Cover Model

The surprise wasn’t finding the latest issue of Bicycling Magazine in the mail, that’s like clockwork, but to find a Seven on the cover has everyone at the Seven factory abuzz.

Bicycling Magazine
On the cover!

If you look hard enough on page 63, you can make out the blurred lines of our Head of Production Matt O’Keefe and his wife Susi’s Seven Sola 007 SL tandem.  Susi, #547, stands in front of it.

Susi and her tandem.
Susi and her tandem.

But the surprises kept coming!  Our own Brad Smith, and his chiseled legs, can be found on page 65 standing in the Green River during the Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee.

photo 3
Brad tests the water.

 

Thanks to Bicycling Magazine for making our day.

Fit Werx – The Active Times’ Best Bike Shop in America

FW_Peabody

Being named the Best Bike Shop in America is quite an honor. Over a period of years, our friends at Fit Werx, in both their Waitsfield, VT and Peabody, MA locations, have established themselves as destination shops for riders looking for supremely well-fitted bikes. It is not at all surprising they were awarded this honor by The Active Times, who aims to be the world’s best source of authoritative, inspiring, enlightening content for living the active, adventurous life.

In their summary on Fit Werx, they say:

Though it’s not really close to much of anything, the original small Green Mountain shop has an outsized reputation.

We know that’s because Fit Werx brings expertise, professionalism and attention to detail to every bike they fit, design and sell. Read more here.

And congratulations to Fit Werx. We’re proud to work with you.

 

Peleton Magazine: Seven Mudhoney SL Custom

mudhoney-sl--peloton

I’m no traditionalist. I began racing on steel in toe clips, wearing something called a SkidLid. I suffered enough with heavy, flexible, uncomfortable equipment that I have very little nostalgia for it. I want carbon. Hell, I commute in carbon bikes with five figure price tags due to the nature of my work. So why was I on the phone with Seven Cycles?

Continue reading “Peleton Magazine: Seven Mudhoney SL Custom”

Red Kite Prayer: Seven Cycles 622 slx, Part I

Statement of bias: To the degree that I’m not impartial where Seven Cycles is concerned, I, like many other people, have admired the company since its launch. My affinity goes further than just a Facebook-deep “like.”

I’ve owned an Axiom for about as long as anyone has been able to own one. Mine is C0028. Back in 2010 I had it cut in half and S&S couplers installed to turn it into my travel bike, a purpose for which I’ve used it several times a year since. When I originally reviewed the Axiom I called the bike, “the best I’d ever ridden,” a statement I was able to stand behind for 10 years. They used that quote in marketing materials for nearly as many years and I don’t mind admitting to feeling some pride at seeing the way they put that quote to use.

Game Changer



I’ve wanted to revisit Seven for a review ever since they introduced the Odonata, a bike that changed the course of the industry back in 1997. Before the Odonata, there were no road bikes with titanium, aluminum or steel frames sporting carbon fiber seatstays. The Odonata was the first bike to substitute carbon fiber seatstays (and seat tube) for what would otherwise have been 100-percent titanium construction. Plenty of other bikes had mixed materials. Trek had helped popularize carbon fiber main triangles bonded to an aluminium rear triangle. But Seven turned that formula around, using lively titanium in the main triangle and then positioning carbon fiber in low-stress spots on the bike.

The influence of the Odonata cannot be overstated. It was introduced at the ’97 Interbike show and at the ’98 Interbike every company who wanted to be seen as contemporary had an aluminium, ti or steel bike (or all three) with a carbon fiber wishbone. That wishbone was a response to the Odonata and companies produced them like McDonald’s makes burgers for the simple fact that it worked. Just how we define ‘worked’ is something I’ll return to later.

Long before Seven ever existed, Merlin Metalworks had done some research to determine which areas of the bicycle flex the least and are subjected to the lowest load under riding forces. Their research led to the RSR, a frame that combined less-robust commercially pure titanium (known to the industry as CP) with the more commonly used 3Al/2.5V…

The Merlin RSR was an attempt by Merlin to offer a less-expensive frame without lowering their standards for welding or alignment. The bike wasn’t a success, at least not in the commercial sense, but it did teach Rob Vandermark a lasting lesson.

My old boss at Bicycle Guide, Garrett Lai, reviewed the RSR and said he’d pick the RSR over any other road bike Merlin produced ‘based on ride alone.’ After joining the staff, I had a chance to put a few miles in on the bike before it was sent back to Cambridge. It was a remarkable bike and unlike other ti bikes I’d ridden up to that point, it made me realize it was possible to make a ti road bike stiff enough to race.

