Why Cycles Wayward Review: The Unicorn
For bikepackers, 29+ is the stuff of legend. Added traction, floatation, suspension, and rollover make it the ideal platform for backcountry exploits. From afar, the latest rig in this niche, the titanium Why Cycles Wayward, looked to be the perfect specimen. TJ Kearns tested one on countless trail rides and several bikepacking trips to find out if it was indeed the mythical beast he’d been seeking…
Words and photos by TJ Kearns
Unicorn. A mythical creature thought to cure any disease, give immortality, and even resurrect the dead. Extremely rare and hard to catch, a unicorn is said to choose its companion wisely.
- Frame: Grade 9 3/2.5 Titanium
- Angles (XL): 68.3° Headtube, 73.5° Seattube
- Stack/Reach: 645mm/495mm
- BB Drop/Chainstay: 70mm/440mm (minimum)
- Bottom Bracket: 73mm BSA Threaded
- Dropouts (F/R): 15 x 110mm / 12 x 148mm
- Seatpost: 31.6mm
- Max tire size: 29 x 3.0″
- Price (as tested): $5,849
I had the opportunity to test the Wayward for a couple months this past summer back home in Pisgah Forest, North Carolina. How would it handle the rough and rowdy trails of Pisgah? Would it be able to hang on multi-day bikepacking trips in the backcountry? Would it dethrone my beloved Surly Krampus as my main rig in the quiver? We’ll look at all those questions here.
Why Cycles is a small bicycle company based in Carbondale, Colorado. They specialize in making high-end titanium bikes at competitive prices. The company was started in 2016 in Ogden, Utah, by Adam Miller, Jason Schiers, and Ben Cramer, with the goal of creating “simple, clean, eye-catching bikes done right.” They currently have five bikes in their lineup: the R+ gravel-eating machine, the all-new Big Iron fat bike, the Take Flight dirt jumper, the S7 all-mountain crusher, and last but not least, the 29+ Wayward.
Why offers three different build kits for the Wayward: SRAM Eagle GX ($4,799), Eagle XO1 ($5,849), and Eagle XX1 ($7,799). Each complete bike also ships in an EVOC travel case that comes included with the purchase. The model I reviewed was the X01 kit, which is specced with I9 wheels, Terrene tires, a 100mm RockShox Pike RCT3 fork, Race Face carbon handlebars, and a 12-speed X01 Eagle drivetrain. Overall, it’s a solid build kit with not much need for upgrading, unless you want to shed a bit of weight.
- Fork Rockshox Pike Boost 100mm RCT3, Charger 2 Damper
- Headset CaneCreek 40-series IS42/IS52
- Rims Industry Nine Backcountry 450
- Spokes Industry Nine Alloy
- Tubes Orange Seal Tubeless
- Tires Terrene McFly 29×2.8
- Bar RaceFace Turbine 35x760mm
- Stem RaceFace Turbine
- Post Rockshox Reverb 31.6 150mm
- Saddle Ergon SMA3 Standard Black
- Shifters SRAM Eagle X01 1×12 speed
- Brakes SRAM Guide RSC
- Rotors Avid Centerline 160mm
- Rear Derailleur SRAM Eagle X01 1×12 speed
- Chain SRAM Eagle X01
- Cassette SRAM Eagle X01 black
- Crankset SRAM Eagle X01 32t
- Bottom Bracket SRAM Threaded 73mm BSA Standard
- Grips Ergon GE1 Black
As it was built up, the Wayward worked flawlessly for me. The X01 Eagle group shifted to perfection every time, and the RockShox Pike RCT3 gobbled up all the bumps. Industry Nine’s BC450 wheels spun true and never required the attention of a spoke wrench. I did change out the stock Ergon GE1 grips and Ergon saddle for my preferred Chromag Squarewave XL grips and Trailmaster saddle, but contact points are personal preference and long rides require parts to mesh well. My only gripe with the build kit was the stock 160 rotors, which I promptly torched on the long descents in Pisgah and replaced with 180s.
My main bikepacking rig for the past four years has been the tried and true Surly Krampus. The Krampus has taken me thousands of miles over varying terrain, never once putting up a fight, but there were a few things I wished I could change on it. Namely, having a suspension fork, a proper seat tube diameter for a reliable dropper post, and some tweaks to the geometry to make it a little more trail friendly. So, when Why released photos and specs of the new 29+ Wayward online, I knew I had to try one out in person.
