Cycle Sport Magazine: Material Worlds

Story, Phil Cavell — Photos, Gerard Brown

Last month we examined the virtues of steel and aluminum. This month, Cycle Sport casts an expert eye over those rarer and more exotic options, titanium and carbon-fiber.

Titanium: Seven Axiom

In an ideal world, every country would have at least one bike company steeped in geeky cooldom and armed with an unashamed ‘price is no object’ philosophy. And in this regard the US’s East Coast has rather hogged the scene of late: Fat Chance, Independent Fabrications, Serotta, Merlin and now Seven have all vied for most hip status.

Seven’s torches spluttered into life five years ago when a handful of Merlin’s senior creative staff set up office in Boston, Massachusetts with the lofty notion of only making frames specially to order: Today the company employs 28 people and is one of the USA’s largest fabricators of high-end bespoke excellence, specializing in bike frames for all disciplines, in either steel or titanium.

Frame

The Axiom is Seven’s uncompromising outfit for people who want to live—or look like they live—the racer role to the extreme. It is available as a custom build at no extra cost, although our test bike was specially made for a customer using Seven’s own ‘Signature’ geometry. The Axiom is constructed from Seven’s own seamless Argen 3AI-2.5V titanium tubeset, which is painstakingly externally butted to a tolerance of O.OO1in, or the width of a human hair; whichever seems most appropriate on the day.

The Axiom’s snaked seat stays and chain-stays are unsurprisingly reminiscent of Merlin’s own, and are executed to a comparably high standard as anything crafted by Tom Kellogg (Merlin’s master builder).

Interestingly, Seven eschews shaped tubes in vogue with other manufacturers at the moment, believing the traditional round shape offers a better stiffness to weight ratio, as well as maintaining greater strength integrity compared to ovalized alternatives. The resulting frame looks classical.

A plethora of choices await you when you order your frame, and most won’t cost you a penny more than the ‘basic’ $2,595 frame cost: bosses, tubing, decals, mudguard mounts, geometry sloping top tube—you’ll be at it all day.

Our 56cm bike measured 56.8cm along the top tube and 59.5cm to the top of the seat collar (56cm center-center of the top tube). The 15cm head tube follows the current US trend by being slightly longer and utilizing a 2cm extension above the top tube (also available with 4cm at no extra cost), while the seat and head angles measure 73.5 degrees apiece.

Seven is one of America’s select few art house builders whose construction processes and presentation are among some of the world’s finest—this kind of work is effectively beyond criticism, and only really available for appreciation.

Fork

Seven collaborated with Salt Lake City’s Wound Up Composites to produce a genuine 450–gram fork, which is based around filament–wound carbon legs and 1 1/8in carbon steerer; bonded into a CNC–machined polished aluminum crown and finished off with aluminum dropouts. The cost is a cool $475, but you get a sub–four–pound frame and fork figure to boast about in combination with the Axiom’s 2.981b (1.35kg) frame weight.

Components

Our test bike was prepared by Sigma Sport in Kingston for a very discerning customer with taste and style (not us). It is not often that such a list of rare and desirable parts finds its way onto one frame: Campagnolo Record groupset, Mavic Ksyrium wheels, Chris King headset, Seven Ti stem ($350), Seven Carbon post ($125) etc. Even the headset spacers are titanium and cost $22 a set. Ready to spin on Continental GP3000 tires, the whole rig costs a once–in–a–lifetime $5,049 and weighs a toenail under 16.8lb (16kg).

Ride

My first thought was that the Seven felt a little big for a stock 56cm, partly due to the long seat and top tube, and partly, if I’m honest, because my legs belong to another much shorter person. Hence I would probably choose a 54cm bike for myself and make a necessary change with the stem size. My second thoughts were aesthetic—I felt the Wound Up fork looked a bit too Mtb for the rest of the classic lines of the Axiom. But then I rode the bike and found the front end of the bike to be a total revelation—I have never ridden a bike that steers so quickly and with so little effort. The balance and confidence coming back from the fork, bar and stem combination is astounding, and it took me a couple of hours to stop hitting imaginary apexes four feet too early.

Elsewhere the ride fluctuates between outstanding and excellent. The frame itself feels stiffer than most titanium bikes I have ridden, as there is much more pick–up from the rear triangle than one would expect. The trade–off is that the Seven doesn’t quite have the type of springy, absorbent ride that you look forward to in advancing years for pootling around the country lanes. Maybe the Mavic Ksyriums played their part in giving the Axiom this unexpected aggression, as they are certainly one of the stiffer wheel packages that we’ve tested, as well as being one of the fastest turning. Don’t get me wrong, the bike is still all–day comfortable and satisfying, isolating an estimated one–third more road buzz compared to an all–aluminum frame. The one little problem we had was that the gorgeous looking seat clamp seemed unwilling to get any real bite on the carbon–fiber seatpost—we were constantly stopping to reset the saddle height and retighten the clamp.

