a review of the Smokestone Mr Harry
As you might have read in a recent post I was lucky enough to be invited to the launch party for Graham Foot’s latest Smokestone bike, The Mr Harry “Gravel” bike. I’ve used inverted commas here as I think it blurs the boundaries of lots of bike genres, but read on and see.
When I used to sell and fix bikes for a living I always spoke to the customer about buying the best frame they could for their money as this was the heart of the bike and all the things that hang on it to make it go, make it stop, make it comfortable or make it fast are all replaceable. Buy the bike with the great handling frame and upgrade the parts as they inevitably wear out.
And so I approached this review as a test of the frame rather than the parts it came with. this is doubly important as it will be sold as a frameset first, allowing the purchaser to spec it exactly how they want it. However, the way this frame has been designed challenges this, again blurring the conventional wisdom. So with this in mind there will be a report on some of the parts.
Disclaimer: This isn’t my bike, I’m just lucky enough to be the first person to test it in exchange for a UKgravelCO sticker 🙂
The Mr Harry is a titanium frame, officially Titanium grade 9 (3Al/2.5V) designed in Gloucestershire and manufactured in the Far East and comes with that lovely finish you only get with Ti. The welds are neat and tidy and it comes with a sloping but straight (yay for aesthetics!) top tube which is there to give a better anchor point for a frame bag, bent top tubes create all sorts of headaches for bike frame bags even if they do give more stand over height. The frame is drilled for an internal dropper post size 31.6mm to give you maximum options, has three bottle cage mounts, two inside the front triangle and one under the down tube and production frames will come with rack mounts as standard.
The bottom bracket is external and threaded, rejoice! and is a standard size (73mm) despite the huge amount of clearance the frame allows. The chain stays are tubes rather than the current fashion of one side being a plate to allow clearance and the ability to run a large chainring and this not just enhances the look of the bike it helps with the side to side stiffness but still allowing vertical compliance. With the bike static and with me putting all my weight on one pedal there was next to no side to side deflection so all your pedalling power is going towards propelling the bike forward.
The rear dropout is bolt through and the spacing is 148mm boost. these dropouts slide fore and aft along with the disc mount to accommodate the wheel/tyre size and shorten or lengthen the wheelbase. With 29 x 2.6mm tyres fitted the dropouts were set nearly all the way back, so almost max wheelbase. The head tube is standard Top cup = IS 42, Lower cup = IS 52 full specifications for all the sizes can be found here
The first ride was a dialling in process, i adjusted the roll and the height of the bars, the saddle height and fore-aft placement to try and replicate as near as possible my own gravel bike to give a fair comparison. Initially I was going to ride in the Forest of Dean but then I thought the best test would be to ride the bike on familiar trails, routes which I know well and know how my own bike feels on them. These are a mix of short sections of tarmac, very muddy bridleways, lots of slick tree rooted forest, sandy field edges, canal towpath, wooden steps, gravel double track, slick clay cut throughs, draggy grass and moorland and trails the local MTBers have built in the woods with steep drop ins, off camber berms, rollers and deliberate obstacles such as fallen trees. So just about everything apart from dry and dusty and rock gardens.
I was concerned that as the bike was set up with pretty much the longest wheel base possible it would handle like a narrow boat but it turned into corners just great, it’s not a 26″ wheeled 4x bike but you turn the bars and it goes where you point it, be it downhill off camber or loose soil over roots. as the ride went on I challenged it to more and more trails that i tip toe down on my gravel bike and it just bombed through, the more i rode the more confident I got. Add a dropper post to this and it’ll go pretty much anywhere you point it. Seated climbing is comfy and only the slickest climbs defeated it, but this is more to do with the tyres than the frame. Climbing was also enhanced by the seat angle, not being too steep it allowed a great sitting position that enabled weight shifting to add traction when needed. All this off road prowess wasn’t at the expense of road manners though, it happily bowled along the tarmac sections and the big tyres just shrugged off pot holes, in fact I was deliberately riding over the worst bits for fun!
