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Some Deserved Time Off

Friday, April 4th, 2014

When Seven began, back in 1997, Rob Vandermark‘s vacation days started to accrue at the rate of about a day a month. When the first year of operation came to a close, he had twelve days saved up.  Seven had a busy year in 1998, including a move from Topsfield to Watertown, so there was no time for a vacation, and those twelve vacation days were added to the original twelve to make twenty four. The company was growing steadily, in numbers and in employees. There was so much to do.

Twenty four became thirty six, and this pattern continued, year after year. The vacation days kept adding up. No one knows for sure, but a reasonable estimate to the number of days accrued would be one hundred ninety six.

A few weeks ago, for the first time in Rob’s seventeen years at Seven Cycles, he asked for time off. We were puzzled. Was there an event we didn’t know about? A presentation somewhere? Was he off to work on a secret new project? No one was sure, though as it turns out, the answer was quite simple. Rob wanted to take a vacation.

When you take one vacation in seventeen years, everyone wants to know where  you are going? In Rob’s case, the answer was a cycling trip to New Zealand. As the trip grew near, Rob became almost giddy. He outfitted his coupled Evergreen SL specifically for the journey with: a generator front hub and powerful headlight, full fender coverage in case the going gets wet, reflective decals for high visibility, wide tires with some tread in case the pavement came to an end. We won’t know all of the details of the trip until he gets back, but we know his bike is ready for anything, and that his vacation is well deserved.

RV's RV

RV’s RV

Have fun Rob. We’ll hold down the fort.

Hardly an Update on Karl’s Sola SL

Friday, March 28th, 2014

The first bike I ever built was a Trek 800 mountain bike at Alpha-Lo Bicycles in Wallingford, CT when I was in 6th grade. I had applied to work at the bike shop weeks earlier, even though I had few skills in the realm of sales, merchandising, or mechanics, and yet they hired me anyway. Chalk it up to the sweetheart of an owner, and my obvious love for his store.

I worked on the weekends, and though I doubt I provided $20 of value, that’s what I was paid. Keeping the shop presentable was my number one priority, which sounds lame, but I couldn’t get enough of it. I took great pride in shifting the bikes to the big ring, pulling products to the front of the shelves, and vacuuming the floor. When the shop was clean, George, Aaron, and Matt all pitched in to help me learn the basics of bike mechanics.

The shop wasn’t enormous, but it felt like we hand an endless array of entry level mountain bikes to assemble. Building these bikes would become my second responsibility. At the time, I could operate a quick release and fix a flat, but that was the extent of my skills. I was a clean slate. The learning curve was steep, and I wasn’t the quickest learner, but the shop guys were incredible teachers, celebrating victories when I had them, and understanding when I failed. They’d gather round to inspect, coach, joke, mock, and help whenever I was stuck. They’d pull up stools and watch, or shout out advice from afar.

Life was good. What I learned at that shop wasn’t a mastery of bike mechanics, something I’m still searching for, but a love of the bike build and the fanfare that goes with it.

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At Seven Cycles, we have a bike stand and work shop just beyond our bike commuter lot. Low on bells and whistles, but high on character, it has all of the essential tools to transform a frame into a complete bike, a well worn work bench, recycling bins, a vice, shelves, rags, a drawer of miscellaneous parts, and stools. Whenever a bike is being built, whether it be a new bike for a magazine review, or someone’s old beat up commuter, people gather. Opinions are voiced, jokes cracked. The stools fill with spectators. Assistance is provided, wanted or not. Should the build happen after work, the crowd grows along with the laughter.

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The technology has changed, as have the tools, but the fanfare of a bike build today is no different than it was when I was a kid. I wouldn’t want it any other way, and I can’t think of a better place to build my new Sola.

 

The Finisher’s Dance

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

Gritty Nylox bristles whip over the titanium tube and brush off the discoloration left behind from welding. The sound isn’t deafening, but with three other frames being wheeled at the same time, it is pretty loud this afternoon. The final stage, before frames get wrapped up and shipped out, or in my case handed off, is my favorite to watch. Unlike a welder, whose hands move slowly and steadily, frame builders move about like dancers. Twirling around the stand as they flip, twist, and rotate the bike, their performance looks choreographed. Dan C. is working on my bike, but his recital isn’t a dance at all, in fact it’s one of the most arduous parts of fabrication. We call it “FINISHING.”

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Before I caught up to him, Dan had already run my frame through the CNC machine where the bottom bracket was threaded, faced, and chamfered. In machining, the bottom bracket starts as a thick walled, round tube. When the down tube, seat tube, and chain stays are all welded on to it, the heat distorts the metal, microscopically, but enough that it’s no longer perfectly round. The thick tube wall is important because our CNC machine will bore through it, expanding the inner diameter to leave a perfectly round hole, which it can then thread. You can see the difference in wall thickness.

