After so long thinking, planning, designing, discussing and building the bike, it’s actually a little bit weird that it’s now finished. In fact, I can’t stop looking at it – just standing and staring. While I’m incredibly excited to find out how it rides, I’m also pretty anxious. I should know more in a couple of months, but for now I’m just really pleased with how it’s turned out.
I should probably briefly describe the thinking behind the bike, which is explained in more detail on the website here as well as in a number of my previous blog posts. Essentially, the geometry of the bike deviates from the norm for two key reasons. The first, and least exciting, is because of my lanky proportions. With a saddle height of approximately 825mm, both the saddle and handle bars are around 80mm higher than they would be for someone of the same height (I'm 184cm / 6'1'' tall), but with average proportions.
Once you’ve seen past that you get to the second and more interesting part of the bikes geometry – a desire to achieve greater rider stability to create a bike that maximises rider involvement, control and, ultimately, fun. This thinking has led to a frame that has gone in the opposite direction to the current trend for ever longer front ends and steeper seat angles, tipping a rider forwards onto their hands. Instead it places the riders weight squarely through their feet in something akin to an Athletic Stance. As I say, there’s loads more on this topic to be found elsewhere on the website, so I won’t repeat myself any further here.
The upshot of this geometry is that the relationship between the bottom bracket and the handlebars is almost identical to that of a Motocross bikes between the pegs and handlebars (hence the Full-Moto name). Knowing this, I was originally searching for a set of mountain bike handlebars with similar geometry to a Motocross 'bar. Having scoured the internet, I came up with nothing until it dawned on me to just simply use a set of 7/8'' Renthals. At the other end of the bike I'm running an existing belt drive set-up that I've robbed from another of my bikes. This turns a Sturmey Archer 3 speed hub which has been modified to accept cartridge bearings in place of the standard cup and cone ball bearings for added durability.
Following on from the course at The Bicycle Academy, the first job was to get the frame painted. I decided to leave the frame just as it was, with the only exception being an obligatory sand blasting. So the brass fillets have been left exactly as I laid them. As Tom Sturdy mentioned during the course, if a custom framebuilder sanded down their TIG welds then it would beg the question ‘what are you trying to hide?’ For reasons mainly of aesthetics, brazing seems to be viewed a bit differently, but I think that there’s an honesty to leaving the fillets as they are. This extends to a rather large blob of silver on the down tube, which I could have sanded away to nothing and it would have disappeared forever. But, instead, this will be a little reminder of the rush that I was in while trying to get the cable-guides finished late on the last Friday of the course, getting the middle guide too hot and applying too much silver. All part of the bikes story and a lesson learnt for future frames (hopefully!).
I had always planned to get the bike powder coated at Armourtex in London as they had done a decent job with another of my frames several years ago. But a friend asked why I wanted to drag the frame, forks and stem all the way into London when there are plenty of places locally that can do powder coating. This seemed logical, so I found someone based just a couple of miles away who appeared to know his stuff. He said that he’d done a number bike frames in the past and his prices seemed reasonable. However, when I picked the frame up it was clear that, although I don’t doubt that he’d painted frames in the past, he didn’t understand bikes. It looked suspiciously like a Victorian radiator, mainly because this is what I suspect he is used to doing. The masking on the rear dropout sliders is far from perfect while a couple of the bottle bosses and a cable guide haven't been properly coated.
Being very British about the whole thing, I simply collected the frame, paid my money and said thank you. I spent the next couple of days being incredibly grumpy thinking that I’d effectively wasted a whole bunch of money and a load of time, but, most importantly, I was angry with myself for not sticking with my Plan A. I was all set to get the frame repainted, but the owner of my local bike shop doubled as my shrink, listened to me moan for 15 minutes and talked some sense into me. His advice was to ride the bike for six months as it is and if I was still unhappy then I could always get it repainted. Sage and timely advice that I’ve chosen to follow.
The truth is, now that the bike is fully built up, the paint job isn’t half as bad as I first thought. There are bits that are far from perfect, which always seem to grab my attention, but really the paint is more than adequate for my needs. Because the paint is also pretty thick in places, it's caused a few problems. For example, the seat clamp was meant to be 32.0mm in diameter, but now measures 33.4mm. No one makes a clamp in this size, so the bike has ended up with a 35.0mm clamp together with a home-made shim. Again, if I’d taken it to a painter who understood bikes then this would have been avoided. You live and learn.
