By Robert Millar
Oh no, I thought, not another American titanium bike made from 3AL-2.5V tubing. Is this the only material for custom-built frames they have in the States? I haven’t been too impressed by the past few efforts we’ve seen in the procycling office. Sure, they all look like they will last a lifetime, but the claim that they were race bikes seemed a little dubious.
Why do I say that? They were all missing that little bit of character and liveliness that separates the pedigree racer from the boring plodder. Where was the stiffness and the rapidity of reaction that you need when racing? They had plenty of built-in comfort, but it seemed to be at the expense of the handling. The Seven Axiom in 3AL-2V titanium tubing looked like it was the chief culprit, a little too soft and a little too bendy to give bite to the all-important bike reactions. So, I admit I was a touch dubious of the people at Seven’s claim that the material wasn’t to blame—it’s what you do with it that gives the frame its characteristics.
A visit to the Seven website then threw up a vast array of questions on what I wanted from my custom-made titanium frame—which quite frankly I’d never been asked before. They served to explain what Seven could do to in order to achieve your ideal bike.
All the possible characteristics of a frame are separated into categories, which are marked from one to 10, then the different materials used to make frames are shown somewhere along this scale. Whatever kind of frame you are used to riding, be it carbon, steel, titanium or aluminum—this series of scales gives you the opportunity to figure out what you like and dislike about your bike and see how different tubing can affect those values.
It really is quite simple and effective in the way it allows you to program the traits that you want into your Seven frameset with a minimum of knowledge about frame materials and how they give different ride qualities to a bike. The Seven Custom kit works it all out for you, puts easy-to-understand numbers on all the important parts to help you figure it out and then asks a few more questions which will confirm your exact needs.
So what did I ask for? “A titanium frame which rides like oversize aluminum, please.” Yeah right, as if that’ll be possible is what I was thinking, and you probably are too, but hey, they say they can do it…
Previous experience of people asking what you want, then doing what they wish, has taught me to take the “custom” claims with a pinch of salt. But while I gave them the dimensions for my frame, the style, type and choice of frame would be theirs. In the event, they got back to me only once, concerning the bottom bracket height which would apparently be 5mm higher than they normally use—due to the rear triangle length and tire-clearance issues—but other than that I never heard a thing questioning my judgment.
When the bike arrived a few weeks later, at first sight, it looked very much like a typical titanium frame, sloping top tube, curved seat and chainstays, straight carbon forks. Nothing was openly radical in the design.
The presentation and apparent craftsmanship were what you would and should expect at this price level—simply immaculate. Everything was smooth and shiny and placed where it ought to be for optimum performance. These little details show that these guys mean business: super stiff CNC-machined drop outs made from stronger 6-4 titanium are engraved with the Seven logo; there is a composite liner inside the seat tube to stop the post from seizing when the oh-so-smooth Seven seat clamp is done up; the badge on the head tube is laser-cut stainless steel and every cable guide is perfectly applied. The welding is beautifully done, no ifs or buts, every joining is a piece of art. The front forks are a Seven exclusive, carbon steerer with an inner alloy sleeve, polished aluminum crown and straight carbon legs which are round in section just like every other tube used in this Axiom frame. In fact, according to the Seven info, they use exclusively round section tubes in all their frames whatever the material—titanium, steel or carbon fiber. It seems an odd choice at a time when every man and his dog seem to be producing an array of multi-shaped tubing to build a frame. Claims to build the stiffest, lightest, fastest bike just add to the confusion, but at least you can’t say that you don’t have any choices nowadays.
The first choice I made—before I even set off to ride the Axiom—was to remove the SLR saddle, a static twiddle of the pedals confirming that this piece of equipment is definitely not for me. It was way too hard and flat—so I nicked the saddle and seat post out of my own bike. I didn’t have to fiddle with my saddle to get the right position as it lined up perfectly, confirming that the Seven guys had got the seat angle exactly as I asked for. This was the first piece of really good news—they had done as they were told with the dimensions. The second came after just 20 seconds of riding when I had to endure the first disturbance in the road surface, the frame reacted with a very un-titanium-like rumble mixed with a bit of harshness and plenty of vertical stiffness from the rear triangle. Excellent, just as oversized aluminum would have done.
Out of the saddle and up the hill that greeted me everyday when I set off, the negative titanium thoughts were completely banished. This Seven feels exactly like fat alloy tubes have been used; in fact, it feels eerily similar to the Rex Pro I had from Principia last year. Same stiffness from the drive train, same rigidity in the main frame and the same level of comfort or rather lack of it when potholes appear. I was very impressed. If it wasn’t for the fact I could look down and see the satin-finished titanium tubes looking back at me I would have believed it was oversized alloy.
The front forks must come in for a special mention—they might look a bit funny but the performance from them is as good as I have ever used. They have just the right amount of flexibility to deal with harsh bumps but the stiffness out of the saddle is remarkable and the feedback from the front tire is really nice. You can feel exactly what the rubber is doing under all circumstances. The front of the bike when placed under pressure, be it sprinting, down-hill braking or fast cornering, feels as reassuring and confident as Mr Pinarello offers on his Vola forked Prince frames, which is high praise indeed. As a whole, the bike feels like the front from a Prince or a Cannondale CMD 6 has been attached to the rear triangle from a Principia—you can’t get a more aluminum feeling than that.
I rode in the wet, the dry, the cold and the miserably freezing and it never once gave off a hint of bend or flex that the titanium construction usually would have. The geometry and the dimensions were exactly as I had asked for, I so I felt instantly at home on the Axiom, nice neutral steering with plenty of feedback from the tires, excellent traction out of the saddle, super stiff head tube and forks, I loved every reaction that came from the bike. Even on the crap days, it was still enjoyable to ride!
Equipped with the Campagnolo 2002 Record groupset, the equipment was irreproachable. A few grams shaved off here and there did not affect the quality of the equipment at all. The Campag Neutron wheels are simply an update of the previous Neutrons, with black alloy spokes replacing the old stainless steel ones in the never-ending search for weight reduction.
Fitted with Vittoria CX tubulars, they provided all the response, liveliness and resilience that you could ask for from a set of wheels that is strong enough to deal with all but the most extreme of road surfaces. Furthermore, Deda Newton oversized bars, in the classic round shape with matching stem, were perfectly comfortable and flex free, despite all the best efforts that I could put through them—due to that massive head-fork combination of the frame.
So, at just 7.25 kilos, here stands a machine that can—and will—do just about anything you want it to, on just about any road surface you can imagine and it has all the options. Fit, finish, performance and durability.
Frame: Argen™ double-butted titanium 3AL-2.5V
Forks: Seven carbon
Groupset: Campagnolo Record
Bars: Deda Newton 31.8
Stem: Deda Newton
Saddle: Selle Italia SLR
Seatpost: Campag carbon
Headset: Chris King
WheeliresIRES: Vittoria CX TT tubulars 21 mm
Vairables: 53-39 chainrings, 11-23 cassette, 172.5mm cranks
Seat Tube Length: 460mm
Top Tube Length: 550mm
Front Centers: 575mm
Rear Triangle: 410mm
Fork Rake: 40mm
Weight: 7.25kg (16Ibs)
Price: $2,595 frame only
Mission accomplished as far as the Seven is concerned. I asked for the performances and feelings of a fat alloy frame and that is exactly what I got, 100% correct with no compromises. That the frame producing this is made from 3AL-2V titanium is all the more impressive and leaves me in no doubt that everything they claim they can do with this material is entirely believable.