We were tasked with envisioning the ideal bicycle for omtm-style riding, which is to say epic adventures over a wide range of challenging terrain, generally in one go. The term 'Swiss Army Knife' is pretty well-worn, but the idea is wholly appropriate here.
This hypothetical bike would need to float over rough and rocky National Forest roads, climb like a goat and descend like a jeep, roll quickly and efficiently on tarmac and handle singletrack with ease and confidence. Additionally, said bike would need to have ample cargo capacity without sacrificing performance. Ideally it should be equally at home in the campground or on the racecourse, But above all it had to be extremely comfortable for days in the saddle that start before dawn and finish well after dark.
Thee Gifford was designed around the idea of creating the ultimate bike for spirited longform adventure riding. That is to say covering a lot of ground in a single day over terrain which includes ample portions of dirt, gravel, tarmac, singletrack, loam, moss, gametrail and overgrown goatpath. This hypothetical terrain might require bits of hike-a-bike, ravine portage and the occasional bushwack. We didn't want to rule out capacity for overnighting, but the goal certainly was not a 'bikepacking rig'. The ride should feel as crisp at mile 200 as it did at 50. Frustrated by maxing out the clearance, gear range and ride quality of standard cyclocross configurations, we knew we wanted to land somewhere between a drop bar cross bike and a hardtail, a bit closer in handling to the former but certainly with capabilities, clearance, Q-factor and gearing of the latter.
For ideas, we turned to riding buddy and framebuilder Chad Smeltzer who was currently working on several of his own custom steel allroad designs and likewise looking to push things into more versatile and capable territory. The concept was fleshed out in early spring of 2018 over a series of backcountry rides. It was determined that Columbus Life (Niobium alloy similar to Spirit) would be the ideal tubing for the build due to its light weight, relatively thin walls, high resistance to environmental effects and renowned liveliness and ride quality.
Taking some configuration cues from our friend David Wilcox's custom Chapman Cycles 'go-anywhere-do-anything' bike, we landed on a 650b design to accommodate up to 2.25" tires or 2.1" tires with full fender coverage. While we still hold fast to the notion that 2x drivetrains provide a superior gearing range for this type of riding, we decided to give 1x a go with the idea that a 38t-46t was absolutely essential to the idea of climbing grades like Tumala Mountain, Abbott Road or Mill Creek Ridge, let alone fully-loaded backcountry touring. For the drivetrain, we chose a mix of Ultegra 11 and XT with full hydro XT brakes on 160mm rotors. The width of the XT crankset worked in our favor, sidestepping the issue of crank vs. chainstay clearance common with road crank spacing in frames designed around higher volume tires. In order to reconcile the Ultegra 11 road shifters w/ the XT rear derailleur, we installed a Wolftooth Components tanpan which modifies the drop bar shift cable pull to be compatible w/ MTB rear derailleurs, thus increasing the gear range and drivetrain security in rough terrain.
With extremely long days, pre-dawn starts and night riding as critical considerations, Thee Gifford was designed around a set of custom-built HiFi 27.5 Hootenanny wheels, utilizing a 12mm thru-axle SONdelux generator hub upfront to power an internally-wired Sinewave Beacon headlamp and E3 brakepost-mounted taillight.
Rounding out the cargo capacity, the frame was set up with mounts for three bottle cages and the custom segmented fork eyeleted for low-rider panniers, full fenders and fitted with a set of dual King Cage Many Things cages.
Full build specs:
Frame: Smeltzer Bikes custom geometry, 56cm, Columbus Life tubing
Fork: Smeltzer custom segmented
Mounts: 3 bottles, low rider, Many Things cages, fender mounts
Shifters: Shimano Ultegra, 11 speed Hydro
Brakes: Shimano XT
Rotors: 160mm Shimano Ice tech
Rear Derailleur: Shimano XT, medium cage
Crankset: Shimano XT, 175mm
Chain Ring: Race Face 38T, 104 BCD
Cassette: Shimano XT 11-46T
Chain: Dura Ace
Headset: White Industries
Stem: Thomson X4
Handlebar: Salsa Cowbell 3
Seatpost: Thomson Elite
Saddle: Brooks, C13 Carved 158
Pedals: Shimano XT
Wheels: HIFI custom Hootenannys
Hubs: SONdelux generator 12mm TA CLD, White Industries CLD 12mm TA
Lights: Sinewave Beacon, E3 taillight, internal wiring throughout
Tires: Schwalbe Thunder Burt, 2.25”
Cages: King Cage bottle cages, King Cage Many Things cages