Words and photos by Ben Brashear
There aren’t too many custom bike builders, let alone bike companies, that broke into the market by building a tandem mountain bike. Everyone has heard the saying that tandems will end your relationship, but for Durango, Colorado bike builder Eric Tomczak, it was the very thing that helped to define his relationship and the very ethos of his company, Myth Cycles.
Myth Cycles is a nod to going against the grain, challenging common paradigms and misconceptions within the cycling industry—everything from steel bikes are too heavy to ride to the emphasis on racing weight to the very idea that bike builders should hide their trade craft secrets from the curious onlooker or prospective newcomer to bike building. The name is also about creating your own mythology, getting out and riding every chance that you get. You have to get out in order to tell a good story with your buddies over a cold beer and to tell a tall tale to your grandkids once your body refuses to climb into the saddle. “Our stories are all we really get in the end,” Tomczak says, “and they better be worth telling.”
Tomczak started his welding education and career with the intention of becoming a bike builder. In 2010 he graduated from welding school with an emphasis in TIG welding and CAD design, yet instead of going straight to building frames he wanted to gain a metalsmith’s approach to working with a variety of metals and design elements. He went to work for Ska Fabrication building assembly line products and de-palletizers for craft brewers, and he joined with the legendary tooling designer Ron Andrews of King Cage, building water bottle cages. Andrews developed his chops building custom parts for MIT, Fat City Cycles, Yeti and Intense Cycles among many others and provided a calculating Tomczak with a wealth of education.
It was the production environment, welding up to 500 water bottle cages per day, that shaped a strong desire in Tomczak to be efficient. It’s that same production mentality that now shapes his approach to bike building. “You begin to analyze each step of the process. Something will take me one minute twenty seconds to do and then you try and see if you can get it down to fifty seconds. If you can do that then over the course of a day it adds up to a ton of time,” he says.
It was during his workday that Tomczak also became efficient in capitalizing on Andrews’ knowledge from his days designing tooling and assembly fixtures. Tomczak was tenacious in learning assembly logic, weld sequencing, welding wire and tube diameters and how to build his own tooling and assembly fixtures for bike production. “I would ask questions and talk bike geometries until Ron would get so tired of it he’d leave the shop,” Tomczak laughs.
For the intrepid cyclists and those curious enough to consider building your own bike, Tomczak is pulling the stops and sharing his process in what it takes to build a custom frame. There are hundreds of steps to building a bike but he helped to narrow the process down to the essentials. There is not a lot of literature on bike building and a lot of bike builders are protective of their process, he says. He does recommend that you seek out a local bike builder to learn from or to even attend the United Bicycle Institute in Ashland or Portland, Oregon. Here’s to building what may become your favorite two-wheeled machine or… fostering a new-found respect for the difficult task bike builders everywhere take on to keep us happily rolling through the hills.
Step 1: Design
The most important step of the entire design process is deciding what you want out of your bike. This comes down to ride quality, where you will be riding your bike, what you want to carry, rider height and riding style and what frame material you will use. This is usually a long conversation with Tomczak’s customers and ends with a bike-fitter providing custom-tailor measurements.
This will dictate seat tube angle, chain stay length, head tube angle, top tube length, hub width and bottom bracket height. For those starting from scratch Tomczak advises starting with geometries from a bike that you already like.
His production frames are designed for versatility— slack head tube angle for stability downhill, steeper seat tube angle for long ascents, mid-length chain stays allow for agility and climbing and a higher bottom bracket height provide clearance and work well with a dropper post. This is his Wyvern production frame which, is designed for high country rides and longer mountain touring.
Materials: His favorite is air-hardening 4130 Chromoly available from Vari-Wall Tubing in Ohio. Air-hardening combined with double-butted tubing and a huge variety of tubing diameters and wall thicknesses allow for a custom tuned ride specific to rider weight, is very durable and is easy to repair. Steel provides a damp ride that absorbs vibrations well and snaps back in a controlled fashion unlike any other material. It’s the ‘feel of steel.’ Titanium is also another great option but requires even more skill to weld.
RattleCAD is a free CAD design program and BikeCAD Pro is a great tool.
Step 2: Preparation
Gather all of your raw materials together. This includes your top tube, down tube, drop-outs, brake tabs, seat tube, chain stays, seat stays, braze-ons, etc. Most tubes are sealed in plastic and are coated in oil to prevent rusting. In order to get a solid weld, the metal must be clean of any contaminants. Use a denatured alcohol and rag.
Step 3: Miter or Coping
In this step, you will cut the top tube, head tube and down tube in order to fit into place and provide a close tolerance fit at each tube junction. Use a magnetic angle finder to set the angle of your cut, this number is subtracted from 90 degrees and is derived from your CAD design. Secure each tube to be cut in a vice and use a hole saw to cut the tube. Tomczak uses a v-block style mill vice to keep everything secure. This is also when you will drill any bracket attachments for racks and for your bottle cages – doing so ensures that everything will be in plane. Deburr each cut and drilled hole with a metal file.
Step 4: Set the Jig
A jig or fixture to hold everything in place is essential to producing an end product that is straight and rides true. Tomczak built his own frame jig but they can be purchased starting at around $1300. Get your CAD drawing and set the bottom bracket height and seat tube angle. Dependent on bottom bracket width – road, mountain or fat bike – will determine the size “puck” required to hold your bottom bracket in place. Most road bikes are 68 mm wide, mountain are 73 mm and fat bikes are usually 100-120 mm. Make sure to orient your bottom bracket properly, advises Tomczak. Remember that one side is a reverse cut thread. Jigs can be purchased from Anvil Bikeworks or Henry James Bicycles to name a couple. You can find a great how-to for those wanting to attempt to build their own jig here.
Step 5: Welding
Test fit your top tube and down tube and chain stays to make sure that everything will align properly. After doing so tack weld the chain stays to the bottom bracket. After double checking that the chain stays are the appropriate length, you then can tack weld the dropouts on. Move on to tack welding the rest of the main triangle – top tube, head tube, down tube. Do not attach the seat stays yet.
