Why Cycles S7 Review: Rodeo Bikepacking
Joe took the 27.5+ titanium Why Cycles S7 to southeastern Utah for a bikepacking trip and trail rides on several Moab classics. Read the review to find out what this beautiful beast is all about, down to the engraved Ed Abbey quote and the torx-head bottle mount bolts…
The Why Cycles S7 — the “supple seven” — is a 27.5+ titanium hardtail. It was conceived as an all-rounder to inspire big grins on demanding high-speed twisty trails as well as during multi-day backcountry explorations. On a Saturday morning you can wheelie, jump, flick it through turns and climb daunting pitches. And then on a long weekend, you can capably haul bikepacking gear deep into a topo map. I rode the S7 unloaded and loaded in southeastern Utah on classic favorites as well as on a leisurely self-supported trip. Read on for my impressions of this agile, playful and versatile machine.
Titanium has a vexed reputation among the bicycle cognoscenti. Everyone seems willing to grant that it’s light, durable, attractive, and amenable to creative construction in the hands of a skilled craftsperson. All of these make for a desirable bike material. But titanium also seems a bit old school, the metal that your dad’s nicest bike in the 90’s was made out of (“…the last bike I’ll ever buy!”). Carbon fiber, with its infinite shapeabilty, stiff where you want it to be properties, and now reasonable cost has proven irresistible and has eclipsed titanium for going on two decades.
Why Cycles—the second company co-started by Adam Miller, the wünderkind who co-founded Borealis Bikes from his college dorm but has since sold his half—is trying to rebalance titanium’s image. Carbon is excellent for bicycle frame manufacture, but everything that made titanium seem like the holy grail—it’s resilience against fatigue, it’s ability to take knocks and hits and not fail, its flex and supple ride quality—is still true. Why Cycles means to bring those truths back to the fore. Keep an eye out for a future interview with Miller to hear more about his ambitious plans for Why.
Why Cycles S7 Ride Impressions
The thing that leaps out about the S7 is how joyful and playful it feels. The front wheel lofts with an ease that eludes bikes I typically ride. At speed it corners with the exaggerated traction of plus tires, it leaves the ground the instant you will it to, and if you’re late with bodily inputs to a turn, the front wheel comes around startlingly fast behind a panicky correction. Uphill traction is exemplary, as one would expect from a bike with passably short chainstays and lots of low-pressure rubber. Uphill steering remains super responsive, but that means that there is no room for laziness: it takes steady input to keep a curving line, and that requires concentration and confidence.
Just to be clear, then: This is a hardtail with a dropper post and a plush 130mm’s of front suspension. The spacing is boost 12mm x 148mm thru axle. It has sliding dropouts and is belt drive ready. It belongs to the genre of bikes that are meant to be ridden aggressively and assertively, and it shines under pressure.
A dive into the relevant numbers yields a 67.5 degree head tube angle, a 73 degree seat tube angle, a 425-440mm adjustable chainstay length—I kept it half way through its setting—and 65mm’s of bottom bracket drop. The slack-ish head tube is ready for the descents, while the 44mm of fork offset (which is pretty standard for 27.5 wheels) makes it snappy. The chainstay length is on the shorter end of the spectrum but not extreme, even in the shortest setting. The seat tube places the rider enough forward so there’s not much sense of wheel flopping about.
A ready geometry comparison can be found in, say, Salsa’s recent Timberjack, which has a trail mandate similar to that of Why’s S7. Both the headtube and seat tube are a half degree slacker on the S7 than on the Timberjack, and the S7 has 7mm more bb drop, perhaps resulting in a more planted, stable feel. In the space of modern bike geometry, though, the S7 and Timberjack are close cousins. Further away is something like the new 27.5+ Karate Monkey. The S7 has a notable degree and a half slacker head tube angle with the same seat tube angle and same chainstay length (when the S7 is in the shortest setting). The S7 will be more confident on steep downhill terrain. The Karate Monkey won’t loft its wheel as easily due to the longer cockpit, and the KM will feel much more cross country oriented than the trail bike oriented S7. Obviously, except for geometry, those bikes—solid budget choices and aluminum and steel, respectively—aren’t the right comparison for the S7. They’re bikes that you can test ride to get a sense of what geometry you’re looking for. But the S7 is, to my view, a significant and meaningful upgrade from them and puts a titanium high-end frame in reach for many.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
Every S7 frame has a different quotation laser etched on the inside of the non-driveside chainstay. The one I was on invoked Ed Abbey: “Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity for the human spirit.” (No, you can’t choose your quotation, but all the ones I saw at Why Cycles HQ were interesting.) This is one way among many that confirms a remarkable attention to detail on Why’s bikes.
Others include the extensive etched design on the top and seat tubes, considerable tube shaping, and a machined headset race on the headtube. The tidy and artistic internal cable routing is made easier through internal ramps that guide installation. In another nice touch, every complete bike is shipped in an EVOC soft bag to be used for future travel. Why Cycles is not trying to cut corners and they care about the performance and appearance of their product. To my eyes it is a gorgeous bicycle. The aesthetics are committed without being garish or over the top.
