I’m no traditionalist. I began racing on steel in toe clips, wearing something called a SkidLid. I suffered enough with heavy, flexible, uncomfortable equipment that I have very little nostalgia for it. I want carbon. Hell, I commute in carbon bikes with five figure price tags due to the nature of my work. So why was I on the phone with Seven Cycles?
When we decided it was time to create a ground-up cyclocross project bike, we wanted the result to be capable of much more than just 45-minute loops around a two-kilometer circuit. Why not roll out with the club ride and trade pulls at 28 mph then hit the gravel home and turn down a section of singletrack with no idea what lies ahead? In search of performance that would hold up for the long haul, a bike that could essentially be pitched off a cliff and hauled back up ready for more, titanium was the answer. We dailed up Seven Cycles.
Founded by Rob Vandermark and a group of ex-Merlin employees, Seven is legendary for their beautiful craftsmanship. Anyone lucky enough to find themselves sitting on the wheel of a Seven rider will understand. Stare at the seat cluster long enough and the flawless welds are hypnotic. It’s a combination only Vandermark’s education in sculpture and work experience at Merlin could create. What we did not know was just how rewarding the process of creating a custom frame would be with Seven.
While many builders deliver the custom frame they think best fits you and your riding style, Seven works almost as an extension of your hands. They listed so closely to what you need and have such an intuitive process that you don’t need to know angles or fork rakes to put your own stamp on a bike that will hit all of your desired targets. Seven listened to me drone on about my years as a track racer and the extreme position I ride, and delivered a bike most would consider too low. Bit it was perfect for me. They heard me talk about the nimble and confident handling I wanted and graced the bike with a giant 48-mm external diameter head tube and weren’t afraid to create toe-overlap in the name of precise handling. After all, handling counts while on the limit, not doing u-turns on the bike path. The chain stays are 22 mm in diameter and work well with the 20-mm seat stays to provide a stable rear end that still allows for a little Ti give. The chain stay length they recommend was slightly longer than I would have created on my own, 430 mm, and it is perfect, putting my weight where it needs to be for stability when the gravel is thick, but tight enough to follow the front wheel wherever it goes. The Mudhoney SL cross platform they delivered is the manifestation of my ramblings, with a big helping of Seven experience.
Threading the needle of our outrageous demands—performance meets durability, club-ride ability with all-day gravel chops—led Seven to their proprietary double-butted Argen 3-2.5 titanium tubes. They have created a process that allows them to control wall thicknesses to well within the width of a human hair, and it is this, along with their craftsmanship and communication, that truly allows them to unlock the potential of Ti for the individual rider. This custom Seven Mudhoney SL was a beautiful place to start, but it is also created some issues. What build could possibly live up to all the frame was capable of?
ENVE, Chris King and Wheelbiulder.com
As mentioned, I am a carbon junkie and wanted it to be a big part of this project. Which meant durable carbon, which means ENVE. These are the guys that put carbon on the downhill mountain biking World Cup map for the first time, so ENVE’s bar and stem were the perfect complement to the ENVE CX disc fork up front. The frame was built around the 47-mm rake, and the 1.5-inch tapered steerer tube added stiffness. But our favorite feature is the trick carbon cable clip on the left blade.
When it came to time for rims, we again turned to ENVE. And as good as their road offerings are, we wanted to be able to tackle full-blown rock gardens if necessary, which led us to their 29er XC rims. They may be mountain-specific and up to those rigors, but they weigh only 382 grams and are so stiff they give the Mudhoney SL extra throttle under power and peace of mind in the dirt. At 24-mm wide, they do all the right things with the tire’s contact patch, too.