Step 6: Check Alignment
Once everything has been tack welded pull the frame from the jig and using a ‘scratcher’ on an alignment table or a solid surface, you can ensure that the frame is straight and has not warped during the welding process. If anything has warped, Tomczak advises ‘cold-setting’ the frame and making any adjustment in alignment without adding heat. Heat will stress the metal and potentially weaken it. “The best thing you can do is make sure your angles are spot on before welding,” Tomczak says, “and by welding at least 95 percent of the frame in the frame jig.” A weld can pull and warp as it cools. Check that the head tube is parallel to the seat tube. Check that the head tube and the seat tube are perpendicular to the bottom bracket.
Step 7: Seat Stays
Place the frame back into the frame jig and finish weld the main triangle. Fit your seat stays. This measurement is established by measuring from axle centerline from the drop out location to the top of the tire. Dependent on what tire you want to run – 27.5 x 3 or 29 x 2.2 or 26 x 4.8, etc – will dictate where you bend the seat stay for tire clearance. Tack weld the stays into place. Pull the frame from the jig and finish weld the seat stays into place. Warping is not a concern here because the tube angles are triangulated and pulling or warping is uncommon.
Step 8: Install Brake Tabs, Cable Guides and Braze-Ons
Many bikes do not require brake tabs but install ‘em if you need them. Clamp braze-ons and cable guides into place and install the seat stay bridge at this point.
Step 9: Chase Threads
Using a Park Tool’s reaming and facing tool, ream the seat tube to remove any metal burrs, chase the threads in the bottom bracket and face the bottom bracket. Ream and face the head tube. This step insures that all surfaces are smooth and removes any warpage that may have occurred during the welding process. For specific tools and detailed process advice, check out this tutorial from Park Tool.
Step 10: Powder Coat or Paint
Tomczak powder coats his frames because it’s a durable paint choice that well last through the daily abuses of bike riding. An average powder coat is 3-5 mm thick and is hardened in an oven around 450 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also break out a rattle can for something that requires less specialized equipment but you’ll be frequently repainting your frame.
In fact, as I write this, the launch party is about to kick off, which promises to feature karaoke and perhaps skinny dipping, in true All-City style.
Anyway, back to the bike.
The Cosmic Stallion is designed to be the “ultimate any-road, any-distance” bike while boasting All-City’s lightest frameset yet, thanks to a newly-designed tubing from the brand that is also making its debut on this steed.
Known as A.C.E., which stands for Air-hardened, Custom, Extruded, this steel tubing is heat-treated and air-hardened, allowing for the thinnest walls possible while still meeting (and exceeding) strength standards. A.C.E. was created completely in-house rather than utilizing another tubing supplier, such as Reynolds or Columbus. This allows for All-City to create custom tubing for whatever project the brand is working on.
In the case of the Cosmic Stallion, All-City wanted a frame that would shave weight over existing frames in the brand, enhance bump absorption, increase stiffness and increase fatigue life (how much force from riding a frame will withstand until it breaks).
Other frame features of this bike that are a first for All-City are an integrated headset, 44 mm tapered headtube, thru-axles and Di2 compatibility.
The frame also features a 68 mm threaded bottom bracket, rear rack mounts, and rear and front fender mounts.
The complete bike is spec’d with a Whisky No.9 carbon fork, SRAM Rival 22 drivetrain and Rival hydraulic disc brakes, a WTB wheelset and Clement X’PLOR USH 700 x 40 mm tires. The frame can fit up to a 700 x 45 mm tires sans fenders (or 700 x 40 with).
Complete bikes will retail for $2,599 and framesets for $1,250. The Cosmic Stallion is shipping to retailers as of today, so they’re available now.
Twin Six is a clothing company, so I was a bit surprised to see a collection of bikes in its Interbike trade-show booth a few years ago. The surprise quickly turned to respect, as the bike lineup was simple yet well thought out. This is the sole steel bike in the line—its other bikes are titanium.
“This whole thing [Twin Six, back in 2004] was started because of being fed up with boring options when it came to cycling apparel,” said co-founder and owner, Ryan Carlson. “We founded this company on the idea of designing clothes we wanted to wear. Fast forward 10 years, and our thoughts were the same—let’s design bikes we want to ride. There were plenty of ‘mediocre-frame with crappy- parts’ combos out there, but we felt like we could provide a better option. Two years of drawing and prototyping later and we couldn’t be happier with the range of steel and titanium frames we’re putting out there.”
The Standard Rando is a very practical, by the numbers, all-rounder. While that might sound like damning with faint praise, it is a high compliment in these days of increasingly complicated bikes. A steel frame and fork with classic geometry, but modern components, might just be the ticket for people who want to step off the technology bullet train.
At the heart of the Rando is a double-butted, 4130 chromoly steel frame. While there are probably at least a dozen options for bikes similar to this one, the Rando stands out as a simple and focused option, offering just what most riders want in a frame like this without extraneous braze–ons or styling exercises.
My favorite feature about this frame is the cable routing. Nothing fancy here, just simple cable clips that screw into bosses in the down tube. Full housing runs for every cable reduces the chances for contamination, and all cables under the downtube keeps everything neat. It makes internal routing seem silly. Which it is.
The frame also has a chainstay mounted disc caliper for easy rack and fender mounting. The fork has mid-mounts for a low-rider rack and a pair of mounts at the forward-facing dropouts. Cheers to steel forks. I think they ride better than carbon and are better able to handle the day-to- day abuse a bike like this may face.
There is one complete bike option for the Standard Rando: a SRAM Rival build kit with BB7 brakes, NoTubes Grail wheels and a Fizik cockpit. Gearing is a practical 46/36 crankset and 11-32 cassette. It’s all very functional stuff and the customer can even choose handlebar width and crank length.
The black paint hides it well, but the steel tubing on this bike is of the oversized variety. And that oversized tubing gives this bike a solid feel. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the “feel” that a good steel frame is famous for, but compared to some of the steel bikes I’ve ridden lately, it resists flex under hard pedaling efforts very well.
