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Cyclocross and Gravelbiking (Recreational) This has to be the most physically intense sport ever invented. It's high speed bicycle racing on a short off road course or riding the off pavement rides on gravel like :The Dirty Kanza". We also have a dedicated Racing forum for the Cyclocross Hard Core Racers.

Choosing a steel frame...

Old 05-22-19, 12:31 PM
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RyanAK
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Choosing a steel frame...

Hey, gang. Nice thing you have going here and a fantastic resource. Amazing what you can pick up if you pay attention when reading through the posts. Such a great amount of experience... hopefully some of you will chime in with suggestions for this build.

Anyway... I'm coming back to bicycling after being away for 15 years or so. I'm interested in building up a bike to run errands in our small town, recreational riding on our mixed surface county and state forest roads, occasionally 'commute' into the college town 9 miles away, and possibly do the occasional fast-and-light overnight trip up in the state forest.

I know the list will cause some compromises, so I'm considering quick, comfortable all-road recreational riding as first priority, with runs to the hardware store and farm market a close second.

Other considerations?

Why build from a frame instead of buying a complete? I like to build things. Simple as that. I'll have as much fun building up a frame set as riding the bike. Plus I can spread the cost out over time as I buy components. $2,000+ just isn't in the cards right now.

Skill set? I'm pretty handy. Currently have my '97 MUSA Cro-Mo Trek 820 (my college do-everything bike) completely disassembled for a rebuild with drop bars. I understand how a bike works and how to put one together. My 4yo son is loving this daddy activity. He was endlessly fascinated with the chain last night.

Steel? Yes, steel. Why? I just like it. I like a lot of 'traditional' materials and methods. I also build and fish with bamboo fly rods because bamboo makes sense to me. So please humor my choice in frame material.

Brakes... I still believe in rim brakes, but I'm not opposed to discs. Mechanical discs though... hydros just aren't in the budget.

I prefer to carry stuff in front rando-style and saddle bags, but I'm not completely opposed to a rear rack and panniers if a particular frame geometry is really going to struggle with a front load. Adding a trailer to haul a toddler or groceries is a possible consideration down the road, but not a priority.

Where's this all taking place? Well there happens to be a gravel event that pretty much encompasses my entire home territory. unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley here in central Pennsylvania actually rolls right by our house. Look it up and you'll have a good idea of where I'm riding. It's nice to have a website I can point to and say "that's home".

The framesets I've been considering are varied. I think there are a lot of bikes that would suit, but I could use the assist in narrowing down to the final one or two. Price is a consideration for sure, so I'm sure you can guess the contenders. I'm also not at all opposed to buying used, so I've been watching eBay (nothing so far) and craigslist (apparently I live in a nice-used-bike desert...) without much luck. Anyway...


Surly Cross Check

Surly Pack Rat

All-City Macho Man

Handsome Devil

VeloOrange Pass Hunter - currently unavailable

Soma Wolverine

Elephant National Forest Explorer - out of my budget, but I like a LOT about this frame

Crust Nor'easter - ditto the NFE

Looking forward to any thoughts and opinions. Thanks for humoring yet another 'what bike?' post. Hopefully this one has something intersting to think about.

Ryan
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Old 05-22-19, 05:30 PM
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There was a medium green NFE frameset recently listed at the Paceline Forum Classifieds. Think it was disk though and price may have been over budget.
If you're considering used also, could be a good idea signing up there and watching the classifieds as canti steel frames to suit come up fairly regular. Maybe even do a WTB ad.

A canti option could be the Black Mountain Cycles frameset.
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Old 05-22-19, 07:08 PM
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Welcome.

You appear to know what you want to do with the new bike and have researched some nice frame sets that would meet your needs.

What is your budget?

You said $2000 is too much. Is $1500 in your range? $500 to $600 for the frame and $800 to $900 for mid-level new components.

Complete bikes (new) can be a better deal than building your own. Or, buying a Craigslist bike and then modifying it can be a much better bargain because bikes depreciate dramatically.
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Old 05-22-19, 10:44 PM
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Any of the frames you list would be great to build up, assuming they fit you properly.

Black Mountain Cycles is one ill mention since I own a canti brake gravel frame and love it.
Mike Varley, the shop owner, designed bikes for many years and created this brand just over 10 years ago.
Canti brake gravel frame or disc brake gravel frame are available.

They are well thought out in terms of design and the construction is excellent(Maxway of Taiwan). Tubing is heat treated and 8/5/8 double butted cromoly.
Best of all- builds are straight forward and nothing wonky or surprising. Mike taps all threads before shipping frames to ensure the build is quick and easy.
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Old 05-23-19, 08:08 AM
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I would strongly recommend also considering vintage frames. Check out the "Retro Roadies" thread in the Classic & Vintage forum for some good examples of vintage frames/bikes updated with modern components (It's now a decade plus of posts and information, so you might start closer to the end).

