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EighthInch Scrambler V2 Review (preview)

October 6th, 2009 [print] Go to comments

I’ve spent the last 11 years riding a hardtail and/or rigid mountain bike on singletrack, rail-trails, roads, you name it.  It’s pretty much suited me fine, but the constant tire swap has always been annoying.  It seems no matter where I want to ride on any given day, I always have the wrong tires on my bike, so I have to spend 10-20 minutes swapping them and then re-calibrating my cyclo-computer before I can go ride.  Nowadays, I replace my large chainring with a BBG bashguard for trail riding, but put it back on for the road.  Along with it, I have to re-mount my front shifter and derailer.  Typically, spring and fall mean road or semi-slick tires, two chainrings and a front derailer, while the summer is spent on the trails running a 1×9 gear set-up.  As I said, this has been fine for quite a while, but I finally decided to try something new.

After putting way too much thought into the matter, I decided on a singlespeed road bike to get me through the colder months.  For one thing, having only one gear means I don’t have to screw around with shifters and derailers when they decide to act up.  It also means I’m forced to use muscle when I ride, as opposed to selecting a gear that’s easy to spin up a hill while I stay planted on my seat.  I have plenty of endurance, so I’ve chosen to focus on building muscle.

EighthInch

While browsing around eBay for parts (I planned to just piece a bike together with whatever worked) I stumbled across a posting by Cycling Closeouts, suppliers of the EighthInch Scrambler.  After a Google search, I discovered it’s actually a house brand of Wheel & Sprocket, a bike shop in Wisconsin.  Most of the parts are re-branded (or non-branded) OEM parts, but the frames are made specifically for them by an unknown (to me) Taiwanese frame supplier.  I spent about a week reading reviews online and scouring bike forums to see what other owners had to say about them, and the impression I got was mostly positive.  In fact, just about the only negative comments I found were from people who had never owned or ridden one.  That, plus the relatively low $600 starting point helped me make my decision…  well, at least my decision about which bike to buy; picking out colors and options turned out to be much more difficult.

So, let’s get this straight:  Wheel & Sprocket is the bike shop, Cycling Closeouts (.com) is the website, they go by Wheelandsprocket on eBay as a secondary way of selling online, and EighthInch is their brand name for their bike parts.  They also have a blog on WordPress, a Facebook fan page, a YouTube channel, and post regularly on Twitter.  It’s almost as though they want people to be able to find them anywhere.  I can’t find them on MySpace, though, which, in my opinion, is a good sign.

Okay, now on to the bike…

Unlike a lot of companies that let you choose a red bike with black stripes, or a black one with silver stripes, and nothing else, EighthInch gives buyers a huge say in what their bike looks like.  Most parts are anodized (or painted) aluminum, so letting you pick a gold stem, blue rims and a polished crankset doesn’t cost them any more than if you picked other colors.  The upside to this is, you get to order the bike with any color combo you can dream up; the downside is, you eventually have to make up your mind.  You can also select between three different types of handlebars–track, bullhorn or riser–crank arm length, freewheel and fixed cog sizes, and whether or not you want brakes (a no-cost option).  I think one way they keep prices so low is by not paying marketers to research what options buyers may want, and letting us pick them out for ourselves.  Novel concept.

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As you can see, I’m not very creative.  I went with all black, with white rims and tires, after seeing a Specialized Langster L.A.  I also ordered black cranks, but they called to inform me they were out of stock; I selected polished silver instead, and they look so good, I’m glad I didn’t get black afterall.  I also picked a white chain, knowing I would swap it with a black one (they don’t offer black for some reason), and bullhorn handlebars, because they give me similar hand positions to a flat MTB bar with bar-ends, like I’m used to.  Oh, and I picked a carbon fiber fork in place of the normal steel one (more on that later).

With all my parts picked out, I placed my order on the Cycling Closeouts site on a Saturday afternoon.  Exactly one week later, the FedEx guy was backing up to my door with my new bike!

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The bike comes partially assembled, so you’ll have to mount the handlebar on the stem and put the front wheel and pedals on.  The saddle comes attached to the seatpost, which is wrapped in thick foam to protect it.  Assuming you have an open-ended 15mm box wrench, and 4mm and 5mm Allen wrenches, you should have it fully assembled and ready to ride in about 10-15 minutes.  Actually, the most difficult part is getting the bike out of the box and cutting all the cable ties that hold everything together for shipping.

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The rear wheel is already tight, with the chain properly tensioned, so all you really have to do is get the saddle adjusted to your liking, put some pedals on (I use SPDs instead of the flat pedals that came with it), and double-check all the bolts.  Fortunately, they include their 15mm tool for tightening the wheels.  I noticed it was shipped with the freewheel side of the flip-flop read rear in the chain, so if you want to go straight to fixed gear, you’ll have to flip the wheel around and re-tension the chain.  If you ordered brakes, they’re already good to go, but some people may want to take off the rear–if not both–if they’re into that sort of thing.

So, there you have it:  a solid, pre-assembled bike right out of the box, delivered in a week or less for only $600, shipped free.  Of course, I can’t leave well enough alone.

The stock stem is 110mm long, which is way too long for me.  Oddly, it’s one of the few things that isn’t an option.  I ended up swapping it for a 90mm stem I already had in my box of spare parts.  I also didn’t care for the rubber grips; they’re about 7-8" long and only cover the ends of the bars.  Since I like all the hand positions I can get, and I don’t want to be holding bare bar part of the time, I took them off and replaced them with some Felt bar tape.  I also spent some time adjusting the reach of the Cane Creek 200TT brake levers and swapped the white chain for an 1/8" Sram PC-1 black one.  With it all done, I cursed the crappy weather we were having and went to bed.

