Be your own brand.

Sam’s XiaoTaiTai titanium expedition tourer from Waltly

Sam is a Gentleman and a fine example to you all out there…

Andrew – many thanks for your website, it was stumbling upon it which gave me the confidence and tips to design my own frame, incorporating all the quirks I had thought about for a while. As a thank you, if you let me have your address, I’ll send a small (pleasant) surprise.

He sent me a book, what a nice chap! If anyone else… You know… Just saying like…

First things first though, err, XiaoTaiTai? I think we can tell that you’ve spent some time working in China – you’ll need to help us with a translation.

I had been vetoed from using the name Ti Bride so I went with XaioTaiTai (小钛钛), you can just about see the label on the head tube. Xiao pronounced sh-aw means small, Tai(钛) means titanium and TaiTai (太太) means wife but XiaoTaiTai (小太太) means mistress so it is a similar pun but in Chinese. So I guess the name translates best as ‘Titanium Mistress’.

Taking to the next level there, I’m not sure we’ll be able to top that anytime soon 😉

So Sam, what is it?

It’s too light to be an expedition tourer, too heavy to be an audax and it’s got wide clearance to go on tracks. My previous main bikes are an audax and a 26” expedition tourer and this is in the middle, putting right the niggles of both. I suspect the expedition bike will only come out now when I need to carry a tent and the audax is strictly limited to tarmac.

My starting point for the design was my existing rohloff hub, which could be upgraded to a disk brake in the future, and 700C wheels. With a hub gear or single speed, the issue is how to take up the slack in the chain, having tried various solutions in the past I chose a rocker dropout ‘cos I think they look better!

Given what you wanted to do I can see why you went custom. How did you work out the angles and dimensions?

Main dimensions were settled fairly quickly by measuring my current bikes. I spent a lot of time on BikeCad website playing with angles and lengths, in particular checking the various clearances.

I worked on the front centres so my toes don’t foul the mudguard and the amount of fork trail as this is critical to handling (but requires the spec of the forks quite early in the process). I prefer a slightly larger trail than normal to allow easy riding with no hands.

Being specialists in titanium road bikes the fatbirds.co.uk site was very useful too. They published the full tubing spec for Van Nicholas bikes which was very handy when it came to sanity checking!

Hard work done then – how did you come to chose Waltly?

After preparing a spec I asked 3 companies to quote (XACD, Waltly & Titan). Titan would not give me information on their rocker dropout before order so I ruled them out and went to Waltly on price. They requested payment before producing a drawing which seemed a bit of a risk but has been fine.

I dealt with Sumi Lai who has been great. I knew to be direct (not ‘I wonder if you could’ but ‘I want’), keep language simple and send pictures/sketches. They came back on several points with suggestions and questions which improved the design. One change was down tube diameter, it needs to be elliptical due to head tube and BB size but I wanted it to be gradual not just flattened at the end. They also suggested thinner seat stays, the bike feels very stiff so no problems there.

So what is unusual about it?

  • Disc and V/canti brake compatible. I can upgrade the rohloff hub to disc at some point.
  • Cantilever mounts are on the FRONT of the seatstays. I really like this if taking anything bulky. For taller riders, as the seat tube gets longer, the seat stay gets more vertical and closer to the pannier rack. On an earlier bike, I kept having trouble with pannier pressing on the brake until I had the bosses moved. Does not work for smaller riders as their shoes would foul the brakes. Thanks to a book by Tony Oliver on touring bikes.
  • Long chainstays to give clearance for 38mm tyres with mudguards, currently fitted with 28mm front and 32mm rear. The rohloff hub needs a 54mm chainline so cranks allow for a wider tyre if the stays do.
  • Seat tube extends some way above top tube. Looks nice to me.
  • Drop bar bikes have an issue with rohloff shifter not fitting. Many solutions but in the end I went for Van Nicholas Divisible bar which split in the centre with a bolt and allow the shifter to be fitted. I was surprised at how heavy they are but guess they need that extra weight to make the split safe.
  • I left the steerer with a 10mm spacer above the stem so I can raise the bars as I get older and stiffer, its really ugly I know. I might cut it later but that can be done any time but not put back!
  • Hebie Chainglider keeps the muck off the chain, not common to see a fully enclosed chain outside Holland.

 

It’s a mixture of new and old (but loved) components:

  • Kinesis Crosslight Fork is disc and cantilever compatible and allows mudguards. I am not a fan of carbon forks as any knocks can lead to catastrophic damage and I often use trains and sometimes planes.
  • Crankset and front wheel is a 1990s Shimano 600 (which became Ultegra later) so whilst I have the weight of a solid axle it’s a nice crank. It has lain unused since I switched to a compact crankset on the audax to get up the hills. Gearing with the rohloff is 42/16.
  • Saddle is a 1980s Brooks Professional which I have now used for over 30 years! Still got lots of life in it and now it is well broken in it’s the most comfortable thing ever. It’s no lightweight though at 580g.
  • Brake levers are Tektro V brake compatible ones and work great with Tektro brakes. A flexible noodle with inbuilt cable adjuster solves the problem of adjusting V-brakes with drop levers.

Nice work there, but at the end of the day – how does it ride?

I went for my first proper ride  – 45 miles of rolling roads. It exceeds expectations, I had read that Ti bikes are stiff but comfortable and it is true. A few minor tweaks needed and it will be ready for my Lands End to John O’Groats in August!

What I love about it is that it’s uniquely mine and I think it looks great! The fit, comfort and handling are spot on, plus of course it won’t corrode or rust.

The hours and hours reading up about bike dimensions, working on bikeCad and measuring my bikes in the garage were well spent.

At the end of the day I have put together a custom rohloff Ti-frame bike for less than £1200 (OK, I already had the hub and various other bits). Cheaper than an off the peg titanium frame and so much better because it’s mine!

Job well done!

As always it’s great to see another job well done and someone very happy with the results. Sam has the benefit of many years in the saddle and clearly had a good idea of what he was looking for.

He’s been able to build up a minimum maintenance machine that should see him right for many days of high mileages…

Not really much to add to his design thoughts there as he’s pretty much nailed it first time. It does seem a shame though that Rohloff haven’t come up with a better design for a drop bar shifter yet, it would be good to do without the extra weight of the bolt together bars!

I think I’ll have to leave it to Sam to take a second look at his design…

What would I do differently:

I accepted Waltly’s suggestion to change the routing of the gear cables for the rohloff hub which were moved to the down tube/chainstay. The disc brake rohloff hub uses an external cable box which is better fed from the chainstay.

Unfortunately the non disc hub that I’ve got now uses some quick release cable splitters, for easy wheel removal, and these foul on the rear set of cable guides in certain gears over rough ground. I’ve fitted some duct tape to stop this but would like to have a better solution for the future.

I’d also like to put the front set of cable guides on the head tube rather than the downtube or toptube; just to avoid any cable rub really.

In addition I’ve got other plans in the pipeline: a Brooks titanium railed saddle would be an excellent weight saver but I wouldn’t look forward to the 500 miles needed to break it in! Installing disk brakes would also be another good move when funds allow.

And there you have it – all that remains is to say good luck for the LEJOG Sam and ‘chapeau’ for the book!

Have you had a frame made that you’d like to share with everyone else? Do drop me a line via the contact page and let me know.