What's Cool In Road Cycling

SEROTTA Ottrott ST: PEZ Tests Ben’s Best!

Some things just seem to work out, and this is the logical progression after our fit review that has people writing in to tell us that flying in from all over the country to Arizona for a fit and fitness session was the best bike-money they’ve ever spent. Step three, after (1)getting fit and (2)going through some extremely helpful Cyclist specific (off bike) core training was plugging the measurements and the added fitness into a Custom ride.

Everyone reading this knows about Serotta. You PEZ-Readers are Road junkies (as that’s all we do…) and fans of high-end kit, and most of us place Serotta at or near the top of pretty much anyone’s list of Slobber Starters. So I did The Fit Article (click for a read) with the sultans of sizing at Bicycle Ranch and then went through a month of hell waiting for the frame to come (made worse by a few teaser pictures in production, from the sadistic SOB’s). No problem once it landed though, as with this combination of Carbon, Titanium and tube shaping covered in a deep enough finish to drown in, everyone that has been up close to the new ride sees something they like about the Ottrott ST.

Click that thumbnail above for the big view!

Custom fit aside, what most people never realize is the bike is just as special for what they don’t see.

Ben Serotta started down the business path opening a shop as part of his parent’s department store at 14 years old. That might sound like a cute little nepotism tale, until you hear that he had it running as a stand alone, separate business in a year and a half… Being an advanced child, it makes sense that he would have his Mid Life Crisis at 18 years old, so it was off to England to learn more about bicycles and frame building in an adventure than Ben considers “about as romantic as you can get without a woman”. (Another example of being advanced as, at 18, I didn’t feel driven to even leave the house for romance without women…)

After a few years in the UK, it was back to the states to apply the skills that would develop into international relationships with riders, both Pro and Amateur, making Serotta the only logical choice to set up the first Big league US squad, the 7- Eleven team. Jim Ochowicz came through with guys like Davis Phinney, Andy Hampsten, Chris Carmichael, Eric Heiden, Bob Roll, Ron Kiefel, and Tom Schuler and continued with guys like Mark Gorski, Alexi Grewal and more. So it was Ben Serotta that set up the race rigs for what amount to the majority of the Founding Fathers of modern US Pro Cycling in Europe.

But maybe the biggest lesson Ben learned was that lots of people could weld but very few put in the effort when it counts, BEFORE the build starts. “The world didn’t need another great bicycle” was Ben’s way of putting it.

The resulting ideology at Serotta is also the best indication of why you don’t see a Serotta in every shop window. They require a demonstrated talent for fitting that is simply better than average, rather than simply needing a minimum order (which is all lots of manufacturers require). It’s in the interview process and fitting services that Serotta dealers set themselves apart from the crowd. To make sure that their dealers know the deal, Serotta have gone to great lengths to establish the week long fitting courses (Elements and Advanced) required by all new dealers in the past several years. They also have a huge time commitment in developing their size cycle.

What you get from the extra effort is not simply a slightly adjusted seat angle or head angle, but a true custom frame where every single weld angle and tube length are specified (they also have a variety of tube choices for all sizes). In Fact, they use an order spread sheet that has twice the number of data entry points as was the case for the other 3 custom bikes I have had. And it’s hell and gone from shops that think a custom bike is an off the peg frame where you specify parts (and some still don’t fit you!)… Hell, choosing the latest component without fit consideration is the most frequent mistake people make.

First and foremost, keep in mind that this bike was made with one person in mind and it wasn’t you. I got to ask for exactly what I wanted in a bike, and chose to answer the question as if I never rode with anyone else… It was all about me, me, me! But the process is the same for all Serotta custom builds – including yours.

The Ottrott ST was built with a priority on comfort and stable handling first. I also wanted to be able to hammer and have it stiff, but was trying as hard as possible to be honest about what I would want out of this frame. I was willing to give up top end stiffness for long haul compliance. What I got was a frame that built up a bit longer and lower than most stock geometry that comes in my size.

Low doesn’t mean a short head tube, it means the bottom bracket is a few cm lower than on other frames I have. You won’t see me on a crit course with this bike unless I ride in by accident, so pedal clearance wasn’t a huge concern. That extra depth has me sitting a little more “in” this bike than “on” it, without being so low that I have any real worries, and that’s what I wanted. Honestly it’s what Bicycle Ranch ordered after the interview process, as he knew it’s what I wanted even though it’s not what I specifically asked for…

The Bottom Bracket shell is solid Ti, and is as cleanly manufactured as is possible. No prep was necessary before installing FSA’s new super bearing Bottom Bracket.

