Reader’s Rig: John Montesi’s Custom Ti Sklar Hardtail

In today’s feature edition of Reader’s Rig, we meet writer and photographer John Montesi (and his dog, Hank), who shares the one-of-a-kind titanium Sklar hardtail that’s shaped his mountain biking experience throughout the past four years. Find a deep dive into John’s cycling history, detailed notes from thousands of miles with his Sklar, and a vibrant collection of photos shot on picturesque trails around the United States here…

Additional photos by Miles Arbour

Hi, I’m John. I grew up on the pancake-flat prairie, riding 23mm clincher tire road bikes in pacelines with all the middle-aged men of my hometown. Somehow, even that extra-masochistic introduction to cycling got me hooked, though my evolution into bigger tires and dirtier terrain was sadly slow. I got my first cyclocross bike sometime after college and rode the inaugural Grinduro on that same rig with a comical 40T chainring paired with an 11-28 cassette.

  • Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi
  • Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi

 

It wasn’t until I was hit by a car riding in the bike lane near my house that I realized if I was going to survive and continue to thrive in this sport, I needed to learn more about my options for getting further away from the hustle and bustle of the cities I was used to. 

As part of the extended recovery process after the physical and mental injuries of being hit by a car upended my life, I sold off most of my stuff, bought a carbon full-suspension mountain bike, and hit the road to see what I had been missing. I basically taught myself how to mountain bike in some of the wildest terrain the North American West has to offer, pushing aside the PTSD of the road in favor of the healthy fear of staring down the barrel of big drops from Slickrock in Moab to North Shore in Vancouver.

Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi

After that trip, I started orienting my life around access to trails instead of the priorities I’d inherited, following jobs and daydreams from the Ozarks to the Rocky Mountains. It was in that chapter that I first met Adam Sklar in Montana. I watched the fun he had on his hardtail in the hills around Bozeman and swapped stories in his charming shop in town. I got on the frame list after one particularly lively night of riding and waited my turn. 

When my name came up on the list, I’d owned two mountain bikes in my life and only really been riding trails for about three years. I did my best to describe what I did and didn’t like and trusted Adam’s intuition for the rest. We spitballed back and forth on use cases and fork travel, whether one bike could take me from the bucket list dream of the Tour Divide to chasing my most talented friends down heady lines. 

Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi
  • Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi
  • Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi
  • Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi

I studied geo charts until I felt like the Always Sunny Pepe Silvia meme, and then I said, “Looks good, build it!” This was in early 2020, and we had no idea the chaos that was soon to descend on the bike world and the world at large. 

After many delays in sourcing parts, the bike arrived on my doorstep in June 2020. I had just moved to a new town for a new job, and with the eerie quiet that befell the whole world that season, my new bike was my new best friend. Part of my dream vision for a hardtail mountain bike was that I would be well-matched on trails with my other best friend, Hank. Together, we refined our taking turns leading and following on climbs and descents all over the Routt National Forest. 

Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi
  • Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi
  • Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi

I had no idea what I was doing, but it was really fun learning and stopping to laugh and cry with my dog in the middle of some of the prettiest woods I’ve ever seen. These were some of the most scenic and lonely days of my life, and I consistently looked forward to getting off work every day so we could attempt to ride something I couldn’t quite clean the day before. Most days, it was just us and the moose and the bears out there—and the occasional trail porcupine. Without the usual crop of summer tourists, the trails were quiet. It was the perfect time to practice mountain biking on a whole new style of bike. I could go back and try things again. I could pay extra close attention to the bike and its relationship with rider and terrain. And slowly, I could order parts through my job and buckle up for the indeterminate wait until they shipped. 

It’s hard to believe I’ve had this bike for right around four years now. In the grand scheme, that’s not very long. But in the lifespan of a human, or a dog, or even a modern bicycle, that’s a pretty good chunk of time. Four years of riding the same bike has taught me a lot about everything from field repairs to general maintenance to how bikes wear naturally when you start with quality components and sturdy materials. It’s also taught me a ton about line selection and our relationship with trails and doubletrack and access to places to ride bikes away from cars and roads. 

Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi
  • Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi
  • Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi

And, perhaps most importantly, this bike has been the start of so many friendships! From working with makers and shops to get it all built and keep it running smoothly to starting conversations at the trailhead or deep in the mountains, it’s one of the only times I’m ever grateful for something so “noticeable.” A swoopy yellow hardtail is not the most common bike, and people tend to either recognize it or have a lot of questions. In both cases, it leads to fun conversations that help break the ice for this solitary introvert. Bikes have a way of uniting us, and I am always grateful to lend a test ride or discuss the things I’ve learned from riding a hardtail in just about every terrain and season imaginable. 

Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi
  • Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi
  • Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi
  • Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi

Over the course of those four years, I’ve done a minimum of 5,500 miles on my yellow Sklar hardtail. That’s what I’ve tracked on GPS, which means we’re likely well over 6,000 miles of actual riding. In that time, I’ve advanced my skills immensely. I’ve replaced a few wear items and one or two elective components. I’ve loved and I’ve lost, I’ve moved and traveled and moved again. I’ve used it as a platform for everything from bikepacking trips to park laps to all-day epics and after-work townie laps. I’ve broken bones riding this bike and cleaned trails I never dreamed I’d be able to ride. It’s been a wildly refreshing change from the days of chasing “new and improved” from year to year and trend to trend. This bike leans heavily toward contentment and simplicity, steadfastness over capriciousness. 

  • Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi
  • Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi

We do not chase trends; we do not feel inadequate when the new geo or layup is launched. My hardtail has been a constant, a centering force in a life that is always changing. I know that when I return to familiar trails or check out new ones, it is not the bike that’s changed but rather the outer landscape. And, oftentimes, my inner landscape, too. It is an honest interpreter of chunk and flow and a buckin’ bronc that rewards a smooth landing and viciously highlights bad technique. After four years of riding this bike, I now have more years of mountain biking on it than my previous years of mountain bike experience combined. There’s something so sweet about an experience being inexorably linked to specific gear, to the point that it’s so familiar it’s almost invisible. Like playing one guitar for decades or having that perfect pair of jeans, when I go mountain biking, I ride my yellow hardtail. The activity and the gear are synonymous, and the way I experience every trail is filtered directly through its relationship to the terrain we ride. 

John’s Custom Ti Sklar Build

  • Frame: Sklar custom titanium hardtail
  • Fork: Fox Factory 34 130mm Stepcast
  • Rims: Enve M634
  • Hubs: Industry Nine Hydra
  • Tires: Teravail
  • Handlebars: Enve M7 800mm
  • Headset: White Industries
  • Crankset: Cane Creek eewings Raven
  • Pedals: Shimano XTR
  • Cassette: SRAM Eagle XX1 10-50 12-speed 
  • Derailleur(s): SRAM Eagle XX1
  • Brakes: Guide RSC G2
  • Shifter(s): SRAM X01 
  • Seatpost: Fox Factory Transfer Dropper / Wolftooth ReMote Lever
  • Stem: Industry Nine

As for the build, very little has changed since I specced this bike during the dark days of supply chain constraints. The chunky tires and 130mm travel fork have bailed me out of (almost) every situation I get myself into, and the few that they couldn’t were solid learning experiences. I’ve learned quickly and slowly, big lessons and subtle ones. The long wheelbase and generous reach have spoiled me, and while there are a few hairpin switchbacks I can’t quite clean, the stability and all-day comfort of this configuration are simply unbeatable for how I ride. 

Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi
  • Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi
  • Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi
  • Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi

The wide bars feel well-suited to my body type and the character of this build as a big-tire playful dirt seeker. Everything from the bars and stem to the cranks and brakes have been on the bike for four years. I’ve replaced wear items as they needed it, but even those have lasted a long time. 

Since building this bike, I find myself falling even less for convincing marketing about lightness or newness, but the coated SRAM drivetrain bits have mind-boggling longevity, and the titanium frame and titanium cranks have endured some of the jankiest terrain and sloppiest conditions imaginable and keep right on working as well as day one. I replaced the Helm with a Fox fork due to serviceability concerns, though I loved the way the bike rode with the Helm and may swap back at some point down the line. The fancy dropper was a final gift to myself as I left my job which had the perk of wholesale parts pricing, and it’s now approaching four years of low-maintenance functionality, too. 

  • Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi
  • Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi
  • Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi
  • Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi

I’m grateful for the part choices I made and the feedback and reviews I gathered along the way. After making the initial investment in this build, it’s provided so much joy and so many adventures with very, very little fuss. That’s been a valuable lesson for me: I can trust my taste and instincts and know that what I’ve learned and what I value will serve me well. As someone who is writing this piece in clothing I bought 12 years ago, the concept of picking the right thing and sticking with it really resonates with me. Long after the initial purchase, everything is still working as intended. The few parts I’ve replaced along the way are either still serving a secondhand buyer well or sit in my storage unit waiting for a day when I can use them again. 

Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi
  • Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi
  • Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi

Anyone who rides bikes knows the desire to tinker and upgrade and the dream of finding a “forever bike” and earning every bit of patina for as long as you can find parts that work with the standards du jour from whenever the frame was built. I can confidently say that I cannot imagine anything I’d possibly replace this bike with. From the deep groove where the shift and dropper levers have chipped away at the top tube to the many places the finish has been gouged and sandblasted with use, this bike feels like home. I love embracing patina and earning scars, and I admire the way the powder-coated finish has endured four years of four-season riding. It matches the yellow aspen leaves and the yellow bitterbrush blooms. It stands out in a sea of summertime greens and contrasts nicely against winter snow. The color was not an obvious choice for Adam or me, but together, we pushed each other’s visions and arrived at something scary yet fun—sorta like friends encouraging one another to hit a drop that “totally rolls.” 

Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi
  • Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi
  • Sklar Hardtail, John Montesi

While my aging joints occasionally whisper in my ear that a full-suspension bike might be a nice addition to the fleet, I sign up for yoga classes instead of browsing the latest and greatest bike reviews online. And if I ever add a second mountain bike to my fleet, it will only be so I can help my body and my hardtail continue to enjoy many more years of happy trails.

John Montesi

About John Montesi

John Montesi is a writer, photographer, and naturalist based in the American Southwest. He has ridden a bike in almost every American state and Canadian province and once navigated the Southern Tier route without any electronic devices. These days, he is committed to using the bicycle as a tool for joyful movement and connecting people with their surroundings. He always brakes for butterflies, flowers, and bird songs.

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