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On the Road – Bob Kruger Grinds Oregon Gravel

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

When you finish a bike, put it in a box, put that box on a truck and send it out into the world, you never know what kind of adventures it’s going to find. We built Bob Kruger a Mudhoney S last year with our good friends at Cascade Bicycle Studio in Seattle, and, like so many of the cyclists we admire, he put it to good use as a cyclocross race bike, a bad weather commuter and finally, as a mixed-terrain explorer.

Bob’s gorgeous photos and prose from the Gorge Roubaix Gravel Grinder below:

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Last spring I was looking for a new bike. I had a number of intended uses for this bike: commuter, cross racer, gran fondo and all around performer. I wasn’t looking for a plastic race bike, nor a heavy city bike. This bicycle needed to look great, take a beating and come out the other end looking just as good. It needed to perform well 365 days a year for the next 30 years. That’s a big ask.

I found the perfect bike. It was a Seven Mudhoney S. Although I thought it was perfect throughout last autumn’s cross season and a winter of commuting, I verified it this weekend at the Gorge Roubaix Gravel Grinder.

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Throughout the day I was continually reminded of how much I loved my Seven Mudhoney. The 28 mm Continental 4-Seasons performed spectacularly both on the treacherous gravel descents and fast paved sections. The CBS-built Hed Belgium + Chris King hubbed wheelset was bomber and rolled smoothly and perfectly throughout a day where many, many large rocks were hit. The Mudhoney S’ titanium frame was solid with zero chatter or skittishness. The gravel and rocks we encountered didn’t even faze the polished titanium’s shine. The Avid BB7 disc brakes gave me a massive amount of confidence and between that and the solidity of the bike I had no fear descending rough gravel at 35 mph for extended periods of time. While others complained of numb hands and feet, I experienced none of that. I couldn’t have been happier with how my Mudhoney performed over those 85 miles.

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That night I rinsed the dust off, lubed the chain, screwed on the fat PDX fenders and was ready for the rainy Seattle commute the next morning. In the fall I’ll pull my Contis, install my fat tubeless CX tires and try to win some old man Cat 3 races on this Mudhoney. I’m serious about riding this bike for the next 30 years. I’m sure it will look better than I do in 2045!

Bob Kruger is an Environmental Scientist who grew up in Skagit Valley, Washington and currently resides in Seattle. All of his energy is focused into family, friends, work, travel and being active outdoors, in that order and often together. His outdoor passions include cycling, skiing, golf and being on the water.

See more on this ride here. There is also a great video from the event here.

The Big Ideas – The Rider/Retailer/Builder Partnership

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

CBS_SevenDisplayThe Big Ideas, as a series, is about this whole bike building project we embarked on in 1997 and the foundational ideas that make what we do possible. The first installment was about Single-Piece Flow (SPF). The second installment was about Just-in-Time manufacturing (JIT). Last we explored the 5 Elements of Customization.

We started with an idea, a different kind of bike company, one that offers a product and a service, an experience, and we found a build method that would support it, Single-Piece Flow. Then we backed it up with a manufacturing model that would streamline the process and hold down costs, Just-in-Time manufacturing. Then we created a language that would free rider’s from the constraints of production models, that would allow them to speak the language of custom, the 5 Elements.

Finally, we needed a way to connect all the dots.

Everything we’ve done so far, philosophically, has been about gaining focus on the individual rider, so how do we understand the roads they ride? How do we see and measure them effectively? We always want to be a local builder. The machine shop we get most of our small parts from is local. The builders who work here all live nearby. If we can’t be near all our riders, how do we get closer? How do we localize ourselves?

We needed partners in every cycling community, and the obvious way to get that was to work with bike shops who wanted to collaborate with us and our riders on custom builds. Seven riders are de facto bike designers. We are only building them the bike they tell us they want, and our bike shop partners facilitate the process.

We are the only builder who does direct, systematized interviews with each customer while also working with the shop. Together, the three of us create the custom experience, and THAT is how we get from the idea of fully custom bicycles on a short timeline to delivering fully custom bicycles on a short timeline.

These are our big ideas. They’re simple when you break them down, even though we are still refining them, even after 30,000 bikes have passed through our hands.

Trail, Rake and Bikes That Handle Well

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

Our friend Phil tests the 622 SLX (and its handling) on the cobbles of Northern France.

For a simple machine, it can be hard to understand how to make a bike handle the way you want it to. While a lot goes into how a bike feels on the road, the basic mechanisms of good handling are trail and rake. Trail is the distance between the axis of the headtube, where it intersects the ground, and where the tire actually contacts the ground behind it. Rake, or offset, is the distance between the axis of the headtube and the axis of the front axle, usually between 4 and 6cm.