So what the hell does the RSR have to do with the 622 slx? They are kissing cousins. To complete the connection, though, I have to go back to the Seven model called the Elium. The RSR and the Elium are nearly brothers. The Elium replaces the RSR’s CP ti tubes with carbon fiber ones; it features 3/2.5 tubing in the head tube, down tube and chainstays, and carbon fiber in the top tube, seat tube and seat stays. The 622 slx differs from the Elium in that it takes the carbon fiber usage to its logical conclusion. It is a six-carbon-tube frame: top tube, down tube, seat tube, seat stays and head tube. Only the chainstays remain titanium, partly for ride quality, partly for durability in the face of chain slap.

It’s worth noting that the Odonata had simple, blunt joints. To the degree that the bike was attractive (and I thought it was gorgeous), its beauty arose from its precision–the stack-of-dimes welds, the gap-free joints, the rich luster of the titanium tubes’ surface finish and the nearly iridescent look of the fiber-wound carbon fiber tubes. However, the 622 slx takes a page from its steel forebears by shaping the titanium lugs, giving them points like steel lugs would have. They even cut windows in two of the points to include the brand’s signature numeral 7.

However, I need to note that without the history of point shaping the way a guy like Peter Weigle has, there’s a certain flair that these points lack. Don’t get me wrong, this bike is gorgeous, front to back, but when I see lugs, I’ve been trained to look at the lines of the lugs, to watch how the points curve. The best among them have a certain geometric progression to them, starting shallow and then flairing out as they near the joint; it’s not a line, but a curve. There’s an angularity to the points and windows that doesn’t reflect the look of the most heralded steel lug work. It’s important to keep in mind that lug points weren’t just a triumph of aesthetic; they had a function, too. They were meant to distribute stress over a greater area and the swoopy curves were part of the effort to make sure that stress didn’t collect in some corner, so part of what my eye sees in a beautifully cut lug is artful engineering, defeating stress before it gains a foothold.

Having just written that, I’m aware that people have a right to wonder if I’ve got bowling balls for testes for criticizing the look of a Seven frame, but I know that had those points been shaped by the likes of Peter Weigle, Brian Baylis or Peter Johnson, they wouldn’t take quite that line. My gall notwithstanding, it’s an opportunity to make the frames even prettier. The particular workmanship required to shape said titanium points might be a nightmare, just not my nightmare, though.

Feedback Some years back a mechanical engineer friend of mine told me that if bike companies got smart, they wouldn’t need to use funky elastomers or even suspension to insulate a rider from vibration. He works in aerospace, where a common method of reducing vibration has been to change materials between point A and point B. Think of a seatpost. Imagine that seatpost is 100 percent carbon fiber. Vibrations will move up that post toward the clamp and the saddle. If you transition from carbon fiber to, say, titanium, a great deal of vibration will stop dead at the transition point. I’m simplifying here, but the point is that by mixing materials, you reduce vibration more than you can with a well-made carbon fiber frame. I have to add that modifier ‘well-made’ because while on paper a mixed-materials frame ought to eliminate more vibration than a full carbon frame, my experience is that there are carbon fiber frames out there that are as lifeless as a rubber glove. In those instances, part of the issue is that they don’t offer the same level of stiffness that most of us have come to expect from a top-shelf frame today. While the 622 slx attenuates vibration, I need to be clear that this frame is not lifeless. It’s far from that.

So when I wrote earlier that the Odonata ‘worked’ what I meant was that the amount of vibration at the saddle was less than many similar frames. For most riders, that translated to less lower back fatigue after three, four, five hours.

Even though the 622 slx appears to be an essentially carbon fiber bicycle, it’s very different from most other bikes on the market. The presence of the titanium lugs and chainstays means that a good deal of vibration that would ordinarily reach the rider doesn’t. It would be really easy to deride this bike as old tech. after all, Specialized and Trek both made something very similar to this bike. However, neither of them used carbon fiber tubes that were as stiff, strong and light, so it’s impossible to compare the ride quality. The Treks, of which I rode a few, were only slightly more lively than a cadaver. They were popular because it was a lot of bike for the money, not because they rode like a signal flare on methamphetamine.

Next up, Part II: the ride.

Switchback Magazine: Massachusetts Metal: Seven

Words: Ben Edwards
Images: Seven Cycles

 

Boston was home to the most famous metal worker in American history, a silversmith named Paul Revere. Fittingly, it’s also the home of a man who could be the most famous metal worker in cycling, Rob Vandermark. We say “could” because his name will not appear on the down tube of the frame.

