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Rider Reviews the Rawland Drakkar
For those of us who believe "life's an adventure",
a bike needs to be many things. It must be durable yet light, comfortable
on long rides and able to carry loads. Here in Colorado an all-rounder
should also climb like a goat and handle rough dirt roads or single
track with ease, but roll smooth and efficient on pavement. In other
words, one bike that is both road and mountain bike - ready for anything
Although I know it's an unattainable myth, my search for the perfect
alpine all-rounder has included nearly every strategy from stripping
down (road-ifying) mountain bikes to beefing up road bikes. Approaches
that work, but demand compromises. I love my modified Gary Fisher Aquila
even though it's a bit slow on pavement and the flat bars are not comfortable
on long rides. Nothing it seems quite reaches the all-rounder holy grail.
Imagine my excitement when finding the Rawland Cycles website one evening.
"Choose your own adventure" is the company's motto. OK perhaps I was
skeptical, after all my brand of adventure is Rocky Mountain big. Could
they really offer a bike that handles alpine mixed terrain? Fully expecting
disappointment, I emailed Rawland's Sean Virnig for more information
and described my impossible needs. To my surprise, Sean said his new
Drakkar (named after the go anywhere Viking ship) was designed with
someone like me in mind. Could this bike really fulfill my all-rounder
dreams. . . well maybe? Unfortunately I couldn't test drive a Drakkar
to find out since Rawland only sells frames. After much deliberation
and test riding other candidates, I finally decided to take a risk on
Why I Ordered The Drakkar
What features initially led me to order the Drakkar? Perhaps it's the
geometry, close to my favorite rigid 90's MTB (a hybrid between today's
road and mountain geometries) but designed for drop bars. I hoped a
"drop bar rigid mountain bike" arrangement would provide a comfortable
cockpit for long rides without sacrificing too much single track handling.
Or it could be the frame's versatility, able to handle diverse customization.
This frame includes a plethora of brazons equal to a touring bike (even
3 water bottle cages), yet with wide tire clearance (full 29er tire
compatible), and unique horizontal dragon's head rear dropouts for geared
or single speed setups. Then again, the Columbus asymmetric Zona tubing
spoke to my inner "steel is real" self. It might have even been the
elegant frame proportions and extra ornamental details. Ultimately the
Drakkar was chosen because I believed Sean Virnig's design approaches
what he set out to achieve, a truly versatile all-rounder.
One feature caused me concern initially. The Drakkar comes disc brake
only. In an effort to further versatility, disc brakes ensure an easy
transition between 700c/29er or 650b wheel sets. Essentially creating
3 bikes in one via simple wheel changes. Although the simplicity of
cantilever or V brakes appeals to me, and racks are hard to fit with
disc brakes, I rationalized that disc brakes would perform better for
alpine descents and wet trails.
How can I describe the anticipation when discovering a Rawland box on
the UPS driver's shoulder? Perhaps it's closest to the unbridled excitement
kids feel on Christmas morning. My emotions however were more complex,
excitement mixed with trepidation even fear. I signed for the box, setting
it in the garage unopened.
Several days passed. My wife couldn't believe the box remained unopened.
But I'd already ridden my Drakkar for months - in my dreams. Surely
the real thing couldn't measure up to expectations. Finally I mustered
the courage. Surgically opening the box, fear turned to relief upon
discovering a blemish free frame. All the welds looked clean. The paint
job was smooth. Sparkling green, the color looked quite pleasing with
contrasting gold decals. Rear stainless steel, mar resistant "dragon's
head" dropouts can only be described as works of art.
unique "biplane" fork appeared well engineered. A design providing wide
tire clearance without a bulky fork. Frame proportions in general were
elegant, sporting many ornamental details. This frame was more than
One feature that stands out is Drakkar's raised top tube.
