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This place needs an enema
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In 1994 I got a bug up my a$$ to have a single speed, partly because I had an even bigger bug to be the first to complete the then-legendary Leadville 100 with one gear. I happened to be fortunate enough to be living in Crested Butte at the time, and even more fortunate that Willits just happened to be making his first batch of Townie frames. I scraped together enough nickels and dimes for a deposit, then spent the next two months eating ramen and picking up extra diving shifts at the Fuzzy Pink Burrito Factory to earn the balance.

Something strange and magical lived in that Townie. It was, and is, one of the smoothest riding rigid bikes I’ve ever had the pleasure of swinging a leg over. After 5 years of riding and racing it in it’s original 26” form, Wes prevailed on me to allow him to convert it to 29” wheels, which he did by simply moving the brake bosses on the stays, and lengthening the Type II fork’s dropouts. Shod with bigger wheels it became impossibly smooth, and over the next few years when I wasn’t riding it it served as a demo of sorts, converting a dozen or so of my friends to the Church of the Big Wheel.

Willits Townie, Circa 1999:



As often happens, my needs/wants changed and I found myself looking for something the Townie couldn’t give me—a longer top tube. I sold it to fund the purchase of something else, although the sale had several contingencies designed to keep that bike ‘in the family’. In a manner of speaking, it is on permanent loan.

I fiddled for a few years with different ideas, even helping to design the now-legendary and impossible to find Airborne B-29 frames. Call me a snob, but as sweet as they rode they were just a bit too cookie cutter for me, so I went looking for something else. For a brief, intense period I had a Moots Mooto-X YBB SS with an EBB, but even the sweetness of the supple Moots ride wasn’t enough to mask the drawbacks of the EBB concept. While fiddling with the EBB on a 15-hour alpine ride, I flashed back to the smoothness and simplicity of the Townie, and my mind started racing again.

I knew the old Townie wouldn’t scratch the itch—it simply didn’t fit me well enough. And at the time Willits was nothing more than a smoldering idea in the back of Wes Williams’ head, yearning for daylight even as he sold Fords in Austin to make ends meet. I spent a few months narrowing down the list of capable framebuilders to just two: Don McClung and James Bleakley. You can see the results (and read more of my ramblings about it) in the Words Fail thread.

It’s been ~17 months since I started my relationship with this bike. It hasn’t all been peaches and cream. From the original pics, only the frame, headset, and seatpost have remained unchanged. The fork was replaced because it couldn’t clear a 2.5, and also because the aesthetic was not what I had asked for. Picky—that’s me. Stem and bars were swapped countless times to get the reach and rise dialed ‘just so’, then a custom Moots stem and Black Sheep bar were ordered to complete the cockpit.




Brakes and levers went from Avid Ultimate’s to a set of oh-so-sweet but way-too-finicky Paul’s Crosstops, then back to the Ultimate’s. Wheels started out as DT RR rims laced to Zipp track hubs. Try as I did, I couldn’t get the chainline just right using the non-adjustable chainline hubs, and their 120mm OLD limited how wide I could go at the BB. I broke a few chains (due to the bad chainline), smacked my knee on the stem a few times, then limped home.




While trying to thinker out the details of the chainline dilemma, I also came to the conclusion that the narrow DT rims just weren’t cutting it. I live and ride in ledgy, rough country, and when riding a rigid SS I like to run a big tire at low pressure to smooth things out. 19mm wide rims and 2.3 (or bigger) tires can work fine at 30+ psi, but at the ~19psi that felt right to me I kept peeling the tires off the rims when cornering. Not what you’d call confidence inspiring. Worth noting is that the wheels were plenty stiff and durable, and never needed truing. Just too narrow. Live and learn.




Eventually, after fiddling with too many crank, ring, and bb combos (the dregs of which are cluttering valuable shelf space in my shop) I had no choice but to admit that the narrow, non-adjustable hubs just weren’t going to work out. So I cold set the frame to 135mm out back, laced up a new set of wheels (with an adjustable chainline/cassette hub), to a 24mm wide rim, and just like that all of those problems vanished. It stung a bit to lose the beautiful hubs and silver motif, but the theme on this bike has always been ‘function before fashion’, and there is no sweeter riding spoke (for a rigid 29” bike) than the DT SuperComp, which is only available in black. A friend suggested buying a box of spokes and then stripping the black off of them, but it just wasn’t/isn’t that important.




The last two weeks I’ve been experimenting with different tires and pressures. All of them have been rideable, some just feel better overall than others. For now, I can’t imagine a better rigid SS tire than the WTB WW 2.55. I’m running them at 20f/22r, tubed, and am back to that oh-so-smooth ride that I first felt with the Willits. I even borrowed the Willits, twice, for the sake of comparison. The Willits will always hold a high place as one of the smoothest bikes I’ve ever ridden. But the Black Sheep takes it to a whole new level. The smoothness is greater than the sum of the parts: A ti frame, ti strut fork, ti bar, stem, and post are surely a good start. Add in the compliance of the SuperComps and the suppleness of the fat, low psi rubber, and I’m back to being at a loss for words. There truly are no words to describe how smooth this bike is.

After all the tinkering and fiddling was done, I hung it on the scale to see what I’d done. 20.00 even. I’ll take it.

Thanks for reading.

MC
 

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I Love It...l O V E I T ! ! !

Wow Mikesee, I have been waiting and waiting to see the updated sheep...And then today...there she is with a ride report to back up her good looks!! Thanks Mike!!:D
 

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Awesome post, again. Thanks for the update.

