First published in Issue 124 of Singletrack Magazine, this Mason InSearchOf was reviewed as part of our Long Haulers test of bikes with racks. For when you really want to carry everything and the kitchen sink.
Words by Antony de Heveningham. Photos by James Vincent.
- Price: £3,490.00 (+£160.00 for dynamo wheelset)
- From: Mason Cycles, masoncycles.cc
Mason Cycles may not be a household name in the mountain bike world but if you’re from the UK and ride bikes on dirt, chances are you’ll have encountered a bike designed by its owner. Dom Mason was the lead designer for Kinesis Bikes, before striking out on his own in 2014. Mason’s current range of bikes is all steel or titanium with drop bars, but calling them road bikes would be a misnomer. They’re all designed to be a tad more adventurous than that, with disc brakes, plenty of tyre clearance, and other indications of a penchant for leaving the tarmac.
So have we smuggled a gravel bike into a mountain bike test? Not quite. The InSearchOf is Mason’s newest model and although it’s very much designed around drop bars, in most other respects it’s a mountain bike. It takes Boost cranks and wheels and, therefore, joins the likes of Shand’s Bahookie and Bearclaw’s Beau Jaxon on a very short list of drop bar bikes that can also accept wide 29in or 27.5+ tyres. You won’t spot one on your local club run, and even if you turned up to a cyclocross race on it, you’d get some seriously funny looks.
The frame is made in Italy by Dedacciai, and features an array of subtle manipulations to get the best out of each bit of tubing. Swoopy seatstays are augmented with two sets of rear rack mounts (for a lower or higher mounting position). The dropouts incorporate a replaceable mech hanger and flat mounts for the latest generation of road disc brakes. The seat tube features internal dropper post routing and the whole frame is internally coated with an anti-corrosion treatment.
The InSearchOf can run 100mm of front suspension, thanks to the kinked downtube, but our test bike came equipped with Mason’s HotShoe rigid fork. This features a brace of mounts for bottle or gear cages, plus a crown mount for the specially designed front rack. Sadly, at the time of writing the rack hadn’t quite made it to production, but the alternative option is just as interesting – a massive, colour-coordinated mudguard that’s also designed to be load bearing, incorporating a small flattened area and some slots for straps.
The fork’s other neat trick is a slim internal channel for dynamo wiring. I’m a dynamo convert, and the ability to generate your own power and light opens up all sorts of adventurous possibilities. In a nice bit of joined-up thinking, Mason has collaborated with Hunt wheels on a wheelset featuring an ultra-reliable (and expensive) SON hub, and the final version of the rack will have a front mount for a light unit.
The rest of the build on our test bike had a pick ’n’ mix theme, with a SRAM Force 1×11 cyclocross groupset paired with a 10–42 wide range cassette, and a Truvativ Descendant carbon fibre crank (full builds will come with the lighter duty Stylo chainset instead). If disc brakes were a quantum leap forward from cantis, the latest generation of hydraulic drop bar brakes are light years ahead of cable discs, and allow you to descend spicy trails with much more control, even with your hands on the hoods. Mason has also tweaked the mounts to run a larger 180mm disc rotor at the front of the bike, adding even more power and modulation.
As already noted, the InSearchOf is designed around drop bars, and is available in five sizes from XS to XL. Confusingly, sizes are based on seat tube measurements, along the lines of road bikes, but with a touch more standover, so our medium test bike was a 50cm frame, but felt equivalent to a 54cm road or cyclocross frame. Reach and stack are also hard to compare with more conventional frames, and if you’re unsure about sizing we’d recommend contacting Mason for a chat.
Our tester arrived with a relatively short stem, and Ritchey VentureMax bars, which have quite an extreme flare and an ergonomic kink (dubbed the ‘bio-bend’) towards the end of the bar. This seems designed to locate your hand in the optimum position for braking in the drops. Another UK brand, Fabric, supplies the bar tape and the saddle, while the carbon seatpost is another Mason product and features a thumb-wheel for angle adjustment.
The look of the bike is rounded out with some tasteful graphics, gold pinstriping on the seat tube, and an absolutely gorgeous polished head badge. As well as the cool grey of our test model, the frame is available in a rather less understated green, with colour-matched racks and mudguard. And aesthetically, the bike is dominated by that front mudguard. As a statement of utilitarian anti-cool, or the offspring of a child’s plastic sledge and a snow shovel, depending on your point of view, it’ll probably play a decisive role in many people’s decision to purchase this bike.
I was hoping to test the InSearchOf in full fat mode, with 2.8in Plus tyres, a dropper post and a front rack. The bike that arrived was a touch more conventional, with 29×2.4in WTB Ranger tyres, but from the outset it was clear that this was still a pretty unique machine. The rigid fork and drop bar-specific geometry give the bike a very tall front end (628mm on a medium – that’s a couple of inches higher than some mountain bikes) and a very short reach. But the nature of the handlebars means that you can change your riding position, from sit up and cruise to head down and hammer, just by moving your hands. This might sound like a statement of the blindingly obvious to anyone who’s ridden road or cyclocross bikes, but it’ll be a revelation to anyone who’s only ridden mountain bikes with flat bars.
