No sooner was it here, than it was here!
The bike industry does not circle the sun and measure its progress in years, but rather plants its fields, like a farmer, and thinks of time in seasons. And we are in the thick of that season now, building bikes with a drive and focus similar to our riders, out in the world, making use of the summer sunlight to get more time on the bike.
In season, we have to be very careful not to work too much (we always fail at this) and to make sure we are taking the time to ride our own bikes and to stay in touch with why we do what we do (we always succeed at this).
But now a month has passed since our last post…here are just a few of the things we’ve been working on.
A 622 SLX with SRAM’s new Red integrated hydraulic brakes for our good friend Matt Roy. This one left the shop floor and headed straight for the Green Mountain Double Century, where Matt rode it to victory, along with his Ride Studio Cafe Endurance Team, in a time just over 17 hours. For an encore, Matt took it on a post-grad (Ph.D.!!) trip from Portland, OR to Boulder, CO. Just a quick spin then…
And, this is John Bayley’s Axiom SL super randonneur, also with SRAM Red hydro and a very special paint job. John rode it to a third place finish at Dirty Kanza. This bike will also feature in an upcoming ad in Rouleur. Keep an eye out for it.
Endurance riding is not a new segment. From the early days of cycling, riders have sought to challenge themselves by covering distances previously unimagined. But as a category within the broader cycling industry, endurance is now flourishing in a way it never has with the advent of longer, challenge-style events both on-road and off. After spending years working on rando bikes of every stripe, we are now seeing these bikes consolidate around the common experience of riders who are taking on events like Dirty Kanza, the Almanzo 100 and D2R2.
The Seven-sponsored Ride Studio Cafe Endurance Team is made up of three riders who, collectively and in massive solo efforts, will clock more miles on their Sevens this year than most folks will manage in their cars. We are deeply fortunate to be able to work with John Bayley, David Wilcox and Matt Roy. This season they will tackle Dirty Kanza, the Green Mountain Double Century, the Rapha Gentleman’s Race, the Vermont 600, D2R2 and a 1200k brevet of their own design. And events aside, almost every weekend will see these guys spending whole days in the saddle, knocking out century after century, saving up their endurance for big, fast miles on their custom Sevens.
We’ve built each of them a unique, custom, randonneuring bike suited to their personal style and approach to endurance cycling. Comfort and utility get more and more important as the miles pile into your legs and light wanes at the end of the day.
Endurance Team Captain Matt Roy, a Harvard trained immunologist, rides a 622 SLX, the most technically-advanced bike on the endurance circuit. We’ve taken some cues from Mo Bruno Roy’s – last name not coincidental – cyclocross winning Mudhoney PRO. Matt’s 622 is by far the lightest rando bike on gravel, while still boasting the lifetime durability Seven builds into every frame.
John Bayley values versatility. He is riding an Axiom SL that can run 650b or 700c wheels. His cabling is external for easy servicing and quick adaptation. We finished his bike this week, another speed build that went together in just three days from final design to full assembly thanks to a fair amount of overtime and a group of willing collaborators on the Seven shop floor.
David Wilcox is a quiet, powerful rider, the kind of guy who can ride all day and all night without the whisper of a complaint. His bike is the most simple of the three, an Axiom S with no frills other than hydraulic disc brakes.
As co-sponsors, SRAM has provided the team with their new Force 22 hydraulic groups for each frame. Clement Tires has signed on as well. Working with cutting edge products makes projects like this one even more fun for us.
The Endurance Team sponsorship allows us to explore and experiment in a new and interesting way because these guys will tell us, in the space of one ride, what we might take months of research to learn on our own. Endurance riding pushes bikes to their limits and tests the effectiveness of different component integration strategies. The needs of the long-distance rider also push us to design and integrate practical solutions into each build, the details, big and small, that make all the difference between success and failure.
Mid-winter, Rob built himself a unique rando bike. This was one in a long list of Seven project randonneuring bikes that we took on in 2012, an internal project to test a couple ideas. Due to the above-average snowfall here in New England, we did this as a speed project, one week from design to build.
This video was, in part, the inspiration for the design, hence the name Nella Neve.