This past spring, while I was at the Sedona Mountain Bike Festival, I had the chance to stop by the Why booth to check out the new Wayward. The first thing I noticed was just how beautiful the bike is. The frame has some of the most elegant lines of any bike I’ve ever seen. As I see it, the Wayward is equal parts bicycle and work of art. The little details throughout the bike are incredible. Why laser etched all the graphics on the bike, and each frame gets a unique quote on the inside of the non-drive chainstay. Mine just happened to say, “If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try.” Both the rear brake and derailleur are internally routed though some of the cleanest ports I’ve ever seen.
Later on that day, I grabbed an XL Wayward to demo on an organized night ride. I must say that riding a new-to-me bike in a fast-paced group ride over chunky, unfamiliar trails in the dark was a little intimidating. However, it took all of five minutes for me to get a feel for the bike, and man, does it like to go fast. Being accustomed to riding the 29+ platform, I had a sense of how the bike was going to ride. It rolled along everything with ease, kept up speed, and crawled over chunky climbs. What I didn’t expect was how stable the bike would be while speeding downhill over rough terrain compared to the Krampus, which I tend to get bounced around a lot on. The titanium frame absorbed a lot of the chatter without me even noticing it. Cornering on this bike was also a breeze thanks to the generous 70mm BB drop. Riding my Krampus, I always felt like I was more of a passenger along for the ride, rather than the driver. The Wayward’s additional 10mm BB drop and 44mm longer reach allowed me to settle into the bike, get my weight lower, and rally around corners like a proper trail bike. At 73.5 degrees, the Wayward’s seat tube is also a full degree steeper than the Krampus, which allows for a much more efficient climbing position. I finished up the ride completely impressed with how the bike handled the terrain, and couldn’t wait to try one back at home in Pisgah.
Sighted in Pisgah
Fast forward a couple weeks and an EVOC case arrived at the shop with my name on it. I opened it up, clamped the handlebars, mounted the wheels, checked the shifting, and was off for a ride within 30 minutes. Having your new bike delivered in an EVOC case is a real plus, as there are fewer worries about it arriving damaged and there’s a minimal amount of assembly required before it’s ready to go.
Out on my home trails, I felt immediately comfortable on the bike. To give the Wayward a proper shakedown, I went for a lap on Black Mountain Trail, a local favorite. Climbing up the gravel, I was impressed with the speed I was able to maintain, and once I hit the singletrack climb I was able to ride the entire thing without issue. The 29 x 2.8” Terrene McFly tires offered abundant traction, and the X01 drivetrain’s range allowed me to comfortably clean a climb that I usually struggle with. Black Mountain Trail’s descents can be rough and brutal. It’s littered with roots, rocks, and drops, and I usually reserve my full-suspension bike for this trail. But the Wayward took it in stride. Sure, being on a hardtail I had to use a little more body suspension, but the 29+ tires helped me hold a line and made the drops feel smaller. I did have some issues with the brakes overheating due to the standard 160mm rotor in the rear, and I’d personally prefer 180mm rotors on both the front and rear on a bike meant for loaded touring/light trail riding.
Overall, from a trail bike stand point, the Wayward really impressed me with what it could handle. Compared to the Krampus, the Wayward just felt more in control on the descents, which I attribute to its 10mm more BB drop, 44mm more reach, and 57mm longer wheelbase. Chainstay length is a hot topic these days in bike design, and a lot of companies are designing bikes with super short stays to enhance playfulness and increase cornering prowess. Bikes like the Salsa Woodsmoke 29+ or Trek Stache 29+ come to mind with their sub-16.5” rear end, which is almost a full inch shorter than the Wayward. According to Why Cycles, “The chainstay length is not as short as possible, at 440mm (adjustable to 455mm). We’ve found this optimizes stability with the large wheels, and makes the bike feel much more playful and predictable than other 29+ bikes out there.”
Having owned hardtails in the past with super short rear ends, I can wholeheartedly agree that while short stays make a bike seem more playful, it comes at the expense of stability once the speeds pick on downhills, as well as having the front of the bike lift while climbing steep terrain.
The Wayward comes stock with a 100mm travel RockShox Pike fork, which suits its intended use just fine. After a couple trails rides, I decided to up the travel to 120mm, via an air spring swap ($40), which really helped the Wayward when the trail got steep and rowdy. I left the fork at 120mm for the duration of my three-month test and felt like it only helped, whether going up or down.
One thing that immediately stood out about the Wayward was its ride quality. The best way to compare it to a steel bike—such as the Krampus—is to say that the Wayward, unloaded, has the ride quality of a fully loaded steel bike. This really stuck out for me when I got back on my Krampus after a couple months on the Wayward. All of those subtle bumps that I never noticed on the Wayward were all too noticeable on the steel bike.
