Review: Soma Fabrications San Marcos

By Matt Kasprzyk

I’ve been a Soma Fabrications owner for a few years—I have a Double Cross DC that has thousands of commuting miles on it—so I was eager to ride something new from a company that specializes in versatile, tough, and long-lasting frames and accessories.

This bike is Soma’s love child with Rivendell, meaning it was designed for Soma as a “sport touring bike” by Rivendell’s Grant Petersen, using Rivendell lugs, geometry, and design details. The San Marcos is “the bike any road rider who doesn’t race but rides mainly on the road ought to be riding,” according to Petersen.

So what are these design details? Well, it’s mainly about handlebar height and retro geometry to increase comfort. The concept is simple and time-tested: raise the handlebars to get weight off your hands, crane your neck less, and relieve stress on your lower back. The San Marcos’ top tube slopes up about 6o, raising the stem’s exit point from the head tube. The bike’s 1-inch threaded fork uses a quill stem that you can easily raise or lower to get the perfect height.

In addition to this main point of Rivendell geometry, you also get some bonuses to versatility that are on par with other Soma models. On the functional side, the bike will accommodate up to a 37mm-wide tire, or 32mm with fenders. The frame sports a pump peg on the head tube and two sets of water-bottle bosses. There are two sets of eyelets in the back for a rack and fenders, but only one set on the fork, meaning no front rack. Soma says light loads are fine, but this isn’t meant as a heavy touring bike.

The San Marcos uses the same steel lugs, bottom bracket shell, and fork crown that other Rivendell bikes do. The frame is made of high-quality Tange Prestige heat-treated, chromoly steel tubes, same as other Soma bikes. What you don’t get are the even higher-end steel and the fancier two-tone paint job of more expensive Rivendell bikes.

The two largest sizes have a double top tube. Since Petersen prefers the classic look of small-diameter tubes and lugs, an extra top tube was added on the 59cm and 63cm frames to maintain the same level of triangulation and stiffness as the smaller sizes, especially in the front end. This design has become one of his trademarks.

I believe bikes have personalities and those personalities are part of the buying decision. Jim Porter of Merry Sales (Soma’s distributor) says their relationship with Rivendell is like the relationship of Elvis to blues or gospel music. Taking his analogy further: if Rivendell is gospel, then Soma is Elvis being played in an old Cadillac.

The San Marcos gets you where you want to go in comfort and style, but it’s not going to be the most racy thing to ride. My test bike was built with 32mm-wide tires and had an incredibly smooth ride, but no tail fins (they aren’t very functional). Rough roads and smooth gravel were less of an issue for sure, as long as you’re not in a hurry.

Riding tall with those high handlebars meant the compact drops are probably at the height of most riders’ brake hoods. This provided several comfortable hand positions. The frame is both tall (in the top tube) and low (in the bottom bracket), which helped make for a very stable ride that carved turns gracefully.

The extra tube certainly seemed to help with front-end stiffness, as intended. I’m not that light, or that slow, but I never detected any lateral flex standing on steep climbs, or front shimmying on fast descents. For those of us used to more modern geometry, the extra top tube looks like overkill. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it on a bike intended for heavy touring. But it’s actually a retro solution to preserve frame integrity.

The San Marcos is definitely a comfort road bike that many people could get into as a versatile commuter, or a bike able to cart a light load, or just for getting out on long rides. In terms of goals and execution, I think Soma Fabrications has a winner. The San Marcos looks good and does everything it was meant to. It’s comfortable and versatile, but an inexpensive Rivendell is an expensive Soma. If you’re down with the retro styling and geometry, I’m certain this would provide years of comfortable service and enjoyment.

Vital stats

Price: $900 (frame)

Weight: 25lbs. as built

Sizes available: 47, 51, 54, 59, 63cm (tested) 

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