Earlier, I shared my thoughts about building a Soma GR2, but I never wrote about riding one.
I’ve put about 200 miles on gravel roads on it since completing it about 5 weeks ago. So, in no particular order:
- This bike handles better downhill at high speeds on gravel than any bike I have ridden, including a Salsa Warbird. In fact, with a handlbar bag and fenders, it handles better.
- Conversely, it feels weird and twitchy at low speeds. Basically, the faster you go, the better it handles.
- For my weight (230 lbs), the frame feels very springy and supple. This is nice sometimes, and not so nice others. Generally, I like it, but if I’m not being smooth, it bounces with my effort more than a stiff frame does.
- That springy-flexyness also means they handle poorly when you have to ride the brakes. This is a bike that likes to be given lots of lead.
- Built up, these are not lightweight bikes. Racks and fenders and lights add a lot of weight, so they are not awesome climbers. Then again, neither am I.
Beautiful, isn’t it?
But what a pain in the ass. The reason constructeurs built all of their own components was out of necessity, not vanity. I think I have enough spares to build a whole other bike.
To spare you my agony, here’s what worked:
- Wheels: Velocity Synergy, laced to a Campagnolo Veloce rear and an SP dyno hub.
- Soma GR green label 650Bx42mm tires – these are light, supple, and sweet. So far, they’ve been durable enough. I almost exclusively ride on gravel.
- Drivetrain: IRD Elite 11-34 Campagnolo cassette, KMC X10SL chain, Record 10sp ultra shifters, Record long cage rear derailleur, Shimano CX70 front derailleur, and a Shimano CX50 crankset with 46/34 rings. This Shimagnolo setup is fucking toight!
- Paul neo retro cantis
- Velo Orange Hammered 50mm fenders. Go find some 52mm Zeppelins instead.
- Nitto Dynamic stem and 46cm Soma 26mm Hiway One bars.
- Nitto Campee front rack, you want this…
- Swift Industries Hinterland Ozette small rando bag. For a 58cm frame, get the large.
- SON hanging Edelux II headlight, Spanninga fender-mounted tailight.
- Thomson Elite seatpost and Brooks C17 Cambium Carved saddle.
- Giles Berthoud V-90 decaleur.
- Miche roller bearing headset.
Things that didn’t work so well:
- The roller headsets are stiff, and still shimmy. I’d prolly just get a Chris King or a Campagnolo next time.
- Velo Orange Rando crank – don’t waste your time on this piece of shit, it ruined my Land Run 100 event by failing two miles from the start. The pedal threads pulled out of the left side crank arm. Total garbage.
- Velo Orange Quick Release skewers – more garbage from our friends in MD. My rear skewer fell apart after about 150 miles, and nearly left me stranded. I was only able to make it home because the frame has vertical dropouts, and I stayed seated for 16 miles.
- KMC X10 SL chain – lovely, but the cutout side plates love to collect mud and shit. Only for dry gravel and pavement.
- Velo Orange Pass Hunter rack – it doesnt fit the frame (this one was my fault, and is no way related to the substandard quality of VO components).
- Velo Orange 1″ stem mounted decaleur – couldn’t make it work with my canti hanger, my stem, or my brakes.
- Generally, the whole brakes-hanger-decaleur-rack-fender thing is an interdependency fucking nightmare that will make you weep.
I wanted to make a beautiful bike that rode well for miles and miles. I seem to have done that, but the bill included about 50% parts overages due to fit and failure issues.
If I were to do it over again, my solution to the whole brake-rack-hanger-fender fuckup would be to go with Tektro cantis and a canti boss mounted VO Pass Hunter rack with integrated decaleur. It would have saved me about $500 and weeks of delay and aggravation.
But, I just had to have those Paul brakes…