About a bike (I)

I think it was last October, at Courier Appreciation Day, when I got talking to Ryan about my big ride – not long after I had decided that it was actually going ahead.

(L-R Vojtech, Ryan, Brice)

“What bike are you thinking of taking?” he asked.

I hadn’t thought about it in great detail, but I’d more-or-less assumed that I’d go for a Surly Long Haul Trucker, which many long-distance cyclists and most mechanics regard as the last word in heavy touring bikes. Loads of people I know ride them and love them, I have a bit of a soft spot for Surlys anyway, and it would be comforting to ride a bike so popular and so universally recognized.

“Yeah, good choice!” said Ryan. “…or I could build you one?”

As well as being a courier, he’s an up-and-coming framebuilder, and a couple of years ago, he and his girlfriend rode to Cairo – her on a Long Haul Trucker; him on a frame he’d built himself. It survived, and he’s still riding it today.

(Photo nicked from Ryan. Apologies.)

But I wasn’t sure.

“Er, Ryan, you do know what I’m like with bikes, don’t you?”

I have a bit of a reputation on circuit. I’m by no means the fastest or the most skilled rider, but I do have an unusual talent for breaking bikes, and wearing out components and kit far more frequently, improbably and creatively than any other courier. No one’s ever been able to work out why. So I had no confidence that I’d be able to ride all the way round the world on a frame without cracking it at least once, and one of my main reasons for choosing a Long Haul Trucker was that Surly are the kind of reputable people who’d replace it without any fuss or extra charge.

But Ryan didn’t seem worried.

“Don’t worry about it – I’ll build you a bike that definitely won’t break!” he assured me. “See, the usual place where a touring bike will fail is the chain stays, where the majority of the weight is [I remembered my father’s old Muddy Fox snapping in exactly this way, the day after we finished a tour in France], so what I’ll do is overbuild them, so there’s absolutely no danger they’ll snap.”

He told me all about the experiments he’d done, practicing brazing bits of metal and then testing the joints to destruction, with many times the weight they’d normally carry. And he went on to describe exactly what sort of bike he’d build for me.

“I’ve seen you riding – I know you like a more stretched-out position – and I’ve noticed you’ve got very long femurs, which means we’d need to go for a slightly shallower seat tube angle…”

He continued in this vein for some time, and I found myself being talked round. Not only did Ryan clearly know what he was talking about; he’d also already observed and assessed the way I ride, and given serious thought to how he could build a frame to suit my quirks and preferences. This would be far better than an off-the-peg Surly – this would be a custom-built bicycle, designed and tailor-made for me and my trip.

But what really clinched it was that he then offered to provide the frame at cost – meaning that, by my reckoning, I’m saving over a grand. His rationale is that, in order to earn his colours as a framebuilder, he wants to build ten unique bikes for people to do awesome things on. He’s built a cyclocross bike for Vojtech, another courier, who races at the weekend, and a really beautiful track bike for Judy to ride on circuit.

And now he’s building one for me to ride around the world. It makes perfect sense. If he really does produce a frame that I can circumnavigate the globe on without it breaking, then he’s onto a winner.

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