By Vernon Felton/Originally published in the May 2013 issue of Bike Magazine
Durango Pucker 650b Ti SS
Price: $6,395 ($3,295, frame only)
Let's start with what this bike isn't. It isn't carbon fiber, it isn't full-suspension, it isn't a 29er and, most interestingly of all, it isn't made overseas. That last 'isn't' is the core of the Durango Bike company, founded by longtime mountain biker Jeff Estes, a bike-industry veteran and former Race Across America competitor who decided it was time somebody tried to bring the business of actually building mountain bikes back to where it all began: America.
The Durango Bike company crafts titanium and aluminum frames in Colorado and outfits them with as many made-in-America bits and pieces as possible. Accordingly, our test bike came equipped with a Chris King headset, Thomson bar, stem and seatpost, a Paul components crankset, a Phil Wood bottom bracket and a Velocity wheelset. The only parts sourced overseas are the SDG saddle, Schwalbe Hans Dampf tires, SRAM Avid XX disc brakes and 120-millimeter-travel White Brothers Loop fork (which is, at least, assembled in the U.S.).
Hanging that many domestic components on a bike is impressive when you consider that more than 90 percent of bikes and components purchased in America today are fabricated overseas. Then again, you can't really ride a commitment to 'buy local.' The bike either kicks ass on the trail or it doesn't.
The pucker Ti, it turns out, is a blast to ride. At less than 23 pounds, the singlespeed rewards out-of-the-saddle efforts with astonishing speed. our bike was equipped with 34×20 gearing, which might be too low for the über-fit, but was perfect wintertime gearing in the mountains.
Estes decided on 650b wheels for the Pucker because he felt they offer the best mix of stability and playfulness, and the bike achieves a nice balance. If you'd like a 29er version of this bike, Estes can build you one. This 650b version is simply the bike that Estes is happiest with at present.
In fact, Estes and company will craft a frame to fit any wheel size—and incorporating whatever geometry you desire—usually at no extra cost, and within six weeks. Along those lines, the Pucker Ti is also available in geared-compatible (conventional and XX1). If you want to deck this frame out with a Fox fork and Shimano or SRAM drivetrain, the Durango Bike company will do that, too. This made-in-America stuff costs a lot. You can get a state-of-the-art, carbon-fiber, full-suspension frame for less than this Ti one. But the pucker frame is impressive (its sliding 142×12 rear axle belongs in an art gallery), and it's one of the most fun hardtails I've ridden in a long time.