GOING BESPOKE: TECH STUFF
Harsh reality takes over from the whimsical notions; whim, prejudice, experience - all very well informed - help Steve Dyster decide on the components for his bespoke Swallow bike from Bicycles by Design.
Trying to convince myself that cleaning a clag-ridden bike chain and re-lubing it is a way to achieve Karma, through submission of the will and humility, soon became wearisome. There came a point where I realised that when chatting to Rohloff and belt-drive cyclists, there was no real justification, on such grounds, for sticking to chain and derailleur.
Truth is that a Rohloff hub gear would have been good; belt drive is the logical accompaniment. The crushing reality is, however, that, when it comes to buying a bespoke bicycle, there are - unless your pockets are very deep - there may well be compromises. Keeping to budget was, for me, essential. No other compulsion, just my own desire to ensure that a limited resource went as far as possible.
There are advantages to primitive, easily bodged and replaced, technology, too. I’ll have to get through many derailleurs and chains and chain rings before I catch up with the cost of the iconic Speed Hub. This will be even more sure if I submit, humbly, to the discipline of the chain-cleaner and sit, meditating, whilst polishing every link.
Disc brakes are pretty much standard on modern tourers. Sparing the wheel rims encouraged me to follow Peter’s (Peter Bird, my guru at Bicycle by Design and the friend who was going to build my bike) advice to putt more money into wheels than might usually be considered. Equally, running downhill with camping gear aboard starts to put intolerable strain on fingers as age plods onward. Opted, in the end, for TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes. My own prejudice intervened here. Reliability of hydraulic brakes is so much better than when I first had to service them, but a number of poor experiences (including a recent leak in the tandem’s hydraulics) persuaded me that I should go for a more bodgeable system. I don’t like abandoning for technical reasons.
With those decisions made and the peculiarities of my dimensions built into the measurements for the frame - Peter had to find a way to solve a longer than usual steerer tube, stronger raked forks (without looking too fat), and number of other issues. As a rider, I had a vision of what I wanted, but it took greater technological knowledge to be able to see how it would fit together. A wider bridge, slightly peculiar lugs - the Fleur-de-Lys design, was not quite available in all the sizes we needed. Still, we found ways around it.
A Reynolds 853 frame is about as good as steel gets at present - non-stainless to keep those few extra pounds in the kitty. Light and strong; having ridden 531 for many years, the frame felt positively featherweight. The slightly over-sized forks were not so light, but that is what comes form a love of a traditional rake and additional sleeve for hub dynamo wiring. There’ll be a SON hub dynamo for those long night rides.
Discussing lugs, bridges, bosses, road ends and so on seemed to take ages, becoming almost compulsive. Frankly, I was mesmerised by the intricacy of locating each small piece on the frame. The boxes of dull tubes that appeared in Peter’s workshop a few weeks later, did not look promising. Much later, assembled and covered in wet enamel paint, I thought the colours beautifully rich as it changed tone with the sun and cloud.
Sti shifters may not be traditional, but are my choice these days - I’ve got used to them and returning to down-tube shifters in a fit of retro-fired money-saving, a few years ago, saw me slapping around on the down-tube in search of the levers only to shift too sharply. Skills destroyed by modern technology.
Interestingly, there was a major debate about the transmission. Gear ratios are amongst my least favourite topics of conversation. Advancing years will probably make a more frequent topic, even if no more attractive. I wanted to maintain my triple. Yet, disc brakes and the trend to eleven/twelve speed set-ups up-front, brought an unerring logic; have a double on the front and eleven on the rear. You’ve never really raced and you ain’t about to begin - bigger intervals are less important than maintaining you good old Granny!
A hitch was hit with the chainrings. Just as we were ordering, Middleburn went bust. It was not deliberate, but it did come as a shock. How is it that manufacturers of such high quality products can go under? Fortunately, Goldtech bought Middleburn and a few weeks later were able to provide rings of the desired size. Front rings at 46/30 with an eleven-speed XT cassette with at 11/42, may seem bizarre, but will keep all but the very top end of my triple, whilst making the Granny a Great-Granny.
Middle-aged men can be accused of crises leading to a vain hope of regained youth. This is definitely not the bike I would have had thirty years ago. Not in the sense that the technology was not available, but because it is a bike for the future. Vanity, begone - the spirit will remain strong - as will the body as long as possible, but arthritic tendencies in the fingers and a growing preference for twiddling rather than attacking, will only become stronger. But age will come with dignity! I hope to spend my later years steadily touring wherever I can get to.
Peter had advised me to put more money into the wheels, suitable for 700 x 28/32 tyres . Once upon a time he actually taught me how to build wheels. He had even suggested that I should let him teach me to build the frame. On the basis that it is a long walk to Telford station- and mainly uphill - I decided to leave all construction in the hands of an expert.
Which brings me to a topic which I find even less fascinating than gear ratios; bottom brackets. Ungrateful as I seem to this fundamental component, I prefer using one to the beauty of its engineering. Tradition triumphed; Royce titanium, tapered, internal bearings. Light-weight external models are fine, but I have been getting through two or three a year - just on the tourer.
Racks, tape, tyres, mudguards were all discussed, but are, to some extent peripheral. I hope that many of the components will wear out and be upgraded or replaced. Buying a bespoke bike on a budget may mean compromise; it will not bring back lost days; but it has been fun and, in my case, I sincerely expect it to be the bike for the rest of my life.
Yet, with finishing touches being completed, and first ride getting closer, the proof of the bicycle will be, for me, in the riding.
The bike will be on display at Bespoked, in April 2017 www.bespoked.cc
PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 2017