Thanks for getting back to me Stephen, that is a much better design than what Salsa uses for their new Warbird. Their design is a non starter for me.
I currently have a Diamondback Haanjo Trail Carbon as my gravel bike. I think the only thing stock currently is the frame, it’s been dramatically upgraded, and it’s been a surprisingly great frame. It was one of the few carbon options with threaded bb, proper fender mounts and somewhat traditional geometry with a less raked out fork. I use it for cyclocross racing, gravel racing, adventure rides and singletrack exploration. My only gripe with the bike is the plastic removable seat stay bridge, which works well but I don’t like that it clamps directly to the seat stays. I also would like more mounts for some lightweight bikepacking or a rando. After riding the GDMBR last year on a dyno equipped bike, I really want to be able to run a dyno light. I’ve been looking at the huge offering of frames out now but not many check all the boxes I would want if I upgraded. My friend did a huge ride a few months ago with Jan who was testing a new Map bike for Bicycle Quarterly that used your previous generation Spork. I didn’t read the article but he mentioned how overly stiff the fork was. How does this new frameset ride? My reference is my Haanjo which I think rides pretty darn nice for a carbon bike off road, certainly more comfortable off road then my Specialized Diverge though not as comfortable as the Breadwinner that I took on the Divide route.
I don’t read BQ so I’m unfamiliar with their Spork conclusions. What I do have is four years of direct experience on the original Spork (which was on the MAP) and the new 2.0 Spork which is on the new Donkey. Our philosophy is this: The fork is not the place we build compliance into our bikes. A fork must be stiff enough to resist the considerable forces that a disc brake exerts onto the fork blade. A fork must also be exceedingly strong – especially if the fork is rated for carrying cargo and heavy riders off road as ours is. The more flex you build into your fork the less precise the handling will feel and the more potential it has to shudder under hard braking.
We build our frames and forks with the same goal in mind: They are to be stable, neutral platforms on which to build a complete bike. They are neither buttery compliant or harsh. Where we tune the feel of our bikes is the components, wheels, and tires that we build a bike with. A frame must transmit pedaling forces efficiently to the rear wheel. We ride our gravel bikes on everything from fast road rides to singletrack trails and we want them to feel like efficient, quick machines when we ride them on the road.
If you want your Traildonkey or Flaanimal to be overtly compliant then take a careful look at how you build it up. Use a carbon seatpost for added flex in the rear. Select a saddle with compliant qualities (such as a C13). Forego the carbon stem as it doesn’t do much for compliance. Do chose a carbon bar if you would like compliance. The same applies to bar tape, etc (3mm vs 1.5mm). But the single most important place to tune your ride (in my personal experience) is the wheels and tires. We build 100% of our bikes with tubeless tires and tubeless tires allow us to safely tune our tire pressures anywhere between 20psi on large volume tires up to about 50-70 psi on smaller tires. A 40mm tire at 25-35psi is exceedingly comfortable and compliant no matter which frame or fork you run it on. This also relates to the reason that we developed our own carbon rims. We wanted rims that held up well to lower tire pressures use whereas aluminum rims tend to dent or lose their true when abused. The beauty of tubeless is that you can tune the ride feel of your bike with tire selection and air pressure. We actively encourage new owners to experiment with their tire selection and tire pressure to help discover different ways their bike can feel. Both the Donkey and the Flaanimal can feel like a stiff, fast road bike or a plush, comfortable gravel machine with just a few tweaks to tires / pressure.
Was the MAP review done on Compass tires? We don’t tend to run Compass tires tubeless because we’ve seen at least a half dozen blow off the rim in the build stand. Maybe they’ve improved this but we haven’t gone back to try another set recently. Compass tires do feel great with latex tubes but with tubes one must be careful with tire pressure to keep from pinch flatting. If they were running tubes and higher pressures that could be a cause for a more firm ride. Another thought would be that they may be more used to riding higher offset steel touring forks which have a lot of inherent flex. I could imagine carbon and steel forks having considerably different ride feel.
Parting thought: We tend to get a lot of feedback from our owners over time and never has a customer written us to tell us that our frames or forks feel harsh.
The seat stay bridge mounts between the two rack eyelets on the inside of the seat stays. You can still mount the rack using the outside eyelets which leaves the inside two free. We have a small, lightweight stainless steel bridge that mounts between the stays and the fender / mudguard mounts to the bridge. The bridge will follow frameset deliveries by a couple of weeks but it is in production now and we will send them out at no cost to owners. The blue part of the drawing is the main bridge. The yellow is a piece that can flip flop to accommodate 650 / 700c fender mounting positions or simply be used to adjust the gap between the fender and the tire. As with most things we do this design is about max adaptability to as many different fenders as possible.