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Roy’s Ti Fixie Commuter from Cielo Rosso

Cielo Rosso might sound like an Italian frame builder from the ’60’s but it’s the name Neil Watts chose for his bespoke bikes. Neil has turned his passion for cycling into his business and now supplies various components direct from the Far East including titanium and carbon frames and carbon wheels. Neil is also able to build up complete bikes to your own specification.

Considering he’s only charging £775 for a custom titanium frame he’s not making a huge margin on them so let’s hope he can make enough money to make it worthwhile! For a slightly higher cost then going direct you have the comfort of dealing with someone in the UK, who’s going to take some of the risk out of having a frame made while also helping you out with the design process.

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Roy got in touch with me the other day as he wanted to share his experience of working with Cielo Rosso. He’s a regular commuter who wanted to make life a little easier…

End of last summer; after a few pleasant months doing my 34 mile round-trip commute in and out of Dublin on my Dolan carbon road-bike, I wasn’t looking forward to swapping back to my 14kg winter commuter!I wanted a light-weight, hop-on-and-ride commuter suitable for all seasons.  A bike I could pull out of the shed on a cold morning and just go. I’ve been riding fixies for many years and love the simplicity, derailleurs can be hard to keep working through tough Luxembourg and Irish winters. I did try a Thorn with Rohlhoff Speedhub for a while: a great bike and fantastic gears, but mad heavy!

So the new bike should be a fixie, and I wanted to try out the Gates Carbon Drive belts for a change.  I’ve broken  a couple of chains, they always need oiling and the oil ends up everywhere, they stretch (especially on a high-geared fixie) and get noisy.  I wanted to stay close to my accustomed 49:12 ratio, but the best I could get from Gates was 70:20, so I went with that.For the frame, I prefer riding steel, it seems to have the right mix of flex and strength, so I liked the idea of trying titanium as a ‘lighter steel’.  Originally, I was looking at off-the-shelf bikes, but after a bit of googling I realised I was going to have to pay out something like $5k to $7k for the bike I wanted!

Yup, that sounds a pretty common reaction, how did you find out about Neil and Cielo Rosso?

Focused Googling! I first read about him on a forum discussing Chinese Ti frame builders, they had good things to say, so I dropped him a mail, and I got a good impression of him.I wanted a fairly classic looking frame, with clearance for wide tyres if needed, so basing the geometry around a CX frame looked like a good starting point.

Neil quickly ran-up an initial design, the main dimensions of which I measured off against my favourite bikes, and after a three or four iterations, I had design that looked good on paper.  Specifying adequate clearance for the 70 tooth front pulley at the chain-stay (belt-stay?) was important. I opted for double-butted main tubes while also beefing up the wall thickness on the chain-stays. To match the frame I also ordered-up forks, flat bars and a stem in Titanium.

Drawing

Nice work indeed, it sounds like we’ve got all the bases covered. So, how did the ordering process go?

Frame took about 10 weeks to arrive, but that was expected.  The finished product was stunning: the neatest welds, especially around the cable channels (which are actual tubes, not just holes in the frame).  I was planning to get it powder-coated black, because Ti seems, well, a bit too shiny.  But when I saw it, I couldn’t.

To split the rear triangle to fit the belt, they’ve welded in a solid half-lap splice (glad I did woodwork at school), held from the inside by two meaty machine screws.  From the outside, the joint is nearly invisible.  They have their own sliding-dropout system, with tensioner screws and a couple of heavy-duty locking screws.  The drop-outs are aluminium plates that take a QR skewer (I fitted Pinlocks). A bass guitar tuner makes a perfect tensioning gauge for the belt (I tune to A, c. 55hz)!

And those all important finishing parts?

For the front brake, I stayed with the CX vibe, and went for powerful Dutch Elvedes cantilever brakes.  These adjust in just about every possible way, and feel like the most powerful brakes I’ve had on a bike (inc discs, hydraulic Magura HS33’s).

Finally, tyres: I read about Tannus solid tyres, quite a few positive reviews, and not being a fan of fixing punctures at 6:30am on a cold wet winter’s morning, I had to give them a try.  Fitting is a challenge, but gets easier after the first three.  I’ve had more trouble with Marathons on some rims.  I’ve c. 2000 km on them now, including plenty of heavy rain (the Irish summer), and to tell the truth, I just forget about them.  They seem to have plenty of grip, even in the wet, and it is great not to have to bother checking your tyres before you ride, or swerving out to avoid glass on the road.  They don’t seem any heavier/slower than the Marathon Pluses I would normally commute on.

For winter, I’ve kitted it out with SKS Longboard mudguards, big enough for snow-clogged snow tyres; SP hub dynamo and Supernova Pure 3 always-on lights.

Price all-in was around €2500. Final weight in winter-trim, 8.72kg, not far off the Dolan’s 8.5kg.

Nice work, although maybe rather your legs than mine with that gearing! It’s particularly interesting to hear about Roy’s experience with ‘solid’ tyres, maybe we’re all missing a trick on those? The idea of never having to fix another roadside flat does appeal I have to say, although I’ve read about other people having great fun trying to get the bloomin’ things on!

Dropout
Nice sliding dropouts – Roy was lucky that they already had some points he could mount mudguards to. Also you can just see the split seat stay that let’s you mount the belt – and the neat tube placed to route a rear brake hose through.

Do you have any issues with toe overlap? It looks like you’ve got scope there to extend the top tube and bring the stem length down a little if needed.

Zero toe overlap, even with those enormous mudguards. My previous On-One Pompino had toe overlap (never really a problem), and a steeper steering head angle, making it more twitchy. I spec’d this frame/forks for a more stable ride.

Speaking of which, how are the titanium forks? They’re still pretty rare and I’ve heard of people having flex issues with them before…

No flex on these forks, they are intended for MTB/CX I think, and they feel as comfortable as steel forks. I chose Ti forks as its hard to get a decent carbon fork with clearance for larger tyres/guards, except for a few like the Ritchey Pro mountain, but they cost a fortune!

Not much to add on that one really. I like the detail on this frame, the cable guide tubing that’s been welded in is a nice touch. As is the attention to tube wall thickness, although with conventional stays you could probably still get away with 0.9mm on the chain stays and still be fine.

Looking at other drawings for Cielo Rosso bikes (yes, there might be another feature in the pipeline!) it looks like they’re made by Waltly which is a pretty sound choice as we know they do good works. XACD would be too expensive for the extra features anyway and Titan can’t do double butted tubing.

Sounds like you’re pretty pleased Roy – is there anything you’d do differently next time?

I forgot to specify rear mudguard braze-ons (that was OK, there was a convenient hole in the drop-out web).  As a fixie rider, I also forgot about the rear-brake spigots.  If I fit a brake, I’ll have to drill the cross-bridge between the seat-stays, to fit a rear caliper, or run a disc.

Perhaps one of the suggestions I’d make to Neil is to have a check-list for features/options. Its my fault I didn’t specify brake/rack braze-ons, but a check-list might have prompted me.

So Roy’s a happy customer! He says that he’s got a couple of other projects in mind and would definitely go to Neil again which is as good a recommendation as you can hope for! The only think that caught him out this time was not quite knowing the range of options available – clearly more time needed reading handy blogs 🙂

Neil looks like he’s working on his website at the moment as it’s disappeared slightly, although his eBay shop is still around – you might need to have a bit of a Google for some up to date info…

Don’t forget, if you’ve got a similar tale to tell then drop me a line via the contacts page and you never know!