Regarding tires: How do the WW 2.55s hook up in the kitty litter over hard stuff compared to the Nevegals? I understand they will be cushier, but do they try to burn you in the corners like the Exi?
 

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Quick question...

I am sure there is a story/reason you have those Ultimate levers mounted in a manner many of us would call "upside down". I am guessing it gathers less debris in the "vents" that way?

Very nice looking bike!
 

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breathing helium
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Now I'm speechless. I love it! My Sheep will be similar but with discs (necessary in the Pac NW).

The fork is sweet. I notice that the location where the struts connect to the collar above the headtube is different. You also mentioned the tire clearance thing. Is there anything else that you changed about it? Curously, what's the A-C? I think James suggested a 445mm for me to allow for tire clearance.

I agree on the WTB 2.55. I got my set from you a week ago, immediately slapped them on the SS, and went for a ride. What a great tire! The tread is low enough to keep the rolling resistance low, they hook-up on climbs like no tomorrow, and are big volume/low pressure/cushy heaven. I'm sold.

Thanks for the tires and sorry for all the questions! :)
 

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Now with 20% more fat!!
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Gorgeous bike! Thanks for sharing the pics and story. I'm running the Rampages now on my Black Sheep. I think I'll try a set of those WTBs next - keep hearing great things about them. How would you compare the two tires?
 

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I'll be joining the herd soon. Your Sheep wont be alone cocheese. It'll have a neighbor in Idaho. Mike's post just makes me want it that much more...
 

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breathing helium
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Visicypher said:
I'll be joining the herd soon. Your Sheep wont be alone cocheese. It'll have a neighbor in Idaho. Mike's post just makes me want it that much more...
Sweet Visicypher! Between Brandon448, you, and myself the NW Black Sheep club will be 3 members strong. I think those Colorado buys have us beat though. There must be hundreds of them. ;)
 

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Mike's BS is schweet...I'm in great company...and I really am looking forward to mine...
 

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Yea, you guys with BS family members are sooo lucky. I'm stuck in AZ as the only one...YES! Everybody google eyes my Highlight, even hikers.
Great looking ride, Mike. I'm interested in trying a set of WW on my Sheep with the rigid fork.
 

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Very nice. Impressive. The picture provokes an immediate visceral reaction.

"Cold set the frame" --is that a roundabout way of saying that you used a big prybar? :) (or perhaps you have a flatplate, that would be my guess)

Nice work, Mike. Every time I read one of your posts I end up adding to the list of Serious Bikes I Seriously Want.
 

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KH 38mm rims?

Mike
in one of the threads you highly reccomend the KH 38mm rims.
Is there a reason you aren't using them on this bike?
Just curious, i'm seriously thinking about using them on my Astrix Monk, i like the idea of running low pressures and not having the tire rolling all over the trail..
 

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Harmonius Wrench
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Moots Stem

Mike: Beautiful as the day you first posted it. Glad you have come to terms with it. I like the process of "tweaking", or "thinkering" as you call it. Good stuff!

Anyway, I got a chance to ride a Moots stem once, as you might remember, and I thought it was torsionally the most flexy stem ever. I wonder, do you still regard the Moots stem as stiff enough for single speeding? It seems that a torsionally stiff stem would be prized above all else when grinding out of the saddle.

Thanks for the great post, as always. :D
 

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uno-speedo said:
...happened to snap some camera phone pictures of Chucks '99 Willits with custom paint job and hadn't had the time to post them yet.
Yer killin' me.

I'm from Encinitas, stuck in eastern NC riding kinda boring trails while all the great North County/Orange County trails go untouched (by me, at least).

Don't need to see photos from PCC or anywhere else out there!

At least I'm riding the boring trails here on a drop bar BS ti.

I'll be back! (Summer 2008)...RC

Back to the topic...
 

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I never get tired of seeing that bike.

I enjoyed reading your thought process too especially the bit about Airborne. Its limited availability has actually caused me to like it more, because it makes the bike special. Funny. There’s no question that it is a great riding bike and it is hard to find anything that would be a better fit for my kind of riding, but I’ve never really ” bonded” with it. In my dreams, I wish it was American made and somehow a bit more gucci. Neither one of which are really legitimate gripes about a bike that I love to ride. In fact they aren't legitimate gripes about any bike, but still.... The only legitimate fault I can find with the bike is I wish it had rack mounts. But that is when I’m picking nits. I love the bike, I’ve just never really been “in love" with the it. Strange.

On the “function before fashion” comment, funny that this comment pops up in this thread, because what really strikes me about your bike and the Blacksheep highlight is the seamless integration of function and fashion. Form follows function is a good creedo and all, but that doesn’t mean form needs to be sacrificed at the alter of utility. Ya’ dig? I really like the idea of a bike having some curved tubes or that retro styling and not sacrificing function (not becoming heavy or feeling dead etc.). It strikes a perfect balance, so um I guess what I’m saying is go strip the color off some of them spokes, hubs and rims.

Back when words failed (a post that ironically generated about 5 pages of words) you where thinking about painting the frame. Still thinking about that? Seems like a tough call, because it looks soooo sweet as it is, but then again those classic old school lines are just begging for some classic old school paint.

Adam
 

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Mike:

Reading your ride reports, checking out your bikes, and trying to absorb some of your philosophy and ethos is one of the main reasons I keep coming back to MTBR. This bike and the Snoots (among others) have a purity of purpose and attention to detail that is rarely achieved in today's society. Thank you for your continued contributions to MTBR and the larger cycling community.
 
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