Crust Bikes custom frame
Price: $1,475 for frame, estimate $4,000 complete
Tester: Carolyne Whelan
Weight: 143 lbs.
Height: 5’ 5.5”
Top Tube: 22.8”
Head Tube: 63°
Seat Tube: 74°
BB Drop: 1.8”
Weight: 28.1 lbs. without pedals, specs based on size tested
It’s a charmed life when bikes just fall in your lap. Once, I adopted a Wojcik frame that had been abandoned in a storage unit. This spring, Drew Guldalian lent me his personal Engin titanium hardtail to shred his local Philly trails for an afternoon. Now, I have Matt Whitehead of Crust Bikes’s personal whip. It’s a hard bike to review, because it’s meant for someone else’s body, taste, and riding style, but it was fun to ride and based on a production model bike. The only difference between the Whitehead custom frame and the Crust Shred Eagle is the head tube angle, raked out to 64° like some wild hardtail downhill bike.
Whitehead is a plumber by trade, and “knows his limits,” as he says with cheery self-awareness. That’s why he only designs his bikes and doesn’t build them. While the more popular touring models are made in Taiwan, Crust’s custom designs and the Shred Eagle production mountain bike are fabricated by a friend in Los Angeles, California.
This is clearly a mechanic’s bike. All the components are pretty dialed, like the SRAM XX1 Eagle group and Shimano Deore XT brakes, but the bike, when I picked it up at the Philly Bike Expo, still had some mud encrusted (hah, get it?) from the last muddy shred session. There are also some wingnutty tweaks, such as a Campagnolo downtube friction shifter used as a dropper post lever. “That’s kind of a pain,” Whitehead said as he passed the bike over to me and I thumbed the lever. “You can just replace that if you want, I don’t care.” But I wanted to test the bike as it was meant to be ridden, quirks and all. Plus, it’s Campy so it looks very cool, if mad scientist-y.
I definitely enjoyed how tight the geometry of this bike felt, considering its slack. It’s compact enough to still be fun at the local indoor bike park, and I caught a few blissful seconds of air over the pump sections of my favorite local trail.
I think this bike, and the production line Shred Eagle off which this prototype is based, is part of an undercurrent of designs going back to smaller wheel sizes with larger tires, and this stocky reviewer is stoked. This bike is designed for a 120 mm fork and 26×3.0+ tires, which I’m running, but can also be built up with a 140 mm fork with 27.5×2.8 tires for additional slack and a slightly higher bottom bracket, respectively.
The head tube angle, an intense 64°, is the only divergence in design from the Shred Eagle (which comes standard with a 67° head tube angle). It’s interesting that Whitehead went for a slack 64° head tube angle coming from a BMX background, where head tubes are usually a pretty stiff 73°-76°. He said he wanted something raked out for going downhill, and this bike certainly goes. He wasn’t sure if he would like it, so he just made this one prototype to test out. He does like it, it turns out, but isn’t going to make this design a regular production model. I have a feeling more bikes will be going in this direction, but being a one-person operation Whitehead doesn’t have the budget to take those design risks.
29ers sometimes feel like a boat around me as I struggle to make it through tight corners. These smaller wheels were a refreshing change, making cornering easier while still dutifully climbing up punchy ascents. The tires—Surly Dirt Wizard 3.0 front and WTB Ranger 2.8 rear—helped the bike gobble up most any gnarly trail feature.
The seasons jumped from summer to winter like someone had flipped a switch, so I got to check out this bike in dry, wet, frozen and indoor conditions. In each situation, this bike did me proud. I have a few mental blocks on certain local trail sections but decided to give it the ‘ole college try on the Crust custom, and I felt much more confident than I had in the past. I cleared everything with no problem, including the wet bridge that feeds into a muddy, washed out berm and a sketchy log pile at the bottom of a sneak descent that always catches me off guard.
This steel bike isn’t the lightest, and the slack geometry doesn’t make it the best climbing bike or the fastest bike in the woods. If you’re more interested in being a “trail ninja” who wins every group ride, then you might not get the most enjoyment out of this bike. However, if you live by the Dirt Rag motto of “Start slow and taper off” then you will find a lot to love in this bike.
As it’s a custom model, you’ll have to reach out to Matt to see about getting yourself one or check out the Shred Eagle for the more standard design options.