Grab a cup o’ joe and hunker down…this review will be a good one.
I should share this disclaimer first: In this review, you will not read the following words: grams, ounces, weight, aero, threshold, V02, shaved, or KOM. OK? Read on…
Let me start by saying that this bicycle was an absolute pleasure to have in my stable for a few months. Every time I looked at it sitting in my garage, it telepathically reached out to me to ride it… to ride it everywhere. Somewhere. Anywhere. So I rode it, a lot.
Tanglefoot Cycles like to refer to themselves as “Retro-Futurists”. I can dig that, as their Tanglefoot Hardtack is one of the most unique bikes I have ridden in a long time and fits the ‘Retro-Futurist’ moniker.
How About a lil’ Context
The bike was sent to me by James, the purveyor of a small, bike shop run out of a 100-year-old printing press and pharmacy in ‘downtown’ Poultney, Vermont called Analog Cycles.
Tanglefoot Cycles is a small bike company that was born in 2019. As of this review, it consists of only a few talented employees.
They make bikes that are fun, quirky, and super capable like the Bull Thistle, Moonshiner and the Hardtack. Their line of bikes are built with a philosophy that will challenge the bike industry’s status quo. Tanglefoot Cycles is showing us that it’s “OK” not to ride what or how “everyone else rides”.
And I am 100% on board with this line of thinking.
I tend to agree with the Grant Petersen way of thinking, and I sensed a touch of Grant’s “velosophy” in what Tanglefoot was about. After talking to James about the Grant Petersen influence, he told me that he feels he “owes some debt to Grant”, saying that he would describe Tanglefoot Cycles like this:
“If Grant was born on the East Coast 20 years later, he would’ve made these bikes.”
As a matter of fact, at the Analog shop, they keep all of the Rivendell Readers (Rivendell is Grant’s bike company) close at hand for inspiration, as well as keeping a few of the later Bridgestone catalogs (Grant used to be the Marketing Director/Product Manager for the bicycle division of Bridgestone) in the bookcase…stating that “WWGD (What Would Grant Do) isn’t far from our minds.”
All of that aside, James said that “Tanglefoot is its own distinctive beast”. And at this point, I think it’s important to help get some insight into what James calls, “Tanglefootism”…
To James, whose thoughts on the subject led him to write something of a Manifesto on the subject of Tanglefootism…“Tanglefoot exists because of where we live and how we ride. Tanglefoot’s goal is to offer a new tool to a community of riders that share our love for the roads less traveled. We’ve ridden dirt roads, pushed and carried our bikes for miles, landed in briars, browned out on climbs.
We’ve been lost after dark with no water/food/map/service/lights/clue. We’ve done group rides with the wrong groups, wandered downstream hoping to find a crossing, cleaned that one rock garden, will clear that other one, one day.
All of these experiences are the foundation of Tanglefoot. Not racing, not hi-tech gadgetry, or the hype of each new model year. We are creating a channel for the years of hard lessons learned and hand carving our values; as riders, bike shop nerds, and humans in a sublime but troubled ecosystem.”
The Hardtack feels like all of this and more.
On to the Review!
Our European Tech Editor, Cory introduced James to me because he knew I would be onboard with Tanglefoot Cycles and the philosophy behind its conception.
He wasn’t wrong.
After my initial introduction to James, he asked me how I would be using the bike. I told him that I think it would be kick-ass to run it as a 27.5 x 2.6 bikepacking shred machine. He then sent and had me fill out their Remote Enlightened Fitting + Build Worksheet. It was a very detailed and thorough questionnaire. Asking questions that you’d expect like, “how tall are you” and “what kind of riding do you do” to more exciting but less common questions like “what is your PBH” (pubic bone height) and “if you are a gear inch nerd (like James), list your desired gear inch range.”
The result was a bike that was spec’d the way I would’ve built it myself… seriously, like to a “T”. It was refreshing, and felt like they understood ME as a cyclist… the bike was what I actually wanted and not what they thought I wanted/needed.
The climbing gear inches were right, the reach was perfect, and the saddle was comfortable and exactly what I would’ve picked. Plus, it looked amazing!
What’d the Hardtack come spec’d with, you ask?
Here is the spec on the review bike:
- Sram Force 22 mechanical brake/shift lever
- Sram Force 1 rear derailer
- Sram 11-51 cassette.
