Soma Smoothie: Steel road frame build & review, pt.2

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The frame was delivered a few days later. I am VERY impressed with the finish of the bike and the quality of appearance. the joints and welds look wonderful. It’s a great loking bike and the frame feels light. LIGHT! I do know it’s four pounds, yet, it doesn’t feel that way. The other parts are on the way. There was much head scratching to choose those parts because I had a problem. If I wanted to run tires nearly 31mm in real size, It’s constantly recommended I use long reach brakes to get around their fatness, and that means I ned a long reach fork.

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Long reach forks are used for fitting larger tires AND fenders. Good stuff for the daily commuter or long range randounner. Out of my curiosity, one of the first things I did was try to see how much tire wouuld fit on this thing. I grabbed one of my cyclocross wheels and I’ll be darned if it didn’t fit.

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Here was a road race frame with about the maximum size tire anyone should run on it, something that probably measures 33mm. This bike could even run some gravel grinder races if it’s not too cruddy out there.

 

but for the cyclist craving the low rolling resistance of the fatter tire and the fast bump absorption all within a fast road machine, it adds to the problem. The long reach fork’s difference from standard. They are 10mm longer or more over a traditional fork. The result raises the front of the bike higher than designed and that action tilts the head and seat tube angles back farther. So my 72.5-degree head tube, raised by 12mm of extra fork, suddenly becomes a 71.5-degree tube and that changes the handling, as well as forcing my saddle more forward in adjustment to maintain the rider’s position. I may now not have the range of saddle adjusting because I’m already using zero setback seat posts due to some kinda short hamstrings.

Long story short, I couldn’t find any reliable information on what tire actual measure would fit in what normal fork. I had to get that long reach fork but it’s inherent issue to total geometry had me worried. I decided to find a measurement of both the fork axle-crown distance plus the bottom headset cup height for a total length. The lowest combination would win.

 

On a typical fast road geometry bike, 12mm of extra fork length would change the frame angles by nearly a degree. That’s not very noticeable until the bike is really driven hard and the most possible is asked form it. For example, downhill switchback turns, maneuvering in a tight and fast group ride, or desired general sensitivity. This is a race geometry frame after all. It was designed to an angle for a specific handling feel for a  reason so it would be a good idea to maintain that as much as possible.

I made a list of long reach fork lengths and lower headset cup heights. I now know that under the head tube of an external headset bike, the lower cup stack height for Ritchey is 14+mm, Chris King: 13mm, Cane Creek: 12.6, Interloc Racing (IRD): 11.3, and one other Italian parts maker has one in the 8’s but it’s twice as much as the rest and very boutique, as in, where do I get replacement bearings? So it was useless to buy that one. The forks all had ranges of length and they varied quite a bit.

The shortest long reach fork I could find is the Kinesis DC07 winter fork, at +6mm over what I have on hand and IRD has the shortest headset I could find at 11.3mm, for a total change of +5.8mm. Together that’s less than a half degree change, more like a third. That would be unnoticeable for all but the most sensitive professional racer. Mission achieved so the parts were ordered as well.

The Kinesis DC07 fork at 550 grams and, with a discount coupon, $135!

The Tange Technoglide headset, 110 grams and $72.

Frame, headset, fork together should weigh all up to around 2500g, or 5.56 pounds. We will see when it all arrives. I’m looking good for coming in under twenty pounds.

Next items to sell for build capitol: Ritchey basic fork and headset, Specialized carbon setback and Thomson aluminum setback posts.

Part 3 coming up when I get the headset, fork and bottom bracket installed professionally. Probably a real time week or so from today.

 

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.

 

Budget cyclocross? Making a second hand tubeless wheel/tire right and ready. Check your stuff.

Craigslist. After an arranged purchase from some guy in a parking lot-or parking garage which seemed like the opening to a missing persons story-the buyer needs to remember one solid piece of advice.

I don’t care how new or awesome what you bought is, you don’t know who maintained it. You don’t know how it was maintained. You don’t know if it even was looked at with the idea that maybe it should be maintained but only after they finished that cheese sandwich and then when falling asleep it was forgotten and now . . . it’s in your hand’s.

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I bought a set of Specialized Roval Pave’ SL wheels. The picture is the first set I bought. They were set up on tubes and honestly, are fantastic wheels for the durability and flexibility of use. Anyway, I bought a second set, identical, but already set up with the Specialized Tracer Pro 2bliss ready 700×33 cyclocross tires mounted, with sealant. And boy they were ready. I did two races on them and a few training rides before, by 75 miles on the tires by yours truly, finding short needle thorns in the front tire as I was getting ready to ship out to my third race. Thank god it was on a Friday afternoon.

