22 November 2007

bikefix Exclusive Review: On-One Scandal 29er

Based in Yorkshire, On-One strike me as a sort of British Surly. Niche bikes (and parts) with offbeat names, made by someone else (in the Far East) and sold for a reasonable price. Having ridden and owned a few Inbreds over the years, including (most recently) a sliding dropout 29er, I was familiar with the company and ride. So, when my mind started playing with the idea of a lightweight single-speed 24 hour race bike, the Scandal came immediately to mind.

The Scandal (or, cleverly, Sc and Al) is On-One's Scandium (main tubes) and 7000-series (rear triangle) "superlight XC frame." Available for both 26" and 29" wheel sizes, the geometry is based on their proven Inbred (l o n g and low). With DeKerf-style seatstays and bridgeless chainstays, there is more than enough room for the biggest tire we put in (a 29x2.3in WTB ExiWolf), and we'd be surprised if WTB's 2.5in WeirWolf LT didn't fit (see pictures). Coming from the UK, where rain is nearly as common as sunshine in Phoenix, this makes sense (and is always appreciated). Combine 29in wheels, big tires, a low seat tube and a foot of inexpensive 27.2mm carbon fiber seatpost swaying in the wind, and you've got the makings of a very comfortable hardtail. Factor in a 3.2-3.5lb frame weight, and it's time to go ride very fast for a very long time.

At a hair over 6' tall, I picked the 18in frame size for it's rangy 23.7in top tube. Throw on an offset-head seatpost and 100-110mm stem, and I'm right at home between those massive wheels. That said, 5'8 women have found the same frame size very comfortable with a zero offset post and 60mm stem- it's all what you're comfortable with. Personally, though, I would much rather have a frame that's a little too small than a little too big, but losing an inch of standover in the 20in frame (24.1in TT) would likely have been fine as well and may have allowed me to run more fork travel (see below).

So, head honcho Brant says that this is "least-aluminium-like aluminium frame you'll ride-" is there anything to it? In a word, yes. Far more comfortable than a carbon Scott Scale we had last winter, the Scandal is worlds apart from the last aluminum bikes we've ridden in anger (a somewhat abusive 2000-ish Specialized StumpJumper Pro and very abusive 2006 Trek 6500). This is what we'd consider very good thing, given that this bike was intended to be raced, as part of a single speed duo, at Tucson's fantastic 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo last February. Much like Albuquerque's in-town Foothills riding area, the 24HitOP course is fast, a little rocky, and plenty sandy. All winter, when the higher rides are snowed in, the Foothills (and Tucson) are a great place to ride- all manageable but challenging with a single speed, with plenty of little climbs and corners to keep you pedaling. The bike is laterally stiff, with no flex coming from the external-bearing cranks, frame, or wheels, but surprisingly comfortable, even on longer rides. Even better, every time I hop on this bike after an extended break, it just feels right- the handling is responsive without being twitchy and it likes to be ridden fast, without any odd behavior at speed. According to On-One, the frame was designed around an 80-100mm travel fork, but when I pulled the Reba apart to run it at 100mm, the bike did start to feel a bit floppy. This might be partially due to my small frame/long stem setup- I have a feeling that the larger size, with a shorter stem would handle the change better. Something to bear in mind if you need that extra 20mm of travel. In addition to the DeKerf-style seatstays, the Scandal sports nice reinforcing gussets under the downtube and on each of the un-bridged chainstays

But wait! Some of you will know that the Scandal isn't available as a single speed! That's right, unfortunately. When originally built, I used a SoulCraft Convert chain tensioner. Even with the Convert, the frame was going to be considerably lighter and faster than the steel Inbred it replaced, and none of the dedicated single speed frames that I looked into (save Moots') really did anything for me. The Convert was fine, but after a while, I noticed that, with my preferred 34x19 gearing, the chainstays were just barely too long. Heart in my mouth, I donned some old riding glasses and grabbed my trusty Dremel and shaved 1mm from the front of each dropout, about 1/4mm at a time. I had shortened the chain and kept shaving and trying the wheel until it was perfect, then shaved the non-drive side to match. The replaceable dropout, with it's slightly larger ale clearance, wasn't even touched. Sure- if I change gear ratios (and I have), I'll need to throw the Convert back on, but it's a 10 minute operation, tops, and it keeps things clean for 90% of my rides. By the way- don't try this at home, it's probably a bad idea.

