The Wolverine is a neat do-anything bike made by SOMA Fabrications in San Francisco. I ordered one some time ago and it’s finally in my garage. Check out the SOMA website here: http://www.somafab.com/
The bike was built from the frame up by Cycle Monkey of Albany, CA. https://www.cyclemonkey.com/, also in the Bay Area.
My previous ride, a SOMA Double Cross (and I) where hit by a car last December, so I had to decide about a replacement.
As of this writing it’s been my ride for about 2 weeks and about 150 miles. Let’s check it out!
The Wolverine comes in either orange or black, (http://www.somafab.com/archives/product/wolverine) but I opted for a custom paint job. Color # RAL9001. Aka “Cream”. It’s a Cream Wolverine and I think it looks fantastic. White, but not bright white. Sort of soft white.
You’ll probably notice the odd looking handlebars right away. The H-Bar by Jones (http://www.jonesbikes.com/h-bar/), allow for upright riding when held at the ends and outstretch aerodynamic position when held at the forward bar.
The shape reminds me of something....
In comparison of handlebars, I am coming off a temporary bike I built outfitted with SOMA Sparrow bars, which have an elegant French shape and are narrow. They've proven to be advantageous among narrow spaces when cycling in gridlocked traffic.
So, I am getting used to the wider stance of the H-Bar. I need to be more careful in the gridlock zone, but they offer multiple hand positions for fast cruising, ducking into the wind and upright stance. And lots of real estate to attach all your stuff: Lights & bells & things.
I love the fork. It has many mounting options for racks and fenders. Besides, it has an aesthetic that gives the bike do-anything personality - which I am learning isn't much of a stretch.
This build includes many parts from the Double Cross that were undamaged post-crash. I sent them up to Cycle Monkey. They include the disc brakes by TRP, Brooks saddle, Soma stem, Orange Velo pedals, Schwalbe tires and the rear rack.
The Cycle Monkey guys also added some very nice leather grips by Brooks. The looked great, but my old hands needed something with more cushion, so I added my faux cork paddle grips.
No, that’s not the actual decal that comes on a new Wolverine. Some of you bike nerds will pick up on this. But I did want to adorn the Wolv with a nod to its steel pedigree: TANGE Prestige CroMo tubing from Japan.
Original/replacement decals are not available when you opt for a custom paint job that requires the frame be sandblasted down to bare metal.
But over at VeloCals.com (http://www.velocals.com/tange/) there are lots of cool options from earlier days that signify the quality of the material.
SOMA has these frames hand welded in Taiwan. The weld quality is really nice. (So is the custom paint job, by the way.) Bike snobs will snub TIG welded frames in favor of fillet brazed or lugged tubes. But come on folks, these joins are elegant and together with the material of choice, strong as hell.
SOMA has designed most (if not all) of their frames to accept big tires. This is a nice touch.
Seen above, my Schwalbe 38mm commuting tires are considered fairly wide. But look at the generous space allowing even wider rubber. Wide enough to get into the Mt Bike 29er zone, I'd say.
Of course, you can go as thin as you like. The Wolverine does not care. Commuting. Charity ride. Long haul touring. Off roading. It can be setup for all these.
Mainstream bike companies have finally woken up to this type of practicality, but this is new for them. Smaller brands like SOMA have been doing this from the beginning.
No chain on this bike. It consists of a belt drive and a rear wheel hub with 14 internal gears. Rear derailleur? No. Front derailleur? No. Simple shifting and braking? Yes and yes!
The Cycle Monkey guys are specialists of belt drive and internal gear systems. I am very happy with my new Wolverine. Not just the drive line, but the entire build is just great. Check them out here: https://www.cyclemonkey.com/
Seen above you can see how the steel teeth of the rear cog bite deeply into the belt and visa versa.
The belt is quiet. Smooth. Dry. Tame. It doesn’t want to chew your pants on the way to the office. It doesn’t want lubrication. It doesn’t want to suck itself into the bottom bracket or wedge itself between the rear spokes and cassette. It wants you to have a good day and a good ride. The belt is kind.