Climbing onto any light bike is a delight, but the Seven bestows that something extra to the experience—the bike itself is so classy that you naturally fall into the smooth–as–you–like groove; stay seated in the saddle using languid, powerful pedal strokes as the road kicks right up in front of your face. Or feel the front go stupidly light in your hands—it’s an excellent package.

If you have decided that It is about time that you treated yourself to that once–in–a–lifetime frame purchase, then Seven certainly offers you just about as much scope, and as many options to ‘fill your boots,’ as any other company out there. It is part of that select group of frame–builders who don’t aspire to anything other than passion–infused excellence for people who care about such things.

The Seven Axiom does everything any headbanger race bike will; but with a lot less fuss and drama, and actually encourages you to do the same. It is a race bike for a gentleman and not a hooligan; sure, it is fast and capable, but the expression of its class and ability is an exercise in pure Bostonian understatement.

Dirt Rag Magazine: Stuff – Really Tested Product Reviews

by Philip Keyes

On the newsstands now, the latest Dirt Rag explores Seven’s unique customization process, creating a one-of-a-kind steel Sola single-speed, complete with disk brakes and bottle opener. They were impressed by the bike and the company behind it. Read more.

Seven Cycles Sola

Need proof that singlespeeding has spread beyond the punk rock, working class recesses of bike culture? Seven Cycles is now offering a steel singlespeed frame for a cool $1495. Yeah, it’s a lot of cabbage, but what you’ll get is a high-drool bike that’s fully customized, has a beautiful ride, and could be the sweetest frame you’ll ever throw a leg over.

What drew me to the bike was Seven’s use of an eccentric bottom bracket that rotates in the shell to tension the chain, so that the rear dropouts remain vertical (and disc-friendly). As a side benefit, the bottom bracket height can be raised or lowered since the BB can be rotated up or down to tension the chain, changing the rider’s center of gravity on the bike.

What really intrigued me about the Sola was the company’s philosophy of customization. For the price of a high-end production bike, all Seven bikes are designed and produced with a specific customer in mind. Nothing is off the rack. Even “singlespeed” is just one the many options for the Sola. Another option could be 29″ wheels… or how about a 29″ wheeled singlespeed? The choice is yours.

Creating a Seven

Sola SteelGetting a Seven is more of a “creation” than a “purchase.” I began by filling out an 8-page questionnaire from their website that became the springboard from which the bike was designed. They wanted a full battery of body measurements, including some unique ones like your forearm length and shoulder width. I also had to describe and measure my current singlespeed, and comment on what I liked and disliked about it.

Everything’s custom: fit, geometry, and tube selection, accessories. I even chose the type of brake mounts, the cable routing, and number of water bottle mounts, paint color and decals. Then came the consultation with Seven.

These folks are hardcore bikers who realize that a rider’s relationship with his or her bike is unique and personal, and they talk in depth to their customers so they can determine what will work best for you. This is the essence of “mass customization,” but all for the same price.
The Sola uses the Origin tubeset, which uses a range of heat-treated and microalloyed tubes from Reynolds, Columbus, True Temper and Decacciai. Seven assembles the tubes in different configurations to achieve the chosen ride quality. Owner Rob Vandermark cut his design teeth with the S-bend stays, and the company creates them in-house using oversized non-tapered tubes for extra stiffness and lightweight.

Once I signed off on the design, I followed the production phases of my frame on Seven’s website by logging in with my personal password. The sense of anticipation was intense, and a few weeks later the bike was ready.

The Ride

Sola Steel CrankWhen I first saw the bike, what caught my attention wasn’t the beautiful pearlescent white paint and black decals, the graceful lines, impeccable welds, gorgeous seat stays, or even the killer Vicious Cycles rigid fork—it was the bottle opener built into the junction of the seat tube and top tube. Whooo hoooo!

Once on the bike, I was impressed that all my desires and measurements had been used to create a bike that rode even better than I could imagine. The combination of perfect fit, dialed in geometry and custom tubing produces a ride quality that is hard to beat. The super-stiff drivetrain was perfect for out of the saddle honking, but it was still nice and supple in the rear end- a little comfort for my arse, since I was riding fully rigid.