Our approach, here at Seven, is whenever possible to keep trail constant. The trail sweet spot is just under 6.0 cm.  “Sweet spot,” in this case, simply means consistent and predictable handling at any and all speeds.

For example, if a rider is looking for a criterium bike (think: quicker, more agile steering), we keep the trail fixed, and adjust the head tube angle.  Steeper is quicker. Of course we’ll change a lot of other geometry elements, too:  drop, chainstay length, front center, ride position, tubeset, etc. Conversely, if the rider is looking for a century bike (think: stability), we keep the trail fixed and make the head tube angle slacker. And all the other geometry elements change, too.

Altering trail to affect handling seems like a logical move, but the result is handling that changes throughout the speed range. A high-trail bike will be super stable at high speeds and pretty squirrely at low speeds. High speed stability might sound good but it also means that when getting in and out of corners the bike will fight you. Messing with trail basically means the bike behaves poorly.

Unlike a Seven, plenty of stock bikes don’t have trail in the sweet spot. Riders get used to bad trail. This is particularly noticeable on really small production bikes. Small stock bikes are trying to avoid toe overlap by using a slack head tube angle without an appropriate fork rake; most companies use one or two fork rakes across the size range, so the trail is terrible on bikes with top tubes shorter than about 53 cm. Otherwise, they’re doing something goofy with the geometry somewhere else – seat tube angle, drop, etc., always making compromises because they don’t have the fork rake options to get them back to a reasonable trail.

It’s really interesting when that same, smaller rider gets on a Seven with the right trail; the feedback is that the bike handles amazingly.  “It’s on rails,” “telepathic,” and “I descended faster than ever,” are common phrases we’ll here.

Of course there are exceptions to every rule.  A few examples of rare instances when we’ll change trail from the sweet spot are:

  • We have no option:  For example, the rider wants to use a non-Seven fork that only comes in one rake.
  • Some specialty bikes:  Sometimes on heavy duty randonneuring bikes we’ll do low-trail because this makes the bike more stable at low speeds – and it can help with handlebar bag weight on the front end.  On some triathlon bikes we’ll break the trail rule and increase it to make the bike more stable at high speeds. And on most mountain bikes the trail standard gets ditched – in part because of fork rake limitations.

At its most simple:  Handling is dictated by head tube angle. Predictability of the handling is determined by fork offset.

Velosmith Interview with Rob Vandermark, an Excerpt

Friday, March 13th, 2015

 

Our friends at Velosmith Bicycle Studio did an interview with Seven founder Rob Vandermark recently for a series they’re doing on bike builders. We’ve been working with Velosmith since they opened in 2010, and Tony Bustamante, one of the studio’s founders and owners, once worked with us here at Seven, too. Watch the Velosmith site for the full interview.

In the meantime, here is a brief excerpt:

Velosmith: In 1997, offering a custom bike was a relatively new concept for traditional bike shops. Tell us a little about those early years.

Rob Vandermark: That’s right. There weren’t a lot of options at that time. People were interested in high-end titanium and well-made steel but they didn’t really think that they were going to do true custom. There was no model for it yet. The four of us who started Seven had strong industry backgrounds in design, development, building, marketing, and sales – we had all the bases covered. So, we were able to find retailers who trusted us because of our reputation or past relationships. Within eight weeks of opening, we were shipping orders out the door.

Rob V. on the Trail

Where do you find inspiration for products and design?

RV: I’ve been frame building for 29 years and it’s still engaging for me. It doesn’t get old because the way I relate to the bike keeps changing. For the last few years, my inspiration has come from adventure riding. There was a time when I would look at other industries for inspiration – motorcycles, cars, wheelchairs – more than actually riding. Now, the pendulum has swung back to bike usage, bike riding, and all the niches that are happening in the industry today. It’s always about reconnecting to the bike in a different way.

Who do you see as your ideal customer?

RV: Because everything we do is custom, I see everyone as a Seven customer. It’s anyone who loves riding and wants a better experience while riding.

Loc’s 622 SLX

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

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This is Loc’s 622 SLX. He is a ride leader at Pleasant Hill Cyclery in San Francisco’s East Bay, and he wanted a stiff, all-out speed machine. He chose a 44mm headtube with a tapered fork and thru-axle rear dropouts, as well as a BB30 bottom bracket. He opted for our custom Ti seatpost and stem, too, which made this a very clean, refined final build with no decals, just a head badge to let you know it’s a Seven.

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