Bond custom alloy frameset review
Custom-built framesets have an extravagant reputation but there was a time when they were almost commonplace. Any serious racer would seek out a reputable framebuilder, and thanks to the economy of steel tubing, they could afford a custom-built bike. Those days may seem long past but they are not over thanks to the efforts of Bond, which has embraced aluminium alloy to bring custom-built framesets to a lower pricepoint.
In this review, Australian tech editor Matt Wikstrom, takes a look at the new brand and shares his verdict on Bond’s bespoke alloy frameset.
It seems as if the rise of the internet and globalisation has made it much easier for entrepreneurs to get into the bike industry to make a quick buck selling generic wheelsets and/or open-mould framesets. While it’s easy for cynics to attack new “rider-owned” companies for a lack of heart, integrity, and/or manufacturing knowledge, there is the potential for these startups to do the kinds of things that the major manufacturers would never bother to undertake.
At face value, Bond could easily be dismissed as just another “rider-owned” company. With a logo, mission statement, website and a Taiwanese supplier, the company opened its doors for business in the second-half of 2016.
The story behind the company’s genesis is a familiar one: three mates with a passion for cycling started chatting and decided to try their hand at selling bikes. After all, they had dozens of years of experience representing other brands, so why not their own?
Ask Tom Simonson, Lee Rodgers or Flemming Bech, and they’ll tell you in all sincerity that their motives are very simple: to create bikes that they’d want for themselves. It’s a notion that sits at the core of any rider-owned company, but what always seems to go unspoken is the assumption that consumers will want those bikes too.
Age and experience can count for a lot though, and in this instance, it provided the men with an objective view of the bicycle industry. They could see there was no point in trying to replicate the efforts of the major manufacturers. There were some very obvious holes in the marketplace where customisation and personalisation was concerned, especially at a price that most would not associate with a bespoke product.
“We absolutely wanted to make full-custom frames,” explained Rodgers, who is in charge of Bond’s media and marketing, “and we saw there was something of a gap in that there are a lot of steel and carbon custom framebuilders, but not aluminium. It’s been overlooked for almost two decades, but with improvements in the material and advances in hydroforming, we can create an alloy frame that meets or exceeds the performance of the best carbon frames on the market at a much more reasonable price.”
That price is US$2,250 (~AUD$2,960/£1,735), which includes the custom-built alloy frame, all-carbon fork, headset, bottom bracket, seatpost and clamp, plus a choice of paint. That’s not low enough to catch the eye of thrifty shoppers, but for those riders looking for a performance-oriented frameset with custom geometry, it’s quite a bargain.
Before the ride
There was a time, towards the end of the ‘90s, when aluminium alloy was the material of choice for a high-end road frame. It out-performed steel on the basis of an impressive stiffness-to-weight ratio, so buyers could enjoy a bike that was both lighter and stiffer than a traditional road bike.
The rise of composites soon overhauled expectations, and while aluminium alloy was quickly relegated to the lower ranks of bargain-priced and entry-level bikes, it continued to evolve. The newest alloy formulations are now stronger than ever while manufacturing processes have become very sophisticated. As a result, today’s alloy frames are far from outdated yet they remain very affordable.
Taiwan is well known for its experience with alloy though most factories are devoted to large-scale production. So while there was the promise that the material could be custom-cut and welded at a reasonable price, Bond’s foray into custom framebuilding depended upon finding a willing and capable manufacturing partner.
“The idea for Bond grew in tandem with the knowledge of a framebuilding factory that would be receptive to doing something a little different,” explained Rodgers. “It was a chance for their welders to stretch out a bit, take their time, and do more painstaking work. That relationship is crucial to our whole endeavour.”
It’s a canny arrangement because it allows the men behind Bond to concentrate on the needs of its customers rather than getting distracted by the demands of production. For some, that might dilute the allure of working with a craftsman, but the division of labour makes a lot of sense.
After all, deciding the specifications for a custom-built frameset is a time-consuming process. Geographical location often dictates whether it is Simonson, Rodgers or Bech that leads the process, but each man is free to devote themselves to the needs of the customer.
