Mountain Bike Magazine: Seventh Heaven – We Found the Perfect Bike – Too Bad You Can’t Afford It

by Matt Phillips

Some humans—by their very nature—like to take things to extremes. Witness the legions of people who jump out of perfectly operational airplanes. Not content with that, they push themselves further by skysurfing, BASE jumping and other such nonsense. Bike riders are not immune to this phenomenon. One could certainly argue that after the derailleur was invented, the bike was ideal and didn’t need to be developed further. But we pushed and pushed. The Seven Odonata is the result of one company pushing the limits once again.

Oh, the Frame!

Seven bicycles are regarded by most who see them as beautiful, and by some who ride them as ideal. For president Rob Vandermark to cut up one of his stunning Axiom titanium bikes could be considered sacrilege. After all, the bike is already plenty light and rides like a dream. But Vandermark wasn’t content with that. So out came the titanium seat tube and seatstays, and in went filament-wound carbon tubes, courtesy of Advanced Composites—the same company that makes Wound Up forks.

What’s Vandermark’s reasoning? Weight and ride quality. An Odonata frame is 10% lighter than the all titanium Axiom, and according to Vandermark, it offers a plusher, more comfortable ride. In fact it was carbon’s ride characteristics that first attracted Vandermark to the material.

“The damping characteristics are too good to ignore, but I wasn’t satisfied with the all-carbon bikes out there. So I leveraged some of its good points while minimizing its problems.” To ensure the highest quality ride, Vandermark orients the carbon’s fibers so they provide vertical compliance in the stays, while the seat tube is designed for maximum stiffness in bending and torsion. The carbon is mated to the titanium in what may be considered an unusual manner. At the bottom ends, the carbon fits over lugs, while in the upper ends, the titanium fits over the carbon. Both ends and the brake bridge are bonded in place.

Enough about the carbon bits—there’s a lot of titanium to talk about, too. The titanium is Seven’s proprietary Argen butted tubeset. How and where the tubes are butted depends on you, though. Seven’s extensive custom kit tailors each tube based on your weight, ride style, handling and rigidity preferences. By doing so, the company can create an ideal ride for anyone. (And for those of you who don’t want to take the time to complete the “custom” paperwork, the Odonata is available in 24 stock sizes.)

Between the trick hybrid frame and the extensive custom kit, you may forget to just look at the Odonata. To do so would be like concentrating on the brush strokes of a Cezanne, instead of stepping back to see how they all come together. Seven doesn’t make frames—it makes art. The smooth tapers make the titanium and carbon look like one piece of material, while the brake mount is elegantly simple. Plus, you have those gorgeous welds (which are about the best you can find), that sexy seat clamp and the laser-cut head badge.

Oh, the Parts!

Our test bike was a stock-sized 56 cm. Nothing special about it. Of course that’s like saying a Lamborghini Diablo is “nothing special” because it doesn’t have a custom-made seat. You gotta look at the big picture. The bike is equipped with a relatively tame build kit of Dura-Ace nine-speed and some tubulars. The Wound Up fork was one of the first 1 1/8-inch around (the larger size is available with either a carbon or aluminum steerer). Even though the steerer is a larger diameter, either version is lighter than the 1-inch version with a steel steerer. Additionally, the 11/8-inch fork is stiffer, and with the carbon steerer, more shock absorbing than its 1-inch steel counterpart. Also, there was the $300 Seven “assassin” titanium stem, which is available in custom reaches, rises and stiffnesses. We swapped the boring Ritchey post for one of the new Thomson layback posts, which gave us the same seating position, but in a package more suited to the Seven. As it sits, the Odonata weighs 17 pounds.

Oh, The Ride!

Riding the Seven feels like cheating. It’s too fast and it’s too comfortable. But who wouldn’t take an advantage like this? Immediately noticeable is the weight. The bike surges away from stoplights and makes you feel like a high-mileage stud. Up climbs the best term to use is “float.” You may not look like Marco Pantani, but this bike makes you feel like him. Tied into all this is the bike’s efficient rear triangle, no doubt helped by the healthy 7/8-inch curved chainstays. Riders on this bike felt like they could use a higher gear than they use on their normal bike.

Around LA’s uneven roads the shock-absorbing abilities were welcome, especially for riders coming off stiff aluminum bikes. We’ve never heard a road bike described as plush, but it is applicable. Except in this case plush doesn’t mean inefficient, heavy or a bitch to get up hill. It just means all-day comfortable.

