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Danny’s 650b custom titanium gravel bike from Waltly

Is it a cyclo-cross bike with a small frame and fat tyres? Is it a mountain bike with narrow tyres and dropped bars? Or… is it a gravel bike?

With niches fracturing into ever smaller groups I think it won’t be long before everyone just gives up trying to pigeon hole machines and just starts calling everything ‘a bike’ 😉

Danny – step up sir and tell us what you were looking for:

I built this bike to use on my commute to work, as well as for exploring a few of the local trails. As this was my first design I spent many hours pouring over bike reviews and geometry charts, and even more hours using rattleCAD, to try and find the right balance between what what I could buy in the shops and what I actually wanted.

For many years I have been trying to find a handlebar setup where I could brake and change gear from a comfortable position. I have tried drop bars with a Rohloff shifter and cable discs, Jones bars with XTR shifters, flat bars with bar ends and even moustache bars with bar end shifters. All good fun but none of them did exactly what I wanted!

When 11 speed road STI shifters with hydraulic braking came along I thought I’d finally found what I was looking for. I wanted this bike to be a platform where I could experiment with a few different handlebar configurations just to be absolutely sure!

You were after a design that could use two different wheel sizes as I remember?

I wanted to have some flexibility in the size of the wheels I could use. As my other bike runs a Rohloff hub I decided to go with sliding dropouts. This allowed me to use some of the parts off my Rohloff bike as a trial run to see what would and would not work on the Waltly. You’ll notice that in some of the pictures I am running the 700c Rohloff wheels and a Jones H Bar, in the other I have the 650b wheels, 47c tyres, 2×11 gearing and a Salsa Cowchipper handlebar.

With Rohloff hub, 700c wheels and Jones handlebar – this frame was designed to run different wheel sizes and cockpit layouts.

Something a little different there for sure, but how did you select who would build it?

I chose Waltly to build the frame based purely on all the positive reviews I had read. I sent an initial enquiry back in late September and received a very prompt response from Amy. She was marvellous: helpful, knowledgeable and above all patient. On some things we could go back an forth a few times, I would send her a photo and she would have to try and explain why it might not be possible!

Once we had finally agreed on the design the build and delivery took approximately six weeks. The quality of the frame was exceptional, a real piece of art! But, as has been mentioned in a couple of other posts, the ‘Paragon style’ sliding dropouts weren’t up to the quality of the rest of the frame. I had a spare set of genuine Paragon sliders and fitted them with the help of some shims. The frame pictures all show the genuine Paragon sliders.

The build went together easily, apart from having to spend too many hours watching youtube videos and reading manuals on front derailleur setup, but so far so good!

Good stuff – I remember thinking at the time that Danny might be trying to stretch the flexibility of the design a little too far. There’s a fair difference in the overall diameter of a 650b x 47mm and a 700 x 28mm wheels. The trick would be to find a bottom bracket height that would suit both configurations.

With a 72mm bottom bracket drop Danny erred on the low side for the 650b wheel combo which is probably a good idea as that’ll give him good off-road handling, although it might result in the odd pedal strike if things get really rough!

The real proof though, what would you tweak if you made the frame again?

As this was my first design I never expected to get everything right first time, but I think I did OK. Knowing then what I know now I would probably reduce the headtube angle by 1 degree – I may still do that using a Works Components slackset, as I want to see if I notice the difference!

I would spend a bit more time understanding what components I will be running so I can get the cable guides perfectly placed and, I’m getting picky now, I should have come up with a design for the headtube as I think it looks a bit bare!

Next time around I would also spend some time trying to understand compliance in frame design, but for now the 650 x 47c tyres provide all the compliance required. I must be getting soft and old but I really don’t see how I would enjoy a carbon fork and 700 x 25c tyres!

I have really enjoyed designing, building, rebuilding and experimenting with this frame and I can’t recommend Waltly highly enough for the quality of their work. If I do go for another frame it will definitely be a Waltly!

Excellent work indeed! I’d have to say I’m impressed how Danny has nailed it pretty well for a first design. I’m not sure there’s much more work to be done on the ‘compliance’ front. He’s used 0.9mm wall thickness throughout which is a sensible move – the other option to put a little flex in the design would be to reduce the tube diameters a little. So long as he wasn’t planning any long tours with loads of luggage I’d say it would be an option worth exploring – the downtube and seatstays would probably be the first places to start.

I’ve been eyeing up some of the people offering custom headtube badges on Etsy too – which could always be an option for adding that final finishing touch to the frame. You’ve then just got the fun of coming up with a design to go with, First World problems, eh?

Awesome sauce! Another happy customer and something a little different which is always good to see.

Would you like to share your experience of having something made in the Far East? Do drop me a line via the contacts page…