OK first up, yes, you’d be right in thinking that this looks a little like any other ti/carbon ‘mixed-media’ bike from Merlin, Serotta or Seven. But this is Independent Fabrication’s unique take on the approach, and uses Carbon main frame tubes and titanium welded lugs.
The main difference at first sight is that the paint is vibrant and glowing in the sunshine and the ‘Independent’ nature of the design and graphics make it a little less corporate looking too – it’s clearly a bike (and a company) that doesn’t take itself too seriously and yet cares deeply about what they do. As the folk at Independent Fabrication say:
“It’s a passionate group of people. We’re lucky enough to have the chance to make money out of our hobby”
So Independent Fabrication (IF) appear to be a very nice company. They are a post-modern-co-operative-profit-share type of company with business ethics and a philosophy they should be proud of. They share in their success with their employees and have a enviable approach to ideas and motivating their staff. I want to work there. We all should.
Specialized are very nice innovative company too. They are a fair bit bigger than IF but their history is superb and their design and marketing has dragged the cycling world ahead of itself. How is this relevant? Well way back in 1992 they made the Ultimate. This was a mountain bike made from titanium lugs and carbon tubes. It was beautiful, lightweight too, yet ludicrously expensive to produce. They only made 1500 or so and within a year or two it was shelved. Shame.
Up steps Merlin ten years (or so) later and takes on the Ti/Carbon idea. Serotta adds their take on it a couple of years after with the Ottrot and now all the big US builders have a version similar. Seven and IF have entered into the battle for the mix and match approach last year, so the choice is massive. It’s pricey too. However, few of them can claim to be as beautiful as the IF XS.
The XS is made out of custom carbon fibre composite tubes and a carbon fibre monostay and fork made by Reynolds Composites. All IF designed and manufactured titanium lugs were developed to maximize strength, minimize (light) weight.
The dropouts are slim and simple and the rear stays blend effortlessly into the titanium drop outs and chain stays. The Reynolds carbon tubes are bonded into the custom lugs with high tech, high strength epoxies. These are the same epoxies used in the aerospace industry in applications where strength and durability are required. Probably to glue wings on, or hold engines in place and other such important stuff.
As this bike came straight from Independent Fabrication, it had a high class finishing spec. based around Reynolds stuff. The bars and stem are available in the UK but we haven’t seen much of them on test bikes so it was a good chance to give them a spin. I had to change the stem as it was a little long, but it’s light and easy to adjust as is the carbon seatpost. The bars were a little deep, but we managed to find a compromise position. The whole Reynolds factory spec. was a nice touch and all the carbon/black bits matched up perfectly with the frame. The colour of the hubs picked up the frame paint too, so this means bike looks really complete.
The wheels came from Mavic. You already know you have nothing to worry about when there’s a set of Kysrium ES hoops on board and although the Ritchey tyres raised an eyebrow at first, they are actually a good choice too as they stick firmly especially on rough roads and crit. circuits. The Fizik saddle also sits well in this spec. but sadly not with my bum, so I changed it for a more familiar perch.
Compact drive Campag Record was an interesting choice and although at first the gearing felt a little underpowered, however riding a 34 in the mountains of North West Mallorca is a very welcome and pleasant experience. The jumps between gears aren’t as abrupt as you imagine them to be and the bottom gear of 34×25 was perfect for long alpine-style ascents. 50×12 is still a big gear and after a few days it felt pretty ‘normal’. Flat riding in the big ring rather than the 39 is the worst thing that can happen and the 12-25 10 speed ratios mean that there is plenty to choose from. I still wouldn’t completely convert, but for mountains I would certainly swap to Compact, it makes them a little less painful.
This bike was an immediate hit, after I’d shooed away the crowd standing around it and managed to swing a leg over it, I was hooked after three pedal revs. It just glides along.
Why is it different? Well they IF have opted for the low slung compact geometry rather than the upright all-day ride approach that Serotta take. Neither is better, but they have obvious preferences for different riders and to be fair on Serotta it depends on your riding aspirations and the bike that you decide you want to ride. Both have a list of custom options and sizing requirements as long (or as short) as your arm, so a simple off the shelf approach isn’t easy. Remember that this is like buying a tailor-made suit so an investment of time is inevitable, from sizing to specification it’s a long process and you must enjoy it if you want the best results.
So why two materials? Well perhaps because the process allows you to be creative with the properties therein and it’s incredibly “Bling” into the bargain. But it can also provide a happy balance between rigidity and comfort and with all this carbon reduce the vibration and road buzz into the bargain. The Reynolds tubes are similar to Serotta’s but not quite as exclusive – but remember that only a few companies can use this stuff though, as it takes a level of expertise and manufacturing technology to make anything worthwhile out of them.
If this bike is anything to go by then the XS (as standard) is long in the top tube and low at the BB. This means descending is fast and sure (bar pedalling whilst cornering on very tight hairpins) and in the mountains this gave an immediate advantage. A low centre of gravity helps maintain speed and improve handling. Climbing is aided by a svelte weight and there’s a solid feel to the frame when out of the saddle. As for sprinting there is no loss in power transfer and no detectable sway in the pedals as you ‘push-on a bit’ either. Race-bike boxes all ticked so far.
Unlike some strictly titanium and carbon frames, IF have saved some weight, yet still retained seated comfort and standing rigidity too (it’s slightly lighter than Serotta’s Ottrot and around the same as the Parlee Z3) Reynolds may have moved on from steel but their abilities with tubes and profiles has followed them. The Ouzo fork has always been an RCUK favourite and it’s another Reynolds product at the rear wishbone end as well – all matched up nicely and race-proven. There are no awkward deflections or abrupt changes in direction to clutter the lines of the XS. So although there is a lot going on with this frame, it’s still very easy on the eye.