As I already had all of the components (except for the aforementioned seat clamp) the rest of the build has simply meant a couple of nights with the Allen keys whilst listening to early nineties dance music in my shed. I can think of worse ways to spend my time! Putting my grumbles about the paint to one side, I’m really pleased with how the bike has turned out. Sitting on it in the shed, it seems to put me in exactly the position that I was after and one that I’ve never been able to achieve with stock frames. Holding on to those handlebars is simply awesome!
Something else that I'm pleased with is how 'right' the bike looks. This is definitely not something that I've been able to say about many of my previous bikes once they've been adapted to fit me. I don't know if it's just because I've been staring at it for so long that I've just got used to it, but, considering the bike has some pretty unconventional geometry (resulting in a 190mm headtube!), I don't think that it jars or looks too ungainly.
With the first glimpses of Spring starting to appear and the clocks having just gone forwards for some extra daylight in the evenings, I’m hoping for a long and enjoyable few months of putting the bike through its paces. And once I’ve gathered my thoughts I’ll be back with an update on how the bike rides.
As a bit of an aside, if you’ve stuck with the blog since the early days, then I just wanted to say thank you. This feels like a bit of a watershed moment and a timely point at which to show my appreciation. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the journey so far?
What an amazing place – somewhere dedicated to helping people create bicycles of all shapes and sizes. It feels so incredibly immersive, almost glutinous, as I’ve never been able to chat so much about bicycles and riding. And the real clincher is the calibre of the people that you are talking with. When Robin Mather casually walked over and asked how I was getting on I honestly had to tell myself not to hug him immediately. You’ve got Paul Burford from BTR Fabrications ambling through the building with his Springer Spaniel, on his way to their workshop next door. While Tom Sturdy orders the next batch of tubing to maintain the healthy stock levels. And just the general air of quiet, considered knowledge is palpable. But, and this is the trick, it’s all so humble. We all eat lunch together, which the staff take in turns to make, and we eat it while chatting about everyday stuff. But there is always this under-lying collective appreciation and desire for knowledge associated with the humble bicycle.
The next thing to strike me is just the sheer quality of what’s being taught. Not just because of the experience and clarity of those teaching it, but also the thought that has gone into how you get a novice like me to absorb all of this information. I’m in the fortunate position to have done another frame building course at another venue about eight years ago. But the difference in what and how I’m learning is like night and day. The Bicycle Academy seems like a very appropriate name.
If I’m honest, I was incredibly disappointed with that first frame building course I did – it all felt way too rushed, I’m truly embarrassed to show people the frame that I built, and I certainly didn’t leave with the knowledge to build another one. So, I then decided to sign myself on to a night-course in welding at Hammersmith and Fulham College in the hope of gaining a better understanding of brazing. But this was primarily aimed at people from the automotive industry and didn’t really help a great deal. Finally, I bought a Jiggernaught (an MDF frame jig) in the hope that if I could at least get some tubes mitred and held in the correct position then I would be heading in the right direction. But I ended up just sort of running out of steam and eventually gave up on the idea in about 2014. However, the itch has slowly returned, this time with the added impetus of wanting to put my thinking on mountain bike geometry into practice. And so, I now find myself at The Bicycle Academy on their seven-day frame building course.
Day one and we spent the morning going through some theory on bike geometry as well as some structural considerations. Then, after lunch, we finalised the geometry of the frames that we will build, and I began to work out how I might get my chainstays to work. These are probably the most complicated part of my frame, having to accommodate a three-inch tyre, clearance for the front sprocket, a relatively wide belt, tensioning of the aforementioned belt as well as a 180mm disc rotor.
I’m on the course with two others. I know that I’m a bit weird to have spent the best part of the last two-years developing my thoughts about what I wanted to make. But one student’s only criteria was that he wanted a 27.5+ mountain bike while the other, when asked what he might want to make, literally said ‘I don’t really know’. Clearly, I’m even more of an oddball than I had thought!