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
Getting 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.
When 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.
The 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.
125 Walnut Street, Watertown, MA 02472
||Completely custom sizing/geometry available
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.
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.
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.”