Lido Vizzutti

Road Test: Rawland Ulv

Mar 24, 2020
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This review originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of Adventure Cyclist magazine.

Here in Montana, winter presents as an endless block of cold, gray gloom, with a reliable melt-freeze cycle that enjoins one from riding any two-wheeled device that doesn’t include studded tires. When the sun does shine, we Missoulians scurry out of our hovels to blink and wonder at its pale yellow majesty. Hyperbole? Maybe. But that’s how it feels.

For those reasons, we don’t perform many bike tests in Missoula in the winter. (That’s what Patrick O’Grady, in balmy Albuquerque, New Mexico, is for.) But with autumn drawing to a close last year, we gambled on taking in a Rawland Ulv, a steel dropbar mountain bike, for testing in our hometown. Was it providence that I found plenty of sunny, snowless days to put miles on the Ulv, or just dumb luck?

The brand may be unfamiliar to many readers, but Rawland has been making steel bikes with room for big rubber since its founding by Sean and Anna Virnig in 2007. These days, Rawland offers two bikes: the Ravn, an “all-road enduro” (read: gravel bike); and the Ulv, an “xc adventure” (read: dropbar mountain bike). Just don’t call it a super gravel bike. (Seriously, don’t.)

Dropbar mountain bikes are not uncommon, but the Ulv has the special sauce that sets it apart. The first clue is the beefy segmented steel fork. It means business, and it’s got the résumé to back it up: fender mounts, two sets of rack mounts, triple mounts, internal routing for a dynamo hub, and minimum 180mm brake rotor compatibility. The dropouts are lovely hooded things, housing thru-axles from Rawland’s Raidoverks brand. It’s also a low-trail fork. More on that later.

The frame is just as well appointed, featuring mounts for three bottle cages, fenders, and a rear rack. The rear dropouts (hooded, like the front) are replaceable in case you tend to bend and break things. Like on the fork, the minimum brake rotor on the frame is 180mm. There’s even a chain hanger on the seatstay, which is a clear sign that Sean and Anna were paying attention when designing this bike.

Curiously, the rear hub spacing is 148mm Boost while the front is standard 100mm. That may make it slightly more difficult to find a set of wheels, but the Boost rear — in combination with Rawland’s chainstay yoke — makes room for big tires with plenty of clearance for mud. The Ulv can run either 27.5 x 2.8in. tires or 29 x 2.3in. (as tested).

For a Taiwan-made steel bike with a nice but not overly fancy spec, and with big rubber to boot, the Rawland is a flyweight at just a tick over 26 pounds, including a rack bolted up front. Aiding in the weight savings is Rawland’s STAAL tubing, which is triple butted to reduce mass while maintaining strength. The Ulv’s lack of heft is especially noticeable when sprinting up a hill, not to mention shouldering it up a flight of stairs. 

Also contributing to the Ulv’s light weight are the Velocity wheels. Featuring Velocity-branded hubs and bladed spokes laced to wide Blunt SS rims, the Velocity wheels spun up quickly and kept their true throughout the test period. They also arrived set up tubeless, which is always my preference.

Unlike other steel bikes I’ve swung a leg over recently, the Ulv’s lightness doesn’t manifest as springy compliance. Instead, it’s pretty stiff. But whether that stiffness comes as a direct result of the frame’s tubing, the wider Boost rear wheel (a wider hub makes for larger spoke bracing angles, resulting in a stiffer wheel), or both, who knows.

A little stiffness isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it all depends on what you’re looking for. If you want a soft, supple Lazy Boy, this isn’t your bike. But if you want something that that rewards your hard pedaling with instant power transfer, the Ulv could be for you. More specifically, the Rawland Ulv could be the ideal rig for covering big distances on dirt roads as quickly as possible. Rawland doesn’t call it a race bike, but I’ll make an educated guess that the Ulv would be a mighty fine Tour Divide machine.

I didn’t race the Tour Divide on the Ulv — lanterne rouge, anyone? — but I did ride it on a mix of paved and unpaved surfaces in western Montana, as well as during a weeklong vacation in Oregon. That the Ulv felt at home on dirt and gravel roads, rocky or otherwise, didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was how efficient it was on the macadam. I put down miles just as quickly and comfortably on the Rawland as I would have on my own carbon gravel bike, and with 2.3in. knobby tires no less.

The Ulv’s low-trail fork likely helps the bike feel so good on the road. (Trail is the horizontal measurement of the distance between where the front tire makes contact with the ground and where an imaginary line along the steering axis would meet the ground.) Bikes with larger trail numbers tend to feel more stable and with slower steering, while bikes with lower trail numbers feel nimbler and have quicker steering. The purpose of a low-trail fork is to make the bike handle normally with a front load, since adding weight to the front of any bike slows its steering. The potential downside of a low-trail fork is that, without a load, the bike could feel twitchy and unstable. I rode the Ulv both with and without a load, and it was sharp without feeling precarious. As a counterpoint to the sharp steering, the Rawland’s chainstays are a considerable 460mm, giving the Ulv a nice long wheelbase and stability at speed, not to mention heel clearance with panniers.   

I should note that the Ulv I tested was a size too big (my own fault for sending Rawland bad measurements), but the only downside I noticed was the high standover height. Otherwise, the XL felt extra stable and extra planted, and the huge front triangle had plenty of room for two large water bottles and a partial framebag.

In addition to the Velocity wheels, I found the spec from Rawland to be on point. My hands felt right at home on the Ritchey handlebar, especially in the 460mm width, the Avid BB7 brakes were strong and fuss-free, and my hindquarters appreciated the WTB SL8 saddle, even on long rides. Unsurprisingly, the SRAM Rival 1 drivetrain shifted flawlessly. I think it’s very nearly the perfect drivetrain for a lot of different kinds of dropbar riding, but the gear range is just a bit too narrow for serious, fully loaded touring. If SRAM were to build a road 1x shifter with a cable-pull ratio to suit their Eagle derailers, I would hurl money at them.

The big surprise was the tire spec. I’m quite familiar with the Maxxis Ardent, but I’d never tried the Ardent Race, which has the same tread pattern as the Ardent but with lower-profile knobs. Fast and grippy in the dirt and shockingly efficient on the road, the Ardent Race is a fantastic mixed-conditions tire.

Likewise, if you decide to pony up for a Rawland, I recommend including one of their Raidoverks racks. Rawland sent a Rando rack along with the Ulv — there’s also the larger Demiporteur rack — and I found it to be solid, with good attention to detail. I especially liked the adjustable legs to accommodate different forks and the concave washers for the crown bolt.

It’s always difficult to judge a bike’s value; what seems like a good deal to you might be too expensive for me, or vice versa. At $3,250, the Ulv doesn’t come across as a bargain proposition. A lot of the complete bike’s price comes from the high-quality parts bolted onto it. No single item is exorbitantly priced, but it all adds up. Should you want to build one up yourself, a frameset goes for $950. It’s a little high for a Taiwan-made frame, but I challenge you to find another steel bike with the Rawland’s clever touches, low weight, and good looks for a lower price. Go ahead. I’ll wait. 

Testing the Ulv during the winter kept me from taking it on any of the classic Missoula gravel routes, so the majority of my riding was on pavement. It’s not my modus operandi for bike reviews, but it did open my eyes to the versatility inherent in a dropbar mountain bike. With its lightweight tubing and penchant for going fast — not to mention capacity for any kind of luggage — there’s no reason at all the Ulv couldn’t serve as both your dirt road bikepacking rig and your on-road touring machine. Just don’t call it super gravel.  

Rawland Ulv

Price: $3,250
Sizes available: S, M, L, XL
Size tested: XL
Weight: 26.2 lbs. (including rack, no pedals)

Test Bike Measurements

Stack: 630mm
Reach: 407mm
Head tube length: 146mm
Head tube angle: 73°
Seat tube length: 550mm
Seat tube angle: 73°
Top tube: 600mm (effective)
Chainstays: 460mm 
Bottom bracket drop:
91mm
Bottom bracket height: 277mm
Fork Offset: 79mm
Trail: 32mm
Wheelbase: 1106mm
Standover height: 840mm

Specifications

Frame: Triple-butted, heat-treated Rawland STAAL 4130 chromoly, rack and fender mounts, three bottle mounts, replaceable dropouts, chain hanger 
Fork: Rawland 4130 chromoly, low trail, rack and fender mounts, triple mounts, dynamo hub wiring ports
Handlebar: Ritchey Comp Curve, 460mm
Stem: Ritchey Comp 4Axis, 60mm 
Brake/shift levers:
SRAM Rival 1
Rear Derailer: SRAM Rival 1
Brakes: Avid BB7 S Road
Rotors: SRAM CenterLine, 180mm
Crankset: SRAM NX DUB Boost, 38T 
Cassette: SRAM XG-1150, 10–42T, 11spd
Chain: SRAM PC-1130
Bottom bracket: SRAM DUB, threaded
Seatpost: Ritchey Comp 2-bolt, 27.2mm
Saddle: WTB SL8 
Headset: Tange Seiki Japan, needle-bearing
Hubs: Velocity, 148 x 12mm Boost rear, 100 x 12mm front, thru-axles
Rims: Velocity Blunt SS, 32h, tubeless
Tires: Maxxis Ardent Race, 29 x 2.35in., tubeless
Extras: Raidoverks Rando rack

Gear Inches

38

10

110.9

12

92.5

14

79.1

16

69.5

18

61.6

21

52.8

24

46.1

28

39.7

32

34.7

36

30.9

42

26.3

divider
 

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Comments

Kevin Womac March 27, 2020, 8:12 AM

I've had a 58cm Ravn for two years (I'm 6 feet tall). After playing with stem height and length, I've got the bike fitting like a dream. My two gripes are- it's heavy as heck. I've got a very similar build, and my bike feels like a tank. That said, it still rides like a dream. My other touring bike is similarly heavy. I expected this one to be lighter after the triple-butted hype online. Secondly, most disc brakes come stock w/160mm rotors. Having to purchase 180's separately was a bummer.

In spite of these shortcomings, this is still my go-to bike for adventure. And that's what it's all about!

Daniel Gerdts March 25, 2020, 8:44 PM

Like Paul, I have a Ravn that I ride with 650b wheels shod with the 42mm Rat Trap Pass tires. It loves a long day on the gravel, and is a very comfortable ride. I also concur with Dan regarding their very nice racks. I have the rando on the Ravn and I installed the demiporteur on my single speed commuter. You can buy them on their website. What I do not understand is the suggestion in the review that this is a stock bike that you can buy. Do they sell these as built up bikes? Their web page only shows frames for sale. I bought the frame and built my own (it got expensive, but everything is perfect). I might have considered one already built if they were available.

Dan Meyer March 26, 2020, 8:26 AM

Thanks for your comment. I should have been more explicit that Rawland doesn't have stock builds. They sell framesets and will put together a complete bike at the customer's request.

Paul Lieberman March 25, 2020, 7:03 PM

Really I don't know why you reviewed the Ulv and not the Ravn. I have a Ravn and it really is much more geared towards touring and bikepacking than the Ulv. The Ulv is more of a one trick pony, more like a fat bike, where as the Ravn is at home on hard top, gravel, and trails. The Ravn can be setup with 26" or 27.5" . I like to run the Rene Herse Rat Trap Pass 26x2.15" which are great on the road or gravel.

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