Many vintage steel frames have seen "cult status" drive up their prices in the used market (the Bridgestone RB-1 comes to mind), and of course many of the classic Italian frames are quite expensive. But there are many deals to be found on frames that could serve you well for many years in to the future. There are many undervalued late 1980's Japanese frames, Treks, Raleighs with Reynolds 531, and Columbus-tubed Schwinns that can often be found at a low cost. And nearly all of these options is nicer than a brand new frame by Surly or Soma, in my opinion.
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Old 05-23-19, 08:08 AM
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Thanks for the welcome and thoughtful responses.

tangerineowl - I was a little late on seeing that NFE on Paceline. I'll certainly sign up and watch closer. If I had a little more "foolin' around" money, the National Forest Explorer would certainly be my first pick. I'll post a WTB once I narrow down to one or two choices in frames.

jlaw - Budget... top end could go $2000+ if the build is spread out over time. Biggest single buy will be the frame set, and I can go $500 up to maybe $800 or a little more for the right frame. Components can be new or used, with an emphasis on reliable, good value stuff. If I stretch out my cash flow a bit, I can go with higher end components. Brakes, cables, levers one week. Handlebars next month. Etc. I'm not in a hurry. I'd love to find a nicely depreciated higher end frame like a NFE or Crust... But the frame budget is pretty much maxed at $800, since that purchase can't be stretched out.

mstateglfr - thanks for the reminder about BMC. I had completely forgotten about their canti frames. They certainly deserve a closer look!

Of the frames I've listed, and adding in the BMC, do one or two stand out above the others for my purposes? Recreational riding around the county and errands to town with a preference for a front load. Anyone know much about the Pack Rat? That's a bike that is tough to find opinions on. The Soma Wolverine and VO Pass Hunter (discontinued... ugh) look like winners too. But a used NFE would still be tops if one comes around.

Bikes are fun, eh?

R
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Old 05-23-19, 08:16 AM
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Originally Posted by HarborBandS View Post
I would strongly recommend also considering vintage frames. Check out the "Retro Roadies" thread in the Classic & Vintage forum for some good examples of vintage frames/bikes updated with modern components (It's now a decade plus of posts and information, so you might start closer to the end).

Many vintage steel frames have seen "cult status" drive up their prices in the used market (the Bridgestone RB-1 comes to mind), and of course many of the classic Italian frames are quite expensive. But there are many deals to be found on frames that could serve you well for many years in to the future. There are many undervalued late 1980's Japanese frames, Treks, Raleighs with Reynolds 531, and Columbus-tubed Schwinns that can often be found at a low cost. And nearly all of these options is nicer than a brand new frame by Surly or Soma, in my opinion.
I just blinked and realized we are in the Gravel/Cyclocross forum, and I had been envisioning a road build. But my advice still stands... You might find a vintage steel frame with tire clearance for 38's in the more touring-oriented frames, or perhaps a bike set up for 27" wheels.

If you are looking for through-axle and disc brakes, then the Soma might be a good option. I would also consider looking at Gunnar, Waterford's less expensive, less custom little brother.

Custom Bicycle Frames from Gunnar Cycles USA

I have no experience with BMC, so I will defer to mstateglfr on that one.
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Old 05-23-19, 08:19 AM
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And yet another steel option is the Norco Search XR Steel, which is available as a steel frameset.

https://www.norco.com/bikes/dirt-dro...arch-xr-steel/
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Old 05-23-19, 09:00 AM
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The Black Mountain canti brake fork has front rack mounts and ive used them to hold a rack and about 25# of gear without issue. Steering was stable and forgettable(which is what I want). Funny timing- I am selling my nearly 30yo steel frame touring bike frame and am will transition my Black Mountain frame for touring/work commuting while building a new frame for gravel riding.
For loaded touring(thats 2-3 days of camping and regional destinations), my setup is a couple of large panniers on the front rack and a compression dry bag atop the rear rack. I dont get deep into the trail measurements a lot, but understand them enough to know design theory. In the end, the steering with front bags is stable and thats all I care about.

So the frame works fine for me when it comes to handling a front load. But everyone is different in their tolerance and preference.
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Old 05-23-19, 12:06 PM
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Originally Posted by RyanAK View Post
Thanks for the welcome and thoughtful responses.


jlaw - Budget... top end could go $2000+ if the build is spread out over time. Biggest single buy will be the frame set, and I can go $500 up to maybe $800 or a little more for the right frame. Components can be new or used, with an emphasis on reliable, good value stuff. If I stretch out my cash flow a bit, I can go with higher end components. Brakes, cables, levers one week. Handlebars next month. Etc. I'm not in a hurry. I'd love to find a nicely depreciated higher end frame like a NFE or Crust... But the frame budget is pretty much maxed at $800, since that purchase can't be stretched out.


