The Dirty Gran Fondo has been run and won. Or as I prefer to suggest in my recent event review, it’s been ridden and enjoyed. As an event, the Dirty Gran Fondo is more about the ride than the race. Each year it draws riders from all around Victoria (and beyond) to the small town of Wandong, which is located up the Hume Highway about an hour north of Melbourne. The Dirty Gran Fondo is a sort of ‘off-road road ride’, with riders being able to choose 90/65/30km distance options that take them deep into the bush along dirt fireroads and 4WD tracks. There’s food, there’s coffee, there’s live music, and there’s plenty of great riding to enjoy. In my opinion, the real beauty about the Dirty Gran Fondo is the sheer variety of both the riders and the bikes that they are riding.
At this years Dirty Gran Fondo, my choice of bike was the Soma Fabrications Wolverine. The Wolverine is a bike that I’ve become familiar with over the past 6 months, having ridden and rated it for Australian Mountain Bike Magazine. Originally built up by the crew at Commuter Cycles in Melbourne, I’ve been riding the Wolverine across a wide variety of terrain ever since, and have found it to be one of the most fun and versatile bikes I have ever ridden. I recently touched base with Huw Vellacott (owner of Commuter Cycles), and it turns out the Wolverine has become one of their most popular bikes in a very short space of time. In fact, Huw admitted that they’ve been struggling to keep up with demand, with the Wolverine striking a chord with riders who are looking for a bike that can handle everything from dirt touring through to daily urban commuting.
The reason I chose to ride the Wolverine for the Dirty Gran Fondo is because it undeniably slots into the “Mongrel” category. Although many riders turn up to the event with mountain bikes and cyclocross bikes, there’s a whole load of rigs that turn up which defy definition. These are what’s known as the Mongrels, and just like their riders, they can take on all sorts of weird and wonderful shapes and sizes.
In essence, the Wolverine is what’s more commonly referred to as a ‘Monster Crosser’. It takes the general shape of a cyclocross bike, but beefs up the tyre clearance and slackens out the geometry to give a little more oomph for taking on the rough stuff. It’s not quite a 29er mountain bike, but it’s not really that far off either. In it’s previous setup, I spent a lot of time riding the Wolverine on XC singletrack, and was pleasantly surprised by its ability to track along rocky terrain. Of course there’s no suspension like a traditional mountain bike, but that just kinda makes it more fun. It also makes for a great challenge to ride on the same trails that you’d normally tackle with an XC bike, which makes the Wolverine the perfect antidote for stale old trails that have started to get boring.
Being the classy company they are, Soma Fabrications outfitted the Wolverine with a full Tange Prestige steel tubeset. It offers the bike a classic look as well as a bump-soothing ride quality, and as most ‘mature’ mountain bikers out there will know, it also offers up solid longterm reliability. Soma have also kept things real on the Wolverine with a 68mm threaded bottom bracket, a 1 1/8″ steerer tube, 135mm quick release dropouts and a 27.2mm diameter seatpost. If you’re looking for carbon smoke and press-fit mirrors, Soma is not the brand for you!
In the lead up to the Dirty Gran Fondo, I decided to swap out the original Panaracer Fire Cross 45c tyres for some fatter rubber. The Wolverine is capable of fitting 29er tyres, though Soma is cautious of recommending a specific width, likely because there is so much variance from brand-to-brand. The tyres I ended up going with were the Maxxis Beavers, which are claimed to be a 29×2.0″ size. I’d say they’re a little undersized for their claimed width, but they did offer up a good deal more squish for the bike as well as excellent grip in the mixed conditions riders were faced with at the Dirty Gran Fondo. Maxxis claim that the Beaver is a mud tyre, though I’ve found it to be just as proficient in dusty conditions. Sure it’s a little slow on hardpack, but otherwise it’s a fantastically versatile tread that I think is very underrated. For those wondering, there was plenty of tyre clearance with the Beaver’s on, so I’d suggest that most 2.1″ tyres will fit without hassle.
The original cockpit setup that Commuter Cycles built for my Wolverine remains. That includes a big 46cm wide Highway One handlebar from Soma, which provides heaps of stability over the front of the bike. This is a bit of an homage to the current trend with mountain bikes going wider and shorter in their cockpit setup, so while I’d normally ride a 42cm bar on my road bike, the 46cm bar and 80mm stem help to liven up the Wolverine’s handling whilst giving the rider a broader stance on the front wheel. Brake levers are supplied by TRP in the form of alloy lever blades and textured rubber hoods.
Another component I’ve been reviewing for AMB Magazine has been the HY/RD disc brakes from TRP. Designed as a hydraulic brake calliper that is actuated by cable, the HY/RD has been an incredibly popular OEM choice on cyclocross and road disc bikes due to the fact that they can be paired with standard road STI levers. This not only brings the price down (compared to a hydraulic brake lever), it also offers better ease of use for the home mechanic without need to deal with a hydraulic hose. I’ve already gone into detail about their setup and performance (checkout the review here), but I will reiterate that these are a very solid brake with smooth modulation and excellent power. I will also reiterate that like any cable-actuated system, high quality brake housing is paramount to their performance. In our case, compressionless housing from Yokozuna is a big part of why these brakes feel so good.