Shimano’s Dura-Ace performed mightily. If you think XTR is precise, wait till you try this stuff. Quiet and smooth running, the shifting never required maintenance. All elements of this bike—the weight, the comfort, the solid parts—combine to make it meld with the rider. You become one with the road, melting away the miles and pushing yourself further.

The worst thing about the Odonata is that it only confirms what we already know—there are benefits to being rich that most of us will never realize. Not even with their abundance of engineers, slick ad campaigns or lawyers have the biggest of the mega-bike corporations reached such a level of quality craftsmanship as Seven has here. Eat your heart out Trek, Specialized, Schwinn and GT—the folks at Seven have you beat. This is a contemporary bike for the modern traditionalist, a bike everyone would and could fall in love with—if only we could afford it.

Note to mountain bike traditionalists: Even though the company has excellent line of mountain bikes, Seven doesn’t have an off-road version of the Odonata. The company says it’s possible, but it would be heavier, more complex, more fragile and more expensive than the full titanium hardtail.

Mountain Bike Magazine: “Matt’s Favorites” – Best Bunch of Bike Geeks/Best Hardtail

by Richard J. Cunningham, courtesy of Mountain Bike Action

I prefer suspension to hardtails. But the Seven Sola hardtail that I’ve been riding for the past year is my favorite bike ever. Why? It fits me so well, and handles exactly the way I like. Why? It was built for me through Seven’s excellent custom program. I miss this bike when I can’t ride it. It makes me happy, it makes riding fun and I love it. Plus I have the satisfaction of knowing it was built by a small group of the most obsessed bike geeks on the planet, headed up by Rob Vandermark. What Seven did for me, they can do for you, too.

From Mountain Bike Action Magazine: The Unbearable Lightness of Ti

Does the Titanium Hardtail Still Reign Supreme?

by Richard J. Cunningham, courtesy of Mountain Bike Action

When there were no full-suspension bikes and before Easton developed its legendary taper-butted 7005 aluminum frame tubing, the titanium hardtail was the best that money could buy. Put a lot of emphasis on the word, “money.” Titanium was difficult to obtain, nearly impossible to machine, and only the creme de la creme of TIG welders could successfully join the frames. But at close to half the weight of steel, yet comparable in strength, titanium’s lively feel and corrosion resistant properties eventually forced craftsmen to tame the unwieldy element.

It took another decade for the big brands to work out the bugs and copy the innovator’s designs. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late. Just as gray metal Ti frames were beginning to be dished out in semi-affordable numbers, aluminum suspension bikes literally wiped titanium steeds off the front pages. What a slap! The off-road world wished for affordable titanium and when it arrived, they didn’t want it anymore.

Is it really dead? The MBA test crew takes, look at five titanium hardtails, all built by the masters of the craft to discover the future of Ti, if there is one.

Talking to the masters of Ti

We asked the master builders of titanium frames to fill us in on the exotic world of space age plumbing and how it relates to modern day frame building. Here is what they had to say.

Seven Cycles’ Rob Vandermark on 3/2.5 vs. 6/4

“Titanium’s 6/4 alloy has some very favorable properties, hence the reason that Seven uses it for its dropouts. 6/4 is a great material for dropouts because of its toughness; however, this toughness makes it unattractive as a tube material. It is effectively not possible to draw 6/4 into seamless tubing. Drawing 6/4 tubing by using similar methods used for 3/2.5 alloy not only costs more, but it wears out tooling very quickly and there are limitations to the tube’s wall thickness, consistency and finish. Therefore, no mill offers seamless 6/4 tubing. What they do offer is seam welded 6/4 tubing.

“Seamed tubing is formed by rolling a sheet and automatically welding it at the joint. There are two major issues that keep Seven Cycles from choosing this method of tube manufacturing for its frames: First, the welded seam is a potential failure point. Second, the sheet that the tube is fabricated from is designed to be stressed as a sheet, not a tube. The grain structure of a 3/2.5 seamless tube is carefully drawn to optimize its strength. This is critical to fatigue life. Unfortunately, a sheet that is made into a tube offers the worst possible grain structure for fatigue life. The 6/4 tube will fail in fatigue cycling (repeated flexing) before it should. Independent tests show that 6/4 sheet does not have the fatigue life of a properly drawn 3/2.5 tube. 6/4’s strength properties are higher than 3/2.5 alloy, but this is irrelevant because catastrophic failure is not an issue with titanium frames. Fatigue failure is the key.”

Seven Cycles Sola

Unlimited Choices for the Discerning Owner

Seven has a host of tricks up its sleeve that set this bike apart from cheap imitations. Seven’s raw material is seamless, aerospace certified, straight gauge 3/2.5 titanium drawn to Seven’s specifications. Butting is done by Seven to within 0.001 inch.

