Friday, September 12, 2014


For the past 3 years, all of my experiences on the bike have been while using my Scott S40.  From how I fit on the bike to how the road feels, it's all been through the lens of that machine.  I have done several upgrades, including saddle, wheels, and groupset during that time.  As a part of turning 40, I wanted to try something different;  Something more classic;  Steel.

One of the things that I end up doing way too much when I get an idea in my head is reading.  For several years now I've poured over various online sources talking about the theory behind each metal choice.  Ibis Bicycles even published a several part article about the Metallurgy for Cyclists from VeloNews online.  What I found was a fascination with Steel.  In doing more digging, the people still making modern steel bikes were reporting builds that were less than 20 lbs.   It may not be the mystical 15 lb UCI minimum weight, the durability and ride quality seemed to outweigh the concern.
My original plan was to get a used bike from a local bike shop here in town.  The choices were to have one with older technology (drop shifters, 7-speed, etc), or to try to find that special one that would be able to take a modern group set.  Since I already had all of the spare parts from the Scott, I figured that finding just a frame would be less expensive, and I'd have more room to grow with it.  It's not enough to know that you want steel, you really need to know what tier of steel you want to work with.  Each tier of steel alloy has a cost associated with it, along with a weight.  I quickly realized that I was looking for a vary narrow subset of potential frames.  The secondary issues of frame condition and a general lack of availability of those frames came to light quickly thereafter.  Even looking on eBay to get an idea of what was available, the reality of finding a quality frame that could take a modern group was getting narrow.  Enter Soma Fabrications.

Soma is a cottage brand out of San Francisco, specializing in steel bicycle frames.  They are manufactured in Taiwan using Tange Prestige steel.  While Tange is not quite the same caliber as Reynolds 853, it is a heat treated steel alloy that is known to be top tier. did a review of the Soma Smoothie, and put it in the "Road Plush" category.  Doing more searching, every post I could find on the frame was people raving about how nice it was.  The best part was that the frame was in the price range that I wanted to spend: about $400.

I found that a local bike shop here in town that I had done some business with in the past also is a local Soma Dealer.  I happened to stop by after watching the UCI Paracycling World Championship races here locally, and found that they were having a sale, so my timetable for purchasing the bike sped up a little bit.  After working out the labor and additional parts (Cockpit, new front derailluer, front fork), I decided that this build should have the upgraded parts from my Scott on it, moving that bike back to factory specs.  I stayed with a classic black&white overall look, going with classic Cinelli tape.  The end result was quite striking.

The final build components:

  • 46cm Soma Smoothie frame
  • Soma Tange Infinity steel fork
  • Ritchey Comp Cockpit (Seatpost, 110mm Stem, Bars, headset)
  • SRAM Force Shifters
  • SRAM Force Rear Derailleur
  • SRAM Apex Braze on Front Derailleur (soon to be upgraded to SRAM Rival)
  • SRAM Rival Semi-Compact Crank (36/52 chain rings)
  • Boyd Vittesse 24/28 Alloy Clinchers
  • Selle Italia Max SLR GelFlow saddle
  • MaxForce brakes

The final weight of the build came in at 20.74 lbs, which was a little heavier than I was expecting, but not entirely out of line from what I was reading of various builds online.  The steel fork really packs on the lbs, and may be upgraded to a Ritchey Carbon fork at a later date if I really want to drop the weight down.

After getting the bike together the big questions have to be answered:  "Is it as smooth as reported", and "Is it as responsive (Fast/Agile) as my old bike?"

"Is it Smooth?"  - the best way I could answer this one was to find rough roads.  The ultimate test locally for me to put it through would have been Perimeter Road around the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center (SCTAC), which has notoriously beat up sections on it.  The problem with this is that it just so happens that this road is being resurfaced, and the section that would have been the best test is actually closed.  No fear, though, I managed to find a tarmac that made that section of Perimeter Road look great.  While taking a detour, I found Hercules Way, which is an access road to some of the contractors around SCTAC.  This looks to be old airplane taxi tarmac that was paved over and then forgotten.  I would have been hard pressed to take that section of road with the scott and not have issues.  The Smoothie, while not a gentle ride, had no major issues going through the terrain.

After going through that detour, I started watching for more normal levels of rough road, and many of the road conditions that previously I would have been looking to avoid seemed inconsequential on the Smoothie.  

"Is it Fast?" - this is actually a harder question to answer, even with data.  Starting with a baseline of over 14,000 miles on the Scott on roads I know well, the worst thing I could do is compare my best ever times versus my initial rides on the Smoothie.  It would make the assumption that I am, at that very minute, at my peak fitness with all other conditions equal.  As a compromise what I did was picked the most popular speed zones from the past few tuesday night rides, and looked at the differences.

Ritchey Sprint
  • Aug 26, 2014 20.0mi/h   3:20
  • Sep 9, 2014 19.4mi/h   3:26
  • Sep 2, 2014 13.0mi/h   3:32

Old One Hundred
  • Aug 26, 2014 25.0mi/h   2:30
  • Sep 9, 2014 23.0mi/h   2:43
  • Sep 2, 2014 22.6mi/h   2:46

"Reverse Drill It"
  • Aug 26, 2014 22.1mi/h   5:04
  • Sep 9, 2014 20.6mi/h   5:26
  • Sep 2, 2014 19.2mi/h   5:50

The initial results are very compelling.  Taking into account differences in group dynamic, weather, etc, the Smoothie was right there on every segment.  The real test, though, would be climbing.  For this, the best test I could do would be Paris Mountain.  It's a climb I've done over 40 times;  I know it very well.

Just like with the Tuesday night group rides, comparing my initial time with the Smoothie against my best time on the Scott would be unfair.  What I did was did a climb late last week on the Scott to set a quasi-baseline number that would be my baseline.  I then looked at 2 popular segments to see where I stacked up.

"City Lights"

  • 1 Mar 10, 2014 5:07
  • 3 Sep 4, 2014 5:27
  • 5 Sep 10, 2014 5:34

"Paris Mountain Steep Side"

  • 1 Mar 10, 2014 15:54
  • 2 Jun 27, 2013 16:42
  • 6 Sep 4, 2014 17:04
  • 7 Oct 25, 2013 17:09
  • 10 Sep 10, 2014 17:13

After looking at the numbers, I am within 10s on each segment.   While I was over a minute behind my fastest time (+1:19), you can see that my fastest time from March is not in-line with other attempts.  Out of the 44 attempts on this climb, my first attempt with the Smoothie came in at #10.  It would seem that the initial outcome is that it climbs just fine.

Final Initial Thoughts - While it is difficult to make any definitive conclusions with only 57miles and 2 rides on the bike, I am definitely impressed with the bike.  It seems to respond extremely well, and keeps up to it's name in providing a smooth ride.  I intend to give a 1,000 mile update on what I think of the bike once I have a larger sampling of data.  At this point, though, I am becoming a firm believer in the power of Steel.

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