Highlights of the project included:
I wanted to keep a steel bike in my quiver as I really like the feel of a steel bike. The bike was designed to be road bike ready for fenders. As the project and the paint evolved I realized that steel bikes are really where my passion for bikes is. I truly believe a steel bike can ride beyond the expectations of any material. Now the bike is MY ROAD BIKE and might see fenders for a few months a year while my Mudhoney SL is devoted to cross season.
Can you please let everyone involved with my new bike it is the most wonderful bike I have ever owned. There is no reason in the world not to ride a Seven. You get just what you want. The welds and paint are so perfect. Thank you.
New Seven partner shop, Belgianwerkx in Mequon, WI (just north of Milwaukee), wanted to do something special for their first floor demo bike. We think they succeeded. A steel Mudhoney, painted in their colors with Belgian flag accents, new HED Belgium rims, Cannondale crank, ENVE cockpit, the works. Nick Moroder, shop manager, said, “The handling is spot-on. SO responsive. And it’s unbelievably stiff for any bike, let alone just steel.”
Check out the Belgianwerkx site for more pictures.
For decades the conventional wisdom has held that certain steel tube sets, whether Reynolds or Columbus or True Temper, held magical, mystical properties that gave riders the exact ride feel and performance they were looking for. And while that may be true for some very specific riders, each of the legendary steel tube sets, whether Reynolds 853 or Columbus SL, is exactly that, just one tube set with a very specific diameter and wall thickness. Sometimes there is a choice of a second down tube, but that is the extent of the customizability of the tube choice. If you happened to be the perfect size match for the tube set, you were in luck, but if you were smaller, the frame you received might be far too stiff, or if you were larger, far too compliant.
At Seven, we have always built our frames from tubing specific to each rider. We take into account rider size, riding style, preferred road feel and general riding conditions. We may select a top tube or seat tube from one of the big steel tube set makers if it’s appropriate, or we may take raw steel tubing and butt it by hand, here in our factory, to craft the exact ride a customer is looking for. We butt and bend all our steel chain and seat stays in house. When the bike is custom, one size never fits all, and one tube set is never appropriate to every design.
This is the reality of building in steel, if you want a custom bike, one tuned for both performance and comfort. There is nothing wrong with the tube sets of legend, but it is true that each set is only a limited solution for a small subset of riders. When you get into custom bike building, we feel it is important to think more deeply about your materials, to see how they can best be applied in any design and to push back against convention, whenever necessary.
More about the Limited Edition Giro bike we created with our friends at Cascade Bicycle Studio here.
One of the things a custom builder can do better than most production builders is find the sweet spots in between the traditional cycling categories. Constance Winters of Bicycling.com recently tested our Cafe Racer SL in just such a special configuration, somewhere in the space between go-fast road bike and all-purpose commuter.
First, this bike has S&S couplings so it can be broken down for travel. Total time to assemble this one, straight out of the case, is about ten minutes.
Next, it has a custom Tiberius handlebar, which gives the rider multiple hand position options, both aggressive and more upright.
And finally, it features a super quiet, super clean single-speed belt drive. The belt keeps you from getting grease on your pants if you’re riding for business, and its elegant simplicity makes break down and reassembly that much easier.
Image: Constance Winters
A few weeks ago, Mo Bruno Roy returned her original Mudhoney PRO prototype. Affectionately called the Mo Honey PRO, that bike was the test case for the bike that became the production Mudhoney PRO, the bike that customers all over the world have ridden over the last season. Mo’s original was put together with hand cut and filed lugs, and she raced it hard this season so we could know more about our basic design assumptions, and to gather experiential data for the second iteration, Mo Pro 2.0, of this race-specific machine.
During our debrief with her, and with her mechanic/husband Matt Roy, we noted a few big, necessary changes. First, Mo wanted to change her riding position. She wanted to come forward, and up a little. To do that, she needed to make some component changes, and to maintain the handling she prefers after those changes, we needed to adjust the geometry. Easy enough.