I prefer higher handlebars for comfort. The raised top tube allows for
higher bar placement with less spacers. Combined with a sloping top
tube the cockpit looked about as relaxed as any bike I've seen. The
only problem I found was that none of the dropouts has safety tabs should
a quick release loosen. I wasn't worried about the rear. But it caused
concern for the front until I realized, unlike most bikes, the front
dropouts face forward so disc braking forces the wheel into the dropout.
I've modified and rebuilt many bikes, but never assembled one from a
new frame. Wow, a chance to pick all the components. Of course, with
freedom comes many decisions. I relied heavily on the knowledgeable
staff at Peak Bikes in Golden Colorado
to find the best mix from the vast amount of road and mountain options
available today. Below is a list of components and why I chose them:
Drive Train - Good climbing on steep roads and trails is my top
priority. Especially after a long day on mixed terrain. A mountain drive
train was the obvious choice. I ordered Shimano XT for both derailleurs.
The crank is an older unused LX (when LX was still mountain) that Peak
Bikes had laying around. Like the XT, the LX sports a Hollowtec exterior
bearing spindle system which is compatible with Drakkar's bottom bracket.
I chose 22-32-44 front chain rings which is low as mountain components
go. The rear cassette has an 11- 34 tooth spread. This arrangement maxes
out the long cage rear derailleur's range of 45 teeth. With a 29er wheel
size I get a low around 18 gear inches and a high around 112. I felt
justified sacrificing the big racing gears in order to maximize climbing.
Rarely do I pedal down mountain passes, instead worrying about braking
Shimano bar end shifters sometimes called barcons often used for touring
bikes seemed a good choice. Bar end shifters are simple, easy and work
well. I like that they are serviceable in the field. Frankly my brifters
seem fussy at high altitude and cold weather, which drives me nuts on
- What I didn't realize until exploring options was the many subtle
differences in drop bar design. A casual search through Peak Bikes website
reveals dozens of possible designs. Ultimately I focused on drop bars
designed for off road riding. WTB has the Dirt Drops, On-One offers
the Midge bar. However, Salsa's Woodchipper was the handlebar for me.
The drops flair out, providing added leverage and stability for single
track, but the bend flairs less allowing more upper bar area and more
standard brake lever placement than other designs. Woodchippers are
designed to ride off road in the drop position. For an old rider like
me that meant raising the bars further than expected. I used all the
steering tube provided. The only downside is the large width. One needs
to be careful navigating in close quarters with these bad boys.
The Woodchipper comes in MTB 25.4 or the newer 31.8 size. I opted for
31.8 mm bars with a Specialized mountain bike stem. 31.8 mm allows mixing
road and MTB components. I hope the industry steers towards this standard
for all types of bikes in the future.
- Mechanical discs were clearly better suited for a rugged alpine all-rounder.
They can be repaired in the field and are generally simpler to maintain.
However, using drop or road bars presented a problem. Most disc brakes
are designed for mountain levers with a different pull ratio. Luckily
Avid and Tektro both make road disc brakes. Lenard Zinn, the Boulder
frame builder, in a recent article declared road disc brakes are the
future. They can be made lighter than mountain discs and provide better
performance than rim brakes. It makes sense to me.
I almost chose the Tektro Lyra, weighing about the same as cantilever
brakes. But the Lyra is a new design with few reviews. And I feared
the rotors are too thin. Ultimately I ordered Avid BB7 mechanical road
disc brakes which were easy to install and adjust even for a first timer.
I opted for a 160 mm front rotor, while the rear is only 140 mm. This
asymmetrical setup saves weight, but the bigger reason is simple physics.
A rear wheel provides less stopping power before skidding. For hauling
big loads, I might reassess this strategy.
- With three wheel formats possible (650b, 700c or 29er), this decision
was rather difficult. Sure,
I could have ordered three different wheel sets and switched between
them to create virtually three different bikes. But I'm interested in
creating one all-rounder that will take me anywhere without carrying
extra wheels. It was important to choose the single most versatile wheel
650b's with a smaller radius would climb better but probably not roll
as fast. The smaller radius would likely be less comfortable over bumps.
