Review: Contraband Rogue Single Speed

Designed in South Africa and, funnily enough, inspired by the Braamfontein Spruit, the Rogue has had a quiet beginning. And this truly suits its style because it is beautifully understated. We find out if this translates into fun on the trail, where the Rogue was designed to excel.
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Started up by Grant Walliser and Andrew Broom, Contraband's goal is to build bikes that are fun; not technologically advanced super machines, but something you jump onto and immediately have a blast on. Grant is also the owner of International Trade, importers of Hope, FSA, KS, Spank and WTB. So it made perfect sense for Contraband to be distributed by International Trade too, and for the bike to be built up with these parts.

The Rogue is offered as a frame only and as a custom build with a selection of these components smattering the bike. Contraband will build it up a bike to your specifications, even building the wheels too. It can accommodate 650b or 29" wheels, can be single speed or geared, which gives it immense diversity. We were given a 650b single speed to see exactly how this skinny steel trail bike rides in its most simple form.

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Specifications

Price: Frameset - R6300, and custom builds range from R22 000 to R27 000+ (as tested)
Frame: Reynolds 853 steel, eccentric bottom bracket, 1 1/8" head tube
Fork: Rock Shox Reba RLT Ti 29 120
Brakes: Hope Tech 2 X2
Cassette: Endless Bike Company 17T SS
Crankset: FSA Afterburner
Bottom Bracket: FSA Ceramic Megaexo
Front derailleur: N/A
Rear derailleur: N/A
Chain: Spank Tweet Tweet Single Speed
Handlebar: Spank Subrosa 747mm, 5mm rise, 4° up sweep, 8° back sweep
Stem: FSA OS190 70mm (swapped out for a FUNN Strippa 45mm)
Grips: Hope
Headset: Hope External Cup 1 1/8"
Seatpost: Loaded X-Lite CnC Machined Ti
Seatpost clamp: Hope
Saddle: WTB Silverado
Pedals: N/A
Rims: Spank Oozy-26 Evo 650b tubeless
Hubs: Hope Evo 2 hubs w/SS conversion
Tyres: WTB Wolverine 2.2 650b tubeless
Weight: 11.6kg

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Frame

With a raw, brushed finish with a clear lacquer on the Reynolds 853 steel, the Rogue is understated to say the least. The finishes of the welds were all beautiful and the frame as a whole looks immaculately built. The only branding on it is a slightly lighter 'contraband' on the down tube and 'rogue' on the top tube, with a pinup girl silhouetted on the head tube as a figurehead. Pure class. The geometry is not world-class racer, but is certainly along the lines of world-class entertainment. A fairly steep head angle of 69° (compared to most offerings nowadays), fairly long chainstays at 445mm and a 600mm long top tube all combine to make stable and balanced ride characteristics.

The chainstay length allows the bike to accommodate both 650b and 29" wheels, and it was fitted with a Rock Shox Reba 29 but 650b wheels. Grant said that the reason for this is that he often swapped out the wheels, and wanted a fork that accommodated both wheel sizes. Ideally speaking, it was a bit high for my preferences.

Also being a single speed setup, I was worried about taking the rear wheel off and on, but with the eccentric bottom bracket, there was the ability to adjust the chain tension, so the Rogue was made with a vertical dropout.

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Components

It's a pretty even mix of those companies brought in by International Trading on the Rogue, the only odd one out was the Loaded seatpost, which could have easily been a Hope, FSA or even a KS dropper post. A KS dropper would have been ideal, actually, it being a trail bike. There was little faulting the component spec to be honest, but there were some niggles nonetheless.

Standing out from the crowd were definitely the Hope Tech X2 brakes, and not initially as you would think. This is a demo bike of Contraband's, and it wasn't built specifically for our test, but was for potential customers to try out. I think some people can be particularly hard on components, so maybe the guys at Contraband specced the Rogue to last.

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Which is strange about the Hopes. They're aren't new, by any means, but nor are have they seen too many kilometres. So when I first felt them, I found the rear brake had a lot of stiction in the lever. The action was completely on and off. I sent them into my LBS for a diagnosis and they found that the lever piston was dry. A little lube later and they felt great. Except for that little setback, they were consistent, had more than enough stopping power and had fantastic modulation, even considering their light lever feel.

The stem was a bog-standard FSA item measuring 70mm; 20mm too long, I'd say. I'm definitely on the short stem band-wagon, not that I was ever in any way a fan of long ones. I made the switch to a 45mm FUNN stem and the bike was immediately and noticeably more reactive. Not only did it significantly stiffen up the front end and compliment the Subrosa handlebar, it even set the right length of reach for me on the climbs.

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The wheel and tyre combo was something of a highlight, performing admirably. The Oozy rims matched with the Hope Evo 2 hubs never gave a hint of trouble and the WTB Wolverines were fantastic on loose-over-hard ground like what you find in the Cape. They were fast rolling and had the perfect amount of grip with a slow and predictable break-away. Being soft, however, durability might become an issue. But that is the name of the game with tyres: you always have to balance grip with wear.

