There are so many great frames around, it really is hard to choose. It’s hard to find out, without already being very knowledgeable about the industry, what are the real reviews and what is simply brand propaganda. It’s easy to be swept up in the carefully constructed stories around the different brands and the amount of choice is mind boggling. It’s a voyage into your own heart of darkness and fanciful whim. I considered many frames from far and wide, but the few I have listed below are the ones I have considered as seriously as a normal person might consider the pros and cons of particular bicycle frame nuances. There is much to like about them all – but making a choice requires some introspection and frank personal discussions with yourself. A decent into madness – anyway here goes.
Velo Orange Rando(nneur) was the first frame that I really looked at. This frame seemed to cover a fair bit of ground in that it could do light touring through to commuting. On the website they don’t mention the type of tubing that they are using – so I have assumed stove pipes (and am probably wrong). This looks like a great frame if you starting Randonneuring on a budget.
Velo Orange Polyvalent below is a very idiosyncratic and beautiful frame. Some of the builds that can be found online look practical and handsome. While I was considering this frame I read a fair bit about low trail geometry. They certainly look like a great urban bicycle capable of bearing weight above the front wheel. In the end the cost of the postage from the US was a big factor – it is all out of scale as far as I’m concerned. With the Polyvalent frame, while I was captured by the functional beauty, historic geometry and 650b reviews by Jan Heine of off the beaten path, I am not convinced I really want to carry that much weight over the front wheel. I may not buy a frame from them this year, even though I really like the polyvalent, it’s pretty certain Velo Orange will get some of my cash as their racks, mudguards, seats and accessories are all made beautifully and are very stylish.
The Singular Osprey again looked like a great frame and suitable for touring and commuting. Interestingly with this frame you have the option of choosing a low-trail fork. I made a few enquiries and Sam, the owner, answered all my silly questions quickly and courteously. Postage to Australia from the UK is much cheaper and for what they are, these frames are great value, but just not exactly what I was after. At this point I felt I was perhaps being too picky and I should just get a frame, or a complete bike and start customising it to suit me.
Still not convinced, I began broadening my horizons from the low trail, somewhat french inspired geometries and came across the beautiful Soma Stanyan. I hadn’t moved far, barely into the next metaphysical suburb, as again this lugged steel frame is built with a pretty classic European road / touring geometry. But this frame was just another step in my sentimental journey. Soma are based in the US and therefore to bear the indignity of paying US postage I suppose I had to be really convinced that this frame had everything I wanted.
While all of the bicycles above are quite different, I would be fairly satisfied with any of them as they are reasonably close to my general requirements with the exception of one thing or other that could be easily over come with an extra braze on, rack mount or other. I started to think that I was the problem and not the bicycles. As I was going through the description of the Soma Stanyan bicycle, a single word stood out. TANGE. A strange word that suggested quality tubing, lightness and strength.
I looked around again and sure enough, I could find relatively cheap 2nd hand bicycles on ebay with similar geometries and high quality tubing – but would they fit? Then on a whim I checked around for custom bicycle builders and found that in Australia they were so expensive that it was simply unrealistic for any sane person – or at least so I am told. Overseas however they were perhaps $300 – $500 more expensive than an ‘off the peg’ bicycle, but for the extra expense I could get a hand built bicycle, using high quality materials and shoot the breeze with an experienced frame builder to tweak the geometry to my special needs. So was it worth it? I am not sure, and perhaps I never will be. The Singular Osprey really is a great bicycle for the money, and the Polyvalent is so practical and good looking. Perhaps there is something overly and overtly self indulgent about having a hand made custom frame when I could easily make do with the excellent bicycles I found while I was looking around. But I think I have finally decided that this is the way that I will go, and that I won’t regret the extra expense on a bicycle that will be high quality, unique to some degree and as suitable as I can specify within my budget.
The frame builders I am likely to go with are Mercian. They have been around for 50 or so years, have produced frames for time trial champions (I have no delusions of grandeur) and have great reviews from all over the internet. They offer a variety of lug, frame and tubing styles and their process for designing seems pretty good. Check out their frame builder software on their website at your own financial risk – It is cool. They have a skype channel which is great so I can chat with them face to face about the frame from my house – which is about as convenient as it gets. It will take a few months to get the frame – but I am looking forward to the process and of course, the result.