Project Worlds Funnest Bike - Van Dessel WTF steel cyclocross adventure frame custom build

This bike, which I’ve affectionately dubbed “Project: World’s Funnest Bike” has been a long, long time in the making. Last summer, Van Dessel revised the finish on the WTF (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot), their double butted steel do-it-all bike frameset that can be built into anything from a flat bar commuter to a cyclocross racer to an adventure/gravel/ultra-cross cruiser with 29er tires.

Shortly after posting about the latest version and just before Interbike, Van Dessel sent us the $699 frameset (frame, fork, headset and seat collar) to review. I had some loose plans for it, but one thing led to another, some parts didn’t work out as planned and, well, tradeshow and other travel conspired to keep the frame hanging on the workstand for far, far too long.

The upside? When things finally did come together, it was glorious. Some parts were things that had been lightly used on other bikes and fit the bill. Others were new and sent in specifically to make this project even better. Others were actually earmarked for a different project road bike but ended up being so perfectly matched to this frame that I just couldn’t resist.

The result is nothing short of a phenomenal bike, but it all starts with the frame…

Van Dessel WTF steel cyclocross adventure road bike frame and fork weights and details

The current WTF has a tinted clear coat that shows the bare metal through, yet protects the frame inside and out from corrosion. Some of the discoloration from welding the mounting points on shows through, providing depth and character.

van-dessel-WTF-frame-and-fork-actual-weights-first-impressions02

This is a steel frame, and not a light one. At 2,395g (5.28lb) without hardware, it’s more than double today’s carbon wonder bikes.

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The fork comes in at 1,284g (2.83lb), about 3x what a good carbon cyclocross fork weighs.

Still with me? Good. These weights mean the bike can take a beating like a tank, but it sure doesn’t ride like one.

Van Dessel WTF steel cyclocross adventure road bike frame and fork weights and details

The seat tube is made for 27.2 posts, which generally provide a more compliant ride than their more rotund siblings. The headtube is made for an inset headset, but sticks with a classic 1-1/8″ straight steerer.

Van Dessel WTF steel cyclocross adventure road bike frame and fork weights and details

The bottom bracket is a bit more modern with its Pressfit 30 shell. The frame is literally ready for anything with Di2 battery mounts on the downtube, though wire ports are hard to come by (ie. nonexistent), so wiring would have to get a little creative

Van Dessel WTF steel cyclocross adventure road bike frame and fork weights and details

The frame (and fork) are cleared for 29×2.1 mountain bike tires. This design does limit the size of the chainrings you can use, which I’ll detail in Part 2.

Van Dessel WTF steel cyclocross adventure road bike frame and fork weights and details

The frame’s cable and hose guides are all optional since you can set it up as fully geared, a 1x or singlespeed/fixed. So, only use the guides you need…but my hunch is most folks will have a rear brake, so fixed guides for those would have been nice. For singlespeed/fixed builds you’ll need to use a PF30EBB (eccentric bottom bracket) to adjust chain tension.

Van Dessel WTF steel cyclocross adventure road bike frame and fork weights and details

The dropouts are refreshingly simple (shown here without the derailleur hanger). Two rack/fender mounts are on the back side, and the frame is made to handle fully loaded touring. The disc brake mounts will take any size IS adapter, but some calipers may not clear the frame when using 140mm rotors (again, wait for Part 2), so plan on 160s.

Van Dessel WTF steel cyclocross adventure road bike frame and fork weights and details

A frame break above the driveside dropout allows for belt drives to be used.

The nice thing about these flat dropouts is they’ll work with the Topeak Journey Trailer, something I’ve had for a long time but whose mounting axle won’t fit on any frame with a Breezer-style hooded dropout. Now, finally, that trailer will come back down out of the attic!

Van Dessel WTF steel cyclocross adventure road bike frame and fork weights and details

Moving back to the front of the house: The fork, like the frame, is disc brake only. Steel legs are welded to the steerer tube and taper slightly as they move toward the dropout.

Van Dessel WTF steel cyclocross adventure road bike frame and fork weights and details

Tire clearance with my 29×2.1 leaves 4-5mm between the tire and fork on the sides, more on top.

Van Dessel WTF steel cyclocross adventure road bike frame and fork weights and details

Fender and rack mounts are on the sides and front/back of the dropout. The forward facing dropouts have some healthy lawyer tabs to keep the wheel from falling out unless your skewer gets really, really lose. Note the indent on the brake side for better rotor clearance.

Van Dessel WTF steel cyclocross adventure road bike frame and fork weights and details

The disc brake tabs are IS upfront, too, so you’ll need to dig a couple of adapters out of your old parts bin. They are shaped rather nicely, though. If you’re in the market, check out VanDesselCycles.com and peruse the huge selection of complete bike builds, too. Everything from Dura-Ace Di2 or SRAM Red with hydraulic brakes to a single speed road build with mechanical discs is on offer, and you specify cockpit and wheels options and sizes, too.

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I reveal the full parts selection and the reasons behind each component…

 

42 COMMENTS

  1. Tyler – As someone who’s also got this exact frame sitting on my workstand, with only a 28.6 front derailluer clamp on order stopping me from finishing the build, I’ve been dying to see this review. I spotted the bike this weekend in the clothing review and was literally considering asking “so what about the frame’s long term review..” hopefully it’s positive, but even if it isn’t, I’m looking forward to slapping that derailluer, bleeding the brakes and playing with mine.

  2. Bill – you won’t be disappointed. The WTF has been my commuter/gravel/road/trail/everythu bike for six months and it’s glorious. Set up single speed with a belt, trp hylex, and Whiskey wheels. You will love it.

  3. I was going to ask, how’d you snake a belt onto this guy, then I spotted that glorious little bolt above the drive side rr drop out. Looking forward to the next installment.

  4. Is that a rust on the fork steerer tube? What about the miracle protection properties of the tinted clear coat (which looks killer, I must admit)?

  5. Bill – that’s funny because the FD clamp was one of the final pieces to my puzzle, too. I went with Parlee’s carbon fiber clamp because it’s the sexiest FD clamp ever, but I’m getting ahead of myself… Suffice to say, you’re going to love the bike.

  6. has anything good or favorable ever came out as a result of those crank bros wheels……..certainly not my first, second, or third……or fifth choice in wheels….other than that.. its not a bad looking rig!

  7. I love mine. It is a bit on the heavy side but right in there with most of the lightweight road bikes I raced on in the 80s. One recomendation for your readers: run hydraulic brakes. The long piece of housing required for the rear brake makes cable systems feel mushy.

  8. I have been riding this same model for a year. Bought it direct from Van Dessel. I set mine up for commuting purposes with the option to hit local loops after work. It works great and my only regret is that my other bikes don’t get ridden as much. That includes a fat bike, carbon road bike, etc. I built mine up with a 2×1 setup with a Paul tensioner and assortment of parts leftover from other builds. At first I wasnt sure I would like the WTF but it grew on me as the miles ticked by. With over 2,000 miles to date, I look forward to many more.

    I have soaked this frame many times over lately on the commute to work and there have been no rust issues either. I am going to upgrade to a rear 10 speed in the years to come but right now, it’s just a blast to ride and have almost zero maintenance to sweat. Steel is real!

  9. The timing of this review is very convenient for me. I’m replacing my cross bike with a “do anything” bike that I can ride road,/gravel on with the option for some meaty XC tires for singletrack fun. So i’ve been shopping for frames and the WTF was on the short list. Looking forward to future parts.

  10. Twin-TT frames tend to fail earlier than conventional designs. Because of the distance between the top and down tubes @ the HT, there’s bending introduced, and this is found in nearly all frames.

    Twin-TT frames, with their tiny tubes, are much worse at controlling that flex, because they don’t have the vertical stiffness to help counter that. You get more vertical compliance (comfort), but that flex fatigues the tubes, and they fail sooner than a conventional design.

    Of course, the designers could try to counter this by adding lots of material, making it super heavy… and maybe that’s what they did.

  11. Ol’ Shel’ – I believe they revised the tube diameter with the latest WTF. Maybe there will be comment on that in the next posting.

  12. my sarcastic comment because i’m amazed no one said it: “wha, no thru axles?!? gawd how stooopid”

    also, fun looking ride.

  13. I’m not going to criticize, because a frame like this will have it’s fans, but this is certainly at the “fun” end of the spectrum, as opposed to “fast”. I can’t imagine anyone using this in a cross race.

  14. These are sweet bikes! I purchased a used frame to build up as a test bike with the idea of adding them to our rental fleet. Well, that test bike is my favorite commuter bike and we’ve added four more to our fleet and we have extra frames should anyone start thinking about a conversion. People love ’em! Very fun to ride.

  15. @chris- Ive been able to find some “shifter” housing with longitudinal instead of wound steel casing that was large enough diameter. I use it for rear mech disc brakes so both the front and rear have the same “crispness”. Try it.

  16. anyone who is hating on this bike has never ridden it, or a volagi liscio, which looks nearly identical to it. i personally love the liscio, perfect multi terrain bike, and the van dessel looks to be just as awesome.

  17. rileymartin- total agreement, those wheels are infamous. They also just look weird on a steel frame. Simple un-decaled black rims would be perfect.

  18. I didn’t worry about the slight dusting of rust on the fork, or the BB area. The only areas with any oxidation are on press-fit parts (fork race and BB) where putting any kind of finish coating will potentially cause fit issues with the part, and also just get stripped away as you press in the headset race or BB anyway. Most steel forks come with a tad of surface rust, just grease it up after the race is installed and it’s never been an issue for me.

  19. @Ol’ Shel’: Fatigue is not of concern on this frame. Most steel alloys can be considered to have an infinite fatigue life.

  20. @ Bill – unless the fork race was an inch tall, something else is going on there.

    Frankly, those two areas would be the worst to have a rust issue. The point where the fork joins the steerer is a CRITICAL failure point and you hardly ever see it once the bike goes together. The bottom of the BB shell is the one place on the bike most likely to collect water and continue rusting, and also isn’t open to visual inspection often. There may be perfectly reasonable explanations for the rust in the photos (and I’m not convinced the BB isn’t just an odd photo artifact or reflection) but it’s odd that several people have asked and no explanation was given.

