Soma Smoothie: Pt.6, the first ride.

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At the time of this photo: 40 miles on the frame and fork. 300mi on group set. I am VERY satisfied.

The density altitude figured up at 11,400 feet at high-noon today. 100 degrees, high, thin air and like Stephen King’s Under The Dome taking place inside a gigantic hair dryer. That’s exactly what it felt like. Hardly a time to go on a moderate ride after literally no training volume this year, but I wanted to ride a standard twenty-something mile loop on a newly built-up frame. Curiosity got the better of me. I turned down a hard pack road used in last year’s Boulder-Roubaix race. I rode the eighteen-mile course to see how it performed. I knew this would be a much different ride. I expected immediate amazement. I didn’t get that, well, the instant amazement part. What I got was the slowly warming amazing of what a bike can give the rider when it can go most anywhere, AND, still deliver a performing ride.

My build goal was to build a fast and durable bike that would easily tackle a surface like the legendary cobblestones of Belgium and France. The key ingredients of such a build would rely upon the tires and the frame. Both would have to absorb bumps and vibrations but the frame would also need a responsive performing feel.

The Soma Smoothie has the same tube angles of a Cannondale CAAD9 aluminum race frame. It just weighs about 800 grams more. That’s all. To preserve the racy frame angles and handling, I picked the IRD Technoglide headset for its shorter than average 11mm stack lower cup and matched it with a Kinesis DC07 carbon fork for it’s lesser axle-crown measure than most, at a very reasonable price. This combination allowed a long reach fork with a minimal change in stack height to the front end. About 6mm, or, a quarter of a degree to a third perhaps. With decent Easton EA70 wheels, Shimano’s 5800 series 105-11spd group set and some Michelin Endurance Pro4 v2 tires, the whole ship came in at about twenty-one pounds. That first hit down the hard pack gravel road told me I had chosen my parts well, and the frame was a great selection.

It’s not just the steel frame that absorbs road vibration, it’s the tire size that the frame allows. The 28c Michelin tires, that measure true to 30mm on my 17.5mm internal width rims, really did the extra trick. As a whole package using an aluminum seat post and cockpit pieces, the pavement vibration was nicely absorbed by the frame and fork and to be honest, I felt it was at first marginally better than the aluminum frame I had been riding before, but as the miles ticked by, I realized something. I was moving faster down rougher roads than before. the 32mph coast down a rough dirt hill was chattering before and now, fun! That’s right, 32mph, down hill, over washboard dirt and gravel on 30mm tires was downright enjoyable and at no point did it feel like I was getting shaken down for lunch money in the hallway by my previous CAAD9 aluminum. Weather encountering manhole covers or surface cracks or rail tracks, I rolled through them and through washboards and other light bumps. Notice I didn’t say over. Through is the word. I felt especially smooth on this stuff, where the previous CAAD9 would jar my body as well as physically slow the ride. Now, large bumps on the previous magnesium frame? Well, it would roll through as well but do so and come at me with a baseball bat in hand. Peculiar for sure, like moonshine – an unstoppable and unforgiving force once on the roll. Not a single moment of anything like that with the Smoothie. In fact, this steel bike on that 50% dirt road course is a faster bike because of the ride quality.

Any cycling enthusiast would be happy to discuss the merits of Steel vs. Aluminum vs. Carbon and what they’re good at or deficient with. When I put power into the Smoothie, there was hardly any more flex over what an aluminum race frame delivers and to get to a point where this frame is reaching it’s limits and impeding your abilities would take some serious trained rider ability. It takes bumps. It absorbs road vibration. It is not a wet noodle on power. It’s comfortable and a fantastic all-around bike that you could actually race, because, it can do most any road you see and that’s more gravy on the Thanksgiving plate. I chose this bike over a Cannondale CAAD and a storied magnesium alloy frame. It fits better than they did and rides better and takes better tires. It’s very close in stiffness and feels great on a downhill.

