Crazy Biking Couple: "Wanna join for part of it?"
Me: "Hell yeah!"
Turns out the "part" we are going to join is a month-long trek through Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, along the old silk route, over mountain passes close to 14,000 feet, through valleys and rivers dividing Tajikistan and Afghanistan with views of the Karakorum mountains throughout, and along asphalt, gravel, dirt paths, singletrack, cow pastures, and camel tracks... Never mind that I didn't bother asking Natasha for her opinion because I knew it was going to be a resounding yes!
Indeed, it was.
Hence began a quest to acquire an appropriate adventure bike. My previous iteration was more a cyclocross bike converted to a touring rig and it worked well. But why the heck not use Tajikistan as an excuse to buy a new bike?!
People rave about steel, but I've never owned a steel bike or even ridden one for long. Most of my bikes are geared towards racing so carbon has been the weapon of choice, or lightweight aluminum. Then I heard about this small batch bike company out in Colorado, Rodeo Labs, and took serious interest in their new do-it-all steel adventure bike, the Flaanimal 4.
Man, the color schemes were dope. And the person who heads up the effort, Stephen, is a genuinely nice guy, dedicated to creating a bike that can grow and change with your interests. That was what sealed the deal for me. I could put road slicks or light mountain bike tires on this thing, 700c, 650b, 29er, 27.5, singlespeed, beltdrive, what have you, this bike would deliver.
So while Natasha rolled her eyes as she usually does with my bike-related purchases, I hit submit and eagerly awaited my steed in an aptly named Chocolate Creamsicle flavor.
The best part about building up a bike from the frame up is you get to decide what the bike becomes. What components, what wheels, what gearing, what everything. The OCD goes on overdrive and man I love it!
I wanted to document how I built this sucker up with all the component choices, hence this blogpost. Turns out, I'm pretty stoked at what came out the other end and have been riding it every day, so much that my poor carbon road bike and mountain bike are sitting all sad in the basement...
But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. Lets start with this box... the Flaanimal frame had arrived!
|I can wash my face later. First, let me chew on this frame!|
The first major component decision on the frame was the drivetrain. I'm no fan of SRAM, cuz that sh*t really agitates me. So it had to be Shimano but I wanted a clutch rear derailleur for minimizing chain slap and the added benefit of bigger gears in the back that a clutched MTB-style derailleur would bring. I'm also a big fan of 1x and have had great success with a Di2 1x setup matched to a XT Di2 rear derailleur on my cyclocross racing bike.
But Di2 on an adventure bike? hmmm. What if charging fails? What if the battery craps out? What if a wire gets cut? What if the derailleur gets damaged? All valid questions, but the answer is simple: its Shimano. Their stuff just works, period. Over several seasons of CX, gravel, and MTB racing, through mud, rain, sand, and a few crashes, the Di2 has worked and shifted flawlessly. Not a single issue, ever.
But the unexpected can happen. Even with a mechanical system though, I'd have to carry a spare derailleur as I ain't gonna find no spare parts in Tajikistan! So that argument for mechanical is moot. Instead of spare shifter cables, I'll just carry spare Di2 wires. And I can simply remove the derailleur from the frame and put it in my carry-on for flights, giving even better protection than any bike case. Plus I'll have a dynamo hub paired to a Sinewave USB, meaning I could charge my Di2 even while riding.
If the battery fails, well then the battery fails. But hey, if I'm gonna worry so much about something that rarely fails, then I should probably also seriously consider covering myself in bubblewrap!
So I took the plunge for full-on Di2...
|Put me on your bike|
A few minutes strolling through the plumbing isle netted me a solid PVC pipe and connector thingamajig with the perfect diameter to seat the race. Across some other isles, I found what I needed to build a bearing press kit and various sized washers to press whatever the heck I wanted on a bike.
|And then there were tools|
|You may be seated now|
|Hot off the press!|
|Managed to align the logo too!|
|Black is the new black|
|Wire me up baby|
|Wireless adapter goes in the seat tube below the battery|
|Plenty of wire clearance and routing options in the BB area|
Installing a Di2 derailleur is as simple as tightening a screw and plugging in a wire. Thats it, ready to go. I opted for a 11-42 Shimano cassette, which will give plenty of low gears for some prolonged hills at altitude and on a fully loaded bike.
|Literally plug and play|
|Who wants a pizza?|
Now here's my rant about ring size on 1x drivetrains. IMHO, most people oversize on their front ring for some unknown reason. Maybe they think they can push a 42x11 on a cyclocross course but I've rarely if ever done that and have still managed to land podiums. Besides, do the math. Even on fast paced rides, a 40x11 ratio spinning at 100 rpm on 700c rims will net a speed higher than 30mph. I spend about 0.005% of my time at those speeds.
Yeah, I'm not going to take this bike to a road sprint stage, but for pretty much everything else, this is plenty top end. What really matters and where people do get dropped is on the other end of the gear range. With a 40x42 (with oval its something like 39-ishx42), I can go over anything, maybe even up a tree!
|Oval is the new round|
|Turn on the power please|
|Cutting carbon is so satisfying|
|Some more blue in the spacers and things started looking sharp|
|This vice thingie is pretty handy!|
|Bleed baby bleed!|
With some double bar tape and a dapper blue Salsa outer layer, the bike was now almost ready.
|Two layer, one layer|
Adventure is out there... Only thing left is to go find it!
|The finished product|