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As you can see, the sealant didn’t do anything at all but pee all over my garage floor. huh. so much for tubeless for the third race. By this time, I had taken the frist set of Roval Pave’ wheels and, with gatorskins, had made those my winter road wheels. I quickly put the tubes and a non-2bliss ready Tracer Pro tire on the back, and a Continental CycloXking on the front (because it was mowed grass and packed sandy dirt) and went on my way to compete. Remarkably, at 40 psi, they worked VERY well and the side walls look perfect after this 208 pound rider gassed himself into 4th from last.

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This is what Stan’s NoTubes looks like after, I think, over a year. a spongy greasy gum ball with oil all over the tire. Of course that was the oil that pissed out the thorn holes all over the floor under pressure. I stripped the tires off both rims and wiped out the insides of each casing with old worn out t-shirts and rubbed off the gummy residue from the tire lips. Not forgetting the rim itself, I cleaned that out too. So, they were ready to install again, or at least I would try. I began by mounting most of the tire bead and then pouring in something shy of 2 ounces of Orange Seal brand sealant. Closing it up I began to pump air. Nothing but orange goo out the bottom and down the side. I couldn’t pump fast enough to seat the bead. I was new to this and learning as I went. The shop where I bought the sealant, offered to do the honors of seating the bead under 65psi of live air. So I packed them up and headed over.

Hissss. Pop, pop. and then sloshing it around, it eventually sealed up nice.

Rear wheel (Roval Pave' SL), Tire, Shimano 105 11-28 cassette, 2oz sealant.

Front wheel (Roval Pave’ SL), Tire, 1+oz sealant after the loss.

Front wheel (Roval Pave' SL), tire, probably 1.2 oz sealant after some loss.

Rear wheel (Roval Pave’ SL), tire, shimano 11-28, and 2oz sealant.

They had a scale. I asked and they let me weigh them just out of curiosity. I know for a fact, over the stock wheels and tires the bike came with, these lightened it up by two pounds. It’s interesting to see the difference. 6 pounds 8ounces of wheels and tires. Not the lightest but for $250 total on Craigslist, including a cassette, I think it’s a pretty good bargain, especially since Specialized sells these wheels for $400 new.

Once I got home, I checked the air pressure and added more. It had come down at least 20+ psi each since mounting. Things were great until pulling the fill nose off the rear tire pulled the whole valve out. Not just the un-screwable stem core, but the whole tubeless stem through the hole and all the air came out. I had no idea I was being that aggressive. So In finally getting the valve out, and inserting it again the right way, I discovered I couldn’t mount the whole thing again. I just undid all that work. So, Remembering the GCN DIY tubeless cyclocross tutorial on you tube, I had to build up the wheel tape to get a better bead lock. This involved removing things, making a mess, cleaning off the wheel, actually taking all of the tape off it and putting three layers of electrical tape on. Piercing a small hole, installing the valve, and then pumping it up fast with the tire back on. Oh wow it worked! Just like the video. Now If I can get myself down to the weight of that presenter. . .

Then I had to do it all again because I mounted it all with the tire rotation arrow backwards.

Now, I’m Done.

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So I let them sit on their sides over buckets to keep them flat. Once every hour or so I’d come out and slosh them around slowly. holding them at a 45 degree angle and rotate them to make sure the fluid gets into the bead on both sides and then I flip them over for another hour. One of them did deflate down to twenty psi but after filling it back up, I heard a small leak that sealed itself instantly. That’s why you want to let them sit with occasional rotation. All of those little nooks and crannies the sealant can go needs time for the air pressure to shove it there, and then it will seal. I’ll let it set another day and then take both sets of wheels to the race Saturday morning at a hopps farm. At my race time it is scheduled to be 37 degrees. Am I excited? Not sure.

Ready to roll. I'll have to take it tothe shop to get it weighed, I'm just curious if I got it down to 21 pounds.

Ready to roll. I’ll have to take it tothe shop to get it weighed, I’m just curious if I got it down to 21 pounds.

So, in the end, get those tubeless systems serviced if you haven’t actually seen the inside of them yourself. Unless they’re absolutely zero pressure, you have no idea if there’s a golf ball rolling around in there, waiting for you to find out you have no actual flat protection. I was on top of a mesa on a hot 85 degree day running some single track stuff with these tires and nothing happened. Now, I get a little shiver knowing I would have been in serious marooned trouble if I picked up any thorns.