For those of us with “the sickness”, we can usually only go a couple years before we get the itch for a new bike. For Andrew, the seed of a new bike was planted last fall when he booked a bike fitting with Guri at Pedalhead Road Works.
At the time he wasn’t unhappy with his bike or the fit, but he was curious how his body had changed since his first fit 8 years previous and what an experienced bike fitter would come up with. The result of that fitting session is the bike pictured above, and how we got there is almost as interesting as the bike itself.
It all started with the discussion of bike fit…
As we have noted many times here, bike fit is one of the most important factors when considering the suitability of any bike. Normally, you are in the market for a bike, so you get a fitting in order to guide you to towards which bikes you should be considering. Andrew’s case was a little backwards; he went through the bike fitting process which then triggered the search for a new bike.
Guri uses the high tech GURU bike fit system that allows for real-time changes and feedback, but a fit bike is just a tool. Without a knowledgeable and qualified fitter, it doesn’t matter all that much. Thankfully, Guri is one of the best bike fitters around (more on PRW here).
The fit that resulted from the session was significantly different than what he had on his BMC RM01, most notable in the handle bar stack. For example:
-BMC drop (Saddle top-to-bar top) = 92mm
-GURU bike fit= 56mm
Simply put, the BMC was a too small for him (not surprizing given that it was a size 47): it could be made to work, but in a way that was far from ideal. His first bike was too big, his current bike is a little too small, so this time… well, you get the idea.
Searching for Goldilocks
With his ideal position sorted, Guri was able to provide a list of bikes that would work well for Andrew. The higher stack and shorter reach of his fit put him right in that “endurance” bike geometry wheelhouse (Cannondale Synapse, Specialized Roubaix, etc.); however, we were looking for a “race” bike in terms of ride characteristics. To complicate things further, many endurance bikes are offered in disc only, while we were in the market for a rim brake bike. So, while there were many fine bikes on the list, none of them really checked all the boxes.
He was looking for something a little more unique.
You don’t need me to tell you that there has been resurgence in the interest of steel bikes. And while the praises of a steel bike can often slip into hyperbole, there is some truth behind it all. In addition to the unique ride quality, steel bikes are relatively easy to customize. It all seemed to fit.
With our material narrowed down, we were now searching for a builder. As anyone who has paid attention to the NAHMBS over the years should know, there is no shortage of custom builders out there. While they make absolutely beautiful bikes, the costs associated would push this project back a year or two in order to save of the money. Andrew was not ready to wait that long and, unfortunately, the more budget friendly options, such as SOMA Fab or All-City Cycles, do not offer custom geometry. So we were at a bit of an impasse.
At some point in the search, I was reminded of Marinoni. I have written about my personal vintage Marinoni on this site before, but sometimes it is easy to forget that they are still making bikes. Looking at their website, the Piuma Supreme quickly jumped out as a potential candidate. We liked the modern looks of the tapered head tube and performance potential that came with the oversized tubeset.
Best of all was the pricing: $1625 CAN (approx. $1300US) for a Columbus Spirit frame, fork, and headset. Nothing else with a Spirit Tubeset comes close. In addition, custom geometry is only a $175 premium. As I like to say: “You can’t afford not to”. Luckily, there was a Marinoni dealer in the city, so Andrew headed over to Redbike to discuss the ordering process.
With the builder, tubeset, and price boxes checked, our next challenge was geometry. The stock frames offered were quite long for a given size, and Andrew would have to use a much shorter stem than we would consider ideal in order to achieve his fit. With such a small premium for custom geometry, it only made sense to go that route.
I am not a bike builder (I aspire to learn one day), but I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of road bike geometry. With Andrew’s fit data in hand, I set out to design the ideal bike for his needs.
In order to narrow down the endless choices that full custom bike can offer, we came up with a few parameters/limits:
- The fork: Columbus FEL, therefore the build needs to account for the length and rake. Obviously, we could change out the fork to one with a different rake, but that would add unnecessary cost.
- We were aiming for a stem of 120mm +-10mm. This was both for handling and aesthetic reasons. Stem would be -6deg (the most common angle).
- Steer tube spacers kept to a minimum. Not necessarily looking to feature on “slam that stem” but we wanted to have a maximum of around 5mm between the stem and the headset dust cap.