The stock 32 mm Panaracer Pasela tires step up and help take the edge off quite well. I swapped in a set of new, 36 mm tubeless Clement MSO tires (see page 60), and things got even better. You can stuff in a tire up to 43 mm wide but that is starting to run out of clearance for mud.
The Rando can handle pretty rough roads without complaint, but it does make its road-focused geometry known when things get really dicey. For the most part it was a fun bike for exploring but not something I would intentionally take on rides with a lot of singletrack, as the steep head angle and low bottom bracket make for interesting times.
That leaves a whole lot of good riding to be had, and with the versatility afforded by all the braze-ons this bike can be set up for almost anything. You could add fenders and a rack for commuting, a low-rider front and a big seat bag for light touring, or knobby tires for gravel rides. They’re all good options and all easy to set up.
The Rando has 75 mm of bottom bracket drop, which is a good spec when paired with the bigger tires. This keeps the center of gravity low when cornering. Those big tires, whether knobby or not, offer up the traction, and the geometry is happy to take full advantage of it to carve around corners like a sharp knife through a Christmas ham.
There is a frame and fork option as well for $600. As of early August, the green color option is sold out, but expect another color besides black to be ready soon. The black metal fenders pictured are a $30 upgrade, worth it for the matching look and protection from the elements, although they are not the easiest to install.
The Standard Rando is standout for its clean aesthetic, smart spec and simple functionality. As a steel frame on the stiffer end of the spectrum, this is a good fit for heavier riders or for those folks who just want to mash the pedals and go fast. Strong, stable and straightforward, the Rando is a straight-talking bike that can deliver on its promises.
Ed. Note: The latest color option for this bike is orange, as of May 2017.
Tester: Eric McKeegan
Weight: 23.5 lbs
Sizes: 51, 53, 55, 57 (tested), 59
Keep Reading: Find more reality tested reviews here!
We all enjoy a good escape on peaceful back roads where dilapidated farm houses often outnumber the passing cars. Maybe there is no set route, and each intersection allows for that last-second decision with only the falling sun as our guide. Perhaps your route rolls on by a park with some dirt paths or maybe even some singletrack. Regardless of the destination, the points between A and B will provide an adventure themselves with endless possibilities, assuming your bike is up to the task.
I want to be able to jump on my bike and go as I please. I want to escape the busy roads as quickly as I can, leaving careless drivers far behind. If I see that sweet little doubletrack path through the green space, I want the ability to take it without hesitation. I want my equipment to be up for anything it may encounter, including plenty of rough terrain. What I want is complete freedom to roam. The answer to that freedom is none other than the Ritchey Break-Away Ascent. It’s exactly what a bike should be: a do-all, go-anywhere means for adventure. This steel-framed beauty relegates both one-trick ponies and niche categories.
Most cycling enthusiasts, regardless of which bike-nerd level they have achieved, are familiar enough to know that the Ritchey brand is of a finer quality. Ritchey has a long history, starting with production road frames made for Palo Alto, a Bay Area bike shop in 1974. Soon after, a partnership formed between Tom Ritchey, Charlie Kelly and Gary Fisher to produce the first production mountain bikes. Once that partnership dissolved in the early ‘80s, Ritchey rebuilt the brand into Ritchey Bikes. Eventually, as more and more of the pro peloton made the switch from steel to aluminum bicycles, Ritchey shifted his focus to working with other companies (such as Shimano) designing specific components, creating what we know today as Ritchey Designs. Almost 40 years later, Ritchey continues to lead by example, instilling the “relentless innovation” mantra at Ritchey Designs, striving to improve and perfect the products we all love to push to the limits on a daily basis.
Going back to 1985, Ritchey released the Ascent, which replaced the Timber Wolf as the company’s entry-level off -road bicycle. After a few years, Ritchey updated the Ascent’s geometry, shortening the chainstays and creating steeper head and seat angles. As stated in the 1988 Ritchey catalog, “as a result, the bikes retain their stable handling characteristics while positioning the rider further forward for more efficient pedaling.” Almost 30 years later, today’s Ascent mirrors the 1988 Ascent Comp with the exception of a few small upgrades. Those upgrades include Ritchey’s custom internal headset cups, Ritchey Logic steel tubing, disc brake compatibility, 100 and 135 mm quick-release hub spacing and fender and rack mounts for all your touring and commuting needs.
Speaking of wheels and disc brakes, that’s probably my favorite feature of this frameset, it has the ability to run up to 700×40 mm or 27.5×2.1 inch tires. Sure, it may not roll the fastest with all that rubber, but it’s going to fit wide, puncture-resistant commuting tires or even some nice mountain bike tread for singletrack action. Or, you could always throw some road slicks in there to get your speed jollies off. That’s the beauty of it; it all works!
While the versatility of the tires is certainly awesome, what makes this frameset the ultimate adventure seeker’s bike is the Break-Away frame design. Tom Ritchey built the first Break-Away model in 1999, and the first production run soon followed in 2001. Interestingly enough, Ritchey still rides the first Break-Away model today.
The Ritchey Break-Away design implements a locking compression system to achieve a travel frame without sacrificing ride quality or needing any special tools for disassembly. The frame can be assembled with 4 mm and 5 mm Allen wrenches and a few simple thumb turns for the derailleur cables. Personally, I prefer the aesthetics of the Ritchey Break-Away design over S&S couplers as it maintains the smooth lines of the TIG welded tubing. As far as the breakdown and assembly, even though no special tools are required, this is no speedy task and is not for those that lack the ability to perform intermediate-level maintenance on their bikes. You are essentially taking most of the bike apart in order to make it fit in the travel bag and then reassembling. Make sure you perform a dry run, or three, before you travel. Once you figure out how to successfully pack the bike in its bag, I would suggest taking photos of the step-by-step process so you can more easily replicate it again.
