With the close of summer rapidly approaching, the BKW staff packed up and headed out for some much needed R&R and top secret "mid-pack results" training. With the running shoes packed and the Polar 720i set to record only HR data, I readied myself for vacation to begin. The plan was to travel lightly, bringing only the running shoes in an effort to keep the "stuff" to a minimum and get the legs in shape for cross season. I awoke early on the morning of our departure in a fog of apprehension and reconsideration as I began to second guess the running idea. As a cyclist (not a triathlete), running for me is reserved for only the coldest months.
With just a handful of hours before take-off and a pot of excellent coffee nearing completion, I pulled my S&S frame from its peg and in a frenzied, coffee-induced state I began to build it using all the road components from my go-to road bike. The S&S machine spends much of its time built as a cyclocross single speed and I had roughly an hour to transform this bike from a one-speed wonder to an assembled, 20-speed, hill worthy, meet up with some peeps, road machine. Once built, I needed to get it disassembled and into its travel case.
Back in 2000, I set out to build a bike that would go anywhere and do anything. It would be a bike that would travel easily and be capable of tackling any riding conditions that may await on the other side of an airport terminal. When I began the Muse project, I was not a regular traveler. I was an employee in the bike world and vacations were rare, except in the dead of winter. But I knew that if I built a durable and practical machine, it would be with me for a long time. In the meantime, it would be the perfect commuter, fixed gear, cross bike, and winter training machine. For these tasks, a 700c wheel and cantilevers would give me the greatest ability to adapt and allow for the widest range of tires from 23-38c, catering to pavement or trail riding with ample clearance for fenders. From this initial concept, my Seven Muse was born.
Ease of Travel
Ease of travel is not limited to a durable finish. Although, having a robust finish is key, the bike needs to travel by land, sea or air with ease, preferably without additional charges. A standard bike, no matter how small the frame size will not fit on an aircraft without a fee; the bike needs to fold or come apart. Back in 2000, the only options for this were folding options such as a Bike Friday or something built or retro-fitted to include the S&S Couplers. S&S Bicycle Torque Couplers or BTCs allow the frame to be disassembled literally in half and giving the bike a footprint small enough to fit inside a suitcase which by airline standards (62" total inches or less) is considered standard luggage.
The S&S couplers strike fear in some cyclist's hearts, the fact that a tube can be joined with essentially a stainless, coaxial cable-like connection would certainly insure that it was not strong enough to function like a standard frame tube and could even be a potential failure point. I spent a lot of time reading about the BTCs, how they work, are they strong, tough, light, heavy, flexible, stiff? Let me say this, BTCs are the greatest thing since embrocations. If you travel and like to ride your own bike when you travel, the BTC is the beacon in the darkness of bicycle rentals and well-intended, friends whose back up bikes are simply not your own. The BTCs work flawlessly, they look clean when built into a frame and reduce your bike to a manageable travel size, small enough to make your running shoes shiver at the thought.
The Perfect Material
With the decision to build a travel bike made, titanium seemed like the best choice for all around durability, comfort and light weight. Of all the choices out there, Seven Cycles appealed to me most. Seven has a strong reputation in the world of custom and the founders were all instrumental in the Merlin's formative years. Once the decision to go ti was made, the only remaining hurdle was butted or straight gauge ti. Straight gauge titanium seemed the best choice, it was durable, the surface was all but impervious to scratches and wear and the frame's overall cost would be less since I had bypassed the more expensive option of butted tubing. Titanium has a great ride, it is highly resilient to neglect and seemed like the perfect material for the continuous packing and unpacking of the bike.
Dressed for Success
When I began to consider the riding I would do when on vacation, I envisioned myself meeting with friends for a road ride, or hitting some trails with some single track but I also pictured myself with a lock in hand pedaling around a seaside town or through the quiet rolling hills of a Midwestern farm town. I pictured the bike with drop bars, flat bars or a pair of Albatross bars from Rivendell. With the cantilever brakes, the cables could easily be swapped by releasing the straddle cable from the main brake cable thus allowing a simple and speedy swap of the handle bars. All of these riding scenarios could be accomplished with a single gear and a single gear would ease the packing of the bike by eliminating the derailleurs and additional cables. However, if this bike were to remain eternally useful, I needed to have the option to add gears. This meant a derailleur hanger and a way to connect the cable guides on the down tube. The derailleur hanger was simple, I requested this direct from Seven, but the cable guide was another matter and required the work of my dear friend and master welder to solve. A simple and removable band with two cable shift bosses welded to it did the trick and helps to keep the down tube clean when running just one gear. Although I rarely use the gear option, for this trip it was a must, the weather is warm and I was hoping to catch up with some old friends for some fast group rides.
Having the ability to add derailleurs was more a protective measure. I have only exercised this option a handful of times; it counters my desire to have the simplest, easiest to pack machine; however, this trip proves that the option to add gears really makes this machine a do anything, go anywhere bike.
To riders who have never seen an S&S coupler, the first question is "how does it ride?" the answer is "wonderfully". If you were to build two bikes side by side, one with couplers and one without, I feel you would have a difficult time distinguishing the difference between the two. I have ridden steep climbs and descended with complete confidence, not even a hint of undue flex or instability. The couplers, like all great products, disappear until they are needed.
I am a fan of the travel bike and I feel that for those who travel frequently, it is a must have. If I had only one bike, and it could be anything, I would opt for a ti road bike with the couplers. Because there is really nothing like riding your own bike in new and far-away places.