Sometimes a bike comes along that completely delivers in its capabilities, looks and build quality. The Mason ISO - In Search Of - is one of those bikes. With an Italian hand-built frame, a superb level of finish and detail it nonchalantly comes along and redefines what a drop-bar bike is assumed to be capable of being.
Built from an idea in a conversation between Dom Mason and Josh Ibbett about how to improve on the existing range, the InSearchOf was born. It's got modern geometry and it's aimed at the new breed of riding and bike packing that has emerged the last few years; bikes that can carry loads, but are also a buzz to ride and capable of being adaptable.
The frame is a mix of custom-formed progressive-butted Dedacciai ‘Zero’ and Reynolds 853 steel tubes, which gives it a unique look and shape to the frame. There are also plenty of forward-thinking touches, with bolt through dropouts, disc brakes and all manner of thoughtful, functional detailing on the frame and fork.
Starting at the head tube, with an integrated headset on the 130mm head tube, there is a shaped and formed down tube with a distinct bend, which is ovalised at the bottom bracket to give a better weld contact area and a stiffer feel to the frame. There are a selection of bolts for cages and other items for long trips or just general carry options.
The top tube is heavily shaped and slightly bent with a flatter profile than the down tube, rounding back up to the seat tube. Both tubes have the ‘MultiPort’ adaptable internal routing for all types of cables. The seat tube is the most regular tube, with a 36.1 external, and the rear stays are all formed and shaped with the seat stay bridge a nicely formed curve. Clean cabling, tidy routing and options for dropper and electric cabling are all catered for. The dropouts are worth a mention - CNC machined and produced in the UK by BEAR components and developed for the InSearchOf frame.
Handling the steering is a carbon fork called the 'HotShoe', specifically designed to work with the ‘Shutter’ fender and has compatibility for 180/160mm flat-mount brakes. It's a positive feeling fork, with a pretty burly look, but well-matched to the steel tubing dimensions. You can also run a 100mm suspension fork on the ISO as well - this would properly open up its off-road abilities, and be comparable to a more XC focussed mountain bike.
On the fork blades, there is mounting for cages and carrying, you can use these for additional water bottles and other carrying requirements. The load-carrying ‘Shutter’ fender, which is a concept unique to Mason works really well, and once you get over the perhaps unusual looks, its a really clever touch for carrying lighter (up to 2kg) items, so think sleeping bag, bivi bag etc - stuff you want to get at quickly. Two handy straps by Voile hold things in place. There is also an actual rack in developement called the 'Condenser' which will hold larger loads.
The ISO tested came with SRAM Force, and Hunt Wheels' TheSearch wheelset with WTB Ranger 29x2.4" tan-wall tyres. The front hub is dyno compatible too, which is handy for long trips. The wheels were faultless and you can fit 650b wheels for larger volume tyres, but considering the WTB Rangers are 2.4” with ample clearance, it may be more for a different ride style than chunky grip, but it would undoubtedly put the bike further into its off-road abilities if you did. There is a Ritchey stem and bars - the bar is flared and offers a great position on both the drops and hoods.
Some neat or unique touches are the skewer release on the front pulls off and is used for the back - offering some security. You can mount full racks almost anywhere - the carrying potential is huge and also can be customised to a rider's preference. Weight-wise, its scrapes just over 11kg on the 54cm size I tested. I was also impressed with the ample mud clearance all round, despite the large volume treads.
Considering you can customise a Mason ISO to a fair degree, it feels best to just point out all the kit was of a level of quality where it just gets on with its job, effectively, efficiently and reliably. The components are very much on a par with the frame and contribute to the most crucial thing - the ride of the bike.
I was at home on this bike from the very first ride. It’s got that very much in the bike feel. You feel integral to it, and its geometry sits you in an effective pedal position but also it handles so gracefully and instinctively. It also encourages outright speed - so often I found myself aiming into corners or rooty sections off-road, at speeds that I’d have to brake and scrub speed - it’s properly inspiring and the only thing that slows you is your confidence in holding on.
The terrain I used it on was mixed - a good section of the South Downs Way one ride, local wooded singletrack, cycle tracks, and unmade roads and country lanes - it’s at home with all of these. It’ll hum along quite happily with its mix of comfort and speed. The marketing hashtag of FastFar is a very accurate one. The ride is exactly this - the bike wants to be fast, and it's very good for going far too.
Across gravel type terrain, the decent-sized tyres and position on the bike make for a confident ride. When cornering, it seldom feels nervous, which some other bikes in loose corners or rougher trails can. The overall feel is very sure footed. The bike climbs really well, partly due to its lightish feel and also due to the just-right-compliance. It’s not so stiff you feel like you are getting kicked, but not so flexible it feels like you are wasting energy. The butted steel and thoughtful tube shaping all feed into this ride feel. The bolt-through axles keep it all tight and tracking well on bumps, roots or at speed.
What I think Mason has got so right is that the bike is viable for a lot of different types of trail or even road use if you wanted - it’s blatantly not a road bike, but if you wanted to tour, and have a mainly quiet road route, the ISO riding position is comfy for that, and if you want something more off-road the ISO will be at home there too. Somehow, they have struck the perfect balance between all-day comfort and off-road agility.
Whether it’s the geometry with more than a slight head nod to mountain bikes, the carry potential without making it a pure utility machine, or that it’s an absolute hoot to ride - the ISO is a bike that's put a smile on my face riding it, and also a bike that can handle a tonne of varied terrain, and encourages you to go and ride. I can’t really give it more praise than that. The price of the bike is representative of the level of craftsmanship, design and build that you are getting. It’s an uncompromising machine - and utterly worth it.
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