The included Break-Away soft-sided travel bag measures 8.5 x 26.5 x 31 inches, or 66 linear inches. Yes, that’s correct, that’s 4 inches over the 62 inch oversized airline baggage policy. Based on internet forum discussions, I found that travelers typically were not paying oversize fees. However, I would not rely on that always being the norm.
Although the Break-Away Ascent is only offered as a frameset, the awesome team at Ritchey sent ours as a complete bike. The frame was accented with Ritchey’s top-of-the-line WCS components, a SRAM Force 2×11 compact road drivetrain and BB7 mechanical disc brakes. This build features the company’s new VentureMax off-road drop bar, which offers a 6 degree sweep on top and an ergonomic bio-bend with 24-degree flare in the drops. I’ll be the first to admit that I am a flat bar kind of rider, and although the VentureMax was comfortable, I still prefer the leverage of a flat bar when climbing out of the saddle. Thankfully, the Ascent’s geometry is versatile enough to accommodate either flat or drop bar builds. The tubeless-ready Vantage II wheels and 27.5×2.1 Shield tires provide a surprising amount of traction for the dual-purpose, low-profile tread design, rolling well on the pavement and offering just enough side knob to stay confident on the dirt. Although the bike handled singletrack quite well, I was quickly reminded of its low (in terms of mountain bike standards) bottom bracket when taking on log overs. However, that same bottom bracket height was appreciated when letting the bike flow through gravel descents earlier in the ride.
As a whole, this is one hell of a bike. The smooth Ritchey Logic steel tubing rides like a dream, and the mountain-bike-esque geometry provides all-day comfort. I am confident that any adventure seeker would love this bike and the ability to fine-tune the build to their liking. The Ritchey Break-Away provides ample possibilities to discover the world on two wheels.
Tester: Scott Williams
Sizes: XS, S, M (tested), L, XL
Price: $1,650 (frameset and travel bag)
Weight: 23 lbs. (as tested)
Find out more at ritcheylogic.com
Editor’s Note: When we originally published this review in Bicycle Times 46, we mistakenly printed that this frame was fillet brazed, not TIG welded. Our sincerest apologies for that error.
The Sea Otter Classic is a huge bike festival held every year in Monterey, California. This year, there were over 400 brands represented in the expo, and while many of them were well-known giants in the bike industry, there were also plenty of the little guys, the family operations and brand new startups. At events like this, I’ve started making it a point to visit some of the lesser-known companies, because they’re often doing some pretty cool stuff. One of these brands was Fairdale Bikes, out of Austin, Texas.
The first thing that caught my eye as I walked by the Fairdale Bikes booth was the cardboard cutout of a rabbit that was strategically placed on a BMX cruiser.
Then I noticed all the cool bikes.
Fairdale specializes in making “simple and reliable bicycles to complement the styles of riding that we love to do because we want to be able to share the joy of a simple ride with you.”
Those styles of riding include long road rides, commuting, touring or just cruising around town. Right now, Fairdale offers nine different bikes, from the aforementioned BMX cruiser to a road bike to several different around-town bikes. At Sea Otter, they were also showing off a brand new gravel bike prototype called the Rockitship. The Rockitship can accommodate 40c tires and includes rack and fender mounts.
The Weekender is a commuter and light touring rig, available with either drop, flat or the Fairdale Archer bars. It’s equipped with a SRAM 9-speed drivetrain, 700c Continental Town Ride tires (or 27.5 inch on small and extra small frames) and Avid brakes built around a chromoly frame with rack and fender mounts.
The Taj is an “adult-sized” BMX bike that can shred some sick jumps but is also comfortable enough to ride around town. It’s designed to be durable and fun, with a steel frame, singlespeed drivetrain and 26 x 2.2 inch tires.
Focused more on ride quality over speed and racing, the Goodship is a steel road bike that’s designed to be ridden often and far. It features an ENVE carbon fork, Shimano Ultegra groupset, FSA components and Continental 25 mm tires.
The Fairdale crew all seemed like super chill, great people, and they even convinced me to walk away with one of their cool water bottles (not an easy feat when I already have too many bottles and limited room in my luggage).
First released in 1995 by Fat Chance, the Yo Eddy! Road Fork was the first segmented steel fork on the market. Fast forward 20 years, and she is back with a vengeance.
The Yo Eddy! Road Fork has now been updated to modern standards, handmade by frame building icon Chris Igleheart in Portland, Oregon. Igleheart has worked with Chris Chance (founder of Fat Chance) since it’s birth in the early 80’s.
Fat Chance relaunched in 2015 producing new versions of their iconic and historic line of bikes, reimagined for modern components and spec. The Yo Eddy! Road Fork is a natural extension of the line, updated to accommodate a 1 1/8 steerer with laser cut top caps and struts. The struts themselves are expertly welded onto the Reynolds 853 fork blades.
The Yo Eddy! Road Fork responds predictably in its resilience, steel has the ability to flex with road input while inspiring confident cornering and sprinting.
“Since relaunching Fat Chance, the Yo Eddy! Road Fork has been one of the most requested products. More riders are opting for bigger tire clearance and using their road bikes for more than just racing, and the fork speaks to those folks. It’s a durable, light and responsive fork, that just looks downright awesome.” says Chris Chance, owner of Fat Chance. “ It’s been a pleasure working with Igleheart again. We have a great history and he has been making forks for my bikes for decades.”
Yo Eddy! Road Forks are available for purchase either a la carte, or with a Slim Chance Road Frame. The forks will be offered in black, as well as a variety of single color options. Contact Fat Chance for full custom paint offerings. While the fork was designed to work as a frameset with the Slim Chance, the Yo Eddy Road Fork is a great upgrade for any bike.
The Tout Terrain brand is really built around the open road. The bikes and their designs have evolved from first-hand experience on long distance tours and expeditions. A big brother to the classic Silk Road model with 26-inch wheels, the Tanami has 29-inch mountain bike wheels and can fit up to a 2.0 tire for flotation and comfort on bad roads and gravel. Because of the taller wheels it’s only available in sizes large and extra large. Most Tout Terrain bikes are built to order to a customer’s specifications, but you occasionally see models like our test bike pre-configured in local bike shops.
