Long before gravel biking became “a thing,” people rode–and even raced–regular road bikes on gravel roads and dirt trails. Now we have dedicated gravel bikes (as well as this blog), and road bikes have evolved into single-use machines. Thankfully, the versatile, dirt-friendly road bike is alive and well at Black Mountain Cycles.
Mike Varley founded Black Mountain Cycles in 2007 after logging 13 years of product development work in the bicycle industry. In early 2011, he extended the Black Mountain brand to include steel-tubed road and cross frames. These weren’t Varley’s first foray into frame design, though, as he previously designed bikes for companies including Haro and Masi.
Black Mountain Cycles’ frames are TIG-welded in Taiwan from custom drawn and butted chrome-moly steel tubing, and heat treated after welding. Top and down tubes are 28.6mm and 31.8mm diameter, respectively, and both tubes have 0.8mm/0.5mm/0.8mm wall thicknesses. Black Mountain’s forks combine a modern threadless steerer (28.6mm) with a classic sloping-style crown. The frames are powdercoated, and a clear coat protects the decals (as well as being treated with a surface finish that protects the frame from internal rust). My 56cm frame weighed just over 4 pounds (4.07, to be exact), and the uncut fork (300mm steerer) came in at 2.3 pounds. With a conservative component selection (in other words, mostly what I had on-hand), the entire bike weighs 22 pounds (including bottle cages and mini-pump).
To make component selection easy, both models utilize tried-and-true 68mm bottom bracket shells, 28.6mm front derailleur clamps, and 27.2mm seatposts. The road model is spaced for a 130mm rear hub, and standard-reach (47mm-57mm) brakes. Included with both models are all the necessary bits such as bottle cage bolts, seatpost clamp, barrel adjusters, and bottom bracket cable guides. Building up the Black Mountain was a breeze, as everything went together smoothly, and without any surprises. Varley’s years of experience as a mechanic were evident in the attention paid to braze-on placement, cable routing, and frame prep.
Creating a road frame that’s also dirt-friendly can be tough. While the Black Mountain isn’t a dedicated gravel rig or “country bike,” it’s more than capable on dirt roads. Off-road, handling is predictable, but on-road, the ride is still lively. With 28mm tires, the bike transitioned easily between paved and unpaved terrain. Many of my rides finish with a dirt climb (6%-7% grade) that’s followed by an on-road descent, ending with a right-hand turn over broken pavement. I’ve ridden it at least a hundred times on several different bikes, and rarely does one bike handle well on both sections. At the risk of hyperbole, the Black Mountain was the first bike that I could hammer on the dirt climb and nail the paved descent.
If I had to describe the Black Mountain in a single word, it would be, “inspiring.” Whenever I ride the bike, I want to keep on riding. My legs or lungs may tucker out, but you’ll never hear me complain about feeling “beat up,” no matter what the terrain. From the first ride, it immediately felt familiar. The handling is predictable without being staid or boring. Riders who are looking for a modern implementation of the classic, do-it-all road bike, should definitely consider the Black Mountain Cycles frame.
Black Mountain framesets sell for $595. Visit the Black Mountain Cycles website for availability and ordering information.