Readers with but one machine in the stable may be surprised to hear that having more can be a mixed blessing. It isn’t always; if each cycle has a specific purpose for which it alone is suitable, there is rarely much difficulty in deciding which to ride in any given circumstance. Riding a time trial? Break out the TT bike. And so on.
Road bikes, however, are versatile machines. Anything with brakes, gears, drop handlebars and a freewheel will do most of the everyday riding from training rides to the commute and it then becomes, given a choice between several, a question of whim or mood. Or the fact that one of them somehow really suits the sort of riding needing to be done.
Which is why I have been riding the Independent Fabrication Club Racer almost exclusively for the past four weeks. It started with the autumn tour, for which the bike wore a Tubus rack, and continued through mid and late October into the gloomy weather of early November, during which a bike normally kept scrupulously clean got steadily dirtier, quickly showing just how well white shows up even a hint of grime.
So, what’s so great about the bike? The frame and fork, for starters. Without them it would just be, well, any old bike built with a Shimano Ultegra SL groupset. The frame was made to measure following a fitment at London’s Mosquito Bikes and, as may be expected, fits just so. The steel tubes employed for the TIG-welded structure were unspecified. According to the manufacturer’s website, “a number of different tube options are available, ranging from Reynolds, True Temper, and Columbus. Tubing is selected based on rider’s weight and overall riding style for ideal handling.” I asked for a frame suitable for an 80kg rider who might want to make hard efforts – and got it. Maybe the “hard efforts” bit was a mistake; I haven’t made many on it and the bike is very stiff.
Some of this stiffness may be attributed to the steel fork, which features a 1 1/8″ steerer and straight legs with TIG-welded unicrown. The trade-off for its slight lack of “give” is exceptionally accurate steering; the trade-off for overall stiffness is amazing stability when carrying the admittedly modest amount of luggage taken on the tour. And there’s a sterling silver badge on the head tube to impress those who know nothing of fine cycles or Independent Fabrication.
Besides that Ultegra SL groupset, the cycle wears oversized 4G XL handlebars by the old 3T sitting in a super-sturdy aluminium ITM Mantis stem built the old-fashioned way. A supple cockpit, this is not. The re-introduced Selle Italia Turbo saddle sits on arguably the finest seatpost cradle ever made, itself part of the now-discontinued Shimano Ultegra seatpost. While no match for a good modern saddle, the Turbo is tolerably comfortable on a long tour if carefully set up and works well when riding on the drops.
So far, here’s a fairly standard steel-framed all-rounder. Besides being this, the Club Racer has enhanced tyre clearance and, needing long-drop brake calipers, will comfortably accept 25mm tyres with full mudguards. Right now the bike is riding on Continental’s Force rear-wheel specific race clincher front and rear. It’s a combo I have long advocated and one that works exceptionally well, the fat but lightweight rubber enhacing front-end grip while offsetting the stiffness of the fork and the pair working to ensure the bike is as fast as it looks. These tyres are now some three years and 2000 miles old and still refuse to flat despite the fact that rear is wearing a bit in the middle and showing canvas where a stone has cut away the tread.
And the jewel in the cycle’s crown? Right now, it’s the Shimano WH-6600 wheelset. Matching the Ultegra SL groupset, these wheels are structurally identical to the contemporary 7801 Dura-Ace pair but for the aluminium freehub body, which requires a suitable deep-spline 10-speed cassette. Featuring bladed spokes, offset spoke location on the rear rim, radial drive side spoking with tangent on the non-drive side and aluminium spindles, they are fast, smooth and handsome.
Too good, for sure, for everyday commuting as late autumn elides into early winter, as is the rest of the machine. Which is why it has been given a thorough clean and has been put away in the shed, where if last winter is anything to go by it will stay until the snowdrops bloom. But, given a hint of fine weather…