Part of the Wolverine’s versatility comes from its modular dropout system, which allows for horizontal adjustment of the effective chainstay length. The dropout plates can be switched around in order to fit a Rohloff hub, a 142x12mm thru-axle, or singlespeed specific dropouts. The non-drive side dropout encompasses the mount for the rear disc brake calliper, meaning that any adjustments to the chainstay length won’t require a brake adjustment too.
If you look really closely, you’ll see that the Wolverine’s dropouts are split in half. This allows the rear triangle to be opened up to fit a belt, and that’s exactly how I’ve been riding it up until a couple of weeks ago. I recently reviewed the Gates Carbon Belt Drive, which makes for a super light and simple driveline that eschews typical chain lubrication duties in favour of quiet and stealthy performance. While it is strong and light though, I was in need of some more gears in order to tackle the Dirty Gran Fondo course. And so the belt and Centretrack sprockets came off, and on went a derailleur hanger and a 1×10 drivetrain in its place.
My driveline choice was largely dictated by what I had in the spare parts box. This comprised of a Shimano SLX Dyna-Sys chain and 11-32t cassette, along with a SRAM X9 Type 2 short cage rear derailleur. I threw on the stock IRD 38t chainring, which although bigger than what I would have liked to have run, proved to offer me 9 more gears than I had before with the belt setup. Or so I kept telling myself. In answer to the question running through your head right about now, yes, yes the chain did come off on a couple of occasions. While the Type 2 friction clutch and short cage kept the chain nice and tight, the standard chainring up front wasn’t so proficient at keeping the chain where it needed to be when I was bouncing down fireorads at 50km/h plus. Ideally I’d fit a small upper chain guide to manage the chain, or better yet, a narrow-wide chainring that would help maintain the clean lines of the Wolverine’s front triangle. However, I can at least pass on my real-world feedback that a 1x drivetrain with a standard chainring and no chain device is an exercise in pushing your luck.
But if you were wondering up until now how on earth I mounted a shifter to this rig, what you’re looking at here is the final piece of the missing puzzle. It turns out that fitting a wide-range mountain bike drivetrain to a drop-bar bike was harder than I first thought. The main issue is compatibility between road STI levers and mountain rear derailleurs. The second issue is the fact that I have singlespeed-specific TRP brake levers that don’t have the ability to shift in the first place. From there I started wondering how I was going to fit a 10-speed mountain bike cassette on the back of the Wolverine. Turns out that downtube friction shifters wouldn’t work either, due to the different pull ratio with a mountain bike rear derailleur. And so the solution to my gear dilemma came in the form of this elegant clamp from Paul Components. Beautifully CNC machined from hard anodized alloy, their clever shifter clamp is designed to allow you to fit a SRAM trigger shifter to a drop handlebar. The original idea was to allow dirt touring bikes to enjoy the wide-range ratio of the XX-1 drivetrain and its enormous 10-42t cassette, which current SRAM road shifters are not compatible with. However, the clamp is compatible with any new-generation SRAM right-hand trigger shifter, so I was able to fit on my trusty X9 10-speed trigger to match the Type 2 rear derailleur out back. Yep, pretty simple, but damn well executed and a solution that is sure to please many cyclocross and off-road tourers out there.
And there you have it; the Wolverine in all its Dirty Gran Fondo glory. As it turned out on the day, the changes I made were ideal for the fast-paced dirt fireroads we faced. The 29er tyres provided welcome cushioning and traction in the mixed course conditions, while the supple steel tubing minimised trail feedback and kept me floating over the ruts and bumps. One other adjustment I made was in the chainstay length, as without a belt drive to tension, I was free to pull the rear axle back in its most rearward position. By extending the wheelbase length, I was able to add a little more stability for the high-speed descents, and the longer back end also encouraged a little more give from the impacts taken by the back wheel. This gave the Wolverine a really planted feel on the trails, which combined with the 46cm handlebar and fat tyres, offered lots of confidence compared to those riders who were braving the course on cyclocross race bikes. And so with the extended gear range on the 1×10 drivetrain, my Wolverine turned out to be near perfect for the Dirty Gran Fondo.
If you’re based in Melbourne, head on over to Commuter Cycles to check out a Wolverine in the flesh, as they sell both framesets and complete bikes. Alternatively, hit up SCV Imports to find your nearest stockist. For more information about the bike itself and some of the components I’ve featured, follow the links below;
– Soma Fabrications Wolverine
– Paul Components SRAM Shifter Adapter
– TRP HY/RD Brakes