Bike Test: Breadwinner Bad Otis

A work-of-art hardtail, dual-tested by Vernon Felton & Ryan Palmer

Is this a bike for everyone? Hell no. You’re looking at almost two grand for the frame, and if you hang this thing with Enve carbon wheels and XTR components, the price quickly gets stratospheric.
Is this a bike for everyone? Hell no. You’re looking at almost two grand for the frame, and if you hang this thing with Enve carbon wheels and XTR components, the price quickly gets stratospheric.

$8,550 (1,895, FRAME ONLY)
Breadwinnercycles.com

TESTER 1: VERNON FELTON | LOCATION: BELLINGHAM, WASHINGTON

SAYING THAT THE BAD OTIS IS A PRETTY BIKE IS LIKE SAYING Mount Everest is sort of tall. This bike was awarded Best Mountain Bike at the 2014 North American Handmade Bicycle Show, beating out scores of lust-provoking rigs. The internal routing, swoopy stays, classy head badge, Paragon Machine Works PolyDrops and meticu- lous welds are bike porn of the highest order. So, yes, Breadwinner Cycles has crafted a stunner. But looks aren’t what actually get you up and down the mountain. I’d happily ride a bike that fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down if it rode beautifully.

The ride is all that actually matters.
The Bad Otis was designed for rowdy riding, which is obvious the moment you spy the 160-millimeter RockShox Pike fork that spearheads this ride. Breadwinner isn’t creating a new category of hardtail, but the Bad Otis is definitely one of the best examples of the long-travel breed. The slack head angle and stout mix of Columbus and True Temper tubing give the bike a fearless feel in technical terrain.

Of course the Bad Otis is still a hardtail, and that means that while the plush and stable front end begs you to launch that drop over there or just plow through that looming rocky section, the rear end reminds you–real quick–that you’d better be on your A-game. A squishy 2.4-inch rear tire is no substitute for rear suspension. Smart line choice and dialed riding technique is still the name of the game here.

For a bike that approaches technical trails like Mike Tyson in his prime, the Otis is surprisingly light on its feet: Our scales read 25 pounds.
For a bike that approaches technical trails like Mike Tyson in his prime, the Otis is surprisingly light on its feet: Our scales read 25 pounds.

While the Otis lives to get rowdy, it’s no mindless thug. I kept coming to tricky sections of trail that routinely stymie me and sim- ply found myself whipping around them in ways I never thought possible. The Bad Otis is the epitome of nimble. It’s kind of surprising at first because the bike initially comes across as a brawler, but then surprises you with its deft handling. You might not expect this, given the 66-degree headtube angle, but geometry chart be damned, the bike lives for tight trails. Maybe it’s the stubby 16.5-inch chainstays…. All I know is that the Bad Otis is an absolute blast to ride.

For a bike that approaches technical trails like Mike Tyson in his prime, the Otis is surprisingly light on its feet: Our scales read 25 pounds. Lofting the front wheel over obstacles takes the slightest of efforts and I even found myself enjoying out-of-the-saddle climbing efforts.

Is this a bike for everyone? Hell no. You’re looking at almost two grand for the frame, and if you hang this thing with Enve carbon wheels and XTR components, the price quickly gets stratospheric. This is a lot of coin for a bike, much less a hardtail. The Otis, how- ever, is more a work of art, handcrafted in America, loaded with thoughtful details and as close to hardtail perfection as it gets. If that kind of thing floats your boat and you want a bike tailored to your size and riding style, you’d better start saving those pennies.

TESTER 2: RYAN PALMER | LOCATIONS: SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA AND OREGON

RIDING THE BAD OTIS IS LIKE TRAVELING BACKWARD AND forward in time simultaneously. The progressive, playful geometry and brawny build of the Breadwinner taunt the rider to test their skill. Then again, it’s hard to really justify riding a hardtail these days. Full-suspension bikes are faster both uphill and down, are more comfortable to ride and transform talus fields into flow lines. But are suspension bikes more fun? That’s a matter of perspective. I had the most fun ride I’ve had in recent memory on this hardtail.

Elegant internal housing guides, beautifully simplistic lines, smooth tube bends, flawless paint, and those awesome dropouts all add up to a near-perfect work of art.
Elegant internal housing guides, beautifully simplistic lines, smooth tube bends, flawless paint, and those awesome dropouts all add up to a near-perfect work of art.

I was going to take the Bad Otis out for a spin on the technical-but-sane Sandy Ridge trails outside Portland, Oregon, but in a moment of either craziness or clarity I turned off the highway early toward some of the steepest, rowdiest trails in the state–so steep that only a second or two of descent time rewards every minute of climbing.

After an hour of soul-crushing fireroad climbing, I wound up on trails I’d never ridden. Normally I’m conservative when alone on unknown terrain, but as soon as I felt the Bad Otis snap out of the first catch-berm I couldn’t help myself. My hollers echoed through the forest as I pushed my own limits trying to find those of the bike. After countless loam roosts, drops and rutted chutes aboard this artful masterpiece I rode away grinning from ear to ear.

Was I going faster on the Bad Otis? Definitely not, but it sure felt like it. Every second of descent time was exhilarating. The 160-millimeter RockShox Pike fork couldn’t have cared less that the rear end was completely unmatched for it. And you know what? The rear end didn’t give a damn, either. This bike is made to go downhill. Its short rear end makes it a manual machine and allows it to be tossed into corners with a predictable rear-wheel drift. Somehow it seemed easy to slide both wheels through loose corners with absolute control.

Breadwinner handcrafts some of the most beautiful bikes avail- able. The Bad Otis is no exception.
Breadwinner handcrafts some of the most beautiful bikes available. The Bad Otis is no exception.

How does it climb? Not great, but that’s exactly why this bike kicks so much ass. The worst part about riding a hardtail, for me, is climbing. Sure, there’s the instant power transfer, but what good is all that power when it goes directly into spinning the wheel out? The Bad Otis has accepted this and moved on. Unless it suddenly sprouts linkage and a shock it’ll never have the traction to climb amazingly, so it’s built to absolutely destroy the rest of the ride.

Elegant internal housing guides, beautifully simplistic lines, smooth tube bends, flawless paint, and those awesome dropouts all add up to a near-perfect work of art. The only thing I wasn’t happy with was the external shifter cable slapping the downtube. Perhaps with a bit of begging they’ll add the derailleur to the internally routed list.

Breadwinner handcrafts some of the most beautiful bikes available. The Bad Otis is no exception, which might make you want to go easy on it. Do it a favor, though, and don’t. You’ll most certainly be rewarded for it.

BREADWINNER’S TWO CENTS
About four years ago, the first spark ignited to design a bike like this. Since 2002, my main ride has been some variation of hardtail singlespeed 29er, and I’ve always favored their simplicity. But as trail building evolved toward more berms and jumps, that type of bike had become inadequate. I wasn’t ready to give up on a hardtail, but needed a slacker headtube, more travel and a dropper so I could keep up with my buddies. Maybe it’s all those years on the 29er, but I love the way the Bad Otis climbs, too. Short chainstays help to get more weight on the rear wheel and it really hooks up. Without any potentially problematic suspension pivots or rear shock, this is a bike that will stick around in the quiver for many years.
–Tony Pereira, Co-founder, Breadwinner Cycles

This story originally appeared in the “Against The Grain” November issue of BIKE.