It’s snowing lightly, but you don’t feel cold. Excitement and joy are everywhere you look. You’re on the old path that was used to deliver mail between Berlin and Hamburg. With you, two of your crew mates, smiling ear to ear as the mud flies everywhere and the bikes are getting progressively heavier by the sticky earth.
It’s Saturday in early February and winter is still not coming. Instead of temperatures well below freezing the weather is just cold, hoovering around the 2-4 degrees with loads of very grey days and the occasional beautiful sky. To balance a hellish week of 12-14 hours days on the computer, you plan a nice all-roads adventure starting from the central train station in Berlin and ending in the train station in the town of Brandenburg an Der Havel – some 90 km West. Riding West in the morning, in Northern Germany or maybe elsewhere, means that you’re riding against the wind, but since the ride will take you deep in the forest, you’re not too bothered.
As you leave the city and get into the woods, the asphalt turns to nicely dry and packed gravel. The wheels spin as fast here as they did the previous 10km leading to this forest highway. Soon, the so called Reichgravel turns into much rougher and very wild path, if you can call it a path given the amount of fallen trees criss crossing the way. Here you get the first flat tire which just, as the whole crew decide, does not make sense.
The three bikes are prime examples of the new bike segment baring the term Gravel Bikes. The term is silly so you prefer to think about your steed and those of your two mates as all-road bikes. When you finally get out of the mud and into the street, realising that the train you should be taking leaves in less than an hour and the distance to the train station is around 22km, all three bikes ride at 30km/h without a problem on the road. The same is true when you’re deep in the forest riding the forest paths that are somehow identified on the map as “forest roads”. The three bikes have zero problems traversing deep Brandenburg sand and are certainly complaining a lot less than the riders do when the path turns to puddle.
So we establish, these bikes can take on any kind of road. The three bikes are prime examples of how much fun can be had on two wheels. They also represent exactly the three options on the market. One of the bikes is the beautiful Open UP. This carbon bike is loaded with a SRAM 1×11 setup, hydraulic breaks, fairly light components and 2.1 inch WTB Nano tires on 650B DT Swiss rims. The next example is a locally made steel bike, from cicli bonanno, with roughly the same group set, but a more “rando” setup with generator hub, lights and plenty of space for full fenders. This one is also rocking a set of 650B hoops, with WTB Ranger 2.0 rubber. The last bike represents the versatility of titanium and is made by Seven. It was originally setup as 700c with 44mm Compass tires, but recently it has been converted to 650B with Terrene Elwood tires. Ironically, these tires look at beefy as the 2.1 inch WTBs since they are mounted on the very wide Velocity Blunt SS rims. This is also the non-tubeless wheel set which is the only one to get a flat tire, in the middle of the forest, so go figure. This steed is also setup with a full Campagnolo group with a rather traditional 50/34 cranks and 11-32 cassette.
All three steeds perform beautifully. The mud collected can always be washed off and the clothes thrown to the washer. There will be another weekend in 7 days where these road bikes, all rad, all fun, will take you on the next adventure. That’s what they are for.
I miss this setup. I would love to be able to add a nice mini-rack on my Seven Mudxium, attach my Bailey Work D-Rack Bag and have my coffee kit with me on all rounds.
In essence the dream fork will be:
With the recent announcements of the Specialized Sequoia I was reminded that there isn’t really a reason not to have rack bosses on carbon forks. So I started looking for options in the market. So, what do we have on the table?
2015 was certainly a good year for different kind of bikes. The most exciting bikes for my taste were, as probably expected, the mutant bike category. Disk brakes, wider axels, geometry that’s right in between road and cyclocross and very colourful paint choices. Of course there are loads of bike “TOP” lists so there is really no point to replicate them. So I reached into my own personal resources and here they are, in no apparent order.
Interestingly to me, each one of these bikes will be a bike I’d love to have. The problem is, each of these bikes is already a bike I have, in some form or another, which is why I lust over these, but am not chasing after them. Well…other than one. Now that we have a nice collection to commemorate 2015, lets see what 2016 bring.
I’ve been digging what seems to be a very open minded road bike scene in Colorado of late. Other than the obvious Moots, my current object of affection, perhaps as my road bike project is getting on the way, is Mosaic Cycles. There are others in Colorado, like Kent Eriksen, but I find the Mosaic road bikes hella cheeky and sexy. They scream more adventure and mischief than most road bikes one sees.
After riding a single speed cyclocross bike as a commuter since 2012 I decided that it’s time to move on to something more appropriate for the daily travels. I have been schlepping a Chrome Citizen on my back as my primary mode of transporting things for way longer and felt that this back should be enjoying the wind more than the bag. With these two main ideas, I started sketching a requirement list for a new commuter. The list looked like this:
You would think that finding a bike that answers these specifications is easy. Sadly it’s not. I looked and looked and came up empty handed. There are loads of “almost” bikes that would match the requirements, but finding something in Europe, was even more difficult. As mom says “rich people’s problems.” Of course it’s always an option to build a customer frame, but the idea of locking a custom frame outside on the street did not appeal to me much. I wanted a frame that is replaceable should something happen without a lead time of a builder. I also wanted to sleep at night.
The solution came in the form of Van Dessel W.T.F. There were other options from the usual suspects, but I’ve been dreaming about a curved top-tube bike for a long long while and finding something that meets all the requirements as well as looking awesome was a great eureka moment. Not only did the W.T.F meet all the specifications above, it also has a distributer in Europe (well…in the U.K which is close enough). I contact Bearded Man and spoke to David who was more than happy to let me check out two frame sizes and was also quick to respond and sounded very nice.
On my previous commuter, a 61×61 steel frame, I always felt stretched. All my other bikes are much smaller with geometries that are more appropriate for someone with a back that does not like to bend too much and a long torso. So I decided to go for the 59CM model and add spacers to get more height. The frame is a perfect fit as it now configured.
The frame arrived and the search for the components started. I wanted to use my White Industries ENO crank set which meant that a I needed a solution to build a standard into BSA in a frame and PF30 bottom bracket. I could not find an eccentric bottom bracket that will also also convert PF30 to BSA. Instead I found a PF30 to BSA shell from FSA. This meant that the cranks could be used, but chain tension remains a question. In came the second White Industries component – the ENO Eccentric hub which magically appeared on one of the forums I read just as I was about to give up the search. Now only did the second wheel appear in perfect timing, it was also being sold by a person I know – the stars were aligned.
The rest of the components were easy:
And after all this bike geekery, how does she ride? She rides great. Riding Vinni (yes, we named her) is like riding a snake that’s sliding on butter on a hot pan. She is nimble even with a whole week’s shopping worth in the front. She is fun and is likely to also spend time outside of the city when summer arrive. For the first time since I started riding in Berlin, some 10 years now or so, I actually had a taxi driver pull me over and ask where I got the bike and if I can build one for him. In the eternal war between cab drivers and cyclists, i can say that Vinni may also bring peace.