    I like the frame, I even like the price point and might seriously consider it if I upgrade my commuter this year, even given what I see in the photos. It would be nice to hear Tyler’s thoughts on the rust, though.

  21. @ultraclyde – that’s what I mean though, you have to set that race over that inch long section that’s all the exact diameter of the inside of the race, so any kind of finish coating would drag down in front of the race (and end up between the race and the crown of the fork, for an imperfect fit) while installing it. Any time you’re welding/cutting/brazing steel, some surface rusting happens just from humidity in the air. You remove this just prior to finishing, and in this case, you don’t finish those parts (for the above reason) so there’s no reason to do so.

    And as for the BB Shell, I have the exact same frameset, in the same color and it was the same two spots with a little surface rust dust on them.

  22. All – here’s the response about rust and frame design from Van Dessel’s Edwin:

    The frame is phosphate treated to prevent rust under the clearcoat – all clear coats are porous. When painting a frame the primer will prevent rust, I wanted to be able to see the raw tubing, brazing, and welds (dropouts/bosses are brazed, tubes are welded), and so the frame is treated before clearcoating – otherwise rust would eventually develop under the clearcoat. The contact areas – inside of BB shell and fork crown – have to be left bare since the BB/crown race need a tight fit. Those areas should get cleaned and greased on installation, which would prevent rust. Any exposed/untreated steel will rust – even just from just sitting in a box in humid air, but it will just be trace surface rust. If there is any trace rust you should just be able to wipe it clean & those areas should be greased up while building up bike (again, this is just the headset + BB areas which need to be left bare & untreated/uncoated for proper installation of headset + BB). The grease you apply on installation will protect both the frame + bearings, but we can’t treat/clearcoat steerer & inside of BB shell since any coating would be removed in order to fit the crown race + BB.

    I also read something about twin top tube designs – yes, this bike is designed for fun, not for the race course. Twin top tube design frames are heavier than standard top tube frames, no way around that – you need more material to achieve the same strength. Two small tubes have more flex and weight at same the strength than a single tube. But, there is a positive – twin tubes add smoothness to the ride – two smaller top tubes at same strength have more flex/give than a single tube. While very much performance oriented like all our bikes, the WTF isn’t designed to be a light racer, it’s designed to be fun – we have serious race bikes with the single aim of going faster, this one is designed for serious fun and enjoyment.

  23. I like it but does one have to run a seatpost clamp rack mount adapter? I don’t see any rack mounting bosses on the upper seat stays or seatpost tube. Maybe I just missed something.

  24. Van Dessel’s are no joke “Any Material”. Edwin is all about Quality. Self-made man in the Bike Industry, that’s very hard to find. Good luck to Van Dessel’s cycling team in Somerville NJ this year.

  25. Regarding the “rust” many commented on – it could be that this is a frame saver sprayed onto key areas (bottom bracket, steerer) prior to assembly – the frame saver is often of brown, rusty color

  26. Just passed 100 miles on my WTF flat bar, belt drive, 11 speed IGH “commuter” build.
    It’s like being 10 years old again, with a new Stingray. 🙂
    I need a better descriptive word to describe the bike.
    It’s not a commuter…. I’m riding as much single track/gravel as pavement.
    What is it?

  27. I love bikes like this! So tired of every bike being measured by the yardstick of racing performance. However much people may not like to admit it, for most people a bicycle really is just a toy. If you look at $2,000+ bikes out there I guarantee you 99% of them will never get raced (and sorry ladies, your local charity century doesn’t qualify as a real race!) Anyone who thinks they “need” a racing bike to ride a century is either a poser, delusional or an idiot. “Want”? Sure, who doesn’t like cool toys but “need”? Spare me. Saying you need a racing bike for a recreational ride is about as stupid as saying you need Lewis Hamilton’s F1 car to take a holiday road trip. Racing bikes are made for racing. Comfort is WAY down on the priority list as is durability. They’re also not faster in any real world sense. That’s not my opinion, that’s an absolute FACT. Want to argue otherwise? Fine, then please explain why the average speed of the Tour de France in 2012 was only 1 mph faster than the average speed of the 1982 TdF despite all the huge “innovations” in composites, aero doodads, etc. Safe to say that 1 mph is more the result of improved nutrition and training than anything on the bike (keep in mind in 1982 guys raced the entire season, not just the Tour, and there were no heart rate or wattage meters)

  28. Anyone want to weigh in on VD WTF vs Soma Wolverine? I’m dreaming of a belt-driven/disc-brakin’/commuter fun bike, and really diggin the Soma…

  29. Curious to know, what size frame did you go with? 6′ 4″ over here. BTW, twin top tubes look fantastic and glad to hear there are riders rocking the belt drive.

  30. I just purchased the wtf frame to build up. The bb shell seems too big and the pf30 does not fit snug in the shell. Is it supposed to be looser than a typical fit? I haven’t bought my cranks yet, I’m concerned there is an issue with this bb shell

What do you think?

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