The head tube is eccentrically butted for maximum strength and stiffness at the weld joint. Drop outs are CNC machined and logo engraved from 1/4 inch thick 6/4 titanium plates with machined ramps.

Final touches are 7/8 inch diameter, butted “S” seat stays; composite seat tube insert; and custom-made, CNC machined, nickel-plated aluminum seat clamp.

Seven’s Exclusive Argen custom tubing is U.S. made and Seven’s butting process allows for unlimited choices in wall thicknesses and tubing diameter. All frames are tailor made to rider specifications, with the rider’s weight, riding style and desired ride characteristics taken into account. Customers can choose any cable routing and braze-on adjustments. All this is done at no extra cost and takes no extra time.

Riding the Seven

Numbers: Seven chose a basic geometry for our bike: 71 -degree head tube and 73 -degree seat tube on an 18-inch frame.
Comfort: The Seven was a very comfortable bike to ride. The frame was stiff where it needed to be and compliant where it mattered. We could sprint the bike and it wouldn’t shift itself out of gear, but it descended the roughest sections without rattling our bones. Compared to every other titanium bike, the Seven is nearly perfect.
Handling: How do you want the bike to handle? Since Seven can make any geometry, tube thickness, tube diameter or tube length you want, you can make the bike handle exactly the way you want it to. If you aren’t sure what kind of bike would be best for you, Seven’s crack team of engineers can quiz you about your riding style and local terrain, take all your body measurements and design a frame just for you. Take advantage of Seven’s expertise and service.
Construction: Workmanship is good as it gets on this titanium frame Seven takes incredible pride in its work and it shows. Frame weight is a claimed 3.23 pounds for an 18-inch frame. Seven makes 16 stock sizes from ten to 25 inches.
Weight: Our complete test bike weighed 21.5 pounds.
Wax Nostalgic: Seven’s feel and characteristics were reminiscent of the Merlin XLT. A great all around race and trail bike, the fully customizable Seven is a rare bike to find and own.

MBA Rating

Seven’s bikes are for titanium connoisseurs who know what they want. Building up your own Seven isn’t cheap, but the end result is stunning.

You simply can’t compare what you get with the Seven to budget titanium offerings.

MBA grade: A +

Boston Business Journal: Pedaling the Product

Bicycle Frame Manufacturer Seven Cycles Inc. Takes a Ride to the Top of the Industry

by Roberta Holland, Journal Staff

Watertown All Rob Vandermark remembers about his first bicycle is that it was a cheesy gold color and a hand-me-down from his older brother. Vandermark, founder and president, and his colleagues at Seven Cycles Inc. are hoping the bikes they design and manufacture are a little more memorable.

According to company officials, Watertown-based Seven Cycles has become the largest custom-order bike frame manufacturer in the country, selling road and mountain bike frames to retailers who then put the bicycles together using brakes, gears and tires from other manufacturers.

Approaching its second anniversary in January, Seven Cycles had revenue of $520,000 in its first year. The company hit $1.1 million in 1998 sales on November 18 (1998), with total sales for year projected at $1.25 million.

“We started off kind of slow, and nervous, and we opened up pretty widely as the seasons peaked,” said Vandermark. “Some reviews came out and we started getting some exposure.”

Vandermark, 31, said the company is turning a profit despite his initial projections that it wouldn’t be profitable until 1999.

Seven’s frames are not for penny-pinchers. The frames alone cost about $3,000. The company also sells stems for about $350 and forks for around $325. When put together with the other elements, a typical bicycle costs more than $5,000.

Seven does not charge more for custom design. Customers ordering a custom frame fill out a survey that asks for everything from inseam and forearm measurements to questions about flexibility and whether they experience any back or neck pain.

“Seven tries to make the best product possible,” Vandermark said. “Price and cost are secondary to trying to push innovation.”

The company is located in a 7,000-square-foot rented warehouse in Watertown, of which Seven sublets 2,000 square feet. The private company has 12 full-time and three part-time employees.

Vandermark said he first became interested in bikes because his older brother was. But he stuck with it, working in a bike shop throughout high school and college and competing in local races.

Vandermark had been studying to be a sculptor at Massachusetts Colege of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts School when he dropped out in 1987. Answering a help wanted ad, Vandermark got a job with Merlin Metalworks Inc. in Cambridge, which was just getting started at the time, and is now a giant in lightweight titanium frame bikes.

Vandermark worked as a machinist, welder and product developer during his 10 years at Merlin. When Vandermark was at Merlin, he designed the bicycle Greg LeMond used to win the 1989 Tour de France.

