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The Soul of a New (Road) Machine

We were riding along side-by-side when I glanced over and noticed Dan scrutinizing my bike. “What?” I said. There was a long pause. He smiled. “Are you happy with the way that bike fits?” he answered.

And that’s how it happens, a new bike.

Over pizza (and beer) at the end of the ride, Dan is already designing. “I’d bring your bars up and back. We’ll do a more compact frame.” He goes on and on. He will change everything. I nod my head. You have to be open to all the ideas. You have to listen.

Two weeks later I write out the order, and it starts. Now Neil is involved. We add a pump peg to the frame, on paper. A pump peg is a good idea.

My order swirls around digitally. Dan and Neil confer. They ask me questions. They measure my old bike. A complete design emerges. Rob checks it. Rob changes it. And all along the way, in the office, we talk about components and paint schemes.

I walk out to the paint department and express an interest in matte gray. Jordan says he’s excited about matte red. He grabs tube samples for both colors, holds them together. My jaw drops. We talk about panels, about forks. I am dizzy, excited.

Now there is a design on my desk, on paper. I review it, trying to turn numbers into a 3D picture in my brain. Top tube angle jumps out at me. Chain stay length. There is a check box next to ‘Pump Peg.’ I am caught in two minds. The numbers in front of me are scary. They describe a new bike, one that is not only new to me, but unlike any bike I have owned before. This is what we do at Seven, though. We change and optimize. I sell this change every single day. I tell the story over and over, and now I am facing the truth of it for myself.

I decide to do what all of our customers do, trust in the people and process to turn out the best bike I will ever own. I have faith, but I am nervous.

Because it is the high season and even the bad economy has been kind to us, I have to wait. My folder goes into the build queue like anyone else’s would. I am an employee, but I am also a customer.

After an eternity, which is more like three weeks, Mike takes some lengths of titanium tubing and cuts them down to my size. They get butted and mitered and placed in a box with drop outs and freshly bent chain and seat stays. They get loaded into a frame jig and passed to Tim.

Tim is a master of his craft. What little I know about welding bicycle frames comes from Tim. In the moment, I am unaware that Tim will weld my frame, but later, when I walk out to the shop floor and see it hanging on the rack in Final Machining, I pick it up and look it over. The welds are as clean as any I’ve ever seen. I am actually stunned. I guess that Tim has been my torch-bearer and then I check the build sheet and see his name there.

Later he says, “Oh yeah. That was your frame. Man, that one came out clean and straight!” as if they all don’t. I am nonetheless awed and thrilled, and I wonder if I have the patience to wait for paint to be sprayed and dried.

It is at this point that my proximity to the process becomes a liability. I have given a number of tours of our factory to past and future customers. Clearly, part of the charm, part of the value, of working with Seven is knowing that your bike is being built by craftspeople who have been doing what they do for the entirety of their careers. There is a romance to custom frame craft, and for those who have experienced or want to experience the pinnacle of that craft, pushing open the double doors at the back of our office is like gaining access to the dream factory.

And now I have to sit at my desk and answer my phone and go on about my business while a frame intended just for me passes from Tim to Matt to Jordan. I have to sit there while first the white and then the gray and finally the red gets sprayed on it. I must resist the urge to walk back and check on it. I must stay out of the way.

When Jordan comes to my desk and says, “It’s done,” I am not sure how to respond. Do I jump up? Do I play cool? I jump. I do not run. I jog. This feels like self control.

He hasn’t yet applied the matte clear, which will neutralize the glossiness and turn down the volume on they gray/red contrast. It is still a striking color combination. I wonder if I can live up to it.

And then of course, the bike has to get built. Dan and Neil help me cut fork and press headset. Parts get bolted on. Housing and cable get cut and threaded. Brakes get adjusted and then readjusted. Cables stretched. Derailleurs aligned and trimmed and set.

I ride it around the parking lot to get a basic feel for completeness and fit. The rubber is finally meeting the road, and already they are hitting it off. The first thing that strikes me is that it feels fundamentally different than my previous bike, but also fits in a way that is instantly comfortable. This is a little mind-blowing.

My first long road ride bears out every decision made up to that point. The bike is magic. I am both faster and more comfortable. The bike is more stable. It is stiffer. How all this happens simultaneously is the stuff of alchemy. This is what happens when you listen to other people’s ideas and put faith in the process.

I work here. I am biased. It is embarrassing though to know how it all works, to understand the process and know the people and be a part of the team that makes this happen for customers all day every day and still have your mind blown when it happens for you.

I am riding this bike with a stupid grin on my face, mostly because it is that good, but also because it reinforces the stories I tell our customers every day. It bears out Seven’s principles, and it proves to me that when you build someone (even yourself) a great bike, it can transport them back to that very first moment when they rode for the first time. That I could be so involved in the process and work on it with my friends only makes it that much more special.

- John L.

 

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