Founder and president of Seven Cycles, Vandermark’s desire to work under a name that has many different meanings for many different people is an example of why Seven has been so successful. Rob, and the rest of the Seven Cycles team, build custom bikes with a customer-focused process. While this seems redundant—isn’t custom always customer focused?— it’s actually a refreshing change in the custom world. Custom seems to have been hijacked by enigmatic so-called gurus proud of five-year lead times or uber-hipsters that spend an inordinate amount of time on a head badge design. A comment by Vandermark truly highlights the differences: “You know, we don’t sell bikes, per se. I mean, we do, but there’s a lot more going on with a custom bike than just the frame.”

What Seven Cycles has succeeded in doing is creating a process that has collaboration at its core. Seven simply becomes a tool that allows riders to become their own custom builder.

“It’s a whole experience, and there are always new customers who are looking for a new, more intimate cycling experience,” Vandermark explained. “I hope we’ve found some success in the way we engage each rider, because we listen, because the resulting bike is so clearly a collaboration between the rider, Seven, and the retailer. These are all reasons that Seven has continuously grown. We answer an interest that some cyclists have to individualize their bikes.”

Vandermark’s journey, and the experiences that fostered the core ideals behind Seven Cycles, began in a typical place, the bike shop. As a young road racer working in a bike shop, Vandermark was immersed in the technichal side of the sport, “obsessed with the mechanical aspects of cycling” is how he puts it. When the mountain bike entered his life in the 80’s, Vandermark found his true racing passion, and it is a passion reflected in what may be Seven Cycles’ greatest achievement (but more about that later).

The transition from shop wrench to frame builder really took off when Vandermark was in college. By day he was studying sculpture, and during his free time his skill as a frame builder rapidly increased. While grounding his frame building passion in serious technical knowledge, Vandermark credits his sculpture background, a rarity in the engineering-focused world of bike design, as one of his greatest assets.

“I think there are two main ways my sculpture background affects the way I work with my hands, and I think in three dimensions. This is a bit of an old-school design approach rather than an engineering approach. I’m fascinated by engineering, and I’ve spent years learning about material properties, fatigue modes, and more. And, I grew up in the art world, so, I like to work on both the design side and the engineering side at Seven. While Seven definitely focuses on function over form, I try to sneak in some form once in a while. I believe that good design inherently addresses engineering requirements.

While collecting college credits, a call came that the frame building obsessed Vandermark could not ignore. Merlin Metalworks, the Ti pioneers, offered him a job. Vandermark dropped out of college and his hobby became his vocation. Merlin proved to be the ideal environment for his burgeoning talent.

“One of the really nice aspects about the early years at Merlin was that we were really encouraged to try new ideas,” Vandermark remembers. “If you were willing to be there and work, you could explore any concept. We would ride during the day during the day a lot of the time, and then get to work late and try out really bad ideas. It was just a very free-thinking, inspiring time to be building bikes. My entry into frame design was really just a function of some of the concept I was working on after hours coming to fruition and sometime making sense in the context of Merlin’s business philosophy and product line.”

As titanium became the most sought after bicycle material prior to carbon, Merlin experienced massive growth and Vandermark grew along with them. While he was their head of research and development, he still continued to experiment on the shop floor—a habit he has taken to Seven.

“Even now, at Seven, while I’m not building bikes, I am still out on the floor regularly, testing ideas, messing with materials. I love to try new ideas, and that means dirty hands. Really, if you’re going to follow your curiosity and your passion, you’re going to end up with dirty hands, right?”, says Vandermark.

As Merlin went through the ups and downs of the cycling business and multiple owners in rapid succession, Vandermark decided the time was right to move on. Along with the other founding members of Seven Cycles, Vandermark felt the lessons learned at Merlin could be applied to new production methods and allow them to create custom bikes on a huge scale. It’s proved to be true, Seven is the largest custom builder in the world. What were those lessons?

“Merlin gave me an opportunity to explore frame design and material science. I got an exposure to different production methods and innovative ideas. So many of the ideas I encountered at Merlin, maybe even if we didn’t put them into practice there, have had an impact on Seven. A few of the most influential lessons I took from Merlin included providing a lot of latitude and autonomy to experiment and fail, not taking advantage of employees’ love of cycling, and knowing that what was good yesterday is not enough today—nothing in the bike world is ever complete,” says Vandermark.

So how does the largest custom builder in the world keep the custom experience personal? On its surface it seems an oxymoron, but it comes from taking a very personal experience and simply multiplying the process. Whether they make a single bike or a thousand, each rider is treated the same way.

We are hearing their dreams, listening to their ideas. This is why process is so important really, so we can maintain that connection. Once you lose it, you’re just building bikes and trying to get people to buy them, rather than building the exact bike the rider wants, which is what we set out to do. That’s our obsession.”

Vandermark continues: “Each of us has a riding experience that is personal, unique, and extremely special to us. That is the most precious element of what we do. To build great bikes, we believe you have to access that experience, and we advise on design elements, but we hope the rider’s ideas and intents are clearly evident, too. We’ve designed our whole interview and design process to give the rider a voice, to allow us to capture the customer’s thoughts. If the rider’s ideas and aspirations are not recognizable in the resulting bike, then we’ve failed.”