When Vandermark split from Merlin in 1997, he took three co-workers with him. Now a total of 11 Seven employees, including Vandermark, came from Merlin.

He started Seven, with the help of two angel investors, who contributed more than $200,000 to help purchase equipment and to print the company’s brochure. Seven incorporated in January 1997 and shipped its first order for 20 bikes that March. The company benefited from some glowing reviews in trade publications and business took off from there.

Seven has 50 distributors throughout the United States and 12 overseas in Italy, France and Hong Kong. About 10 percent of the company’s sales are international.

“They’re kind of at the top of the food chain in terms of quality,” said Scott Fader, a sales executive at Belmont Wheel Works, Seven’s largest retailer. “They have an outstanding level of dealer support and they take care of the customer extremely well, making a bike ride the way a customer wants.”

Fader said the company has combined state-of-the-art technology with old-school craftsmanship.

Vandermark is set to begin another round of financing, and plans to again turn to angel investors in hopes of getting at least another $200,000. With it, he plans to expand Seven’s manufacturing capacity.

Many customers are professionals between the ages of 35 and 55, the younger snowboard crowd and women seeking a bike that fits their proportions.

While company employees joke that the company gets its name because people there work seven days a week, Vandermark said they just liked the number and its positive associations.

Vandermark said that the four original employees—himself, Jennifer Miller, Matt OKeefe and Lisa Rodier—had a combined 36 years of experience, which helped the company avoid a lot of mistakes and missed opportunities. Vandermark sheepishly admitted he is the only member of the company who doesn’t bike to work.

Ashley Korenblat, former president of Merlin and now owner of Western Spirit Cycling Co. in Moab, Utah, was Seven’s first customer.

“What they’ve done is really incredible,” Korenblat said. “You notice (the difference) and then you’re ruined if you go back to riding another bike. The performance is totally noticeable, even to an intermediate rider.”

Mountain Bike Magazine: Lucky 7

by Matt Phillips

Imagine being able to choose exactly how stiff you prefer your frame, how agile you like your bike’s handling—to personalize a bike to fit your riding style. Like to climb out of the saddle? The bike will be designed with that in mind. Plan to use the bike mostly for racing? You’ll get the geometry and tubeset specific to those conditions. This bike will be built using all of your body measurements, your current bike’s measurements along with details about your existing bike (what works and what’s causing you pain). And the real beauty is that you don’t have to leave your living room to get it.

A company called Seven Cycles can make this happen. Headed by ex-Merlin designer Rob Vandermark, Seven lets you decide exactly how custom—or not—you want your new bike to be. You can change one or two details on a stock Seven in 14 stock sizes (10-23 inches) available in steel ($1,500) or titanium ($2,600). Or you can create an original blueprint specifically for you. The best news is that any true custom work, whether it’s a pump peg or fully personalized geometry, costs nothing extra. So your Seven is either an expensive stock frame or a reasonable custom frame.

The neatest, or scariest, thing about the Seven custom program is that you do it yourself. Included in the catalog is a set of step-by-step instructions that explain how to measure your body and how to manipulate those numbers for your intended purpose.

To see just how effective the DIY customizing is, I went through the system just as any consumer would. The first thing I learned is that it’s prudent to have a friend help you with the measurements. Trying to do it alone is a pain, especially when you’re attempting to read a measuring tape while holding a book tight against your crotch and standing up straight. This doesn’t yield the most accurate measurements.

Once I had the raw numbers, I started to create my bike. This section reminded me of taking the SAT. You get a number from one chart, then use a set of modifier charts to fine-tune the figure. After working through this set of problems, you come to the multiple-choice section: How rigid do you want the bike on a scale of 1 (comfortable) to 10 (stiff)? How do you want to bias the handling, from 1 (stable) to 10 (agile)? What will you use the bike for? Do you want a 1- or 1 1/8-steerer? Do you want a 135 or a 145 mm rear wheel spacing? How many miles per week do you average? Where do you want your cables routed (four choices), and do you want to add a third set of water-bottle mounts, a second set of rack mounts, a chain hanger or a pump peg? In the end, you supply the component package for the frame.

Total time for me to get through the process: about two hours.

Once you have this info, you send it to Seven. The designers there look at it and call you with questions. You’ve done the initial work, but the folks at Seven are there to protect you from yourself. If your numbers look off, they’ll go over them with you. You receive a final spec sheet to review and sign, and this will become the blueprint for your bike.

