Spot Brand Honey Badger: Demo Day Ride- by Grannygear with Jeff J.
We have been on two Gates Carbon Drive single speed hard tails from the fine folks at Spot Brand Bikes. First there was the OX Platinum version ( steel Rocker final review) then there was the Ti Rocker (Ti Rocker wrap-up ). Both of them had the latest version of the Gates Carbon Drive CenterTrak system that has shown itself to be pretty well dialed and reliable now after much teething issues with earlier versions. Both had the now standard Spot Brand geometry which is a bit unique, although there are others building bikes like this now as well. The slackish HT angle of 69.5° with a 100mm fork is a bit out of the box and it intrigued me as I have always been a fan of a slightly slack 29″er…maybe in the 70-70.5 HT angle range. More friendly, I think.
I rode both bikes and really came to enjoy the smooth ride and overall vibe of the steel Rocker very much. I would have taken that home with me and been pretty happy. It had the qualities I associate with a fine steel bike…good ride, snappy pedaling, and a classic look, but, if you read my final thoughts on the testing, you will note that I also detected a bit of chassis twist when ridden hard or when the bike was pedaled with a high load on the bars. Still, I found it a fun bike that was surprisingly easy to ride fast on rough trails, hard tail and all. That 69.5° HT angle was very playful and I liked it more and more as I rode it.
Next was the Ti Rocker and that one defied me to put a finger on it. I fought with the steering in slow speeds when climbing while out of the saddle and I never came to love it all around, although it was buttery smooth and, yet again, fast on rough trails. As well, it was a bit Ti-like in that there was some soft feel to the chassis which tended to twist and wind up when the bike was under load. This one I would have passed on for my own use.
So it was a tied ball game…1 to 1. The steel rocker was a winner, the Ti one, meh. But I was intrigued by the results. I really thought that there was something to this laid back approach to head tube angle, even though it was not tied to a very short chain stay length (Spot states a typical 17.6″ length as shipped pre-built). So although this was not aiming at the AM hard tail crowd that crave an under 17″ chain stay length and a 120mm+ fork, it still was not a ‘normal’ geo. So why did I fight with one bike and embrace the other? I was conflicted.
Then we saw the new steel bike, the Honey Badger. Sporting a “SpotOn” custom tube set spec’d from a Japanese supplier by Wayne Lumpkin of Spot Brand and featuring a nice CNC’d, tapered steerer ready head tube that was NOT a big old 44mm warty looking thing, a crenelated (look it up) down tube in lieu of a welded gusset, and Animal Leg bent seat stays…well, it was unique. There were claims of increased compliance in the rear section of the bike over the previous steel Rocker bike (with Columbus tubing) and a desire to stiffen up the front triangle for better steering response. When we heard that the demo van was making its way across the So Cal area, we arranged to get out on our local trails on a Honey Badger or two to see what this bike was all about. I also wanted a third sampling of that geometry that had left me confused.
You know when the personal single speed of the demo truck driver has Flow rims, Grid casing 2.2 Specialized Purgs, a dropper post, and a riser bar…well it tells you how the Spot employees like to ride these things. That pic above with the hat, the map and the spare Gates belt….ah the life of the demo truck driver. What more do we need but a Starbucks? Pedaling out to the trails with Drew from Spot Brand bikes, I asked him why they build these the way they do and what they were looking to do with the Honey Badger as a whole. He said that they tend to ride their bikes pretty hard and aggressively on some very rough trails. The Front Range of Colorado is a vertical and rocky environment and over time they came to the slacker head tube angle as a way to keep things ‘fun’ when things got a bit blurry-fast. They also felt like the previous steel Rockers, while comparable to a typical high end steel bike in performance, were still a bit flexy laterally when pushed hard. With the Honey Badger they wanted to firm up the main triangle so that it held up better to fast turns and high G forces as well as when under heavy single speed pedaling loads. However, they say that they designed increased compliance into the rear section of the Honey Badger (including the cut out seat tube section) to keep things riding smoothly.