R
ok - good budget.

Have you considered the VO Ployvalent?

It is currently available for $725 (frame & fork) in Lilac or Green. Bristling with eyelets, bottle mounts, and cable hangers for fenders, racks, whatever. The intent is to allow many different types of set-ups - including front-load. The VO blog has a number of entries regarding this recently redesigned frame about how they came up with it.
  • Double-butted 4130 steel - respectable
  • 650b x 47 or 26 x 2.3 will fit - nice options.
  • It takes disc brakes, flat bars/upright bars/drop bars
  • 135mm rear spacing for MTB hubs/wheels
  • 68mm threaded BB - easy
  • 1" threaded fork is a throw-back, but you can make this work more easily with one of their quill stems w// removable face plate.
  • Replaceable der. hanger

You could easily build this up as a rando-style bike and keep it under 30 lbs. With lighter wheels, tires, saddle, etc. you might be able to hit 25 lbs.

Lots of possibilities here.

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Old 05-23-19, 04:02 PM
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Also keep an eye out on Google Groups 650b and Internet-BOB.

Just had a look there. Two more recent NFE; the black frameset+ just sold.
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Old 05-24-19, 12:02 AM
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Really liking my Surly Cross Check. Easily rivals my P15 Paramount for being a great all arounder. Highly recommended.
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Old 05-24-19, 07:49 AM
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Black Mountain Cycles Monster Cross canti is definitely on the list now. That really is a well thought out frame. Thanks for the knowledge, mstateglfr. Did you have any wheel flop if you had a front load up high (rando or handlebar bag), as opposed to panniers?

I really like what Velo Orange does with their frame and component offerings. I don't know why I didn't give the Polyvalent a closer look. It seems to check a lot of boxes, including tire size and front loading. This one needs serious consideration. Lilac, huh? Am I man enough?... I wear a lot of lumberjack plaid and have a big red beard, so lilac might be perfect. Thanks for bringing that frame back into the light, jlaw.

Great looking Cross Check, gorillimo. The 'Mule Mug' color really looks better in the wild compared to the stock photos. People have built up that frame so many different ways over the years. Some of the Blue Lug builds are really spectacular.

tangerineowl - I'm not familiar with those groups... but if they have an active classifieds where NFEs pop up, I'll try to seek them out.

Current top five, in no particular order....

* Elephant National Forest Explorer (used... and I know I said 'no particular order', but this one is in first place...)

* Black Mountain Monster Cross (canti or disc)

* Velo Orange Polyvalent (lilac?... hmmmm....)

* Surly Pack Rat (I really need to find more info on this frame...)

* Surly Cross Check

I'll give Norco and Gunnar a look.

Thanks, gang. This is fun.

R
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Old 05-24-19, 10:33 AM
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Originally Posted by RyanAK View Post
Budget... top end could go $2000+ if the build is spread out over time. Biggest single buy will be the frame set, and I can go $500 up to maybe $800 or a little more for the right frame. Components can be new or used, with an emphasis on reliable, good value stuff. If I stretch out my cash flow a bit, I can go with higher end components. Brakes, cables, levers one week. Handlebars next month. Etc. I'm not in a hurry.
I'm in the same boat. I've often thought of selling my road bike and my '90s drop-bar MTB and replacing them both a Black Mountain Cycles Monstercross with cantilever brakes.

I can't justify buying a $2000+ complete bike, but I could put it together over time, with parts from my two local bike co-ops, craigslist, and the internet. I've considered buying a frame and headset from Mr. Varley and also buying a donor bike from craigslist to get it rolling.

I see '90s hybrids with cantilevers and 700c wheels on craigslist every day with $100 - $150 asking prices (but never in my size or I'd have one). I could buy one without regard to frame size for $100 or $150 and move most of the parts over to the new frame to get started, and then upgrade over time. I bet there aren't too many BMC MCs running a 3x7 drivetrain!

Good luck Ryan. Let us know how it goes.
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Old 05-24-19, 02:48 PM
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There are probably a lot of guys approaching things like this. It’s a reasonable way to get great quality without incurring debt or spending more than ya can afford in one shot.

The donor bike has merit if you can find something with good quality components. $100 bike with a good wheel set and brakes is money ahead. Ditto if you can find something with decent drivetrain. Spend money on a new cockpit and Bob’s yer uncle. I’m doing something similar with the ‘97 Trek 820 I have torn apart to do a drop bar conversion on.

Anyone have experience with the Handsome frames? I just got a note saying the custom color powder coat upgrade is FREE through Memorial Day. Not sure if it’s for fames or completes, but $480 for a custom color frame set seems like a great buy if the geometry and quality suits.