I attribute this to not only the titanium frame, but also to the way Why Cycles has formed the tubes to tune the ride quality of the frame. Why uses a manufacturing process called cold forming to manipulate the tubes into a shape that improves vertical compliance, which helps absorbs bumps, and lateral stiffness, which keeps the frame from flexing side to side while pedaling. This process involves filling the tube set with sand, welding them shut with titanium plates, placing the tubes into a steel mold, and using a pneumatic press to form the tube. This process is extremely difficult because titanium naturally wants to spring back to its natural state. As such, the pressing process is done multiple times to make sure that the tubes hold their shape.
Where the Wayward really shines is when it’s loaded down on adventures. I took the Wayward out on a few multi-day route scouting missions and countless overnighters. Greg Hardy at Rockgeist sent me a custom frame bag from his FiberFlight line of bags, as well as a Bar Jam handlebar harness. The combination of those two systems, plus a Revelate Vole dropper seat bag, allowed me to really unlock the Wayward’s bikepacking potential. From super technical singletrack to forgotten logging roads, the Wayward seamlessly transitioned from trail rig to bikepacking machine, allowing me to continue riding no matter how the terrain changed.
On one occasion I found myself deep in Gorges State Park, a brutal tract of land consisting of very steep and blown out logging roads. Climbing these roads unloaded is a feat in itself, and descending them requires full concentration. I have bikepacked this section of an upcoming route twice now. Once on the Wayward and once on my Fargo, set up 29 plus. While the Fargo was great on the gravel and road sections, when it came time to climb and descend the chunky roads of Gorges I found myself pushing up the hills and slowly picking my way down sections that I was able to ride on the Wayward. Some will say, “Yeah, it’s because you are riding in drop bars with rigid fork vs. flat bar with suspension.” That does have a little to do with the descending part, but the Wayward out climbs and descends both my Fargo and Krampus ten fold, while still being able to hold its own on gravel and road.
It really opened my eyes to how a bike can change the vibe of a trip. See some techy alt lines to spice up a trail? Wayward has your back. Thirty miles of gravel between singletrack section you want to connect? No Problem. Multiple 12+ hour days in a row? Only your fitness will hold you back. It seems like this bike is up for anything.
- Extremely versatile for bikepacking or trail riding, the Wayward does it all
- Titanium ride quality will get you through long days in the saddle
- Bombproof build with top-notch reliable parts
- Attention to detail means this frame is like a rolling piece of art
- Great customer service from Why Cycles
- Multiple Bottle mounts (2 Mounts in the frame and 1 on the bottom of the downtube)
- Pricey, but it should last a lifetime
- Grips and saddle that come standard could use replacing
- 160mm brake rotors don’t cut it for loaded missions on steep terrain
- Size Tested XL
- Rider Height 6’4″ (1.93 meters)
- Model Tested Wayward X01
- Place of Manufacture China
- Price (as tested) $5,849
- Manufacturer’s Details WhyCycles.com
The Why Cycles Wayward is the unicorn of bikepacking rigs. It’s a unique bike that can handle anything you put in front of it with comfort and style.
The Wayward opened my eyes to what a bikepacking bike should be. It’s fast, comfortable, and most importantly, fun! It allowed me to incorporate trails I’d normally reserve for my full-suspension bike into my everyday trips, and its ride quality encouraged me to make routes longer and meant I felt less fatigue.
For the most part, the build kit is spot on, with reliable parts that leave no room to worry. SRAM’s X01 Eagle group gave me all the gearing I needed for multi-day trips with lots of climbing, and the RockShox Pike fork helped keep upper body fatigue in check and my front tire glued to the ground. Terrene’s McFly tires had gobs of traction for technical trail riding, but also rolled very well for big days on gravel.
The only thing I would like to see changed on this bike are more appropriately sized brake rotors. A 160mm rotor on an XL 29+ bike just isn’t enough for loaded down trips or trail riding in steep terrain. And while my body didn’t get along with the Ergon saddle and grips, everyone is different, and contact points are an easy swap.
Overall, this bike checked all of the boxes for me by encouraging me to ride faster, longer, and harder. They say a unicorn is extremely rare and hard to catch, and unicorn is said to choose its companion wisely. I’d say I found one for sure.
About TJ Kearns
TJ Kearns is a adventure sports photographer/good times facilitator based out of Pisgah Forest, NC. When he’s not behind the glass, you can try to find him exploring the depths of Pisgah National Forest, Nantahala National Forest, or the Cohutta Wilderness Area. As one of the founding members of the Eastern Divide project, he is always in search of new routes and ways to connect the dots on the East Coast. Follow him on Instagram @tj.kearns1.