The stability, comfort and handling are all tied together, as my center of gravity is smack in the middle of this bike. In fact, the seat, post, bars and stem were specified ahead of time and because Serotta build dead on, the seat clamp is dead center on the seat rails. I asked that the stem fit in the middle of a few spacers top and bottom on the steer tube, so that I could test other components and still find a fit. You’ll notice another saddle in several pictures (a Fizik Arione) and it’s just a tick more set back, but still close to center. I have also run another bar and stem already, and there was room for adjustment that left my hands in the right spot…

While smooth handling and comfort are partly the result of proper center-of-gravity placement, head angle and the longer wheelbase, the rear end also plays a strong part in overall ride quality. And it’s a sexy booty if there ever was such a thing…

The Chain stays are, of course shaped to aid heel clearance, but they are also a bit longer than normal. This helps extend the wheelbase, which gives me a more stable turning platform. They also maintain a round shape and large diameter all the way to the wheel due to Serotta’s drop out design that allows for a larger contact patch.

The dropout is manufactured from solid Ti, in a machine that costs, well, too damn much for most manufacturers…

And how the dropouts connect to the seat stays is even more special than the dropout itself…

The little bearing in the drop out that attaches to the Reynolds ST Carbon Seat stays is there to allow for a bit more movement in the rear end (3 full mm) when the stays flex, and also makes fitting the stays a bit easier. The stays do this while also resisting lateral flex (wheel twist), which is very important.

But far more critical is the incredible handling you get when combining a twist resistant but compliant front triangle with a carbon rear end that is as closely matched as possible with the front fork (also a Reynolds product).

What I mean is that the bike doesn’t noodle more in the front or the back (causing the wheels to be miss aligned under force). Instead, the entire bike and both wheels flex more in-line, allowing the bike to absorb road imperfections (helping to keep the wheels planted while cornering).

A better center of gravity helps too, as I don’t have the same tendency to push the Serotta’s front end (like under-steer in front drive cars as you brake into corners), instead, a slide starts (just as shitting my pants starts) with both wheels moving instead of just the front. Maybe that sounds bad, but if you are going to lose it, there’s a good way and a bad way to lose control, and this is the good way… I am not saying you can’t crash on this bike or lose the front hitting sand or gravel (or just screwing yourself with bad braking), as you most certainly can. I am simply saying that it helped me get away with something that would have had me painting the road with ass meat on the other bikes I have…

This in-line flex happens for a reason and it has as much to do with the “Colorado Concept” used in designing the Carbon tubing used by Serotta as it does by matching the front and rear end compliance.

Let’s Twist Again
Most other manufacturers only test their tubes for bending strength. Serotta were the first to require torsion (twisting) tests in addition to bending tests from the Carbon manufacturer and it helped them work through several designs to create the butted (thicker walls at the ends), tapered (they get bigger around at one end) tubes they have now. Serotta also work on fiber orientation within the tube to allow them to tune the ride further. All this adds up to several tube set options (even in the same size) so that a 54cm frame set can be made for a 200 pound pedal masher as well as a 130 pound climbing wasp (and nobody likes you if you’re the second guy, just FYI). The advantage is considerable on the Ottrott as the twist resistance is some place close to 25% better than Titanium, while remaining both vertically compliant and light. And twisting is where you lose the most power.

The Ti BB lug is shaped to hold the tapering Down tube (Large at the BB and smaller as it heads to the head tube). It’s not super drastic tapering, but you notice it when you’re up close.

The paint scheme covers it a bit, but the front end is Ti (Chris King up front of course…), and it gives way to the Top and Down tubes made from Carbon.

The Top tube starts out large and tapers down (about 14% smaller) at the seat tube, because while they wanted a stable front end, the twisting forces at the seat tube are not bad at all, and they could afford it to be smaller there (especially given the their tubing’s twist resistance).

The Down Tube grows substantially (a full 24%) as it heads to the BB… Note the Chain stays are welded out wide for stability (they also come in different diameters and are tunable for stiffness by the way).

