Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Rocklobster Custom Single Speed

At some point I came to the conclusion I wanted a custom made bike. Living in Santa Cruz I had several choices and decided on Paul Sadoff and Rocklobster. Paul has been wielding bikes for over 20 years and may have been the first to wield a singlespeed specific frame. The time was early 2002 and Eccentric Bottom Brackets (EBB) were the rave; it’s still probably the most elegant solution to tensioning the chain on a single speed. When Paul asked what I wanted, besides the EBB, I liken to my Bontrager. Interestingly enough when Bontrager closed up shop in Santa Cruz, Paul bought a good deal of Bontrager Cycles True Temper steel tubing and sub-assemblies, and used the tubing to build frames that were referred to as Nontragers. Well, Paul had long ago ran out of the old Bontrager tubing, but still had a quantity of Tange tubes that was certainly equal in quality. I explained to Paul that I had bought a Marzocchi Atom 100 for the bike, so I wanted something like a Bontrager, only a larger sized, designed for the 4 inch fork I bought, a more relaxed head tube, and disc tabs in the event I decided to use disc brakes. Paul also included Bontrager brake bosses, which use a bolt and bushing that screw in from the top all the way into the frame, rather than a standard boss stud and retaining screw. I was also a big fan of straight handlebars and bar ends at the time. For about $50 he also threw in a steel stem. The photo above is a comparison of my Rocklobster bike and a Bontrager Racelight; the seatposts angles and forks seem identical.

There is nothing more ridiculous than having a brand new bike. The paint is perfect, without a scratch, and you for some reason try and keep it that way. Finally you get a couple of scratches and finally being as imperfect as you, it becomes your friend. In my case I dug a pedal into the side of a hill and the crank arm dented the chain stay; damn. I have gone through so many wheelsets I had to look back at old pictures to remember the what came first. From what I can tell, the first wheelset I bought was a Surly/ Mavic; thinking I would never used disc brakes. I then bought a set of Deore hydraulic brakes and a $75 Shimano Deore/ Alex disc wheelset (the photo below is my first ride with the disc brakes) . Thinking I needed to upgrade to a singlespeed wheelset, I disassembled the front Surly and laced the rim to an Real disc hub and tried using a screw on disc adapter on the rear Surly hub. I suspect the adapter did not hold the disc perfectly straight, as it would squeal when it got hot. To solve this problem I disassembled the rear Surly wheel and laced the rim to a Novatec singlespeed hub. This worked very well about a year until the cartridge bearings (4 of them) wore out. I then weighed the Novatec rear wheel and found it was actually heavier than the Deore/Alex rear wheel and also came to the conclusion I would no longer deal with Singlespeed specific rear hubs anymore, unless I came up with a purpose for the Surly hub, which I did when I later built up my Bontrager reconstruction project 1993 Bontrager Single Speed. It just seemed that the singlespeed hubs where more trouble than they are worth and opened up the ability to buy a better wheelset, like I did with my SASS build, SASS Meets 650b . While technically a singlespeed wheel has less dish and is therefore laterally stronger, I don’t see wheels on geared biked failing, so in the real world it’s simply not an issue.

I have never second guessed my choice of the Marzocchi Atom 100 and still consider it to be one of the best riding shocks ever made, The Atom 100 is the last race shock Marzocchi made with dual steel springs; the newer forks have only one steel spring or no steel springs at all. For me there is simply no substitute for steel springs, and while the Atom 100 is certainly heavier than the single steel spring or air spring, it gives a ride that only a steel spring can give. Interestingly enough, much of the valving and R&D of todays forks is to simulate the feel of steel springs.

One thing I have not discussed is my use of suspension seatposts. This started with my privateer, and worked well taking the edge off the hardtails I was riding. The post I used was a USE, which is one of the lighter of the suspension posts. The USE posts use elastomers and a spring and have about 10 mm of suspension. When Bontrager stopped making their classic squared off seat, I switched to older style Selle Italia, which of course they have also stopped making also. Last year however, after using my suspension seatpost for the stoker seat on my tandem, I found a good deal on a Thompson seatpost and found I have not missed the suspension post in the least.

The last issue with my Rocklobster is the handlebar. The bar I originally spec’d on the bike was a Bontrager Racelite 680 straight bar with bar ends. There is still no better setup for climbing. But like everyone who rides long enough, I started experimenting with different bars. Originally I switched to a Misfit Psycles FuBar. The folks at Misfit Psycles read a posting I had on MTBR.com and offered a handlebar if I would use it and write an opinion on it. Misfit Psycles FuBar Well it turned out to be a pretty good bar, but I never did like the sweep of the bar, which necessitated a 150mm stem. The long stem made my hand position fairly comfortable, but it destabilized the front end and climbing was more difficult; still I rode with the bar for about a year. My current bar is the Titec H-Bar, which is a licensed copy of the Jones H-bar. This bar allowed me to return to my 120mm Rocklobster stem and brought my hand position farther forward, making climbing much easier. It’s no Bonty 680, but I like it much more than the FuBar. The next handlebar I may go with is the Groovy Luv Handles. They are similar to the Jones straight tube ti H-bar, but with less sweep. Apparently they only come in steel or ti; the steel bar has been desbribed as punishing and the ti is $250.

This bike has been my go to and comeback to bike for 8 years. It’s comfortable and of course made just for me. At some point after you have been riding you really should get a custom built bike. I highly recommend Paul and Rocklobster; he’s been making frames longer than most and has a reputation for making a very high quality product for very reasonable prices. Yes, he rocks! And so does my bike.

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