The steel-tubed Deluxe was Independent Fabrication’s (IF) ﬁrst frame after the founding team broke away from Fat City Cycles 13 years ago. It was an instant classic. At £1,325 for the frame alone, you’d expect something a bit special, and that’s just what the 29er version of the Deluxe delivers – although its subtle and simple aesthetics don’t shout about its brilliance.
Ride & handling: Lively, agile and relaxed, all at the same time
The ﬁrst thing every rider noticed with this bike was its comfort and stability on bumpy twisting singletrack. A bike’s ride feel is not dictated by one thing; it’s the sum of its parts. In the case of the Deluxe, that combination of comfort and stability – described by one rider as “almost soothing” – was the potent mix of top quality frame tubes; the deﬂective shock-shrugging rear dropouts; the fat-tyred, soft-rolling 29in wheels; a long wheelbase; the suspension fork and a suspension seatpost.
We still hear riders talking about 29ers (mountain bikes with 29in rather than 26in wheels) as though they’re great on rough ground but somehow compromised by technical singletrack. We never felt hindered by the Deluxe on even the most demanding technical trails. On the contrary, its handling was always excellent: not exactly lively, but the conﬁdence that comes with extra comfort and stability quickly translates into speed.
A custom Independent Fabrication frame can be designed and built to accommodate exactly what you need, and while that and its superb build quality are both major aspects of its appeal, it has to be said that taller riders will gain more than smaller riders from the 29er version. We’d say the crossover point is around 5ft 9in; if you’re much shorter than that, you’d be better looking at the 26er version.
With an IF frame, you’re buying into a reputation, and there’s no doubting the superb workmanship on display here. The welding is immaculate, the tubeset is among the best available to steel frame builders and the beautifully resilient ride feel of the frame manages to shine through all the peripheral component highlights when you put the bike under pressure.
The Deluxe pulls off that rare trick of feeling lively, agile and relaxed all at the same time. This soon translates into full conﬁdence to carry your speed through the sort of harsh terrain that would cause a lot of nervous ﬂinching and brake covering on a lesser machine.
Frame: One of the most desirable custom steel frames on the planet
The new 29er version of the Deluxe uses top quality Reynolds 853 tubes for the mainframe and True Temper OS Platinum for the rear stays. A mix of Reynolds and Columbus tubing is likely to be used on future models too. IF recommend the tubing mix that’s deemed most appropriate to a rider’s requirements, with different diameters or wall thicknesses chosen to suit different ride needs.
Every frame is custom built, so you can discuss your individual preferences, such as geometry or fork choice, with the frame builder. Nothing here is set in stone, and we know a lot of big wheeler riders whose ﬁxed blade fork preference would demand different geometry.
The most obviously unusual feature on the Deluxe is the design of the rear dropouts. At the juncture of the seatstays and chainstays, a stainless steel slotted bracket holds twin-bolted aluminium dropouts that can adjust back and forth to take up chain slack – useful if you feel inclined to convert to singlespeed, or possibly even to run different wheel or tyre sizes and change the wheelbase to suit.
Static frame geometry, with a 100mm-travel fork and 29in wheels, is 70° at the head and seat with a fairly high (13in) bottom bracket. This means you could theoretically run 650B wheels or rapid road wheels and a suitable rigid fork if you were looking for maximum adaptability.
Set it up as a big-tyred 29er and you could opt for an 80mm-travel fork with this geometry – a 29er is typically more stable than a 26er, with a steeper head angle setup, and the softer ride feel of a big wheeler means 80mm of fork travel is usually enough on a fast cross-country hardtail like this.
The large frame size (20in seat tube) and 100mm fork ﬁtted to our test bike emphasises the tall, slightly gawky looks that tend to put some riders off 29ers. Aesthetically, this is over-emphasised by the traditionally spacey main triangle and compact rear triangle, with a wheel dropout conﬁguration placed a full 3in behind the juncture of the seatstays and chainstays.
From a practical point of view, this aspect of the frame design appears to contribute to dispersing rear wheel shocks very effectively, although it’s hard to pinpoint proportional contributions to ride comfort exactly with big volume 29in tyres and a suspension seatpost ﬁtted.
Finishing detail is superb. All the welds are immaculate, the paint job is fantastic and there are just enough reinforcements in the form of tube butting (and a tiny gusset behind the head tube) to provide durability conﬁdence while keeping weight low.
You can choose whatever componentry appeals to you. Our cost-no-object test bike came equipped with a Truvativ Noir crankset, SRAM X.0 gears, Avid Elixir brakes, a DT Swiss X470 wheelset, Schwalbe’s Racing Ralph tyres, USE riser bar, stem and seatpost, and a Selle Italia SLR saddle.