Clandestine Shepherd’s Midtail
A custom cargo midtail made for a shepherd called Sean and his sheepdog Werner? Surely these are characters from a children’s book! Trust Pi Manson of Clandestine to bring such a whimsical dogpacking setup to life in his inimitable style. See it here…
Images by Pi Manson (@clandestine.cc)
Perhaps you’ve been overawed by the beautiful creations that recently emerged from the UK’s Bespoked show.
It’s worth mentioning that not only did one of our favourite exhibitors, Pi Manson of Clandestine, have a glorious tandem and an award-winning Carrier on his stand, but he’s also been busy producing a string of other show-worthy custom bikes throughout the year. We’ve already featured his Cleland Cycles-esque Green Rouleur (link in Related Content the grid below), and I’m invariably captivated when he shares a new bike on Instagram, especially when it has a colourful story to tell.
Built for Sean the shepherd and his sheepdog Werner, this midtail feels straight from the pages of a children’s book. Bikes are incredibly pragmatic machines, yet there can be such creativity in how they are made, and real whimsy and imagination in how they are used!
First, the practical stuff. It has 2.5″ Surly ExtraTerrestria rubber on 27.5″ Velocity Blunt rims, which makes good sense on a bike like this. The crate sits at a height that should help Werner jump in and out easily, offer some extra comfort, and this wheelsize provides inherent strength too.
When it comes to cargo hauling, the Rohloff Speedhub – there’s a dedicated mount point for the Rohloff Monkey Bone – is perfect for changing gears at a standstill or for quick changes before tackling the infamously steep coombes of the South West. All important to this part of the world, it laughs in the face of UK mud. Jones H-Bars offer lots of rider comfort for those all-day dogpacking tours, and who can fail to be captivated by those delightful, hand-hammered custom mudguards? I appreciate the look of twin plate forks, and this one is unusual as it’s also straight-bladed – the first Pi has built, apparently.
SON Dynamo lights front and rear ensure winter road worthiness too. Neatly, the rear light is set back from the end of the rack, so it’s protected by the struts, which are capped off with copper. Similarly, the dynamo cable entry points have copper reinforcements, and the dynamo is really easy to route. According to Pi, its designed so you just push the wire in one end and it pops out the other.
We’ve always known that Pi is as happy riding a bike with parts from his local co-op as he is one with boutique components. Apparently, most of what you see on this midtail was transferred from Sean’s previous bike, a Surly, which stands to reason, given that those Middleburn cranks and that Rohloff Speedhub are like family heirlooms.
The colour is purposefully utilitarian (note the matching custom stem that ties it all together) and the bars are set up high for the view. Tubing is by Reynolds, with an aluminium sheet to support the plastic crate bolted directly to the rack with a series of M6 countersunk bolts, through some waterproof Richlite panels. “Mixed media,” as Pi puts it.
And now, the whimsy, which Pi sums up especially well:
“The wonderfully varied and creative ways people use bicycles to solve problems and fit them into their lives is amazing to me. It’s the aspect of cycling, and bicycle design, that most tickles my cockles or whatever the expression is. It’s why I make bikes at all.
Sean is a shepherd, of course. He came to me having seen some of my previous explorations of the midtail form, wanting a better solution to taking his sheepdog around with him, be it in the fields or while touring. This is a most excellent scheme, and I was on board. Sean and his dog Werner stopped by, tea was drunk, and a crate was left at my workshop for the build.
There was much tube bending to fit brakes and chains within the rack supports, and I’m pretty pleased with the straight blade twin plate fork crown, with stainless tubed internal dynamo cable routing. We reused almost all of the parts from Sean’s old bike and painted the thing in a utilitarian battleship grey. I bashed up some little aluminium mudguards designed to just keep the worst of the field spray out of the eyes, and we made sure there were lights to see down the back lanes. Over the winter, Sean is going to make himself a frame bag to fit in the massive front triangle.
In terms of specific details, it has clearance 26” x 2.5” tyres and 590mm chainstays. I’m pretty stoked on how this bike turned out and how much use it’ll get. It’s another bike that fits with my dream for the bicycle: handmade and high quality but ready to throw in the mud.”
Thoughts on Midtails
I’ve been a fan of longtails for years, be it in the form of Xtracycle’s bolt-on Freeradical and Leap, or stiffer, integrated designs like Surly’s Big Dummy and Big Fat Dummy. Although they’re hardly the lightest or most minimal of bikes, I’ve used them for everything from desert campouts with friends, trips with my son (his bike lashed to the side), or for taking him to school. However, they’re not always the most practical machines to transport or store – sometimes they’re too long to fit in a train, the boot of a car, or even an elevator to an apartment. And whilst they’re rideable on trails, they’re not really ideal. Enter their shorter brethren, the midtail, which offers much of a longtail’s benefits – that extended, more stable wheelbase and potential for larger or awkwardly-shaped payloads – in a more compact form that’s both more day-to-day living friendly and trail astute too.
Pi has built a number of them and is now convinced that they’re a great platform for both off-road touring and wider cargo bike usage. “The wheelbases end up only marginally longer than a standard bike, but the rider’s weight is so centred between the wheels that an over the bars type crash becomes really unlikely. The extra rear length creates such a lot of room for heavier packing for longer-term trips and can be used for general cargo bike use when at home.
The ride quality is really interesting to me. It’d be easy to think that it would handle like a boat, but I don’t find that. It’s stable, yes, but that makes a rider feel confident in handling it round a corner. It’s a good base to push off of, if that makes sense. The extra 200mm or whatever of length definitely doesn’t mean it’s uncomfortable taking it down some fairly intense singletrack, depending on the load. It’s a bit harder to manual, but still doable, and the front end can still be lofted for drops.”
He built the midtail below for last year’s Bespoked – complete with truss fork and front rack – and it’s seen here when its owner, Jim, popped by his workshop in Bristol this summer, bike and bags covered in dust. See the link in the grid below for how it looked in spotless show form.
Learn more about Pi Manson and his bikes by visiting his website, Clandestine Cycles, or following him @clandestine.cc. Also, check out our site visit below, as well as a few other bikes we've covered:
Please keep the conversation civil, constructive, and inclusive, or your comment will be removed.