Sola Steel ForkThe only design feature I didn’t like was the use of circular cable guides for the hydraulic lines, since they require brake disassembly to install. Seven assures me that they will have gone to an open design by the time you read this.

I’ve probably put in well over a thousand miles on the bike, and I’ve found that its steering is razor sharp but not twitchy. It climbs everything that I’ve got the legs for, and it’s a rocket descender as long as I’m careful about the line. Whether it was a two-hour hammer fest or a 5-hour epic, the Seven performed flawlessly.

The Parts

Sola Frame: $1495
As Tested: $3200
Contact: Seven Cycles
125 Walnut Street, Watertown, MA 02472
617.923.7774
www.sevencycles.com
Drivetrain: Shimano XT
Sizes: Completely custom sizing/geometry available
Weight: 24lbs., 10.5oz.
Contact: 617-923-7774 www.seevncycles.com

I couldn’t go wrong with Vicious Cycles’ rigid disc fork. This slender steel fork with disc mounts is way cool and beautiful (in an evil looking sort of way). With its precise steering and zero travel, the fork is excellent for out-of-the-saddle hammering. The only drawback is that, like the test bike, the fork’s cable guides are eyelets that require brake disassembly to install.

The wheels are Mavic 317 disc rims woven to Spot Bike’s disc singlespeed hubs that are light and have buttery smooth cartridge bearings. Spot also produces the CNC’d black chainguard and 32-tooth chainwheel that mates nicely with the black Race Face Turbine LP cranks. The cranks are super stiff, and my only quibble is that they use old style bolts rather than the hex nuts, making on-trail tightening a hassle.

Easton’s Monkey Lite carbon handlebars help damp vibrations, which is important when running a zero travel fork. I’ve got no complaints about either the Thomson Elite stem or post, though I wasn’t keen on WTB Motoraptors since they tend to slide out fast in the comers.

The Hayes hydraulic disc brakes are secure stoppers, but they don’t have much modulation. After a series of bouts with rear brake chatter, Seven scored some oversized flange washers from Spot for the rear hub to stabilize the disc rotor.

Last Word

The Seven Sola SS is a dream bike, and while the price may keep it that way for some folk, you need to ask yourself: how important is riding to you? As Seven’s Jennifer Miller puts it: “A Seven is for someone who thinks life’s too short to compromise on the things that really matter.” Seven owners get a few perks as well: a quarterly newsletter, an owners’ website and an annual weekend gathering of the whole Seven tribe to make sure your relationship with your bike and the company lasts a lifetime.

Seven Cycles:
Following a dream

Seven Cycles was started in 1997 by the soft-spoken design guru, Rob Vandermark, and four other of his ex-Merlin compatriots. Together they shared a vision of being able to mass-produce fully customized bikes.

It may seem like a contradiction in terms, but “mass customization” is integral to Seven’s business plan. There is no batch production of stock sizes. Each frame is built separately one tube at a time, only when an order has been placed and the frame has a specific owner. A lot of thought went into Seven’s production methodology. For example, one employee’s full time job is “process improvement,” and he spends all his time working on the production schedule, improving the factory layout and fine tuning the tooling to streamline production. Another employee is solely responsible for calibrating all the machines needed to cut the myriad tubes. His goal: maximum efficiency and zero defects.

According to Seven’s Jennifer Miller, “the production process will never be a limiting factor in the number of custom bikes we build. Right now we build more custom bikes than any other manufacturer.”

Key to their success is the teamwork of all 33 Seven employees. “We have an open-book management style,” says Miller, “which allows employees to see how their actions and decisions affect the bottom line, and at the end of the quarter when we discuss profit, and the employees get a big check [from profit-sharing] they realize that everyone’s actions really do matter, and they take a real pride.”

While Seven is pushing into uncharted waters—even initiating employee stock ownership—the company was profitable after their first year, and they’ve been so consecutively for the last 46 months. Though they won’t discuss specific production numbers, they’ve had a 30% increase in sales since last year. And while their market is about 70% road frames, their recent licensing agreement of Paul Turner’s Maverick Monolink suspension design for Seven’s new Duo should create quite a stir.

“None of us are rich,” says Rob Vandermark, “but I enjoy the challenge of bringing custom bikes to people who otherwise might not afford them, as well as making a better bicycle.”

Outside Magazine: The O List – The Best Road Bike

Outside magazine’s October issue is out and features “The O List”—120 things, places, and experiences that the Outside writers and scouts in the field consider to be the best. Seven Cycles is proud and honored to announce that Outside has chosen our Odonata as The Best Road Bike. Here’s what they had to say about it.

