Lands of Lost Borders – A Journey on the Silk Road

We are lucky. We know it. All day, every day, we work with people on bikes they will do amazing things with, and sometimes, as we found out recently, they’ll even write books about those things.

Longtime followers of this blog will possibly remember the Cycling Silk Project, undertaken by Kate Harris and Melissa Yule in 2011, when, in their own words they, “lurched off the European shore of Istanbul, Turkey with overburdened bikes and quaking legs. Just a few days ago, in late October, we pedaled into Leh, a small city barnacled onto the Himalayan mountains in northern India. In the months between, we consumed roughly 10,000 packs of instant noodles to fuel nearly 10,000 km of riding, polishing our souls on roads rough as pumice on this pilgrimage to the Silk Road’s wildest mountains and deserts.”

We got a copy of the book in the mail recently, and it was nice to walk back down memory lane and hear an expanded version of a story we followed closely as it was going on. We were enormously proud to build the bikes Kate and Mel rode, a pair of Expat S off-road touring machines. These bikes played into our thinking as we evolved designs of the early Evergreens, so they, and this project, were highly inspiring and influential for us.

The book is available now.  We recommend it highly.

Joe’s Expat SL

Here is a do-everything touring machine we built for Joe with our friends at Spokes, Etc. in Alexandria, VA. This Expat SL incorporate S&S couplings, front and rear rack & fender mounts, a kickstand, Rohloff belt drive, generator hub, extra water bottle mount and a pump peg. We like this build because it really demonstrates the extent to which a rider can personalize a Seven to produce what is, for them, the ultimate bike for the purpose (or many purposes).

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Photos by Mike Gregerson

Tom’s Scarlet Expat SL

Tom loves this bike. Even if he didn’t tell us so in so many words, he wrote this about it:

Scarlet Seven is a fully custom touring bicycle assembled by Ride Studio Cafe, Lexington MA. Scarlet was born on 27 September 2015. Scarlet has a Seven Cycles titanium Expat SL frame and a steel Waterford Uni-fork. Scarlet has Shimano Ultegra hydraulic disc brakes and Di2 gear shifting with 36:46 chain rings and 11:32 cassette. Scarlet also has a Schmidt SON Deluxe SL Disc dynamo electric hub, a Schmidt Edelux II headlight and Busch & Muller Toplight Line Plus taillight. Scarlet has a Tubus Tara front rack and a Tubus Cosmo rear rack on which Ortieb Front-Roller Classic and Back-Roller Classic panniers ride. Scarlet is a great bike for touring.

Tom also takes great photos. Here are just a few:

20151115. Scarlet Seven at Arnold Arboretum, Boston MA.

20151004. Scarlet Seven in front of Minuteman Statue in Lexington MA.

Going to the Woods

7050643843_401b3e8d9c_zWe’ve already talked about Going Up, Going Far and Going Fast.  Going to the Woods is another thing we like to do, riding the jeep tracks and trails that crisscross our New England forests. We design bikes to go there in a few different ways.

Two crucial variables for any woods-oriented bikes are traction and speed. How will we keep the wheels on the ground, and how fast do we want them to move? Suspension is an option with our classic NE hardtail mountain bikes, the Solas and 622M SLX. They’re built to be fast over chattery, heavily-rooted ground and to climb the short, steep pitches we find all over. The Ti chainstays on these bikes act as de facto suspension systems, effectively keep the rear tire planted on the ground and rolling forward. For dirt road bikes, we can narrow the tires and build around a rigid fork, which will speed things up on less technical terrain.

b9325f7471c811e19e4a12313813ffc0_7Another key question is, how much ground are we trying to cover? Are typical rides of approximately the same length, as with a cross country race bike, or do they vary wildly, with marathon trail sessions coming as often as possible. Those two bikes differ geometrically, one built for agility and speed, the other for comfort and stability. We can build them as traditional trail bikes, or with rack mounts for bike-packing. Geometries can get more relaxed or more aggressive.

We also send our Evergreens and Expats to the trees. The Evergreens are designed to tackle mixed-terrain, some road, some dirt. The Expats are touring bikes. As with the other types of bikes we design, finding the balance points is key to delivering the right bike. Going to the Woods can add as many or more different variables than the bikes we’ve discussed in previous pieces, so working through all the basic questions is integral to the process.

 

 

Going Far

Last week we talked about Going Up, the process of designing a climbing bike. This week we look at what goes into a long distance bike, which might be a century bike, a touring bike or might be a full-blown randonneuring machine. We build these on our Axiom platform or our Expat platform typically, but as with everything we do, it’s custom, so the features are more important than the model name.

four-season-expat-slThese sorts of bikes usually have comfort as their primary design goal. Performance remains important, so drivetrain stiffness is still desirable, but one of the keys to performing over long distances and after many, many hours in the saddle is comfort.

Comfort in this regard isn’t just about how the rider feels in the moment, but how fresh he or she can remain. Muscles that have not been pummeled by an overly stiff frame for eight hours are better able to sustain effort in the 9th and 10th hours of pedaling. There is the next day to consider as well. On multi-day tours, the need to wake up in the morning rested and recovered can be the difference between fun and misery.

randoNightTitanium is a particularly good material for long distance bikes, and our ability to refine this tubing for the individual rider means we can keep those riders fresh and comfortable according to their own preferences. The tube butting process consists of removing material along the length of the tube to make it strategically compliant. The more aggressively the tubes are butted, the more compliant the frame becomes, the better it soaks up chatter and impacts from the road. Steel also shares these properties, just at a slightly greater weight.

As with the climbing bike we discussed last week, there are a number of factors to balance, comfort and performance being the most obvious. Stability and handling are also critical to a good long distance bike, a more relaxed geometry, a longer wheelbase. You want to be able to ride hands free to rest hands and shoulders. You want good handling at low speed, even carrying a load, which brings us to features and options.

Touring bikes used to have cantilever brakes as a default, because they let you run a wider tire with a fender, but the advent of better medium reach fork/brake combinations and disc brakes have radically improved braking performance and given riders more options for bike set up. The touring triple has given way to the compact double crank, with wide range cassette to achieve the same gearing ratios. Rack and fender mounts are very popular on long distance bikes too, as are our custom racks, which can be built to fit the specific bags, panniers and lighting systems you want to run. Dyno hubs and front facing light mounts keep riders going into the night.

It is well-nigh impossible to get a great long-distance bike off the shelf. The unique attributes that keep a rider comfortable over long periods of time with the features and options and component choices that suit them make each of Seven’s “Go Far” bikes special.