We already knew that the Soma Wolverine was a versatile bike — it can take any gearing, chain or belt drive, wide 700c tyres with fenders and almost any combination of racks and bags — but in this build we discovered it can be set up as a more rugged off–road tourer visually reminiscent of early mountain bikes. We squeezed in 2.1″ tyres on 650b rims, fit the brand new through–axle fork, set it up with a swept flat bar and added a bit of character with pink anodised hubs, seat clamp and headset.
My partner Sally is a regular commuter and enjoys touring however, she never really took a shine to the rough and tumble world of mountain biking. With the increasing number of off–road touring routes popping up around the country I made the decision to strip her hardtail mountain bike and build the parts into something more suitable for off–road touring. For off–road touring you need decent tyre volume, comfortable geometry and the ability to mount racks.
We have a pretty extensive array of bikes in store that would have been appropriate for the build, each only shades different to those next to it. My requirements were fairly broad. They were for a minimum 2″ tyre, steel frame with rack mounts, rigid steel fork, and disc brake mounts. Initially, this meant choosing between Surly’s Troll and Ogre, VO’s Piolet, Soma’s Juice, and the Hunt bikepacking frame and fork.
2.1″ tyres in the Soma Wolverine
To fit 2.1″ (53mm) tyres into the Wolverine it required using a smaller (650b) wheel. We’ve been converting 700c bikes to 650b since Tristram came on board back in the very early days of Commuter Cycles. While everyone else was doing fixie conversions, Tris was fitting 32mm wide tyres on 650b wheels to old road bikes. These days, bikes with bigger tyre clearances are becoming more common, and disc brakes makes the process much easier. We have mates, staff and mechanics we follow on social media converting bikes like the Soma Wolverine to 650b wheels to fit 2.1″ (53mm) tyres.
Ideally, you want a good 5+mm of clearance between the tyre and the frame. I’ve seen 2.1″ tyres squeezed into a Wolverine on 700c rims but I’d consider it an unsafe–in–mud fit and it requires sliding the dropouts all the way backwards. The resulting longer chainstays slow the bike’s handling and the increase in height from the taller tyres makes it less stable. By downsizing the wheels to 650b (584mm ERD) and increasing the tyre size to 2.1″ (53mm) you end up with about the same outside diameter as with the 700c (622mm ERD) x 32mm tyre that the Wolverine’s geometry was originally designed for, This is a touch lower than a Wolverine with 42mm Soma Cazadero tyres but for touring a slightly lower bb height is fine. After double–checking the clearances in the Wolverine with a pair of 650b x 2.1″ tyres it was added to the list of candidates.
After a test ride session and weighing up the pros and cons of each of the different options we went with the Wolverine. My enthusiasm for trying something a little different aside, the Wolverine’s handling felt closest to Sally’s other bikes, the relatively short top tube (compared to bikes designed for flat bars) suited Sally nicely and in her opinion it was the best looking of the candidates I put before her. This meant I would have to rebuild the pink Hope hubs onto 650b (27.5″) rims and buy some new tyres, but otherwise most of the parts would easily come across from the hardtail mountain bike.
Fitting a flat–bar Wolverine to Sally
To get the right reach Sally usually rides bikes with a 560mm effective top tube with a short reach bar and 90mm stem. This usually puts her on a 54cm frame. Because I knew we would set this bike up with a flat handlebar I knew I’d have to size her up to a 56cm frame (with a 575mm ETT) to stretch her out far enough. The difference in reach between a drop bar and a flat bar set up is hard to quantify because of the number of factors involved. Ignoring stem length for a second the hand position on a drop bar set up initially appears to be a good 100-150mm longer due to the reach on the bars and the brake hoods. However, it’s not quite so simple when you start to account for the difference in width and the rotation of your wrists. I find a good rule of thumb is to allow about 40-50mm of difference in top tube and stem length between a drop bar and a flat bar set up. For example, my drop bar Double Cross has a 585mm top tube with a 90mm stem for a total of 675mm. My XC mountain bike has a 630mm top tube with a 100mm stem for a total of 730mm. The difference is 55mm. For Sally, the extra 15mm in top tube length on the 56cm Wolverine would get her part of the way there and I decided to make up most of the difference with a 110mm stem for a total of 35mm longer than her drop bar set up. Given that this bike is an off-road tourer rather than an XC race machine, I was happy not to stretch her right out.
Putting it together
As mentioned, most of the parts came from Sally’s mountain bike. This meant a reliable Deore 2×10 groupset and hydraulic brakes, an old pair of Truvativ Stylo cranks and a pair of pink Hope hubs. First up, I rebuilt the Hope hubs onto Stans Crest 650b rims using DT Competition spokes. I then ordered some of the new Vittoria Mezcal tyres in 650b (27.5″ for Americans) x 2.1″ (53mm, geez it’d be nice to agree upon metric standards one day…). I’ll report back on these but they are a big improvement on the old version. The Mezcal used to be a super–fast XC tyre with a very shallow tread. Vittoria have deepened the tread but kept the pattern and with the addition of Graphene they claim to be faster, grippier and longer–wearing. They are a perfect fit on the Wolverine and went up tubeless on the Stans rims very easily.
With the flashy pink hubs able to be reused we decided to splash out a little on a matching pink Chris King headset and Salsa seat clamp. I have owned several Chris King headsets and am a big fan. I only have one left due to changing headtube standards but expect to own it forever. The swept bars were traded with another mechanic and the post, stem and Ergon grips came from my small stash of parts at home. The saddle is a placeholder until Sally weighs up whether to go leather again or synthetic.
The new Unicrown fork deserves it’s own paragraph here. It is brand new from Soma and has been designed as an option for the Wolverine alongside the existing curved–blade, QR, lugged fork. The existing lugged fork is great. It has a nice bit of flex and all of the attachment points you could want. This fork is straight-bladed, fits a 100x15mm axle, has a unicrown design and loses the mini-rack mounts of the standard fork. Based on its design and construction it is a lot stiffer than the standard fork. This could be a blessing or a curse depending on how it’s being used. Where the standard fork is smooth and does its bit to soak up rough roads, this fork transfers it all straight to your arms. Turn the bars though, and it whips into corners without a second thought. As I was pairing it up with flat bars and big volume tyres for predominantly off-road use there was no question that this was the fork. If I was building it up with drop bars for long distances on smooth–ish roads I would probably have opted for the standard fork. While the tyre clearance is ideal with the 650b x 2.1″ Mezcals, the lack of mini rack mounts was less than ideal as soon as I decided to fit a mini rack and Wald basket. Fortunately the standard stays with a Nitto M-18 just makes the distance from the low–rider mounts.
And now for an adventure
Unfortunately, while putting the finishing touches on Sally’s Wolverine, she broke a bone and is still recovering. This has delayed any adventures that we might have squeezed in before the weather has switched over to Melbourne winter. She’s managed a small ride so far and came back with a big smile on her face. Once she’s recovered fully, we’ll be strapping on a frame and saddle bag, filling that basket and heading out looking for dirt roads amongst the trees and away from the traffic.