In the first sentence on the Why Cycles S7 (Supple Seven) webpage, Why Cycles claims that this is "the best hardtail out there," and after having spent a considerable amount of time riding it alongside other hardtails, I can't really argue with that assertion.
Don't get me wrong, I hate crazy tube shaping as much as the next guy. It took me a few months to come around to the dramatic curves and ovalized tubes enough to actually want to throw a leg over the S7—and I'm still not in love with the look of the upward-curving toptube or how it interferes with the handlebar controls. It was actually the cable routing that most attracted me to the bike, other than the fact that it's made out of titanium, which somehow remains the coolest material ever. That, and a look at the geometry chart.
So, three things: It's titanium, it's got modern trail-bike geometry and the cleanest cable routing I've ever seen. Every line runs internally, but not just through the front-end of the frame like on most metal hardtails with internal routing. The brake and derailleur cables actually dive back into the seatstays, a small, but impressive detail that makes this production bike stand out from the NAHBS customs. The only bummer about the routing is that it's not internally tubed, which means if you drop a cable in there, you're going fishing for a while. Also, the cables on our test model rattled in the tubes a fair amount. If I owned the bike, I'd be looking for some solutions to quiet them down. However, I'm smitten with the routing nonetheless.
There are other cool things too, like the splittable (belt-drive compatible) seatstay, sliding drops, awesome titanium post-mount brake adapter, tapered internal headset headtube and welded (not riv-nutted) bottle and fender mounts—not to mention the beautiful welds.
But, the S7 isn't just full of sweet details, it really does ride incredibly well—so much so that I reached for it over my full-suspension trail bike on several occasions. That hasn't happened in probably 15 years. I had spent enough time on it to write this review, but I wanted to keep riding the thing. I tend not to spend one more second testing a hardtail than I have to, because, well, I'm just not a hardtail guy—and not because I've gone soft (even if I have a little bit).
What has definitely gone soft is the Supple Seven. It's a fitting name, although I don't know how the 7 plays in. The seat tube and downtube shaping isn't random—they're shaped specifically to provide vertical compliance while increasing lateral stiffness. The S7 is forgiving where you need it, but its bottom bracket stays put when laying the power down. Having spent a decade riding nothing but titanium hardtails, I know how uncommon it is for them to have such a small amount of sway in the bottom bracket. But what's really amazing is the vertical compliance coupled with those 2.8-inch, plus-size tires.
"I don't get it," said one of my coworkers. "Why build a plus-size bike out of titanium? The bouncy tires will just mask those subtle ride qualities that make people choose Ti over steel." As The Donald would say: "WRONG!" It's incredible how much more forgiving the S7 is compared to the steel, aluminum and carbon plus bikes I've ridden. It's the main reason I kept grabbing it out of the same garage that houses a half-dozen amazing full-suspension bikes. The S7 is a damn smooth bike to ride.
It's still very much a hardtail, though—there's no mistaking that. It will still beat you up like a hardtail, but it'll get you through some pretty spicy downhills without rattling your hands off the bars and feet off the pedals. It gave me that much more control in the rough stuff than other hardtails I'd recently been riding, and it's definitely more adept at descending than a lot of full-suspension XC bikes out there.
The S7's numbers are impressive, too, with a long 460-millimeter reach (size large) and low 307-millimeter bottom bracket with the stock tires. That's a pretty big BB drop of about 65 millimeters. Rounding out an enticing set of numbers is the 67.5/73-degree head and seatangles, respectively, and the stubby 425-millimeter rear end with the drops slammed forward.
With those Maxxis Rekon 2.8-inch tires and a 130-mil RockShox Pike up front, the long, low, slack S7 is a natural in most terrain. Even with the sometimes sluggish-feeling plus-size tires, the bike changes direction easily, maintains speed well and feels planted at high speeds.
Perhaps most impressive is the way it climbs. Hardtails are a pain in the ass to climb up technical trail because the rear end is constantly losing traction, and you always find yourself doing the weight distribution shuffle to find grip. But the plus tires make the S7 climb like a full-suspension bike. I never had to hover over the seat trying to find traction; it was always there in spades. It didn't hurt that the bike came in at roughly 25 pounds with pedals with sub-1,600-gram wheels.
However you build it, the S7 is a hell of a fun bike—one that genuinely surprised me with just how capable, nimble and inspiring a plus-size hardtail could be.
