A Show Bike: The Crisp K19
This year’s ExpoBici in Padova, Italy featured a special creation: a collaboration between tubeset makers Dedacciai, framebuilder Darren Crisp and Pez. Building up a sweet, titanium Show Bike can be a lot of fun, even if it never gets ridden…
Ingredient A goes something like this: a little over a year ago, I went on a factory tour of a company that I had always admired, a company that dominated the 90’s peloton with their steel, aluminum, and ultimately, magnesium tubing, namely Dedacciai. In addition to being swell guys, the Locatelli brothers and their merry men are also a generous bunch and generously offered any tubes I desired to build a frame with.
Now Ingredient B: Over three years ago, I met Darren Crisp (thanks to some serendipity and a Pez Interview) and I’ve been equally impressed with the Dude and his work ever since. As if being the best American titanium framebuilder in all of Italy was not enough of an accolade, this year Campagnolo chose one of his frames to present their 80th Anniversary gruppo. I mentioned to Darren that Dedacciai was offering the tubes and asked if he’d be interested in welding something up. “That’s cool, but only if I get to show it at the Bike Expo in Padova,” was his answer.
Combining Ingredients A and B would mean that I’d have to come up with the rest of the recipe and then show it. Now this is not as easy as one might assume. First, Pez has set the bar pretty high when it comes to show bikes. An antagonizing voice inside my head says if you can’t match those Pezpectations, then don’t even try. The other issue is that my style, er… noted frugality is in direct conflict with the idea of showmanship. People want envy and aspiration, not sensible gruppos, 32 spoke, aluminum wheels and other throwback ideas. Somehow, I’d have to compromise, otherwise I’d be letting down Dedacciai, Darren and Pez.
Let’s Talk About Tubes
Dedacciai makes a set of titanium tubes called K19 – though there are a couple different down tubes and seat stays to choose from. It features a nuclear-reactor-shaped sculpture that doubles as a headtube and the slickest chain stays in existence, in my opinion. Straight gauge 3Al/2.4V tubes are internally triple butted and worked into specific shapes in their factory in Italy, a bit southeast of Milan. The amount of force and energy required to get these round tubes into K19 form was described to me as “considerable.” The tubes are seamlessly drawn, unlike some manufacturers that fold and weld sheets into “interestingly shaped” forms.
Obviously, each tube profile has been specifically designed to optimize its function in the bike. This knowledge comes straight from Stefano Locatelli’s brain with over 30 years of experience engineering Tour wining frames. Take the down tube. It starts out as a 49mm high, upright egg-ish shape with a 0.9mm wall thickness at the head tube, then thins out to 0.7mm and round in the middle section and smoothly transforms into an Aston Martin grill shape with a 0.8mm thickness and 49.5mm width at the bottom bracket. That’s not your Uncle Earl’s old Merlin Extralight!
The majority of titanium frames on the market today are made from round, straight gauge tubes (though some are double or triple butted, some internally, some externally). There are good reasons for this: it is much easier to produce, miter, clean and weld these frames – and when it’s a titanium frame, a substantial amount of the cost is tied up in the material. Hold on a second: let me say that there is nothing wrong with straight gauge, round tubes. Absolutely nothing. In fact, most Crisps are constructed with them. However, it would make no sense for Dedacciai to offer round, straight gauge tubes. Their value comes from the know-how, design and manipulation of these common (yet effective) tubes into something quite special. My 14 year old son made me aware of something perhaps even more important than the functional aspects of the K19 when he noted that the frame “looks modern”, whereas a lot of titanium appears old fashioned.
Yet, the downside is the extra amount of work that goes into making a K19. Cleaning all that black, oily gunk inside the Dedacciai tubes alone adds considerable time and expense (oily gunk is required to pressure the tubes into shape). Dirty tubes mean contaminated welds, which is something you don’t want on a frame that’s guaranteed for life. Also, the shaped tubes require special jigs and lots of extra hours hand filing miters that cannot be simply cut and tacked. Getting the egg-ish down tube miter to align perfectly with the corset shaped head tube can take several hours! I bet that the complexity involved in making a K19 frame is what appealed to Darren, since it would highlight his perfectionism and craftsmanship on the Expo stand. Yet, I imagine that he secretly hopes there won’t be too many orders for more.
