We all have bikes that, for whatever reason, just tick all of our boxes. While not exactly a Luddite, the sight of a 26″ wheeled old school steel MTB just gets me every time. So when the Stanforth Kibo first popped up on my radar a few years ago, I was entranced and, after many months of riding the Kibo Dirt Drop, it’s still one of my favorite bikes.
Simon Stanforth’s father was one of the owners of Saracen, a respected UK brand of mountain bikes that was one of the early sponsors of Steve Peat. Nick and Richard Crane rode two Saracen mountain bikes to the ascent of Kenya’s Mount Kilimanjaro, an adventure that inspired Simon to found Stanforth Bikes.
A few Stanforths have been featured on The Spoken over the last few years — including their new 700c Conway endurance touring and racing bike — because, frankly, it’s a brand and a story that I really respect. When Simon reached out and asked if I was interested in trying out one of Kibo Dirt Drop models, I enthusiastically agreed.
A demo model was shipped Down Under with only the usual logistical complications. When I took the box into Cheeky Transport to be assembled, I was blown away. The paint, frame construction, and components were of the standard that I expected them to be: well-packed, rock-solid and resembling military-issue equipment.
These frames are handmade in the UK by a couple of very experienced frame builders, including Lee Cooper in Coventry, Warwickshire. As well as being a stock frame, they’re offered with custom options like lugged or fillet brazed frames, your choice of bottle and disc mounts, geometry tweaks, and Rohloff or derailleur drivetrains.
My frame is probably very close to those used by the Crane brothers on their trek — albeit with a couple of modern upgrades. The forks took a little longer to build because I requested my favorite crown, the Pacenti, designed by Kirk himself. It’s the most elegant and rugged looking detail and I’m a sucker for any bike with it under the headset.
Many will denounce the 26″ wheels, geometry, cantilever brakes, tubeless-less tires, and other features of the Kibo but the fact is that these bikes were created for fully loaded round-the-world expeditions where, in the case of dire emergencies, you need to wander into any Bolivian bike shop or market and acquire a replacement rim, spoke or cable.
There are far too many similarities to a Series Land Rover that can be made to the Stanforth Kibo: the reliable UK construction and materials, the refusal to bow to modern trends, the timeless design, the tried-and-true components, and the owner’s willingness to overlook its idiosyncrasies in favor of its trustworthiness.
Stanforth offers the Kibo as a frameset or a complete package, as mine arrived, with a 9-speed XT drivetrain and TRP levers and brakes. Cheeky Transport installed Dura-Ace downtube shifters for me, and the setup worked flawlessly, as you’d expect — is there a more apocalypse-proof setup?
All Stanforth Kibo frames and forks are made with Reynolds 631 and 525 tubes, and are double powder coated. The Kibo models are available in either a 1 1/8″ threadless steerer or a 1″ threaded steerer for a quill stem. The geometry is the same for both, barring a sloping top tube on the Aheadset version for increased standover room.
The standard handlebars are Nitto Dirt Drop RM-013 bars and although I’ve handled more modern-shaped bars, these are perfectly comfortable with a moderate outward sweep. I initially ran Brooks’ faux-leather tape, but swapped it for the Profile Design’s cushioned Drive bar tape the Stanforth was shipped with and haven’t looked back.
What I’m really impressed by is the wheelset: these 36 hole 26″ Rigida Sputnik rims and XT hubs are unnecessarily strong and defiantly non-tubeless. I love the Continental Race King tyres, they never put a foot out of place on all of my sideways expeditions and — how’s this — all Stanforth’s wheels are handbuilt, in Sussex.
Stanforth leaves the pedal and saddle options up to you, but a camo pair of United BMX pedals and the Brooks Cambium saddle work for me. I’ve now taken the Kibo on a few hundred off-road kilometers — down some twisty singletrack, too — and was always reassured by the no-nonsense steel frame and its natural resilience.
There’s definitely more appropriate vehicles to bomb down a rock garden with but the frame dealt with fire trails and access roads perfectly well. With a full front load, it tracked true, felt confidently strong and was still responsive.
The Kibo is a completely customizable canvas: one day, I’d like to upgrade to Paul Touring Cantis, perhaps downgrade the levers to Shimano 600 non-aero levers to improve the action somewhat — and for full retro-grouchiness. The Kibo is currently my daily rider but I would ride it around Australia tomorrow, if I could.
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