I recommend this frame. Be advised, there is prep work to accomplish upon receipt. Standard facing and chasing of bottom brackets and head tubes are common in a steel frame and this is no exception, but $400 for frame alone and this becomes an absolutely great deal especially when you shop around for others, finding the equivalent weight and quality costs much more. You’re not getting anything lighter and for a higher Reynolds number material for three times the cost, you don’t get much different performance. This Smoothie is a true race geometry and responsive steel frame that can fit tires that measure true at 30mm. Zero complaints. Get yourself one.

The end of my ride began fifteen miles in. I saw climbing a shallow gravel road with my heart rate near 180. At the top I realized the water I just drank was hotter than my body. I could have made tea in that bottle. At the top, I was able to ride down a long shallow descent of coasting in the mid twenty-mile-per-hour range. I took what was last of that bottle and sprayed myself in the front, everywhere, to cool off. At first, the water burned as it soaked through, but then evaporated away in the wind, doing it’s job and cooling me to immediate effect. I stopped at the small general store five miles from home to cool down and get some colder water, not to mention their excellent slice of cherry pie. Many other cyclists stop through here and all of them had their head low and stumbled around a bit. It was not just hot, but painful hot today. After thirty minutes I could see straight again and went home. Twenty-one miles was all I could do. Sixty wasn’t a problem in February, but seeking, finding and getting a new job got in the way until today. This bike is now the go to ride for any training and specialist competition involving a mix-up with  dirt packed roads.

Thank you for reading.

 

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Soma Smoothie: Steel road frame build and review, pt.5.

It’s built, however, I’m nervous. Everything went on nicely, but in adjustment, I discovered that the newer Shimano 5800 11-speed group has a new style of front derailleur. The shift cable attaches to the derailleur arm and pulls down. The result is the derailleur pushes out, putting the chain on the big ring, but the arm tilts in as a lever would, where the cable attach point is VERY close to the tire sidewall. This is the case for anyone running a near true 30c tire. although I am on officially 28c Michelins, the actual measure is 29-30 and I have probably 2mm clearance to that arm when in the big gear. this isn’t really an issue if I’m on perfectly clean roadways. SOMA fabrications claim this frame can fit 28c tires. Their spot on and exact 28c is the safe tire to use here. So the moral? If you plan to run fatter road tires, check the group and make sure that the equipment clears everything when shifted to it’s limits on both ends of travel. The taller shifter arms might not let you run the fat tire. Now, Were I to run a 1×11 drive-train, I could run 30c+ tires all the time. but those 1×11 setups are not only expensive, but the gaps of a 10-40 cassette might be a bit wide.

Long reach brakes? Not required on the back and it’s fork dependant on the front. I picked that DC07 fork from Kinesis and it’s more of a mid-reach fork. A good thing because my 105-5800 caliper works, just barely. I slid the pads to the bottom most position and they just cleared the rims so they work fine and I don’t have to buy new calipers.

I have my personal fit reflected on this bike and there’s not much more I can do besides finding a lighter seat post. The saddle is from my cyclocross bike and works nicely on the road but it’s not much heavier than something else. the only places to reduce weight would be the tires (80g over 25c race tires, each.) The seat post (80g saved with a Thomson aluminum) aaaaand if I really wanted to, a full carbon fork would only save another 200. Yep, If I wanted to spend all that money I would save 440 grams, or, 1 pound. I could go after new calipers and save up to 510 grams but that would put me just under 20. Big deal. This is firm, solid, responsive and already up and down the street a much more comfortable ride than I’ve had yet. The best steel bikes on the world tour were twenty pounds. The best aluminum were eighteen….and those were the best. I’m doing just fine.

Tomorrow I’ll try to get out there for a two hour ride and really feel it out.

IRD Tange Technoglide headset has arrived! (Soma Smoothie update-4)

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This is a very nicely constructed headset and the lower cup height is exactly the eleven-millimeters they said it would be. It’s lighter than my previous Ritchey Pro.The pieces are definitely milled from a solid piece and it all fits together tightly. The bearings glide very well. I can also see the areas of contact have been given angular and flat smooth places, so when the cups are pressed in, there are no rounded corners or funny flanges. Everything with a surface has another surface to match on this headset. Even the top cap has a flat area for spacers to sit and for the top star-nut cap to match. Once installed, it will look very nice and be exactly what I’m looking for. Many folks have commented it’s as good or better than a Chris King headset but for much less money because, face it, Chris King has a brand name. What does IRD know? Well, the people who make this headset is the Tange company, the folks who bring you great steel bicycle tube sets for makers around the world. Tange Prestige, the metal of my Smoothie frame. They kinda know exactly what they’re doing.