I don’t know exactly what material the belt is made of. Some sort of super duper reinforced rubber? But handling it, you can tell that this thing is tough as nails. Head on over to http://www.gatescarbondrive.com/ for more info.
The rear hub is made by Rohloff. (https://www.rohloff.de/en/products/speedhub/) Inside that huge rear hub are 14 speeds, the lowest is a fast spinning granny gear. The highest? I have yet to go fast enough for the highest gear. But I’ve only had the bike for a few weeks and it’s first 150 miles have been restricted to commuting through DTLA.
When coasting, it’s a bit "clicky" though. A bit chattery for my taste. Not sure if that will mellow with time.
The Wolverine can be set up with a traditional drive line if you wish. Derailleur, external cassette and chain. The rear stays come together in such a way that allows you to reconfigure as your situation or riding styles change. I'd call this a monogamous bike relationship. One Wolverine for life, it's all you'll ever need :)
The front hub is an unfamiliar brand for me: Hope of UK. But, wow, I am really impressed. It spins so smooth, like nothing I’ve had on any wheel. It’s some sort of rotating buttery magic. Nice choice Cycle Monkey!
One of the nice surprises of the bike is the elegance and simplicity of using single brake levers again. These SRAM levers have a clean, un-fussy look and are very comfy.
My Double Cross was outfitted with a Shimano 105 group set, including a set of Brake/Shifters. They’re a sophisticated engineering marvel in that they allow upshifting, downshifting and braking (nearly simultaneously) all in a split lever that moves in multiple directions.
But when you opt for a drive system devoid of external derailleurs, you are graced with a wonderfully simple and clean cockpit.
Speaking of shifting, it’s done by a grip shift seen above. This grip shift is not like the el-cheapo type you’ve probably seen on nearly all of those Department Store bikes. No way, not a chance.
The rubber grip is soft and velvety. It turns easily and has a silky action when the next gear is reached. Even without using the bottom 4 or top 3 gears much, there is a lot of twisting going on during my commute. But that’s to be expected. Like city driving in any geared vehicle, upshifting and downshifting your way through the grid of intersections.
But I am learning to take advantage of how it works. It’s not automatic for me yet, but you can shift while stopped. You can shift while coasting yet not pedaling. Or shift while powering on the pedals. I am loving this as a commuter working through intersections & slow and go traffic. Arrive at an intersection. Stop. While waiting, shift into the proper gear to startup. Green light and go. Nice!
Before I forget, take another look at that gorgeous leather wrap job on the bars above. Drop bars are tough enough, but on these H-Bar’s wrapping the bar tape gets complicated where the fore and rear bars meet. Kudos Cycle Monkey 😉
So, what’s the downside? For all it’s fantastic attributes, there is one negative.
Is this Wolv a tank? No. A svelte racing steed? Hardly that either. Sort of on the heavy side, but it's really not that bad.
Its easy to attribute this to the rear hub, but it’s not fair to lay all weight blame on that alone. The frame on its own isn’t the lightest one in the SOMA line, nor the heaviest either. It’s just right for what it’s meant to be used for. Besides it’s only heavy if you pick it up. When riding, it's not something that bubbles to the forefront of your experience.
On any bike I've loaded up for a typical trek to work, things get heavy & bulky. A change of clothes. Cycling layers like leggings and riding gloves. Lunch. A small thermos of java. Lock. Water. Repair kit & patch kit. Wallet, phone, glasses, sunglasses, work keys, house keys. You get the idea.
But once underway, it’s hard to tell that you’ve got much of a load at all. Even with my one side pannier stuffed, there’s no wobble or fussy handling. That makes for some confident commuting.
I really look forward to some extended riding this summer to see how the Wolverine can deliver on that type of trip. A few nights or more up the coast or among the coastal mountains. Paved, dirt or otherwise I can’t see the Wolverine caring what road surface you ride.
It’ll be nice to get out of city traffic and out on the open road cruising in high gear, stretched out on the cool H-Bar.
Till then, it’s life in the bike lane heading downtown on a Cream Wolverine. Not a bad way to go until summer arrives.
Have any of you out there, by chance, have experience with a belt driven system or internal gears? Let me know, I'd love to hear about it!
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