The tapered tubes make for great performing frame, but also make for a huge amount of cost in production, as fitting tapered tubes precisely requires a ton of care. They have to cut the tubing in exactly the right spot so that they are the right length AND sit in a shaped lug correctly AND have the right butting left over at the ends…

Add an ST rear end to the mix, and if one little thing is wrong even a smidge, the whole thing becomes extremely expensive landfill…

The finish is special for way more than the 25 cents worth of decal under the top tube clear coat. The first application they do is the Blue tint for the carbon tubes. Then Serotta come back with 6 coats of pearl white followed by the little World’s bands (special for this frame). They top the whole thing off with a few coats of clear that give this bike a finish that required shooting from 20 different angles just to keep the white from throwing off so much gleam that you couldn’t see the head tube lugs. The Blue tint is dark enough that it’s almost stealth black / blue at some angles. But when the sun hits it just right, it pops!

Serotta will let you choose from several paint and tint colors and schemes. In the case of no paint, you can choose the Ti finish you would like. They then let you pick from a whole load of decals and colors to top things off. All of this is a very bad thing if you’re anywhere near the poser I am, as you’ll annoy the crap out of your local Serotta guy when changing your mind 33 times, prompting everyone in the shop to both recognize and ignore you based on caller ID.

Of course once you decide on what you want, it’s all done in a state of the art finishing shop…

On a bike that acts exactly the way I want it to, that’s not big surprise…

What’s interesting is that I would’ve asked for a few things built differently based on my experience with other bikes. For instance I asked for the oversized chain stays because I thought, based on past Ti bikes I have been on, that there would be too much flex. Paraic at Bicycle Ranch shot it down, because he knew that the extra stiffness in the Colorado Concept down tube and the wider seat tube at the BB would be enough, and the oversized stays would over do it and hurt both comfort and handling (at least for my 145 pounds). So lesson learned in that your Serotta dealer may know what’s best for you.

Oddly enough, the bike review portion of this probably has the least significance… The fact that the Serotta performs the way I wanted it to is less important than the fact that Serotta could have given me something completely different had I needed or wanted it. A good example of this is that the Editor at Road Magazine is also testing a custom Serotta and, while he is something like a foot taller and heavier with very different requirements, desires and abilities (he’s fookin strong…) he basically got what he wanted too… (sweet new magazine, so check em out to get his take).

The point here is that the Serotta family are far more about crafting a thousand individual bikes, than they are about marketing one bike to a thousand individuals.

That’s not to say that there are not lots of great bikes out there, because there are. I like Colnago because they produce the C-50 in something like 20 sizes. And even bikes that make frames in 6 sizes can be fit to a large range of people… But the fewer sizes a frame comes in, the more likely it is that you’re making a compromise, plain and simple, and even multiple sizes don’t address everything for every body. Custom frames, fit by someone who genuinely knows their stuff just don’t require much compromise.

Serotta don’t compromise on production quality either, as this bike showed up prepped to fanatical detail (note that the other Serotta that showed up for a “regular” customer was prepped the same as the one they did for our review…). In fact, it showed up looking so sexy out of the box that Bicycle Ranch’s chief told me he had to use pepper spray on a guy to keep him from humping the bike on a display stand. (after reading the Bicycle Ranch web letter, 50 bucks says the humper’s name is Barry…).

Once built, the bike debunked the “Serottas are heavy” myth as it tipped in just shy of 16 lbs (15.8 for you weight boneheads). That’s PEZ weight too, with pedals, cages, bar tape and all.

So… done deal. Now I am busy Pimping my ride, and you’ll see in the next few months that component manufacturers lined up pretty quick to toss gear at this honey. Good to know that I am in the dead center, and will be able to spec sizes for the bits that will keep me within my fit (and also let me get a feel for the components on the same bike instead of trying to judge them on different frames with different ride properties…).

If you want to get a little closer to one of these (and, at north of 5 grand, probably closer to a divorce should you not be able to hide the bill), you can hit Serotta’s site to look for a dealer near you, or you can see one of our favorites, like the guys at Bicycle Ranch in Scottsdale for a proper western fling, or Cadence in Philly where you can leave the shop and go into an oxygen debt to match your credit card bill on your new toy climbing the Manayunk wall (just out the back door).

Thanks Campy, Fizik for the Arione, Modolo for the Curvisima bars, Zipp for the 202’s, Deda for the Black Stick, Elite for the cages and FSA’s for the Cranks!

And, Oh yeah, Thanks Serotta!

Have Fun.
Charles Manantan

If you have other experiences with gear, or something to add, drop us a line. We don’t claim to know everything (we just imply it at times). Give us a pat on the back if you like the reviews or a slap in the head if you feel the need!

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