In Issue #112 of Singletrack Magazine, we tested three mountain bikes to find out what we’d choose to survive the Zombie Apocalypse
Headed up by two guys called Burf and Tam, BTR (Burf & Tam Racing) Fabrications welded its first frame back in 2011, and officially launched four months later in January 2012. Since then, BTR has expanded its range of no-nonsense hardtails to include models for dirt jumping, DH, trail riding and cross-country. All of the frames are constructed from chunky steel tubes, which are fabricated and welded together in the BTR factory in Frome, Somerset.
The Ranger is BTR’s trail hardtail. It sits between the Chaser cross-country frame, and the Belter DH frame. The Ranger is designed for 120mm travel forks, and it can be had in 26in, 27.5in or 29in versions. Being a relatively small and flexible outfit, BTR offers the ability to customise geometry on the Ranger for a £50 upcharge, and there’s a raft of upgrade options available including internal cable routing, additional water bottle cage mounts, and ISCG tabs. The frame comes raw with a clear lacquer over the top, though you can have your frame powder-coated for an extra £30.
There are four sizes available in each Ranger, though the 26in version also adds in an X-Small size for shorter riders. Our test bike is a Large with 27.5in wheels, and it’s equipped with the ‘Tam Edition’ build kit, which puts it at £2,800 for the complete bike.
With its slack ‘n’ long geometry and burly construction, the Ranger is aiming at similar territory to bikes such as the Stif Morf, Cotic Soul and Orange P7. Unlike those aforementioned options though, the BTR Ranger is made right here in the UK. And with international travel and trade prohibited in our dystopian future, in order to mitigate the spread of deadly flesh-eating diseases, the British-made Ranger offers a significant advantage against its foreign-made competitors.
Regardless of intention, the overarching themes that tie all BTR frames together are geometry and strength. There’s a firmly ‘function over fashion’ approach, with burly steel tubes taking the straightest line possible from junction to junction. BTR has reinforced the Ranger’s head tube with an additional support tube, and discreet gussets add strength where the chainstays meet the bottom bracket.
The function-first approach extends throughout the entire Ranger frame. You’ll find a 73mm threaded bottom bracket shell, an oversized 31.6mm seat tube (for dropper post compatibility), and a stout CNC machined 7075-T6 alloy thru-axle.
My favourite details, though, are the two slender tubes used for the post-mount brake tabs, and the frame’s metal ID card that’s riveted onto the head tube – a sweet custom detail that completes the distinctly utilitarian look.
Geometry is really where the Ranger shows its hand, however. Despite only having a 120mm travel fork, the Ranger features a ridiculously slack 63.5° head angle. Combined with the 460mm reach on our Large test bike, the front wheel might as well be in another postcode. To retain snappy handling and decent climbing ability though, the Ranger runs a steep 75° seat angle, while compact 415mm chainstays keep the rear wheel tight up against the bottom bracket. Speaking of, the BB shell sits over 50mm lower than the hub axle line, which places your centre of gravity much lower, compared to equivalent trail bikes.
To suit the bike’s high-speed intentions, BTR has equipped our Ranger test bike with a stiff Marzocchi 350 CR fork on the front. There’s proper-grippy tubeless rubber supplied by Maxxis, and August Wheelworks has laced up a tough handbuilt wheelset comprising slick sealed bearing hubs and decently wide alloy rims.
BTR’s clever parts spec manages to place the budget where it counts. That includes the smooth RockShox Reverb dropper post and the excellent Renthal cockpit. Costs have been saved elsewhere in the consumables department, with a SRAM GX 1×11 drivetrain and Shimano hydraulic disc brakes offering bombproof performance, at a slight weight penalty compared to higher-end groupsets.
Speaking of weight, BTR Fabrications claims the Ranger frame comes in at 2.5kg including the rear axle. For the complete bike, our test rig tipped the scales at 12.77kg or a touch over 28lbs.
Straight off the bat, the Ranger offers that familiar and fun feel of a compact hardtail. The waffle-style grips, high-rise handlebar and short Renthal stem give the Ranger a BMX-style cockpit that immediately asks you to leap out of the saddle, get on the gas, and seek out the nearest pump track.
The bars sit relatively high, which is exacerbated by a huge 150mm tall head tube on our Large test bike. You do command the Ranger from the back of the bike though, with the rear wheel tucked right in underneath you. The rearward weight bias, low centre of gravity and tight back end conspire to make the Ranger significantly more nimble than I expected, and the whole thing just oozes a culture of playfulness that many full-suspension trail bikes are often devoid of.