If I had to nitpick about the K19 tubeset, I’d grumble about the aluminum inserts that hold the internal headset bearings that get bonded into the head tube, especially the top one that rises almost a centimeter over the titanium with its lighter, aluminum-y color. It seems that someone at Dedacciai heard my unvoiced concern because they’ve recently come out with a new, 3mm top insert. Ok, here’s another knock, the K19 only comes with a BSA bottom bracket (which is just fine by this traditionalist) that seems a bit old fashioned and visually awkward compared to the oversized tubing – though not a big deal, you could source other bottom brackets.
A Crisp Design Process
I’ve been fitted for custom bikes four times now and am always curious to find out how each framebuilder approaches this first step. Darren is on the ‘precise’ side of things, taking more measurements than most and asking plenty of questions about the cyclist’s needs/desires. However, this project is atypical for a Crisp because we were “stuck” with a specific tubeset. Afterwards, he sends the client a first draft pdf of his proposed geometry with the expectation that an ensuing debate will follow. I think this exchange, this hammering out a mutual ideal is what gets his goose. However, I’m not really the right client for this kind of approach. After many years of working with creative people, I have simply learned that it is best to choose the right person for that specific job, explain the goals and then let them do what they do with minimal interference. Things turn out much better when artists are given complete trust and freedom.
Darren’s first draft seemed fine to me. The geometry put me just a hair longer and lower than I usually ride, but I was willing to give it a try. I think he was giving my aging body more Flexibility Credit than I do. In any case, it would be easy enough to set the bike up to my normal position with a few minor tweaks. Yet, I took his plans to some buddies in the hope that they’d give me a few wrenches to throw out there in an attempt to humor Mr. Crisp. A handful of emails were exchanged with a tepid debate about headset spacers and then we decided to go ahead with the first (and only) draft.
This photo shows some of the complexity in the headtube, the top tube has been tacked, while the down tube has had its second pass, fusing the tubes together. Still one more to go – filling in the channel.
Around eight months later, the frame was finished up with some fancy anodized graphics to match. Dedacciai also supplied their top-of-the-line, completely carbon (from steerer to drop-outs) RS fork which mates up nicely with the curvy, oversize-ish look of the tubeset. Crisp road frames normally tip the scales between 1300 to 1500 grams – this one is squarely in the middle at 1400 ‘n change. Darren’s thoughts about frame weight are pretty clear and I am in full agreement: you only get lightness by removing material. Remove too much titanium and it loses the qualities that you wanted from it in the first place, like longevity and sublime performance. I’ve been on featherweight titanium frames and they’re no fun (and extremely dent prone). We’ll get lightness through our components.
In addition to offering me any tubes that I wanted, Fulvio Acquati at Deda Elementi also opened up his product catalogue for the show bike. Stems need to do their job perfectly and be forgotten about. If they are light, even better. Deda’s Servizio Corsa has been around for a while because there’s not really much left to improve with this stiff, efficient design that weighs an impressive 110 grams. Fulvio gave me a 10cm and an 11cm stem and suggested that I start the season at 10 and switch to the longer one when I’m in shape. Makes lots of sense. Since I’m a classic bend handlebar guy, he recommended the Campione with its round and somewhat compact shape. Unlike most modern bars that stay flat running into the levers, these slope downward like the old school, 3T TdFs (back when it was written 3ttt). The carbon weave finish is impeccable and they are quite light at 220 grams. I was also given a SuperZero seat post, a Dog Fang chain catcher, and an array of bartapes.
What’s It Supposed To Mean?
Before going any further I needed to answer a bigger question: what’s the concept, what was I really presenting? My first thought was: Gray (many other thoughts and variations of thoughts would replace this first one, but I kept returning to it and finally realized, as is often the case, that the first immediate idea is usually the right one). I’ve always felt that titanium’s essence is Gray. Not just its color, but its soul is the gray of asceticism and ruthless practicality. It is the only bike you’ll ever need, and for a colorful bike slut like myself, I admire and fear the monogamous commitment that it desires. It’s the restraining, simplicity seeking gray of a mid-life crisis where you end up selling all of your bikes, your vintage Colnagos and your super-stiff, super-light carbon wonders that hurt your knees. It’s that kind of Gray.
My other thought was: Let the Builder and the K19 tubeset be the stars. Accordingly, the frame would keep its natural, brushed finish. No need to paint it or compete with it by covering up those lovely, three-pass welds. Also Darren’s frames have a silky, soft glow, unlike some titanium that has a coarse, metallic shine. That’s because titanium tubes leave the mills with a brushed finish and many builders merely re-brush on top of this after welding them, not Crisp. He gets completely rid of that mechanized finish (not allowed to tell you how) to give him an even starting point before brushing them with fine grained pads. I decided that the fork and stem would get hit with a matte, titanium color to push them into the background. Darren warned me that some of his clients tend to go titanium overboard where everything gets too monochrome and the material loses its power. Something needs to be a little off to reinforce the “on”, so I took his head badge to a jeweler who gold plated it.
The Gray-est Gruppo
Another important decision: the gruppo. My first thought was to get Shimano’s new 11 speed mechanical gruppo, the 9000. But it’s not Gray enough. The K19 Crisp would need the gray-est Gruppo of them all, the one that blew me away when it was introduced 10 years ago: Shimano’s 7800 Dura Ace (Campagnolo’s C Record in Century finish meets the aesthetic bill, but not the efficiency one and it would cost me a fortune). The purity of the 10 speed, 7800 gruppo’s engineering and the flowing curves, and cables and cranks all plainly presented in aluminum-y gray is the perfect partner for the K19 Crisp. Its singularity of purpose and commitment is Gray. It also just happens to be that odd, and perhaps provocative touch to warm my frugal heart (most of it was reasonably purchased through an online auction website). The only modification would be some gray Hudz to cover the STI shifters. Now I needed some wheels. Although I bought a Dura Ace 7800, 32 hole hubset, a pair of Mavic Open Pro CD rims (the gray anodized ones) and a handful of Alpina 2/1.5/2mm spokes to be built into a set of training wheels, a show bike needs more bling.
Get (in) Tune
One of my first articles for Pez was aided by the fine folks at Tune, purveyors of lightweight, German goodies. They provided a set of hubs that have been reliable performers over the past five years. I’ve been on Tune’s PR mailing list ever since and follow their going-ons with drooling admiration. One of their more important and recent announcements has been bringing the manufacturing of their carbon fiber components like saddles, rims and other doodads in house. After explaining the project, Marketing Guy, Sebastian Linser signed on.
Unfortunately, their rims would not be ready for the Expo, but a custom made saddle would be available. The KommVor is technically their mountain bike saddle, the roadies get one called KommVor+, the “plus” means there’s no leather covering which saves you 15 grams. Even with the white leather, it weighs pretty much nothing and the Schwarzes Stueck seat post weighs also nothing – about 200 grams for the both.
Even though Tune lists certain package wheelsets in their catalogue, everything is made once the order is placed. There is no inventory, so essentially every Tune wheel is tailor made. Customers can choose any hub, spoke count, spoke type, rim and vast color combination in the catalogue. After consulting with Tune, we decided that our K19 Crisp would ride on Schwarzbrenner 38mm deep carbon, tubular rims. A radially laced 20 spoke, MIG45 front hub with carbon flanges and a carbon axle is matched with a 24 spoke, MAG150 rear hub – laced 2 cross on the drive side and radially on the non-drive side. Tune worked with Sapim to create the Superspoke with a profile of 2mm at the ends and a flatten, aero 2.3mm X 0.95 profile in middle which saves 17% in weight over the venerable Sapim CX-Rays. They also come in a classy, black chrome finish. To finish off our wheelset, Tune threw in a set of feather-light DC14 skewers and some kickin’ carbon brake pad holders with Swiss Stop yellow pads. While the seat post and saddle are scary light and don’t tempt me to use them, these wheels have plenty of steel spokes, solid rims and reliable hubs. All of this wholesomeness weighs just a few grams over a kilo. Thanks to Tune’s help, our ride is a shade under the UCI weight limit.
A Word on Tires
The best tubular and open tubular (clincher) tires in the world are made in Italy, just outside of Bergamo by Veloflex. No ifs, ands, or buts (though I’ve never ridden FMB’s, so I could be mistaken). The most appropriate word that comes to mind when describing their ride quality is Buttery. You immediately feel these tires’ delicious lightness and distinct lack of resistance with every pedal stroke. Around 20 women, lined up in two rows in a small one room factory, sew, glue and fuss over these tires like nuns in a extraordinary convent devoted to cycling. A visit is a real treat for any biker, it’s like going back in time. Veloflex co-owner, Signore Colleone is a gracious host, passionate about cycling and an informative guide. Our K19 Crisp wears their Roubaix tubulars with a 24mm (almost 25mm) width. The natural cotton sides have a nice way of calling out the gold headtube badge.
Nothing ever goes as smoothly you can make it seem in an article. My bike painters, Ivo, Luigi and Mario of Color Sistem in Tuscany, the guys that so lovingly sprayed the fork and stem [who are big fans of Darren’s work as Mario once told me, “I’ve seen lots of titanium from De Rosa and Tommasini and others, but Crispy (Italians need to end their words in vowels) is better”], are closing their shop after more than 30 years in business due to the ongoing economic crisis (and archaic Italian labor and taxation laws, don’t get me started). Next, Darren’s home was robbed in broad daylight as we were talking about this very frame, a few meters away in his studio. And finally, the greatest bike mechanic in the world, the only guy I would trust with assembling this project, Marco Balduzzi, was involved in a bike accident that put him in a hospital bed for over a month, just days after we had gone out together to climb Passo Mendola. He doesn’t remember much, but I suspect he was hit by a car (though Marco was distracted because he was rushing back to the shop with some bearings that had been in the freezer, wanting to install them before they thawed).
Let’s Put It Together
Even though the frame and all of the components were assembled at the beginning of summer, the bike wasn’t put together until a week before the show was to start on September 20th. Welcome to Italy! So what goes into a show build? Everything is put together with the bare minimum of oil and grease, while the chain’s is completely removed. The tubulars aren’t glued. The rear derailleur stops are set so no joker can possibly throw the chain, not even into the top or bottom cogs for safe measure. However, the brakes are set up perfectly because most people tend to play with them. Gray teflon tubes encase the derailleur cables, Balduzzi’s homemade Gore system. Wheel nipples cap the cheap cables that will get substituted for quality ones when we rebuild the bike properly. A curvy Tacx bottle cage gets mounted.
And last, but not least, is the bartape. I spent hours mulling over which one would grace the show bike. Bartape is that important. At the last hour, I was overruled on my choice of Cinelli Splash cork tape in a 90’s vomit of gray, black and white and went with an even more vintage, yet classy, white cotton tape. Eddy, eat your heart out! The St. Arnold’s Brewery bottle caps as bar plugs are a nod to Darren’s and my home State (note: while I often disappoint the people over here with my un-Texan Ranger stature and complexion, Darren’s lanky frame rises up six and a half feet off the ground. He’s also kept just enough of an accent to be charming).
Wrap It Up
Usually, when we build up fancy bikes at Pez, we ride them and then confirm how fantastic our tastes are, but that’s not going to happen with this report. What I assumed was a simple question to a buddy, “if he’d mind welding up some free tubes?” turned into a year long undertaking that encompassed hardships and other life issues that can optimistically be called growth moments. And it turned into something bigger than putting together a ride. Sometimes a bike can be more than a bike, it can be a platform – bringing together a bunch of exceptional people each contributing passion, creativity and purpose to a greater whole. And when that happens it deserves to be heard, or in this case, seen (at a bike fair) and read about (in a journal like this one). And you know, the ironic thing about this Bike-as-a-Platform is that you can’t really ride it, but I guess that’s what makes it an honest Show Bike.
I would sincerely like to thank all of the people that contributed to this special project: Stefano Locatelli, Fulvio Aquati, Max Gatti and Andrea Invernizzi at Dedacciai & Deda Elementi, Uli Fahl, Sebastian Linser and Harry Czech at Tune, Ivo, Mario and Luigi at Color Sistem, Marco and Ornella Balduzzi at Cicli Balduzzi, Veloflex, Richard Pestes and especially, Darren Mark Crisp of Crisp Titanium – my soul brother, born 12 days before me in the same hospital in Houston.