What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ’s SEVEN Aerios: Ti In The Sky

Covering the mountainous final week of the Giro was the perfect reason to build up a new bike made to climb. Make it light, and use Titanium – yeah. So I put custom builders SEVEN to the test in designing a light & comfortable bike that I could ride all day, but still had enough ‘racy-ness’ to be fun. Here’s what we did…

Planning to ride 6 huge climbs in four days was reason enough to make it light, but looking at the hours of saddle time we planned was extra incentive to make it a bike I could ride for long hours too. I’ve ridden a few different Ti bikes, and right away noticed the ride qualities that this once ‘space-age’ metal is known for when care is taken to properly manipulate the tube set – a combination of lightness, stiffness, AND comfort that is simply unavailable in other metals.

THIS is what I’m talking about… scaling the big peaks of the Giro – like the stunning Passo Pordoi – on a lightweight climbing bike like this 16lb. SEVEN Aerios.

It’s not the first time we’ve worked with the guys at Seven, (read our carbon-ti Elium Race review) and I was keen to test their well-known custom design abilities.

Click the thumbnail at top for the Full View

Nothing like a little Italian lakeside setting to show off a new bike.

Working through their multi-page fit and ride guide caused me to employ the services of the lovely Mrs. Pez to measure a lot of my body parts, and to really think about the ride characteristics I wanted from this bike. Here’s what I came up with in Seven’s 4 key areas:

• Handling: make it slightly more agile than stable, but just.
• Drive Train Rigidity: I favored a more rigid drive train, and was willing to give up a tiny bit of weight savings
• Vertical Compliance: Slightly more comfortable than stiff
• Weight To Performance Ratio: Again I favored a slightly better performance (ie: stiffness) over a flexy weight-weenied spaghetti TI frame.

Part of Seven’s spec criteria include ranking desired ride criteria on a scale of 1-10.

I could have made the frame lighter, but wasn’t willing to sacrifice the stiffness I wanted to enjoy the performance aspect of the occasional jump-sprint, or out of the saddle climbing. But with Ti – I was pretty confident this bike would offer a good combination – light-weight and stiff but comfortable performance.

Now THAT’s A Shopping List
With Seven working on the frame, I got busy dreaming up the rest of the components to adorn this beauty. Here’s what I spec’d (and don’t worry, links are at the bottom):

Frame: Seven Aerios Titanium
Fork: Seven carbon
Headset: Chris King
Levers: Campy Chorus
Cranks: FSA K-Force Compact 50/34
BB: FSA Mega-Exo Ceramic
Front Derailleur: FSA Compact
Bars: Zipp SL carbon
Stem: Ritchey 4 Axis
Seatpost: Ritchey WCS Carbon
Brakes: Zero Gravity Ti.
Saddle: Fizik Arione
Wheels: American Classic Sprint 350’s with Sapim Spokes
Tires: Vittoria Diamante Pro lite
Cables: Jagwire

Not bad, not bad at all. Of course the real test lay in northern Italy, deep in the jagged peaks of the Dolomites. You bet I was looking forward to this trip… read on for the full skinny on this special build package and how each performed at the Giro, and over the past two months.

The finished product – weighing in at 16lbs exactly – with pedals. I gotta say I’m sold on the ride qualities of well-designed Ti – this bike felt great every day in Italy, and everyday since.

Seven uses their own ‘spec’d’ 3-2.5 Titanium, drawn, cut and butted to their proprietary specifications to suite each customer. It’s that last part, “each customer” that is the single most important component in this test and to Seven.

Let’s be honest. There are loads of Titanium bikes out there and today’s favorite material is carbon fiber. But what Seven do to tune Titanium (or several of their Titanium / Carbon Combinations) is what sets their bikes apart from most any off the shelf Ti and most off the shelf uber-Carbon.

Their fork is carbon with aluminum drops, and although it looks beefy (maybe too much for the thinner Ti tubeset), the ride quality is well matched to this bike. I’d like to say more about how it performed on it’s own (but I ran it only on this rig), but the whole frame/fork package worked very well together – no complaints at all.

• SEVEN offers a huge range of custom options – from tube specs and sizing to paint colors and schemes. They do a great job of helping customers define and prioritize desired ride qualities so they can build what you want – but like any custom project, you can never ask enough questions.

• The very curved stays do a lot more than look sexy – the snug fit at the front of the chain stays allows for lots of foot clearance, while SEVEN matched tubing gauges to my weight and desired ride qualities. The curves in the seat stays allow for some vertical compliance and the flare out in both chain and seat stays helps with stability and twist resistance at the rear hub.