Our expectations about titanium bicycles have been influenced by the fact that it’s often nowadays a material associated with boutique domestic builders like Moots, Eriksen, and Seven. Why Cycles are crafted in small batches in Taiwan at an 18 person factory. This is part of the explanation for the very affordable price. You won’t necessarily swoon at proverbial stacked dimes welds, but functional titanium welding can still be durable and sound, just as beautiful welds can still be weak. Nor will the weight of the frame strike you as feather light. Why Cycles is confident enough in their frames to guarantee them for a lifetime.
- Weight (frame): 1905 grams (67.2 oz)
- Price: US$2,250
- Place of Manufacture: Taiwan
- Contact: WhyCycles.com
BIKEPACKING ON THE S7
The S7 took on soft bag bikepacking duties with aplomb. Moreover, it’s ready for different styles of distance riding with rear rack mounts and a fender boss on the seatstay bridge. Naturally, some of the feeling that one should be launching off every lip went away with the extra weight and bulk, but the bike was to me markedly more nimble and quick than would be typical for a bikepacking rig. As a bikepacking platform, it embodies the sense that you’re still on a trail bike with turning in its DNA. I appreciate the idea that bikepacking is mainstream enough that riders with a youthful attitude of roughhousing on a bike might well want to take some of that outlook on backcountry trips. I’m inclined to think that the S7 would best suit an experienced rider who comes from a background where grabbing air and manualing through rock fields was the norm. For that kind of rider, this bike is going to seem like a glinting antidote to bikes that ride more like trucks. The flip side is that I expect the handling would be a daunting handful to someone with less experience trail playing. I personally like the feeling of long wheelbase straight line stability, but I’m old and usually cautious when I rip. The S7 is on the opposite side of the spectrum
In a perfectly ordinary sense, I found the s7 plenty comfortable. Between the titanium frame, plus tires, and cushy fork, it easily earns its “supple” moniker. There are at least two kinds of comfort, though. There’s the comfort of absorbing trail chatter and big hits. That kind of immediate comfort applies to a given section of trail, and it’s the kind that amazes when you drop through a chunky chute, miss your line and find yourself unexpectedly on the wrong vector worried about your eyeballs shaking but having it turn out just fine. That’s the kind of comfort the s7 has in abundance, and your body will thank you.
A second kind of comfort has to do with how you mentally feel at the end of a long day in the saddle when you get off the bike to set up camp and cook dinner and trade stories. A bike can be comfortable or not over that longer time span of meditating while pedaling, and it’s not just a matter of how the bike does on individual parts of the track. On this score, the s7 is more ambiguous. It’s for sure a comfortable bike at any given moment, but it does require diligent rider input. It calls for direction and isn’t the kind of bike that will by itself save you if you’ve been daydreaming. The accumulation of having to make those inputs over a trip might have your perception buzzing more than usual. That’s an inevitable flip side of having an eager and capable trail bike. It wants to have fun on the trail, but fun is certain kind of work of attention and concentration.
Consequently, if you’re in the market for a pure bikepacking bike that you don’t expect to ride in any other context, the S7 may not be your first choice. You may want a quieter, more automatic platform. If you take corners at speed, you jump, you play, you push your hardtails to their limits even when you’re not racing and you want to take all of those virtues with you on a bikepacking trip, well then this bike should be on your very very short list.
The S7 I rode was built up with the premium parts of the Eagle XX1 kit, and they worked flawlessly. The Eagle drivetrain—my first time on it, though several of my bikes are 1x—was a revelation. Smooth, always at the ready with more gear if i needed it, and the kind of gunfire click between cogs that I like.
The Reynolds carbon hoops laced to Industry Nine Torch hubs were predictably light and spun up beautifully. Attacking steep slickrock pitches never seemed so easy. That’s a wheelset to covet on any ride.
The DVO fork was pillowy forgiving and offered plenty of tunability. The weight is beastly, but it was brilliant when there were no bags on the bike and the trail got angular. It bailed me out and kept me appearing composed even when the S7’s fast steering had me on the wrong line. It’s another aspect of the bike that pushes it into the territory of experienced rider only. The fork needed sure handed preloading to spring the front end at speed. I prefer less bottomless front suspension. Not surprisingly, it was much more suspension than I’d seek while bikepacking. I just turned the low-speed compression knob down into the range intended for climbing and it was fine.