With this range of riding positions at your disposal, the InSearchOf really lends itself to all-day rides over mixed terrain. Draggy tarmac climbs and twisty moorland singletrack were dispatched with equal vigour and I found myself wanting to do longer and longer rides, even with the 2.4in tyres. Part of the credit for this has to go to the excellent MasonxHunt wheelset, which has the perfect balance of width and weight. The HotShoe fork also hits the sweet spot between stiff and comfortable, and keeps the overall weight of the bike closer to gravel territory.
Even though the Shutter mudguard was a 3D-printed prototype, Mason is confident enough to suggest using it in lieu of a rack, and although the deck is small, it’ll happily carry a light but bulky cargo, such as a down jacket and bivvy bag. Thanks to the relatively steep head angle, loading the front wheel doesn’t unduly affect the handling, and in another example of fastidious attention to detail, Mason has teamed up with respected securers of luggage Voile to offer some long, thin straps tailor-made to fit its mounting points. As a mudguard, though, the Shutter doesn’t work as well as it could, and thanks to its short length you still end up getting splattered when travelling at speed.
Aside from the excellent brakes, the bike also has SRAM’s Double Tap shifting system, where one lever controls upshifts and downshifts – click once for higher gears, push in further for lower ones. It’s confusing at first, especially as you reach bottom gear and find yourself accidentally shifting back up, but after a very short time it becomes intuitive. It also adds to the positive braking feel as the brake lever isn’t moving from side to side. The Ritchey bars have a good amount of flare, but not much width by modern gravel bar standards. The curve of the bars is very tight, reminiscent of the old On-One Midge drops, and while riders with smaller hands may not have any issues, I felt that descending could be more comfortable on bars with a wider radius, such as Salsa’s Cowbell.
While the InSearchOf made riding all day a pleasure instead of a chore, it needed careful handling on more technical terrain. Aside from the narrow bars, the WTB TCS Light tyres have distinctly papery sidewalls, meaning I needed to pump them up pretty hard to avoid dinged rims. Fortunately Mason will let you spec from a range of tyres, so you can pick some with a tougher carcass if you prefer. The steep head angle, conventional seatpost and rigid fork also held the Mason back on anything too steep and rocky. During a relatively short test period there were no signs of premature wear and tear, although the seatpost head bolts did need quite firm tightening to stop creaks.
Even though the Mason is much more capable than a gravel bike, it won’t replace your trail bike and feels more nervous on steeper, rougher mountain bike trails than a modern 29er hardtail. If it were my personal bike, the bars would be swapped, although riders of slighter build might get on fine with them. And making the head angle a touch slacker would improve its capability on technical terrain, and also help with toe overlap, which caused the odd issue on very tight trails, particularly when riding flat pedals.
The trade-off is the InSearchOf’s luggage capacity, its dynamo integration, and the fact that it’s simply more pleasant to ride over the course of a long day than most mountain bikes. You could pull out your OS map, connect up as many dotted lines and small roads as possible, and then ride them all on this bike, and enjoy almost every mile.
The Mason InSearchOf would suit someone who wants to take minimal gear and just keep going. It’s a hugely enjoyable bike to ride, and gobbles up the miles, on or off road, but its road bike DNA makes it a bit nervous when things get gnarly. The frame is a great example of a small bike company pushing the limits of what can be done with steel, and it’s also pleasing that every part of the bike seems designed to work together. You could beef it up with a suspension fork and burly tyres, but it has a lot more finesse than the other bikes in this test, and it would be a shame to lose that.
Mason InSearchOf Specification
- Frame // Dedacciai ‘Zero’ and Reynolds 853 steel
- Fork // Mason HotShoe
- Hubs // SON 28 dynamo, 15x110mm front, Hunt sealed cartridge bearing 12x148mm rear
- Rims // MasonxHunt, 30mm internal width
- Tyres // WTB Ranger TCS Light, 2.4in
- Chainset // Truvativ Descendant, 34T X-Sync Direct Mount chainring
- Rear Mech // SRAM Force 1, 11-speed
- Shifters // SRAM Force 1, 11-speed
- Cassette // SRAM XG-1175, 10-42, 11-speed
- Brakes // SRAM Force HRD hydraulic disc
- Stem // Ritchey VentureMax, 31.8 mm
- Bars // Ritchey VentureMax WCS, 31.8 mm, 44cm
- Bar Tape // Fabric Hex
- Seatpost // Mason Penta
- Saddle // Fabric Scoop Elite Alloy
- Size Tested // 50cm
- Sizes available // 42cm, 46cm, 50cm, 54cm, 58cm
- Weight // 11.1kg / 24.5lbs
|Price:||£3,490.00 (+£160.00 for dynamo wheelset)|
|Tested:||by Antony de Heveningham for|
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