• The coolness of having your name on the bike can not be underestimated – and if you’ve never tried it… get on it!

• Weld finish is superb, and most worthy of their deep finish paint coatings. I went with a combo of their stock white and ‘electric blueberry’, applied in my own ‘semi-retro’ design. I overlooked the important fact that Seven’s frame-fork builds do NOT ship with headsets, but Chris King was happy to send one up. The 1-1/8 Ti NoThreadSet weighed in around 100 grams, and Kings head sets have been a benchmark for years.

• The good folks at Fizik USA stepped up when they heard I’d need a place to sit, and sent a Ti-railed Arione Wing Flex saddle. Weighing in at 230 grams, it’s not their lightest, but was close enough, and the colors couldn’t be better. Introduced a couple years back, the Arione has become the bread and butt-er saddle of the Italian brand (their Carbon railed, carbon based version is their signature / top line), and typically turn up on many a pro’s bike with some very cool custom colors – like Team Liquigas. We first reviewed the Arione back in ’03, and as one of the longer (longest?) saddles around at 300 mm, it’s a proven winner for comfort and positioning options as a wide range of tooshy’s can find a happy place somewhere on a vast surface. Our longest ride at the Giro was on stage 20: 132km over the Gavia, Mortirolo and back to Aprica – over 5-1/2 hours pedaling, and my butt only began complaining in the last 10km – likely because most of my rides last only 2-3 hours. The long ti rails add a teensy bit more shock absorption (especially when you have a custom fit rig that puts the seat clamps in the center of the rails), and the covering is tough and durable, with the only wear appearing as the ‘Arione’ name rubs off from leg friction.

Ritchey Carbon WCS Seatpost
You’ve no doubt seen these on some pretty cool ProTour team bikes – Saunier Duval-Prodir, Gerolsteiner, FDJeux, Cofidis, Lampre and Health Net back home means they’re good enough for me.

The finish is superb – high-gloss carbon weave, snazzy graphics, and some of the cool design features you’d expect from Tom Ritchey. Plus the 166gram weight of the 27x300mm post was exactly what I wanted for climbing.

The post uses a dual bolt system that more evenly spreads clamping loads for today’s thinner seat-rails, and it mounts to a nicely rounded base that allows for infinite saddle angle adjustment – something else I liked. Another cool feature is that the bolts use a small rubber washer to hold ‘em in place, so they don’t drop out when you’re swapping seats – smart thinking.

On the road the slight flex only added to the overall comfort of the bike, without detracting from my energy transfer when pedaling. This post is exactly what I’d expect from a builder with Ritchey’s pedigree.

FSA K-Force Compact Cranks & Compact Front Derailleur
With 70km’s of serious climbs in 3 rides, my planned assault on the Giro’s last week was not for the meek, nor the weak knee’d. I gave up on the ‘big gear club’ last year, and never looked back. FSA intro’d the Compact version of their bold and bello K-Force cranks (see our first K-Force review here) last Fall, and I’d been hoping for a set to help me scale the Dolomites ever since. The 50/34 chainring sizing was perfect for mountain riding. Paired with a 12-25 cogset, the climbing ratios were everything I needed (except for a few of those 18% pitches on the Mortirolo when walking was the only answer).
Price: about US$500.00

Their Compact Derailleur completed the ‘compact set’, and once adjusted correctly has performed flawlessly – even under some extreme shifting situations. The jump from a 50 down to the 34 is a big one for sure, so derailleur adjustment is critical – the FSA adjuster is a tad sensitive, so a 1/8 screw turn (or less) may mean the diff between perfect alignment and a dropped chain, but once I got it right – no probs at all. Style-wise, the derailleur is simple and understated, but I’m hoping we see something besides the chrome finish for ’07.

FSA Mega-EXO Ceramic BB
I was impressed when I first reviewed FSA’s Mega-Exo BB system , and the wide, solid platform it provides to anchor the cranks, and after a full year of riding, it’s proven reliable and durable, with no creaks or probs – even through a very wet winter. This year they intro’d their BB avec sealed ceramic bearings, which I eagerly threaded onto the Aerios. Outta the box it looks the same as the steel-bearing version, except for the red-anodized finish, but the difference is noticeable in the reduced bearing friction – Before I strapped on the chain, I spun the cranks with my finger and saw a noticeable difference in how easily they rotated compared to the cranks that came off.

