We've been big fans of Spoke magazine since we were teenagers so we jumped at the chance to feature in the latest issue. With a fresh hardtail courtesy of Matt at "WRAD" bikes we took the opportunity to look back on the build process and discuss the reasons for and against going custom.
"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 been able to put most of my ideas in to practice with off the shelf bikes but when the opportunity presented itself to get a custom bike built locally I couldn't say no. We've seen some shocking custom frames come through the shop from some very highly regarded builders so we've learnt to be cautious, but having Matt (Wrad bikes) based locally put those fears to rest.
Who is WRAD?
Matt Ward is the man behind Wrad (We Ride All Day) bikes. He's worked as an engineer for the last 6 Years and in that time has worked as a Manufacturing Project Engineer, mechanical CAD designer and is currently the Production Manager for FTN Motion.
Growing up riding dirt bikes means Matt has always been keen on going fast on two wheels and living in Wellington meant it was only a matter of time until Matt gave mountain biking a go. 6 years ago he took the plunge and with his dirt bike background he found himself drawn to faster paced downhill riding where reliability is more important than weight and the bikes are ultimately built to send.
This is reflected in not only his current steel bikes that he builds but also the first frame he built out of bamboo. Bamboo also served as the inspiration for the Wrad logo/headbadge as it is not only a deceptively strong frame building material but also a Pandas favourite meal.
The headbadge is reflective of Matt's approach to frame building. While a head tube sticker ultimately does the trick it really doesn't compare to the Lazer cut bear that graces the front of every Wrad frame. Brazed on and sitting proud of the head tube, the head badge gives of a sense of permanence which is a welcome change from the disposable culture that permeates so much of mountain biking.
Frame building, regardless of method, is a specialist pursuit which requires a very specific range of tools as well as a suitable workshop. Not being afraid to get his hands dirty, Matt took the initiative and built a frame jig as well as the workshop which serves as the Wrad headquarters. Not having physical space to install the workshop was proving to be a challenge but fortunately a colleague came through and Wrad is now perched in his workmates backyard looking down over the Wellington harbour.
Currently WRAD is still a side gig, and Matt thinks it will stay that way for at least the rest of this year. He's enjoying seeing it grow organically, slowly gaining a reputation for the right reasons without needing to force it. Having spent time with Matt and seeing his approach to frame building I have no doubt that we'll be seeing more Wrad bikes out on the trails soon.
Concept behind the bike
The bike that Matt built me is a reaction against super high performing modern bikes which excel in one area at the expense of everything else. Despite these bikes being great fun in the right circumstances I knew 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 cross over with my other bikes. I think there's a lot of value in having a range of bikes which all fulfill a specific function with minimal crossover. My previous hardtail was (too) deep in the lower/slacker/longer camp and I found that I would mostly ride my full sis rather than getting bashed around.
I spent hours agonising over the bike on bike cad before realising I'd practically designed a rigid Norco Fluid. After years of watching bikes getting rowdier it felt weird designing a bike that was steeper, shorter and higher than my previous hardtail but 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 make it to fruition (frame bag beer fridge), and other ideas which allowed me some flexibility with geo numbers (sliding dropouts). I leant in to the freedom presented by building something custom so the extra top tube, high standover (for maximum frame bag storage) and rack mounts were luxuries that set the bike apart but also make it that much more fit for purpose.
Matt was happy for me to lead the geometry and he chimmed in when things weren't viable. Having someone local who understood the brief was invaluable and validated my decision to work with someone in the same time zone rather than outsourcing the bike from overseas.
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 glueing 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 Wellingtons 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 smooth 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 made by Auckland based "Paper roads" which added to the functionality of the build and allowed me to maximise the storage capability of the bike.
After picking the bike up from Matt I managed to get a grand total of two shake down rides on the bike before riding it 1500km from the Queen Charlotte sound down to Milford Sound. Despite some initial apprehension about riding a brand new bike the length of the South island it turned out my concerns were unfounded and everything went off without a hitch.
With the tour behind me and Wellington Winter in full swing it's fair to say that it's achieved what I wanted from it. While it's not as capable as my full suspension trail bike, nor as fast on the flat as my gravel bike it slots in perfectly in-between as a do anything, go anywhere adventure bike. With xc tyres it makes my local grade 3/4 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 being able to see my bike come to life from concept through to design and fabrication has been incredibly rewarding. The quality and finish is as good as anything I've come across from much more established builders and I've ended out with something that suits my needs perfectly in the most self indulgent was possible. I'm the only person that this bike needs to work for and that's exactly how I like it."
Words: Koen Greven