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It’s easy to have fun with the Colorado-based Why Cycles brand name, but at the recent Mid South gravel race in Oklahoma, I could not find a single fun answer to the question ‘Why?’ Cold, rainy conditions turned the course to slop, news about the coronavirus developed at warp speed, and neither of those things was making hanging out in downtown Stillwater, Oklahoma in the drizzle that appealing. Nevertheless, although finding an answer to ‘Why’ was elusive on those fronts, I never once questioned my decision to bring the R+ to the race.
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The R+ is Why Cycles’ offering of a go-anywhere, do-anything bike. Although its limits might be pushed on chunky steep singletrack, the bike will let you try; it can accommodate 2.1-inch tires on a 27.5-inch wheel. It’s optimized, however, for use with 700x40c tires and has the clearance for 700×46. The R+ shines as a pavement/cyclocross/gravel tool, and although I thought I would only test it on the road and gravel, it turns out that this year’s muddy Mid South was more like a cyclocross century than a pleasant mix of pavement and dirt.
This was my first ride on a titanium bike, and aficionados everywhere love to ask what took me so long. I have no good answer other than there are just too many great bikes out there and not enough time (or money) to try them all. I had been curious about titanium, especially for gravel, since I’ve often been out on my carbon Ibis Hakka MX and felt like I was on a track bike with 120psi riding over a continual set of washboards (note: I also have plenty good to say about that bike).
My first ride on the R+ was a standard gravel + pavement loop that begins at the VeloNews offices and heads north and east out of town. There is indeed a 1/4-mile section of washboard early in the ride, and as I coasted over the brake bumps, I remember thinking, ‘I feel like I’m on a mountain bike!’ Impressively, there was no flip side to that feeling; as compliant as the bike was on the rough gravel road and rutted dirt paths, it responded to the pavement equally well.
I rode aboard a size medium R+, built up with SRAM’s Force Carbon kit. Why offers three build kits for the R+, with the Rival kit priced at $4,899, the Force at $6,499, and a Force Carbon e-tap AXS Enve kit for $8,999. Frames and frame + fork packages are also available for purchase, with a Lauf Grit SL fork as an option to replace the stock Enve carbon gravel fork.
I noticed a few things off the bat: The R+ has a slightly longer frame length, which is both good and bad. It helps eliminate toe-overlap (a common problem for women, who tend to ride smaller frames), but it also left me feeling reachy. I can’t blame that entirely on the frame, though, because I know it also had to do with the Batman-wingspan bar and 90mm stem, two things I could have adjusted before the race.
44cm handlebars are wide! Although I did appreciate hanging out in the flared drops on the squirrely, peanut-buttery descents in Oklahoma. Like I said, the R+ does feel like a mountain bike at times.
With the off-road adventurer in mind, the R+ features multiple bottle cage mount positions (including bosses on the underside of the down tube), but I only used the mounts on the seat tube and the top of the downtube, as I feared a bottle underneath would just become a giant clump of mud. This was a good decision.
The R+ gets an A+
Testing bikes forces us to take them on terrain we might not otherwise ride. While I usually assume that riding my gravel bike on the fast group road ride will have me gasping at the back of the pack, that wasn’t the case with the R+. It was stiff and compliant on the road. The bike also excelled at my normal style of “adventure riding” in Boulder which includes pavement, dirt road climbs, dirt road climbs made mucky by snowmelt, and random bits of singletrack that pepper our open space. It soaked up the chatter on the rutted trails and glided over the smooth bits.
Most importantly, though, the bike was easy to pedal through the abominable peanut butter mud of The Mid South, had more than adequate clearance for said mud to accumulate on the frame and not cause problems, and responded to whatever variable the course threw at it, from sneaky washboards to short, steep climbs. Even if I was asking myself why I was out there suffering in the muck, I didn’t have to question the bike.