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In case you were wondering, they do have many many colors to pick from, as well as matching color spacers if you pick something interesting. I found mine online for just over $72.

Now to wait for my fork. Nine days after ordering, it finally shipped out of The Netherlands to the USA. We will see how long before it passes through customs and then to my door. A shame because I’m relly anxious to get this thing together. I’ll just have to build the rest of it today and then celebrate Forking-Day next week.

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.

 

A second hand custom geometry built frame? Yes please!

I was craving a steel ride. The Cannondale CAAD9 has been a great bike but after fifty plus miles I feel a bit buzzy and in the end, becuase of it’s racey creation, it’s not really the best choice for a bumpy race or a century ride. A snappy fast steeel frame would be nice and on a budget all avenues pointed to the Soma Smoothie. A more compact road-relaxed-endurance race geometry. The charts were all looking very favorable. $400 and somme ebaying for parts wold yield a greta long range steel ride that weighed under twenty pounds. Happieness. right?

Then, Craigslist crashed through my living room window in an unusual car. Paketa makes custom geometry frames. Not one is of a standard design. It’s for your body alone and for nobody else. So, how do you sell one on when it won’t likely fit anyone else and is also listed at a 62cm size? I had to know. These frames, new, are over $2,000 if not way more and when sold on they do go realtively cheap but at $180 this guy was asking for? I sent an email.

He sent a better picture and using the water bottle bosses, I could determine a scale to measure by. Things didn’t jive at all. He said it measured a 59cm top tube. I ride that on my CAAD now but on a 62 frame? That’s short. I decided to check it out and began to measure up my bike from the perspective  of what actually matters. The head tube in relation to me on the bike and standing by the cranks. From that position, with my legs in line with the bottom bracket sticking in the sides of my legs, I can see a straight shot down at the head tube and it’s exactly in line with my sight line if that makes sense.

I brought with me, a spare wheel with a 23c training tire on it, and a spare fork with another spare wheel and 23c tire on it, plus a piece of half inch styrofoam with a hole in it for a spacer to act like an external headset. Anyway, I made it over to see just how it really positioned itself on a set of wheels.

Damn.

That eyesight of the head tube, if anything, is just a centimeter closer thant the CAAD’s. I could see right through it. This bike was indeed a ‘compact’ bike. I can only imagine who it was built for. Was this a tall guy with limited flexibility forward? Possibly an upright positioned century ride bike? The tube angles of headtube and seat tube were’t all funny or out of wack so it was the usual fast road bike design. The best part was, I still had plenty of room for standover. I was sold on it. I then looked inside for corrosion because, well, it is made of a Magnesium alloy.

Mg on the periodic table is, in this alloy with aluminum, amazing. Supposedly it gives a ride feel of vibration absorbtion like steel, and performance stiffness like carbon at half the weight of titanium. Compared to the CAAD, this frame actually weighs a third of a pound more, but will ride that century and then out perform the aluminum on all levels of insanity. I will find out. I will build it.

Where did it come from? the seller only wanted the crank arms and some parts. It still had the bottom bracket so that came with it. I asked. Flea market was the answer. I agreed to the price and handed him $180. Then, I asked him what he paid for it. $100. Can you believe it? He didn’t even get all the parts. It was not complete even when he got it. but he made a profit, and I got a fantastic frame. The only reason I can imagine a frame like this winding up in a flea market has to be from an estate sale. The guy dies, the family has no idea just what he really had and just sells ‘a bike’ to the estate company. The buyers sold off the parts and threw the frame in the market. Traditionally, parts are worth more. but in this case, they weren’t aware of what this frame is. Besides, this custom and big, who would really want it?

Me. I’m tall.

So far the plan is a new 105 5800 11-speed group, on top of the Ritchey carbon comp fork I picked up off the Performance bikes clearance table for a super marked down $50. If there’s such a thing as a racing train, there is one a comin.