Like most humans, I, too, have succumbed to purchasing bikes designed for global averages and mass marketing. In all honesty, I hadn't given much thought to the concept of owning a custom bike, until recently. I had normalized the idea that bikes were manufactured in overseas factories and then purchased from bike shops with stock build kits. That's just how the world worked. Right?!
Over the past few decades, the industry has gradually eroded any appreciation for craftsmanship and the connection to the bicycle manufacturing process, replaced by a focus on over-the-top branding and nonsensical viral videos. It wasn't always that way. I'm old enough to remember a time when brands as big as Trek were actually cool. Back then, bikes were manufactured closer to home, and brands proudly emphasized their quality and authenticity alongside performance.
Last year, I started considering getting a new bike for the type of riding I do and the terrain here on the island. I needed a bike that could handle our local chonky trails and also let me ride fast-gravel to connect a few different mountain biking zones. Since starting this site, my eyes have been opened to just how many custom builders and small batch brands there are out there. When I started getting to know some of the people directly, the idea of purchasing a big brand bike started to seem almost irresponsible. The authenticity that the big brands once flaunted had been passed down to a new breed of bike builder.
Around the same time, Em from WZRD. posted about how "XC will never die" and it really struck a chord with me. I used to race in the 90s when things were simpler, before all the genre divergence. Back then, it was all about getting on your bike and riding as fast as you could over anything in front of you, whether it was gravel or singletrack. Em's words woke me up to the fact that I'm probably an XC rider—more than gravel or bikepacking, even. I loved Em's bikes and everything about WZRD. - no nonsense with a slap to the face of societal norms. I made a decision and messaged Em on the spot to see what was possible.
I didn't have many clear ideas on geometry but I knew I wanted an XC hardtail beefed out for local terrain. Em immediately understood what I was looking for and quickly whipped out a bikecad drawing that was very close to what I was after. Together, we decided on one small tweak to the HTA and locked in the design.
The result is what Em calls New Country. In Em's words “New Country takes everything you loved about your cross country bike - efficient, quick handling, comfortable pedaling position, two water bottles but removes all the things that scared you about your cross country bike - 70° head tube angles, paper thin tires.” All of this with a handpicked tubeset from Dedacciai, Tange, and Reynolds. It doesn't rely on yokes for clearance; instead, the ample clearance is achieved through the artful bending of steel. For me, the design strikes a perfect balance between a slack trail destroyer and a high-speed XC machine, allowing me to go anywhere I want. Purrrfect.
|Head Tube Angle:||66°|
|Seat Tube Angle:||75°|
|Tires:||Maxxis Rekon 29x2.3 w/ Cushcore XC|
|Fork:||FOX 32 100mm|
|Drive:||Shimano XT 12sp|
For the look, I had a clear vision of an 80s Jaguar XJS in my head, a car that my Dad's friend owned and blew my mind as a young child. I still adore the combination of British racing green, chrome trim, and tan interior to this day. The XJS is a perfect metaphor for a modern rig—long, low, and fast. However, I found an even better color example in my neighbor's large dumb truck, which I shared with Em as inspiration for the bike's color. A big shout-out to King Paint Works in Squamish for their amazing work on the color, especially the sun-catching metal flake. The final result exceeded my expectations and brought the whole thing to life.
One crucial aspect that Em and I discussed was incorporating as many BC-based brands as possible into the build. Yet again I was blown away this time by the amount of representation of BC in the final product. We managed to secure some fantastic components from various local brands: NOBL TR35 wheels (stay tuned for a full review), an exceptional stem and brake adaptors from North Shore Billet in Whistler, a Chromag Lift saddle and dropper post, grips and a front chainring from One Up Components. Many of the finer details were filled with Wolf Tooth components, which we can consider a BC brand for the purposes of this article (but don't tell them I said that). The entire setup is complemented by a lightweight XT 12-speed drivetrain and a 100mm Fox 32 fork, perfectly matching the overall color scheme.
The result, in my mind, is the raddest looking bike I have ever seen. As I'm getting to know it better, I'm realizing that its ride is unlike anything I've experienced. It's sleek, low, and, most importantly, incredibly fast. The riding position feels unique, upright yet slightly leaned-over posture (🤷♂️), reaching over the bike rather than directly over the rear wheel like on an enduro bike. The 66-degree head tube angle and fork rake push the front wheel out in front, resulting in a quick and snappy front end. The fork lockout allows me to switch between fast-gravel and singletrack modes effortlessly. I still have a lot to learn about this machine, but even after a few rides, I can feel the bond beginning to form.
Working with Em has completely transformed my outlook on bikes and how they are created. After this, I can never go back to mass manufactured bikes. Also, I've come to understand that getting a custom bike is more than just building something that fits your body; it's commissioning an artist. I must admit, I was a fan of WZRD. before embarking on this project, but I never fully grasped the level of dedication Em puts into their bikes. It's Em's unique tastes and extensive experience that shaped this bike into what it is. I was more than happy to take a backseat and let Em guide the way. I made a conscious effort to trade my need for control for a sense of excitement and surprise, and I'm incredibly grateful that I did.
This machine is Em's creation—I'm just the lucky guy who gets to ride it.
Bike Gear Database is a grassroots community of riders. We make content because we love doing it. If you found this article helpful, you can support the author directly by hitting the button below.