First ride:

Sunday morning was chilly and windy, but the sun was out in full force.  Before my wife was even awake, I was out the door and taking my new Scrambler for it’s first ride around town.  In only a few blocks, I noticed a huge ride improvement over my aluminum hardtail mountain bike with 26×1" road tires.  That thing always beats me to death, both through the saddle and the bars, but the Scrambler’s steel frame and carbon fork did a great job damping all the road seams and potholes.  With super steep track geometry, the steering is very fast and direct (i.e. twitchy), but that’s the way I like it.  At high speeds, though, it’s rock solid.  Seeing as how the Velo saddle is the same saddle I have on my mountain bike (although, on the other bike, it’s re-branded by Origin-8 and has nicer stitching), I found it comfortable and familiar.

Since you don’t sit for very long on a singlespeed, a stiff frame is essential for standing and sprinting up hills.  The frame–a claimed 4.9lbs–may damp vibration well, but it’s anything but flexy.  Under power, it feels absolutely solid and moves forward with no perceivable loss in power.  The EighthInch Tessa wheels are over-built for doing tricks (jumping ramps, riding down stairs, etc.), so there’s no lateral flex there, either.  Basically, you just stand up, give it all your power, and feel the bike fluidly glide up hills with no drama.  No matter how slow or strained your cadence becomes, the bike never feels anything but milky smooth.  I’ve never had this sort of feedback from a bike with derailers.

After a couple hours of tackling (and overcoming) hills I never thought I could with one gear, I came home still very impressed with the bike.  It was so good that I went out again in the afternoon and did just as long a ride.  Not once was I disappointed in any ride characteristics, and the thing glides down the street so damn quietly that you can’t even hear it.  Apparently, this is what riding a singlespeed road bike is all about, and it only took me 11 years of riding before I figured it out.

Upgrades:

Weight-weenieism is a disease that I don’t care to look for a cure for.  I can’t own a bike that I don’t try to make lighter, so I already have plans for future upgrades.  Since I weigh less than 145lbs most days and don’t do tricks, the wheels are a bit too over-built for me.  The Formula hubs are great, but I plan to find some much lighter rims and lace them up with DT Swiss Revolution spokes (like I have on my MTB).  The tires are also heavy at 415g each, and don’t get very good reviews, so as they wear out, I’ll get something that weighs about half as much.  Those two upgrades alone should net me about a 2.8lb loss in rotational weight (where it counts most).

The OEM aluminum seatpost is a pain in the ass to adjust–as all 1-bolt posts are–so I’ll look for a post with a 2-bolt head.  I may also swap the 16T freewheel for a 15T once the wheels and tires weigh a lot less.

Carbon fork upgrade:

As I mentioned, the bike (or frameset, if you choose to buy it that way) comes with a steel fork.  However, you can upgrade to a carbon fork for only $30.  The fork is a Bontrager model with aluminum dropouts and steerer.  I haven’t weighed it yet, but I read somewhere that it’s around 600g, more than a pound lighter than the steel one.  Keep in mind, though, that the fork upgrade is only available on CyclingCloseouts.com, and not the eBay store.  For only $30, I’d say go for it!

Customer service:

I had to call Wheel & Sprocket a few times throughout the process as I tried to make up my mind about what options I wanted.  Each time, the phone was answered by an actual live human being who worked in the shop.  I never had to press 1 for this thing, or 2 for something else, nor did I get a random operator who had to read from a script.  It felt just like when I call my local bike shop to ask questions, and I’ve known those guys for years.  Emails were mostly answered within a day (except for one that I got a response to a day after the bike arrived; oh well), and these guys make it very easy to find/contact them through all sorts of social media outlets, including online bike forums.  It’s definitely a better experience than dealing with corporate giants like Trek or Specialized (or those pains in the ass at Rock Shox).

Summary:

Awesome bike, great as a trick bike for doing bar spins and busting down stairs, light enough to use as a commuter, strong enough to last most normal riders for years, if not a lifetime if taken care of (it’s steel, however, so keep some flat black (or white) paint handy for filling in chips, and don’t leave it outside to rust in bad weather; speaking of which, the frame arrived with a 4x4mm chip in the paint of the downtube, but it was an easy fix).  At only $600, it’s cheaper than pretty much all comparable big-name bikes that don’t offer all the customization choices that you get with the Scrambler.

I’ll put some serious miles on it for the next few months and report back next spring sometime to let you know how it’s doing.

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EighthInch Scrambler Gallery on Flickr

Pros:

Good price
Customer service
Built like a tank
Highly customizable
Great ride; silky smooth and soooo quiet
Includes a 15mm wheel tool/bottle opener

Cons:

Built like a tank; i.e. a bit heavy for the weight conscious
Tires are so-so
You may need to swap the stem
OEM paint chip

Links:

http://wheelandsprocket.com/
http://myworld.ebay.com/wheelandsprocket/
http://www.cyclingcloseouts.com/
http://www.eighthinch.com/
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Appleton-WI/EighthInchcom/118140455001
http://eighthinch.wordpress.com/
http://twitter.com/EighthInch

  1. Cameron
    January 28th, 2011 at 23:33 | #1

    how heavy is the bike straight out of the box?

  2. Aaron
    January 29th, 2011 at 09:10 | #2

    22.26lbs. If you get the standard steel fork, expect that to be closer to 23.5lbs.

  1. July 4th, 2010 at 15:38 | #1
  2. July 26th, 2010 at 19:47 | #2