Titanium is known for its comfortable ride and I’ve ridden Ti frames in the past that have been comfy but the downside of this is they can be a bit noodle like, flexing in the wrong places visibly. I’ve had MTBs that you can feel flex from side to side at the head tube and bottom bracket area. this frame however managed to be rock solid in these areas but at the same time was a very comfortable ride. The only way I can describe it is it’s like a good quality steel frame without the weight penalty.
Lets talk about tyres
So, as i mentioned earlier even though this is really a review of the frame there’s no getting away from the fact that he bike in this specification has big tyres. They are 29 x 2.6 a size you see on trail or enduro MTBs altough the tread on these isn’t as aggressive as most. The astonishing thing is that these aren’t even the biggest tyres the frame will take. it’ll happily accommodate 29 x 3.0.
This bike is marketed as an adventure bike and in this guise with these tyres I can see the bike tackling the Highland 550 or The Tour divide. loaded up with everything you need to survive it’ll deliver you to the end if not in comfort then less fatigued than on an alloy framed bike and less scared of a carbon frame being able to take the knocks of such an adventure.
For my local riding the tyres were an absolute giggle, on the off road sections they were brilliant, confidence inspiring and rolled well. On the tarmac sections they actually surprised me how little resistance they gave. Would i want to ride a 100k on the road on them? no, but read on.
Perception is your only limit
The title of this article comes from a comment made during my ride. On a short section between woods there was a quarter mile of tarmac with an off camber grass verge to one side, of course I took this option and towards me on the road came a group of road bike riders, i waved and they waved back and as they passed I heard one say “what the **** was that?” which I love! But it made me think that this bike has unlimited possibilities. The big tyres are great fun if you are lucky enough to ride 100% off road, although I’d probably go 2.4″ for myself. But run narrower tyres and the frame is nimble enough and light enough to gave a great account of itself in a cross race, a little larger tyre and it’s going to be exploring back lanes and unknown bridleways with all day comfort. you could even slip some 28mm slicks on there and join the local chaingang or 10mile TT. I’d have two sets of wheels, one with big tyres and one with 40-45mm tyres because I think this bike would absolutely fly on a set of light wheels with gravel tyres. The only limit is the riders imagination.
Graham Foot, the designer of this frame has deep seated roots in mountain bikes from almost the first day they caught on in the UK, Graham knows off road and has produced frames since those early days, better known these days for his Fat bikes. All that accumulated knowledge has gone into this frame, but I think Graham will be the first to admit he has less experience with drop bar bikes but Graham listens to his customers and with the likes of Andy Deacon, star of this years GD-Duro and long distance riding events inspiring and adding ideas he has come up with a super versatile, well mannered frame that somehow manages to be stable but still exciting with the feel of steel and be light in the process. However you spec this frame, as adventure bike, monstercrosser or gravel bike you won’t be disappointed.
As mentioned above, this is really all about the frame but for those interested here’s the spec as ridden,
- Frame weight – 1.98kg (size Large)
- Price (frame only) £1600 for Titanium frame , sliding dropouts 12mm bolt through
- Full bike as pictured £3800
- Fork – Whisky No9 mtn 15mm
- Wheels and hubs – Halo Vapour 35mm
- Tyres – Vittoria XC Trail 29 x 2.6″
- Chainset – Sram GX with 36T ring
- Rear Mech – Shimano GRX R800
- Shifters – Shimano GRX R800
- Cassette Shimano GRX R800 11-40
- Brake Caliper – Shimano SLX
- Bars – Genetic “flare”
- Stem – Genetic STV
- Seatpost – Genetic Syngenic 31.6mm
- Saddle – Prologo Dimension NDR
- Size Tested – Large
- Sizes Available 52cm, 54cm, 56cm (large), 58cm, 60cm