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Embarking on a custom frame journey with Wellington’s WRAD bikes

Being surrounded by bikes day-in and day-out, I’ve developed some pretty strong opinions about what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to modern bikes. I’ve mostly been able to put my ideas into practice with off-the-shelf bikes, but when the opportunity presented itself to get a custom WRAD Bikes frame built locally, I couldn’t say no.

Who is WRAD?

Matt Ward is the man behind WRAD (We Ride All Day) bikes. He’s worked as an engineer for the past six years and in that time has worked as a manufacturing project engineer, mechanical CAD designer and is currently the production manager for FTN Motion.

Matt has always loved going fast on two wheels. That began with dirt bikes, but living in Wellington meant it was only a matter of time before he gave mountain biking a go. He was naturally drawn to the more moto-style of downhill riding, where reliability is more important than weight and the bikes are ultimately built to send.

Not only is this reflected in the steel bikes he builds, but also in the first frame he built out of bamboo. Bamboo also served as the inspiration for the WRAD logo/head badge, as it’s not only a deceptively strong frame-building material, but also a Panda’s favourite meal.

The head badge is also reflective of Matt’s approach to frame building; while a head tube sticker does the trick, it can’t compare to the laser-cut bear that graces the front of every WRAD frame. Proudly brazed onto every head tube, the WRAD logo gives off a sense of permanence that’s a welcome change from the disposable culture that permeates so much of mountain biking.

Frame building, regardless of method, is a specialist pursuit that requires a suitable workshop and a very specific range of tools. Not afraid to get his hands dirty, Matt took the initiative and built a frame jig as well as the workshop that serves as the WRAD headquarters. Matt didn’t have space at home, but a colleague came through, and WRAD is now perched in his workmate’s backyard overlooking Wellington Harbour.

Matt says WRAD is just a side-gig for now and he thinks it will stay that way, for a while at least. He’s enjoying seeing it grow organically, slowly gaining a reputation for the right reasons without needing to force it. After spending some time with Matt and seeing his approach to frame building, I have no doubt we’ll see more WRAD Bikes out on the trails soon.

The concept behind the bike
The bike that Matt built me is a reaction against super-high-performing modern bikes that excel in one area at the expense of everything else. While these types of bikes are great fun in the right circumstances, I wanted something that wasn’t locked in to one style of riding and had different characteristics, depending on the build. A classic “jack of all trades, master of none”—type situation.

I also wanted to minimise crossover with my other bikes. I think there’s a lot of value in having a range of bikes that all fulfil a specific function with minimal crossover. My previous hardtail was (too) deep in the “lower, slacker, longer” camp and I found that I’d mostly ride my full-suspension bike rather than get
bashed around.

Design process

I spent hours agonising over the bike on BikeCAD before realising that I’d practically designed a rigid Norco Fluid. After years of watching bikes get rowdier, it felt weird designing a bike that was steeper, shorter and higher than my previous hardtail. At the same time, it also felt like a natural response to the pendulum swinging as far as it has.

I had a few ideas that weren’t able to be realised (frame bag/beer fridge), and other ideas that allowed me some flexibility with geo numbers (such as sliding dropouts). I leant into the freedom presented by building something custom, so the extra top tube, high stand-over (for maximum frame bag storage) and rack mounts were luxuries that set the bike apart while making it much more fit-for-purpose.

Matt was happy for me to lead the geometry, but he chimed in when things weren’t viable. Having a local who understood the brief was invaluable, and validated my decision to work with someone in the same time-zone.

Delivery and build
Once I’d made up my mind and committed to the final numbers, the bike came together remarkably quickly. While Matt was busy cutting and gluing tubes, I finalised the rest of the build and tried to make sure it was ready for long days in the saddle, as well as Wellington’s notorious weather.

In predictable fashion, it was a short-notice build before embarking on my first trip with the bike. Despite the time constraints, the initial build went as smoothly as it could, and the fit and finish on the bike was as good, or better, than anything from a large manufacturer. I also took the opportunity to get a set of custom frame bags from Auckland-based Paper Roads, which added to the functionality of the build and allowed me to maximise the bike’s storage capability.

After picking the bike up from Matt, I managed to get a grand total of two shakedown rides before riding it 1500km from the Queen Charlotte Sound down to Milford Sound. Despite some apprehension about riding a brand-new bike the length of the South Island, everything went without a hitch.

With the tour behind me, it’s fair to say that the bike achieved what I wanted it to. While it’s not as capable as my full-suspension trail bike, nor as fast on the flat as my gravel bike, it slots perfectly between the two as a do-anything, go-anywhere adventure bike. With XC tyres, it makes my local grade three and four trails interesting, while still being ready to be loaded up with bags for a quick overnighter if the mood takes me.

Working with Matt and watching my bike come to life, from concept through to design and fabrication, has been incredibly rewarding. The quality and finish are as good as anything I’ve come across from much more established builders, and I’ve ended up with something that suits my needs perfectly. I’m the only person this bike needs to work for, and that’s exactly how I like it.

Koen Greven is co-owner of Get Lost Cycling in Wellington. 
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