Every winter I start looking for a bike project to keep me busy and bike-inspired through the snowy months, and hopefully to motivate me once spring rolls around. This year, I decided to finally rebuild a bike from a beautiful pond scum green Ibis Sonoma steel road frame (aka Spanky) that has been collecting dust since stealing most of the components for my Alchemy project bike.
Like all of my newer bikes, I wanted to go with what I call a retro-tech (or alternatively retro-mod) theme: a bike with decidedly vintage appeal and appearance, but incorporating modern technology. Steel frames with leather and polished silver accessories are a given. These are combined with modern Campy components, threadless headsets and stems, and lightweight goodies here and there.
At first, all I knew was that I wanted to use the Ibis frame and a decent collection of well-used Campy Chorus components from my parts bin. These parts included some nice 9 speed components, so I knew it wouldn’t be a single speed. I also wanted to use the downtube shifter bosses on the frame. The two previous carbon forks that I’d used with this frame did not fit the theme, so I would also need a fork. An 9 speed Campy/Mavic wheelset was also ready to use, but building up new wheels using the Campy hubs was also an option.
So I bounced around ideas like a 1×9 drivetrain (my parts collection did not include a front derailleur), a flat bar, etc. But my first real motivation came when I stumbled across a Velo Orange Porteur bar at Joy Machines in Cleveland. I like the North Road bar on my Pashley Guvnor, and I was curious what this slightly narrower, more swept version would feel like on a more nimble bike.
As soon as I had decided on these bars, I decided to go with some inverse brake levers, just because I’ve always wanted to try them. Plus, the combination of the porteur bar with the reverse levers and a lack of on-bar shifters would make for a really cool, clean cockpit. DiaCompe’s Gran Compe reverse brake levers (also from VO) worked well with the bar and the brown composite finish had a decent retro look, somewhat akin to the old gum brake hoods.
image from Velo Orange
Every project or theme bike needs some really nice feature to draw the eye – for this bike, I decided to use light brown leather accessories to compliment the light silvery green paint and the polished silver parts. In keeping with the theme of a lighter, faster version of a porteur, I decided to spring for a Brooks Professional Team Classic saddle in honey leather.
I had always wanted to use a chromed fork on one of my bikes, so this was the perfect opportunity. Aside from a custom-painted fork, going with a polished fork was the only way to match it with the rest of the bike. I loved the retro, abruptly-curved blades and lugged crown of Tange’s Infinity CrMo “Classic Curve” fork from Soma Fabrications (Tange makes this fork exclusively for Soma). The fork paired up nicely with a well-used Campy Chorus threadless headset that I had on hand. Incidentally, all these parts required a 1″ steerer for the Sonoma headtube.
I still liked the idea of a 1×8 set up, but I couldn’t locate a 135BCD (Campy) front chainring replacement chain guard. So I found an 8 speed Record front mech on eBay and paired it up with the rest of the Chorus drivetrain.
For pedals, I used some sweet MKS Sylvain Stream pedals that I have taken off my Guvnor after swapping them for the wider MKS Touring pedals; so these narrower “rat trap” style pedals also matched the racier theme of this bike.
The brakes were also Chorus with VO metallic braided housings.
For tires, I initially wanted to go with something a bit wider, maybe 28c, but alas the frame and brakes dictated 25c max. I loved the look of the cream Schwalbe tires on my Guvnor, but always thought something a bit darker would look even better. I found a few images on the web that showed the decent color match of Brooks honey leather with Schwalbe’s brown Durano tires, so I took a chance on them – and they really look great on the bike.
I waited to order a stem until I could fit the bike into my trainer and spin the pedals a bit to find the right position. Luckily, I had a decent collection of stems and shims to try out. The Ibis Sonoma’s had pretty classic road geometry, and the frame was about 1 cm undersized for me for road usage – so I knew I’d need to use a decent amount of spacers below the stem, as well as a higher-rise stem to bring the porteur bar hand position into the right location. I ended up going with a longish 135mm x +18d Velo Orange threadless polished stem, as well as plenty of polished spacers. I partially concealed these using Velo Orange’s super-handy spacer bell mount and polished silver brass temple bell. A lower rise stem would look a lot cooler, but the position would really feel odd.
The last thing I had to work through before my first test ride was the grips. I wanted to use these cool stitched leather Pashley grips from my Guvnor because they matched the honey leather Brooks saddle very well, whereas they don’t at all match the antique brown leather Brooks saddle on the Guv! Unfortunately, my first attempt (below) at mating the Pashley grips with the reverse brake levers was pretty hokey. So then I tried a set of Velo Orange Elkhide Sew-Up Grips in macchiato, which are allegedly a “good match” to Brooks honey leather…NOT! I think I ended up with a darker-than-usual honey saddle and lighter-than-usual macchiato grips, because these two colors were not in the same galaxy.
So then I tried darkening the VO leather with neatsfoot oil, which was a disaster. Just as I was about to bite the bullet and order some Brooks leather bar tape, I decided to try to modify the Pashley grips. I separated the rubber under-grips from the leather outers (they are not attached – just very tightly fit), then cut the rubber grips in half lengthwise. I then made another lengthwise cut to remove a section of the rubber grip about 5mm or so wide for the cable housing to run through. I wasn’t sure if it was going to work, but it ended up working perfectly (see below). I then finished off the cable routing by tying off the housing at the end of the grips using brown Tressostar Cotton bar tape (also from VO!!) in place of the brown electrical tape. I wanted to secure the cable so that it would not stretch out the leather ends of the grips.
A few other polished accessories that I had to order include Delta’s beautiful, simple seatpost clamp (see the first photo at the top of the page) and Dimension’s AxelRodz skewers.
Finishing touches include these cool anodized valve stem nuts and caps from Purely Custom, which I ordered in a very cool contrasting orange color – bright enough to draw your eye, but small enough not to be a distraction.
After the wheels were built, I only had a chance to go around the block a few times, but I knew it was going to be a good riding bike. After these pics were shot, I had took it out for an 8 mile shake-down ride, stopping frequently to tweak things here and there.
It took a few attempts to get the bar angle right. Placing the grips in a horizontal position looks coolest, but with the saddle in an efficient position, it’s much more comfortable to angle them down a little. The downtube shifters are going to take a while to get used to after having used Ergo levers for so many years; still, I can see how one can eventually become quite adept at shifting these non-indexed levers. The Brooks is, of course, going to be hard as a rock for a while. As Wordsworth said, For such losses, abundant recompense. Having a new Brooks saddle on a bike should just give you more impetus to ride it and break it in!
The wheels ride great! I must have had some beginner’s luck, because they’ve stayed true so far – I think careful tension-detensioning cycles are key. The wheels are, admittedly, not the lightest they could be with, say, some Campy road hubs – but the bike is light and feels nimble enough. The Campy freehub on the Velo Orange hubs is nice and loud – some might like this, others not.
So what do you think? Does it need a front rack? A fork- mount headlamp?