The whole BB perfomed great in Italy, but did start to creak not long after I returned home. No probs – a quick cleaning and re-app of grease and it’s been silent ever since.

American Classic Sprint 350 Wheels
Considering how much elevation gain awaited me at the Giro, I decided a nice light set ‘o wheels would be the ticket. The American Classic Sprint 350’s built with the Sapim CX-ray spoke upgrade fit the bill perfectly – weighing in around 1350grams for the set – that’s light. We first rode these a couple years back, The ‘350’ in the name denotes the rim weight, but considering how well these go up hill, the ‘Sprint’ part doesn’t tell the whole story – even though they wind up to speed super fast.

I was a little concerned about wheel flex given their light weight, and there are some stiffer wheels to be had, but I found them to be an all around excellent wheel, given the climbing focus of this trip. I weigh in at 139lbs dripping wet, and this build is rated for guys up to 180lbs. American Classic can actually build to suite and that sits in perfect company with a Bike from Seven.

Descending, there was just enough flex to hold the road with a tight grip through endless switchbacks, and considering the high spoke count (28 front, 32 rear) the Sapim spokes at the right tension smoothed out some pretty rough sections of Italian ‘pave’ too. The build has stayed true after several hundred km more riding, and I’ve yet to hear a creak or groan, and the test set from a couple years back is still under the gun without a single problem…

But maybe the best part is the price: the Sapim upgrade here costs US$849.00 for the set, while the regular build (for riders up to 220 pounds) will run you a reasonable US$699.00. Available in silver or black.

Zipp SL Handlebars
When I heard Zipp had a new set of superlight bars – at 165 grams – I was onto something. Outta the box they looked great in snazzy carbon weave finish, with grippy zones for the stem- and lever-clamps, and shape was nice too: a flatter top (only 20degree slope from the flats to the lever mounts vs 30 degree on standard bars), a mild ergo-bend on the drops and a bit of shaping, but not too much across the spread. My reservations were for two things: the drop distance is a little far for me (height 5’8”), and the biggest – how strong could a light bar like this really be?

I mounted the bars a few mms higher on the steerer to solve the drop issue, and a quick call to Zipp alleviated my fears on the strength. Zipp assured me the bars have passed (actually exceeded by a fair amount) the highest stress tests at both the EFBe and Syntace labs in Germany – where standards are generally higher than most people would need. Second, their layup of 3 different moduli of carbon in the low to mid range is designed to spread loads across a larger section of the bar, reducing relative stress loads at individual points (like clamping areas).

For extra comfort I taped ‘em up with Fizik’s Bar-Gel on the tops & drops, and used extra Gel to raise the profile of the drops to better fit the palm of my hands. On the road they provided all the comfort I expected from a carbon bar, offering the right amount of flex to absorb a lot of road junk (at both the drops and hoods). The grooves on front and back side also allowed to tuck the cables nicely out of site. Priced at US $350, they ain’t cheap, but if you’re nuts about weight you’ll want to check ‘em out.

Ritchey 4-Axis Stem
Cycling guru Tom Ritchey introduced his slick new 4-Axis Stem for 2006, and like most of what Tom does, it’s been designed with some classic ‘Ritchey’ thinking behind it. The curved face plate helps spread clamping loads across lightweight handlebars so that stress fractures from over-tightened traditional-style clamps are greatly reduced. It’s made from forged 2014 alloy so it’s tough enough for almost anyone – and at less than 115 grams for the 100mm stem I use, it’s right at home on this bike. The stem clamp is also well thought out, using an diagonally angled two-bolt clamp to again spread loads across a greater area of the steerer tube – thereby reducing chances of a stress fracture.
And just like the Ritchey seatpost – I set it and forget it – which is exactly what I want from these parts.
• Price About US $99.50

It’s 4 degrees Celsius, the wind is blowing straight into my face, the grade is around 9%, I’m 15km up and still 3km from the summit… epic stuff.

I know… it’s kinda hard to say that riding around Italy on the super-kit dream bike was anything less than spectacular… But if it’s any measure of credibility, this bike performed consistently well over many days of riding – including the climbs of Monte Bondone (18km), The Fedaia (Marmolada) (13km, 7.9% avg), Passo Pordoi (12km, 6.6% avg), Passo Gavia (18km @ 8%avg.), and the Mortirolo (13km @ 10.3% avg) – and down all the descending that followed (nothing to shake a stick at is the performance of the Zero Gravity brakes getting back of “hills” like these. It’s also run problem and hassle free as my main bike for the past 3 months.