At least in the US, the Scandal looks to be available only as a frame, so my bastard build won't affect most of you. For the curious, though, here are a few highlights:
  • The RockShox Reba, while maybe a bit heavy at 4.1lb, has been a great, predictable fork. With 100psi in each chamber, good small-bump compliance isn't achieved at the expense of bigger hits, which it takes as well as an 80mm fork can be expected to. While I thought the remote lockout was a bit silly, on a single speed, having the control close at hand means that it gets used more. Not essential given the short travel, but I don't want to take it off, either...
  • WTB LaserDisc Lite hubs, despite their high flanges and relatively low cost ($300/set) weigh a near-DT 410g for the set, and have proven more than strong enough to handle single speeding. They use American Classics's very clever freehub mechanism, which is nice and quiet to boot. They have an aluminum cassette body, so use a nice wide-based cog. I laced them up to some clearance 32 hole Sun ME14A road racing rims using DT's SuperComp double-butted spokes for a nice servicable 1600g wheelset. The rims might be a bit narrow for some, but they've held up very nicely, with only one minor true in a year's time.
  • XTR Discs ('05 calipers, '07 levers), while not as powerful as the Formula Oros, are beautiful, low-maintenance, and have the nicest lever around. A 180mm front rotor helps out, as bigger wheels really call for bigger rotors.
  • TruVativ Rouleur Carbon compact crankset- see the review elsewhere. So far, so good, and way sexier than LX...
  • At $42, the 19t King Kog runs about $15 more than a comparable Surly unit and $10 more than Endless' beautiful cogs. That said, it's considerably lighter than the Surly, made in one of the most environmentally-sensitive bicycle component factories around (here in the US), and shows virtually no wear after almost a year's hammering. The broad base has also spared the WTB hub's aluminum cassette body from marring. Not cheap, but certainly built to last.
  • When geared, I used a pair of 9s Shimano downtube shifters and Paul Thumbies perches. They were nice and clickety (SRAM fans should love them) and apparently bombproof, with a non-indexed friction mode for when things go horribly wrong. While the throw was a bit long for my liking, the appeal is in the simplicity, and if building a bike for the Great Divide Mountian Bike Route or touring Tibet, I'd certainly consider them. For most of us, though, modern triggers are plenty reliable and ergonomically superior. Great resale value, by the way...
While the Scandal is sold both in black painted (3.5lb) and black anodized (3.2lb) finishes, US distributor BTI only had painted ones on hand last December when this was ordered, so paint it was. Given the option, though, spend the extra $60 for the anodized version. In one 2.5 hour geared ride without a chainstay protector, the slapping chain did a fantastic job at removing most of the driveside chainstay paint. Not a huge deal, as bikes were meant to be ridden, but it looks pretty bad, and I've seen much older bikes look much better. The crinkle finish that manages to look so cool when new flakes off something fierce and as a result, this bike looks a fair bit older than it's 11 months.

Other niggles? Well, I only briefly ran the Scandal geared, but can't stand full cable housing. It's draggy, a pain to fit, and tends to need constant adjustment (see also Scott Scale). I know that folks in wetter climates like it, but I've always found that the ability to lube housing (with a wax-based lube such as White Lighting) stretches was much better than sealing the crud in/lube out. The headset went into the frame with alarmingly little force, but so far, there have been no problems (just watch them start now that I've mentioned it).

All in all, the Scandal has been fantastic. It's a light, responsive and above all natural-feeling frame that encourages you to push yourself without beating you up unnecessarily. From short rides with buddies to all day/night races, it has proven itself to be reliable and comfortable and willing to ride as hard as I've been able. It's a shame more shops don't carry them, as there's quite a bit to like. Besides, there's little that comes close in ride, quality, or weight for the $599 asking price.



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