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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Long Term Review: Custom Frame from Carl Strong

I first got my custom frame in February, just before moving to Munich. Since then, it's seen almost daily use, whether on my commute, or on long tours through Germany or France. It's seen a lot of rain, wore through 2 chains, and wore through a tire. It's seen century/day rides, and slow plodding days. It's seen mountain days in the Pyrenees and flat days in the Salzburg Lakes.

The bike's been everything I wanted, and my only regret is not buying it years ago when I started touring the alps. The Tektro caliper brakes work much better than cantilevers ever did, while surviving wet Munich relatively well. (I'm almost through one set of Kool-stop Salmon brake pads)

The bike has a dual-personality. With 25mm tires, it rides as nice as my old Fuji, with a little less immediate responsiveness on out of saddle springs and climbs, but with a little more give here and there (which I didn't believe until I observed the fork flex during braking). With wide tires and a load, it behaves as well or better as the Heron Touring frame back when I was using one, with the supreme advantage that the brakes don't suck.

Things I'll change about the bike in the future: ditch the spoke holders --- they only serve to interfere with the chain. I would also raise the brake bridge a bit (to 54mm) so I don't have to file down long reach caliper brakes to get the pads to square with the rim.

But otherwise, all I can say is that all bikes should have this geometry. I see no reason to change! Thanks, Carl!


ChiaLea said...

I agree, that is a great geometry. :) You also have the great advantage that your bike is scuff-proof!

Fear rothar said...


Check out the Tektro R538 brakes if you get a chance. They have a proper quick release and offer a full 57mm of brake reach, so you might not need to change anything on your frame:

-- John B.

Piaw Na said...

Thanks John, I remember showing those to Pardo and he didn't like them, but I don't remember why.

Peter W. Polack said...

Can you give me some history on the brake reach problem you had with your frame? Where did things go wrong? How did Carl Strong correct it? I also found your Picasaweb photos of the frame. I see you laid a straightedge and a washer across the brake bridge as if the brake mount wasn't square to the frame-was there a problem?

Piaw Na said...

The brake bridge was set too low, only accommodating 25mm tires at best. Carl cut off the brake bridge and re-welded it just a tad high (at 57mm), but that's better than too low since you can safely file the brake slots down and get longer reach that way.

Peter W. Polack said...

I think Carl Strong has a great reputation and he DOES build a great frame. I'm curious how he missed the placement of the brake bridge twice. Did you specifically ask for the frame to be designed for standard reach brakes to be used at their lower limit? Reading your blog regarding the frame, you were looking to use wider tires, so most builders would set the bridge at mid-slot or about 52mm. From reading your blog, I'd guess you wanted a frame with maximum versatility in tire choice. From the micrometer photo, it doesn't look like you had to file the brake pad slots much, no?

And again, looking at the photo of the brake bridge , it looks like you're trying to show the brake bridge isn't square to the frame so the pads wouldn't be parallel to the rim. Is that the case?

Lastly, you spec'd the frame with a relatively steep head angle and low trail figure. I see you've got the bike set up to use a rack on the front end. How's the bike handle with a load?

Unknown said...

I asked for the frame to be designed for standard reach brakes to be used with 28mm tires with fenders or 32mm tires without. We had to file the pad slots, but not a lot. It turned out that my friend with a Soma Smoothie ES had a similar problem, so this is apparently a common error.

The brake bridge wasn't exactly square, but it wasn't badly off. Cold setting the brake did the trick.

I spec'd the frame to be exactly like the 1993 Bridgestone RB-1 but with a lower BB, and a longer chainstay. It rides like a dream and descends even better than the RB-1 did. The limit is my fear, not the bike. And there's no hint of shimmy no matter the load. Even though I setup the fork so that it could take a lowrider front, I've never used it as such. I didn't intend to use it. It's mostly a saddlebag/credit card touring bike.

Tom Matchak said...

The problem of rear brake reach isn't so much from Carl's placement of the bridge as much as it is with "truth in advertising" for the brake itself. There's a long-known issue with some models of standard reach dual-pivot calipers (Shimano in particular) having a functional reach that maxes out at about 55mm. If you built for 57mm reach, you ended up having to file out the slots. Those in the know designed for 55mm reach.

This kind of fudging is no longer necessary. The new Tektro R538 caliper is a true 57mm reach design. It also has a proper QR to clear 32+mm tires, and orbital washers behind the shoes which make pad alignment a breeze. IMHO, it's the best standard reach dp caliper on the market.