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Dan had also faced and reamed the 44mm head tube so my Chris King InSet 7 headset will press in evenly. As an aside, the lathe that faces and reams  head tubes is my favorite machine in the building. Who knows what it did before it came to Seven, but it looks old and tank like. I bet it weighs several tons. Head tube after head tube, it keeps working, just like new. Spin the crank and it goes round and round like a Record square taper bottom bracket. So cool.

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When those two steps were finished, Dan bonded in the seat tube insert, cut the seat top binder notch, and checked the frame’s alignment, making improvements where necessary.

By the time I got back to see how it was coming along, my bike was half way through the wheeling process.

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Once the main tubes have been wheeled, and the natural sheen of titanium comes through, he’ll exchange his drill for a ruddy strip of Scotch-Brite. The Scotch-Brite pad gives a uniform finish to the frame that can be replicated at home, at the end of the season, or whenever I want it to look like new.

When the frame passes Dan’s final, grueling, inspection, he’ll attach all of the small parts. The last step is to wipe down the frame with a light furniture polish.

Pretty soon my frame will be ready to build, and I will be bouncing off the walls.

Behind the Mask

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Nestled snug in their box, the tubes that will become my frame roll, with the jig, from machining to welding, where they wait to be claimed.  Who welds each frame is a matter of chance.  Whichever welder is available at the moment takes the next frame in line.  In my case, that welder is Stef Adams.  Coincidentally, Stef welded my other Seven back in 2005, an Elium SL, and she did such a good job with that one that my thirst for a new bike was stifled for nearly a decade.

While in the machining stage, tubes get coated with grease, dust, shavings, “permanent”marker, finger prints, oil, and who knows what else.  To ensure that her welds will last a lifetime, Stef cleans each tube in a two stage acetone bath which wipes away everything, including the boastful claims of the marker.  By wearing fresh, cotton gloves she keeps her own finger prints off the tubes in the process.

Sevens are TIG welded (the acronym stands for Tungsten Inert Gas).  We pump argon through our frame jigs and into the tube sets as we weld them. The inert argon won’t react with the molten titanium, which is why we use it to “clean” the inside and outside of each area to be welded.

Stef assembles the clean tubes back into the jig, then hooks up a gasket to the head tube in order to create the back purge, plugging all of the external holes in the frame (e.g. where water bottles will be mounted) with stoppers.  Internal breather holes, previously drilled into the tubes, will allow the gas to flow from one tube to the next until all of the tubes are overflowing with argon.  Argon also flows out of the welder’s torch which protects the outside of the tubes.

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A gauge at each welding station lets the welders know when there is enough argon in the frame to begin welding.  Stef checks the gauge and begins tacking one tube to the next.  A tack is a small spot weld that holds the tubes in place. They make freehand welding more manageable.

Out of the jig and onto the welding table the tacked frame goes.  Stef works in a most graceful fashion, twirling the frame around the table, welding a little here, a little there, with the smooth, precise movements that she has perfected over the course of more than seven thousand frames.

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Little by little, the frame gets closer to completion.  Stef says it takes a few hours to weld a frame as “simple” as mine, but that couplers and other options can add to that.  My frame is simple in that it is a straight forward mountain bike, with no additional features or options that need to be welded on. I clarify with her that it is also awesome, and she agrees.

Below are the bridges and zip tie guides. Not too many, means not too complicated.

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Perfectly round, overlapping droplets of molten titanium bond the tubes together.  A stack of dimes, fish scales, whatever you want to call them, they will hold the frame together for the rest of its life.  I think they are beautiful.  One of the many artistic achievements of the welder is to make it appear that the weld was done all at once, one droplet after the next, until the entire tube is welded, but in reality, they work in tiny centimeter long increments, which is why the frame is flipped, spun, and maneuvered into different positions as they go.

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For a novice, welding can be pretty scary. There is electricity, intense heat, and a light so bright it could blind you.  Behind a camera lens, it looks like a brilliant purple and blue light.

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But from behind the welder’s mask, it’s actually quite pleasing.  The welding mask is tinted so dark that, to Stef, it feels like welding by candle light.  She works slowly but steadily.  Aiming the torch with her right hand, she increases the heat until it’s so hot that the spindly titanium bead in her left hand melts when she dabs it on the tube.  Each droplet adds material and strength to the weld.  This style of welding bikes is called the Puddle Bead Method, and was pioneered by another welder at Seven, Tim Delaney.  Stef is a master, and does a great job of explaining what she is doing while she works.  She makes it look so easy, but I know that if I were at the helm, there would be shouting, catastrophe, and probably a fire.

A job well done and a small token of appreciation.

