nr's blog

A Fantasy in Titanium pt. 1 16 November, 2010

Filed under: Cycling — nr @ 3:19 pm

Dammit, I’m *so* impatient. It’s one of my worst traits. I was determined to leave my beautiful new frame in the box until I had all the necessary bits and pieces accumulated to turn it into a complete bicycle. However, my impatience (combined with the dreadful Saturday night TV) got the better of me, and I decided to make a start on putting the pieces together to form my fantasy bicycle. So, taking stock, I had a box with the following bits:

  • Frame
  • Fork
  • Headset
  • 2 x fork bungs
  • Handlebar & stem
  • Bag of spacers
  • Seatpost clamp
  • Bottle cage bolts
  • Cable guide for bottom bracket
  • Washer for front brake

Blimey. Actually that sounds like quite a list, but it’s fair to say that the bulk of that came from Drew in the Big Box last week. The handlebar and stem were a speculative eBay punt that came good, and the spacers and cable guide were spares that I had kicking around from gawd knows where.

First thing to do was to throw the cable guide and front brake washer back in the box, as I had no cables or front brake to worry about yet, on account of my still saving up for a groupset. So, before I did anything, a couple of photos of that gorgeous frame.



The last time I saw welding of that quality on titanium I was looking at the turbine blades from an F-15. And no, I’m not going to go into detail of how I came to be looking at them.




So, with a couple of photos taken I set to work. The first job was to cut the steerer tube to length, and for this, I needed a dry run of fitting everything together to find the correct place to cut. I’m sure that there’s a clever way to do this by measuring the headtube length, and the combined depth of the spacer stack and stem, but I wasn’t going to risk anything like that. The headset cups had already been pressed into place by Drew, so all I had to do really was put the bearings and cones in place and slap it all together. Being mindful of the old adage of ‘measure twice, cut once’ I decided to walk away from the assembled front end once it was complete, get a cup of tea, and come back and make sure that I hadn’t forgotten anything. Everything still looked good with the aid of a nice fresh cup of strong tea, so I marked the tube with a pencil, and took everything apart again.

I measured 5mm lower than the mark to allow for the top cap to sit in the recess, and wrapped a bit of tape around the tube to give me a guide in keeping the cut square. I drew a deep breath, and started cutting with a fine bladed hacksaw. Technically, this was bloody easy, but nonetheless, still nerve-wracking. If my measurements were up the swannee I’d have a very expensive paperweight on my hands… Once the cut was complete I cleared up the dust, and dressed the end lightly with a bit of wet & dry paper to make sure there were no fibres left sticking out ready to embed themselves in my fingers.

Right then. Time to assemble it properly. The lower cone was slipped down onto the fork crown (I’d removed it while cutting the tube to make sure it stayed clean and free from dust) and the lower bearing was slipped into the cup with a big dollop of Shimano anti-seize to keep everything waterproof and moving freely. At the top a similar story – the bearing was inserted into the cup, again with a big dollop of anti-seize, and the top cone slid down over the steerer tube until it made gentle, yet intimate contact with the bearing. So far so good… The two Ti spacers were dropped down over the tube, and then a quick smear of Liquid Torque was applied, both to the tube and the mating surface of the stem. The stem was then popped on, and nipped up gently while still about 10mm proud of the top of the steerer. The longer of the two fork bungs was then dropped in, and carefully tightened to the recommended 8nm. The stem was loosened, dropped down onto the two spacers, and the upper spacers installed. I fully expect at some point to remove these top spacers and cut an extra 25mm off the steerer, but for now, I’d rather have the potential for adjustment. Finally, the gorgeous Ti top cap was installed, and the whole lot tightened up.

The bar was simplicity itself to install, with four pinch bolts holding it in place and a nice set of calibration marks to ensure that everything was in the right place. Here I have a bit of a conundrum… I want to remove the dreadful graphics and primary school colour scheme on the bar/stem, but in doing so I’ll also remove these calibration marks. For now, and for the first rides on the bike, I’ll leave it as it is until I get everything set correctly, then I’ll sit down with a cup of tea and have a jolly good think about it all.