- Frame: Why S7
- Fork: DVO Diamond
- Headset: CaneCreek
- Rear Hub: Industry Nine Torch
- Front Hub: Industry Nine Torch
- Rims: Reynolds carbon 27.5 plus
- Spokes: Sapim CX-Ray
- Tubes: Orange Seal Tubeless
- Tires: Maxxis Rekon 27.5×2.8 120tpi
- Bar: RaceFace Next 35x760mm
- Stem: RaceFace Atlas 35
- Post: Rockshox Reverb 31.6 125mm or 150mm
- Saddle: Ergon SMA3 Standard Black
- Shifters: Sram Eagle XX1 1×12 speed Gold
- Brakes: Sram Guide Ultimate
- Rotors: Avid Centerline 160mm
- Rear Derailleur: Sram Eagle XX1 1×12 speed Gold
- Chain: Sram Eagle XX1 Gold
- Cassette: Sram Eagle XX1 Gold
- Crankset: Sram Eagle XX1 32t
- Bottom Bracket: Sram Threaded 73mm BSA Standard
- Grips: Ergon GE1 Black
TAKEAWAY AND THINGS I’D DO DIFFERENTLY
A useful review should give the reader the tools to make a reasoned judgment about whether a bike will suit their desires and needs. To the extent that it is possible, I try not to make my idiosyncratic priorities decisive in an evaluation, or when I do I try to flag that fact as lucidly as possible. I hope it’s clear that I admire and am impressed by the S7. I think it is a tremendous ride and there was a time in my life when I would have fiercely coveted this bike. But it’s not these days my style of bike, with its quickness and trail slayer orientation. I want a more sedate rig, and the S7 isn’t sedate at all. If this were my wheel, I’d put on a longer stem, run narrower bars, put on a rigid fork and set the chainstay to its longest setting. My guess is that that would yield a substantially different feeling bike; maybe it’s further testament to the versatility of the S7 that it could be changed that way. I think, though, that making my mods would be a departure from the essential idea of this bike. It would be to deny it what it most wants to be, namely fun and agile. It would be better to let the S7 express itself authentically. At any rate, none of that is an objection, but it is my takeaway message from a week spent on it.
Putting aside broad reactions to the style of bike, my quibbles are with some of the tiny decisions Why made for the S7. Why has placed a trio of bolts on the inside of the main triangle on the downtube for a King or Salsa type accessory cage. I can see the rationale of it in that the downtube will carry the weight of the load, but I remain skeptical since many riders will opt for a framebag and will want to carry accessories under the downtube, where there is only the standard pair of bosses. I’d want to see a trio of bosses on the underside, too. Admittedly, I had no trouble carrying two liters of water from the underside pair of bosses, safely secured by two Voile type straps, but why not put a third? (On the upside, all the bottle mounts are welded, not riveted, for strength and reliability.)
And while most people wouldn’t give it a second thought, the torx bolts for the bottle and accessory mounts irk me. They may be reliable, but when I’m bikepacking I want to all of my bolts to be consistent allen #5’s so I can take out one well-made key that I keep ready at hand.
- Aggressive modern geometry that’s playful and nimble on the trail.
- Durable, yet affordable titanium frame.
- Tasteful detailing resulting in a great looking bike.
- Forgiving frame lives up to its name and fends off sharp trail buzz.
- Internal cable routing that’s perfectly and artfully executed.
- Fast playful trail handling not for a novice biker.
- Makes most sense as a trail bike first and bikepacking bike second.
- Only two rather than three bosses under downtube. Although, happy to see bosses there at all.
- Torx bolts in the bosses, an easy fix though.
With the S7, Why Cycles achieves a titanium rig with thoroughly contemporary trail geometry and a spectacular attention to detail. It may be too aggressive for some as a bikepacking bike, and configured as tested it’s biased toward an experienced trail bike rider. It embodies the sensibility of riders who may be coming to bikepacking from an enduro and trail bike background who are used to a playful, flickable, jumpable platform that wants a short stem and wide handlebars and encourages tailwhips, maybe even when loaded. Still, and in an age of disposable consumer items, it’s a frame that you’ll likely still be riding in 2032 in some configuration or other, and its versatility guarantees lots of options on that front. I can absolutely confirm that the vision behind the bike succeeds. The S7 is a socko blend of fun and able.
Joe is a philosophy professor and expedition cyclist. He took his first bikepacking trip in the late 80’s and has since traveled the world on everything from a folding bike to a full suspension mountain bike to his now preferred fat bike. Along the way he raced cross country mountain bikes-often singlespeed-on three continents. He recently did a trip across Cuba with Logan and Virginia. Why Cycles loaned Joe a size medium S7 for this review.
- Height: 5’8” (173cm)
- Weight: 149 lbs. (67.6kg)
- Inseam: 31” (79cm)
New in bikes
- Jul 28, 2017Rider and Rig: Zach Shriver’s Trek Stache + CT packlist
- Jun 15, 2017Dylan Taylor’s American Trail Race Rig
- Jun 13, 2017Indiana Schulz’s American Trail Race Rig
- Jun 9, 2017Rider & Rig: Lynne’s Moonmen #M32 Tour Divide Rig
- May 11, 2017Salsa Deadwood SUS Review: This bike is for…