Black Cat Holy Mountain: NAHBS Best of Show

We were obviously happy to see a bikepacking rig win the top award at NAHBS 2016… and we’ve been drooling over this steel 27.5+ hardtail ever since. So here’s a detailed look at the build kit, and a QA with Black Cat’s founder, metalmaster, and builder, Todd Ingermanson.

For those who aren’t familiar with NAHBS, the National Handbuilt Bike Show is an annual gathering that brings together some of North America’s finest handmade bicycle frame builders. There are 17 individual awards given out at each NAHBS, and the top honor goes to the Best of Show. Historically, this award has often been pinned to bikes that are rather showy, eclectic, or just push the framebuilding envelope. So it’s a breath of fresh air to see their top spot go to a bike that’s perfectly down to earth, and a bikepacking rig for that matter. This particular version of Black Cat Bicycles‘ Holy Mountain is actually a customer build, a bike built to be ridden loaded in the backcountry of southwestern Colorado.

Black Cat Holy Mountain, NAHBS Best of Show, Bedrock Bikepacking Bags
  • Black Cat Holy Mountain, NAHBS Best of Show, Bedrock Bikepacking Bags
  • Black Cat Holy Mountain, NAHBS Best of Show, Bedrock Bikepacking Bags

To be more specific, this iteration of Black Cat’s Holy Mountain was created for Joey Ernst, proprietor of Durango’s Velorution Cycles. After admiring Todd’s work for years, Joey bit the bullet and added himself to the the Black Cat waiting list at the end of 2014. When deciding on the details and technicalities of his future rig, Joey reflected on the type or riding he loves and his go-to bike, a Salsa El Mariachi 29er he’d been riding for years. But this time he wanted something different and decided to pursue a bike built around the 27.5+ format. As Joey put it, “I wanted an all-mountain hardtail, something with a lot of travel to match those big tires for the primitive backcountry riding I love best. When it came down to it, the only bikepacking-specific thing I asked for was the extra braze-ons for the bolt-in frame bag.” So working closely with Todd, they dialed in the geometry and aesthetics—the paint job was inspired by a rare 1972 Chevy decal kit.

Black Cat Holy Mountain, NAHBS Best of Show, Bedrock Bikepacking Bags

Once Joey found out the bike was heading to NAHBS, he and Andrew Wracher of Bedrock Bags worked closely to outfit the bike with a custom bikepacking kit worthy of being shown at NAHBS. The kit features a unique bolt-in frame bag design that, “… paid off for us,” added Joey. The beautiful olive green bags clearly play an important role in making this bike special, and the icing on the cake of a stunning build.

Black Cat Holy Mountain, NAHBS Best of Show, Bedrock Bikepacking Bags
  • Black Cat Holy Mountain, NAHBS Best of Show, Bedrock Bikepacking Bags
  • Black Cat Holy Mountain, NAHBS Best of Show, Bedrock Bikepacking Bags

Build Kit

  • Frame: Black Cat Full Custom
  • Fork: Fox Float 34, 140mm travel
  • Headset: Chris King Nothreadset
  • Stem: Thomson
  • Handlebar: Whisky No. 7
  • Grips: ESI Chunky
  • Brakes: XT for now, but going to SRAM Guide RSC’s
  • Shifter: Old XT 10-spd, going to SRAM 1×11
  • Rear Derailleur: Old XT 10-spd, going to SRAM 1×11
  • Crank and Chainrings: Race Face Turbine 175mm, 30t chainring
  • Cassette: Old XT 10-spd, going to SRAM 1×11
  • Chain: Old XT 10-spd
  • Rims: WTB Scraper i45
  • Rear Wheel: DT Swiss 350 Boost/DT Swiss Competition spokes, handbuilt at Velorution
  • Front Wheel: DT Swiss 350 Boost/DT Swiss Competition spokes, handbuilt at Velorution
  • Tires: Maxxis Chronicle 27.5×3″
  • Seatpost: Thomson Elite Setback
  • Seatpost Collar: Custom-machined DKG
  • Saddle: WTB Devo, discontinued but favorite saddle ever!
  • Framebag: Bedrock Bags custom bolt-on
  • Seat Pack: Bedrock Bags custom-sized Coconino
  • Top Tube Bag: Bedrock Dakota custom bolt-on
  • Handlebar Bag: Bedrock Entrada
Black Cat Holy Mountain, NAHBS Best of Show, Bedrock Bikepacking Bags
  • Black Cat Holy Mountain, NAHBS Best of Show, Bedrock Bikepacking Bags
  • Todd Ingermanson

