- Pastey Howler
- £350 (frame only)
- 01423 780088
The bike industry’s a funny old thing in all sorts of ways. One of its little quirks is that the ebb and flow of fashion, combined with the practicalities of manufacturing, tends to make niches mainstream and the previously mainstream into a niche. So it is with steel hardtails. It wasn’t ever so long ago that nearly every bike on the market was a steel hardtail (although long enough ago that they were mostly steel rigids), with aluminium reserved for inaccessible exotica. Now your mass-production mainstream bike is almost certainly aluminium and quite likely to be fully suspended.
But hardtails won’t die, and neither will steel. As the big guys ditch the “old school” stuff because not many people seem to want it, so little guys pick up the baton and run with it. If you’re little it doesn’t matter if not many people want what you make, because you don’t make many anyway. Manufacturing has got flexible enough that you can get a short run of top-notch frames put together at a sensible price and thus the microbrand can take up where the megacorp leaves off.
So it is with Pastey, another in the honourable line of UK-based tiddlers pioneered by On-One and now including the likes of Cotic and Dialled. Pastey is Andrew Cornett and Stephen Melville, a pair (or perhaps ‘brace’) of structural engineers based in Northern Ireland. They’re experience riders and handily have access to all sorts of CAD and FEA jiggery-pokery to make sure that behind the Pastey Howler’s traditional exterior beats a high-tech heart.
You’ve got a few tubing options if you’re going to build a nice steel frame. But if you’re British then you’ll tend to lean towards Reynold’s flagship 853 tubing. Not just because it’s British, but because it’s at least as good as anything else out there. And it’s British. 853 has the deeply useful property that it doesn’t get weaker when you weld it. In fact, thanks to its “air hardening” characteristics it actually gets stronger post-welding. It’s plenty strong, too – you’re getting strength-to-weight ratios comparable with titanium bike tubing.
It’s not as light as titanium, of course. An 18in Pastey Howler frame weighs in at 4.3lb, which is still a perfectly respectable weight, especially for a steel frame. The high strength of 853 means that Pastey can do without strength-enhancing gussets up front, although the head tube features ring reinforcements to ward off any distressing flaring or wallow.
Only the main tubes are 853, for the entirely satisfactory reason that Reynolds only makes 853 main tubes. The back end is double-butted 4130 chromoly manipulated into a swoopy set of stays. Pastey’s gone for a thoroughly traditional seat cluster configuration – no wishbones here – at the top of stays that go out a bit round the tyre, back in a bit at the brake bosses and rider’s heels and out again to the rear axle. The chainstays are tall and narrow, and the designers have left the chainstay bridge out to add to the already-generous mud room.
The aft ends of the stays are terminated in neat Ritchey dropouts. They’re very tidy things, although we like to point our QR levers in a direction that the cowled design of the dropouts doesn’t really permit. There’s a disc mount on the appropriate bit of tube. Other details include a forward-facing seat clamp slot, two sets of bottle bosses and Crud Catcher bosses under the down tube. We’re not totally convinced that those are a good idea, but we assume that the Pastey FEA supercomputer gave it the OK.
Cables are all routed along the top tube – you’ll need some stepped ferrules to route a cable rather than a hose. One tiny niggle is that we could have done with a couple of extra hose guides. Our rear hose tended to flap about until we ziptied it to the top tube, and there’s only one guide on the seatstay too. Other than that, though, it’s a lovely thing. It’s neatly put together and the paint’s good. And it’s hard not to love a frame with a Space Hopper on the front.
Pastey doesn’t sell bikes, just frames. We built this one up with a mixture of things that we thought would suit it and things that we had lying around.
Despite its retro appearance, the Howler’s designed to take a 100mm travel fork. Designing frames around forks is a somewhat inexact science, though, what with the actual lengths of forks for a given travel varying quite significantly. The 105mm Marzocchi we plugged in to the front is pretty long when it’s just sat there, although it’s fine when you’re riding along.
The Shimano/X517 wheels came out of the spares pile, and they already had the Conti Vapor tyres on them which saved a job. A trusty set of 4-pot XT brakes did the stopping thing, while SRAM X-7 triggers, X-9 mech, 9.0 cassette and PC69 chain did the going. SRAM’s really on to a winner with its current generation of stuff – it’s smooth, reliable and we really like the all-thumb ergonomics of the shifters.
The rest of the bits were from Ritchey’s Pro stable – ISIS cranks, stem, bars and seatpost. We’ll have proper tests on all of this later, but thus far it’s all proved solid.
That thing about stuff becoming mainstream and leaving niches behind works on other levels too. Your typical steel frame-manufacturing microbrand tends to do something a little bit different with geometry, pushing the top tube out an inch here or bringing the seat tube forward a degree here. Such shenanigans often result in excellent bikes, but also leaves a gap in the market. The Pastey is entirely conventional, running 71/73 angles, a bit over 23in top tube (on the 18in bike) and 16.5in stays. The traditional geometry is updated simply by tweaking the front end for a 100mm fork, and we get the impression that that’s as much to do with the availability of forks than any grand fork-travel philosophy.
Given the tubing and the geometry it’d be hard to get things badly wrong. So it’s no surprise that the Howler offers up a very sweet ride. It’s not got the lightning reactions of, say, a Cotic, but not everyone wants a sharp-shooting bike. And it’s not as if the Howler’s a sluggard. Despite its overt Britishness it comes across as a bit Swiss somehow, with a kind of armed neutrality going on. It’ll tootle along happily minding its own business for ages but if something unexpectedly threatening comes along, it’ll whip a rifle out from under the bed and get it sorted.
It seems to be the legendary steel “ping” that does it. There’s just the right amount of spring in the Howler’s step to let you catapult it on to your line of choice, but not so much that it flaps about. Other bikes might hold a line slightly better up hill or flick through the singletrack with fractionally more alacrity, but the Pastey endears itself with a delightful all-round competence and irrestisible feelgood factor.
And if you like the Pastey style but have your own geometry ideas, there’s a UK-built full-custom option too…
Positives: Traditional looks, classic geometry, contemporary details, great value
Negatives: Doesn’t have a killer edge, if you’re after that sort of thingVerdict
There’s nothing really special about the Howler, but it ticks all the right boxes and the result makes you smile. It’s not the lightest, strongest, most expensive, cheapest, sharpest or most stable bike in the world, but with seemingly everyone else pushing the envelope in one direction or another it’s refreshing to find a bike happily nestling under the flap. An excellent all-rounder at a great price.