To Wes Williams of Willits Brand Bicycles, the only option when it comes to mountain bike wheels is 29 inch.
By Adam Lipinski
To Wes Williams of Willits Brand Bicycles, the only option when it comes to mountain bike wheels is 29 inch. His big wheeled New Sheriff is ready to roll over anything in its way, to smooth things out in your town. In case you missed Karl’s 29 inch wheel interviews in DR #82, the gist of the wheels is as follows. Big wheels have been around since the get go of bicycles, they roll over obstacles with greater ease than small wheels, they produce higher gearing that translates to higher speeds, traction is greatly improved with twice the tire footprint on the ground and stability is increased with the larger wheelbase and greater rotational mass of the wheels.
Of all my rides, the first was the most influential, so let’s start there. It was meant to be a small group ride, but my fair weathered riding buddies must be afraid of rain. Oh well, I’ll enjoy the elements solo. It was a very fast 3 road miles to the trailhead. My chromoly framed New Sheriff puts the road in its place, quickly behind you. The last section of road is up a winding hill. I’ve heard some whimpering about the higher gearing and sluggish acceleration. Not a problem after getting off my personal 4 speed bike, the compact drivetrain of the Sheriff is geared low enough to get you to the top of any hill, no whining!
The first dirt is located just beyond a 20" log that rests on a 2 to 3 foot embankment, and today it’s wet. It is more intimidating than anything, and I’m not used to the bike. Let’s try it anyway. Right pedal stroke, front wheel up, front wheel on wet log, thrust forward into the bars, feel back wheel contact, throw weight way back, get back up over the saddle. Well that was, how would you say, smooth. The next mile or so is fast rolling trail through old farm fields. The bike has already got a huge smile on my face, now it is really shining. The trail feels faster and smoother than normal and I’m pushing the bike into the wet corners with no ill effects. The traction is as good or better than any fully knobbed tire I have used, and the WTB Nano Raptor has minimal tread. Fast tires that still get incredible traction, I like it. Next, the trail runs down a rutted, rocky, rooted downhill. Traction has been proven, so I unleash the Sheriff in hot pursuit for the bottom of the hill. I’m quickly approaching some S turns at the bottom of the hill, which is heavily rutted, getting deeper and I’m in the deepest rut, damn. My speed is high and the rut is not an inviting place to be, so I try to escape. Well, the big wheels can’t do everything, the front wheel didn’t clear the lip of the rut, and any tire would have washed out. That was my only crash on the Sheriff, a nice fast one I might add.
The next section that requires my close attention is a long, technical uphill. Acceleration is not a problem, but at that low speed, maneuverability is decreased. I still clear the hill but some of the obstacles were pretty tough. The rest of the ride goes well and is very enjoyable. All my excursions on the Sheriff followed the above characteristics, always fun with no overwhelming negatives. The worst attributes are the lack of low speed maneuverability, especially trying to grunt the bike over logs and such, and an occasional toe overlap with the front wheel in tight turns. Both are minor compared to the sweet and smooth ride quality presented to you by the New Sheriff.
Willits New Sheriff is available in Columbus Mega Nivachrome, frame (tested), 3.5- 5 lbs., $1,100, complete $3,000; and Titanium, frame, 2.5 – 3.5 lbs. $2,500, complete $5,000 plus. Complete bikes carry a White Brothers 72mm CX-1 total air suspension fork. The fork had a slight stick before each ride, but that’s the price you pay for good seals and bushings. The big 32mm stanchions are sealed with a quad lip/wet lube system that keeps the muck out and the air in. The fork tracked well and had not one bit of slop, which are results of the stout build and tight seals.
My green Sheriff had mostly LX, but you should expect a mix of XT and XTR. The big 36 hole T-138 rims were laced with double butted spokes and alloy nipples. The longer spokes offer a more supple ride and, unless you crush 26" wheels, should stay true. It seems some people feel the big wheels will not be strong enough for offroad use, but I had no problems with the perceived weak wheel situation. It also had the always appreciated Chris King headset and a Control Tech suspension seat post.
These bikes are built one at a time, so Wes will be configuring the bike to your body’s dimensions and riding style. My tester (which was not made for me) was a 17" frame with 71/70 degree head/seatube angles, 22.5" top tube, and the minimum 17.25" chainstays. Pick a color from 100 powder coat flavors. Expect 2-4 months for delivery.
Contact: Willits Brand, PO Box 1106, Crested Butte, CO 81224; 970.349.0130.