31 January, 2019

Bike Build Ideas: Dirt Research Kenai Basket-Packer

by Igor

Fully rigid MTBs from the last century make excellent townies and commuters. They're affordable, capable of clearing wide, 26" tires with fenders, and often have rack mounts to boot! They're also not so precious that you'll feel bad about throwing it around during your commute or errand run.

Here we have a mid-90s Dirt Research Kenai frameset that I picked up from our good friend, Sukho in PDX. Admittedly, the build took a bit longer than expected because I waffled between three directions we could have gone: bring it back to its former glory as a fully rigid MTB, dirt-drop Cigne'd off-road tourer, or Klunker'd basket'd townie. I think the right direction was chosen.

Dirt Research was a brand developed and designed by Tom Teesdale, the legendary framebuilder who built bikes under TET Cycles for the likes of Ritchey, Kona, Dean, Fisher, etc... Not a whole lot of information is available online about the Dirt Research brand as it seems that it was around for only a couple years in the mid-90s. Additionally, this particular Kenai frame seems a bit elusive as it has some fancier cable routing around the seat cluster and different colored decals than other, similar models I've seen online. The routing looks like it was grabbed from the Pecos, perhaps it was repainted? If any sleuths reading this have any additional info regarding the frameset, please let us know in the comments!

Here is that super neat cable routing. Since this is a 1x drivetrain, one of the brazed-on cable guide is unused. I'm not sure if this is better or worse than the a regular cable stop, but it sure is cool! I imagine this was specifically designed for cantilever brakes rather than V-brakes as the cable's positioning makes the exit right down the middle of the stays, perfect for our powerful Zeste Brakes.

The frame is built from Columbus Nivacrom tubing, which is their offroad racing tubeset. It feels fairly lightweight and springy for their oversized profiles. According to the label it's "extra leggera", extra light. The fork uses 4130 Tange chromoly steel with a lovely unicrown.

All-in-all this was a fun build up that provided us numerous opportunities to use VO components and accessories in a slightly different way than usual. The rear end and fork do have fender mounts, so I used an L-bracket to get the necessary clearances and solid mounting. Since the clearances were slightly different between each end, I gently shaped the rear L-bracket around the seatstay bridge. Not really necessary, but makes for a lovely, custom mounting detail.

The front end got a Cantilever Randonneur Front Rack with a Wald 137 Basket firmly zip-tied to the platform. A Transporteur Bag keeps all the stuff in. Add a butt-rocket bag or a rear rack and you'll be good to go for an overnight or a couple day long tour!

Shifting is taken care of by Shimano's SLX 11 speed system. Pairing the Shimano ZEE Crankset's 36T chainring with the 11-40T cassette provides enough gearing to climb a tree. The derailleur also features a clutch, so chainslap is a thing of the past. You can also turn it off, which makes shifting slightly easier since you aren't fighting the powerful spring for each shift. This option is very useful for offroad vs city riding.

I'm happy with the way this turned out. It's a ton of fun to ride, and I am happy to keep an older, obscure bike back on the road, even if its current setup isn't exactly the way it was intended to live its life!

The bike is for sale with everything you see here for $1850 shipped anywhere within the contiguous USA. If you're willing to pick up locally, let us know and we'll knock off some $$$ since we don't have to pack or ship it. If you're outside the US, shoot us an email and we'll get you a shipping quote!


TWC said...

I think building these up and reselling is a very cool thing to do. Kudos on a nice build.

Zammit said...

Wouahou, super cool. I rebuild my 1995 Decathlon with a similar spirit, a bit more sportive (city and MTB use) : https://www.pedalroom.com/bike/1995-decathlon-rockrider-700-37002
Mine is definitely less glamour, but as anti-theft solution, an old frame + supermarket brand = feel good.

Anonymous said...


seajaye said...

YES! +2 for "butt-rocket", I hope it becomes the accepted vernacular for that type of bag.

VeloOrange said...


It's a very technical term.


Anonymous said...

I wonder how many people own these. I have one, it's lived a long off road life, and is just incredible on trails. Super flexy, super light, it's a blast to ride. I have a picture of mine if you would like to see it, I took all my decals off of it, but it's a similar green. I enjoy peoples faces looking at it trying to figure out what they heck I'm riding. I also have a Siberian Husky that I named Kenai. Named after the Kenai peninsula....or the bike? Hmmm.

Anonymous said...

Great job! This is very similar to how I set up my 1992 GT Karakoram mountain bike a couple years ago and have never looked back. Funny thing is had you shown me a pic of it as it is set up now when I was 15, I would have laughed my tail off. Honestly I have no idea how I rode the thing back then with that extremely hunched over aggressive position. I guess being 50 lbs lighter helped!

Unknown said...

This guy Reid sold off all the old dead stock of these frames from his eBay business here in Newark Delaware, was right across the street from Newark Bike Project (your only Delaware dealer :] )

I bought one and LOVE it have kept it around with plans of rebuilding it one day soon with a set of those Nitto Fairweather bullmoose bars and and a friction 8 speed drivetrain!


JLT said...

What an excellent build. I remember seeing Dirt Research being advertised in the ad sections of Mountain Bike Action, though I forgot who the distributor was. The tubing and construction of this generation of mountain bikes are so much better than mainstream steel bikes today. I have a similar build as a city bike from a '95 Gary Fisher HooKooEKoo. I put on nice fat fenders, rebuilt the front wheel with a dynamo and it's got a rack and dynamo lighting. Of course I needed a high rise stem and some sweep handlebars. I kept the drivetrain 3x7 which works very well - no need to replace what works. I can't imagine a better city bike than a modified 90's mountain bike.

JLT said...

In image 4, I see that the builder did not install inner housing hose on the derailleur cable bend at the seatpost. Was this intentional?

Robert Larson said...

I don't think you mentioned the tires. They look like Maxxis DTH if I'm not mistaken. I used the same tire for my Trek 970, San Diego all arounder and urban assault vehicle. It was those or Rat Trap Pass tires but at half the price, they are almost as supple and light. For me, they made to bike build.

VeloOrange said...

@ Robert Larson - Yep, sharp eyes! Those are the Maxxis DTH. Great tires to use for urban adventures

David Fritzsch said...

Dirt Research Bikes was a continuation of Yokota bikes when they moved from the west coast to Delaware Reid and his partner sold them directly to dealers . I was one of their top selling shops in NY . I have one set up as a MTB with Kenda Quest tires and it is a super smooth ride. I have an unbuilt one NOS in a box and yet another one for a third project. I also Have a Dirt Research Cabrillo that was to be built as my CX bike but is a bit big and I may be selling on E-Bay it was built by Tom Teesdale and it is last of the Dirt Research CX that I know of.
Any interest just LMK. Dave's Bike Barn Sidney, NY

Unknown said...

I have a Dirt Research Cabrillo, purchased off Ebay in 2014 or 2015. It is a sweet bike, although I could probably use slightly lower gearing for the hilly roads around Helena, Montana.
I'm currently looking into some larger volume cross tires. Considering 700 x 44. Any thoughts? Can I go that wide? Should I try to go wider?

Igor Shteynbuk said...

I don't know enough about those bikes to say whether or not that tire would fit, but a 700x44 would be a nice, high volume option!

Unknown said...

Just touching base to say the Cabrillo is an awesome ride!
The 700 X 44 tires worked out fine, too.