Next up from my enquires over on the MTBR Forums is Lance (no, not that one) with his most excellent minimalist hardtail.
By day Lance crafts beautiful handmade guitars so he has an eye for good design and workmanship; you can see more over here at Litchfield Guitars. Lance already had a custom frame hand crafted by Scott Quiring but was looking for something a little different this time around…
I would have loved Scott to make me another but this was easier to justify, albeit a bit riskier, and a different kind of fun. Deciding I wanted a dedicated single speed frame, I thought that going with XACD seemed to be a good option. I would get a custom Ti frame and fork without spending a crazy amount of money.
I knew exactly what I wanted and I also make things for a living so I am familiar with the issues around manufacturing and designing. Honestly, for me a lot of the fun was being thrown in the deep end without too much guidance. This was as close as I would be able to get to making my own frame without learning to weld!
Now the good stuff – what inspired your design?
I got bitten by the SS bug, and of course being obsessed, I probably thought about the perfect SS frame for nearly a year before it became a reality. The things I wanted centred around optimising a bike for this format:
- Dedicated SS format with long head tube, short custom fork for front end precision
- Classic lines and design for aesthetics and also keep undue flex minimised
- Fork with 135mm spacing for a Pauls Whub.
- Short stays to maximise traction and rear weight bias at 420mm, and sliding dropouts
- Tube diameters and body fit closely modelled on my Quiring frame
- Tapered head tube/fork which was possibly not necessary but ‘why not’?
- English BB as I didn’t like the newer press fit standards
- Enough tyre clearance for my use (ample 2.4+” fork, 2.3” rear)
- Enough heel clearance for my ‘heel in’ feet, set up for my middleburn cranks which are heel friendly but still use a 73mm BB shell
- Brushed finish
Lance did have some concerns about having the frame made; would the design work OK? How would the bike ride? What about build quality and the warranty if something went wrong?
I thought it was a great price for a custom TI frame, but still, an amount I couldn’t take lightly so there were a few worries. Based on what I had read I figured I could handle some risk and I understood what it means to get something one-off made for you. I could handle some small imperfections, so long as the frame did the job.
Given Porter’s reputation for ‘unique’ customer service, how did you find working with him?
From the start Porter was very on top of communication in that he always replied to my questions and was forward and persistent. To Porter’s credit he showed unbelievable patience and doggedness with getting the details how I wanted and changing them without complaint.
I had read that people had issue with Porter’s style of communication and I can completely understand that. He can seem quite abrupt, and possibly rude, but I put that down to cultural and personality differences which don’t bear on the job at hand. Also, my mother is Chinese and I am so used to people shouting at each other while just talking normally that I felt quite at home ☺
Porter would do just about anything I asked him to, unless he had serious reservations. He didn’t always suggest a solution that was available though; this is where my snooping other peoples designs came in handy. After all, it was from these experiences that I made my own decisions to go with XACD, knowing to some extent what was possible. I am glad that I persisted with changing details as I went and getting the design exactly how I wanted, and that Porter never got sick of me doing so.
The build I think was meant to take 8 weeks, but took 11 in the end, no problem for me as I know how things get delayed.
Unwrapping a new frame is always a mix of excitement and in-trepidation, let’s see how it turned out…
All looked great, just as it was in the drawing, everything was straight and welds looked good. I did have my Quiring to compare it to however, and if I were to make a call on level of craftsmanship the Quiring would win. Also the quality of fittings on the Quiring were Paragon and were better finished.
The XACD frame was none the less beautiful, and very well made. I would have liked it around 1700g but it came in about 1900g. There may have been things I could have changed to get the weight down but I figure the weight will result in a robust frame.
There were a couple of areas that needed work though…
In signing off the plans I didn’t see that Porter had specced a 10mm QR axle for the front hub. This was irritating but I had to take some of the blame. For the life of me I have never seen a 10mm QR in my 30 years of riding, and still can’t understand that 10mm is XACD’s standard. I was able to make a shim and sort that myself.
The sliders while being “Paragon style” are not Paragon’s. The finish is not as good, and in my case the tolerances were poor, with obvious play in the dropout. Fortunately this was easily remedied with a brass shim. I was pleased to notice that they actually seem to work better than my Paragons after the mods, in that they flex less and grip better. Paragons are slightly less chunky looking.
For the real test – how does it ride?
This bike has not disappointed, I am very happy to say that it has been everything I wanted it to be and more! The design is spot on for me and the frame and fork is very solid and precise in the steering while also not being harsh at all. There is a small amount of BB flex but much less than some other well know Ti frames I have seen and comparable to my Quiring.
The front end due to the rigid geometry is much stiffer laterally. The compliance on par with Quiring. I am having a ball on this bike, and the SS format and riding style has really improved my fitness and speed and fun factor. As an SS bike, I feel I have done very well with all the aspects listed initially.
And finally – would you do anything differently if you had the frame made again?
Maybe… I would ask about weight reduction. I didn’t even think about butted tubing. Even if it was just the down and top tube as bending a butted seat tube could be difficult. I’d also be happy with a standard head tube and straight steerer if it reduced weight. Maybe use genuine Paragon hardware, and tweak the chainstay bends to suit my heels just that little better. Oh yes… 9mm dropout slots for the fork. All these things don’t matter when I ride though, so not bothered!
Good work all round I say. Lance started out with a very clear idea of what he was looking for and had the satisfaction of seeing that realised. He’s got a real eye for detail that you can see in design touches like the shaped chainstays with the plate bridge, and the way the seat tube is offset to the bottom bracket.
It’s worth noting his experience with the quality of the slider dropouts and the unusual fork dropout sizing. I think here we can see the difference in the attention to detail between a frame that costs $700 and one that retails for $2700! As Lance says, none of the issues were show stoppers but it would be good to not have any issues at all.
My main area of concern would be the life and potential robustness of the titanium fork given the track record of twin bladed titanium forks in general. A carbon or steel twin bladed fork would be a safer bet. The truss style forks made popular by Jones appear to be the only ones ‘trusted’ in titanium, although they are slightly more complex to fit and fettle.
As he says the weight is a little surprising so it might be good to see what a little double butting could do in that direction. Tapered headtubes… well, they’re still a little aesthetically challenged for me but hey, going custom is all about having what you want rather than what someone else wants to sell you! Perhaps a bladed carbon fork would make for a better match…?
If the ‘Paragon style’ dropouts seem over complex you could always go with simple ‘track ends’ instead, although with the slotted brake mount you need to tweak the disk calliper every time you adjust the back wheel.
Which about wraps it up for another report – don’t forget, if you’ve had something made for you in the Far East and wouldn’t mind sharing it with the whole world then drop me a line via the Contact page.