Next, she wanted more tire clearance at the chain and seat stays. The original prototype was built with tight tolerances for racing, but we learned that just a little more mud clearance would be better. That presented a unique challenge, because Mo’s frame is small. In order to get the clearance she wanted, we experimented with a single-bend, butted seat stay designed specifically for carbon bonding. That little bit of bend gave us just what we were looking for, and it represented a step forward for the super thin stays we’ve been working with for Mo’s race bikes. The complimentary chain stays required 20 separate operations in initial machining. This is serious stuff.
In the past, we’ve built bikes for Mo that could be adapted to multiple purposes. A little attention from her pro mechanic husband would convert one of her race rigs for road training. Not this bike. Mo runs a somewhat unique crank set with 34/44 chain rings, and her seat/chain stays are optimized to work only with those rings, coupled with a 32mm tire. This is as race specific as a bike gets. It’s a bike for now, for winning races.
We opted to build for cantilever brakes, too, but only because race ready, drop bar, hydraulic disc brakes aren’t quite ready yet. Again, we wanted to build her the optimal race bike for right now, not a bike with compromises for future adaptation.
The final design hurdle we chose to address was toe overlap. Conventionally, a frame this small would have some overlap, and through the years, this was always something Mo was comfortable with, even though we offered to do away with it for her. This time out, we made some adjustments to the geometry to eliminate it, and that gives her more confidence in the technical sections of the cyclocross courses this bike was meant to destroy.
A lot of work went into pre-build design on the Mo Pro 2.0, and that led to a marathon build session that lasted long into the Friday night before Mo’s first race on it, on the Saturday. Seven Production Manager Matt O’Keefe did the final machining on this one himself, before handing it off to Staci for the rock star decal treatment.
As ever, our sponsorships are aimed at exactly this sort of collaboration. We built the original bikes to prove a concept we wanted to bring into production. After building the first generation prototypes, we then designed all the fixturing we would need to do the same design for customer bikes. In turn, the fixturing informed the accuracy and evolution of the second generation bike, which taught us about new ways to manipulate thin stays for small builds. It’s this thread that connects all our design and build work and allows everything to move forward, and to be able to pursue that thread with the input and participation of pros like Mo and Matt makes bike building fun. It reminds us why we do this.
Another solid reminder came in a Christmas tin a few days later. Her feedback on the bike itself is exactly what we wanted to hear, that it combines the best of her first Seven race bike and the first generation Mo Honey PRO. That confirms that we’re listening, and without listening you can’t build great custom bikes. It doesn’t matter whether you’re building for a pro like Mo or someone who will never race a day in their lives. The process is the same. Listen to what the rider wants. Apply everything you learn to everything new you want to do. Keep building. Keep iterating. Occasionally, just occasionally, stop to eat the cookies.
Matt made a cool time lapse video of the build that you can see here. And we were also fortunate to catch the eye of the Velo News staff at our very first race. Emily Zinn did a photo gallery of the project for their site here.
You would never design a whole bike build around a handlebar, except for those rare instances where someone hands you a Ti riser bar and leaves you to think about what its best use might be. This is another one of Neil’s projects, and the bar in question wasn’t so much the inspiration for the build, but rather the final piece of a puzzle that had been assembling itself somewhere in the dark recesses of his brain for some time.
He had the frame, acquired at a Seven employee auction a few years back. It had a short life as his every day mountain bike, but he found the geometry left him more upright than he liked to be over root and rock here in our New England woods, so it was in his “parts bin.” Neil’s parts bin is like most people’s garage, just to paint you a picture.
There was also a Forward Components Eccentric Bottom Bracket, an external solution to retrofitting a single-speed drive train from a company that is no longer. These are the sorts of things Neil collects, and of course, because we have a wide assortment of lathes and mills, he and Mike were able to machine the arms of a Deore crank to work with the EBB in this configuration.
Add in a set of Avid mechanical disc brakes and a pair of Schwalbe Big Apple tires, and you have a balloon-tired, throw-back BMX, an over-sized version of the bike many of us cut our dirt-jumping teeth on.
Now this bike lives in our indoor parking lot, and it gets taken out for lunch on the regular. And just like those bikes we all grew up on, it loves to jump curb cuts and bunny hop flower beds on its way to picking up delicious sandwiches or just practicing wheelies in the parking lot.