I looked down at the Titanium frame underneath me. An old drovers road full of gravel and puddles passing by at an alarming rate.
It’s January and I’m piloting an Olsen Otepoti. The bike that in 4 months time I’ll be pedalling round the 600km Dales Divide route. There are other ambitiously long off road events in 2023 but this is where the focus lies now.
I first spoke to Steve Olsen, in November. He’s a friend of a friend in the cycling industry and I was really interested to see what he was all about. If you’ve followed anything I’ve been involved with you’ll know I’m big on championing UK brands that fight to bring diversity to our little cycling niche. Steve’s history for research and development is rich and varied. Though he doesn’t strike me as the type to exclaim it so boldly. SteveO helped to build up On-One's Carbon, Titanium and Steel range, back in the glory years, before doing other projects for Cooper and Buzz Bikes.
In our conversation I was struck by two things, I’ve never known a man to have a smile that meant so many different things*, and boy does he know how to build reliability into a machine. Currently Olsen Bikes are built exclusively from Titanium, as is the case with the Otepoti I’m riding. They’re built to last and they’re built to be flexible of application.
I’m certain that if it was down to Steve I’d be doing the Dales Divide single speed. His passion for simplicity is clear. Build a bike right, ride the living daylights out of it. Everything he does is to minimise the need for faffing.
It sounds like marketing bumpf, but the dropouts and the way in which the frame utilises them to accommodate belt drive systems is beautiful. I can appreciate dropouts on an artisanal steel frame, with hand-filed welds that transform tubes to flats as if they were never separate. But this is a different beauty. This is engineering, the kind that’s so well considered it could have been cut and welded by a ham fisted chump like me and it would still be gorgeous. The use case of course is that these dropouts need to provide a variable chainstay length to tension a belt drive whilst still allowing a split frame to install/remove said belt.
The Olsen MTN Hell fork fits a rear wheel. Why put a rear wheel on the front? So if you muller your freehub you’ve got a spare. It takes everyone a second to think about it when I tell them but no one so far has turned their nose up at it. In my specific case I’ve got a belt drive cog on one wheel and a Shimano HG Freehub on the other so it’s easier for me to switch between belt and chain drive. Before I leave for the ultras I’ll switch some bits up to accommodate having spares. Clever.
Anyway, that’s enough technical guffing. I’ve put 100km on it so far. Some as a belt drive single speed and some geared. A good mix of technical Pennine Bridleway, gravel paths, and green lanes.
I’ve ridden rigid 29ers before. I’ve always enjoyed the tank like capabilities. Point and shoot. Keep crawling.
This isn’t that.
This feels like a poppy hardtail. If the other rigid 29ers I’ve ridden are Land Rovers with winches and bull bars, this is a Group B rally monster. Cliche trigger warning, it begs to be ridden faster. Something about the geometry I can’t quite put my finger on means it’s super stable and feels long, but at the same time if you want to pop the front wheel up and unweight over the really gnarly stuff, it all just works. A bike this big shouldn’t be this much fun. It should be sensible.
I’ll come back for round two of insight once I’ve put some properly big rides in - and we’ll see if the cheeky characteristics suit being loaded up with luggage. As with any machine you’re going to go the distance with it pays to spend a little time getting everything dialled in, and that’s exactly what I’ve done so far.
I’ve got to extend my thanks to Steve and his team for providing me with the Otepoti as a friend for the season. I’ve every confidence that I’ll break down long before the bike does.
*Somehow Steve didn’t say “ride the big rides single speed and see how you get on” but his smile did. I’m not convinced, but it was as loud and clear as any other request I’ve ever had…