Friday, August 24, 2007


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.

The Ride
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.


Anonymous said...

SHIMON....NO ! RF say it's not true !

Anonymous said...

I race a Roark custom with Ti S and S couplers (hard to see in that pic)!

- KA

Anonymous said...

wow... this is so, so sweet. i'm inspired.

i've never thought about having a dedicated bike that could travel, but this beautifully written post and perfectly executed bike are making me seriously rethink that.

well done, sir. well done.

Anonymous said...

Where's the blow dryer?

Chet B. (Los Angeles, CA)

Andrew F Martin said...

Seriousy - the most beautiful S&S bike I've seen. I'm working on a Single Speed cross bike with S&S (cheaper!)

Anonymous said...

Another affirmation for the quality and soundness of the couplers.

Mine has been immune to 30 km of cobbles in a single day, 340 miles of trail between Pittsburgh and DC, and it's still a race-ready road road bike when it needs to be.

Aram said...

ahh...nice. And are those classics pro hoops? tubular??? too cool.

Anonymous said...

Oh my. Got to say that looks like my dream bike. Wish I could afford it.

Unknown said...

i made a similar purchase this year. although not as exotic or clean, my ritchey break away was a great decision. i bought the cross version and have done everything from singletrack to crit races without the least fear of flex or failure. the breakaway design is arguably cleaner than the couplings but the painted steel with derailleur and fender mounts is not as clean.

zank said...

I, too, have just built up an S&S bike as a pit bike. A fantastic product.

timothy hanson said...

Really a clean setup, i'm inspired as well! Was planning on ordering a new Axiom this weekend, but now i'm reconsidering..

I spent a few weeks over the summer couch-surfing the midwest and eastern Canada. I'm glad i have friends all over who are happy to loan me their bikes, but i would have had more fun if i would have had a cross bike with couplers.

pompier said...

Awesome wheel set, I see your a fan of the classic wheels, I picked up a set in europe from the mavic neutral support, they are classic ssc rims laced to campy record hubs

Jared Roy said...

Great site. I just added you to our blog roll

Radio Freddy said...

Tulio - Yep, it's true, a little bit of DA10 does the body good. Plus, it is so damn PRO. Look at PR for the last 2 years.

e* - Thank you for taking the time to read, I would highly recommend a dedicated travel bike. Although mine spends time as a single speed having the option to use all the gears available is comforting thought.

Chet - No blow drier, but the seat post doubles as a curling iron. ;-)

Mike, Andrew - The S&S machine is the perfect compliment to a hectic travel schedule. Enjoy.

Aram - They are indeed. So PRO. Check out this post from last November. Mavic Classics

Chris D - Thanks for the vote!

Rosey - The Ritchey Break-Away was introduced the year after I bought my S&S and I do like the way it looks. So clean.

Zank - PRO. Hup, Hup!

Timothy - The Axiom is the perfect bike for couplers. Sometimes I wish I had opted for a road bike set-up. Either way, S&S adds a new dimension to the usefullness of your machine.

Jared Roy - Thanks for the linkage. I did the same for you.

Pompier - There is nothing more PRO - literally than the set up you have.

pompier said...

Hey Freddy,
I also picked up some nos mavic paris roubaix ssc rims, I am trying to decide what hubs to build them up with, I run campy record, what do you think??

Radio Freddy said...

Pompier - A classic rim no doubt. I vote for black '08 Record hubs with a nice butted spoke. Tied and soldered as an ode to the PR SSCs. - RF

pompier said...

Thats what I was thinking for those pr rims! I also see you are a big fan of ochsner water bottles, I worked for ochsner for a time before getting hired as a firefighter, I have cases of the bottles as well as a couple of team jerseys! I still stop by to see the guys!

pompier said...

hey freddy, did you see the last post i left?

Radio Freddy said...

Pompier - The guys at the Ox are a great crew. The water bottles are the best out there, I have become a serious fan of the Tacx bottles and cages. PRO. - RF

Eric said...

Very nice bike. I'm considering a Muse with a very similar setup. I currently have a cross bike with S&S couplers that I ride fixed, free, and Rohloff.
I also have a Seven Odonota with S&S couplers. Both bikes have seen a lot of travels.

I didn't do the cross bike quite right, it has rear facing dropouts that make using the Rohloff more difficult than it should be. I ride it single speed fixed/free most of the time because of that.

The muse should fix all of that with slider dropouts.

You may want to consider a Rohloff rear wheel. it has none of the hassles of a derailer, it has quick disconnects near the hub that make it easy to switch out, and you can use the same length chain as you do for single speed, the cable guides mount on top of the rear canti pivot and are easily removable.

I cut slots in the mount so all I have to do is unscrew the adjusting barrel and all the cables come right off.

The Rohloff performs wonderfully in all situations. Even on club rides. It does make the bike feel tail heavy, but isn't any heavier than most
derailleur setups.