching downhill through a sharp rock garden, but for plain ol’ stopping power, rim brakes just ain’t all that awful.

  4. doug moore Says:

    Very nice color. Interesting shape on the fork. Good looking bike for sure.

  5. Pat O'Brien Says:

    Thanks Patrick! I agree with you on disc brakes and value your opinion and bike reviews. I would not sell a bike, the Saga for example, just to replace it with a disc brake model. But the Niner is a disc only frame/fork and I am tired of the constant fiddling and rotor cleaning to prevent noise and adjust for pad wear. Plus the plastic bits on BB7 calipers get brittle quick in the desert climate.

  6. Larry T. Says:

    That thing looks weird. The retro fork design combined with the modern disky brakes and huge rear cog is odd. But just like Chris Froome, form and function are not always related.

    • khal spencer Says:

      I’m curious about how the drive train works out. I’ve wanted to set up a wheelset for my LaCruz with really low gears on back so I don’t need to replace the compact front with a triple. With the Shimano folks getting more and more useless as far as mixing road and mountain bits, this is a good learning experience. 50-34 in front and 12-36 in back would give me lower than 1:1 for semi-serious light touring on mountain roads.

      For heavy duty, the Long Haul Trucker, in spite of its no longer in fashion 26″ wheelset, could climb anything that could be climbed on a bike. I have a 24t granny I can pop onto the triple crank, and a 11-34 in the back. If I got a Shadow derailleur, could even put a 12-36 on it.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      This isn’t my first rodeo with Microshift bar-cons, K. They’ve cropped up on a few touring bikes that wanted to mate modern road and mountain components, in the standard bar-end positions. Biggest downside: No friction option.

      This is the first time I’ve used them as part of this Gevenalle brifter combo. though. IRD is doing something similar now, and I believe Soma/Merry Sales may be distributing that version.

      The Gevenalle setup works just fine. It’s obviously not as sexy as Shimano STI, SRAM DoubleTap or Campy ErgoPower, but it works. If you have small hands the throw from little rear cog to big is something of a stretch, but it’s not a deal-breaker. Mostly you notice it in crisis situations, like when you find yourself in the wrong gear coming round a corner into a steep climb. It’s actually a pretty elegant solution to the Drivetrain Dilemma.

      That 34×36 (25.78 gear inches) ain’t bad when coupled with those big fat Schwalbes at about 25 psi. I climbed some short, steep, loose pitches with it the past few days.

      For anyone who’s not rocking a 10- or 11-speed drivetrain, here’s an option to get good and low: the Sugino XD2 40/26 crank from Rivendell.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Larry, wait ’til you see it with the matching porteur rack, low-riders and bags.

      The guys at Elephant say they designed the frame and fork with a front load in mind, as opposed to the Somas, which are rear-load types. So it’ll have a light load in the Ozette box over the front wheel, heavy weight in the Swift Industries low-rider bags, and a second light load in a Revelate saddle bag.

      • Larry T. Says:

        Maybe then it’ll look LESS weird? I know the world is going (like disky brakes) away from triples towards compacts, but they ain’t for me! That massive gap between 50 and 34 or 40 and 26 is terrible. I’ll take a triple any time with 10 or 12 tooth gaps instead. I don’t understand why folks shy away from having 3 chainrings when they want 10 or 11 cogs in the back?

      • Pat O'Brien Says:

        Hi Larry. My touring bike has a triple. My road bikes used to have 30/42/52 Shimano triples. I am not a strong rider, and I hardly ever used the 52 chainring. I thought the 30/42 as a double would be fine. So, I went compact when I built the Soma ES. Lighter, better shifting, better chainline. I wish for 30/42 chain rings for this 105 crank. I would have built it with the Sugino crank if I hadn’t been suffering from anal/cranial insertion.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        At least one of the product managers I’ve spoken with while reviewing bikes prefers doubles to triples, but says the market wants triples and brifters, which until the big boys serve up a proper touring group gives us that too-tall low end of 30×28.

        Touring is stuck about where cyclocross was in the late Eighties. The way to go if you’re a truly serious tourist is to go straight to an outfit like Co-Motion, which has homesteaded this niche for the better part of quite some time, or buy a frameset and build it with bits that suit your preferences, aesthetics and riding style. Rivendell is a good source for building up a stylish old-schooler, and you might just get a frameset built by my old buddy Mark Nobilette, who does some contract work for them.

        Some of the really interesting bikes I’ve reviewed were cobbled together by product managers who happened to be tourists too.

      • Pat O'Brien Says:

        I’m happy with triples on touring bikes. I could have summarized my thoughts on compacts for strictly road bikes, no loads others than a small rack and trunk, by saying I don’t pedal downhill at 35 MPH. I coast. Why have a 50 or 52 tooth ring that I don’t need? Never wished for higher gears. Have many times wished for one lower gear.

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