The Best Road Bike

“The Seven Cycles Odonata frame weighs an astonishing 2.5 pounds—it’s the lightest frame commercially produced—and is lovingly handcrafted from the finest carbon fiber and titanium available. The butted titanium frame enhances power transfer for sprinting and climbing, while the carbon seat tube and seat stays damp vibration for epic but comfy double centuries or, if you become as good as your bike, Tour Stages. Moreover, the entire frameset is finished with da Vinciesque artistry (the peloton will drool over the Seven’s exquisite carbon fork and lustrous finish). The complete rig weighs 17 pounds. Don’t argue. There is no nicer road bike in the world.”

Mountain Bike Magazine: Tips for Ti: Going Custom

from 101 Tips That Don’t Suck

When the editors of Mountain Bike magazine wanted to include tips on choosing a custom bike in their 101 Tips issue, who did they turn to? Seven Cycles, of course.

Going Custom

Seven Cycles is known for elegant, ultra-perfectionist frames. You can have one for the price of a small heart transplant. (Actually, the company’s steel bikes are fairly reasonable.) If you can afford it, you’ll never have a bike that fits or rides better. These tips—from Seven’s Rob Vandermark—apply to any custom bike.

Who Needs One?

Prevailing sentiment says the average person doesn’t need a custom bike (actually, even more prevailing is that the average person can’t afford one). But who’s average? Any rider can benefit from a custom bike. Custom geometry, tubing, features and options provide better handling, greater comfort, optimized ride characteristics and a lasting reflection of your individuality.

The Real Deal

Some manufacturers’ idea of custom is limited to paint color or component options. But for true customization, look for a builder that offers these four elements:

  • Custom geometry as it relates to size, fit, ergonomic comfort and biomechanical efficiency.
  • Custom geometry as it relates to handling, response and performance.
  • Custom tubing and material choice for optimized weight-to-performance, feel and ride characteristics.
  • Custom options and features, such as head-tube extensions, top-tube slope, cable routing and component compatibility.

More for Your Money

Any high-end bike is a big investment. A true custom bike adds more value by providing you with exactly what you want. To get the most for your money, look for a builder that doesn’t have a custom up-charge.

Where Your Local Shop Comes In

Getting a custom bike shouldn’t be intimidating or mysterious. In addition to choosing a builder that has custom-fit and frame-building expertise, you should purchase the bike through a shop that has extensive custom-fitting and selling experience. The bike builder should work closely with you and your shop to ensure you get the perfect bike.

The Key to Custom

Choice of tubeset is all-important. The reason some people find their bikes too harsh or too whippy has more to do with the size (wall thickness, diameter) of their frame’s tubing than the frame material itself. That’s why a rider-specific tubeset is key to making your frame as lively, plush, stiff and/or light as you need. No custom bike is complete without it.

Mountain Bike Magazine: Dave Gilheany

DaveGilheanyAge: 27

Home Town: Frenchtown, New Jersey

Occupation: I cook at the Main Street Cafe, this little 30-seat restaurant that serves eclectic food—a lot of French, a lot of sauces. I’d say it’s towards the high end. I also work at the bike shop right next door. I’m a mechanic, salesperson, pretty much anything.

The Bikes: I have a mountain bike with 24-inch wheels and a road bike with 650c wheels, both custom titanium Sevens. They’re currently working on a titanium modified trials bike for me.

The Situation: I have cartilage-hair hypoplasia, which means I don’t have as much cartilage or ligament tissue as an average person. Also, my bone structure isn’t as strong. It’s not too major. I couldn’t play contact sports in high school and I probably shouldn’t ride trials, but that’s about it. The disease also affects growth, so I’m 4-foot-8 and weigh 103 pounds. As a result, the bikes I tried were all too heavy and too big. Anything that was close to my size was a kid’s bike—they’re usually less expensive and aren’t high quality. I tried a 12-inch frame with 26-inch wheels, but I didn’t have any standover. I tried a bike with 24-inch wheels, but it was a tank, and had no suspension. There’s not much out there in my size that’s high quality, so I went to Seven.

The Right Bike: I’m now able to take it as far as I want to. Now the bike isn’t holding me back, it’s all up to me. The bike allows me to try stuff I would not have tried before.

The New Life: Before, I wasn’t a hard-core cyclist. I just used a bike to get around. When I got the right bike, I became obsessed with riding—any kind of riding, as often as possible. It’s also affected my jobs. Before I was working just to pay bills. Now I work so I can spend more time riding. I feel more physically fit now, more at ease—it’s brought my stress level down.