Slowly but surely, the Rambler is heading this way, and its going to be one cool steed. Its pretty much out there on its own when it comes to design aesthetic and, visually at least, is a million miles away from the current crop of drop bar adventure bikes hitting the market. This pup’s a descendent of the Gravel Bastard that I designed back in 2017, which in itself was one of the first drop bar dirt bikes to use a sub 70 degree head angle and long top tube, designed to be run with a stubby little stem and big-ass bars. I learnt a lot from that design. Just like Theresa May, its strong and stable, only 4 REAL, like Ritchey Manic’s arm. I remember briefly trying a friend’s Gravel bike about 6 months into riding the GB – skinnyish tyres and 42cm bars, 120 stem, and being absolutely shocked at what was being asked of me from that bike. Different horses for different courses, of course, but it felt like going back to 520mm flat bars after you’d gotten used to wide risers; in short, there was no going back.
So the Rambler uses the DB as a starting point and then gets a little jiggy with it. The geometry is the same, minus 15mm on the top tube length. Because it’s made from steel and not space age wonder material I wanted it to have a retro rather than modernist vibe, so the top tube(s) are a little more horizontal with a larger front triangle (perfect for a bigger frame-bag or shouldering the bike) and the tubes are skinnier. The front fork is about the plushest rigid fork I’ve ever tried and has a wonderful amount of compliance out on the trail.
Despite its simplicity of design, the Rambler, out of all my frames, is probably going to take the most juggling when it comes to building up, mainly because of the bike industries insistence on creating new standards for every little sub-genre, but also because of my pig-headedness as a designer. Some of my choices may seem a little out of whack with what’s going on, but there’s good, strong reasoning behind everything here. Stooge has always been about following my heart. Imagine the meeting in Specialized HQ where all the suits (albeit dressed in chinos and big S t-shirts) sit and discuss what’s hot, what the trends are, what the customer wants and expects. Well that doesn’t happen with Stooge, I sit in the shed and think about what I’d like on my next bike. I kinda rely on the idea that maybe there are another 100 people out there that quite like the idea too. But what follows is a short guide to help you through the process, with a few pointers as to the ‘why’s and ‘how’s.
The Rambler will be available in 3 sizes – 52cm (560ett), 54cm 9580ett) and 57cm (610ett). All of these are measured from the centre of the BB to the top the seat-tube. As a rough guide – 5’6-5’9 = 52cm, 5’10-6’1=54cm, 6’2+ = 57cm. That’s the simplified version, and the way the bike is built up can have a huge effect on how the sizing works, for example, I’m 5’11 and ride a 54 with a 55mm stem (you can see from the photos how much post I have out etc) but this frame would easily fit someone much taller with a longer stem and more post out, but it would then start resembling a more traditional bike fit.
2) COCKPIT SETUP FOR DROP BARS.
The most important thing here is to start by not cutting the steerer until you’ve put a few miles in. We’re all used to mountain bikes and we’re all used to chopping the steerer and running risers to get our riding position just so. With drop bar bikes, 90% of our time is spent sitting and pedalling with our hands on the ramps or hoods, so it goes without saying that all day comfort is key. Don’t be afraid to start with 50mm of spacers and take it from there. You want to aim for the hoods to feel like a slight stretch and for the ramp position to feel completely neutral, just below saddle height is a winner for me. Choose a stem length that makes this just so, anything between 40 and 70mm is cool. If you’re used to riding a normal gravel bike or road bike then this setup will feel alien to you, but a few hours in the saddle off road and it all starts to make complete sense, and that’s a promise. (As a disclaimer, it may be that you want to set this up in a more trad style with the stem slammed, and if that’s what genuinely works for you, then cool)
As far as bars go, get wide. I’ve used and love the Ritchey Venturemax XL (go with the non XL if you’re a smaller rider), the Ritchey Beacon (in either normal or XL size). My fave of all time is the Crust Towel Rack, but that’s moot point as they’re always out of stock and UK shipping is shocking, but there’s a big choice out there.
Alternatively to all the above, slam a set of Moto bars or swept touring bars like the Ritchey Coyote and you’ll have an amazing retro styled MTB trail hauler. The Ritchey is interesting as it works better on drop bar bikes than regular MTBs, it has too much forward sweep and needs the shortest of stems to feel even remotely comfortable, but on the Rambler it would be perfect.
3) WHEEL AND TYRE SIZE
The Rambler is designed around 27.5” wheels, period. Yes, you can run 700C with a 45mm tyre but to do so will remove something very important that I’ve designed into this bike – agility and comfort. Touring bikes have a long history of using the smaller wheel size for both its strength and fine handling characteristic, look back to all the French rando bikes from the last century and 650B was king, for all the right reasons. But its not a heritage thing, it’s a real world tried and tested thing.