650b is less popular, meaning less wheel and tire options. 700c/29er
was my choice. Not everyone knows that 700c and 29er wheels have the
same rim size. What differs is the tire width (29er is 2" or more).
Ultimately I chose a Stan's No Tubes factory wheel set with Arch rims
and ZTR hubs. The Arch rim allows full 29er tire widths or wide 700c
touring tires, virtually spanning the entire wide and medium tire width
spectrum (but not skinny road racing tires). Arch rims can be used with
tubes but are tubeless ready. As mentioned above, with the 29er wheels
I planned on extra low gearing to eliminate any disadvantage in climbing.
I also toyed with tubeless to minimize rotational weight and further
enhance climbing (see tires section below).
- Schwalbe 45c Smart Sams which are marketed as all-terrain tires seemed
a good choice. My hope was to find one tire that handles a variety of
terrain well. Spinning extra rubber on pavement was not appealing, but
neither was washing out on gravel or single track. At 1.75" the 45c
width was a good compromise. While the 29er width Smart Sams come UST
tubeless, the narrower and lighter 45c version did not have a UST stamp.
I went tubeless anyway to save rotational weight and to reduce puncture
flats in cactus country. Rotational weight is a big deal since a one
pound savings at the rim and tires is worth 2 pounds on the frame (or
other non rotating parts including rider and gear). Frankly, running
narrower tires tubeless is a bit experimental. However, it seems the
industry is beginning to look at road tubeless setups. This may be the
future for road bikes.
Although not a full 29er volume, I hoped the 45c tires would smooth
rough terrain since the Drakkar doesn't have suspension. And a good
all-rounder shouldn't have suspension in my opinion. It adds weight
and dampens power, compromising performance on pavement and smooth trails,
all for added comfort on the occasional rocky single track. I might
sound like a hard ass, but I'm just looking for the greatest efficiency
over the greatest variety of terrain.
Final word on the Build - Ultimately no bad surprises on the
build. The Drakkar frame easily accepts current bike technology, no
"jury rigging" was needed. I did learn bar end shifters are not compatible
with Shimano's Shadow derailleur design. My build required a standard
One nice surprise, It turns out the rear dragon's head dropouts are
more than just aesthetics. Rawland specially designed these dropouts
to fit standard racks even with disc brakes eliminating an early concern
about the disc only frame. I was initially worried about fitting a rack
with disc brakes. Since I usually travel ultra light, only carrying
about 15 pounds on the rear, a light duty Axiom rear rack was chosen.
These racks are inexpensive and among the lightest available.
The First Ride
Up until now I hadn't actually ridden the bike. Even though I'd spent
much time thinking about it. The bike's true performance as an alpine
all-rounder was only theoretical. Over the many hours spent on the build
I'd worked through my trepidation and fear. The first ride was all unbridled
jubilation. Although I planned to stay on easy roads around my house,
passing the single track on South Table Mountain was irresistible. Against
better judgment I headed up on steep single track.
Too my surprise the bike climbed remarkably well. While climbing I immediately
noticed the Woodchipper bars provided great leverage and stability.
These bars and the relaxed cockpit made riding comfortable and pleasurable.
I also noticed the bike's 45 cm chain stay length made for quick and
Descending steep rocky terrain was not as easy. The narrower tires held
well but didn't quite have the grip of a 2" plus MTB knobby. "On
the hoods" made for sore thumbs. "In the drops" alleviated hand pain
and worked better, but not quite as good as a flat MTB bar.
Descending steep smooth dirt however, didn't present a problem except
for the occational rear tire slight skid on the steepest sections (which
might have been the same with a full MTB tire - these sections are steep!).
Rolling single track was a treat on the Drakkar. The large diameter
wheels really did feel faster in general.