Driven by his love of custom singlespeeds, Todd Ingermanson armed himself with an oxy-acetylene torch back in 2002 in attempt to make his own 29er. After building a dozen or so, Todd landed a job with Rick Hunter where he worked for 5 years before striking out on his own. Now under the shingle of Black Cat Bicycles Todd is currently building and hand-painting custom order frames out of his home workshop in Aptos, California. We had a chance to ask Todd a few questions about the winning Holy Mountain bikepacker. Here are his thoughts on doom metal, Ted Cruz, and head angles.

So you probably weren’t expecting to walk away from NAHBS with Best in Show… or were you? How has it impacted your business?

Not in the plan at all. In fact, once entering the awards became optional, I stopped throwing my hat in the ring. The Best in Show award is the three judges’ favorite in the hall rather than something that you nominate yourself for, so it was a total surprise. Honestly, I’m not really too keen on the competitive aspect to the show. I would rather push myself into creating something I’m super proud of, meet new people, and see all my friends I only get to see once a year at NAHBS. The show is the party after months of hard work! Why mess it up with the anxiety of winning or losing?

How has it impacted things? It’s pretty much the same. The floors still don’t sweep themselves, the emails still wait for me, I’m still checking my math with a calculator. I guess there’s more supermodels hanging out at the shop now. Yea. More supermodels.”

Todd Ingermanson

2016 is certainly the year for 27.5+ hardtails. What inspired you to go in this direction? What’s your take on the platform?

The thing that inspired me to build them is that my customers asked for them, plain and simple. I always try to come up with what I think is a unique take on something, but what drives my motivation is to build a bike someone wants to ride. The 27.5+ platform is an interesting one. It’s not without its quirks, but for someone who values its attributes over its drawbacks, it’s a lot of fun. A plus wheel size isn’t going to get you from Point A to Point B in record time, but you’ll have a great time while trying.”

You obviously put a lot into the Holy Mountain. Tell us a little about it, and why you built it.

The Holy Mountain is the latest iteration in what got me started building bikes years ago. Back then the 29er was just emerging and it seemed like a good thing to me, but they all handled like turds: twitchy and sluggish all at the same time. Seemed like a curved seat tube was needed to get a short chain stay, so the angles could be slacked out a bit. It took a few tries to be able to create what was in my head, but it worked out in the end. I’ve been making, more or less, this same bike for 13 years, updating it whenever possible. Greater fork offsets, stiff 29er rims, 1x drive trains, dropper posts, and 51mm geared chain lines, have all contributed to making the bikes a lot more shreddable, but the Holy Mountain is the heir apparent to what I’ve always built.”

  • Todd Ingermanson
  • Todd Ingermanson

Can you tell us a little more about the bike’s geometry?

The bike’s geometry is made to measure for each person it’s built for. With very few options for seat post offset with dropper posts these days, that is where it all starts. Miss that one and it’s hard to make up for. In addition, I’m not really a proponent of super slack angles. I like a bike that climbs well. The “test run” for all my bike’s designs has some steep ups and downs, and I really hate walking my bike. For a bike built for a 120mm fork, I like a 68 degree head angle. Depending on where each person lives and what they want their bike to do, that fluctuates a bit, but usually just a bit.

