Zen Fabrication introduces new line of mountain, road and cyclocross bikes

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If you buy an American-made steel or aluminum frame and it isn’t from a small, boutique brand, there’s a good chance it was made in Portland, Oregon, by Zen Fabrication. Born from the ashes of Ellsworth’s U.S. manufacturing business and the withdrawal of the Sapa framebuilding enterprise, Zen has been building frames for other bike brands since opening in 2011.

Now the brand is branching out with its own line of bikes, though it doesn’t expect any of them to directly compete with those of its clients, said owner David Woronets. To start there are five models aimed just outside the mainstream products offered by other brands, including road, mountain and cyclocross. The bikes can be ordered directly from Zen Fabrication, though dealers are being invited to carry the bikes in their shops with low minimum orders.

Because its clients are often confidential, Zen Fabrication keeps its location a loosely guarded secret, but I was invited over to the Portland factory for a look at the new bikes in person:


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Trail

The Zen Trail is a steel 29er hardtail built for, you guessed it, trail riding. The geometry is thoroughly modern with the classic feel of a steel hardtail. Woronets said he was inspired by the burly hardtails of other brands, but felt a 140 mm fork was too much, so the Trail is optimized for a 120 mm fork. Details include a 44 mm head tube and replaceable dropouts of Zen Fabrication’s own design, so it can accommodate a 142×12 thru axle or standard quick release. You’ll also find a threaded bottom bracket and “stealth” dropper post routing in the 30.9 seat tube.

There are four sizes available from 15-inch to 21-inch, each with 16.9-inch chainstays and a head angle that varies from 68 to 69 degrees depending on frame size. MSRP is $1,299.

Trail gallery

Click on the magnifying glass to see full-size photos.


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EXP

Designed for expedition touring and beyond, the EXP is an aluminum frame that is designed to fit not only 29-inch wheels but 27.5+ as well, up to a 3.25-inch tire. To fit the wide rubber and still be able to use a double crankset the bottom bracket is an 83mm shell commonly used on downhill bikes while the rear dropouts are 157 mm.

Aluminum was chosen because it dropped a full pound off the frame weight compared to steel, Woronets said, and is much more corrosion resistant. The frame was also designed with frame bags in mind, and a collaboration with J-Paks of Colorado resulted in extra bottle bosses that are used to affix the bags without Velcro straps and wide, flat tube shapes that help give the bag width.

Best of all, if you’re more inclined to shred than camp, the EXP nearly matches the geometry of the Trail hardtail so you can build up a rowdy 27.5+ trail bike. The EXP is available in four sizes from 15-inch to 21-inch and the MSRP is $1,250.

EXP gallery

Click on the magnifying glass to see full-size photos.


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AR45

With the explosion of interest in gravel riding, racing, adventure touring, or really any kind of ride that pushes the boundary between “road” and “off-road”, the AR45 should be a popular option. Built from oversized True Temper steel, it can accommodate tires up to 700x45c. Meant to go beyond sunny day spins, it is also equipped with a full set of rack and fender mounts, as well as a third bottle cage mount below the down tube. The fork pictured is a carbon model chosen for its extra tire clearance plus rack and fender mounts. The frame was designed such that a standard cyclocross fork will also work with an external headset cup making up for the smaller axle-to-crown distance.

The AR45 also uses the modular dropouts, so thru-axles and quick release wheels will work, and all the cables are designed for full-length housings to keep out the muck. It will be available in six sizes from 48 mm to 62 mm and the MSRP is $1,399 with the carbon fork pictured.

AR45 gallery

Click on the magnifying glass to see full-size photos.


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Cross

Unlike the versatile AR45 frame, the Cross frame is an all-out race bike, tipping the scales at just 1,300 grams. It starts with 6061 aluminum tubes but uses the same modular dropouts for any kind of wheels. The finish is a textured powdercoat that Zen Fabrication says saves weight and is more durable than paint. Unlike the AR45 it uses a PF30 bottom bracket shell for wider crankset compatibility and even singlespeed setups.

The Cross frame is available in six sizes from 48 mm to 62 mm and the MSRP is $1,299.

Cross gallery

Click on the magnifying glass to see full-size photos.


Road

Finally, the road bike might be built from classic Columbus steel, but modern touches like a PF30 bottom bracket shell, electronic wiring compatibility and disc brakes make it much more modern. Not a dedicated race bike per say, it has a taller head tube than you might find on many carbon bikes, and can fit a 28c tire too.

Steel is real, but it doesn’t have to be heavy—the frame weighs in at 1,700 grams (56 cm) and the bike pictured is only 19 pounds. It too is available in six sizes from 49 cm to 61 cm and the MSRP is $1,399.

 

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