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In this edition of Bikes of the Bunch, we take a closer look at a bike that was on show at the recent Handmade Bicycle Show Australia with insight from both the bike’s owner, Paul Black, and its builder, Mooro Cycles.
A Wagyl, or more properly, the Wagyl, is a rainbow serpent that was responsible for shaping the land and rivers occupied by the Noongar people in the south-west corner of Western Australia. The Swan and Canning Rivers that flow around Perth were created by the mythical creature, and according to Noongar lore, it was also responsible for bringing life to the land and maintaining all fresh water sources.
For Paul Black, the Wagyl was an obvious choice as the decoration for his new custom titanium cyclocross frame built by Mooro Cycles. That’s because he could see that he would be re-tracing the Wagyl’s journey on the all-surface bike while racing cyclocross alongside the Swan and Canning Rivers, adventuring in the hills of the Darling Scarp, and commuting to work amongst the dunes and freshwater lakes on the coast.
The theme also suited Mooro Cycle’s links with Aboriginal art and lore, the brand owing its name to one of the Noongar clans that occupied the Perth region where the frames are made. Chris Morgan, the driving force behind Mooro, doesn’t share that heritage, but as he brought the business to life in 2016, it was something that slowly permeated the new enterprise.
Chris and Paul have been mates since the early 2000s, when they became acquainted through a mutual friend and mountain-biking. “We have always been very similar in speed,” said Chris, “so we started training together, did some duo mountain bike races, and over the years, we’ve developed a strong friendship.”
It was Paul that suggested the project for a new cyclocross bike in the first place. “I had been following Chris’s work,” he said, “and could see from the rapid improvement and his fanatical attention to detail that he would build something special.”
The timing was perfect for Chris, because he was looking for another bike to take to the upcoming Handmade Bicycle Show Australia. “We were having a coffee after one of our rides when Paul started talking about maybe getting a CX bike built in titanium by us. I jumped on that straight away, and with the show approaching, he had no chance of backing out!”
The brief: a versatile all-surface bike
Paul’s first experience with titanium was in the form of a second-hand Merlin frame 10 years ago. “I loved that bike, and I know titanium lasts,” said Paul. “Out of all my bikes, the cyclocross bike gets the most use, and I expect to keep it the longest, so I thought it would benefit from a titanium frame.”
Paul’s last CX bike was a Trek Boone, and it was due for an update to disc brakes and thru-axles. At the same time, Paul wanted a bike that was versatile enough that he could swap from 33mm CX tyres for racing to 28mm road tyres for training and commuting.
“I don’t want one of those CX bikes that sits in the shed,” said Paul. “I like to relax and not worry about cars when I ride, so I do a lot of miles on the rough and uneven network of bike paths across Perth. 28mm road tyres are brilliant for this and can easily handle grass and unpaved limestone surfaces when you need to dodge walkers and escape their dogs.”
Paul’s only other requirement was a move to a 1x transmission. “I rarely seem to use the small chainring, so my preference was for a 1x drivetrain. I wanted to use SRAM to keep the shifting the same as my road bike, but Chris talked me into a Shimano Di2 setup for crisp shifting in the mud.
“In terms of geometry, I had no idea, but luckily Chris did. He was not happy with the high front end on my Trek and the short stem. He was convinced that he could make something that handled the tight turns of CX better, but still remained comfortable to ride on the road. He took some measurements, studied the Trek geometry charts, and I gave him full licence to make whatever he thought would ride best.”
In the hands of a chiropractor
Chris is a professional chiropractor, so he has a good understanding of the human body, but when it comes to frame geometry, he points to his early experience with bicycles and motorbikes as the source of his understanding.
“I grew up on a farm riding bicycles and motorbikes from a very early age and started racing motocross from the age of 12,” he said. “My dad always liked making changes to my bikes and sending me out to test them. I think this is where my love for tinkering with geometry all started, though I may have just inherited it all from my dad.”
“In designing the frame for Paul, I had to keep in mind that while the Wagyl was for CX racing, he was going to be spending most of his time commuting to work and doing some group rides. To fit Paul’s long legs and short torso, I shortened the top tube, used a longer stem, and reduced the headtube to lower his position.
“The chainstays were bent and shaped to allow for 33mm CX tyres and a 48T single chainring. We decided to run the rear brake hose internally through the downtube and out of the bottom bracket, then under the chainstay to the flat mount brake calliper. Running the hose through a T47 shell was another challenge to overcome, because we didn’t want it rubbing on the 30mm crank axle.
“After looking at many of the T47 bottom brackets on the market, we couldn’t find one that had a sleeve with enough room for the brake hose, so we designed our own to suit Chris King’s cups, and we’re very happy with how it turned out.”