I’ve pretty much gone to 12×148 spacing for all the off road bikes. When it first came out, I was as disenchanted with it as anyone, but when I actually thought about it, I’d been building with a 51mm chain line on single speeds for 13 years, so it just solved all the problems of putting gears on what I’d been doing already.

The max tire clearance is a function of what each person’s preference is, desired gearing, as well as chain stay length. For a shorter person, keeping that wheelbase short is all important, so it might be more appropriate to run a 2.85″ tire on an i40 rim, and keep things tight. For someone who’s 6’4″, a little longer stay and a bit more rubber might be a better call. Blindly keeping the same end result for every possibility is an easy way to miss out on an opportunity to make the best bike for each person.

I need to put a bit more time on the 3.00″ tires to really pass judgement on them and say that they are the end-all-be-all. Right now, we’ve got hero dirt for the first extended period in a few years, so there’s nothing that won’t work. So far they seem pretty good, but I still haven’t gotten used to the undamped rebound they can have until they are too low and squirm like Ted Cruz at a community college performance of Hair. Looking for the sweet spot can be a little allusive at times.”

The other variations on the Holy Mountain used a fixed thru-axle rear dropout, but Joey’s has sliding dropouts; why is that?

It all boils down to what each customer wants within the allowances of the model, in this case, the Holy Mountain. Joey’s bike (winner of the award), had the Black Cat Swinger Dropouts, a design of mine I devised and have offered for the last ten years. It’s function may seem a little passe these days since it’s become the standard method to tension a chain, but the Swinger is still the best design out there. I end up with a bunch of folks asking for them, recognizing that the design came from someone who rode single speeds and came up with a simple solution to something we all used to struggle with.

The fixed axle option is called the Art School Dropout. It’s super simple, really light, and it uses the Paragon Machine Works hanger insert because I ain’t no dummy. If something were to happen to your hanger or axle and I’m on a three week vacation, you’re not stuck. A new hanger or axle is super easy to get and Mark and the crew at PMW are awesome.”

So is the bike named after the doom metal band Sleep’s album, Jodorowsky’s surrealist film, both, or did you just like the name?

It definitely came from the band, first and foremost, but also, it’s a bitchin’ name for a bike.”

Black Cat Holy Mountain
  • Black Cat Holy Mountain
  • Black Cat Holy Mountain

So, I am curious, each of the 3 versions of the Holy Mountain 27.5+ hardtail had a different paint scheme. Are these specific to the owners? How about Joey’s?

All my bikes have a different paint scheme. Some are more expensive than others, for sure, but I’ve never been one to like homogeneity. Coming up with a single logo or a handful of paint options sounds like the bullet train to Boring-ville. Every bike gets built by me using some tools I made to make each bike unique, so why stop at the paint? It keeps me interested and gives me something else to be terrible at, until I’m okay at it.

Joey wanted something to go with some cool olive green fabric he wanted his bags made from, so we started there. We brain stormed a bit and he came up with the idea of basing it on a sticker kit offered for early 1970s Chevy Blazers, called “Feathers”. It has a real linear design and some good earth tone colors, so it really worked with what we wanted it to end up like. In the end, I came up with a font I thought would work, laid down a free hand design with some thin strips of masking tape, and airbrushed in the colors of Durango, Co (his hometown) one at a time. Sometimes it just works better to let it happen and embrace the process rather than to beat it up on Illustrator for days.”

I want one. What would it set me back? And what’s the lead time?

Frames start at $3000. They are not cheap, but they are great bikes. They are things I spend a lot of time and effort on. The turn around time for a bike is a couple years or so. The orders seem to come in as fast as they go out, so it seems to have found an equilibrium of sorts.”

Thanks to Todd for taking the time to answer these questions. And congratulations on the award! Also thanks to Andrew Wracher of Bedrock Bags for the great photos of the bike and kit. And to Joey Ernst for providing the build kit and a little behind the scenes info. Find out more about Black Cat Bicycles here; learn more about Velorution here; and click here for Bedrock Bags.


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