The duo behind Curtis Bikes – founder Brian Curtis and current owner Gary Woodhouse – have been fabricating framesets for decades, since 1972 in fact. Their early days included work on custom motocross frames, and they have a deep-rooted heritage in the world of BMX racing, which led to them switching to building bicycles only. Each frame is handmade to order and everything except powder-coating is done in-house in deepest Somerset.
With its 650b wheels, the AM7 sits alongside the 29er AM9 in Curtis’s all-mountain/trail range. If trail bikes aren’t your thing, Curtis will build you anything from a cruiser BMX to a bikepacking adventure bike, an XC race bike to a DH hardtail.
Curtis AM7 frame
Most of the front triangle is made from Reynolds 853 and 631 steel, with the remaining tubes chosen to suit the shape and nature of the bike to be built.
The order process includes plenty of discussion with the frame builder to ascertain the right mix of stiffness, weight and comfort. Curtis fillet-brazes its frames, giving them their distinctive smooth joins between the tubes – shown off here with the optional polished and clear-coated finish (£150 extra).
The AM7 is built around a 140 to 150mm-travel fork, which for a hardtail is a fair amount. That’s because as the fork cycles through its travel, the frame’s dynamic geometry changes (because the whole bike effectively pivots around the rear wheel axle), steepening the head and seat angles as it goes. The more travel the fork has, the bigger the change in geometry.
My test bike was one of Curtis’s demo models, with a 150mm fork, 66-degree head angle, 425mm chainstays and 73-degree seat angle. However, you can specify your own front-triangle geometry for no extra cost.
Thirteen RAL colours are available as standard, as well as translucent paint or the clear-coat finish for an extra cost. Frame details, such as cable guides and various different dropout options, can be specified at the point of order.
I was seriously impressed by the frame’s construction – the brazing is tidy and touches such as the cable guides are all beautifully finished (internal routing is available too).
Curtis AM7 geometry
|Seat angle (degrees)||73||73||73||73|
|Head angle (degrees)||66||66||66||66|
|Seat tube (cm)||40.64||44.45||48.26||50.8|
|Top tube (cm)||60.45||61.4||62.28||63.5|
|Head tube (cm)||10||11||12||13|
|Bottom bracket drop (cm)||29.46||29.46||29.46||29.46|
Curtis AM7 kit
My bike was representative of the £4,280 full build that Curtis offers. It came with an 11-speed Shimano XTR drivetrain, a Factory-level Fox 36 FIT4 fork with 150mm of travel, and a set of Hope enduro wheels shod with sticky Schwalbe rubber.
Hope brakes and a Renthal cockpit finished off the package, which left me with few complaints – although if I was buying, I’d probably request a GRIP2-damped Fox 36 fork for a marginally smoother feel.
Curtis AM7 ride impressions
Of all of the bikes I had on test, it was the Curtis that turned the most heads in the car park, with its fillet-brazed tube junctions and orange Hope kit popping in the sunlight.
It has plenty of potential to turn heads on the trail too, with a beautifully supple feel (within the context of a hardtail, at least) that did a good job of smoothing out the terrain. That’s likely thanks to the composition of the different tubing chosen.
At the front, the 150mm fork has plenty of travel to soak up impacts, although with the stock 66-degree head angle, the dynamic geometry of the bike became a little steep for my liking when heading downhill on steeper gradients.
With the fork compressed, the head angle steepens significantly with so much travel on offer (at full compression, I measured it at 72 degrees), and the bike started to feel a touch squirrelly.
The geometry works better on flatter, twisty tracks, though, with the Curtis displaying snappy, accurate handling as you thread between the trees.
It’s worth bearing in mind that alterations to the geometry don’t incur an additional cost. As such, were I to buy my own Curtis, I’d simply specify a slacker head angle, like that found on the BTR Ranger or Shand Shug also on test. The AM7 would then handle as I’d like on gnarlier tracks, while still delivering a smooth ride elsewhere.
Alternatively, if I was likely to be riding flatter, twistier trails, I might spec a shorter-travel fork, thus reducing the change in dynamic geometry.
Add this easy customisation to the AM7’s excellent ride and construction quality, and it’s a compelling option.
How we tested
The UK has a rich heritage of building some of the most beautiful bespoke steel bikes in the world and we wanted to celebrate that history by getting our hands on some of the most lust-worthy British-built boutique hardtails around.
Normally, we’d give each of them a score based on geometry, kit and ride quality. However, with three of the four brands offering complete customisation (and the fourth offering a choice of frames and finishing touches), we didn’t think it fair to be too critical of a bike’s shape or smoothness because these are things that you, as the customer, have the option to modify.
Instead, we’ve spent our time putting in the miles on these bikes to get to grips with the way they ride, while also discovering the options available to you and suggesting what we might keep, or change, were we lucky enough to be in the market for such a machine.
Also on test
All of the test bikes have the brands’ stock geometry. Some came with standard build kits, while others had custom specs.
- BTR Ranger
- Shand Shug
- Stanton Slack
|Weight||13.3kg (M/L) – without pedals|
|Available sizes||S, S/M, M/L, L|
|Tyres||Schwalbe Magic Mary EVO ADDIX Soft EVO (f), Schwalbe Hans Dampf ADDIX Soft EVO (r), 27.5x2.35in|
|Stem||Renthal Apex, 40mm|
|Seatpost||Fox Transfer dropper|
|Rear derailleur||Shimano XTR (1x11)|
|Handlebar||Renthal Fatbar Carbon, 800mm|
|Brakes||Hope Tech 3 E4, 180mm rotors|
|Frame||Reynolds 853/631 steel|
|Fork||Fox 36 Factory FIT4, 150mm (5.9) travel|
|Cranks||Shimano Deore XT, 32t|
|Chain||Shimano Deore XT|
|Cassette||Shimano Deore XT, 10-46t|
|Wheels||Hope Fortus 26 rims on Hope Pro 4 hubs|