Like most of the staff here, and I suspect many other riders, I tend to use bikes well outside of their advertised purpose. So when I started looking at options for a cyclocross build, what I really wanted was a bike capable of commuting, dirt roads, light touring, rail trails, and even a bit of singletrack. I don’t actually race cross at all, I just wanted a bike with wider tire clearance and a sturdy build, and cross bikes are gaining popularity as some of the most versatile rides available. Thankfully, many brands recognize this, and as the race-day bikes get stiffer and twitchier, many other models are keeping a more utility-oriented geometry that still knows how to get up and go. This is what I was after: a bike that’s zippy enough to make it to work on time, but also comfortable enough for an all-day excursion on unknown dirt roads.
I had only two other qualifications: I wanted a disc-only frame and I wanted it to be steel. With the amount of rough roads I take, ride quality is extremely important to me, and steel just has that magic touch. I wound up going with the All-City Macho Man Disc, a new disc-equipped version of their venerable steel cyclocross platform, and I’m glad I did. I’ve been enamored with All-City’s lineup since I stumbled across their booth at Frostbike, which is when they first premiered the Macho Disc. I couldn’t immediately articulate what was so appealing about them, but Dirt Rag summed it up nicely in a review of their singlespeed Nature Boy: “The handmade movement heavily inspired the frame’s classic look, enough so that you almost forget that a guy with a neck-beard didn’t weld this in his garage.”
The classic frame details are enhanced by a gorgeous paint job. Photos don’t do it justice. It may look like a construction barrel online, but in person there’s a subtle metal flake that really adds some depth. All-City mentioned the Bridgestone XO-1 as their inspiration, but when I sent my dad a blurry cell phone picture, he took it for a clone of his 1973 Schwinn World Voyageur. The whole bike has a very clean aesthetic throughout; there’s nothing there that doesn’t need to be. No canti studs — that’s a different model. The custom dropouts don’t attempt to provide multiple wonky drivetrain options, and they position the disc brakes inside the rear triangle and out of the way. The ISO/English threaded bottom bracket and 1-1/8″ head tube might not be future-proof, but I think they make sense on a steel bike, and they still offer plenty of options at every performance level, even for disc brakes. The fact that I can clear a pair of 700×41 tires with room to spare far outweighs the fact that I can’t use a thru-axle fork.
To literally seal the deal, an ED coating inside and out keeps things weatherproof without the hassle or nasty smell of Frame Saver. At first I was bummed about the lack of rack mounts, but I quickly got over it; the chainstays are too short for my clown feet to clear a rear rack, and I’ve never been a fan of front racks, especially on bikes that don’t have suitable geometry to handle them. There are plenty of storage options that don’t require a rack, not to mention the variety of touring frames better suited to handling a large load. On the flipside, All-City has no pretense about their bikes being race-day only featherweights. They’re not opposed to fender mounts, nor are they above taking a bit of a weight penalty in favor of the aforementioned handmade-inspired details. There’s a whole fleet of carbon and aluminum cross/gravel racers out there, if that’s how you get your jolly.
So if it’s not a lightweight show pony, and it’s not an expedition-ready workhorse, then what is it? For me, it’s the answer to, “If you could only own one bike, what would you buy?” The Macho is, in fact, my only drop-bar bike. (I’ll stick with the Spearfish for singletrack, thanks.) It’s also a compelling answer to an industry that’s flooded with lofty, idealistic marketing. I like daydreaming about bikepack rafting in Alaska as much as the next shop nerd, but I’m also happy to ride Huron River Drive yet again if it means I’m actually on a bike. All-City seems to understand that. Their pitch to for the Macho Disc is that a) they put disc brakes on a cross bike and b) they made it look sexy and retro. I dig their everyday cycling approach. If I’m going to do well in a gravel road race, it’s not going to be because my bike is 5% stiffer than the bike behind me. It will be because I’ve got more miles in the saddle, and a big part of that is having a bike that I can’t help but ride. The Macho Man disc is not only that, it’s a perfectly-mixed cocktail of speed, comfort, and rock-solid reliability.
As far as the stock build goes, I feel like I could easily recommend the Macho as it comes out of the box, but I couldn’t get more specific since I decided to build my ride with a custom kit. I’ve always wanted to make a bike that’s all my own. Our wise mechanic Juan once told me something that stuck with me: “All bikes are two triangles and two circles. If those parts suck, none of the other dangly bits matter.” Here’s why I chose the parts that I did:
- Nothing drives me crazy faster than an otherwise stellar bike cheapened with a bad wheelset. With that in mind, my first purchase after the frame was a pair of hubs from Chris King. King’s hubs are notoriously long-lived, frequently outlasting the bikes they’re installed on. They’re also made in the USA, easy to service, and come with a five year warranty. I chose the R45 disc hubs in silver along with some silver spokes to keep with the frame’s retro look. The R45 has fewer points of engagement (45, hence the name) than King’s 72-tooth ISO hubs, but this also makes it a good deal smoother and quieter than its “angry bee” counterpart. Our master mechanic Casey was kind enough to spin them to some HED Belgium+ disc rims. Whether the wheels will outlast the rest of the bike, well, I’ll get back to you in a decade or two.
- The bottom bracket and headset also came from King. I couldn’t argue with their awesome warranty – ten years for the headset! Equally important is the fact that I wanted to use pewter/grey/stainless as my secondary color scheme, and they’re the only company that anodizes a headset and BB in that color.
- Instead of a cross gearing, I decided on a 50-34 road compact crank for the extra range on either end. I picked SRAM Force levers because I prefer the doubletap shifting over Shimano’s mechanism. The rest of the ‘train is Rival-level, with an 11-32 cassette and a medium cage rear derailleur, except for the front derailleur, which is a top-pull Shimano CX-70. It gets along fine with the SRAM stuff, shifts better than the Red front on my previous bike, and it means I don’t need a cross pulley to make the cable routing work. I may switch to a Type 2 X9 with a short cage if chain slap proves annoying, but it hasn’t yet.
- I have been impressed with TRP’s Spyre mechanical disc brakes, although a large part of that is just because they’re not the no-good, very-bad BB7 roads. Setup was as easy as a pre-bled hydraulic brake, and they’ve stayed true and noise-free so far. Stopping power is about what you’d expect — not as good as hydros, but way better than wet rim brakes. Modulation is average. Overall they only perform a touch above many cheaper options; what I think really sets them apart is the ease of installation and adjustment, as well as their slim profile.
- Thomson Elite seatpost and stem. Thomson’s parts last a long time, look really good, and are downright un-noodly. Paired up with a Whisky carbon drop bar, my cockpit feels nice and sturdy.
- Right now I’m running Surly Knard 700×41 tires, 120tpi, folding bead. Paired with my 25mm wide rims, the low-profile knobs are excellent on dirt. They’re a bit sluggish on pavement, even compared to other cross tires, but I’m okay with that when it means I can hit a hidden pothole or washboard at night and not have to shake a brick out of my chamois.
I’ve had a good number of rides so far, but hopefully they’re only a small fraction of what’s to come. I can see myself keeping this bike around long enough to see the Macho Man achieve actual “classic ride” cult status. About the only thing that could make me want to buy another bike is if All-City were to release a limited run with some premium Zona tubing and a paint-matched tapered carbon fork. I know I’m not the only rider who wants an elegant steel bike with modern design and features, but doesn’t want to pay a couple thousand to a custom frame builder. I also suspect that All-City is in a great position to capture that market, especially if their future offerings are on the same level as the Macho Disc. I hope so, and I’m already excited to see what they premiere for next year.