I have been very fortunate to come into some money. Most is for my family, but I decided I'd get something with meaning for myself. I considered my options for about 10 seconds. Yep, it had to be a bike. This was an opportunity to get something that would have lasting value, and a different ride experience. I realised I wanted something that I could grow with as a cyclist, and grow old(er) together with, if that makes sense. It needed to be a top bike, I didn't want to compromise on performance. And it had to be special. I set myself a realistic budget, and began looking.
The first thing I did was write down what I thought I wanted:
Something individual, with a sense of long term ownership. Something not 'out of fashion' in 2 years time, yet still competitive. Something light, and fast and comfortable, something ‘alive’, that gives back to the rider. A special ride quality. Great in the hills, and fast on the flat. Timeless, simple, elegant, understated. Something I can make mine. Something I can ride with, not just ride. Not asking for much then ……
Custom or standard?
I toyed with the idea of full custom, a frame built from the ground up specifically for me. After some research I found that a fair few builders suggest that unless you have specific needs you can be fitted properly to an off-the-peg frame. And the more I read, I began to realise I'm not quite ready for custom, yet. So this frame would be a standard sized frame, and if in the future I got to a point where I felt there was benefit in going full custom, then that's what I would do.
Carbon composite, or why should I?…
At first I looked towards carbon, and Italy. I liked the idea of a Colnago C59, or a Wilier, Casati. Or a Parlee from America. But would a top flight carbon rig really be me? It wouldn't really be just mine - other people would own exactly the same model, spec'd exactly the same. And would I really be able to relax with it ever? My current carbon frame has a couple of deep nicks in it - one I got during the last TDU when someone's wheel flicked a piece of metal up. It actually chipped the carbon, not just the paint. And top carbon bikes are … expensive.
Alternatives to the Big Three
(Being carbon, steel and titanium in no particular order.)
Apparently aluminium can be quite good, but somehow it just wasn't a serious consideration for me. It's partly the welds, partly the fatigue life, partly someone else's aesthetic. Bamboo? I had a quick look at Calfee, but they wear their technology on their sleeve lugs, and I want elegance and a restrained aesthetic.
Metal, the real deal
It didn't take long to realise I wanted to experience what metal had to offer. Ti and steel have both seen continual improvements while most of us have had our backs turned admiring the carbony goodness lined up outside our local cafe.
A good ti frame would be about 2-300 grams more than my current carbon frame. To my mind that's not worth worrying about for 3 reasons; 1/ I can lose more than that off my body, 2/ I can save that with a good wheelset, and 3/ I'm not convinced it makes a huge difference unless you are a hills specialist. And I'm not. If I'm that worried, I can just Rule #5 and ride more.
I wanted to buy Australian. Baum were the first people I thought of, custom only notwithstanding. I spend some time reading about the Espresso (steel) and the ti Corretto. But mainly the Espresso, as I thought long and hard about exploring the qualities of a really good steel frame. And I looked at Llewellyn, at the Custodian and the Manorina.
Ultimately though, these builders were too expensive for me. But they helped me define my vision. I realised I didn't want beautiful lugwork or paint, because I didn't want to be scared to ride something too 'precious'. I wanted a simple, understated beauty, a frame that was purposeful. A frame that would get ridden in the heat and the wet and through the hills. A new Sydney builder, Rivet, came close. Their ti road build is Campy Chorus, Fulcrum and 3T, quite nice.
I looked at blogs and forums, like Cyclingtips, seeing what others have built. For a while I wanted polished alloy and ti everywhere.
I looked at a long list of American and Italian builders. Seven didn't do it for me - I didn't want a mix of materials, and their ti frames were too traditional in specification. Similarly with Serotta - beautiful bikes, but either too expensive or not utilising newer standards like integrated headsets without additional cost. Independent Fabrications, wonderful, but not right for me. Kent Eriksen, Kish, Moots (WAY out of my league!), Dean (hmm). Lynskey and Litespeed just didn't inspire me. I can see how they might be attractive for the fast club rider as a solid, fast workhorse. If you want something really standout in steel have a look at English Bicycles - like refined, beautiful sculptures they are. Firefly make absolutely beautiful bikes, in both ti and stainless steel. Van Nicholas make great frames in ti, and have a good online bike builder. And Ritte have a fabulous aesthetic, a little like Baum in their presentation. But they use KVA stainless steel, which is rolled and welded. The europeans use the Columbus XCR, which is the only stainless steel that is drawn as tubes. Stainless steel weighs a little more than ti, but not a lot, and has all the best qualities of a top-flight steel road bike, but it won't rust. So I've read. Pretty much ideal if you want a great steel road bike.