The Tanami Xplore frame is built from good ol’ steel, like a touring bike should be, in this case Dedacciai chromoly. The rear rack is welded right into the frame and rated to 88 pounds. Since it’s likely to be subjected to heavy wear, the rack is made from stainless steel, as are the dropouts and all the braze-ons. The frameset also has standard dropouts, three bottle cage mounts and mid-fork eyelets.
As Americans we’re used to seeing drop bars on touring bikes, but in Europe it’s much more common to equip them with flat bars, a setup I prefer myself when running panniers. With the right grips and some bar end handles it’s easy to have a couple hand positions and control all that weight. Plus at touring speed it’s not like I’m in a big hurry anyway. I much prefer the upright comfort.
At the heart of the Tanami Xplore is of course the Pinion P.18 gearbox. Similar to a car or motorcycle gearbox, it houses most of the whizzy, toothy, spinning bits inside where they are protected from the elements. Tout Terrain has been building bikes around the internally geared Rohloff Speedhub for years, and the 18-speed Pinion is a natural extension of that indestructible ethos. It offers nearly all the benefits of a Rohloff hub, but with better weight distribution thanks to having the mass right at the bottom bracket. Tout Terrain also offers the standard Tanami model with the Speedhub.
Similar to a Rohloff, the Pinion is shifted with a dual cable system, so your shifting options are limited to the factory twist shifter. The twist shift design is perfect for a transmission like this, since it can shift to any gear at any time without stopping at the gears in-between. It can also shift while stopped, which is a feature I didn’t realize how much I loved until I used it. Each shift indexes with a nice thunk, and you can upshift to a harder gear even while pedaling hard. Downshifting, on the other hand, can sometimes get hung up. I found it a bit temperamental about having to lift off the pedal pressure just right to let it shift. It often occurred when transitioning from a flat or downhill up to a steep hill, which is exactly the worst time to get stuck in gear.
Once you get your pedal-pushing power transferred through the gearbox it’s delivered to the special rear cog via a Gates Carbon Belt Drive. The belt is a perfect companion to the gearbox, since it needs virtually zero maintenance and is built to last a long, long time. It runs smoothly and quietly, and I appreciated not having worry about getting my pants leg stained from grease too. One downside to the belt drive: If you are on tour in the middle of nowhere and have a problem with it, you’re likely going to be stuck there for a few days until the UPS carrier arrives with a replacement. A traditional bike chain can be found at any bike shop and even some big-box stores.
At first I wasn’t sure how the proper tension was achieved on the belt, but then I realized that the entire Pinion gearbox itself pivots slightly to take up the slack. Removing the rear wheel from the vertical dropouts is simple, and you’re guaranteed the same belt tension when you reinstall it. Both front and rear wheels use traditional quick release skewers.
At this price you better expect to get some bells and whistles on the Tanami, and it includes the dynamo hub that powers an included headlight. In fact, the dynamo cable routes right through the fork leg for a clean look. Tout Terrain offers a handful of other dynamo options to suit your needs too, including integrated USB charging.
What I’d really love to see is a center stand. The U.S. distributor of Tout Terrain, Cycle Monkey, included a carbon fiber UpStand, which attaches to a small tab at your rear hub and detaches to store on the seat tube. While it worked great when the bike was empty, a pair of full panniers were too much for its 25 gram tube. A few cool features are found hidden near the headset: a pair of bumper tabs welded into the head tube prevent the handlebars from rotating more than 90 degrees in either direction, and a small steering lock holds them in place while you’re loading and unloading the bike.
On the road the Tanami feels much like, well, a hybrid. Like many stout steel bikes, it has a smooth and planted feeling on the road. Even loaded down for a 100 mile mini-tour it never felt wobbly or uneasy. The integrated steel rack plays a big part in that.
Quirks aside the Pinion is a great system that I have no doubt would stand up to some serious abuse. Tout Terrain markets itself as a “buy it once, buy it for life” kind of brand, and with an eye-bulging price tag it’s not likely you’d be buying anything else quickly after. While the Tanami has more than enough pedigree to tackle an around-the-world expedition, I have to wonder how its lack of sex appeal will draw in American audiences. After all, our country has never been quick to embrace practicality. It’s a flawless execution of a vision, but like everything in life, you have to pay for what you get.
Sizes: L, XL (tested)
Weight: 36.5 lbs with pedals
John Koutrouba is a “refugee from the corporate world.” Before he became a framebuilder, he managed a company that had grown from 40 to 400 employees. He left that gig, moved to Salt Lake City with his family, and took a long, hard look at himself and what he wanted to do. As he searched for a new job, he asked himself what it is he would do if he could do anything he wanted. He realized that the answer was building bicycles.
“Getting into framebuilding is shockingly easy,” Koutrouba says. “It’s having the conversation with your wife that starts with ‘I’d like to try something a little different this time’ that is hard.” He found a local framebuilder and picked his brain, enrolled in the United Bicycle Institute (UBI) and learned the basics, and now builds bikes with a passion that came across even through email.
“Every bike seems like the result of magic,” he says. “How many people get to go to work and do actual magic every day?”
At Sixth Law Cycles, Koutrouba’s goal is to solve problems for people. “From my perspective, everyone should ride a bike every day,” he states. “However, something keeps most of us from doing that.” He specializes in finding solutions to the common problems and excuses that stop people from cycling, such as fit and sizing, fitness level, or the idea that cycling is too much of a hassle.
“My value is not in creating a thing, but in moving you through the process of figuring out what it is you need, and then providing something that meets that need,” says Koutrouba. He tries to listen closely to his customers, and throws an unexpected, personal touch into every bike. “On my last bike, it was as simple as some really huge, wide handlebars,” he mentions. “When my customer saw the bike, he knew I had been listening.”
It’s this connection that sets Sixth Law apart from mass market companies, and makes small framebuilders like Koutrouba so special.