This system is especially valuable if you have trouble finding a bike that fits you. While most riders don’t need to bother with the extra time, expense and hassle of getting a custom-sized bike because off-the-shelf bikes work just fine for them, for some people the extra hassle (which is minimal in Seven’s case) is worth it because they know they have a bike built just for them. Custom bikes make sense for riders who know they have an odd body type or who have never felt comfortable on a stock-size bike. For instance, I have longer legs and a shorter upper body than most people my height. Consequently, I have to ride bikes with ridiculous amounts of seatpost or run short stems to get the right reach. Either way, something gets compromised.

Rolling the Seven

My custom titanium Seven Sun came through the door with a 22.8 inch top tube, a 16.5 inch seat tube (center to center, 18.75 center to top), a 3.5 inch head tube, 71-degree head angle, 73-degree seat angle, 16.7 chainstays and an 11.6-inch-high bottom bracket.

I selected “8” for frame rigidity and “10” for agile handling. I started riding bikes in Connecticut and I was raised on East Coast-style mountain bikes, so I like a smaller, shorter bike and I’m willing to trade some high-speed stability for quicker handling.

The numbers were generated by Seven’s catalog, coupled with some tweaking by me and some final tuning that came during a discussion between the company and me. I was confident in the geometry but although numbers and theories are great for paper, in the real world you can’t beat seat of the pants. The ultimate test would be the ride. Had I chosen red when I should have picked black?

The result: lucky Seven indeed—jackpot! I really wasn’t expecting the bike to be this good. It’s nearly perfect for me. Even thought the numbers aren’t radically altered from an off-the-shelf bike, the difference is noticeable.

The bike rides just like I wanted it to, and it fits me better than any I’ve ever been on. It’s stiffer than most titanium frames, which helps with stability and sprinting, but it still delivers the traditional smooth, damped Ti ride. Much of this can be attributed to the gracefully bent seatstays.

The stability is also better than I anticipated, most likely due to the frame’s stiffness and low bottom bracket. The low bottom bracket was my attempt to eke more handling performance out of the bike. Because I do most of my riding in the West, a BB this low works because there aren’t many rocks or logs in your way. If I were back East, it would have to be higher. So far, the low BB has only done good things for my riding.

This bike is and does everything I’ve ever wanted out of a hardtail. For me, Seven’s custom kit was a noticeable improvement over stock sizing.

Final Bets

A bike in the Seven’s price range should be a two-wheeled work of art. And indeed, the Seven deserves to be hung in the Louvre. It’s gorgeous.

As I wheeled it around the Mammoth expo, it was interesting to note that all the people who stopped and fawned over the bike were industry folk. Employees of companies who make nice bikes were impressed with the workmanship and clean beauty of the Seven. The laser-cut head badge and the smooth seat collar got the most attention.

The overall profile also received its share of compliments. The size of the tubes, especially in the rear, are larger than normally seen on a Ti bike. In an age of fat aluminum tube popularity, the Seven isn’t left behind. It’s purely visual, we know, but the Seven looks like a beefy, strong bike—like a mountain bike instead of a road bike. The welds are smooth and consistent, like a tight stack of poker chips held at an angle.

In our search to find something wrong with the Seven, we had to dig deep. There are only two minor complaints. First, the seatstays and chainstays are so large that the dropouts look as out of place as a Mennonite in Vegas. The 6/4 dropouts are nice, but they look awkward against the large-diameter rear triangle. If Seven could beef out the drops a little, our visceral cravings would be satisfied.

Our second issue is that the bike doesn’t do much to distance itself from a Merlin. Merlins are great bikes, and Rob Vandermark had a lot of influence on how they look. The Seven’s finish is almost identical to a Merlin, and the seat- and chainstays are very close. Vandermark doesn’t apologize for this. He says he wasn’t going to risk the bike’s ride just to make it visually different, and calls the similarity, “A compliment, not a plagiarism.”

But he also says that although a Seven might resemble a Merlin on the outside, it’s quite different inside. For example: thicker, stiffer chainstays; brake bosses more on center with the seatstays for better braking; more mud clearance; and more vertical compliance. Plus, the custom kit is a level above Merlin.

When Vandermark and six other people started Seven, they wanted to make purchasing a custom bike easier. The price is high—there’s no denying that—but only if you compare it with a stock bike. A Seven is equal to or lower than many other custom mountain bike prices. And few of those bikes are as custom as the Seven. Besides geometry, Vandermark manipulates tubing sizes and butts (butting is done in-house) to suit individual riders.

This high level of customizing works well—at least for me—and makes the buyer an actual part of the bike’s design. Not only do you get a mountain bike that rides and fits excellent, but you feel especially attached to it because you helped shape it. You have something as individual as you are. Odds are, you’ll like it.