This project started late last year when I realised that this summer I would be hitting 40.
What would I like as a memento of this coming-of-old-age? Motorbike? No, not ready for that mid-life crisis just yet - save that for when I'm 50.
How about something that should last a lifetime, that's unique and made specially for me?
Having gone through some 30 or so bikes in the past few years I knew pretty much what I wanted from a bike. Problem was none of them did it for me. Right size? Felt wrong. Rode nicely? Wrong size.
I started to draw up a checklist of what I wanted:
Steel. Had to be steel. I tried several aluminium frames and they were just far to stiff and unforgiving and besides were unlikely to last a lifetime. I also tried a couple of titanium frames. Both were disappointing. The only frames that ever felt right were steel (albeit they didn't fit me well). Being such a versatile material I could having swooping and soaring tubes with unusual details as well.
Clean lines. Now, we're talking steel, it had to be fillet brazed. I just love the organic lines as the tubes melt from one into another. Internal cable routing. No bottle bosses, v-brake mounts or rack mounts. Minimum of accessories.
Wheels. I'm quite tall and frankly most 26" wheeled bikes on me look like bmx's do on other people. Out of proportion. I have a Surly Karate Monkey which I fell in love with on the first ride, steel 29er. However, despite the perfect ride, the frame wasn't a perfect fit without a stack of headset spacers under the stem. And it wasn't fillet-brazed. Nice proportions though.
Rigid. I like to feel the ground under me. Every little (and big) bump. No suspension for me thanks.
A bike for the rest of my life. Well, singlespeed's my thing at the moment, however I suspect one day I may have to resort to gears, so I needed a frame that could give a geared option one day. That's where Paragon sliding dropouts come in. You can have a geared version with a hanger and a non-geared version. So I have the options I need for a bike to see me through my every whim.
So. Where to source such a frame? I'd heard about Steve Shand
up in Scotland so I approached him. We started to design the frame, but then he had to call a halt as he needed to relocate and close his workshop for a few months.
Who then? Not many people make steel fillet brazed 29ers as their core business. Most do them as an addition, on the side, as it were. I wanted someone who believed in 29ers and knew how to build them, but wouldn't just build what they
want you to have, but what you
wanted to have.
I also needed someone who was prepared to listen to the rantings of a madman with crazy design ideas and then politely say, ok, but the laws of physics don't allow that, how about this? One of the key aspects to this frame was that it was to be unique. I wanted something nobody else had.
I came across Francois at Edelbikes
on an internet trawl. Situated on the edge of the Alps in Grenoble in France, he is a part-time framebuilder who seemed to tick all the boxes I required. I approached him and we struck up a relationship. He listened very patiently to what I was after and said, no problem. A few months later, the designs agreed, he started to build.
He keeps a blog
and updates his flickr account
with the latest photos of your frame as it's built.
I can tell you, watching it being built was mouth-watering. You could savour every tube as it was joined to the next. Then have to wait a further week for the next installment. It was like watching your favourite TV series that ends in a cliff-hanger leaving you willing the week away for the next gripping episode.
Communication and the management of expectation is the key to all relationships professional or otherwise. Francois speaks English like he is bilingual (he may be for all I know!). He keeps you up to date on progress, asks you about the next detail. How do you want this? Is this OK? I never worried it wouldn't be exactly what I wanted as I could see it in the images and he described the issues as he went along. For example, we agreed various features like the seat stay arrangement. The stay is made from one piece of tube bent right round with 2 smaller tubes brazed on top to meet the seat tube. Not easy to build!
While the frame was being built I was also collecting parts. Taking advice from good friends I selected the parts of my dreams: some exotic. Some custom made. Some Uk made. Some old. Some new. Some even a bargain. Most shiny.
So, when at last it was back from the painters and on its way over to the UK I couldn't wait to get hold of it and build it up. I got back from work at 5.30, the frame was there! I had some tea, then set to work like a whirling dervish. By 9.45pm it was done.
And here is the final product. The photos really don't do it justice. The colour is bright orange with metallic flecks.
The only thing to change is to finalise the height of the steerer and perhaps the brake cables.
I present my
Frame and forks: Edelbikes 29er #1104, mixture of Reynolds 853 and Columbus Zona tubing
Wheels: Phil Wood singlespeed hubs on DT Swiss 7.1 rims
Freewheel: White Industries 16t
Brakes: Avid BB7
Seatpost, stem and handlebars: Ritchey Classic
Bar ends: Onza CWA
Saddle: Charge Spoon Ti rail
Cranks: Middleburn RS7
Chainring: Homebrewed Components
BB: Raceface Platinum
Tyres: Kenda Nevegal 29 x 2.1
Headset: Chris King NoThreadset 1 1/8"
Chain: KMC Z610HX singlespeed specific
Video walk round: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GF4QOlNwfqg