Wheel durability has much to do with the build as it does with raw materials, and that led us to knock on Wheelbuilder.com’s door with our ENVE rims and set of Chris King R45 hubs in hand. The R45s have been a favorite since the very first set of ENVE road wheels we ever tried, so when an R45 disc option with a 135 mm rear popped up, it was decided. The R45 may be a lightweight road setup, but with the 17-mm oversize axles, they provide the perfect foundation for the stiff ENVE rims. What Wheelbuilder does with hubs, rims and spokes is deceptively simple but incredibly important. They are all about spoke tension uniformity and Wheelbuilder’s super tight tolerances can literally double the life-expectancy of your wheel. When you are paying $2,000 for wheels, this is no small thing.
In addition to the hubs, Chris King supplied both the headset and the bottom bracket bearings. They make all their bearings in-house and not just so that they can control production and ensure quality control. Chris King actually stuffs more rollers in each race than is typical, which increases longevity, durability and smoothness. The R45 hubs also get these Portland-made bearings.
SRAM RED 22, TRP and the rest
Whether knocking elbows in a tight bunch, passing a muddy corner, or hanging on for dear life on a dirt descent never meant for a rigid bike, SRAM DoubleTap provides quick, consistent shifts with more fingers on the bars. It was a non-negotiable lock for this do-it-all bike. Instead of SRAM RED calipers and Hydro levers, we opted for TRP’s new Hy/Rd setup. By placing the master cylinder at the caliper itself, TRP has immediately made all those unsightly and non user friendly converter boxes obsolete. With high-quality compressionless brake cable housing, the Hy/Rd is light-years better than mechanical discs and within spitting distance of all bit the best pure hydraulic systems—all with no need to ever bleed them. They set up in an instant and any slack is easily removed by a small barrel adjuster at the caliper. Because they are hydraulic, the pads will automatically adjust—an important point when a gritty cross race can wipe out pads in a few laps. With the Hy/Rd, TRP has has instantly removed the major headaches roadies face when going to a disc frame. No experience with hydraulic systems is necessary and if you want to swap over your current group, you can. Initial concerns about boiling the mineral oil due to proximity of the the hot discs and pads were unfounded. TRP has insulated the oil so well, the paint is going to peel and the pads are going to glaze before the oil boils.
We wrapped up this build with a few choice items. Continental Speed cyclocross tires were set up tubeless to take advantage of thier high-volume 35-mm width for impact protection and low, tight tread pattern for minimum rolling resistance on the road and hard pack. Bontrager sealant was used simply because it has set up more tires, more easily, and more often for us than any other sealant. We also used Bontrager high-visibility bar tape, With this bike, ride times are open-ended, so why not be as bright as possible when trying to beat the sunset home? Seven built the frame with the Arione saddle in mind, and when the new VSX version came out with deeper padding we knew it was perfect for less than perfect roads. For bottle cages we went with the champangne of cages, King Cage. Hand made out of titanium, one at a time, they make every other cage just seem silly.
We could bore you with the same refrain heard endlessly about Ti bikes. Does it have a ride quality that is simply magical? It’s good, incredibly good, but we know carbon bikes can be stiffer, lighter, and these days, just as comfortable. We could even get the same geometry with a carbon custom, although without Seven’s incredible ability to put angles and diameters to my specifications they would never have been found. Clearly, all the parts—SRAM, TRP, ENVE—would fit perfectly on a carbon frame. What Seven did with titanium was to create a work of art that handles beautifully, has a quick and lively nature with the ability to tackle any road&mhash;gravel, goat path or rock garden—you recklessly find yourself careening towards, day in and day out, for years. The Seven Mudhoney SL is an Armani suit you can wear in a cage fight, run a lint roller across, and then hit the red carpet.
Size Tested: Custom (seat tube center to top of collar: 60cm)
Weight: 18.1 pounds (with cages)
Details: SRAM RED True 22 with TRP Hy/Rd discs; ENVE XC 29 rims with Chris King R45 hubs; Chris King bottom bracket and headset; ENVE bar, stem and fork; 3T Stylus 25 seat post; fi’zi:k Arione VSX Saddle; King Cage Ti Cages; Continental Speed CX tires