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.
Looks like the folks at Geekhouse did it again with a beautiful all-purpose built. The build include internal routing, Shimano Di2 and disk brakes…oh and loads of orange. What’s not to love here. It seems that more and more folks are taking the plunge into one bike to rule them all with versatile builds that could easily, with a simple change of wheels or tires, could be turned from dirt eating monsters to elegant road machines.
The beast is photographed by Paul Chan.
I was helping my friend and excellent photographer Beto to create some content for his portfolio one afternoon when two familiar bikes came along – Michael Monk of Monk Cycles and his lovely lady Candy. While Michael, Candy and myself were chatting Beto took the opportunity to photograph us – bike nerds in their natural habitat-style. Once the photos came out, we figured that this will be a great platform to publish the work and talk about Monk Cycles, my very own neighborhood bike company.
Michael Monk and myself met a few years ago at the Berliner Fahrradschau. We were quiet shocked to realize that we both liked riding drop bar bikes off road, we loved big tires, Bruce Gordon and steel. To add to the whole love fest, we discovered that we lived about 100 meters from each other, drink coffee at the same coffee shop (hello Cafe Am Ende Der Welt) and went to the same BIC-barber.
Monk cycles is all about steel bikes, handmade in Germany, assembled in Berlin with practical and sophisticated design and of course drop bars. Monk comes in 26 inch variance, 650B, and a 29er. Each rig will rip a single track to shreds while also allowing you to schlepp your groceries and mount panniers and fenders. With all braze-ons and options the bike still manages to keep it minimal and tidy and as long as Michael has anything to say about it, it will come equipped with Retroshift levers and proper mountain bike tires if you ask nicely.
The Monk bikes just scream “make me dirty”.
Like every year the beginning of spring is symbolized by the ever growing bike show with the very non-native-German-speaking name “Der Berliner Fahrradschau” which basically means “The Berlin Bike Show.” Lets agree that abbreviating it to BFS (that’s actually F and S in that super long word that is of course made out of two nouns) is ok and we shell not mention the full name any more.
This year the show really grow and with that several of the corridors became unbearable. I’m pretty sure I waved off people away from my frame more than once and all together avoided a few rows all together. I started from the end and worked my way to about half the space focusing really on handmade bikes. This year there were some excellant German handmade bikes as well as international names.
To start off, the best of show for me was a builder out of Bochum called Le Canard (the duck in French). He explained that the bike that was copper plated was his own and had three gears – walking the bike, riding the bike, pushing the bike. He had the passion of someone who rides his own work and has the balls to go big – copper plated bike with internal cable routing and a GT-like geometry with lights built into the butt. What’s not to love?
Next to him was Wheel Dan – a local Berlin titanium builder that’s doing amazing work. This time he presented a commuter bike he built for a customer which came with a Pinion drive! The handmade racks he build, both for the commuter and for Christoph’s Brevet machine, standing in the same booth, were impressive in their design, ambition and execution. This year the show was all about internal routing – German minimalism at its best.
Another local German builder is Tannenwald. They explained to me that they like to work with steel and combine the newest technologies, such as 44mm head tubes and through axels, with old school design. Their design and paintwork were impressive and the combination of Tune parts (they come from the forest next door to Tune’s) really accentuated their European-ism. Their bikes were the only ones I saw that used 3T forks.
Pretty much all other bikes that caught my eyes were some form of cyclecross bikes, each one using Enve Components. Enve had a nice area in which they invited some of their favorite European builders to present their bikes which is how we ended up with first hand view of a beautiful fixie from Field Cycles in the U.K. In the same area Troica Cycles, Berlin’s own cyclocross newcomer, presented one of their rigs and in the background, Ken’s Crema Cycles presented a baby blue UCI-sanctioned cross machine built to win and win. Yes, there was a Vandeyk in the same area and a beautiful road machine St. Joris cycles out of the Netherlands, but at this point I got a little dizzy by the abundance of carbon and had to move away.
I had to ask myself “where is 3T?” Enve, a company based in Utah, showed up in full force with a concept and 3T, a company with similar products, located on the same small continent, missed on a show as big as this. Shame.
It was great to see so many every day folks checking out the show. It was not just occupied by the freaks and geeks and fixie nerds, but by people like my mom and your aunt and the dad that loaded his family on their bikes and took a tour in the BFS. There were loads of cargo bikes and baby bikes and WheelDan even brought his son’s titanium training bike. There was really something for everyone.
Firefly formed a team of ladies based on slightly different concepts than the traditional “we’re in it to win races” teams. The story, posted on the new adventure team website. It speaks to those of us who ride for the adventure and not the miles.
Looking at my Strava statistics climbing up, my rearranged work schedule around a Wednesday morning ride, the utter detachment with which I look at bikes on the Internet (well…that’s an exaggeration), and the beautiful machine hanging on my wall, I feel rewarded having made the plunge into the titanium custom bike pool and choose to swim with the big sharks – Seven Cycles.
In June, 2013 I had a face-to-face meeting with Rob Vandermark at Ride Studio Cafe (RSC in Lexington, Massachusetts, U.S.A ) which was the culmination of months of internal debates and consultations until I decided to pull the trigger. I routed a flight to Washington, DC through Boston, well, it’s on the way and arranged for a day at RSC. Rob and myself discussed how the ride should feel, what was I going to do with the bike, what the handling should be like and how far I’d like to ride. Tech talk was kept to a minimal and apart from explaining that I’d like to be able to mount big tires on the bike (45mm) and would like disk brakes, we did not talk shop.
Prior to sitting with Rob, I took out one of Seven’s Mudxium S rides for an hour or so. Patria, the amazing curator at Ride Studio Cafe, made sure I’m comfortable on it, that it was dialed to my size, even replacing the stem, and loaded me up with a Garmin GPS so I could ride in a terrain I was completely foreign to. I had a blast, got muddy and excited and after she pumped me with some more excellent coffee, I sat down with Rob.
Rob also measured me on the same Mudhoney I took for a spin and also on my other bike, my Hunter, which I just happened to have have with me. I love riding my Hunter and made it clear that both bikes are not supposed to compete with each other. Hunter is the touring bike, the bike that I can load with panniers and take over the world. My Seven is there for everything else. All weather riding, road riding, gravel racing, whatever.
I picked up the frame on my next visit to the U.S. which was in October and brought it home in November. Then I started collecting components. This was a mistake since the beautiful frame and fork were hanging on the wall begging to be ridden, but were missing on a group and brakes. Then, just as I was ready to order the last piece – the brakes, TRP recalled their Spyre and I was scratching my head trying to figure out alternatives. Lucky enough, TRP managed to replace their Spyres quickly and with that the last component was procured.
With a box of components I went to my local bike shop – Pedalum Mobile, and had them built the bike. This was decided after reading an excellent post by Probably about buying custom bikes. He made the point that there is something very rewarding about going to the shop and picking up your finished bike. And I did just that. And he was correct – I did not see it get created, but within a few days it was ready, and I hit the streets with it.
WOW. What a ride. The Mudxium just needs someone to sit on her and she takes off. Peddling is highly optional. She is responsive to your intentions before you even know where you want to take her. She is comfortable even on the cobblestones that plague the city. She feels just as one would expect a custom made frame – she feels like she is made for me. And for this reason, we spend so much time together.