When it comes to nice steel bikes, there has always been a divide between the Asian-made frames at an affordable price point, and the USA made frames that typically cost three times more than the imports. Wraith is a new company that wants to challenge that standard, and offer good quality American made frames at a reasonable cost.
Offered at $1,350 including a full carbon fork, it brings the cost of an Ohio-welded Columbus Life and Zona steel within reach for most of the buyers that would typically choose an imported frame (without fork) around the $600-$700 price point.
The greatest part about the Paycheck is that while it is affordable, there are no cut corners. In fact there are even some pretty cool, unique features. Take a look past the jump to see how it looks at first glance and first ride….
We received the Wraith for testing after the ‘cross season was well over, shortly after posting the news about the brand’s launch. But since the gravel scene has grown out of the upper midwest, and we have had a pretty low snow year, the Paycheck was tested as a gravel bike. As you read this review, keep in mind that the Paycheck is a ‘cross bike, and while a lot of people use cross bikes on the gravel there is a difference in riding types, and can affect how a bike is perceived. With that in mind, the Paycheck is most definitely a cyclocross bike. It is short in the top tube, high, steep, and has a pretty low overall stack. Because of this, the bike is really not that comfortable for more than an hour, but it is extremely fast handling and responsive, exactly what you would want to suffer for an hour on a taped course.
I took off on the first ride without looking at the geometry chart. After building lots of similar bikes over the years, I did not want any pre-conceived notions influencing my judgement of the bike. Within the first mile, I thought to myself, “wow, this is most certainly a pure cyclocross bike.” The fit and handling of the Columbus Zona machine was very impressive when out of the saddle, as it felt more like a stout alloy frame under torque than a comfortable steel. The short chainstays and steep head angle keeps the overall wheelbase pretty short, so much so that even this large-sized bike had toe overlap with the front wheel and my size 11.5 feet. The only geometry number that didn’t jive with how it feels was the 70mm BB drop, the riding of the bike made it feel much higher.
The paint and graphics were nice and simple. A single color without powdercoat and single color decals are unique and attractive, but not garish. The gray finish is nice because it could be built up understated, or go along with any anodized bling accessories the owner chooses.
Our test bike was delivered with a full SRAM CX1 Hydraulic kit and Novatec CXD disc brake wheelset. This groupset made for an excellent ride that really let the frame shine through, as the kit worked without complaint. The only strange thing to note is that the 58cm test bike was supplied with a 42cm bar. Maybe this was intentional for the tightness of a cyclocross course, but I would prefer a wider bar.
One of the most important features to any cyclocross bike is mud clearance. The Paycheck delivers with a smart design that deletes the chainstay bridge for the most mud clearance possible down below, and a gorgeous curved seatstay bridge that gave monstrous amounts of clearance to the 40c tires.
Offered as a frame and fork for $1,350, the build spec is up to the purchaser, so I really only have one critical comment for the frame. On both rear dropouts, there was welding cutaway on the upper hoods. This is caused by the welding material removing some of the dropout material, and is typically a sign of going too hot or fast during welding. This small mistake is something that is typically not allowed on the quality control process of imported frames, and should most definitely not be seen on an American made product. Hopefully, this is just a small company using a blemished frame for their review bike. The good news is that in the end, it doesn’t affect how the bike performs, as it’s just a cosmetic flaw, the full weld was completely intact.
It is great to see small companies trying to bring manufacturing back to the USA, and also attempting to change the status quo by getting price competitive with the imported product. $1,350 isn’t cheap, but factoring in that it includes a full carbon fork, there is a pretty good deal to be had. The fork is
an open-model imported product from a company called Carbonage, and is the same model that you may see being sold aftermarket by other US companies for around $450 a Whisky No.7 CX Disc fork, which retails for $395. So, if you follow that train of thought, $950 for a US made steel frame is attractive enough that I would highly recommend sending your paycheck in Wraith’s direction.