Fully rigid MTBs from the last century make excellent townies and commuters. They’re affordable, capable of clearing wide, 26″ tires with fenders, and often have rack mounts to boot! They’re also not so precious that you’ll feel bad about throwing it around during your commute or errand run.
Here we have a mid-90s Dirt Research Kenai frameset that I picked up from our good friend, Sukho
in PDX. Admittedly, the build took a bit longer than expected because I waffled between three directions we could have gone: bring it back to its former glory as a fully rigid MTB, dirt-drop Cigne’d
off-road tourer, or Klunker’d
basket’d townie. I think the right direction was chosen.
Dirt Research was a brand developed and designed by Tom Teesdale, the legendary framebuilder who built bikes under TET Cycles for the likes of Ritchey, Kona, Dean, Fisher, etc… Not a whole lot of information is available online about the Dirt Research brand as it seems that it was around for only a couple years in the mid-90s. Additionally, this particular Kenai frame seems a bit elusive as it has some fancier cable routing around the seat cluster and different colored decals than other, similar models I’ve seen online. The routing looks like it was grabbed from the Pecos, perhaps it was repainted? If any sleuths reading this have any additional info regarding the frameset, please let us know in the comments!
Here is that super neat cable routing. Since this is a 1x drivetrain, one of the brazed-on cable guide is unused. I’m not sure if this is better or worse than the a regular cable stop, but it sure is cool! I imagine this was specifically designed for cantilever brakes rather than V-brakes as the cable’s positioning makes the exit right down the middle of the stays, perfect for our powerful Zeste Brakes.
The frame is built from Columbus Nivacrom tubing, which is their offroad racing tubeset. It feels fairly lightweight and springy for their oversized profiles. According to the label it’s “extra leggera”, extra light. The fork uses 4130 Tange chromoly steel with a lovely unicrown.
All-in-all this was a fun build up that provided us numerous opportunities to use VO components and accessories in a slightly different way than usual. The rear end and fork do have fender mounts, so I used an L-bracket to get the necessary clearances and solid mounting. Since the clearances were slightly different between each end, I gently shaped the rear L-bracket around the seatstay bridge. Not really necessary, but makes for a lovely, custom mounting detail.
The front end got a Cantilever Randonneur Front Rack with a Wald 137 Basket firmly zip-tied to the platform. A Transporteur Bag keeps all the stuff in. Add a butt-rocket bag or a rear rack and you’ll be good to go for an overnight or a couple day long tour!
Shifting is taken care of by Shimano’s SLX 11 speed system. Pairing the Shimano ZEE Crankset’s 36T chainring with the 11-40T cassette provides enough gearing to climb a tree. The derailleur also features a clutch, so chainslap is a thing of the past. You can also turn it off, which makes shifting slightly easier since you aren’t fighting the powerful spring for each shift. This option is very useful for offroad vs city riding.
I’m happy with the way this turned out. It’s a ton of fun to ride, and I am happy to keep an older, obscure bike back on the road, even if its current setup isn’t exactly the way it was intended to live its life!