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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.

 

Underway

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

When we receive a signed confirmation form for a new bike, the designer staples the pages together, slips them in a folder with all the accumulated paperwork, and clicks it off in the database as “confirmed.”  That designation alerts Matt O’Keefe, the head of production, who nabs the folder and walks it back to the machining area where he files it neatly and squarely in the back of the build queue.  The last spot in the queue can be found all the way to the right of the vertical file.

If thinking about your new, one-of-a-kind, hand built Seven Sola SL gets you excited, well then, you want that folder to be all the way to the left.  Until it’s the very first one on the left, it won’t be started. The wait can be agonizing.

So I couldn’t believe what happened this morning.  All alone in pole position, my folder finally sat on the far left.

From there, right in the sweet spot, Mike Salvatore plucked it out of the queue, then invited me into his office to show me the build sheet he was creating for my bike.  I glowed.

Mike at the Helm

The first task is to take the information from the confirmation form, and turn it into a build sheet that specifies every detail of the work to be done.  Every single detail, big and small.  Tube lengths, diameters, wall thicknesses specified to thousandths of an inch, cable stop styles and locations, where the tubes will be cut, butted, coped and many, many other pieces of information are all included on the drawing so that it can flow through the fabrication process without being held up.

Mike has drafted several thousand build sheets, but I could tell by the confident clicking of his mouse, this one was extra special.

Reading my enthusiasm, he pointed out a few details and explained why they were important.  The chain stays, for example, when designed around my single 32-tooth chain ring and 2.4″ tires have to be curved to avoid running into the crank, squished to create tire clearance, angled back to avoid hitting my heels, flared to miss the 180mm rear disc rotor, and finally spread to reach the drop outs.  A lot of thought goes into each chain stay, a lot of engineering.  After plugging in a few more numbers, every last specification was accounted for and the fabrication of the frame could begin.

For one lucky individual, this will happen in a matter of moments.

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.

In the Queue

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Maple and Pine

 

The Little Tennessee River gets backed up at the Fontana Dam forming an emerald green reservoir that has been on my mind since the beginning of summer. Along the shoreline, long leaf pine needles blanket the forty miles of single track that meander through a North Carolina State Recreation Area named Tsali.  It was there that I fell in love with mountain biking on a chilly October day, much like today, seventeen years ago.

 

Tsali was my first experience leaning into banked corners, involuntarily launching over whoop-de-do’s, and trail riding from sun up to until sun down.  Whipping through the woods amidst the peace and quiet of the natural world turned out to be my definition of fun.  That trip to North Carolina was just the start. From there I rode everywhere I could; the Smokies, the Blue Ridge, Pisgah, Monongahela, the Appalachians, the Sawtooths, Yellowstone, the Tetons, the Colorado Rockies, the Metacomet Ridge, and even Dooley’s Run right in my parents’ backyard.  No matter the location, the thrill was the same.  I was hooked.

 

After college graduation, I took a summer job leading mountain bike trips out west, and ended up staying for the year.  I can’t recall if I put pressure on myself, or felt it elsewhere, but when the year came to a close, I determined it was time to follow a more traditional post graduation path. I packed up, headed home, went back to school, and got a job.  I’m sure everyone has experienced it, but in the blink of an eye thirteen years flew by without me so much as throwing a leg over a mountain bike.  Within that time frame I gave “my” mountain bike back to my father, and picked up road biking on the side.

 

For all intents and purposes, I am no longer a mountain biker.  V-brakes have been replaced with discs.  Triple chain rings, flat bars, and bar ends are all gone.  26” wheels look out of place in the sea of 650′s and 29ers.  Judy Butter is no longer the answer to stiction.  My full finger gloves are too small.  People say “shred” instead of “ride.”  I haven’t seen a Grateful Dead sticker on a bike in years.  Mountain biking, it seems, has passed me by.

 

It took a road ride last April, in Greenwich, Connecticut to rekindle my interest in getting back on the trail.  Darren, who works at Signature Cycles and was leading the road ride that morning, was guiding us through winding hills and beautiful country side, but for the first time in a long time, my mind was in the woods.  I don’t recall how, but the topic of Tsali came up.  As chance would have it, Darren had been there too, and had equally fond memories.  We shared stories and fawned over the trails, the pine needles, and that glorious lake.  Somewhere on the silky smooth roads of Greenwich, I decided that it was time go off road once again.

 

Perhaps it’s fitting that seventeen days into October, just seventeen years after my trip to Tsali that started it all, the design for my first Seven mountain bike sits in the queue (behind all of yours), ready to build.

