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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 in front of 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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Zachary’s Evergreen SL

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

We built this Evergreen SL for Zachary with our good friends at the Downtube Bicycle Works in Albany, NY. Zachary is a strong, young rider, who takes his bike long distances over variable terrain to visit family and friends. Being able to pack gear was very important to him, as was the ability to do extended stretches without stopping to resupply. Note the third water bottle.

Some photos, and kind words, below:

I know it’s been a few months here since I got my new bike but I just wanted to send you both a brief update and some photos.

The evergreen rides like a dream. In stark contrast to the (name of bike removed), my other trusty steed, I am just floating up the hills effortlessly (not to dis the (other bike), it’s my tank when I need it). The bike does feel solid and familiar but is so much more agile and maneuverable.  I have since been riding very comfortably.

After the first long ride (Sdy to Cooperstown) I am hooked. I have since been enjoying weekly winter rides through the hills of Pennsylvania. I’ll be attempting a complete Brevet series (randonneuring) this spring as well. Attached is a photo of the bike and the hills around Cooperstown, NY as well as a photo of my recent ride from my home in the Pocono plateau of Pennsylvania up north to Binghamton, NY.

Thank you both for helping to build my dream bike. I am very excited to see where in New York State and Pennsylvania it will take me this upcoming summer, as well as the years and hopefully decades of riding it will bring me thereafter.

Cheers!

Zachary