By Shannon Mominee
Bronto is located in Springfield, OR, and their mission is “To build some of the best riding and best looking handmade steel mountain bikes,” says Todd “Jedi Master Welder” Gardner. Gardner has 11 years of building experience. He got his start at Burley, where he built over 1,000 steel and aluminum frames. These days, Todd builds two frames per week in five stock sizes. David Alvarez, Gardner’s business partner, handles sales and marketing.
Together they produce four frame models. Willy, my test bike, is their 29er singlespeed. There is also the Reverend, a geared 29er; Bon, a 26” hardtail; and Paycheck, a 26” long- travel hardtail. Bronto will also do custom geometry, pricing will vary.
The standard $1,700 Willy has a True Temper OX Platinum main triangle with straight tubes chosen for each size. Bronto custom bends thin-walled, 4130 chromoly seat and chainstays in house using their own tooling, and all frames are TIG welded.
My tester was built with a few available upgrades. Bronto used a hydraulic bending machine to bend the 4130 chromoly top down, and seat tubes. The top tube is bent for additional standover, the down tube for fork crown clearance, and the seat tube to reduce the chainstay length. For added strength and stiffness, Todd fabricates sleeves and wraps them around the down tube and seat tube. The sleeves act as lugs and are stronger than a gusset. I think they also give Willy an original look.
Bronto designed the sliding dropouts but are still in the development stages. Mine don’t have threaded adjusters, but 2012 models will. A sliding dropout with a derailleur hanger is also in the works. Bronto does offer an AC-DC build that includes cable stops and a geared and singlespeed dropout. With Willy’s dropouts slid all the way forward it’s possible to have short, 428mm chainstays. Mine are set in the middle for average 438mm chainstays that accommodate the big 29”x2.35” Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires. Mud clearance could become an issue for some riders, but I didn’t have any problems. Through the test the sliders only needed to be adjusted once.
Bronto wanted to give riders the option to ride rigid forks and were determined to build a fork that looked good and handled well. So the $300 Udo was born, made from straight-bladed chromoly tubes with hooded dropouts that wrap nicely around the quick release. The segmented fork crown and sleeves add stiffness and reduce brake flex. The Willy is suspension corrected for a 80mm travel fork, but Bronto also makes 100mm, and 120mm corrected forks. I can vouch for its stiffness, plus I like the rugged appearance and trail feedback.
Put it all together and my Willy has a 20.5-inch frame with a 617mm top tube, aggressive 71.5-degree head and 74-degree seat tube angles, a 1-1/8-inch head tube, and 305mm bottom bracket height. It has international standard rear disc brake mounts and 135mm rear hub spacing. The matte “Bronto Brown” paint and subtle decals add to Willy’s appeal. Overall, the bike looks hot as hell.
My bike included Hive’s Chub front and rear hubs laced with 32 bladed spokes to Stan’s ZTR Flow rims with standard quick releases, E. Thirteen singlespeed crankset geared 33×21 for the hilly terrain, Hope Tech X2 disc brakes, and Cromag Fubar handbar and saddle.
Willy is a rigid bike. No doubt about that. I felt roughed up the first few rides, until I remembered to use my knees and elbows as shocks and pick cleaner lines. The frame looks and feels solid with little flex, which is great for climbing. Its torsional stiffness helped when standing and mashing. The curved seat tube tucked the wheel underneath me for excellent traction.
Rolling with gravity, the steel provided awesome trail feedback, and once I found a suitable air pressure for the tires, the Willy came to life and lost most of the jarring feeling. Instead of being ping-ponged, there was absorption that led to precise steering. The bike handles quick, great for dodging large rocks and attacking the trail. The 1104mm wheelbase allowed me to easily maneuver up and over built up features and swing the bike back into a straight line after cornering. On fast downhills Willy felt stable and tracked well.
The 305mm bottom bracket is approximately 7mm lower than my personal bike, but I had no trouble clipping pedals on rocks or logs. I liked the feeling of sitting lower between the wheels and keeping my center of gravity closer to the ground. Carving felt more natural without the top topsy-turvy feeling I often experience with my bike.
There were a few times I wished for a suspension fork, but with the Udo, I could feel what I was rolling over and didn’t have to consider fork dive in rock gardens or preloading before jumping. I always knew where the bike was going to go when I moved the bars, and after a couple rides my arms lost the vibrating sensation that came with a few hours of saddle time.
I like how simple Willy is and the subtle ride that the steel frame, supported by the bent seat and chain stays, gives. The bike is solid and the head tube junction and top and down tubes are flex-free which allowed me to remain confident when gaining speed and making rapid steering adjustments.
My complaints are minor. Some people may like more than one bottle cage mount, and I would have liked a jet booster for spinning on the street to the trailhead…
Bronto’s Willy would be a good choice for the singlespeeder looking for a small brand frame with big time class. The Willy could find its place on any mountain bike trail and be equally comfortable participat- ing in races, albeit a little on the heavy side for a rigid singlespeed. It’s an expensive frame and not a bike for the masses. If every bike looked and rode this nice and was priced low, everyone would have one.
But it’s not. The curved lines, matching fork, and the simplicity of a singlespeed, made me excited to ride each time I threw a leg over it. The Willy has a style all its own and a ride quality like none other. It took me a few rides to get comfortable, but was worth the time and I’ll be sad when I have to return it.
Price: $1,950 (frame), $300 (fork), $4,000 (complete)
Sizes available: 16, 17.5, 19, 20.5 (tested), and 22”
Country of origin: USA
You can read Shannon’s first impressions of the Willy here.