He mainly builds in steel, because it’s forgiving, easy to work with, and he can fix almost any mistake he makes along the way. If that doesn’t work out, at least steel is cheap, so it is an affordable material for experimentation and trying new things. “And so far at least,” says Koutrouba, “I haven’t run into a problem that I can’t solve with it. I suppose I haven’t run into anyone who doesn’t ride his bike because it isn’t light enough yet.”
I asked him if he has a favorite bike that he’s built, and he told me it’s always his most recent. “The feeling of amazement is always freshest on the last bike out the door. And frankly, I’m getting better with each new bike. My last bike is quite literally the best I’ve ever done at this point.”
This eagerness to learn and grow has allowed Koutrouba to add many new skills to his talent stack along with framebuilding. In addition to bicycles, he also works with people on a variety of different custom fabrication projects, such as outdoor furniture, bike racks, and even a sidecar for a motorized wheelchair to allow an aging dog to cruise around with its owner.
Eventually, his dream is to hire employees and put more people to work building bicycles. While it’s a far-off ambition at the moment, he might be closer than he thinks. While his bikes certainly use plenty of mass-produced parts, he uses local talent whenever possible. His bike for NAHBS, for instance, is a collaboration involving no fewer than six people he knows personally. “I can’t think of anything I own that involves me that deeply in a real community,” he says.
Yeah, bikes tend to do that.
If you’re headed to NAHBS this year, be sure to check out Sixth Law Cycles at the New Builder Table!
The North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS) is coming up next weekend, March 10-12. We’ve been taking a look at some of the new up-and-coming builders that will be at the event this year in a series of preview articles. In Part 1, we saw bikes from Australia and Russia, and in Part 2, we learned about the students of the Cal Poly Frame Builders club. In this NAHBS preview edition, we focus on a couple of the builders who are local to the Salt Lake City area, home of this years show.
Salt Air Cycles, based out of Salt Lake City, Utah, was founded in 2014 by Matthew Nelson. His background is in architecture, but he caught the framebuilding bug about 7 years ago as an avid mountain biker and bike commuter. In 2011, he took a course at the United Bicycle Institute (UBI), and walked away with his first creation, a fillet-brazed steel cyclocross frame, and the motivation to build more.
While becoming involved in the local racing scene, he honed his framebuilding craft, producing handmade bikes for his friends and family. He was still working full-time as an architect when he started Salt Air Cycles, but his brand quickly gained a small, loyal following. Soon after, he was able to leave his architecture job and pursue framebuilding full-time. He also sponsored a local cyclocross team that rides his lugged steel bikes.
Nelson builds almost any type of bike, except tandems and full suspension. “I take a lot of pride in being a versatile builder. As long as it’s steel, I’ll make it,” he says. Most of the bikes he currently makes are fillet-brazed, while the remainder are lugged construction. They’re “new world bikes, made the traditional way,” each cut by a saw and file, and assembled with a torch. He puts a lot of attention and detail into each frame, so that when it leaves his shop, it not only meets his standards, but also every expectation of the customer.
“My favorite bike is whichever one I happen to be working on in the present,” says Nelson. “Thus far, it’s been an incredible ride, with enough inspiration and gratification to fuel further growth of the brand.”
Until 2013, Ken “KC” Cerreta was enlisted in the United States Air Force as an aircraft machinist and welder for nine years. In 2013, he transitioned from the enlisted corps to the officer corps and is now a program manager who leads large scale Air Force acquisitions and manages development projects. It didn’t take long before he missed working with his hands. An avid cyclist, KC began his start as a frame builder in 2014 after he attended the North American Handmade Bicycle Show as a spectator. Having a background in machining and welding he researched what it would take to build a bicycle frame and by the end of 2014, his first frame was complete.
Now a Captain in the Air Force currently working on the F-16 aircraft and sole owner of Cerreta Cycles, KC continues to build wherever he is stationed, which is currently at Hill Air Force Base, just north of Salt Lake City. He specializes in fillet brazed steel frames and hopes to grow Cerreta Cycles to the point where it can become a full time profession.
“One aspect of why I feel builds distinguish myself from other builders is the attention to detail each frame receives,” says KC. “With a history of fabricating aircraft parts where the tolerances are very small, my frames are looked at the same way. To me, there is no room for error and that is how I approach each build.”
If you’re headed to NAHBS, be sure to stop by the New Builders Tables and give these guys some love. Also be sure to check out the rest of our NAHBS preview content, or take a look back in time to our coverage of the event from previous years.Tweet Print
Looking for the perfect bike that provides the freedom to roam aimlessly regardless of the terrain ahead? Look no further, the Ritchey Break-Away Ascent may be your answer. It’s exactly what a bike should be, a do-all, go anywhere means for adventure. This steel-framed beauty relegates both one trick ponies and niche categories.
The heart and soul to the Break-Away Ascent is the custom, lightweight Ritchey Logic TIG-welded tubing paired with a relaxed geometry and ability to run up 700×40 mm or 27.5×2.1 inch tires.
Add the travel-friendly break-away compression system and you have yourself a versatile bike that’s capable of traveling the world with you as your checked luggage.
The Ritchey Break-Away Ascent is available to the masses only as a frameset, with an included soft-sided travel bag for $1,650. For testing purposes, ours arrived loaded with Ritchey WCS bits including the new VentureMax adventure drop bar, 27.5×2.1 Shield tires mounted on Vantage II wheels, a SRAM Force 2×11 drivetrain, and BB7 mechanical disc brakes.
The frame utilizes simple technology such as the highly-praised, threaded 68 mm bottom bracket, 27.2 mm seatpost and a post-mount disc brake mount. All of these should be easily sourced in any bike shop, letting you to get back on your journey quickly and with ease should any mechanicals derail you.