- Custom wheels, using Velocity USA Blunt SS 30 rims in 27.5 polished aluminum
- Schwalbe Rock Razor 27.5 x 2.6 tires set up tubeless
- The front hub was a Son 28 12 dynamo hub
- Ingrid CRS-X cranks with 32t chain ring
- OneUp Pedals
- Spank Flare 25 Vibrocore Drop Bars (I didn’t measure them, but, they felt like 480cm in width)
- Tanglefoot Corduroy Road bar Wrap (super unique and comfortable)
- Discord stem with a 30mm offset.
- Sinewave Beacon front dynamo light
- Busch+Muller rear dynamo light
- Rever MX-2 mechanical disc brakes, front and rear
- Front and rear 160mm Rollci Floating Rotors
- Ritchey WCS seatpost
- King Cage water bottle cages
- Brooks B-17 Special saddle
The frame is also routed for a dropper post if need be.
How the Hardtack Rides
As mentioned above, the bike was really fun to ride.
It checked all of the boxes on my personal list of requirements that I like in a bicycle. It was really comfortable, rolled fast, versatile, and unique. If being aero while riding a feather-weight bicycle in a super aggressive riding position is your jam, then this bike is not for you.
The geometry was forgiving, and when combined with the stem and handlebar combo, the tall head tube allowed for a pretty upright riding position, inducing a nice #partypace while out riding. Again, this bike forces you to change the way you think a bike should/could look, ride and feel.
When I first mounted the Hardtack, my body settled right into a natural riding position. It was non-intrusive and instantly comfortable. It felt perfect.
When climbing some steep, technical trails I found the bike nimble, but not squirrely, allowing for quick adjustments to my line without feeling frantic. On the shorter descents, the bike was again, super easy to point and go, while still able to quickly make corrections to my line. On the longer descents, the bike felt very stable and planted. This leads me to my one small complaint…
The only item I would change on this Hardtack’s spec list would maybe be the bar. Like I just mentioned, the bike did very well on short technical decent. But on really long descents with some technical sections thrown in where you stay on the brakes at times during the descent, I found that I got a little beat up by the time I reached the bottom. Being a cyclist that has chosen to ride rigid on all of the bikes I’ve owned over the last seven years, I am no stranger to getting knocked around a bit.
This just seemed a bit more than normal.
I did lower my tire pressure a bit and that helped some. I think some gel inserts or different bar tape would help as well. This is also, the first dirt drop bar mountain type bike I have ridden, it could just be some simple adjustments to my riding technique while on this machine… that could fix it. I really think swapping in a steel or titanium handlebar, in the same width would’ve been the ticket.
Again, maybe a little more time with it would’ve helped.
The one thing I really wanted to do was get the Hardtack out on a bikepacking trip while I had it. I installed the Old Man Mountain Elkhorn rack and moved the dynamo light to the front of the rack. James sent me a Fifth Season Squall Sack waxed canvas bag to use, which was perfect.
I used a BOB trailer equipped thru-axle from Robert Axle Project so I could pull my trailer. I was pretty excited, but unfortunately, life got in the way and I didn’t get around to getting the trip done. Booo!!
How to Order Your own Tanglefoot
When someone reaches out to order a Tanglefoot they get a huge questionnaire (I mentioned this earlier). It’s called the Enlightened Fitting and Build worksheet. After filling that out and sending it back, the customer then receives in return, a pre-filled out, but modifiable spreadsheet of the complete build.
At this point, the customer can pick whatever parts that they want, within the drop-down menus. I like this ordering process, it seems to give the consumer a lot of versatility, being able to pick the parts you want as opposed to settling for a “standardized” build kit. I’m not sure, but would be willing to bet, that there are not many boutique bike companies out there that would offer a dynamo front hub and Brooks B-17 in their “build-kits”. I find it super refreshing.
My review bike is for sale now on the Analog Cycles website and looks to be nicely discounted. Go check it out, you won’t regret it.
The Hardtack I rode was a size large. Below is the geometry and sizing info for the Hardtack frame.
All and all, the Tanglefoot Hardtack was a bike that begged to be ridden everywhere and anywhere. It was super versatile and comfortable. It was completely at home running to the store for a few items or shredding your local singletrack. I would have zero issues riding this bike all day…it really fits like a glove. Kudos to James for nailing the build!
The bike I rode for this review was a premium build… with such attention to detail from the gold water bottle screws and matching gold cable end crimps, to the gold trim rings on the Sinewave Beacon dynamo light. Just beautiful.
The Tanglefoot Cycles Hardtack is an understated and amazing bike that literally draws you to it, to get on it and ride it. I will never forget it, it felt right at home in my stable and in my cycling lifestyle.
I’ll miss it.
Do you think it thinks about me?
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