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The next time I check on it, the frame is all together and hanging up in the final machining department, ready for the next steps, so close to completion.

Getting Closer

Friday, January 17th, 2014

Riding past horse pastures and state parks in and around Hamilton, MA, last weekend, I found myself daydreaming once more about riding off road. I chuckled to myself remembering the wise old proverb, “if all you have is a mountain bike, everything looks like a trail.”  Now I am finally understanding the truth of it.  In fact, ever since ordering a Sola SL, I have scoured the countryside for trails, parks, and recreation areas.  I stare at the woods and drift off, longing for the day I can roll through those very trees.

A few weekends ago, I was hiking the Ledge Hill Trail at Ravenswood Park.  High up on a rocky outcropping, the view of Gloucester Harbor, blanketed in winter colors, was Instagram worthy – but instead of taking a snapshot, I pulled out my phone to search “Ravenswood Mountain Biking.”  I had to know if bikes were allowed in the park.

What I learned was nothing short of incredible.  Not only were bikes allowed, but Ravenswood was just a small piece of about twenty-five thousand acres of parks, forests, and free trails in Massachusetts managed and maintained by the Trustees of Reservations.  Many of these parks welcome mountain biking, and just like that, my mountain biking schedule is set.

The timing couldn’t be working out any better, either.  Nearly every component for my new bike has arrived.  I’m only waiting on the wheels and brakes.  Once it’s built, Spring will be knocking on the door.  My restless legs bounce just thinking about it.

Because no one in the office wants to hear me talk about it any more (two years of discussion prior to ordering will do that) and because I’m not done yet, I’ll spell out the details in this forum instead.

I have had a soft spot for the Sola SL, since 2004, so I didn’t think twice about the model choice.  I knew that a double-butted tube set would be beneficial for at least two reasons: my frame will be big, and I love the look of over-sized titanium tubes.  Without butting those tubes, my lanky build would take a beating during the course of a ride.  By thinning the tube walls down, I can have a bike that rides like a dream, and meets my oh-so-discerning aesthetic.

Choosing a wheel size ended up being simple as well. I have only ever ridden 26″ wheels, and I wanted to try one of the larger sizes, 27.5″ or 29″.  I knew either one would be fun and new, but beyond that, I couldn’t see any overwhelming  evidence to suggest one would be better for me than the other.  As luck would have it, the fork I wanted was only available in 27.5″ , so the decision was made.

The only real oddity with my bike, or maybe with me, is that I wanted a 150mm travel fork.  Surely a 150mm fork is overkill, especially for the relatively mellow riding I’ll use it for.  No downhill, no huge drops, and nothing that could be considered extreme to anyone other than my parents.  In fact, it will mostly be a cross country rig, with a huge fork.  I proposed the idea to the design team, and while they had questions at first, they started to see my vision, and designed a frame that will accommodate the extra travel without hindering its handling.  It is amazing what they can do once your measurements, component spec, and vision are in front of them.

Below is the drawing of my very own Sola SL. I think it’s going to be awesome.

Karl's Sola SL Cad Drawing

And yes, that is a ton of slope and post exposure, two more style requirements.

Mo Pro Ready to Go

Friday, October 25th, 2013

MoProRTGNo sooner was it here, than it was here!

In Season

Friday, July 26th, 2013

Brassard_variationThe 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.

matt roy's 622 slx

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 john-bayleys-axiom-slvery 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.

 

Learning to Endure

Friday, May 24th, 2013

DSC_7436Endurance 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.

Welding Zip Tie Guides for Hydraulic Brakes

Welding Zip Tie Guides for Hydraulic Brakes

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.

Over-sized Head Tube Fo Jon Bayley's Axiom SL

Over-sized Head Tube for John Bayley’s Axiom SL

 

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.

Taillight Prototype

Taillight Prototype

 

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 Seven Crew Knocking Out John's Axiom SL Rando Special

The Seven Crew Knocking Out John’s Axiom SL Rando Special

 

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.

 

Project Bike: Nella Neve – Winter Randonneur

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

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:

  • Hot swappable between drop bar and Tiberius bar – actually a Stylerius(tm) bar
  • Accommodate tires from 23c up to 2.3″ 29er.  Ideally designed around 33c tires.
  • Race-worthy geometry, handling, and performance.
  • Big fenders for optimized protection in the wettest and snowiest of days.  No ice buildup on theses beauts.
  • Disc brakes for icy weather and easy wheel swap.
  • Hot swapping studded tires for 28c tires depending on the weather

Terry’s Resolute SLX with Custom Paint

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

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Terry is a co-owner of Seattle’s Cascade Bicycle Studio. This is Terry’s new Resolute SLX. The custom paint scheme is designed by a good friend of the shop’s, Derek Blagg.

Terry says:

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.