Sounds too good to be true, right? Check out our full review of this steel framed travel companion in the upcoming issue of Bicycle Times #46. Subscribe now so that you don’t miss out on an issue!Tweet Print
Velo Cult bike shop, now located in Portland, Oregon, is more than just a place to buy bikes and accessories. It’s also a popular tavern, repair service (featuring guaranteed 24-hour turnaround on tune-ups), music venue, and de facto meeting place in town for many bike-related events and meetings. Now, it’s adding it’s own line of custom bikes to the showroom floor, with two options for anyone seeking a very special ride of their own.
The Velo Cult Randonneur is a traditional long-distance road bike designed with input from the shop and built by Mark Nobilette in Longmont, Colorado. The lugged steel construction can be mated to all sorts of build options, with new or old components. Each bike is made to order, with full custom geometry, paint and detailing. Built around 650b wheels and 42 mm tires with fenders, the bike is designed to deliver a comfortable ride over any surface.
VC Mosaic Custom
Velo Cult has also partnered with Mosaic Cycles in Boulder, Colorado, to build custom steel and titanium frames with special touches unique to the shop bikes. Starting with a blank slate, customers will be able to build their own made-to-measure dream bike from scratch.
If you’re interested in ordering either bike, give a shout to Velo Cult to get the process started. Pricing and turnaround time will vary greatly depending on the customer’s desires and specifications.
The shop is high, high up in the hills above Portland. There is no sign marking the gravel driveway—I missed it quite a few times—and the garage isn’t visible from the road. Beneath a cathedral of Douglas fir, amidst sea of ferns, it recalls a land before time.
It seems a fitting location to built titanium bicycles, the material having come and gone in and out of fashion countless times over the years. Here Dave Levy builds Ti Cycles, an eclectic brand of stock, custom and absolutely wild show bikes (mostly) all made from titanium. Cargo bikes, tandem, mini-velos, full-suspension fat bikes… if you can think of it chances are Levy has built one. He’s also now the co-owner of REN Cycles, a sister brand of stock-size titanium bikes.
This year Ti Cycles celebrates its 25th anniversary so I paid a visit to the shop to see some of the more unique creations at hand.
Click on the magnifying glass to see full-size images.
Rivendell Bicycle Works has been keeping steel real since 1994. It’s not about nostalgia or retrogrouchiness, but a true belief in the benefits and beauty of lugged steel and quality, sustainable component choices. This comes not just from appreciating the fine lugs and paint, but in knowing that your frame—and its components—will remain serviceable and repairable for many years.
Rivendell is also about fit, comfortable fit; with a more upright position than your average racer-shaped bike, but also with varying wheel sizes to better fit the full variety of humans.
Rivendell’s range starts with the road-only Roadeo and progresses through the line—each bike with a bit stronger tubing, more tire clearance and thus becoming more dirt-worthy, until you arrive at the Hunqapillar, the strongest and most fat-tire worthy of the gang. All Rivendells include braze-ons for maximum versatility, and the Hunq has three bottle mounts, front and rear rack, fender and fork low-rider braze-ons. There’s even a pump peg under the top tube, plus a kickstand plate on the chainstays for extra stability when parked.
My interest in this bike sprung from over a decade of riding my Rivendell Atlantis, a bike that has seen many a week-long tour and quite a bit of dirt. But I have become interested in something even more robust. That thought process pointed me to the Hunqapillar with its Diagatube, that extra tube you see in the photos. It adds strength and stiffness to the 58 and 62cm frames. Plus, for lug counters there are two more than any bike without a Diagatube. That’s two more lugs that Rivendell had to invest in castings for, and two more you get to look at.
The stock Rivendell component kit is based on functionality, serviceability, and longevity, with less emphasis on gram-counting. Highlighting this is a selection of parts from Nitto of Japan. Granted, handlebars, stems and seatposts are not usually singled out like this, but Nitto offers many bar and stems that provide a wide range of fit with top-notch finish, a pleasure to behold for many years.
For drivetrain, Rivendell prefers mid-range Shimano stuff. Deore rear derailleur, Claris front, and Dura-Ace for the bar-end shifters. Let’s not spend too much time and money whittling the gram count, but instead pay attention to functional, long-lasting stuff. The cranks are from Sugino of Japan, another forged beauty fitting right in with the Nitto stuff.
Wheel-wise, Rivendell has been working with with Velocity USA and is now offering their 36-hole Sport hubs laced three cross to Dyad or (Rivendell designed) Atlas rims, topped with Schwalbe’s Marathon 700×50 tires, although I got the 50mm Big Bens as an upgrade.
For handlebars, I selected the Nitto Bullmoose Bosco with cork grips. The bullmoose style has been around since the early 1980s, and I was ripe to try them. I chose Paul Thumbies for old-school mountain bike-style shifting.
Two thoughts came to mind on my first shakedown ride. First, “finally a bike that fits”. My 60 cm Atlantis was purchased a decade ago when I was only a mountain biker. I had thought the bike would be easier to handle on trails. True, but getting on this 62 cm Hunq has been a real eye-opener, giving me more space and opening my chest up for better breathing, especially when climbing.
But while totally in love with the Bosco handlebars we had originally picked, I took the liberty of switching them out for Albatross bars from my Atlantis to get my position a little more forward. For touring the Albatross bars can’t be beat, as they provide a wide range of hand positions. Most of the time I ride pretty upright, but it’s easy to slide the hands forward for stand-up climbing. If only they had a little less sweep, but Nitto is unable to bend their bars in the way I’d ultimately want them.
My first voyage was a weekend camping trip, so I installed a Pass and Stow platform rack on the front and a Bruce Gordon on the rear. Both are made in California: one in Oakland, the other in Petaluma. Two great locally made racks, baby.
My first major ride was down a local San Francisco Bay path for a weekend of camping, which was mostly flat so I didn’t concern myself with how much I was carrying: four panniers, plus a bag on top of the Pass and Stow, due to large amounts of beverages and musical instruments. And a kite. The Hunq handled this well as I pushed it to its limits. Super solid, but not quite as stiff as a Surly Karate Monkey with its much larger down tube and smaller triangle.
