Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The bespoke year: Building a Ti gravel racer

I've been researching and dreaming of titanium for a while. After finally demoing a Moots CX frame I was sold on the idea. I've been riding long enough to have a much better idea of the equipment that will best suit my needs and it seems like custom is the way to go. Why? Well, I spend most of my time these days on long gravel rides and I like disc brakes. Ti really does have a dreamy smooth magic carpet ride quality, and lasts pretty much forever so it seems the material of choice. My options were to get something stock, something custom or something customized.

Stock is just as it says. You look at the specks and you take what you get. Since Virgil is a 2010 Vaya, the Salsa Vaya Ti was my first choice as the stock frame and fork run $2000 and have many of the qualities I wanted. Unfortunately it also has some I didn't. I wanted a lite build and knew I would ditch the steel fork. However, there's currently no carbon 1 1/8 disc fork that compares to the tapered offerings when you're considering weight. The BB is a bit low, and the wheelbase is a bit long. The Lynskey ProCross was another option I considered, but their price begins to approach custom prices (depending on the builder of course), and I really don't like the aesthetics of their helix tubing.

When I looked at quality builders like Moots or Seven their frames are in the $3000+ range, but these are more customized than fully custom. They have a regular build that they modify to some degree for each buyer. If you want something customized then the price usually goes up. Prices vary, but things like custom geometry, third bottle cages, disc tabs 44mm head tubes are often an upcharge. Thus your customized frame may end up closer to $4000.

Fully custom frames on the other hand are designed from scratch for each person. They are truly bespoke. Prices are not much different from the customized frames, and many builder upcharge for the same additions as the customized. The big difference is in the bespoke nature of the build. The custom builder may have a general sense of the geometry, but the actual design, tube specs and specifics are built around you. For a lifetime frame custom just seemed to make sense.

Whichever way you go, building a custom Ti bike isn't cheap. At least it isn't cheap initially. Right now I'm riding 100-150 miles a week and it's early season. When the trails dry out I'll spend more time on my 29er, but there will still be many weekday training rides on this bike. However you add the numbers it's several thousand miles (and a couple hundred hours) a year on a frame that will fit me perfectly and could last a lifetime. The only other thing I own that I'll spend more time with is the bed where I spent 8 of every 24 hours.

Selecting a builder. 
I know that frame building is both an art and a science. There are several wonderful and experienced builders out there who work in Ti. Some are technically more experienced than others, and there are some very experienced builders that, like contemporary furniture designs, have an aesthetic that doesn't suite me (i.e. Black Sheep). I decided to work with Aaron Barcheck of Mosaic.

I met some very experienced riders who own his frames and they all had nothing but great things to say. I've seen his bikes and welds and they are as good as any. After contacting Aaron he showed me his shop and described the build process while I described what I'm looking for. Meeting the craftsman behind the art was a huge bonus. I love the aesthetic of Aaron's builds and I liked the guy as a person. It's high quality but understated rather than flashy, and the designs aren't always conventional (Note the custom Ti coupler tagalong). That sold me.


Pro Peloton is the Boulder shop Mosaic works with so I went there for the fitting and to discuss the build. Chris did an excellent job of not only dialing in the fit, but with providing an education. I've had a few fittings last year in Portland, OR. The fitter did a great job of correcting my achy knees, but I never really learned anything about the position and fitting. Chris explained a lot of things I didn't know as well as dispelling a few misconceptions I had.

I should be getting the blueprint for the frame any day now and I'll document the build process as it goes along. I've already spent an inordinate amount of time researching components, prices, and weights to make a final decision. Here's a little preview of what the build will look like.


  • Frame: 3/2.5 custom straight gauge Ti (should be around 3lbs)
  • Fork: Whisky No. 7 Disc Cross
    • Headset: TBD (Extralite, Tune & Cane Creek are options)
  • Stem: TBD
  • Bars: TBD 
    • Compact carbon for sure but still considering Whisky, 3T & FSA
  • Wheels:
    • Rear: DT 240/Stan's Crest
    • Front: DT 240 EDGE XC front (some day the rear too...)
  • Brakes: Avid BB7 
  • Rotors: KCNC160 front/140 rear
  • Drivetrain
    • Crank: Dura-Ace 7900
    • BB: DA threaded
    • Brifters: Dura-Ace 7900
    • Cassette: Ultegra 6700 11-28
    • Front Der: Ultegra 6700
    • Rear Der: Ultegra 6700 SS-G
  • Post: none - It'll have a seat mast. Probably with a KCNC topper
  • Saddle: still searching and testing saddles...
  • Extras
    • 3rd bottle cage on down tube 
      • possible 4th cage on the seat mast if it fits
    • Disc tabs
    • Replaceable hanger
    • Finish: Bead blasted with brushed logos
    • Badge: Sweet brass! 

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