Bikes of the Bunch: Naked Bicycles Gravel+ titanium

A CT regular returns with a fresh custom titanium gravel bike built for going further.

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In this Bikes of the Bunch, Canadian-based VeloClub member Neil Winkelmann shares his wonderfully well-thought-out and captured Naked Bicycles adventure-style gravel titanium bike. It’s a bike jam-packed with design decisions that are on the leading edge of where the category is headed.


This is not my first Bikes of the Bunch submission. Nearly five years ago, CyclingTips was kind enough to publish a piece on my custom titanium Naked X. It’s been a great bike and has done everything I asked of it, including two finishes in the race now known as Unbound, some loaded bikepacking, and countless commuting miles on it in the often grim and wet Vancouver winters.

So why a new gravel and adventure bike? Well, I was looking for something a bit more capable. Something that would let me run bigger tyres (50 mm was the minimum I was after), with possibly more relaxed/stable handling, and that would have lower gearing. I wanted something that would work well for long-distance loaded bikepacking across difficult terrain. And also, who really needs rational justification to get a new bike?

The decision to go back to Sam Whittingham and his “team” at Naked Bicycles really was an easy one. He’s a great guy, continues to turn out exquisite work, and the local west coast connection remains a draw for me. Naked Bicycles remains an authentic and tiny three-person business based in a cabin in the woods on beautiful Quadra Island. It’s two ferry rides and a day’s riding from my place. I never seriously considered any alternative makers.

Naked.

I didn’t travel up to Sam’s place for a fitting this time, and the dimensions of the bike were largely based on the measurements from the previous bike. The only real change in terms of rider fit was that we dropped the bars a little bit. The new bike has a longer front and shorter stem that add up to a similar position in terms of reach to the bars. The bike fits wonderfully and feels great, although I’m yet to put any really long rides on it. 

The only wheel size I considered was 700C. It is Sam’s view the 650B wheel size is only really a good solution in the case of shorter riders, who can use it for better fit and handling. He thinks if you can fit 700C, they just roll better. For taller riders, getting more tyre clearance for fatter tyres is best achieved in ways other than shrinking the wheel diameter.

The frame design features a gently sloping and gently curved top tube, and full rack and fender mounts. To my eye, it looks good, but that’s just subjective.

I left the tube specifications entirely up to Sam (because I would have no clue what I was talking about). Sam took the tubing diameters up a bit from the previous bike: 45 mm from 41 mm on the down tube and 35 mm from 31 mm on the seat tube, all done for the expected tougher usage. The polished logo is carried over from the previous bike and is an image of my wife’s tattoo, which in turn is based on a photo of one of our whippets, Zivah.

For Zivah.

Picking components 

There was quite a bit of discussion about drivetrain and gearing; this was influenced by the desire for a low bottom gear and the need to accommodate the 50mm+ tyres. The chosen option to get the clearance was to go with mountain bike “Boost” spacing for the hub (148 x 12 mm) and bottom bracket. After a few options were kicked around, we went with what is basically a mountain bike rear-half in terms of spacing and drivetrain. This is my first bike without a front derailleur since I was 10. 

Shimano’s newer mechanical road shifters won’t shift their mountain bike rear mechs, so it meant going with Di2. No big sacrifice. In fact, the smaller lever bodies of the Di2 shifters are to my liking. So it’s a hybrid setup of GRX levers and brakes, and an XTR rear derailleur to get a larger gearing range.

When run as a 1x drivetrain, the XTR Di2 rear derailleurs pairs wonderfully with GRX shifters.

The light, strong, stiff, shiny and (very) pricey Cane Creek eeWings crankset was an extravagance for sure. I have no justification for that decision, but I have no regrets. It’s actually nice to have a little bling on a bike that is otherwise without any cosmetic embellishments (except the whippet).

The wheels were Sam’s recommendation for a rugged set of no-nonsense reliable wheels. Chris King hubs, because Chris King hubs, and the HED Belgium Plus rims offer a width to suit the tyres. They’re currently wearing Terravail Sparwood 2.2 tyres, and they seem great, but it’s also fun to consider the wide range of options there for the future.

Chris King offers a huge number of colour options. I kept things simple on this build.

The Enve adventure fork, with rack-mounting eyelets, matches the anticipated functionality of the bike pretty well. I think it is quite elegant for such a chunky fork. I picked up a couple of King Ti fork “Manything” cage/frames and Voile straps to be pressed into service for loaded bikepacking.

The seat post is 30.9 mm and can be swapped out for a dropper, and the frame is set to run the dropper control cable if required. No plans for that right now, but who knows?

Bars are Enve carbon gravel bars with quite a lot of “splay” [flare – ed.] They are the first splayed bars I’ve ridden, but I quite like them so far. The drop is shallow, and that works well with the bike. A Chris King headset, three King Ti cages, XTR pedals, and my long-time “standard” – a Selle Italia SLR saddle – round out the build.

Bringing it all together

Supply chain issues were affecting all things bicycle-related during the period of my build, but the bike was ultimately delivered ahead of my original expectations. Sam was a little apologetic as he had hoped to beat his forecast schedule by even more, but simply getting parts had proven to be a frustration. As always, great communication and the whole experience was a joy.

The bike rides and handles beautifully. The steering is very quiet and controlled as would be expected from the geometry. It’s a bike that inspires confidence that it won’t do anything unpredictable, which is exactly what I was looking for. The best way I can describe it is that it requires “instruction” to get it to turn, but given that instruction, it is still very responsive. Perfect. Bikes like this shouldn’t handle like a (road) race bike. 

There’s not a thing about the bike I don’t love. I was intrigued to see the Moots Routt ESC that was featured on CyclingTips a little while back. It’s a similar bike in terms of targeted use, but there really isn’t one thing about the Moots I’d choose over mine (except perhaps those sweet Enve wheels).

I’m moving into retirement this year and have some big plans for the bike. It’s early days yet, but you can be assured it will put in some big miles in interesting places over the next few years and beyond.

The build

  • Frame: Naked Bicycles Gravel+ titanium, custom 
  • Fork: Enve Adventure Carbon
  • Headset: Chris King i7
  • Rims: HED Belgium +
  • Hubs: Chris King Boost 
  • Spokes: Sapim CX-Ray bladed
  • Shifters: Shimano GRX Di2 
  • Crankset: Cane Creek eeWings (175 mm length), Wolf Tooth 38T Camo chainring 
  • Bottom bracket: Cane Creek T47, External 
  • Rear derailleur: Shimano XTR Di2 
  • Cassette: Shimano XT, 11-46T, 11-speed
  • Chain: Shimano HG-901
  • Brakes: Shimano GRX, 160 mm rotors
  • Tyres: Terravail Sparwood 29×2.2”
  • Handlebar: Enve Gravel 
  • Stem: Easton EA90, 70 mm 
  • Seatpost: Enve, 30.9 mm 
  • Seat clamp: Wolf Tooth
  • Cages: King Ti
  • Bar tape: PRO
  • Saddle: Selle Italia SLR Kit Carbonio
  • Pedals: Shimano XTR 
  • Extras: Full fender and rack mounts. Polished whippet logo.
  • Weight: 9.9 kg (22 lbs) with pedals and the three cages fitted.

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