Soma Smoothie: steel road frame build & review, pt.1

Soma Fabrications designs steel bicycles in San Francisco’s bay area. Taiwan has excellent fabrication skills and they build products turning out as the customer wants. Together, bicycles are made, shipped and enjoyed. These bikes are not for pure competition nor are they for boasting facts and figures. Not a single person will look at the Soma name on that downtube and think, “Hey, that bike won the tour last year,” or,“ that’s a sub-kilogram fame.” No, they’ll think to themselves, if they recognize the name, that it’s a great ride that person has. Any review on a Soma bike praises the fabulous ride and the capability their Prestige steel generates. I will discover that soon. I just ordered a Soma frame.

If you have read parts of this poorly constructed blog you would know by now that I not only need writing classes, but that my road cycling has been a brief experiment thus far. I started with a CAAD9 aluminum race frame, a great frame, and found around 60 miles becomes buzzy and fatiguing. I went to a magnesium alloy frame (shocking craigslist find) that I was sure would fit me, but in the end, it did not by just a degree too far back in that seat post. It was a confusing frame overall. If it was indeed built for century rides and compact, relaxed geometry, then why would it fit only 23c tires? The bottom bracket was at least as high as the CAAD if not a touch more, and the tube angles were a degree slacker, near as I could tell. Overall I didn’t know if this was for a 6’7“ criterium racer on long cranks and a long stem or an old inflexible century rider. Either way, I was riding with a Thomson setback seat post turned around backward to move my seat forward enough. I also felt like I rode on top of the bike. How was the ride? Road noise vibration was absorbed very nicely but the bigger bumps hurt terribly. Were it is a stiff power transfering thing that saves me a few beats a minute up a hill over the CAAD, it was also a firm reminder to the backside of the price  attached. The CAAD was more flexible on climbs and descents but at least those big bumps didn’t hurt as much. I had a frame with entirely new group set parts and an older bike that didn’t justify upgrading with those parts, besides, where would I put the old parts? Nobody wants to pay for lower spec, heavy 7-year-old triple 9-speed groups.

I sold the CAAD. The parts on the Paketa magnesium frame will come off to build a new bike, the Soma, the only bike I will have. I’m changing jobs and a great carbon race bike is not necessary. There is no way I will carve enough training time to improve myself when in endless training class schedules for the next two months. Then it will be fall-winter. I will be in worse shape for cyclocross than last year so that bike goes on sale too. It was also looking to go, really, when I pick up cross again for the fall of ’17, after my second-year paycheck kicks in, i’ll be on disc brakes and in much greater shape than ever.

What I do need for health and what training I can do, would be a perfectly smooth steel bike That will be good for decades and any challenge. I don’t want long ranges on buzzy aluminum race frames. I want long ranges on comfortable yet responsive frames that don’t feel like I’m horsing them around. I want low rolling resistance. I still want a sporty position but not downright criterium sprint. I don’t want a money carbon bike that is valueless less than a decade later; I don’t have deep pockets, I’m about to take a pay cut. Everything I have had was 18–19 pounds to begin with, so if I can keep the frame/fork combo down a bit, I should hit under 20 with my parts on hand.

Who has a thousand bucks or more for a steel frame? Not this guy. Everywhere I looked for a steel frame that fit me in a decent steel set, was either expensive or what I considered heavy or built for the super commuting/camping group. I kept landing on the Soma Smoothie. For this frame of reference, By the mid-nineties, the last steel frames racing in the world cup of cycling were just under twenty pounds. In fact, all bikes winning the tour de France before our buddy Lance began winning, were still in the 18-pound range. Then Lance led Trek into the 15-pound territory and that’s what we have today, only recent weight mania. So we can see that a sub-twenty pound steel bike is actually doing very well. I still need to drop twenty pounds myself to see any sort of ultimate race weight, but a great steel bike will work just fine and honestly, the Smoothie frame from Soma Fab is just the ticket. In my size it should clock in at 4–1/8 pounds. That is the lightest I have seen without spending a thousand bucks, and this only costs  $400 retail.

Why the Smoothie? Frame angles and measures are exactly what the CAAD9 has, with 10mm shorter of a top tube and 3mm lower bottom bracket. This frame is billed as their steel race frame but it has more flexibility for fit and use:

– Fender mounts if I choose: that’s WITH 28c tires. This means that without fenders, I can run tires larger and when the 28c Michelin measures out to 30–31mm, this means I will have much lower rolling resistance as well as a plush ride, making some gravel or packed dirt, dare I say cobble stones, fabulous rides.

– Top tube is 1cm shorter, and honestly, that’s kind of where I wanted it in the first place. I could always throw on a much longer stem with a flatter rise and get my racing on, and in fact this frame could definitely do that, but this lets me be flexible with the fitting I need at any particular moment.

In the end, it can be a racy endurance frame. A frame that’s basically a Specialized Roubaix in steel form. The ride will be plush from larger tires which also give lower resistance. The frame will be like all other steel frames are; raved upon for the ride. I will return to actually a proper fit. All of that combined is a win-win. So I’m starting my build trilogy posts of the Soma Smoothie steel bicycle frame in the slick-black color.

 

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