For the uninitiated, designing a custom-built frame takes place in a series of steps until the final blueprint is approved. It can be an overwhelming process since every detail, even seemingly minor ones, must be considered. The primary goal for the men at Bond is to ease the customer through each step and prevent it from becoming a chore.
A recent bike-fit is normally critical to the process, which is something that Bond leaves in the hands of the customer. Otherwise, the customer is free to duplicate or tweak the geometry of their favourite bike to arrive at the outcome. According to Bond, they can accommodate frame sizes 35-68cm with any kind of geometry, though the choice of fork rakes is limited to 43mm or 53mm.
“Emma Pooley’s TT frame is perhaps the most ‘extreme’ example of what we can do,” said Rodgers. “She asked us to build her a TT frame in a small size to her own specifications, and it’s the first time that a frame has ever fit her perfectly.”
Bond makes use of 6067 aluminium alloy to build its frames, a formulation that closely resembles 6069 that Cannondale uses for its alloy frames. According to Bond, 6067 is extremely crack resistant in weld zones and has 40% higher yield strength than 6061.
Each frame is built to suit either an electronic, mechanical or wireless groupset. 1x transmissions can also be accommodated and the company is currently working on a road disc version. As for the rest of the specifications, the cables/wires are internally routed through the frame, there is a BB386 shell, tapered head tube (1.125-1.5inch), 27.2mm seatpost, and an all-carbon fork.
The top tube of each frame is anodised black. While it adds a distinctive finish to the bike, there is more to it. According to Bond, there is a limit to the wall thickness of tubing that can be safely welded, but by anodising the top tube after welding, some of the alloy can be stripped away to save weight and tune ride quality without compromising the strength and durability of the frame.
Customers are free to choose the colour for the rest of the frame and the fork. Here, the options are many, and the customer is free to draw upon their imagination. In this regard, some kind of design tool on Bond’s website would make for a welcome addition, if only to assist those customers having trouble visualising the final product.
There is a lead-time for any custom-built frame, and in the case of Bond, it is 10-12 weeks. The men at Bond stay in touch with the customer throughout this period to keep the customer posted on the progress that is being made.
The frameset that was sent for review was modelled on the geometry of Cervelo’s R5 (size 54). With a compact frame design and short stays, it promised to be an aggressive bike. As for the weight, the frame was 1,183g and the uncut fork was 409g (total, 1,592g).
I made use of Campagnolo’s Record EPS groupset to build up the Bond along with a 3T cockpit (Arx stem, Ergonova carbon bars), Fizik’s Cyrano R3 seatpost and Kurve Bull Carbon saddle, FSE’s EVO 35C wheelset, and Brooks leather-look bar tape for a total weight of 7.00kg without pedals or bottle cages.
As mentioned in the introduction, Bond’s alloy framesets sell for US$2,250 (~AUD$2,960/£1,735) (excluding delivery and local taxes/duties). This price includes the frame, all-carbon fork, headset, bottom bracket, seatpost clamp and seatpost along with full-custom geometry, one colour finish, and if desired, the owner’s name etched onto the top tube. In addition, there is a five-year warranty and a three-year crash replacement program. For more information, visit Bond.
After the ride
This bike is the first that I’ve ever reviewed where I had a say in the geometry and presentation. As such, both aspects were tilted heavily in my favour, so I would have been surprised if I didn’t connect with the bike.
During the design phase, I spent more time worrying over the colour of the frameset than its geometry. Bond referred me to a Pantone chart and told me they could replicate any colour — an overwhelming proposition considering the nuance that separates some of the hundreds of colours on offer.
I took a punt on a rusty brown, an unusual colour for a road bike that promised to work well with the black top tube and graphics. The result was better than I had imagined, helped along by a suite of carbon components and stock bar tape that was close to a perfect match for the colour of the frame. The whole bike came together beautifully and I couldn’t wait to start riding it.