Soma just had a 20% off and almost grabbed a Wolverine, but hesitated. If BMC or VO have a sale... just might have to snag something.

Doubt Elephant would do a big enough sale that would get me into a new NFE... ha.

R
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Old 05-24-19, 04:30 PM
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RyanAK,

What size frame do you ride?
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Old 05-24-19, 05:06 PM
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Originally Posted by tangerineowl View Post
RyanAK,

What size frame do you ride?
Well...

Hardtail Trek 820 is a 21” frame... which they based on seat tube length. Road-ish frames through the years have been second hand and I never really paid attention other than “yep, fits” or “too long” or “too cramped”.

I’m 5’10”. “Normal” proportions. My bicycling inseam (or pelvic bone height or whatever...) is 85cm. (33.5”). I’m most comfortable midway between upright and aggressive roadie. Maybe slightly biased towards aggressive.

Based on some measurements I pulled and looking at geometry charts, I’d be on something between 52 and 56cm.

54cm Cross Check.
52 or 55cm Macho Man
Possibly a 56cm Wolverine
‘Medium’ National Forest Explorer
Haven't looked closely at the Polyvalent or BMC yet

Clear as mud, yeah?
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Old 05-24-19, 08:03 PM
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Originally Posted by RyanAK View Post
Well...

Hardtail Trek 820 is a 21” frame... which they based on seat tube length. Road-ish frames through the years have been second hand and I never really paid attention other than “yep, fits” or “too long” or “too cramped”.

I’m 5’10”. “Normal” proportions. My bicycling inseam (or pelvic bone height or whatever...) is 85cm. (33.5”). I’m most comfortable midway between upright and aggressive roadie. Maybe slightly biased towards aggressive.

Based on some measurements I pulled and looking at geometry charts, I’d be on something between 52 and 56cm.

54cm Cross Check.
52 or 55cm Macho Man
Possibly a 56cm Wolverine
‘Medium’ National Forest Explorer
Haven't looked closely at the Polyvalent or BMC yet

Clear as mud, yeah?
Traditional 55cm give or take 1cm. Done.
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Old 05-24-19, 09:11 PM
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Yeah, what shoota said. 55.
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Old 05-25-19, 11:12 AM
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I'll add another glowing recommendation for a frame from Black Mountain Cycles. Mike Varley knows what he is doing when it comes to designing, having manufactured and preparing a bike frame. He operates out of his one man bike shop in Point Reyes, California. If you have any questions about your build, he takes the time to reply to emails and is very friendly and helpful.

I bought one of his rim brake Monster Cross frames in 2012 and rode it everywhere for about 2-1/2 years before selling it to get an Specialized AWOL which I rode for a couple of years and went to an All-City Cosmic Stallion. Both were great bikes, but I always missed the Black Mtn, so I changed one more time to get a Black Mtn MCD frame. I'm sticking with this one. It just does everything right.
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Old 05-25-19, 04:39 PM
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Thanks for throwing in for the BMC frame. I like it a lot and think it would make a great bike for what I want to do. How did/do you have your bikes set up?

Not crazy about the current Monster Cross or MCD colors though... Way down the list of priorities, but still a consideration.

Last edited by RyanAK; 05-25-19 at 05:57 PM.
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Old 05-26-19, 07:17 AM
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Another vote for BMC MCD - great frame and Mike is fantastic to deal with. I am personally in love with my Mr Peptobismol MCD but color is a personal preference. You can always respray or powdercoat it later.
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Old 05-26-19, 07:22 AM
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I also have Gorilla Monsoon and love it to bits as well. I got first year color, will snap some pictures today but current color is also looking great. Little bonus (or downside for some) - front is 15x100 so tons of wheel options. I usually build my wheels but picked up Hope Endurance wheels for it and very happy with them. Between BMC MCD segmented fork and GM's bi-plane - I can't decide which one I like more.
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Old 05-26-19, 07:30 AM
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Snapped couple of quick pics before heading out:

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Old 05-26-19, 10:00 AM
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Originally Posted by RyanAK View Post
Thanks for throwing in for the BMC frame. I like it a lot and think it would make a great bike for what I want to do. How did/do you have your bikes set up?

Not crazy about the current Monster Cross or MCD colors though... Way down the list of priorities, but still a consideration.
Monster Cross was a triple Shimano with 10 speed Ultegra shifters, 105 crank (30/39/50), 9 speed Ultegra RD, 11-36 10 speed cassette.

Downstream of Hungerford Lake dam by Benny Watson, on Flickr

MCD is SRAM Rival 22 Hydro, Sugino 46/30 crank, 11-36 11 speed cassette. I love the Olive Oil color, but any color is fine when it's dirty enough..

Bmc mcd by Benny Watson, on Flickr
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