When you’ve already got a garage full of bikes, you might wonder why there’s always the need to have one extra bike to make the collection “complete” (at least for a few years). I decided a while ago that my next bike would be a gravelbike. Yes, it’s currently the booming trend in the cycling industry, but there’s a really good reason for it: you don’t need to limit your rides to the beaten path. And especially if you go bikepacking, it means more comfort during those long days in the saddle.
Nearly every manufacturer of standard road bikes has added a gravel/off-road bike to their range. I looked over the great options of Open Cycles, Ridley (new Kanzo!), Bombtrack, to name a few. However, I decided I wanted something unique. Not just repainting over a standard frame, but I’m talking about fully custom: geometry built for me, unique artsy paintjob, components of my choosing from the ratchet of my hubs to an oversized bottom bracket.
For my personal N+1 bike, I decided to work together with Enrico Bellé, the Italian framebuilder who lives in the region of Barcelona, Spain. I picked him instead of a whole range of custom frame builders because I like the fact that he mainly focusses on gravel and road bike geometry, works together with great painters to finish the frame and from the first moment I contacted him, I could feel his sense of professionalism and his knowledge about the topic. Enrico has great knowledge of both the physical element of the frame and the manufacturing process, as well as a good understanding of geometries tailored to the individual. When it comes to custom, an expert with his hands as well as his mind cannot be valued enough.
A big part of creating a custom bike is trust. It's true, I decided on the geometry for this bike myself, using bike geometry software and some elaborate excel spreadsheets of my previous bikes (unleash my inner nerd), and configured all the components to be exactly what I want. However, there is an element of trust in the welder who will create this unique piece of design, and the painter who can translate your ideas on a canvas, or this case, a welded-steel medium. Enrico and the painter, Iván Borrego Muriel, executed my vision perfectly.
With his expertise and knowledge of steel and bike geometry, it was a pleasure to go over all the details during the first month of the process with Enrico himself. The whole process to nail down the geometry together with Enrico was probably as satisfying as the first ride on the bike itself.
Based on the geometry of some bikes I’ve ridden in the past (or am still riding), I configured the exact geometry I wanted for this bike: “aggressive” head-tube angle keep the bike agile enough when cornering, short chain-stays so it feels lively in the back, a seat tube angle which perfectly matches a Thomson seatpost for my optimal setback… And enough clearance for 40mm tires on “normal” 700c road wheels while still being compatible with a 650b wheelset for additional tire width when I encounter heavy-gravel.
When the frame is almost ready to be welded, it was time to discuss the paintjob. Instead of choosing from a range of colors or pre-set designs, I wanted something entirely mine. I chose the idea of a Milky Way “cosmic”paintjob, like a galaxy full of stars covering the bike. Rather than flamboyant colors, I tried to keep the bike simple in tone, but classy in details.
"The details are not the details, they make the design".
When the frame arrived, it was time to turn the piece of art into a working bicycle. I normally opt for a shallower carbon rim, this time an Icon C3.5, laced to matching DTSwiss 240 hubs (with decals to match the paintjob). I even upgraded the ratchet from 18 teeth to 36 teeth inside the rear hub, giving me more engagement between my power and the wheels.
Shifting comes from a Shimano Ultegra Di2 setup, geared with 46/34 chainrings and a 11-32 cassette for the right gearing both on and off road. I can take the electronic shifting up a notch with "syncroshift" and make each push of the button as quick and responsive as I'd like. A Ritchey WCS stem and handlebar complete the cockpit, and stainless steel King Cage bottle cages are a timeless classic.
Take into account that a custom frame doesn’t come cheap nor fast, but it is well worth the wait. “Nothing great comes easy, and nothing easy can ever equate to greatness”.
The first weekend, I took the new spaceship out for a 100k ride. Having ridden many road- and gravelbikes the past 20+ years, this one was special. I had waited months throughout the process for perfection, and I had found it. I created the geometry taking into account the weight-distribution of the rider and the bike, the bike handled exactly as expected: stable on high speed, comfortable off-road, and fast responding when you put some power on the pedals thanks to the oversized bottom bracket. No excessive spacers or a stem that was too long or too short make this bike not only look balanced, but ride balanced as well.
Therefore, mission accomplished for N+1.
What's your next bike gonna be?