In daily use with varying loads the Hunq was bulletproof. I would sneer at railroad ballast, curbs, drops, and most everything else. Its versatility is enhanced by the many positions of the Albatross bar, from weight-forward climbing to upright cruising.
My final test ride was on Groundhog Day, a 14-hour day including 40 miles of pave and 20 miles of dirt, some of the rutty, fire road variety found in the Marin headlands. This is where the touring and mountain bike personalities of the bike came to fruition. I had plenty of gears and traction on the way up the hills, and strength and stability and fat tires to conquer the ruts at speed on the way down. I did hanker for disk brakes on a couple of steep technical occasions, but I’m happy with the Shimano cantilevers 90 percent of the time.
The $2,000 frameset is made in Wisconsin, and includes frame, fork and FSA headset. You can get a standard build kit for an additional $1,350, sans pedals, seatpost and saddle. Mix and match as you wish from Rivendell component choices; look to spend between $3,600 and $4,600 on a complete Hunqapillar. Lead time is typically four months, but at any given time Rivendell may have your bike in stock. A huge bonus is that your bike will be lovingly built by the folks at the home office in Walnut Creek, California (well worth a visit if you’re in the ‘hood).
Carrying things has become very important to me, as well as a solid ride. And I want to run as fat a tire as possible, with or with out fenders. I want to hit the dirt. I want to tour. The Hunqapillar does it all quite well. It looks great while doing it. It attracts attention as well. And yes it is more of an investment than your average bike. But you wouldn’t be reading this if you wanted an average bike.
- Price: $2,000 (frame, fork, headset); $3,600 and up (complete)
- Sizes: 48, 51, 54, 58, 62cm (tested)
Editor’s note: This review originally appeared in Issue #34 of Bicycle Times. To make sure you never miss a product review, order a subscription and you’ll be ready for the everyday cycling adventure.
Editor’s note: Here at Bicycle Times we are as mindful of price as you are. So we gathered together a group of six very diverse bikes to showcase what you can find right now at the $1,000 price point. See our introduction here.
Way back in issue #2, I reviewed the Raleigh Clubman (with rim brakes). I said “The Clubman departs from the go-fast focus with some well thought out details intended for users with practical leanings.” For 2015 Raleigh takes the Clubman to the next level with disc brakes.
In our group of $1,000 bikes, The Clubman Disc stands out with a steel frame, classic looks, and the excellent 10 speed Shimano Tiagra group, a mid-level drivetrain that continues to impress me.
The steel frame uses a modern sloping top tube and hooded dropouts. These “Wright” or “Breezer” style dropouts minimize the amount of flat metal plate at the highly stressed axle clamping zones, and maximize the strong, stiff and light tubing. This is a good things for frame stiffness, strength and longevity, at least that’s what Joe Breeze told me a few years ago, and I think Joe Breeze is a trustworthy place to get my frame building technology knowledge.
The saddle pictured is not the stock seat. That is actually the fourth saddle that has been on this bike; the stock microsuede saddle, a WTB Vigo, a Selle Anatomica, and this Fyxation leather saddle. The WTB didn’t match the aesthetic at all, but it was a wise choice for my break in ride. That ride started at 11 P.M., ended the next evening around 8 P.M., and included about 175 miles of rain, dark, sleet, muddy rail trail, brand new pavement and gastrointestinal issues. It was quite an introduction.
A ride like that is a solid way to get a feel for a bike, and so far, the Clubman could be best described and friendly, competent and quiet. The micro-knobby Kenda Karvs were ideal for the mix of pavement and crushed limestone, and the steel frame and upright position kept me rolling along through bad weather and rough roads.
Stay tuned for the full review in our next issue, Bicycle Times #33, due in early February. Subscribe now to get it delivered to your mailbox or favorite electronic device.
What am I looking for in my next bike? I’m sticking with steel. May as well be beautiful lugged steel. Carrying things has become very important to me, as well as a solid ride. And I want to run as fat a tire as possible, with or with out fenders. I want to hit the dirt. And trails. And I want to tour. I’m a big one and I want a bike that fits. This Rivendell Hunqapillar could be the next big thing for me.
Check out the head badge. Formidable, like the Wooley Mammouth represented on it.
A Bullmoose Bosco bar. I’ve wanted a bullmoose bar since Nineteen-Eighty-Something, and now I am riding one. Yes it is overbuilt.
The Hunqapillar is big. And the 58 and 62cm sizes have an extra “Diagatube” tube for strength and stiffness and gawk factor. And it is made in America.
I will not be afraid of dirt with clearance for 58mm tires. Plenty of braze-ons, too.
Did I say it was a wooley mammoth of a bicycle?
Here’s a view of the Bullmoose Bosco Bar. Plenty of places to mount lights and stuff. But the rise might be too much for even me. We shall see after I establish where the shift levers are going to go. I might move them lower or flip them right-side-up so I can get a hand position choices.
You like lugs? The Hunqapillar has more lugs. Bonus lugs! And gorgeous paint! Plus Shimano cantilevers and 2-inch Schwalbe Big Ben tires and a sweet fork crown.
A Hunqapillar frame will set you back $2,000. Given steel’s longevity and repairability, this bike should be around a long time. The Standard build kit runs $1,340.
Here’s a standard build includes. All stuff that will function a long time.
- Cromo Albatross Handlebar
- Nitto Tallux 11cm Stem
- Shimano MTB brake levers
- Miesha’s Portuguese Cork Grips
- Shimano Dura-Ace 9-speed bar end shifters
- Tektro CR720 Cantis
- Sugino XD2 172.5mm Crank
- Velocity made 36h Wheelset
- Schwalbe Marathon 700×50 Tires (x2)
- Tubes (x2)
- Shimano Claris Triple Front Derailer
- Shimano Deore Rear Derailer
- Tange or Shimano cartridge bottom bracket
- Tange or FSA headset (our choice depending on availability)
- 9sp 11-34 cassette
- 9sp Chain
Not included in the kit, so you choose your own:
- Seat post (Recommended: Nitto Crystal Fellow)
- Fender Installation Labor (if applicable)