Mat Barlow has been in and around the bike industry since he was in diapers and is now partner in our Boulder, Colorado dealer, VECCHIO’S BICICLETTERIA. He was kind enough to give us a little insight into his Baxter after he’s put some serious time on it. The versatility of the Baxter allows him to switch between a faster rolling Compass tire on a Mavic Crossmax wheel set to a wide Derby rim with 50mm Clements mounted. What’s your route today? Switch wheel set and you are gone!
words & photos by: MAT BARLOW—-BAXTER IN A NUT SHELL…..if that’s possible.
MOOTS: Give us a little background of you and bikes…..
MAT BARLOW: Well, I’ve been lucky enough to pretty much live in four absolute meccas for cycling, and my parents were both super into it. And by “super into it,” I mean they started Mountain Bike Magazine in Crested Butte right after I was born in the early 80s. Next up we moved to Moab, UT, where I’d live most of the time through high school. When I was about to start middle school my dad ended up moving to a little village in the Alps outside of Grenoble, France. I’d always been into mountain biking, but that’s where’d I fall in love with road biking.
In 2001 I moved to Boulder so I could attend the University of Colorado and I’ve been here ever sense. It’s a killer place to be a cyclist in general, but our specialty is cool dirt mountain roads and nobody has been as excited as me to watch the evolution of the road bike in the past decade or so. Which brings us to Baxter.
MOOTS: Matt, you’ve had a ton of cool bikes in your time, what was your goal for this one?
MAT BARLOW: It’s true, basically since as far back as I can remember, I’ve been able to ride cool bikes. There’s even an issue of Mountain Bike Magazine in like 1986 where Mike West and I are the testers for a kid’s bike comparison test.
My goal with the Baxter was to build what I hoped would be the ultimate bike for the riding around Boulder that I like to do. Generally speaking, that means loops that are 20-50 miles/1-4 hours with 3-6,000 feet of climbing. Roughly 50% pavement, 30% smooth fast gravel and packed dirt, and 20% rough forest service or mining roads and single track. Loops that can be ridden on a road bike, with the occasional portage and common flat tire, and loops that can be ridden on a hardtail, but that’s just over the top. For the last 6 years I’ve been riding a rim brake cross bike with 36c tires, and all these loops are great on it, but I’ve been more than excited to eventually replace it with something involving more tire clearance and disc brakes.
I was close to getting a Routt 45 instead of the Baxter, and I’d imagine I’m not alone in that debate. I guess I was swayed because even though I’ll probably ‘daily drive’ the Baxter with faster lighter tires that would fit on a Routt 45, I liked the idea being able to have a burly fat setup to go tackle some rougher rides like the White Rim Trail in Moab, some of the really crazy high attitude 4×4 passes in Colorado, or the single track finalé of Grinduro. (Ok I’ll admit, this bike was also partially conceived as a weapon for Grinduro)
MOOTS: Detail the build for us…..all the bits used…..the nerdy stuff.
MAT BARLOW: Another reason I went for the Baxter over the Routt 45 is that I love the crazy look of the Enve mountain bike fork and how it makes the head tube on an XL frame like mine look normal sized. I decided to black it out and get rid of the bright white Enve logos and replace them with gloss black Vecchio’s logos that match the Moots logos on the frame. I like how painting the fork made it look visually a little less bulky than stock. It’s geeky bike stuff, but I love it.
I terms of drivetrain, I wanted kind of a fast “roadie” take on the Baxter, so I was more concerned with having a big enough gear versus needing the super low range of the stock XT mountain crankset. The options to pair road shifters and mountain derailleurs are pretty limited, and the Baxter’s huge tire clearance means somewhat limited chainring sizes, so SRAM’s Force 1x group, with it’s ability to shift a wide range mountain 10-42 cassette, was the answer.
For the front ring I went ahead and ordered a 40 tooth direct mount for Sram’s XO mountain crank and crossed my fingers that it would clear the seat stay. It does. Just.
I was a little nervous about committing to a single chainring for the road, but so far I’ve been more than happy with it.
Anyways. Here are the details.
Moots Baxter XL
Enve mtn fork custom blacked out by spectrum with gloss black Vecchio’s logos on lower legs.
Triple ti king cages media blasted to match.
Thomson post and stem.
Salsa Cowbell 3 bar.
SRAM Force 1 and 22 1x shift brake levers.
SRAM Force hydro r brakes, with SRAM Centerline centerlock rotors.
SRAM XO-1 mtn crankset with 40t direct mount blackbox chainring.
SRAM Force long cage derailleur with 10-42 XO-1 mtn cassette.
Fizik Arione saddle
Fizik Tape with gel pads under
Fast: Mavic CrossMax ST 29er wheel set with Compass Snoqualmie Pass 44c tubeless tires.
Burly: Derby 29er mtn rims, 30mm internal width, laced to DT 350s, tied and soldered with prototype 50c Clement MSO tubeless.
