Our Reader’s Rig of the week comes from Willem Schouten in Australia’s beautiful Victorian High Country, who shares the Airwolf YFM-026 he built up for riding fire roads and alpine singletrack. Learn more about Willem and why he decided an XC MTB would be the ideal do-it-all bike here…

Words and photos by Willem Schouten (@___willem___)

Hi, how are you? My name is Willem, and I grew up in Perth, Western Australia, mostly in and around the Indian Ocean, either surfing or taking photos. In 2017, my partner Catherine and I made a move east across the country to Melbourne.

Airwolf YFM-026

I’ve barely dipped a toe in the ocean on this side of the country but instead have been riding bicycles—a continuation of the last few years in Perth, where I started mountain biking in the hills around Mundaring. Early in 2020, we transitioned to working from home and are lucky enough to be allowed to do so from anywhere in Victoria. We both love the Victorian High Country, three hours northeast of Melbourne, and now call this amazing place home. Living surrounded by national parks, Victoria’s highest mountains, snow resorts, farmland, and some of Australia’s best mountain biking and gravel riding locations is a dream come true.

“Gravel” around these parts can range from poorly maintained sealed roads to pine plantation fire roads to alpine singletrack, and it’s the latter end of that range I enjoy riding most. I’m way more a mountain biker than a roadie. But, before I get into the bike this Readers Rig is about, a little back story might help.

  • Airwolf YFM-026
  • Airwolf YFM-026
  • Airwolf YFM-026

For the last few years, I’ve been riding a 56cm 2020 Kona Sutra LTD with WheelWorks OG wheels wrapped in 29 x 2.2” tyres and Rival/GX Eagle/Garbaruk 10-50T gearing (amongst a few other changes). But being 187cm, 90ish kgs, and broadly framed can make even a mini monster truck Sutra LTD feel a little sketchy. For context, most ascents around here can be 5-20% grades, some smooth gravel, mostly rough fire roads with fist-size rocks. The descents are the same (and it’s here where the Sutra becomes sketchy), 160mm rotors with Rival calipers, 46cm Ritchey Venturemax drops (I’ve been down the wide bar route, wider isn’t always better), and short front center frame geometry just does not add up to confident descending for me. The mountain biker in me likes the downs more than the ups.

Airwolf YFM-026

An XC MTB seemed like a logical choice: longer wheelbases, bigger brakes, and made for rougher terrain. I originally wanted to buy a complete bike, something like a Specialized Chisel or Giant XTC, but neither were available at the time and probably still aren’t available now. A custom build was the only way to go. I sourced the frame and fork through eBay, custom painted in Pantone 2325C.

  • Airwolf YFM-026
  • Airwolf YFM-026
  • Airwolf YFM-026
  • Frame Airwolf YFM-026
  • Fork Airwolf YFMF013
  • Rims DT Swiss EXC1501
  • Hubs DT Swiss 240 EXP – CL
  • Tires Maxxis Icon 29 x 2.35″
  • Handlebars SQLab 30X Alloy
  • Headset IS41/28.6 – IS52/40
  • Crankset Shimano XT FC-M8120-1, 175mm
  • Pedals Shimano XTR PD M9120
  • Cassette Shimano XT CS-M8100, 12-speed
  • Derailleur himano SLX RD-M7100, 12-speed
  • Brakes Shimano XT BR-M8100
  • Shifter(s) Shimano XT SL-M8100, 12-speed
  • Saddle Supacaz Ignite, Ti, 143mm
  • Seatpost Pro Tharsis XC
  • Stem Kona 70mm
  • Front bags Wizard Works Voila, Splatter Black
  • Frame bags Skingrowsback Wedge Frame Bag, Neon Lace Up
  • Accessory bags Wolftooth B-RAD Roll Top Dry Bag
  • Other accessories SQLab 411 Innerbarends, Wolf Tooth ReMount

The frame size is XL and fits like a glove, especially with the 12-degree sweep SQLab bars, inner and outer bar ends, all of which give me multiple hand positions for those longer flatter sections. The SQLab inner bar ends are super comfortable (although placement is limited with the new Shimano brake levers due to the additional bracing support) and still allow my outer fingers to use the brakes. For handlebar bags, I went with two Wizard Works Voilas: one stores snacks while the other stores my trusty Ricoh GR, sunglass cloth, and lip balm, and the frame bag is a Skingrowsback Wedge (mounted backward as it fits the frame better) to hold a multitool, small spares and my phone with room to spare for a jacket if needed. The saddle-mounted Wolftooth rolltop holds a spare tube and tyre levers.

Airwolf YFM-026

I’m barely a month into riding this bike since finishing the build, so will reserve my opinion on the frame and fork for now. So far, so good. I will do my best to provide updates in the comments section as I get more kilometre and adventures on this bike. I like talking bikes, so if you have any questions, let me know!

You can find Willem on Instagram @___willem___.

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