Within these general parameters we then had to design the bike to fit him while having the desired handling characteristics. Luckily, there is a tool perfectly designed for that task: BikeCAD. With this powerful software I was able to enter the fit data and parameters described above, then “reverse engineer” the rest of the bike.
The resulting design had a trail measurement of 62mm, which I felt was a nice balance between stable and racy: the kind of handling that would give you the confidence to push the limits, while still be an everyday bike. While we were looking for “Race” bike qualities, he wasn’t actually looking to race the bike. Maybe “lively” would be a better descriptor. In the same vein, I included slightly longer chain stays than typically found on race bike (410mm vs 405mm).
There are many factors involved in getting your handlebars in the exact right position for your fit. The actual placement of your hands depends on: stem length, stem angle, head angle, steer tube spacers, shifter body length, and bar reach. I find that bar reach is one that gets overlooked most often. Bar reach can range from as little as 70mm to as large as 113mm. Thus, in designing the bike, it was important to decide exactly which bar was going to be used on the finished bike. Andrew chose the Ritchey WCS EvoCurve bar. He has always liked Ritchey components and the new (for 2017) graphics were gorgeous.
It should be noted that my design would most definitely result in some amount of toe overlap. Almost every bike Andrew has owned has had overlap, so he was not concerned, and the changes required to get rid of it (elongating the front center) would negatively affect the handling. We did end up going with a 110 mm stem to reduce the overlap a little.
The seat tube angle is a measure of note at 73.6 degrees. This was selected to make the clamp of a 0 offset seatpost directly in the center of the saddle rails when placed at the prescribed position. If you are going to go custom, might as well go all the way.
Paint and build
On any build where money IS an object, the “Ultegra” level group offers the perfect balance of value and performance. Andrew had built his BMC with 6800 series Ultegra and was looking to try something different. There is always a little a bit of a cache attached to Campagnolo, and they had just released their new Potenza group to complete directly with Ultegra, both in performance and price. The unique spec added a little touch of character to the build.
For the rest of the fit parts, getting a matching set was a must, so the WCS C220 stem and the WCS 1-bolt zero offset were obvious.
At the same time we were deciding on build spec, we were tossing around ideas for paint options. Using some of the colours available on the Marinoni paint pallet, I came up with a few random designs so see if we could get a general idea of what Andrew was looking for. The Speedvagen “Horizon” design was featured predominately in those early designs. However these were much too “bright” for Andrew. He was looking for something that was a little more subdued, but not black. Using a grey metallic as a base, more proofs were put forward, and he seemed to keep coming back to the colour green. Within that pallet, I created a series of designs that we went back and forth on until he was completely satisfied.
We were a little late getting the order in to Marinoni and their spring delivery season was heating up, so they were not sure about the paint designs fitting into their usual window. For custom paint, another 2 weeks of waiting is well worth it. Cliff at Redbike made the whole process very easy.
The final piece of the puzzle was wheels. Now that we knew that green was part of the design, it only made sense to match the hub to the build to get that complete custom look. Andrew was looking for a set of wheels that were wide, light, tubeless ready, and reasonably priced. We had originally decided on a set of Tune TSR22 wheels with acid green hubs, but, late in the build process, our supplier ran into some stock issues and we had to scramble for other options.
At this point I recommended that Andrew take a look at some of the information that the guys over at November Cycles had on their blog about all things wheels. I had previously purchased some of their Nimbus Ti wheels for myself and really liked their knowledge and transparency. They had recently published their wind tunnel results comparing some of the current alloy rims to the Zipp 303. Those results combined with the black brake track, giving them that “carbon look”, and he was sold.
Around that same time, Chris King had released information on their limited edition Matte Emerald green hubs that looked beautiful. The hubs required a 45 day lead time, which lined up with the A-Force rims getting back in stock. It was like it was meant to be. Suddenly our “budget build” was looking at a “spared no expense” wheelset.
Everything was ordered and we waited.
The frame was delivered in late April, and the wheels came a few weeks later. The guys at Redbike chased and faced the BB shell, installed the BB and crank, and installed the headset. From there, Andrew took it home and completed the rest of the build. Everything came together just as we planned it.
This project took countless hours of planning over the course of five months, and I think the end result shows it. The best part is that Andrew was able to get a custom built bike for much less than you would think, with zero compromise. He couldn’t be happier.