Founded in 1997, Seven Cycles delivered their very first frames only a few short weeks later, and they have continued to deliver their custom bikes in a timely fashion—typically three to five weeks. This can occasionally stretch to two months in peak season, but in much of the custom world just getting a response to an e-mail can take longer.

While Seven is only sixteen years old, Vandermark is hesitant to point out any one moment as the company’s high point to date. But eventually the passionate mountain bike racer emerges and he reminisces about Mary McConneloug and her Sola SLX.

“There are so many milestones for us with mountain bikes. We came from mountain biking. We, all the founders, raced dirt, so though we build all types of bikes for all types of riders, our sole is maybe really in mountain biking. Pushing at what the materials can do, titanium, Ti/carbon mixes, steel—those make nice marks on a timeline, but the single biggest deal for us on the dirt side is Mary McConneloug racing her Seven Sola SLX at the 2004 Olympics, then doing the World Cup on that same bike for four years, and finally racing the 2008 Olympics on it. The same exact frame. For us, it was a beautiful validation of the durability of both our design ideas and our build methods. Between those two Olympics there wasn’t another bike that got even close to that kind of punishment and that kind of performance. We’re very proud of that.”

As the mountain bike has developed, so has Seven. While they have employed full-suspension designs from Paul Turner and Dave Weagle, they have always started from a custom philosophy, which has had its challenges on the suspension front.

“Historically, the challenge for suspension with Seven has been finding the right balance between optimizing the suspension travel and system with while also providing all of Seven’s customization elements,” says Vandermark. “Combining these two worlds is complicated. We’re not offering three or five sizes of 120-mm travel bikes, we’re offering infinite possibilities of center of gravity, rider use and style, wheel size options, fork types, and even brake systems. Getting pivot locations, suspension progression, and travel optimized within this endless list of customization is a long-haul challenge.”

While Seven is not currently offering a full-suspension bike, Vandermark feels much of what a full-suspension bike offers is already addressed by the custom process. “A properly fitting, custom designed bike will be more comfortable over the long haul than any adapted stock bike. One of the reasons for this is that a fitted stock bike will have a less-than-ideal handling; your center of gravity and balance will not be perfect between the wheels.

“Then, there are a number of refinements we make to a titanium frame for any rider. The first is a custom selected tube set. We look at who the rider is, where and how the cyclist wants to ride, and we pick raw tubes that match. We can then butt those tubes to give a very specific amount of compliance, basically dialing-in the comfort of the bike, so the endurance cyclist can ride all day without getting beaten up by the bike.”

Vandermark continues: “Titanium, thoughtfully applied, allows us to leverage the bike’s vertical compliance—or plushness—better than any other material. This type of compliance not only provides a bike that is smoother through rough terrain, but it also improves handling. It helps enhance the application of body English, and it improves tire traction so you have more control, improved climbing, and better acceleration.”

While Vandermark has made his name in titanium, Seven is material agnostic. It all comes back to the original concept of using Seven Cycles as a tool that allows riders to be their own custom builder: “It really depends on what the rider wants the ride to feel. We like to start there, rather than prescribing one solution for everyone. It’s amazing how many times riders come to us with preconceived notions about a material, based on marketing or maybe what friends tell them. We try to help each rider see the possible benefits and considerations of each material, and guide the cyclist to the ideal choice based on individual preferences. We enjoy building every bike, regardless of material, as long as it’s going to suit the rider.”

Vandermark approaches the ongoing wheel size debate in much the same way. “We’ve built 29ers for people under 5’3″ because they felt strongly they wanted the ride qualities of the larger wheel. We do sometimes recommend other sizes to riders, if they seem open, and we believe it will enhance their riding, but again, that is always based on the things they tell us about how they want to ride. As designers we’re comfortable with all of the size options, and each size has its strengths and weaknesses.”

Wile an eloquent spokesman for the brand, Rob Vandermark is very quick to point out Seven Cycles is so much more than his company, It’s a collective that starts with original founders: Vandermark, Jennifer Miller, Matt O’Keefe and Lisa Rodier. They came from Merlin together and have all helped create what Seven Cycles today. Many of the production staff are Merlin veterans and have been building frames for a lifetime. Together they create highly engineered bicycles with a deeply intuitive and thoughtful process. It requires dedication to not only craftsmanship, but communication as well. Creating the largest custom frame house in the world with that philosophy, and then remaining true to it, may seem like a difficult task, but Rob Vandermark sums it up simply:

“We build the bikes our customers dream for themselves.”