Wabi Cycles is a small company in Tulsa, Oklahoma producing steel singlespeed and fixed-gear bikes. The company made its mark during the height of the fixie movement and continues to feed the appetite for the simplicity and aesthetic of the single-gear bike.
Singlespeed cyclocross certainly has a cult following and Wabi Cycles produces the Thunder singlespeed cyclocross bike for that crowd.
We have had a one-track mind recently while putting the steel Wabi Thunder singlespeed bike through its paces. Find out if the throwback approach is still up to the rigors of modern cyclocross and how well it meets the adventure-driven design.
The Wabi Cycles Thunder is a decidedly old-school bike beautifully TIG-welded from Reynolds 725 heat-treated chromoly butted tubing. Frame construction is in Taiwan with a factory partner.
The Thunder frame has cast pieces including the fork crown, front and rear fork ends, seat collar and bottom bracket shell. The frame has cantilever studs and old-school ’cross geometry. A threaded cable stop is welded to the seatstays above the seatstay bridge.
Our 55cm review bike had a 55cm top tube. The head and seat tube angles are 73 degrees, making them parallel. Those with large feet might have some toe overlap. The bottom bracket has a 6.2cm drop, now considered high by modern American standards.
The published chainstay length is a very short 40cm, measured to the beginning of the rear fork end. In reality, the minimum chainstay length to the wheel axle is just a hair over 42cm. That leaves a classic 102cm wheelbase.
The Thunder uses a 68mm threaded BB shell as you would expect with a classic steel frame. There is a straight 1 ⅛” steerer as well—at least no threaded 1” steerer on this modern classic.
The steel tubes are internally E.D. (electrodeposition) coated for corrosion resistance. Corrosion and weight are the banes of steel framesets, so this extra treatment is a welcome addition. Rear fork spacing is 120mm—a standard for fixed gears and old singlespeeds—but incompatible with your old rim brake road and cyclocross wheels. The front fork is a standard 100mm spacing and the blades have a nice continental rake that begins almost at the crown and arcs gracefully to the fork ends.
Wabi’s website claims, “The Wabi Thunder is made for adventure." Double bottle bosses, bosses for both rack and fender front and rear means Wabi is serious about its claimed design for adventure. There is room for 42mm tires with the wide indented chainstays and wide fork crown, but your chosen gear ratio will obviously put limits on that adventure.
Singlespeed bikes need relatively few parts compared to their geared counterparts. Consistent with the retro geometry and fixtures of the frame, the Wabi Cycles Thunder sports Tektro CR510 low-profile cantilever brakes, combining the best of what the category can offer. That includes road-sized cartridge brake pads with spherical washers and separate spring-tension adjusters for easier centering, as well as straddle cable holders with set screws to complete the job.
The Tektro RL340 brake levers have a hood shape a bit like a mating of SRAM and millennium Campagnolo, with a Campagnolo-like release pin that acts as a quick release.
The sample Thunder we received had a 144mm BCD crankset, with a square tapered bottom bracket spindle, just like old Campagnolo. It would be nice to see the bike stocked with a 110 BCD crankset for more gear options.
The bike came originally with a 44t ring, which is not so practical for off-road riding or any hill, so the company sent a 42-tooth ring to pair with the 19t freewheel cog to yield 60 gear inches.
That’s about right, though I’m a spin-it-to-win-it singlespeeder and wished for a 40t or 38t, but that’s smaller than the included crankset can handle (which is 41 teeth actually). Curtis Klein of Wabi Cycles said the 144 BCD crankset is a carryover from the fixed wheel road bike heritage.
The Thunder has generic black anodized aluminum bar and stem, the former with a 26.0mm diameter and the latter 12cm long to pair with the 55cm top tube contributing to the classic geometry and rider position. The aluminum seat post is a 27.2mm diameter single-bolt model, not our favorite style for cyclocross remounts.
The wheelset has 24mm wide aluminum rims with a 21mm internal width and no bead shelf. This means they are tubeless convertible only with a rim strip. Those rims are laced 3x with 32 double-butted (2.0/1.8) stainless spokes to unbranded silver anodized hubs, the rear being a 120mm spaced flip-flop with counter threads for a fixed cog lockring on one side.