Tyre clearance is set up for 27.5 x 2.4, but I’m running mine with a 2.2 rear and 2.6 front. The front will take up to a 2.8, the rear will probably take a 2.6 without problem. The cush of a bigger front tyre at lowish pressure coupled with the compliant fork is a thing to experience, it’s wonderfully smooth and a far cry from being a rigid boneshaker.
Which brings me to axle sizes! What we’re looking at here is 142×12 on the rear, 100 x 15 on the front. So basically the old MTB standard. There are plenty of wheels out there in this size, so worry not. Of course, since I designed this bike the industry has decided that all gravel wheels deserve their own front axle size (100 x 12) but this isn’t a gravel bike and deserves the extra width and durability of an MTB wheelset, with the added support for larger tyres. As an aside, there’s now a weird clash between ‘progress’ and the massive supply chain problems in the bike industry. The Rambler was designed 2 years ago and won’t be here until the summer, so what once would have taken 4 months now takes 24. My take is that small bike companies like myself would need a crystal ball to try and be on trend, or do what I do, which is ignore it completely.
4) BRAKES AND GEARS
First things first. No flat mount brakes! I’m sorry, but I just can’t go there, they were designed to look small and stealthy and save weight on carbon road bikes and to allow them to sit on the chainstay whilst still keeping a straight seatstay, and that’s fine, a top end Trek supercarbon race steed would look shit with a banging great set of MTB brakes on it. But for a bike designed to be loaded up and hauled over mountains and down the other side, loads of luggage, or just a chunk like me on board, I want big rotors and mechanical simplicity. I want to be able to set the brake up in 5 minutes and then ride, I don’t want to spend 7 hours trying to get the damn brakes to line up with the rotor only for it to all go to shit at the slightest sign of mud, rain and dirt. There, rant over.
But of course, not using flat mount brakes means you can’t just go out and buy a GRX groupset and bolt it up …
Okay, so people think I’m a perv, but I love cable disc brakes! Avid BB7s are king, they’re cheap and available and if you buy the road ones (cheap at Spa Cycles) they’ll work with any Shimano brifter. Run them with a 203 rotor up front and a 185 out back and you have all the braking power you will ever need, no hydraulics to mess around with, and a braking feel that is eminently tuneable. They come with rotors and mounts, its win win. Same goes for TRP Spyres and Spikes, and if you’re feeling flush there’s Paul Klampers. The secret to making mechanicals work is high quality cable housing, stainless steel cables and a nice amount of lube on the inner.
My ideal setup would be a set of Tektro drop bar levers (RL520 for MTB pull brakes, RL340 for road pull), a set of BB7s, Microshift 1×11 MTB bar end shifter and a shimano MTB rear end with an 11-46 cassette and SLX or XT mech. On the front I’d use an MTB chainset with a 36t single ring. On my own bike I purchased a pair of the Microshift Shifters and also used an MTB double upfront (36/26) with a Shimano sidepull front mech. It all works a treat and gives enough range for all eventualities. If I was to start again I’d forego the front gears and just run a single with a bigger cassette.
‘But I want hydros!!!!’ I hear you cry. Okay, Shimano and Sram both produce post mount road calipers that can be bolted straight up to this frame. Or buy some GRX shifters and some Deore calipers and mix and match. Where there’s a will there’s a way.
NB: the BB on this is 68mm wide, so a GRX chainset can be used with clearance for a 40t single ring.
Building any bike in this day and age is a labour of love and cunning what with all the shortages and out of stocks. Groupos like the Microshift Advent are gaining ground and filling a void, but for me the easiest and most user friendly solution, not to mention gamesaver, is the Microshift bar end shifter. Its available in Sram and Shimano spec and can be had in anything from 9 to 12 speed.
Obviously none of the above is relevant if you decide to run your Rambler with Moto bars or any of the great alt swept bars that are available out there, in which case you’d just run whatever MTB groupset you want and get rolling.
5) DAMN, THAT’S A FINE AND RADICAL BIKE YOU’RE RIDING, SIR!
Yes, it believe it will be. I hope this guide has helped, but if you have any further questions please feel free to give me a shout and I’ll be able to help. If you’re new to drop bar bikes and all this is a little confusing then good luck, but I’m here to help. If you decide to build one of these up with a set of Junker 85s and slammed stem then I salute you and will require pics ASAP. I have my own alt bar build planned when the frames arrive and look forward to getting it built and out on the trails.
Both SJS cycles and SPA Cycles are a great source of bits and bobs for your build. Microshift shifters are (or were) available from Bikemonger, are usually on Ebay, and were last seen on Chain Reaction. Search and you will find. Cool wheels suitable for your build = Halo SAS 27.5, Hope 30s, but worth noting that CRC is currently full of 27.5” MTB wheels with old skool spacing at silly cheap prices.
Thanks for reading, if this hasn’t thoroughly scared you from ever having a Rambler in your collection then I look forward to hearing from you in the not too distant future. That’s it from me for now, over and out.