I found Legend. The Legend Prince is a thing of beauty, with filed welds and blue tint finish. They are in a similar stratosphere to Passoni. There is Paduano and Nevi, both with beautiful bikes. Nevi are doing interesting things with gold logos and black finishes in ti. Then I looked at Cinelli and found their XCR, a wonderful bike frame. This lead me to Zullo (their Vergine is ss), with their great paint schemes, and Pegoretti. Fantastic, but ultimately not what I wanted. Or maybe what I wanted, but not what I really needed.
Eventually I ended up in (cyber) England. I read about Roberts cycles and looked at their site. I admired Demon Frameworks road bike creation. I spent weeks (on and off) bike building on Condor's site, mainly their Acciaio Stainless, Super Acciaio and their ti Moda. Beautiful bikes - actually built in Italy (which probably just makes them more expensive), and the Super Acciaio is race proven. And I spent ages looking at Enigma, mainly the Extensor (stainless steel), and the ti Echo. They have a great online bike-building tool that adds the $ and the grams up as you build.
There were others, like No22 (the periodic table number for ti), Spin and Spats. I think I looked at them all.
Writing my specs
This all informed me about what I wanted from a bike, aesthetically and performance-wise.
So I could write a specification, which went something like this: an elegant, simple frameset, with a nod to the traditional, in (probably) ti, with newer standards such as an integrated headset, press fit BB, and internal cabling for at least the brake cable. A modern classic, essentially. Which ruled out di2. And Shimano, aesthetically. I settled on the Campagnolo Chorus gruppo, because it performs, looks great, and weighs about the same as DuraAce but costs less. And as a bonus, I get to experience Campagnolo after only riding Shimano. And the wheels. Somehow it just felt right to get Campagnolo, and I settled on the Eurus. Lightweight and almost architectural. And, as I've since discovered, quiet.
I already knew I'd use a Selle Italia saddle - my other bikes use them, and they suit my butt perfectly. If I went to ti I'd use a ti seatpost and clamp. I wanted Deda bars and stem. Tacx Tao cages. And black leather bar tape.
But I still didn't have a frame. I had narrowed it down to two or three - Enigma, Van Nicholas and Condor. With Condor I decided I could only afford their steel frame. And Enigma, much as I liked what I saw, nothing seemed quite what I wanted. So I settled on Van Nicholas, and looked at the Zephyr and Aquilo. The Aquilo offered everything I was looking for. It's a performance frame, yet comfortable. It has press fit BB and integrated headset. And it has internal cabling; not a deal breaker, but nice to have. Aesthetically, it has classic looks, but it doesn't give anything away performance-wise. All the reviews I found on it are very positive.
Buying and building
Because I was buying a bike that wasn't 'off the peg', I had to get it built. I don't have the tools or experience to build something like this myself, I build steel single speeds, but that's about it.
I got myself measured up, and with the help of my LBS and the Van Nicholas online tool worked out the frame size I needed.
I could have built (nearly) the same bike on the VN's online bike builder. But then I'd have had to worry about import duties and GST, and not got exactly what I wanted.
So I had a chat with my local bike shop. I reasoned that at least they could get something out of this, and I get a bike build I can trust and someone local to turn to if anything goes pear shaped. They were happy to help. So I showed them my little plastic card and wrote them a spec sheet. A few items I bought (because they couldn't get anywhere near the price), but they did the rest.
As I write this everything bar the frameset is at my LBS. As various items arrived they have texted me with an update. I can hardly wait for the frame to arrive and the build to begin. And that's just what cycling is about in part, doing the work and learning to wait for the moment. I've agonised over all the little details, what cassette to get, what bars. I've read countless reviews and forum posts, asked builders questions. Now it's done. This is the breathing space.
Part 2 will be a ride report. Sometime in the near future, a post-ride post if you will.