 

I cannot wait.

 

Folder

 

Mike and Mary at MTB Nationals

Monday, July 29th, 2013

MnM+at+nats+2013

Great pictures and stories from Mike and Mary’s recent exploits at MTB Nationals, where they made us all really proud, Mary with a podium finish and Mike with a top 10, as well as the full catch up on their RV-based, race-chasing exploits.

Just a sample:

I got a great start from my front row call up and settled into a 3rd place position that I was able to maintain for the entirety of the race.   I really had to measure my output in the heat but actually felt kind of great a few times while taking a few calculated but extreme lines and really enjoying the challenge of  this “real” mountain bike course – something that is less and less typical in this newer era of XC racing.

- Mary McConneloug

Seven on the World Cup Circuit

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

Proper test ride 27

We recently built new Sola 650b SLX race bikes for Mike Broderick and Mary McConneloug and had them delivered to Germany where the pro mountain biking power couple are working their way around the World Cup circuit.

Mary said:

The frames turned out beautifully!  

The care you all take with your work, the attention to detail and finesse is second to NONE!  Rob – your design, is again, masterful!  We know so many hands played a part in this project!  Thank you guys for your artful work in planning, crafting and shipping these incredible frames to Mike and I over here in Europe!!  Mike spent the majority of this past week carefully building the frames up at the SRAM headquarters in central Germany.  Having access to a real shop (and not some outdoor RV camp spot) to build the bikes up was very much appreciated.  Thanks to our awesome crew of supporting sponsors who helped with the various components – everything came together perfectly.

We feel so lucky to be backed by the best in the industry and we are honored to represent you all out in the field!

Continuing the evolution!

We got out on our first ride in the forests of Schweinfurt yesterday and instantly were both SMILING! The fit and balance of the frames are impeccable. My first impression of riding the 27.5 wheel size was the ease of acceleration.  I could feel the relation of the pedal stroke efficiently translate my power to the smaller wheel size and it seemed easier overall to push and maintain a smooth cadence. The complete bike is also a little lighter and easier to maneuver through the tight turns of the trails…

We can hardly wait to RACE our new 27.5 Solas at the World Cup in Italy this weekend!!!

Thank you all again!!!

We are truly honored to represent Seven Cycles and ever grateful for your continued support of our team.

Yours truly,

Mary and Mike

Terri G’s Sola SL – Back Country Explorer

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

TerriG

This is Terri’s Sola SL. When she called us, she was excited to build a new bike for this weekend’s Dirty Kanza, but also as a do-everything back country explorer. With a flat bar, disc brakes and a rigid fork, this bike is super versatile. We worked on it with our good friends at Richardson Bike Mart in Richardson, TX. After the inaugural 200 miles she’ll put on it in Kansas, she knows just what’s coming next.

Terri says:

My bigger plan is to put bigger tires and frame bags on it and head out to do some bike-packing. First up, Montana on the Great Divide route in July. 

Best bike ever.  Thanks so much!

The Friday Morning Local

Friday, May 17th, 2013

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Mark’s Axiom SL

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

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Our good friend Mark at Sigma Sport in the UK treated himself to a new Axiom SL. He opted for an over-sized headtube (44mm) with an ENVE tapered road fork and a Shimano Dura Ace Di2 electronic shift set up. Race style decals complete the look.

Mark says:

Thanks to everyone at Seven! I finally have a road bike that I love as much as my Seven Sola SL mountain bike! As an American working in a British bike shop & Seven dealer, it’s so nice being able to sell such amazing examples of American craftsmanship.

 

Seven Cycles Shop Ride – Vermont’s Kingdom Trails

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

Who can say what summer was made for, but rolling out of the shop on Friday night and winding our way up to East Burke, VT, with an eye on a long Saturday trail ride in Vermont’s Kingdom Trails, we had a sense of the order of the universe. We were unmistakably doing the right thing.

The northern woods are cooler than the roads around our Watertown factory, so we had the perfect escape from the heat. Some trails. Some beer. Lots of good food. More reminders of how lucky we are to do what we do, building and selling bikes all week, riding them on the weekends.

 

It never fails to amaze how good it is to ride trail you’ve not ridden before. While some of us were intimately familiar with the treasures on offer at the Kingdom Trails, others were discovering them for the first time. It’s like learning to ride again in all the best ways. It makes it easy to show up for work on Monday morning, inspired to do it all again, maybe even better this time.