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.

One Bike (to Rule Them All)

There is a difference between a fad and a trend. A fad is an idea that pops up, becomes popular and then disappears after folks figure out it’s not as great as it first seemed. A trend is a gradual change in the way things are done. It can be hard to distinguish fads from trends. We struggle with this all the time. As builders of our own bikes, we can’t just be concerned with whether something is popular at the moment, we have to think through how to produce it, whether the resulting product is more valuable to our riders than the ones we already make, and whether developing the fixturing will be worthwhile over a period of years.

Recent seasons have  produced some interesting trends, for example the growing interest in mixed-terrain (or “gravel”) bikes and on the mountain side of things, the emergence of the 650b (or 27.5) wheel size. These are both good trends for us, because, as custom builders, we already have all the capabilities we need to produce them. What looks like fragmentation in the market, the splintering of categories, actually looks to us like a convergence of our skills with what the market wants.

So, while other bike companies scramble to bring new products to market and add pages to their brochures to cover the latest trends, we’re actually seeing a lot of our products merging together as riders get better and better at knowing exactly what they want from their bike and their riding.

Of course, we’re still building straight ahead road and mountain bikes, but we’re also building an awful lot of bikes that blur the lines between pure road and pure mountain, as riders seek one bike to meet a lot of different needs. These can be road-oriented bikes (read: drop bars) with medium-reach road calipers to fit wider tires and/or fenders, so the resulting bike can spend some time off pavement and also work as an effective commuter in bad weather, or they can be more trail oriented bikes with cyclocross forks, wide tire clearance and disc brakes. Some will take flat bars, like a traditional mountain bikes, and some will have commuter type bars, flat or sweeping, but with multiple hand positions.

We are building these One Bikes out of our Axioms, our Expats, our Evergreens and our Solas.

Over and over we see riders working on that single solution , and the bikes that come out are not only some of the most everyday useful we have produced, but also some of the most ingeniously multi-functional. They take advantage of all the things we are able to add to a frame design, all the component compatibility, to do more cool stuff on two wheels. Watch this space for two upcoming projects that will feature exactly this sort of do-everything bike.

 

On the Road: Zand Martin Cycling the Kazakh Steppe

It’s a long time since Zand Martin came to pick up his Expat S and laid all his Russian military maps on the floor in our showroom to show us what he had planned. Over the course of the expedition (see here, here, here, here, here and here), we saw things go awry and askew as some of those maps failed to reflect a workable reality for Zand and his expedition partner. And yet, they managed to see and document so many of Central Asia’s beautiful, seldom-seen locales, and we couldn’t have enjoyed seeing those landscapes more, one of our bikes a tool that helped bring back those views.

Our On the Road series is about showcasing what riders are doing with our bikes out in the world. Zand is a different kind of rider, a true adventurer and explorer, and we count ourselves lucky to be able to share his stories with you here.

More of Zand’s lovely photos and prose below:

The road has no outlet. There is no bridge, and no ferry. The map is wrong, again. We are crushed, again. We followed the main road towards Ust-Kamenogorsk as our map had it, along the shores of the great reservoir of Bukhatarmskoye. But twenty-five kilometers from anywhere, the road turns to dirt and a branch drops to a languid shore and a rusted, abandoned ferry dock. The family smoking cigarettes on the dock offers us candy and cabbage rolls, and confirms our suspicions, pointing north to the road. “Nyet parom, nyet most,” no ferry, no bridge between here and Ust-Kamenogorsk, Oskemen in Kazakh. They indicate a barge in the lake, the ferry coming to take them west across to a road that leads to Samara. It is 240 kilometers to our railhead by that route, and when the boat docks and disgorges a small truck and two Ladas, we reluctantly wheel our bikes on board.

We had taken a leisurely lunch, knowing we would camp the night by the reservoir and then have an easy morning into Ust. There, we would reach the railhead and the end of our human-powered journey around the Altai. We were fifty kilometers away, after thousands. Moments before we were exultant, our ending close and within the easy reach of a morning’s ride. Now, we are again cast into uncertainty and high challenge. We sullenly eat crackers on a bench by the railing. A trio of weathered Russian and Kazakh men loosen the steel cable loops on the ship-side bollards, and the Odessa slips out of the dock into the narrow reservoir.

We had spent almost two weeks in the watershed, both in China, the mountains along the Austrian Road, and down in the rolling Kazakh steppe along the rivers draining to the Irtysh. Leafy villages dotted our route through the grasslands, simple settlements following a comfortable pattern: spread a handful of shops and markets along the main road, and cluster log and concrete brick houses around it with gardens and hayricks. Every town has a mosque built since the fall of the Soviet Union, often including Timurid and Persian elements like blue tile domes and large brick arched entrances. They are village affairs, humble, and tell the story of Islamic revival in Kazakhstan, encouraged from within the country, and from without.

We relish the sparse green of the villages, and eat ice creams on rickety benches while schoolchildren ask us our name and giggle at our strange accents. In Russian-influenced and settled Kazakhstan, we added cheese and butter back into our diet, along with tomato sauce and real ice cream bars. The wind, unfortunately, continued to plague us until the asphalt ran out on the outskirts of Terekty, and that new challenge gave us a reprieve until we finished the Austrian Road and returned to sealed roads. There, we pass between the mountain walls headed west. North, Siberia begins, while south, whence we came, Central Asia stretches in desert, and glacier. The wind assaulted us, again. We moved west through verdant pasture, crawling into a forty knot headwind for the tenth day. Our first night camping beyond the Austrian Road, we hide behind poplars and wake to several inches of snow. At the latitude of Seattle and the elevation of Pittsburgh.

As we near the far shore, the captain waves us up two stories to the wheel house. The sparse bridge holds a few notebooks, a throttle marked in stenciled Cyrillic, and a great wooden ship’s wheel. He shows us the controls, and jots down distances to our next town: seventy kilometers. We dock as the sun drops, and move a few kilometers on to a rise above the lake. We set tents, boil water, and settle in to our disappointment and our well-exercised muscle of moving on, laughing, and planning. In the last light, two Kazakh horsemen wander by from work in the hills along the lake. We chat, and before leaving one dismounts and urges me into the saddle. Reminiscent of childhood pony rides, the second shepherd holds my reins and we ring camp at a trot.

Of course, there’s more worth reading and seeing on Zand’s expedition blog. Check it out.