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Matt’s Custom Titanium Disk Road Bike from Waltly

We’ve seen quite a few gravel and off-road machines recently so it seems only right that we tip the balance the other way with another fine road machine.

This one belongs to Matt, here’s his story:

This was my first road bike purchase. I tried some carbon frames but wasn’t impressed with the aesthetics and I didn’t want something I had to treat like a baby. I’ve always thought titanium bicycles with their raw finishes looked the best, but the prices charged by Western manufacturers was way too high. After learning about Chinese titanium frames from spanner.org.uk [Hey, that’s me!], I became excited about building my own bicycle, something durable, unique, and relatively lightweight.

Sounds like a man who knows what he’s looking for, what made you choose Waltly and how did you find them to work with?

I’d seen many good Waltly builds on the Spanner blog so I had a good feeling about the experience I would get. I ultimately chose them because I felt confident they would be patient with me on the iteration process. Eric from Titan seemed a bit unresponsive, and Porter seemed almost too responsive, I felt that I’d be rushed to finalise a design with him!

Working with Waltly was overall a positive experience, but not without caveats.

Sumi was always polite and responsive, and her English was good enough to be understood. I sent back her CAD drawings with my annotations and found using technical language was the most effective. The first few weeks of the process went rapid-fire back and forth. We quickly negotiated a price, I paid the deposit, and we began iterating the CAD drawings. I would leave somewhere around 5-10 comments per drawing, and I finalised the design at drawing number four.

I think Matt’s hit on something that’s very common to most people’s experience. Even if you’ve got a good idea of what you want it can take quite a few revisions to see every detail you’re looking for in that CAD drawing!

Patience isn’t just restricted to Waltly though, I’ve found that all of the fabricators understand that the process involves plenty of back and forth communication to get things just so.

The frame arrived at my door 69 days after frame fabrication began, which is a bit longer than I expected, mainly because Waltly’s decal printer broke just when my frame finished, and they took a while to properly align the decals and apply the bead-blasted logos. I was a little impatient with this since they initially claimed I would have the frame in 45 days.

I think a few of the fabricators state 45 days on their invoices – although two to three months is often more realistic. They are perhaps being a little too polite in telling us what we’d like to hear.

How close was the finished result to what you were looking for?

The frame was made exactly to specification, welds were nice and there were no issues with tolerances or fit. Furthermore the bead blasted logos came out perfectly.

It came out weighing a bit more than expected though. Sumi estimated 1.4kg for the frame before building it, but I measured 1.7kg for the finished product. I was expecting a lower weight since I paid extra for double-butted tubing but I can’t say for sure if the frame is actually made that way.

I think the weight seems pretty fair, trying my hardest I got a road frame down to 1650g, using both double butted tubing and slim stays. 1.4kg sounds like Sumi being polite again rather than 100% accurate.

Any more ‘gotchas’?

Yes, the internally routed rear brake hose through the downtube was *really* tricky to install since it was basically just two holes, and not a full guide tube. I pointed this out to Sumi during the design phase, and she said they do it this way now to save weight, which I agreed to. I had to do use a complex dental floss + vacuum cleaner + brake cable + duct tape system to finally route the hydraulic hose through.

I can feel your pain there having done something similar on my SYD frame! The Park Tools Internal Cable Routing Kit proved a very sound investment 😉

Two days later, on my first free Sunday, I took her out past the Golden Gate Bridge to try to climb and descend Hawk Hill. I really appreciated the light weight and low gearing which made the climb significantly easier than any I’d been on before. But it was the descent that was the real test. The Hawk Hill Descent is a long steep and windy 18% decline. At these speeds, a crash didn’t really bear thinking about so I had to have confidence in my own build skills!

The descent was the most exhilarating experience of my life. Bombing down Hawk Hill is like grabbing a dragon by its horns, there’s this seemingly endless source of power that you’re tapping into (gravity). And while you’re riding the dragon, you’re sneaking quick glances to the left at the view of the ocean cliff, both breathtakingly beautiful and harrowing at the same time. The mix of adrenaline, endorphins, and fear you get is unlike any other experience. You’re in control of your own fate, and you’re flying!

What could be better than riding a bike? Oh, yes, riding a bike that you’ve designed and built!

I checked with Matt to see if there was anything he might do differently next time?

Given that I now know exactly what I want, I would probably go with XACD if I were to make it again. I imagine they would have a faster turnaround time if I gave them very clear and specific instructions. Also they might have a better double-butting process that could save more weight.

Maybe, I think the lead time and the wait for your frame was pretty fair. I’ve seen some XACD frames that ended up being surprisingly heavy too, like Tom’s commuter which had a carbon seat mast and double butted tubing: http://www.spanner.org.uk/2017/09/toms-pimp-commuter-xacd/

Another minor change is that I might have the Titanium head badge CNC machined rather than just bead-blasted, I didn’t know this was an option at the time. Otherwise, I wouldn’t change anything and I’m fully satisfied with the feature set and ride quality!

Indeed, I’m a big fan of the CNC engraved headtube, it’s less hassle than trying to get a head badge made and looks just as good.

I’ll leave the final word to Matt:

This was an amazing build-journey. There’s something about the way my mind works which is in love with planning and executing on something mechanical where small details are critical.

A custom bicycle requires optimization on a huge number of fronts: price, performance, weight, aerodynamics, durability, aesthetics and ease-of-maintenance. Not to mention the vast swirling ocean of competing standards for bicycle component compatibility!

I sunk tens, if not hundreds, of hours researching, planning and building this bicycle, but the end result is this beautiful piece of precision engineering that frees me to explore my immediate world.

You can read more about Matt’s project over on his blog: https://mediancodex.com/2018/07/24/custom-ti-bike-i/

And, as always, if you’ve got something you’d like to share then don’t be shy and drop me a line via the contacts page!