Last thing to do was pop the bottle cage bolts in place – I know this sounds like a waste of time as I’ll only need to take them out again to install the bottle cage(s) but for the first few rides I probably won’t have one in place, and the bolts will stop anything from getting into the seat tube. Not that it’s ever actually likely to happen, but if I can remove that risk entirely, that’s what I’ll do. So, another smear of anti-sieze, and the bolts went in with no drama. And that’s where we are now. The current state of affairs is this, and I’m rather pleased with things so far.

All in all, a very constructive way to spend a Saturday evening.


Construction Time Again 5 November, 2010

Filed under: Cycling — nr @ 4:33 pm

Blimey, things have moved on rather quickly. Given the rather flippant tone of my comments last week, I’m actually pretty surprised to have the heart of a new bicycle sitting on my desk next to me already. But, that’s exactly what I do have, and now I have the pleasure of planning, and executing the build of my own fantasy bike. But, let’s go back a couple of days to where it all began…

I’d emailed Drew of the Spin Cycle works about the possibility of a test ride on one of his bikes, and he couldn’t have been more helpful really. So, on Wednesday of this week I drove down to Wimpstone (no, I’d never heard of it either) near Stratford-Upon-Avon to meet up and go for a ride together. We actually started off by talking through the design philosophy of the frame, and how come he’d started building them in the first place. And it’s a familiar story… Drew had owned all sorts of Ti frames over the years, from the earliest Lynskey built frames right up to the current benchmark – the Litespeed Icon. And none of them were *quite* perfect. So he set up his company to design and build his own fantasy bike. And looking at one of his frames next to a pair of Litespeeds, I had to concede that he’d done a better job of it in a lot of respects, notably the welding quality, the details like the bottle cage mounts, and the price.

But, gorgeous as the bike looked, there was only one way to find out how well it worked. So I got my shoes on, and while Drew got his own bike out of the garage, I spent a couple of minutes pedalling up and down the road to get used to the Sram groupset. It was immediately apparent that the bike was exceptionally light compared to my aluminium framed Giant, and seemed to revel in springing forward whenever I wanted it to. The groupset did take a bit of getting used to, and I spent the first couple of minutes either changing the wrong way or not changing gear at all. It eventually came to me though. As did the fact that the brakes are a lot more effective than the ones I’m used to. I don’t think I left too much of a skidmark. Drew then appeared, and off we tootled for a quiet ride in the country.

I can honestly say that the next hour or whatever was one of the most pleasant that I’ve had for a long time. Drew is a fascinating chap, and we reeled off the miles chatting about engineering, quantum mechanics, motorcycle racing, and bicycle design. Honestly, I could have just ridden for hours and carried on chatting as the miles rolled by. Although the route wasn’t hilly, it’s fair to say that it was undulating – so I decided to have a quick sprint up one of the larger undulations to see how the bike responded. And at that moment, I knew that I’d be handing over a pile of money to buy a new frame. It was so responsive compared to my normal bike. In fact, compared to anything I’ve ridden, including some £2K+ carbon race bikes. I stood on the pedals, and the bike shot forward, leaving me grabbing for longer gears as quickly as I could find them. I remember James riding my TZ250 at Snetterton, and bringing it back to the garage saying “I couldn’t change gears fast enough to get the best out of it” and I now know what he meant. And on the descents it was just as good – absorbing the worst of the ripples and bumps in the road and letting me get on with just guiding it between the hedgerows. Beautiful.

So, we agreed on a price, and I secured the last medium sized frame in the country at the moment. And it’s sitting next to me right now on my desk. And I’m very chuffed. It’s going to take several months of hard saving to build it up to the spec I want, but it’ll be worth it. Current plans are to fit an Sram Apex groupset, pair of Planet-X model B wheels, one of Drew’s carbon forks, a Giant bar and stem that I picked up on eBay last week for a song, and whatever seatpost I can get a good deal on. And when all that’s done I’ll have a very special bicycle indeed.

And all because of a wobbly wheel.


%d bloggers like this: