THREE MONTHS ON STEEL or WHY I HAD TO BREAK UP WITH MY CARBON BIKE
In addition to his passion as a speaker and moderator for Triathlon, Surf and Golf sports, Till Schenk works at The Service Course in Girona. The avid cyclist and SRAM ambassador, recently tackled the project of getting his first customized steel bike which descends like a demon, climbs like a mountain goat and is stiff enough to win city sign sprints. His weapon of choice? -A beautiful Bellé Cycles!
All photos by Brazo De Hierro Photography
When I moved to Girona in November of last year, I was riding the best bike I had ever been on. I mean, come on, we are talking about a Venge Vias Disc S-Works with Zipp 404 Firecrest wheels, beautifully completed with Zipp finishing kit and a SRAM eTap group. How much better does a bike get? So when I walked into The Service Course in Girona, where my mate James was working, and he said 'dude, you need a steel bike, it is the best thing ever', I was thinking 'he's from the country that believes the Brexit is the best thing ever, so what does he know?'
In my mind, steel bikes were heavy, soft, don't move forward when you push the pedals and are basically the main reason why people are slow uphill. (By now I have learned that my legs and the unreasonable amount of ice cream I consume are the reasons I am slow uphill). It took all but a week until I was talked into trying out one of the shop's steel bikes and it went something like this: Me getting on steel bike, me riding steel bike, me coming back, walking over to Christian Meier, former pro cyclist and owner of The Service Course and telling him I need a steel bike. Not I WANT a steel bike, I NEED a steel bike! My mind had just been blown and not in a bad 'what the hell did I just see on afternoon trash TV' kind of way.
Christian quickly hooked me up with Kiko, owner and master builder at Bellé Cycles, based out of Barcelona. We instantly hit it off and my coolest bike building experience thus far had begun. Building a custom steel bike is a process. It requires time, patience, and trust in your builder. It all started with a leisure ride with Kiko, so he can see my riding style and then evaluate which of my requirements make sense and which ones don't. Next was a bike fit with Christan, which was the second super cool experience in the process. I have had bike fits before, but Christian has a fantastic feel on how to put a person on a bike for maximum comfort and power output, but most of all, handling of the bike. Mind blown again.
The third step in the process was to challenge Kiko. I wanted the impossible dream bike. A bike that descends like a demon, makes me look like a better climber than I am, is stiff enough to win city sign sprints if you put somebody with proper legs on it, yet is comfortable and compliant enough for consecutive 200km+ days in the saddle. Over the following three months we talked on basically a weekly basis and as we were deciding on design options (one of the perks of a custom bike), he was showing me the welding progress and we talked about what I would be doing with the bike. The anticipation grew and grew until the day he finally delivered the frame to the shop in Girona.
Not that I know anything about putting bikes together, but watching my mate James build up the bike to turn it into my dream bike was an absolute blast. Every single tube on the bike had a purpose to exactly fit my requests, every part was chosen to get what I wanted out of the bike and to fit my riding style. Sentimentally, the design was a homage to my time living in California.
The build consisted of SRAM RED eTap, Zipp 202 NSW wheels, and Tangente Speed R28 tires. All topped off with Zipp carbon cockpit components for stiffness and reducing weight where I needed it.
I was over the moon when I saw the finished piece of artwork, but now it had to live up to my expectations, because let's face it, this bike wasn't built to look pretty on a wall. With that said, riding a bike boldly emblazoned with a gold leaf bear meant I needed to have some serious speed to ride a bike that looks this good. Let the riding games begin!
THE RIDING EXPERIENCE
Truth be told, before I headed out on the steel bike for the first time, I literally said the following words to my mate James, "It's so cool! Now I can ride this bike when we go out riding serious mountains and use the Venge for smash fests on more flat terrain". Spoiler alert: I have not ridden the Venge a single time since saying these words, but I have ridden the Bellé almost 5000km in the past three months. I rode it for three consecutive 200km+ days over Easter weekend, up and down Mont Ventoux, on some of the roughest gravel sections around Girona, and to several Strava KOMs descending. Of course, it is unfair to just compare a steel bike to a carbon bike and ignore the fact that I am also comparing a climbing bike to an aero bike, but riding has never felt better than on the Bellé.
The way it absorbs bumps and cracks in the road allowed me to ride it a solid 47 seconds faster down one of the gnarly descents outside Girona on a 5-minute segment compared to the Venge. I have never been more relaxed coming off 200km+ rides or hard interval sessions and it still goes forward when I get out of the saddle and push for the sprint. The handling feels more controlled than any other bike I have ridden so far, and with my 'open head up and take brain out' attitude when descending, compliance and handling are key to make it home with all my skin still in place! Don't get me wrong. The Venge Vias Disc S-Works is an absolutely amazing bike, and was my favourite bike so far, up until 3 months ago; but steel seems to be the next step up. Although I am keen on building a climbing oriented carbon bike to compare steel versus carbon on bikes built for the same terrain! It is hard to describe the sensation when riding a custom made and custom fit steel bike, so you might just have to find out for yourself.
Happy riding everybody!