Deciding to fork out for a bespoke bike had been a long process. The decision, a mixture of sentiment and practicality, set in train discussions, research, more discussions, more thought, and eventual manufacture. So why did Steve Dyster go down the roads he chose and what os the ride like? Well, partly, he followed advice from the expert Peter Bird, though it was based around his own designs and ideas for a bike for the rest of his mortal days (provided he can get his leg over - behave - the top tube!).
The great thing to remember about a bespoke bike is that it is more than a personally-sized frame. Components and accessories can be personalized, too - in fact, there’s a strong interplay between frame construction and component selection, of course. Above all, there’s no reason why anyone else should like it.
At this point, I’ll just remind folk that I wanted a road, largely, touring bike, with a traditional look to the frame, a rake to the forks, but disc brakes, hub dynamo, and so on. by the way, there was a budget, too, and a fairly modest one by the standard of bespoke bikes.
Frame size has turned out to be spot on. The position felt odd at first. Surely, I was sitting too low and the bars too high? However, I can still get along at a good pace when I want to, although I ma not crouching over the bars. Even better, it is a real all-day position, no back pain, and very easy access to riding on the hoods, the drops, the tops, and to the brifters.
Reynolds 853 was the choice for frame and forks. Tough as old boots and light, although I chose not to go stainless. Budget began to kick here. Rather like buying the second most expensive tickets at the theatre. With decent frame protection precautions in place, I don’t see this as a significant compromise.
Forks were interesting. Traditional rake and disc-brakes were not happy bedfellows. Not a problem for Peter Bird. Some reinforcement would be needed. Peter knows my love of the hills and cycle-camping, so there’s a lot of strain coming down Hardknott Pass - just different to going up it. With the hub dynamo added in, the front end is relatively hefty. Cornering is excellent, despite this.
With weakening fingers a prospect in the not too distant future, a bike for life for a cyclist who loves the mountains and moors and has every intention of riding them until he finally topples form his saddle, means disc brakes. Holding things steady when necessary should preserve him for a few more miles.
Spyre are about as good as you get with mechanical disc brake systems, and have performed beautifully. There’s no fade, though inspecting the pads has found a place on the calendar and mileage log-book. Interestingly, by the time they went in for a service, pads were nearly worn through - danger of damaging the rotor. Peter remarked that i was obviously a hill-country fan as front and rear pads were equally worn.
The pads will need to be inspected regularly, but won't need to be replaced any more often than rim blocks. Probably less.
A few eye-brows were raised when I opted for mechanicals. Hydraulics offer a lot and are nowhere near as fussy as they were when I first came across them many years ago. However, out in the wilds I can bodge a mechanical. I can’t bodge hydraulics. As I emerge from the primeval soup into the twenty-first century, I still like to be, fundamentally independent. Fortunately, I’ll be learning more about them on one of the courses at Bicycles by Design.
Hub dynamos are most definitely the way forward for regular night-owls - and when opportunity arises I intend to get a few all-nighters in. Germans do them very well and at a reasonable price. A SON 28, built into a H Plus Son 32 spoke rim wheel, produces a steady 6v to the Busch & Mueller I-QX front light and a Top line rear light. Apart from the utterly predictable German slant to the right, the light is excellent and more than enough for a steady touring 15mph on dark country lanes. I have a cunning plan to subvert German design, but I’ll not go into that here.
There was a slight conflict between the bars and the I-QX mounted on the extraordinarily long steering tube. However, a bit of fettling of the articulated bracket has got the field of light about right.
Compact bars with a width of 47cm (eighteen and a half inches) give a relaxed feel with great scope for changing hand position. Comfortably finished off with some soft and grippy Fi’zi:k bar wrap, they maintain the theme of a bike for all-day, everyday.
Ultegra dual controls are nothing to get especially excited about. They may be upgraded at some time, but do have the benefit of being familiar and effective. At first, I was reluctant to drop my triple chainset. However, the industry seems to be moving to as few chain rings as possible, so controls are going to follow suit. Preserving a wider choice meant going double. Actually, its probably only for fogey tourists like me that triples are much of a discussion point.
Needless to say, I've ridden the bike round the beloved hills of the borders, including a stonkingly strenuous roller-coaster over the hills from Newcastleton to Brampton.
To finish off, we have a Shimano 105 front mech, an XT Dynasys (very long-cage) rear mech, and a smooth and sturdy Royce bottom bracket. Up-grades there may be, if money allows, but for now I am just looking forward to wearing the components out.
Plans for Middleburn rings were stymied when they went out of buisness at the precise time of ordering. We needed something a bit special to suit the non-standard set up. Disappointingly, the company who took on some of Middleburn’s business ummed and ahhed and eventually decided that they could not provide these goods. We tried the Czech Republic, before going back to good old TA, who provided the 46/34 combination we wanted. Seemingly bizarrely, the Shimano Deaore XT cassette runs from a sporty 11 teeth to a whopping 46.
Fundamentally, this has allowed me to get a Great-granny gear whilst losing the very top end of my standard touring triple ten speed. It’s actually been a good topic of conversation when waiting to load up onto trains. It does look peculiar, but it seems to work. Actually, looking at a number of gravel bikes there’s a trend to tea-plate, if not dinner-plate, sized cogs. Mind you, many of those are single rings.
Cranks are 175mm and 170mm Carminas. Effective in curbing lower back pain on long rides, apparently caused by one leg constantly stretching further than the other. No pain, a definite gain.
The deep section rims seem pretty rugged. Initially, they had Continental Top Contacts on. Changing these to Schwalbe’s Marathon Supreme tyres was no reflection on the Contis. It came about as part of a product test. Suitably protected, the Contis wait, in the bike shed, for resurrection. Both combinations have given a fast, secure, responsive road ride, and competent gravel cornering.
Mudguards are de riguer for any tourer, in my opinion. A neat pair of silver Flinger guards have kept their shine well. Stays cut for disc brakes, and to fit with the Tubus front and rear racks, allow a tidy fit. On the other hand, I’ll be cutting some more when I remove the front rack for all but bigger camping tours.
“Flam Viola” and “Flam Gold” make for a distinctive colour scheme, with depth and warmth. Lugs and such like have a fleur-de-lys theme. Rather old-fashioned for some, but attractive to the eye of the man that mattered. Should all the detail be picked out in gold? No, too much like acne, for my taste. We talking stove enamel here. Great for depth of colour, but chip-prone. Retouching will look scruffy, but will do until it comes to respray time. There’ll be chips because this is not a museum piece – yet. And no comments about the rider, please.
A honey B17 Brooks saddle to sit on. Happily broken in, it awaits many more miles.
It may not be to everyone’s taste, but my Swallow suits me and I love riding it. That is all that really matters.