Some days you just want to forget about races and results and just say, "WTF" and go for a ride. Van Dessel Cycles gets that, and one of its most iconic models, the WTF, or Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, is aimed at being the perfect bike for such days. We've got one under review and today we're giving you a closer look at early impressions of this retro-looking ride.
The WTF is New Jersey-based Van Dessel Cycles' do-it-all cromo steel model. Van Dessel prides itself on designing versatile bikes that defy categorization, a trend that started with the company's legendary Country Road Bob. While the company's Editors' Choice Award-winning Full Tilt Boogie carbon cyclocross bike has impressive tire clearance to be a lightweight race-worthy do-it-all machine, and the newly-released ADD adds 27.5 wheel options and the affordability of aluminum, the WTF has much bigger tire clearance out back and isn't built to impress weight weenies or hairpin-turn carvers. Instead, the WTF should please gravel cruisers, light tourers and commuters.
Van Dessel admits as much:
"While you could race the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, you’ll win more style points than cash. Comfort and stability took design precedence over high performance and low weight —the trade-off for a do-all geometry with a super smooth relaxed ride, and a penchant for having fun."
Other than perhaps looking like a Retrotec, the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is quite unique in appearance and ride. Both the frame and fork aren't designed with the stiffer-is-better philosophy, and the curved tubes and steel fork offer a classy aesthetic.
Our 56cm test bike is more stretched out than a typical cyclocross bike, offering up a 57cm effective top tube, with a 39.2cm reach and 58.3cm stack. With 45cm chainstays, 2.5cm longer than a typical cyclocross bike, the WTF likes rough roads and long, bumpy descents, but relies on big tire grip for steep climbs for traction—the rear wheel isn't quite tucked in as much on a cyclocross bike.
Thanks to Van Dessel's modular rear dropouts, you can run rear thru axle or quick release, and you can even add a belt drive. Up front, the company offers a QR or thru axle (15mm) front fork. We've heard that a carbon fork option is also in the works.
The frameset alone retails for $699, while complete bikes start at $2100 with Shimano 105 cockpit and mechanical disc brakes.
Van Dessel sells both through dealers and directly via its website. Whether you buy online or through your local dealer, you're able to customize your bike to your liking. Our test bike came with the Ultegra Hydraulic group option, which adds $800 over the Shimano 105 mechanical disc brake option. It also included the versatile Ksyrium Pro Disc All Road wheels, not a typical option but available upon request, and Kysrium Elite Disc wheels are a standard option and add another $550. We also received an upgraded FSA SL-K cockpit, a $175 upgrade over the heavier alloy FSA Omega cockpit. The build customizer is a fun experience, allows for thousands of permutations, and lets you choose specifics including handlebar width, gearing, crank length, seatpost setback and even lets you buy a complete bike without wheels.
If you're particular about how you like your bike set up, it's a cost effective way to buy a new bike, because you don't end up immediately replacing cockpit components, cranks, gearing, tires or wheels to get your bike dialed.
When completed, our bike was dressed with an Ultegra 50/34 compact crankset, Shimano R685 hydraulic STI levers, and an 11-28 rear cassette. Retail is around $3700 for our bike as spec'd.
When assembled, the entire package isn't light, mostly due to the steel frame and fork. Without pedals, it's a 23.6 pound ride, and the CXM Without Wheels Weight® is 16.7 pounds, which includes the thru axles.
For most rides, we opted for fatter rubber with 35c cyclocross tires, 40c gravel tires, and bigger mountain bike tires. Customer builds typically include the excellent WTB Cross Boss 35c tubeless tire.
The Van Dessel WTF loves to cruise on any terrain. Partly due to its weight, it doesn't quite rocket out of corners or off the line when you're putting the power down, but once you get up to speed, it's in its element, regardless of the surface or terrain. On bumpy flats or descents, it's really confidence inspiring, as the stable ride, in part due to the long wheelbase and long chainstays, doesn't have you fearing that each imperfection in your path will throw you off.
While the WTF's length and weight may not have you looking on the calendar for the next grass crit, don't make the mistake to think the bike isn't nimble. Equipped with the narrow Mavic Aksion 30c gravel tires, the WTF was a fun bike on the road, and the 72 degree head angle and 45mm rake help make the WTF steer quite nimbly through the normal contours of any road or bike path.
Our only early nitpick right is that for one tester, the beautifully curved double top tube was a tad too wide, as his quads would slightly rub the sides during normal pedaling. Fore-aft saddle position, cleat position, pedaling style and physique are all variables here, and while that tester bears no resemblance to Nelson Vails, you may or may not notice the same issue. If you do, one way to look at it is as an ego boost, and you can boast to riding buddies that your quads are just too big.
The WTF is most at home on gravel, dirt roads, B roads and double track. Unless we're in for a long day of climbing, it's the type of bike we'd reach for in the offseason for almost every ride. Throw on 29er two inch tires for a trail ride with your mountain bike buddies, and then swap them for slicks for a group ride, errands and commutes, and maybe to tow the kid.
With its unique aesthetic, be prepared to make conversation along the way. The Van Dessel WTF undoubtedly received the most comments of any test bike in recent years, and the current bright orange and pink color options certainly help attract that attention.
Stay tuned for our full review as we put more miles on the WTF.
See a full photo gallery of our test bike below.
Van Dessel Cycles Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (WTF) Bike Specifications:
Frame: 4130 Cro-Moly steel, BB30, modular dropouts for QR or 142x12mm thru axle
Fork: 4130 Cro-Moly steel, QR or 15mm thru axle options
Crank: Shimano Ultegra 50/34 6800
Rear derailleur: Shimano 6800 GS cage
Front derailleur: Shimano 6800
Brakes: Shimano RS785
Shift/brake levers: Shimano R685
Handlebars: FSA Wing Pro
Stem: FSA SL-K
Seatpost: FSA SL-K
Saddle: WTB Rocket
Wheels: Mavic Ksyrium Pro Disc All Road
Tires: Mavic Yskion 30c tubeless
Price: Complete builds with Shimano 105 start at $2100, our build is $3449 with Mavic Ksyrium Elite Disc wheels
Weight: 16.7 pounds w/thru xles, w/o wheels; 23.6 pounds with wheels
More info: vandesselcycles.com