“Life is too short to not enjoy pop music”
When I was younger I fought against everything mainstream, then someone said that to me and I began to realise that I was just missing out. A lot of bicycle culture, and general culture, likes to put people into categories and boxes. Gravel has been great at bringing a bit of a shake up to a lot of the steadfast boundaries of the world of bicycles and I have been really enjoying all the new equipment, routes and excitement it has introduced. Therefore, I have built a gravel frame.
Basic requirements, as ever, revolve around what parts I have and can get without eating beans on toast for the next 6 months!
– 700 x 45C with mud clearance
– Aim for racy geometry like CX bikes I am used to
– Get funky with tube shapes for a more modern silhouette
– Challenge myself and show that I can make advanced frames
I got a little carried away with the challenging myself part and designed a lot of tricky sections to the build!
For this frame I wanted to use tube to tube construction with wrapped joints so the order of operations required making the tubes, mitering, fixturing, bonding, and final reinforcement wrapping.
Each section provided challenges, the first of which was producing the tubes. Roll wrapping hits is limits when the mandrel has sharp corners in its cross section, which I definitely fell prey to however I managed to figure out some ways to work with it. Though for future frames with shaped tubes I will probably just cut to the chase and make bladder moulds. The rear triangle was produced this way which wasn’t too complex for the seatstays as I only gave them a bend in a single plane however the chainstays have an S-bend and are dropped for tyre and chainring clearance. So they were tough to design and even harder to manufacture.
I used Paragon Machine Works rocker dropout inserts on this frame so I can use my QR wheels but have the option to change to through axles without too much of a headache. For this I made some carbon receiver plates that Paragon usually supply in steel, keep an eye on my Instagram as I will put some better pictures up of the next set I make.
With everything ready I started mitering and tacking things in place. I went to ArdRock to meet Petor and Josh from Bespoked and I really wanted to be able to show them my new frame so I ended up tacking the NDS seatstay and chainstay the night before I set off to ArdRock. This wasn’t my finest idea as I propped the frame in the corner of a tent and it all fell off as the adhesive has a 24 hour minimum cure! Oh well, I got it home and stuck it together again.
I am trying to be less critical of myself but the application of adhesive is messy. It does all get sanded but I can certainly improve. As more sections got bonded I got closer to a process I had been looking forward to, filleting and hand shaping. With this method a lot of the transitions between the tubes are not set by my initial CAD design and I have a lot more freedom to shape things in by eye. Sometimes I enjoy the truth in designing every part in CAD however I really wanted to get a bit creative and more “natural” with this frame.
I spent basically a whole week going white with the dust though. It was lovely weather and I had good music so it was quite a peaceful week in the workshop.
Paint. Not something I am experienced in or well equipped for but I really want to up my game with it all. I spent a while trying to get the base elements really good. I think I must have sprayed and sanded 4 coats of primer as I worked my way through the frame getting it to look smooth. Even with all that I still think it could be smoother but I have learnt lots to take through to future frames.
Next door to the bike shop I work at is a sign cutting shop and they very kindly cut me some logos from scraps. This is crucial as it was the first layer of paint to go on so it would come out as the top layer. After this i just continued with the natural flow of the frame. I had an idea in my head of what I wanted to achieve, so with a couple of colours and some masking tape I tried to make it happen.
I am actually really pleased with how the pattern came out as often a mental image doesn’t translate to a physical result. However I did neglect to consider how much it obscures my logo!
For testing this bike I had a few trails in Northumberland I had been wanting to try out so I set out and got stuck into them straight away. The bike feels sharp and responsive in the rear which I enjoy as I feel it gives more control in slippy, uneven ground. The front feels perhaps a little overloaded though, almost like I have too much weight going forwards, I raised the bars in comparison to my usual road fit and designed a longer front centre but perhaps I just need to move my saddle back a touch. This isn’t exceptionally surprising as the frame has a fairly steep head angle as I hoped to keep everything feeling snappy, though I may have overdone it. This by no means makes the bike unpleasant to ride, it just requires a little more focus.
I have been riding the bike with the club a little and learning some more routes while also riding to work with it and I feel far more comfortable with it now after tweaking some of the fit, Shimano shifters have a very different hood shape so moving them up the bars has made a big difference. I only have one pair of 700C disc brake wheels which are my commuting wheels so they have a dynamo front hub and many, many spokes which I think makes the bike feel a little sluggish, they are also not tubeless so I am fearful to take the tyre pressure much below 35psi! Lowering the tyre pressures would help to dampen some of the stiffness of the frame as I went with overbuilding this frame as I thought a stronger frame would make sense for something to be used off road, though it has ended up being too stiff. Something to investigate and play with will be how to build in the marketing buzz word “compliance”.
I am perhaps too hard on myself as I re-read what I have written as I think the bike rides wonderfully and I am super happy with it. It’s a bike that makes you want to take the long, gnarly route home. I guess I am just writing this with the knowledge that I am going to build an identical frame for Bespoked, so I want to be sure of what to correct.
So, the plan with this frame design is to make a few of the same frame to really refine the same process. The whole “one punch a thousand times” quote. Therefore I think this is a good spot to note down what I want to focus on for the next build:
– Refine the hand shaping, primarily the seattube junction, I like the flow but I feel it has visual bulk that I want to lose on the next frame.
– Front weight balance, I would change this but the next build will have suspension forks which are longer and from my CAD should bring me to values I like.
– Internal routing, I’m not a fan of internal routing however I think it is something I need to try and I have a few ideas.
– Build time, I have moulds and mandrels now, I want to build the next one much faster.
Did I achieve my goals? Yes, absolutely. I am super pleased with the frame and I hope it is a good showcase of my adaptability in design and manufacture. I enjoyed a lot of the new processes I tried and I feel I am really starting to get the hang of my work set up and routine. The frame rides brilliantly and it will be my workhorse for most of this coming winter for commuting and general riding.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my write up and I welcome any discussion or questions!