Embrace the Darkness

You might think that the #1 bestest thing about working at a bike should would be access to cool bikes. And you would be correct. Yet sometimes access isn’t enough; sometimes you have to sample the merchandise on a more permanent basis. In that spirit,  I bought myself a new cyclocross bike, a custom steel cyclocross bike.

Black: The Not As New Black

Why a custom steel cyclocross bike? Because it’s what I wanted. I can fit really well on stock bikes sized 51-54, the former requiring a relatively longer stem while the latter can have a taller headtube than I like, but I wanted a steel bike and Guru said, “All of our cyclocross bikes are custom, so what do you want?”

Fitting a custom Guru road or cyclocross bike is a multi-step process. First, we measure you seven way to Sunday and send that data to Guru. Guru then suggests  bicycle geometry, and we set up our fit bike to that spec. You come in to try the bike, and we adjust as desired. When you’re happy, we measure the fit bike and send the data to Guru. They then build a bike just for you. Voila!

In my case, I gave a tape measure and a form to my twelve-year-old daughter and said, “Get busy.” In addition to the completed form, I sent Guru (what I thought might be) pertinent data from my old cross bike, my current road bike and another road bike that I liked a whole lot. After Guru sent me their measurements, I obsessed over things for a while and made them try something else and generally drove myself crazy. Finally I picked the first geometry they suggested and a custom paint scheme. Guru asked. “What do you want for the angle of your top tube? Sloped down five degrees or so?” “No,” I said, “I’m a classic dude. Make it totally horizontal.” And then I settled in to wait.

Four weeks later, it arrived. It is a very, very light steel bike. The welds are beautiful. The machining on the head tube and bottom bracket is perfect. It was an absolute pleasure to build.

The paint scheme, which seems to have come to me in a dream, is both wonderful and horrible. I’m a guy who’s voided many a manufacturer’s warranty by repainting formerly gaudy frames a uniform color with no decals. In that regard, I think my subtle black on black scheme might be the coolest thing I ever designed. On the other hand, I sell Guru bicycles. I wouldn’t really mind if people knew that this murdered out (as I’ve been trained to say) frame is the product of a bike brand that I sell. One must be pretty darn close in pretty good light to figure out that the bike is, in fact, a Guru.

It says GURU. Seriously.

What to put on the frame… My road bike has a Red drivetrain. My tandem has Ultegra. My last cross bike had Rival. I, er, crash a lot in cross, so Red, Dura Ace and anything Campagnolo were nonstarters. With these thoughts in mind, I decided to give SRAM Force a try. I like Paul brakes, neo-retro in front and touring in the back. Thomson is the gold standard in strong, light seatposts and stems, so I chose those. The bar is some carbon FSA thing that was gathering dust in my basement. I’ll probably swap it for something with a bit less drop before long. In the world of “why not?” the wheels are Easton EA70X tubulars with Vittoria cross tires. The headset is a Crank Brothers Cobalt. It’s lovely and seems to work nicely, but I’ve never had a headset try to go in crooked during installation like this one. Bar tape and saddle are Fizik. And that’s the bike.

Paul is just fine, thanks.

How is it? For you (probably) older ladies and gents that once had to dress nicely for work, can you recall how it felt when you picked up a good suit from the tailor after alterations and It Just Fit? That’s how this bike is for me. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing shocking. Nothing unpleasant. The bike just fits, as it should. Performance is another thing, and in this regard I’m quite pleased. (Nerd alert) Bottom bracket drop is one aspect of frame design that fascinates me quite a lot, and is a primary difference between this bike and my previous cross bike. I asked a guy at Guru about this difference and he said, “Holy heck. Your last bike had the bottom bracket drop of a track bike (a very small amount of drop), which is great for sprinting, but kinda sucks for stability.” Greater BB drop equates to a commiserate decrease in seat height, which could mean that I’ll have fewer “funny” moments when I try to mount the bike late in a race. (Nerd off) We’ll see. A nice surprise: this is possibly the first bike I’ve ever owned that has no toe overlap. Big deal? No, but nice.

I did make one mistake, and it’s that aesthetically awesome, completely horizontal top tube. Turns out that a short guy with relatively short legs might bottom out (if you know what I mean) on a top tube like that. Never dawned on me to look at standover height. My (potential) loss is your gain. Don’t think I won’t look at this stuff with a critical eye for your bike.

Finally, The Big Finish: Cool bike. Good ride. Good looks. Incredible fit. More expensive than off the rack? Yes. Worth it? Ah, the good old question of “worth it?” First, the cost. A custom steel Guru frame with fork sells for $2100. A similar setup in aluminum is $1500. Not cheap, but not in the stratosphere.

Folks look for different things in a bicycle. The aesthetic is important– swoopy carbon or lugged steel or mile-deep paint or…whatever floats your boat. Maybe it’s the purpose. Some like track bikes. Some like race bikes. Some love a cross bike or a touring bike. For me, a good bicycle should have a compelling look, but it must enable me to tap into the joy of cycling. With those loose criteria in place, I can’t say that I *need* this particular tool to feel my body and experience the weather and see the beautiful area around us, but I appreciate it. Oh, I appreciate the heck out of it.

Harbinger of Fun