Here’s how the bike delivered on the 4 key characteristics I mentioned earlier:
Going up hill was a no brainer on the Aerios. Whether I was perched on the front edge, or out of the saddle cranking every last inch out of my 34×25 on the Mortirolo, or saddled in for the sweeping switchbacks of the 13km Passo Pordoi, the bike almost felt like it was accelerating with each pedal stroke. Never did I feel like momentum or power was being lost through the frame. On the hoods, or on the tops the feeling was the same – this package came together in a super fun climbing bike.

The bike is definitely agile – by all accounts on flat and rolling rides, the handling is spot on as we spec’d it. What I did notice was that for descending, I prefer a set-up that is slightly more stable. We decided on a slightly higher bb height combined with a head angle of 72 and a fork rake of 4.8cm to address my request for a slightly more agile handling bike. It’s only when descending the fast tight switchbacks like we had in the Dolomites that the phrase “be careful what you ask for” really rang out.

The higher than normal (for me) bb height also raised my center of gravity, which I found adversely affected my stability in tight, fast corners. The bike only felt ‘twitchy’ when shifting weight from one side to the other while changing directions quickly – like you do when descending lots of tight switchbacks.

I felt like I was teetering over the top of the bike instead of grooving through the turn on a rail at some points. To be fair, it’s the kind of thing you’d notice only if you’ve ridden lots of bikes of different designs, and have learned how a subtle difference in frame designs affect the ride. I did adjust to it, and I know what’s what for my next custom, but let my lesson be your learn!

Just below the summit of the Passo Fedaia – it’s 14%. Ouch.

Drive Train Rigidity
The guys at Seven delivered exactly what I expected here – a bike that’s as stiff as I want it – with very good stiffness through the bb and back end especially for Light Titanium. On my club rides the bike jumps when I tell it – whether sprinting for sign posts or powering over rollers.

Vertical Compliance
At the risk of sounding too enthusiastic, the ride on this bike is easily one of the best I’ve experienced. I chalk it up to a combo of Seven’s extensive knowledge of working with Ti and building bikes to specific specs. This bike took almost no time to ‘break in’ – it took me two rides to correctly adjust the front derailleur, and from then on I felt right at home. For me the proof was it’s consistently good feel over a week of huge rides in Italy – I was doing double my regular mileage, and the climbs were anywhere from 50% to 100% bigger than I ride at home – plus all that awesome descending – wahoo for sure. I never felt the jarring that I’ve noticed with a few high-modulous carbon bikes and pretty much anyone’s Aluminum, and even when I swapped out the American Classic 350’s for some much stiffer Bontrager XXXLite carbon clinchers, the bike still rode with butt- and bone-pleasing comfort.

Weight To Performance Ratio
Sixteen pounds and all the performance I want. 16 LBS baby! I could still shave another 1/2 pound of I really wanted – (lighter seat, cranks, seatpost, lose the bar gel), but how can you complain about a 16lb. Bike…? You can’t.

[Tech Ed note: You absolutely can complain about a comfy, light, pillow soft, custom fit roller when the sonofabitch was supposed to be MY BIKE!]

One thing I learned through the process is that the more you understand about the ride qualities you want, the better for you. Everyone interprets subjective measurements differently, and Seven goes a long way to pin-pointing exactly what the customer wants, so they can build it. They’ll build you exactly what you ask for – so you best know exactly what you want.

The Aerios frame/fork combo will set you back around US$4000 + $300 for custom paint.

The Links
• Frame: Seven Aerios Titanium: SevenCycles.com

• Fork: Seven carbon
• Headset: Chris King: ChrisKing.com
• Levers: Campy Chorus
• Crankset: FSA K-Force Compact 50/34: FullSpeedAhead.com
• BB: FSA Mega-Exo Ceramic
• Front Derailleur: FSA Compact
• Bars: Zipp SL carbon: ZIPP.com
• Stem: Ritchey 4 Axis: RitcheyLogic.com
• Seatpost: Ritchey WCS Carbon
• Brakes: Zero Gravity Ti.: ZeroGravity.com
• Saddle: Fizik Arione: Fizik.com
• Wheels: American Classic Sprint 350’s with Sapim Spokes: AmClassic.com
• Tires: Vittoria Diamante Pro lite: BikeMine.com
• Cables: Jagwire: Jagwireusa.com

Where To Get It All
Pez recommends these fine retailers for your shopping convenience:

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