To get the Ranger dialled in, I had about 55 psi in the air spring of the Marzocchi 350 fork to support my 70kg riding weight. With our test bike being nearly a year old though, the forks have definitely seen better days. Even after they were serviced mid-test, the ’zocchis weren’t nearly as smooth as an equivalent Pike or 34, and I also found the gradients in the rebound adjustment to be too large for accurate fine-tuning.
As for the tyres, I kept pressure around the 17–19 psi mark. The Minion DHR II in particular is a dead-brilliant tread that offers both masses of braking and cornering traction for the moments when you’re nearing your own limits.
Even with the lower tyre pressure, there’s still quite a bit of feedback that’ll come through the Ranger’s contact points. On trails littered with rocky rubble, those used to cushy full suspension bikes will need to stand up regularly to give their arse a rest, as the stiff and stubby rear triangle has a habit of transmitting hits straight up into the saddle. Realistically, that’s the trade-off for having a frame that’s as responsive and energetic as the Ranger though. Of course, a bigger 2.5in wide tyre would help, but if you want all-day riding comfort for cross-country expeditions, look elsewhere.
Surprisingly, the Ranger has few issues cranking its way back uphill. The tall front end can get a little wandery, but the long wheelbase helps to keep it relatively planted. Again, the stiff frame and sticky tyres go a long way to helping there and realistically your fitness will be the only thing holding the Ranger back on the ups.
What surprised me most about the Ranger though is just how willing it is to go very, very fast downhill – it’s an absolute rocket! At the mere whiff of a slightly downwards gradient, the Ranger seems to instinctively pick up speed, goading you to start pumping and pushing into the trail. And at these speeds the Ranger’s handling really comes to life. Acceleration from the stiff bottom bracket junction is rapid, with a zippiness that would give most BMX bikes a run for their money. As the speedo starts to tick over, the wide upright grip position maintains a steadiness to the front-end of the Ranger, keeping it calm and keeping you confident.
In these flat-out moments, the über-slack head angle on the Ranger started to make a lot more sense than it does on paper. With a hardtail, the dynamic geometry (the bike’s geometry when you’re actually on the bike) can change quite a bit as the fork compresses. Unlike a full suspension bike that compresses from both ends, a hardtail essentially steepens as it goes into the travel. In the case of the Ranger, only having 120mm of travel means the whole bike feels a lot more grounded and in control even when you’re sucking back hits at speed.
At slower speeds, the Ranger does take more work on the handlebars to get it threading a line around tight trees. And if you don’t put the effort in, it’ll feel bouncy and a bit difficult – like a lot of slack hardtails do. But give a little back and keep the tyres rolling at speed, and the Ranger rewards you with crisp steering from the short stem and stiff frame. With the rearward riding position and strung-out geometry, the Ranger loves to dip and weave through the turns, and the more you push it into the corners, the faster it wants to blast out of them.
I didn’t expect the Ranger to be this capable for a hardtail with underpowered brakes and a sticky 120mm travel fork on the front of it. In that sense, the Ranger really is the perfect example of how the right geometry can make a bike. And in BTR’s case, Burf and Tam have absolutely hit the nail on the head with this one.
While it may not suit everyone’s tastes, the BTR Ranger is an absolute firecracker. If you’re into short punchy rides, the Ranger will burn hard and fast, and it’ll leave you absolutely wrecked at the end. Wrecked, but with a huge shit-eating grin on your face.
BTR Ranger Specifications
- Frame // Reynolds 631 Steel Front Triangle, Dedacciai Rear Stays
- Fork // Marzocchi 350 CR, 120mm Travel
- Hubs // August Alloy Hubs, 100x15mm Front / 142x12mm Rear
- Rims // Ryde Trace Enduro 32H
- Tyres // Maxxis DHR II EXO 2.3in Front / High Roller II EXO 2.3in Rear
- Chainset // SRAM GX 32T
- Front Mech // N/A
- Rear Mech // SRAM GX 11-Speed
- Shifters // SRAM GX 1×11
- Cassette // SRAM XG-1150 10-42T
- Brakes // Shimano M506, 160mm Rotors
- Stem // Renthal Duo 40mm
- Bars // Renthal Fatbar Lite 740mm Wide, 38mm Rise
- Grips // Renthal Kevlar Push-On
- Seatpost // RockShox Reverb 31.6mm, 125mm Travel
- Saddle // Fabric Scoop Flat Race
- Size Tested // Large
- Sizes Available // Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
- Weight // 12.77kg (28.15lbs)
|From:||BTR Fabrications, www.btr-fabrications.com|
|Price:||Frame only from £1000|
|Tested:||by Wil Barrett for 3 months|