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Van Dessel WTF review

Van Dessel WTF
1 Oct 2015
Verdict:

How do you describe the Van Dessel WTF? Is it a monster? Well it's a beast for all seasons.

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£500 (frame & fork)
For 
Looks great - comfortable
Against 
Quite heavy - not the stiffest frame

Van Dessel is a company based in New Jersey with a strong racing pedigree, especially in cyclocross – an area of the sport that has really blossomed in the northeast of the US over recent years. The Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, or WTF for short, is a head scratcher of a bike – part monster crosser, part gravel grinder, part commuter. It sure is versatile and as well as rocking an eye-catching look with those twin top tubes. Van Dessel says the WTF is open to suggestions, so we spent our time with it with an open mind.

The frame

Van Dessel WTF headtube

Two heads are better than one, or so the saying goes, so who’s to say two top tubes aren’t better than one as well? It’s not something you see very often, but the WTF’s twinned top tubes aren’t without precedent – we’ve seen bikes from the late 19th century that used a similar design, and recently German brand Corratec has used the system to good effect. But does it do much? Theoretically, the twin top tubes should dissipate more of the frame vibrations from the rear wheel, but we suspect it’s used here mostly for looks. It’s certainly a talking point.

Elsewhere, the frame is quite traditional, with externally routed cables, a steel fork and a non-tapered steerer tube. There are rack and mudguard mounts front and rear, and huge amounts of clearance, especially at the back where there’s no brake bridge between the seatstays, while the driveside chainstay slims into a flat plate towards the bottom bracket. Talking of which, it’s the PF BB30-style, which doesn’t have many fans but is hugely adaptable – you can even run it as a singlespeed using an eccentric bottom bracket. The head tube is quite tall and the bottom bracket isn’t super low, leaning more towards versatility than gravel racing. At £500 for the frame and fork, it’s great value for such an exotic beast.

Components

Van Dessel WTF drop out

SRAM’s single ring revolution started in mountain bikes, where it introduced XX1, which paired a single chainring with a wide range 11-speed cassette – with 10 teeth on the smallest sprocket all the way up to a whopping 42. By using a chainring that alternates between thick and thin teeth, and a rear mech with a built-in clutch (which ensures consistent chain tension even on bumpy ground), chain retention is taken care of without the need for a front mech or any other kind of chain guide. The system was so successful off-road that SRAM took the system to the drop-bar world, starting with CX1, the cyclocross-specific version of its Force groupset. Our test bike came with the non-hydraulic version of the groupset, using excellent Avid BB7 cable-actuated discs, a 40t chainring and an 11-32 cassette. The gear spread is perfect for the WTF’s ethos of having fun, exploring the wilds and pushing the boundaries.

Wheels

Van Dessel WTF groupset

Stan’s was one of the first companies to capitalise on the trend towards tubeless tyres. These work best, in our experience, at lower pressures than those found on road bikes – so the 60-80psi we ran through this test would be ideal. Our test bike came with tubes, but conversion to tubeless is easy, especially with WTB TCS tyres – just wrap tubeless tape around the rim to seal up the spoke holes, throw in some sealant and away you go. The brilliant, versatile wheels are well built and the rims work well with 30mm slicks right up to knobbly 40mm cyclocross tyres.

The ride

Van Dessel WTF review

Like the Cotic, the WTF is based around a great-value steel frame that’s more of a jack-of-all-trades than the Specialized or the Kinesis. It’s not light, but versatility rarely is – if you owned two sets of disc wheels, this is a bike that could be a weekday road commuter, then a not-quite-MTB at the weekend with big fat tyres. The bottom bracket is a bit higher than the best riding adventure road bikes, but with its comfort-oriented twin top tubes and multiple mounting points for racks and mudguards, the WTF is primarily configured for long-haul adventures rather than high-speed escapes from suburbia. On the road, we were really impressed by the build kit. SRAM’s CX1 groupset works faultlessly and we never had any concerns about a lack of gears.

The WTF’s beach cruiser-style parallel tubing looks cool and provides plenty of space for even the widest of tyres, including mountain bike knobblies – we did find ourselves grazing inner thighs on the top tubes, though. The pairing of skinny steel tubes and conventional dropouts is less rigid than most carbon or aluminium bikes, so it’s not the sort of frame that rewards big, out-of-the-saddle efforts. If you’re searching for these attributes, Van Dessel has a selection of bikes that are more suitable. The extra flex is welcome when absorbing the knocks thrown up by badly paved roads. We even found ourselves forgiving the twanginess when cornering over roots and ruts. This bike is up for anything. Securely planted, predictable, versatile – it’s happy to be whatever you want to make of it.

Geometry

Geometry chart
Claimed Measured
Top Tube (TT) 590mm 586mm
Seat Tube (ST) 520mm 525mm
Down Tube (DT) 638mm
Fork Length (FL) 413mm
Head Tube (HT) 172mm 175mm
Head Angle (HA) 73 71.8
Seat Angle (SA) 73 72.3
Wheelbase (WB) 1068mm
BB drop (BB) 65mm 69mm

Spec

Van Dessel WTF £1,900 as tested
Frame WTF Double-butted steel frame & fork
Groupset SRAM CX1
Brakes SRAM Force mechanical
Chainset SRAM Force CX1, 40t
Cassette SRAM Force CX1, 11-32
Bars FSA SL280
Stem FSA SLK
Seatpost FSA SLK
Wheels Stan's Iron Cross
Tyres WTB All Terrain
Saddle Prologo Scratch Pro
Contact beardedman.co.uk

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