Built with triple guides under the top tube for a dropper post….
MOOTS: What do you like about the Baxter now that you’ve ridden it and completed the OMWR (OLD MAN WINTER RALLY)………??
MAT BARLOW: Can I say everything? Ok, besides the fact that in my humble but biased opinion it looks absolutely freaking awesome, I think I’m most enamored with the handling. I’ve had the bike now for about 6 weeks and besides Old Man Winter I’ve already ridden it like 600 miles and done close to 70,000 feet of climbing, and thus descending, on it. Aside from a few days in Moab on my squishy bike, it’s the only bike I’ve ridden.
Most times people tend to equate road ‘performance’ with twitchy handling; short stays and steep angles. Short wheelbases. Coming from a background of a lot of mountain biking, I feel really comfortable with a bit of slackness to the steering that comes from more relaxed angles. I love the high speed stability that creates, and I love how aggressively you can drive the front end of the bike in corners. Bringing some of that mountain bike spirit into a road platform creates a drop bar bike which can attack mixed surface downhills like nothing I’ve ridden before. Pick your line, commit, lean in, get your weight up front to deal with understeer and dive that knee into a corner. Gnarly bumps on the apex? Gravel on the exit? Deep cambered gravel on the inside of the turn? Baxter loves all these things; the wheelbase, the fork’s trail, and the titanium frame’s damping (or maybe it’s just magic) do an unbelievable job of providing enough compliance to keep the tire’s contact patch firmly in contact with the ground over just about anything.
But then when it’s time to put the hammer down on a climb or out on the flats it can totally hang.
MOOTS: Are there things you don’t like about it?
MAT BARLOW: Sometimes it gets hard trying to explain what ‘type’ of bike it is to people.
MOOTS: Any specific plans for the coming summer on this rig?
MAT BARLOW: The bucket list for the rest of the year goes something like this.
-Boulder-Roubaix and or Boulder Koppenberg for some more local gravel racing.
-Credit card tour. Not sure where yet, but really want to put together a cool point to point route involving some of Colorado’s highest passes. I really want to ride it over Mosquito Pass and Engineer Pass to name two, and riding it home to Crested Butte would be pretty cool. I also would like to spend 2 or 3 days circumnavigating the La Sal mountains above Moab at some point
-Moots Ranch Rally
-Grinduro California. (maybe Scotland?)
-White Rim in a day
If I got half of those done with the rest of riding I normally do my Baxter is going to be one happy puppy.
MOOTS: Do you see yourself ever putting a suspension fork on it? Why/Why not?
MAT BARLOW: I could, but I don’t have any specific plans. Obviously we’re pretty far from ‘simple’ with hydro disc brakes but I still do sort of like the purity and light weight of non-suspended. That said, if I ever had the chance to try it with something cool like that new Fox Stepcast or an RS-1 it’d be pretty hard not to. But I’m not dying to try it. If the opportunity arrises, I’ll take it, but it feels pretty perfect as is.
MOOTS: What’s old is new again in the bike world…..Johnny T or Jackie Phalen? Or both?
MAT BARLOW: Funny question, as when I was out in California last fall for the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame ceremony we got the chance to ride with Jackie and she was rocking the drop bars like it was the most natural thing in the world. She’s been riding a ‘Baxter’ the whole time! And I can’t deny I’ve had Tomac fantasies on a couple single track downhills while riding the Baxter.
MOOTS: Gluten Free or Gluten +?
MAT BARLOW: Whatever tastes good!
MOOTS: Finally, to you is it: a mountain bike with drops? A gravel plus? Mountain lite? On it’s own?
MAT BARLOW: I’m starting to realize that the Baxter is something that people have a pretty hard time nailing down. “What is that” is a pretty common question. And the coolest thing about the Baxter is that it really does have the potential to be a lot of different things. I think a lot of buyers will use it as almost a true descendent of the original mountain bikes. Machines to explore the mountains on, go everywhere, ride, hike, camp, etc.
For me, I wanted something closer to a road bike than a mountain bike. I’ll definitely ride some light single track on it, but if I’m going to Steamboat or Crested Butte or Moab to ride world class mountain bike trails, I’m going to take a mountain bike and ride them in ways that the Baxter, for all it’s awesomeness, just can’t do.
So for me it’s not a mountain bike, but it’s not really a road bike either, nor a cross bike. And it’s burlier than a gravel bike. So, in the time honored tradition of the bicycle industry ripping off motorcycle terminology, I’m calling it a Scrambler. It’s a road bike; lifted, slackened out, styled out, rubbered up and ready to rip just about anything you can find short of real dirt bike territory. Throw some bags on it and tour, strip it down and ride fast. It’s a Scrambler! Ducati has one, so does Triumph, and BMW, why not Moots?!
MOOTS: Thanks for doing such a killer build…..that thing is hot.