$6,600 / whycycles.com
WHY'S TWO CENTS: "All of us here at Why have surprised ourselves too with how much we choose to ride the S7's over our respective trail bikes—there's something about the simplicity of a hardtail that can actually rally a technical trail that is almost addicting. Obviously we're biased, but it goes beyond that. It's actually just a damn fun bike. The tube shapes are a mix of unique aesthetics but we really focused on ride quality when we designed the bikes, and this frame passed extensive lab testing and ride testing with flying colors. We're working on constantly trying to innovate and optimize tube shapes and thicknesses for our bikes in the future, and I think we can truly improve on what you awesomely agreed to being 'the best hardtail out there.' Cheers to loving to ride all bikes, even hardtails."—Adam Miller, owner, Why Cycles
Q&A with Adam Miller — owner, Why Cycles
Ryan Palmer: All of the S7's features, including its unique tube shapes, fully-internal routing (through the seatstays as well), IS headset cups on a Ti head tube, welded (not riv-nut) bottle, rack, and fender mounts, and sliding drops with titanium post mount brake adapter, make it one of the most complex and presumably, labor intensive hardtails we've come across. Who's manufacturing them?
Adam Miller: Yep, these things are not fast to make. I visited several factories in Taiwan, china, and the US. We settled on the best one we found, and it is in a small town in northern China. A lot of times when people hear China, it’s immediately associated with lower quality and that is just totally not the case. This factory was set up in the early 1970s and has been used by major US brands since then. It’s changed hands a few times, but has always made some incredible quality titanium products. The “factory” is more of a mom and pop shop with 18 workers.
We work with only 4 welders in that factory, and their skills are incredible. I’d put them up against any of the best titanium welders in the world. This factory actually also supplies raw material and titanium cockpit parts to several US-based titanium brands. Beyond just where we make our bikes is where we test our bikes—we work with one of the best bicycle-specific testing labs in the world in Taiwan. Most smaller titanium brands do very limited testing, and we are very proud of the testing we do that far exceeds industry standards and international ISO testing standards.
We did a ton of ride testing as well as far more lab testing than most similar companies do, and this has made us very confident in both the quality and durability of our bikes as well as their ride-ability. All of our frames come into our facility in Ogden, UT and then we assemble and pack each bike by hand. One builder assembles the whole bike and we ship bikes completely ready to ride in an Evoc pro travel bag to make the end user experience as easy as possible.
RP: Do you offer any frame customization? For instance, the drops are elegant as far as sliding drops are concerned, but I know that I'd never be interested in running singlespeed or belt drive so I wouldn't need the sliding drops or splitting seatstay. It's sweet to have versatility, but I'm a guy that'd prefer simplicity. Can Why accommodate requests like this?
AM: Not currently. We have certainly discussed offering both the versatile option as the bike sits now and a normal, standard dropout system as well. It is something I'm sure we'll do in the future, but we're just not quite there yet.
RP: The upward-curving top tube creates higher standover as well as interference with handlebar controls, two things that could be avoided by using a sloping toptube. Was this an aesthetic choice or does the upward curve serve a design function, such as, perhaps, vertical compliance?
AM: A bit of both. In my mind, bikes like this are pretty equal parts art and function, and one without the other isn't any fun at all. We tried to balance aesthetics with function as much as possible, and that's a big reason why we do the curved top tube. Its ovalized shape and slight upward bend should help with vertical compliance according to the engineers, but I'll be realistic. The benefit here is rather small. A major benefit to this curved shape though is frame bag room- this makes a bigger front triangle so riders using frame bags can fit more beer in there.
RP: Does the tube shaping save any weight? One might assume that if a particular shape is stiffer than another, perhaps wall thickness could be reduced.
AM: Yes and no. Because of these tube shapes, we optimized double-butted tubing to be used in the front triangle, which does save weight. However, because of the rather radical shapes of some of the tubes, we chose to "overbuild" the bikes a bit since titanium can be very resistant to shaping. We use a neat system of cold-shaping the tubes to limit any changes in the metal's properties. So the short answer is yes, these shapes could allow us to make a lighter bike, but we chose to build a bike where the ride quality and durability take priority over weight savings.
RP: Have you or any of your customers run the S7 as a 29er with a 120mm fork?
AM: Yes, I recently went on a trip with a friend who set up his S7 exactly in this way. It rode incredibly well- it was a bit better of a setup for bikepacking over easy terrain since the fork saved some weight and the rotating weight of small 29er tires was less than the 27.5 plus.