New bike day is always exciting. The added anticipation of new custom bike day takes that excitement to a different level. On top of the elevated quality of a hand-made frame, there’s the fun of getting input on what the actual bike will look like and the time spent putting together parts to perfectly match your ideal bike.
When I had the opportunity to put together a hardtail from Sam Whittingham’s Naked Bicycles, I was thrilled. His bikes are beautiful, award-winningly so. But they’re also really forward thinking. Hidden away on Quadra Island, Whittingham’s been playing with industry trends to see how far they can go, what works, and what probably won’t last.
Naked Bicycles Ti hardtail: A BC XC machine
When we talked about what I wanted from the bike, I settled in on something similar to the BC XC concept. Fast, fun to climb, but also capable of riding almost anything on Vancouver Island. The result is what he nicknamed the “Stretch Limo.” It is long, very long, with a 1336mm wheelbase that reaches past most XL enduro bikes I’ve tested. And the frame is made of the fanciest of materials: titanium.
Whittingham’s been moving in this direction with his bikes, mountain and gravel, for a few years. He took the concept and ran with it, adding a couple of personal touches along the way. While the Stretch Limo is extreme in some numbers, it is restrained in others. This Naked’s head tube sits at a reasonable 65.0-degrees (unsagged), resisting the trend to ultra-slack hardtails. It’s left me with room to move around and still feel “in” the bike. There are also 440mm-long chainstays to keep it balanced front to back and a “super boost” 157x12mm rear end to keep the long frame tracking true.
While function comes first, Whittingham’s bikes are also beautiful machines. The long arc of the titanium frame is brushed instead of painted with polished and anodized design in a gold-blue fade. The colours are reversed on the opposite side of the frame. Whittingham’s design is a nod to my prairie roots, with gold fields under a blue sky, and the ocean blues of my west coast home.
Regan Pringle at Trail Bicycles helped build the Limo up to Whittingham's standards.
Kit grid, but for bike builds?
Always good to have a snack close at hand
Race Face and Wolf Tooth team up for a colourful headset/stem combo to match the frame
Shimano XT Trail brakes on Whittingham's clean-looking rear axle junction.
Race Face Turbine cranks and steel Cinch chainring
Blue on one side, gold on the other
Whittingham added the details, like matching bottle bosses
Woft Tooth headset and a tight dropper post port
Very clean internal routing on for all cables and hoses.
The classic Naked Bicycles arc and "naked human" icon
Race Face Next SL bars are the only carbon fibre on the Naked
Specialized Ground Control tires, with CushCore, on good old aluminum rims.
This Hope Pro4 Hub has survived several frames and numerous wheel builds. Quality lasts.
The build: Naked Bicycles “Stretch Limo”
To match the “BC XC” purpose, this titanium Naked Bicycles hardtail is built up with an array of parts designed to work well on our rough trails over a long winter of grinding it out through wet weather. That means fewer ultralight parts and more focus on bits I know work really well and survive abuse (and won’t break the bank to replace). The exception is the Race Face Next SL bars, the only carbon fibre on the frame, which have already proved tough enough through a summer of abuse.
Everything else on the Naked is metal or rubber. Race Face’s Turbine stem and Wolf Tooth spacers, headset and seat clamp add colour to match the frame. Race Face Turbine cranks are set up with a 32-tooth steel chainring that should survive a few winters. Shimano XT 12-speed shifting keeps the bike moving while XT Trail brakes and Galfer rotors keep me from getting too out of control.
Fox’s excellent 2021 34 Factory fork is both light – as light as the previous year’s 34 StepCast – and tough. It’s set up at 130-mm right now, keeping the Naked feeling sharp and snappy enough for cross country riding, with a little extra travel to match the XC+ design.
Last, Ibis 933 alloy rims (29mm internal width, works up to 2.6″ tires but still friendly with narrower options) are laced to a long-serving set of Hope Pro4 hubs. That’s all wrapped in Specialized 2.35″ Ground Control tires with CushCore XC tire inserts. I’ve been really impressed with all the new Specialized rubber, Fast Track and Ground Control. The Ground Controls are super predictable in a wide range of conditions so far and roll well for how much grip they give, especially backed up by CushCore.
Titanium for the real world
The lack of carbon on a custom titanium frame may seem like sacrilege. But Sam’s always said his bikes are made to be ridden, not put on a wall. The parts I’ve selected (and been able to find) are light where it’s possible and durable where they need to be. Riding through the winter has a way of destroying even the best parts, so the idea of budgeting around what I could afford to replace, instead of what I can afford, played a role as well.
So far I’ve been extremely stoked with how well the Naked handles. There was a worry that, with some extreme numbers in there, the concept might not work and it would be too long. Instead, it’s felt right at home in the tight, technical West Coast jank. It’s been equally comfortable on long alpine expeditions and the faster trails in B.C.’s interior.
Putting parts together for this Naked Bicycles hardtail in the middle of a two-year supply crunch wasn’t the easiest thing. But I’m very happy with everything that is on the bike right now. Thanks to a long list of people that helped make this happen. Reagan at Trail Bicycles, everyone at Broad Street, Fox and Race Face, Drew at Shimano, and the Cams. Of course, the biggest thanks to Sam and Andrea at Naked Bicycles.