The first lap was on a single speed with an equivalent to 32/20 gearing, a budget model Manitou fork, Sun Ringle wheels, etc…pretty much the standard Spot package which retails for $2599.00. Frame only is $899.00. I had no chance to weigh it or measure things, but the XL fit me well and although it was no featherweight, it was no pig either. We hit a combo of smooth fire road, closed in and winding trails, and more open and semi rocky creek bed single track. I also rode a geared version and Jeff J took a geared version out as well. The XL does something kinda cool in that the stand over is the same as the LG size, they just added that tube gusset and extended the seat tube. Nice for my anatomy in many ways. The battleship grey/white/black motif is subtle and nice on the eyes, but it might be nice to have one other color choice like gloss black, etc.
- I do not know why the Ti bike vexed me so other than perhaps sizing issues, but the XL Honey Badger won me over to the dark side of slacker head tube angles. Not that 69.5° is extreme, but other than a feeling that the bike was getting kinda long in wheelbase (that front tire is out there a bit), I had no qualms about it. I can see why, depending on where you ride and how you ride, that this approach to geometry is hugely appropriate, even if you are not dropping off logs, etc. Of course there were times it was not really a benefit, but there were few times that it was a hindrance, if any.
- It encourages a playful attitude on trail. Cruising is easy and when you want to ratchet it up a notch towards faster speeds, the Honey Badger was willing to be tossed around a bit. Drifting the back end into a tight corner was a snap. Boost that rock, square off that corner. Trail bike.
- Higher G-force dips and mid-turn, hard directional changes showed a very stout main frame. This carried over into hard pedaling efforts as an single speed. No twist up that I could see. The Manitou fork, although not the top end model, is a stiff beasty and held the lines nicely. It also has very good damping motion as is typical for those guys work.
- The ride was firm for steel. Hard to have it all, so when you make a bike stiffer it also is less comfy more often as not. I think the Honey Badger traded away some compliance for steering precision along the way. However, this is likely a worthwhile tradeoff considering the intended use. The back end did feel like it was giving me a bit of grace though and I could sense some ‘spring’ going on there when I pushed it hard enough, like loading it up in a sharp corner and pedaling out while seated. As well, the stocker seat post was pretty non-compliant. It was a 27.2mm diameter but it felt pretty burly. Carbon would do wonders here. For those looking for the magic carpet ride of steel, this may not be it.
- The geared version allowed me to ride it a bit differently in that I could stay seated and climb steep grades as well as put out hard efforts from the saddle. I never detected any wind up in the rear triangle when seated and pedaling hard.
- There is a ton of tire clearance with the gear/belt selection I had and the resulting chain stay length. The ‘Kobe’ sliders had room to come forward a bit, but as it was, you could have put a big tire in there. I would ride this bike with meaty rubber…Butchers, Purgs, Hans Dampfs, etc. It deserves them. Wide rims too. Maybe a dropper post. Just like Drew has on his bike. Then I would go trail riding.
I took the new Spot Honey Badger for a spin recently and thought I would share my impressions. It took just a few minutes to get the bike set up for me by tucking the rear wheel in as far as we could with the adjustable dropouts (and adding a little air to the tires and fork and adjusting the saddle height), before I was off on our local lollipop loop. The look of the paint job seemed appropriate for a bike called the Honey Badger. With the somewhat utilitarian/industrial looking finish, it looks like it’s ready for a day’s work.
The Honey Badger pedaled nicely and didn’t get much bounce until my cadence was so fast that I was unable maintain a pedal stroke that was anywhere close to circular. Between the steel frame and the Manitou Tower Comp, the Honey Badger smoothed out the trail chatter better than your garden variety aluminum hard tail, which was not unexpected given the steel frame. The build was not particularly lightweight, but I was not alone in noticing that the Honey Badger climbed nicely, a bit better than expected to be honest.
On the way down, the Honey Badger was a confident descender. It didn’t quite steer as sharply as some hard tails with steeper XC geometry, but the steering was not slow by any means. I hit a couple of fun little booster bumps too and the Honey Badger was poised and predictable. All in all, a smooth riding hard tail that is built to tangle with whatever comes it’s way and hardly break a sweat in the process.