Words by David Arthur
I wanted to build up a medium-travel trail bike, a burly build with slack angles, chunky tyres, single ring, that sort of thing, simply for hooning about the Forest of Dean and BikePark Wales. But what to buy or build when there’s so much choice on the market, and which wheelsize to choose?
With the wheel size debate raging over the past few years and endless arguments and debates about which is faster/better/more fun, I had a cunning idea. I bought an old Cannondale Prophet frameset off eBay. And it takes 26in wheels. An odd move perhaps when the industry has decided 26in wheels are yesterday’s news and it’s all about 29ers and 650b bikes.
The upshot of the gradual shift to the larger wheelsizes is a generation of 26in trail bikes being discarded; unwanted and unloved. Here’s the thing, with loads of people upgrading to 29ers and 650b mountain bikes, I reasoned there must be loads of good quality 26in frames knocking about in sheds and garages, just waiting to be flogged on eBay. It could be a buyer’s paradise, I imagined.
And it nearly was. There were loads of Orange Fives, Santa Cruz Hecklers and similar frames knocking about. Most of these frames, even though a couple of years old, represented the pinnacle of 26in-wheeled mountain bike evolution. Modern-ish geometry, modern standards, top-notch build quality and reliability. But most of the frames had a few shortcomings.
I ended up with the Cannondale after a conversation with ex-Dirt mag designer Jon Gregory. He had just built himself a Prophet, after bagging a cheap one on eBay. The Prophet was the perfect choice for one prime reason: it has a 1.5in head tube. That means it’ll take any modern fork with a tapered steerer tube. Most other frames built at the same time as the Prophet had 1 1/8in head tubes.
The geometry was also pretty well dialled as well. It’s long and low, stacks of standover height from the V-shaped top tube arrangement. The head angle and bottom bracket height can be adjusted as the shock has two positions. It’s 67 degrees in its slackest setting, but I could easily fit an Angleset headset in that fat head tube.
There are a couple of downsides, I’ll admit. It has a 27.2mm seatpost, which means I can’t fit my RockShox Reverb dropper post. There’s not a lot of choice for skinny dropper posts, but KS do one and I’ll try and get one of those in. There’s also no ISCG 05 mounts around the bottom bracket, but I’m going to fit a Madison BB mounted top guide anyway, with a single ring setup and a clutch rear mech, so all good.
The best part? The frame cost me £250. It’s in tiptop condition, the bearings still tight and smooth with no play. That’s a bit of a bargain in my books, and the total build, once I’ve raided the parts bin, shouldn’t cost much more than twice that.
Think 26 is dead? Not a chance, I’m embracing the wheel size with renewed interest.