Back on pavement, the Drakkar handled nearly like a road bike. Perhaps
a little slower, but more stable with the wider tires. In general the
bike felt like an MTB on trails and a road bike on smooth pavement.
For dirt roads and broken pavement the Drakkar excels like nothing else
With 29er wheels on medium and small bikes, toe overlap can be an issue.
I didn't have any toe overlap problems with the 45c tires on this medium
frame. In fact, I had plenty of room and could probably mount full 2"
plus tires without problem. I used power straps on MKS Mt-Lux Compe
flat pedals. My feet are size 9.
Another nice technical feature is the high bottom bracket. With the
45mm Smart Sams, the BB was higher than my 26" wheeled MTBs. I
hit my pedals less than usual on rocky sections. Frankly, I can't stand
low bottom brackets on any bike taken off road.
When braking hard I noticed a small vibration at the front end. My LBS
said all road disc brake bikes have fork vibration. Apparently no rigid
forks are beefy enough to resist movement like a large MTB suspension
fork. I quickly learned to brake less forcefully and have virtually
eliminated the vibration. The upside, this same flexibility also dampens
bumps more than expected. The nice flex is probably due to the high
end steel, but also the raked fork design. Interestingly, the bike did
not feel too flexy or unstable.
Shortly after the first ride my bike fell over bending the derailleur
hanger. Bent hangers are a common problem (I've had this happen on traditional
MTBs too), Peak Bikes easily bent the tab back in place and I've had
no problem since (going on 1,000 miles already). However, Ben at Peak
Bikes discovered the bike's adjustable wheel base could be extended
because the dropouts are designed for both geared and single speed setups.
The bent hanger led to a discovery I might not have realized. Now I'm
excited to explore the correlation between wheelbase length, handling
and load carrying. Could it be that extending the effective chain stay
length from 45 cm to 47 cm makes the Drakkar more like a fully loaded
touring bike? If so, this bike would truly be a uniquely versatile platform.
Keep in mind the stainless steel dropouts provide a durable but very
hard surface and require special no slip nuts if the wheel is not set
at the minimum position held in place by the dropouts.
Update - Breckenridge To Taos
I recently took my Drakkar on the Breck-Taos Alpine Challenge, a 300
mile mixed terrain route which includes both unpaved mountain passes
and pavement. Joe Crews of Rough Rider fame came along on his Rivendell
Sam Hillborne sporting 40c Schwalbe Marathon tires (the widest he could
fit). Both bikes performed very well. Although Joe felt washout on moderate
dirt road descents, probably due to his bike's narrower tires and longer
My Drakkar was great in all conditions encountered. The tubeless 45c
Smart Sams worked well with no skidding, washout, flats or problems.
The disc brakes were a treat for long mountain descents, especially
the 4,000 vertical drop from Loco Ridge Pass (the Old Ute Trail) into
Salida Colorado. We also crossed a shallow stream experiencing no reduction
in stopping power. I've
changed my mind about disc brakes, they are worth having.
With only 10 pounds on the rear rack, 8 pounds on my back and another
6 pounds of water in the 3 bottle cages, the Drakkar was nicely balanced.
Even on fast descents the bike always rode smooth and stable yet handled
responsively. It never felt I was wrestling the bike going straight
or turning. Only on one very fast paved descent did I suspect a slight
shimmy. But I was going too fast for confort and braked to a normal
For the plethora of dirt roads found here in the Rocky Mountains, the
Drakkar is almost an ideal bike. Multiday rides like the Breck-Taos
Alpine Challenge or Great Divide Route can be ridden with an MTB, but
the added comfort of a drop bar is much nicer and more sustainable in
- Rawland's Drakkar versus Salsa's Fargo
The only comparable bike I've ridden is the Salsa Fargo, another drop
bar mountain bike. Both bikes have a nice, relaxed cockpit for extended
riding. However, the Drakkar is lighter and faster from my experience.