Our review bike, and the stock model, came with 700c x 32mm Kenda Small Block 8 tires with inner tubes.
Wabi also offers a Thunder Elite model that has more up-to-date equipment choices such as a SRAM Force 1 carbon crank with TRP mini V-brakes (or the choice of Avid Shorty Ultimate cantilevers—remember those?) and Vittoria Terreno tires on the same wheelset, for $700 more.
There are two specs we'd love to change, and one is a relatively easy swap. Wabi switching to a 110mm BCD crankset on this bike would offer more gear choices for those who are watt-limited or face hilly terrain. And even though fixed gear tracklocross is becoming a thing, standard 130mm rear dropouts would also allow more wheel options, and those of us with old tubular wheels to make a race day wheel swap.
Nothing rides like steel, and small diameter high-quality steel alloy has a certain ring to it when you ride.
The Wabi Thunder is no different. The whole bike with pedals is over 22 pounds, which is a lot for a singlespeed considering the lack of shifters and multiple gears.
You don’t feel that weight under most conditions, but you certainly will in cyclocross racing because of the accelerations, especially if the course is hilly. And that's not to mention when you have to shoulder and run with the bike.
What you will also feel is the relatively smooth, springy ride of steel. Over bumpy terrain, there is a sense of suspension in spite of the knowledge that the 32mm tires do not have the cushion of higher-volume options.
Handling on the road is quick and nimble. Off-road the bike swoops through arcing turns with a lean, but I thought it a bit skittish over rough hardpack, especially with a dusting of kitty litter on the surface. The narrow tires contributed to that feeling, and so does the steep headtube angle.
I did like the quick handling front end on tacky terrain, smooth grass and through tight chicanes if the surface is right. I liked it less on steep downhills, where the steep head angle and lack of brake modulation and power gave me less confidence.
This is a fun bike for commuting and errands around town, and gravel paths. It’s comfortable and nimble and has a hipness factor of singlespeed ’cross. The Wabi Thunder is versatile in that realm. You can ride it fixie, or gear down (with a crankset swap) for a more trail-worthy machine. You can go full commuter mode with panniers or front rack(s) and fenders. It's certainly versatile.
This is an old-school classic singlespeed cyclocross bike that you would have made from your favorite builder to race the local singlespeed series or Singlespeed Cyclocross Worlds. It has a custom look, and an old-school vibe.
The Wabi Thunder is a fun, simple, low-maintenance affordable ride. It may not be your ideal race-ready machine for the hardcore singlespeed cyclocross racer, but can handle one-bike duty and needs little beyond air and lube for year ’round service.
The Wabi Thunder is a fun, simple, low-maintenance affordable ride.
For serious racers, the Thunder Elite might be a better choice thanks to its better brakes and gearing. The recently-reviewed made-in-USA steel Chumba Terlingua is another fine, albeit much more pricey option with disc brakes and singlespeed capability and bigger tire clearance.
The Wabi Thunder is light on the wallet, even if a bit heavy on the shoulder. It's a versatile bike that can handle both pavement and light offroad duty. It boasts nice workmanship and thoughtful touches such as the cast crown, front and rear fork ends and all the bosses for fenders and racks. It's an ideal setup for any non-competitive singlespeed endeavors.
Wabi Thunder Steel Singlespeed Specifications
MSRP: $995 USD; Thunder Elite: $1,695 USD
Weight: 21.6 pounds, no pedals
Frame: Reynolds 725 chromoly steel, 120mm rear spacing
Fork: Reynolds 725 chromoly steel 1 ⅛” steel steerer tube
Crankset: Andel RSC1-7102, alloy, 144mm BCD, square taper
Chain Ring: Stock: 44t, alloy; Review: 42t, alloy
Rear Cog: 19t
Brakes: Tektro CR510 cantilever, RL340 levers
Cockpit: Black alloy, 26.0mm clamp diameter
Seatpost: Kalloy, black alloy, single bolt
Saddle: Black, padded, center groove, steel rails
Wheels: Alloy, black anodized, 21mm internal width, tubeless compatible, machined brake track
Rear Hub: Flip-flop hub, 129mm o.l. spacing
Tires: Kenda Small Block 8, 700c x 32mm
Warranty: frameset, five years for the original owner
Country of origin: Taiwan
More Info: wabicycles.com