The Ride


Going up:
As with any single speed, the ascending capabilities are mostly up to the rider. That being said, the gear ratio also didn't lend a hand and I mostly found myself standing up and pumping on long climbs. Technical climbs also struggled in this way, as they tended to be slower and you can only go so slow with a single speed without falling over. Again, it's based on the rider's abilities rather than the bike's and I certainly don't have tree trunk legs.

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The Wolverines gripped very well on long climbs and because they were tubeless I could always keep them on a low-ish PSI for added traction without worrying about punctures.

Setting up the Rock Shox Reba was as simple as it gets. I put a bit more than the recommended pressure into the dual chamber forks; it saying I should be riding it at about 100psi for my weight, I put 120psi. The Reba has Motion Control to set the compression, and a Gate to control the low speed compression preload. I found that it was better to have a greater preload for climbs as it reduced the amount of bob that would be induced by the inevitable stand-up climbing the SS required.

It was great to see that the top tube wasn't lacking in length, allowing a shorter stem to be fitted, as I mentioned above. While a longer stem is usually associated with better climbing, the shorter stem increased the bikes manoeuvrability in every way and I've never understood the reason for fitting extra long stems for anything.

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Going down:
As much as the 32T chainring and 17T rear cog may have impeded climbing, it helped on the descents. It's by no means the top ratio you would want, but it did allow enough speed to be had, and mid-trail it maintained a happy medium. Single speed ratios are all down to personal preference, but I was happy with this one.

The Reba was surprisingly controlled on the downs. I say surprisingly, because, while it was buttery smooth while messing about in the parking lots, it was also very easy to almost bottom it by giving it some weight. Even at 20psi more than recommended for my weight it would sit pretty low in its travel, and would easily push through 90% of the 120mm without much provocation. This never affected the trail performance negatively though, and I always found the Reba to be up to the job on all but the most demanding trails I rode. That it had a 20mm through axle certainly aided the directness the Rogue's steering, too.

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Going from a down hill section to a switchback you always had to be careful to carry the most amount of speed you could, because you could never down-gear to help you up the next rise or through the corner. In this sense there's no doubting the fact that a single speed will make you dig deep to get the most out of your ride. The longish wheelbase also had a part to play in the agility of the bike in tight corners.

With a world focused on full suspension, it was refreshing to have a hardtail that allowed you to hit a trail almost as hard as you would with suspension cushioning your rear. The steel may not have been flexible, but it was certainly comfortable. It allowed you to not worry about what was underneath you, but what was coming up. Over rooted and rocky sections it could feel a bit jarring, though and if you weren't careful you could lose your footing on the pedals.

Once again, being a single speed, it has a unique take on cycling. It has the minimal weight possible at the back, making it super easy to position the back end for whatever you like: readjusting lines, mini whips, even panicked late braking over roots. Weight transfer on the bike had a great effect on the handling too, and I often found myself throwing the bike around like it was much smaller and actually had suspension in the back. It always put a smile on my face because it was always ready to do your bidding.

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In The End

A single speed bike isn't for everyone. It requires you to re-orient yourself around what you think you can do on a bike on a trail. At first you will be constantly reaching for the shifter, only to realise that the gear you're on is all you've got. Once you get past this, it's awfully refreshing to have only two brake levers to contend with. The one thing I would clutter the cockpit with would be a dropper-post remote though, and this was really something that was lacking on the Rogue, especially considering the KS connection.

That being said, the specs that the Rogue was build with was well thought out and were all quality pieces. For a steel bike it was particularly playful and surprisingly light. On the trail you could manoeuvre the bike exactly how you liked, with the long wheelbase balanced out beautifully by the light back end. It's most likely not going to be your only bike in your shed, but it's definitely going to give every other bike you have a run or it's money when it's time to choose your ride for the day.




10 Comments

DIPSLICK, Feb 03 2014 03:12

11,6 for a SS

rouxtjie, Feb 03 2014 03:16

Looks like an EBB as well.

the nerd, Feb 03 2014 03:36

11.6 isnt bad for a steel bike.

Jewbacca, Feb 03 2014 05:21

Absolutely fantastic frameset... Built one up with a lefty for a chap recently and have mine rigged up with some 470mm carbon rigids. Really recommend this.. Broomy, you have outdone yourself

bassasdaindia, Feb 03 2014 08:19

lekker

Hairy, Feb 03 2014 09:39

Lovely looking frame!

johannrissik, Feb 04 2014 08:11

Absolutely fantastic frameset... Built one up with a lefty for a chap recently and have mine rigged up with some 470mm carbon rigids. Really recommend this.. Broomy, you have outdone yourself

That same fork, that very well-travelled, rescued from oblivion, fork? ;)

VicanZA, Feb 07 2014 01:27

looks like a cheap ass lynskey ridgeline..

Hairy, Feb 07 2014 01:52

looks like a cheap ass lynskey ridgeline..

Really ..... is that your professional opinion ...lots of subtle differences, just the colouring might allude to any real similarity of sorts.

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Thug, Feb 07 2014 02:32

looks like a cheap ass lynskey ridgeline..


Haha, you obviously can't see beyond the colouring.

They don't look similar in the slightest!