Although I've only test ridden the Fargo, other significant differences
seem apparent. The Drakkar has a higher bottom bracket for better clearance.
In fact the Fargo's low bottom bracket was a major factor in my not
choosing it. The Drakkar's shorter chain stay (45 cm versus Fargo's
46.5 cm), raked fork design and high quality steel creates more responsive
yet softer handling at least unloaded or carrying moderate loads on
the rear rack.
Could it be that the Drakkar and Fargo are designed for different purposes?
The Fargo seems to be made specifically for touring with heavy loads
on dirt roads. While the Drakkar's versatility and all-rounder aspirations
extend well beyond the Fargo's intended use.
come to wonder whether the Drakkar should even be classified as a drop
bar mountain bike like the Salsa Fargo? People often ask, "what kind
of bike is that"? At first I called it a drop bar MTB. After riding
the Drakkar for a while I began referring to it as a monster cross or
alpine touring bike. Lately I call the Drakkar a "29er road bike"
because it's relatively fast on pavement. Perhaps no single label truly
describes my Drakkar and what it can do. This bike stands alone.
Update - Lookout Mountain
recently took the Drakkar on a tour of Lookout Mountain, up Chimney
Gulch (a local MTB test peice) and down the Larriat Loop road (a local
road bike test peice) to form a great mixed route above Golden. Riding
to the trail head, the road racers were a bit faster but not much. On
the single track, only a couple tough rocky sections slowed me down.
I carried my bike over a few rocks primarily because the thought of
scratching my new frame worried me. I noticed most mountain bikers were
also walking these sections. To my surprise, the Drakkar climbed as
fast if not faster than nearly all the mountain bikes. All were amazed
to see a drop bar bike on these trails, and how well it handled on relatively
difficult single track. I'm getting used to riding tougher trails with
the drop bars. It's different than riding flat bars and takes some practice.
the very steep pavement felt positive with disc brakes and wider tires.
As I traveled home on 32nd Avenue,
the bike zipped along rolling pavement with ease. Much more comfortable
and faster than my mountain bikes.
The Bottom Line
As the company's motto implies, the Rawland Drakkar really does allow
you to "choose your own adventure". Think of the Drakkar as a versatile
platform able to handle a variety of builds. I created an alpine all-rounder,
surprisingly well suited for Colorado's notoriously mixed and steep
alpine environment. My Drakkar rides like it is both a mountain and
a road bike.
With the 29er wheel option (if geared low and fitted with tubeless medium
wide tires) this bike climbs great and rolls fast on most terrain including
moderate to difficult single track, rough dirt roads, and smooth or
broken pavement. The relaxed geometry, high quality steel frame and
drop bars provide a wonderfully stable comfortable ride for multiday
dirt road touring like on the Great Divide Route. Yet the Drakkar handles
sporty and responsively like my favorite 90's rigid mountain bike, even
with moderate loads.
The Drakkar's unique blend of performance is so much fun my other bikes
haven't seen action lately. I prefer it over my mountain bikes (I have
3) on all but the most technical rocky trails. The Drakkar also gets
used for pavement instead of my Scott road/triathlon bike. It's a little
bit slower, but the fatter tires dampen what passes for asphalt here
in the Rocky Mountains and feel very solid on long paved descents.
I'm rarely ready to go home just because the pavement ends. If I could
only have one bike, the Drakkar would be it. Ultimately the Rawland
Drakkar is the closest thing to a perfect all-rounder I've found.
of finished bike were taken by Joe Crews or Todd Remington. Photos of
frame only were pilferedfrom the Rawland Cycles website.
(for this build)
No Tubes Wheels
Schwalbe Smart Sam Tires
is an extensive review of the Rawland Drakkar by Colorado Rough Rider
Todd Remington. If you live near Golden Colorado and would like to see
this bike, contact Todd Remington at email@example.com