Construction of a Mooro frame is a two-man operation that takes place in Chris’ home-based workshop: Chris takes care of preparing the Grade 9 titanium tubing, while Stuart Dash, a long-time client of Chris’ chiropractic practice, handles all of the welding. “One day, I asked Stuart if he could give me some advice. He has had many years of experience with TIG-welding titanium, and it turned out that he was keen to come on board as the welder. So now I can leave it all in his hands, and his experience has been invaluable for ensuring a high quality product.”
The Wagyl was finished off with Syntace X-12-ready dropouts from Paragon Machine Works, a common choice amongst bespoke framebuilders, because alignment of the thru-axle can be easily, and accurately, adjusted. Once completed, the frame weighed 1,460g.
The finishing touches
As a bike that was destined to be put on display at the Handbuilt Bicycle Show Australia, Chris wanted to use the Wagyl as a canvas for showcasing what Mooro Cycles was capable of creating. Paul’s suggestion for honouring the rainbow serpent became the driving theme for the finish as Chris worked with a local artist, Bradley Kickett, and frame painter, Rod Gilchrist, to achieve the final product.
Chris was responsible for anodising the frame to achieve the rainbow of colours for the serpent on the top tube and the logos on the rest of the frame. The electrolytic process is a simple one to learn, but there is an art in mastering the chemistry and voltages required to produce each colour. Chris started teaching himself in his kitchen before drawing upon a friend’s knowledge of chemistry to increase his repertoire.
“The anodising has been another learning process,” explained Chris. “It has taken lots of practise, trial and error, and I’m still discovering ways to improve it.” In this regard, it’s worth noting that no colour is actually applied to the frame; instead, it is caused by the interference of light by surface oxides, where the depth of the oxide layer determines the colour that is observed. It’s a fascinating phenomenon that is unique to titanium, plus, it makes for an eye-catching rainbow serpent.
The idea for the contrasting matte black finish for the frame came from Paul. Purists may baulk at the notion of painting a titanium frame, but for Paul, it was something that he fell in love with long ago when he saw it on an old Litespeed. It was a challenging request for Chris, though, because he had never painted a titanium frame, which is where Rod Gilchrist was able to help.
Rod not only took care of the final coat of paint for the frame, he was responsible for preparing the fork, stem, and seatpost for Bradley Kickett’s artwork, then he applied the logos and clear-coat to finish each part.
From the moment the Wagyl was suggested for the bike, Chris knew he was going to use some indigenous artwork as a centrepiece for the bike. “The story of the Wagyl needed to be represented by some local aboriginal artwork, and luckily, I have known the Kickett family for many years through my practice. Bradley and Rohin were keen to apply their talents to our bikes for the show, so Rohin painted my road disc bike and Brad painted Paul’s.
“It was the first time they had used automotive paint, and initially, the local supplier wasn’t going to sell it to them because he didn’t think it would work. They did a fantastic job with both bikes and you can see more of their work at www.bradleykickett.com and www.dushongart.com.
“We tried to keep the cost down on the build,” explained Paul, “so we started with a run-out Shimano Di2 road groupset, alloy bars and stem, and a set of Hed Ardennes Plus wheels, which are brilliant for the price. My old S-Works carbon seatpost came off my MTB but we went high-end with some Chris King bling where the mud sticks, and lashed out on re-covering my old faithful Fizik saddle with matching bar tape for the bike show.”
Frame: Mooro Cycles custom titanium
Fork: Columbus Futura Gravel
Headset: Chris King Headset
Handlebars: Pro Vibe alloy
Stem: 3T Arx II
Shifters/brake levers: Shimano R785 Di2
Rear derailleur: Shimano XT Di2
Brakes: Shimano Flat Mount with 140mm rotors
Wheels: Hed Ardennes Plus LT disc with Schwalbe X-One tyres
Cranks: White Industries with 48T single chainring
Pedals: Time ATAC XC8
Bottom bracket: Chris King Bottom Bracket with custom sleeve
Cassette: Shimano XTR 11-40
Seatpost: Specialized S-Works
Saddle: Fizik re-covered by Busyman Bicycles
Bar tape: Busyman Bicycles
Bidon cages: King
For Chris, the Wagyl was his first CX build and his primary goal was to hide as much of the Di2 wiring as possible. Thus, he made use of Shimano’s bar-end Di2 junction box and routed the main lead through the down tube. After that, he went to the trouble of re-programming the shifting to mimic SRAM’s eTap, so each shifter is devoted to one function.
“When the bike was completed, I was amazed at what Chris had achieved,” said Paul. “I even felt guilty that I was going to ride it. Chris lives at the bottom of one of the steepest hills in Perth, so I went straight up it, and I didn’t need to use all of the sprockets. The shorter top tube felt a bit weird, but once I went around the first corner I was sold. And when I came flying back down, the bike descended beautifully.
“I cannot think of anything I would do differently, other than maybe make the bike look a little more ordinary so I don’t feel so guilty getting it dirty! The paintwork and anodising is a showstopper — it always draws a crowd — but I don’t think it would ever be quite the same bike without it.”