Such excitement shouldn’t be dismissed. As shallow as it seems, I believe the presentation of a bike can have an impact on the rider’s performance by inspiring and/or exciting them. I doubt this ever translates into race wins, but on a day-to-day basis, I’m sure it helps with motivation. This is, of course, entirely personal, and that’s why a bespoke frameset has so much to offer the buyer.
As expected, I was immediately comfortable on the Bond. The bike exhibited all of the hallmark qualities that aluminium is known for, so it was stiff, light, and very nimble. Perhaps most satisfying was the way the stout chassis refused to yield to my efforts, providing instead, a satisfying surge in speed.
While part of me understood that it was futile, I tried to find the limits of the Bond’s explosive abilities. I just ended up punishing myself in the process but I couldn’t resist the bike’s potent blend of agility and responsiveness. Plus, rocketing along on the bike was an absolute thrill.
With a relatively steep head angle and a fork with 43mm of rake, the steering of the bike was sharp and precise. The bike was always willing to follow a tight line through any corner and it was well suited to technical descents. There was some toe overlap that surprised me a couple of times during my early rides, but once I was accustomed to it, it was easy to avoid. Experienced riders will understand this kind of trade-off and can make the decision to live with it or not when finalising the geometry of the frame.
The Bond was a willing climber thanks to the combination of its stiffness, responsiveness and FSE’s lightweight carbon clinchers. In or out of the saddle, I found that the only thing holding me back was my climbing ability. As such, I’d consider the Bond a confident rival for any of the potent climbing rigs I’ve ridden, like BH’s Ultralight EVO and Canyon’s Ultimate CF SLX.
One of the things that I enjoyed most about riding the Bond was the way that the quick steering and aggressive handling combined with the stiffness of the frame to provide a raw edge to my cycling. This was not a bike meant for dawdling; it was a true race bike, right to the very core. In fact, throwing a leg over the bike always seemed to heighten my senses, a byproduct, I suspect, of a surge in adrenaline.
I spent most of my time riding the bike with 25c tyres at 60psi, which is a pretty forgiving size and pressure. I was able to traverse a wide range of paved road surfaces without discomfort. Unpaved roads littered with ruts were another thing altogether, because the Bond wasn’t able to absorb much of the rattle and shock. Over short stretches, I could grit my teeth, but I wasn’t tempted to tackle any more than absolutely necessary.
Be that as it may, I could ride the Bond for 4-5 hours on a typical road circuit with ease. Those looking for a slightly plusher ride will probably benefit from a switch to 28C tyres, though whether they fit onto the bike will depend on the precise tyre, rim and brake calliper combination. In this instance, a 28C Vittoria Rubino Pro tyre mounted on a 17C rim was an easy fit for the rear end however there was barely any clearance under the front brake calliper (Campagnolo Super Record).
My enthusiasm for the Bond did not wane during the review period, which I count as a positive sign for any bike. Aside from being both exciting and a pleasure to ride, there was never any rattling or creaking to distract me. Whether or not that will change over time, I cannot say, but I can’t think of anything that I’d want to improve upon.
Summary and final thoughts
I have been waiting for a company like Bond to come along and fill what has been an obvious hole in the bespoke frame-building market. By taking advantage of Taiwanese manufacturing and opting for aluminium alloy, Bond’s framesets achieve a tempting sweet spot in terms of price, performance and customisation.
I have been a fan of custom-built framesets for decades and sincerely believe that every dedicated cyclist deserves one. It’s an exclusive market, though, with pricing to match, so many shoppers dismiss them as an unnecessary luxury. Bond proves that it doesn’t have to be this way, so I see its bespoke framesets as something of a game-changer. Furthermore, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few more “rider-owned” companies pop up using the same strategy to consolidate this new niche in the custom frameset market.
Bond’s choice of materials has to be counted as a masterstroke. In what is a win-win for the customer, they get a made-to-measure frameset painted in a colour of their choosing plus a final weight that comes close to a composite frame. Aluminium alloy may have lost a lot of the regard that it enjoyed at the end of the ‘90s, but it still performs well, and as Bond has demonstrate with the frameset created for this review, it can make for a very exciting race bike.