Tester: Stephen Haynes
Weight: 200 lbs.
A thought experiment, if you’ll indulge me. Try to picture the bike you learned to ride on. Think about the memory of that bike, just the bike; do you remember it? Chances are good that you do, and for most of you, that bike probably occupies a special space in your heart and memory.
Now, think about the actual act of learning to ride, I’m talking the moment you realised the hand of the adult guiding you was no longer there, or the synapsis in your brain, in blinding calculation far beyond the consciousness of your younger self, fused together to figure out that pedalling made it easier to stay upright. That! That right there, that feeling of heart-pounding freedom, of possibilities, of warmth and success, that’s what I want you to hold onto.
In many ways, I feel like riding mountain bikes, or bikes in general, is all an attempt to recapture that moment. Like a drug addict chasing a high, we chase the memory of that first encounter building new and more interesting memories in the service of trying to feel the way we did the day we first learned to ride.
The Oddity Cycles Punk Rock Jazz (PRJ) is a bike that has gotten me closer to that feeling than any other bike I’ve ever ridden as an adult. Taking styling cues from Klunker era cruisers, and wedding that to modern hardtail geometry, this titanium bike is as much a pleasure to look at as it is to ride.
Geometrically speaking, the PRJ is slack, has short chainstays and bars that rise and sweep, allowing the rider to, as Sean “Burnsey” Burns owner/operator of Oddity describes, “ride in the bike, not on the bike.” An apt description. I really don’t want to go too terribly far down the geometry rabbit hole as this is a custom bike and I’m possibly the least qualified person on staff to address such things. Suffice it to say the bike fit my 5-foot-11-inch frame well. The one and only modification we made was to cut down the 820 mm wide bars to a more respectable east-coast-deciduous-forest-friendly 760 mm.
The primary concern and onus for this bike was its inclusion in the 2017 spring press camp for Paul Components, so it comes as no surprise that the PRJ is outfitted with a smattering of Paul bits (in new anodized blue color). If you know Paul bits, then you know their utilitarian looks are outmatched only by their unwavering performance. If you don’t know Paul bits, then you’ve just been given a homework assignment. White Industries hubs, crankset and headset are the highlights from the rest of the build and are as admirably utilitarian in their performance as their Paul Components brethren.
The frame itself is, as I mentioned earlier, titanium, bent into an admittedly less “odd” configuration than most Oddity offerings, in keeping with the “modern clunker” feel. The PRJ also incorporates Horizontally Adjustable Chainstay System (HACS), licensed from Black Sheep Bikes, which are telescoping chainstays. The HACS allows ease of chain tension without an eccentric bottom bracket or adjustable dropout. “It’s a simple, clean system that works very well and has been proven over time,” says Burns. “In the case of this frame I added tube-splitters in the seatstays, so not only do you get the advantage of chain tensioning or changing chainstay length for performance reasons, but you get a removable rear triangle for travel,” allowing the bike to break down small enough to fit into an S&S travel case.
As with all bikes getting paint, Burns asks for input from the client and then interprets their vision in his own, artistic manner. In this case, Paul Price, of Paul Components, requested “‘red or white’ with a ‘Made in the USA’ theme,” recalls Burns. “Knowing I was building with titanium, which is typically not something I’d have painted, I went with a partial sparkle-red powder coat that transitions into polished titanium with some subtly etched stars.” It’s been a complete head-turner wherever I’ve taken it, that’s for certain.
Burned out working as a full-time architect by day, tattoo artist by night, Sean Burns had to escape the over-extended hours and exhaustion. “I like to create and wanted an outlet that could also put food on the table. I was racing and riding bikes a ton and enjoyed the process of building up bikes from the parts bin. It just made sense to me to take the leap,” remembers Burns.
The raven dropping bombs on the Oddity Cycles logo and headbadge alludes to Burns’ interest in exploring that which is contrary to the mainstream bike industry. Willing to push the limits of shape and rider fit, Burns wants to maximize performance for a particular client’s riding style, while keeping things artful. No two frames are alike, so there is no mold to be broken. It seems one never existed in the first place.
Trying to formulate an opinion on a one-off build that was meant for a rider other than me is an exercise in the weird for sure. It could have been disastrous, but it wasn’t. The PRJ is such a joy to ride that, if anything, I’m having a hard time being anything but gushing about it.
Many words have been thrown out to describe a feeling you get when you ride a bike that conforms to your idea of fun: flickable, playful, responsive, compliant, lively, etc. — all of which sort of circle the idea without touching upon it.
Wide bars, slack front end and a saddle placed well over the rear wheel make for an entertaining outing. The PRJ is so willing to loft the front end that wheelies and manuals come naturally, even for someone who can’t naturally do them (like me). It’s also odd (pardon the pun) that, for someone so accustomed to running a dropper post, I’m totally not bothered by a traditional seatpost employed here. At no point did it feel like a rudder, or gropey fist, even when launching it up and over log piles or dropping into steep descents.
Originally envisioned as a singlespeed, the PRJ was sent to us as 1 x 11 using a SRAM GX cassette, which may be the one and only crack in its armor. Being a slack, lightweight bike with short chainstays makes for a front wheel that will loft and wander when sitting through climbs. Generally, I either dealt with the wandering wheel, or chucked it into a lower gear and went for it, cleaning things I’ve rarely, if ever, cleaned as a result.
The Velocity Double Wide rims trimmed with WTB Ranger 29 x 3.0 tires were maybe the least sexy bits on the bike. The tires sweated out pressure profusely, but aside from having to top them off with a little more frequency, they, and the wheels on the whole, performed as needed.
I’m sad to see this bike go. It has shown me what a bike can be when it fully aligns with how I like to ride, which, despite being built for someone else, is what a custom bike should do, isn’t it? If you have the cash and have ever wondered whether a custom-built bike is worth the time and investment, I’m here to tell you yes. Yes, it is. And though the price may seem steep, how much would you pay to come close to recapturing a feeling from your childhood?
In the bike, not on the bike.
Wheelies are cool.
Non-suspension corrected build.
Built to crush rock gardens and technical terrain.
Fun is the name of the game.
Price: frame, fork, bar: $4,390. As built: more than that.