Bikes of the Bunch: Prova Cycles Molti Road custom gravel bike
In this edition of Bikes of the Bunch, Dominique Rideaux’s tells us all about his new Molti, a custom-built steel gravel bike built by Prova Cycles.
Dominique Rideaux may have an exotic French name but his accent is pure Australian. He grew up on the outskirts of Sydney and has been living in Bega on the far south coast of New South Wales for the last thirty years. The small country town is located in a valley so it’s “all up and down,” according to Dominique, and there are “infinitely more dirt roads than there are tar roads.”
Dominique has been riding bikes and racing for many years, and even has a couple of Australian titles to his name. With a self-proclaimed love for bikes, he has several in his shed, including a 12-year-old Baum Corretto that serves as his daily ride. He’s not a collector, though, so he only adds a new bike to his quiver when the need arises or his riding goals change.
For a place like Bega, some kind of off-road bike is an obvious choice. Dominique first tried tackling the local terrain with a mountain bike, but it was not a natural fit. “There’s some really good young riders here, and there’s a really good mountain bike scene, but I’ve always been a road and track rider, so I just found myself in all sorts of trouble and I’d fall off. I’m too old to be falling off bikes any more.”
Taking to the dirt still held a lot of appeal for him, especially during holiday periods when the local roads become congested with tourists. “The gravel’s lovely; you can go out and do a couple of hours and not have a car go past you,” said Dominique. “A lot of the gravel roads are a lot more wooded, too, so you get to ride in the shade a fair bit during summer.”
Prova Cycles was not Dominque’s first choice when he decided to place an order for a gravel bike. “I was on a wait list to get a gravel bike from Baum, but Darren hadn’t designed one yet, so a friend suggested I take a look at Prova. He’d just had a bike built by Mark [Hester, the man behind Prova] and gave him a really big thumbs up, so I got in touch with him, and it was a terrific experience.”
That experience counts for a lot during the course of getting a frame made, and for Dominique, it was a matter of connecting with a like-minded collaborator that he could have a laugh with. “When I met Mark, I liked him straight away, and that was despite the fact that he was doing something bespoke and he didn’t have a tattoo or a beard. Anyway, I put my feelings about that aside and we hit it off really, really well. He was good to talk to and he understood where I was coming from straight away. So once I started introducing things like the colour, he was onto it at a millions miles an hour, out there looking for colours that would work.”
Prova’s workshop is based in Melbourne just a few hours away from Bega, so it wasn’t difficult for Dominique to meet up with Mark to go through the details for the new bike. “One of the things that I really wanted was toe clearance, which I don’t have on my other bikes. I had it in my head that if I was going to be riding on gravel and mucking around in the dirt, I wanted to be able to turn the front wheel without hitting my toe.
“Mark wasn’t convinced that clearing the toe was going to be as important as getting all the angles right, but in the end, it turned out that there was clearance for my feet and everything else was in proportion, too.”
Prova’s preference for steel was also a good fit for Dominque. “I was pretty confident that the steel would do everything that I wanted it to, and that’s how its turned out. My first bike was an old steel Cecil Walker and I liked the feel of the steel. I also wanted something that was going to see me out, as it were, where I didn’t have to be worried if it fell over in the gravel. I just didn’t think it was a good idea to get a plastic bike to go flogging around in the bush.”
Frogs, cars, and a fondness for the ‘70s
Dominique had a strong vision for the final presentation of the bike and spent a long time finalising those details. “I wanted to make a statement with the bike, but in a subdued way – classy, but a little bit different. I’ve always liked the idea of a green tree frog with orange on the inside of its legs, so that when it jumps, you see that flash of orange. I also like the idea of colours that can change depending on whether it is in shade or sunlight.”
Brown might be an unconventional choice for a bike, but it was a colour that fit in with the idea of a bike that was going to spend a lot of time in the bush. Dominique also jokes that after growing up in the ‘70s, he has good reason to be fond of the colour. “I looked for months and months to find the right-coloured brown, mostly at different cars and car web sites. In the end, it was Mark that actually found the colour that was used, on a car that was parked near his workshop.”
Dominique applied the same devotion to deciding the parts for the new bike, so the time spent waiting for Mark to build the frame wasn’t wasted. “The experience of picking out all the parts and building up the bike is part of the thrill of buying a custom bike. It’s sort of like planning to go on a holiday where the fun part, in some ways, is in all the planning. But unlike a holiday, you get to keep the bike when it’s finished.”
Dominique had some definite ideas for the new bike, such as his continuing devotion to tubeless tyres, but there were other aspects that were untested. “I wasn’t sure about a 1x transmission. I really liked the idea of the clean look of it, but I kept looking at the numbers to see the effective range that I would have. I had to go on a few rides using the gear range that would be available to get a bit of a feel for it, and that was when I decided it wasn’t going to be a problem. It was a bit disappointing that I couldn’t get an eTap setup to suit a 1x transmission, because it would have made for really sweet, clean lines.”
That aesthetic also guided his choice for a power meter. “I wanted to have a power meter on the bike but I didn’t want it to clutter the lines so I was really quite chuffed when I found the Cinch power meter, because the bike doesn’t look like it’s got a power meter on it at all. And once I had the cranks, I went with Easton’s stem and handlebars. It’s all really nice stuff that provides a bit of continuity for the build.”
Enve’s SES 4.5 AR Disc wheelset is an opulent choice for a gravel bike but Dominique couldn’t resist the temptation. “I’ve got a thing for wheels. I’ve got at least a couple of sets of wheels for every bike I own that I can use for different situations and circumstances, and that’s what I did with this bike, too. Plus, it’s just too difficult to swap around tubeless tyres, so I bit the bullet and got a set of Hunt carbon Aero wheels with 30c Schwalbe G-One tubeless tyres. I use them with the fenders for commuting, then I take them off for the bigger tyres on the Enve wheels to go riding in the bush.”
For the final touches, Dominique worked with Mick Peel at Busyman Bicycles to come up with a pattern for the bar tape, pump strap, and saddle. “I clearly had this pattern in mind of pavé breaking apart as it crumbles into the ground. I drew the idea onto a piece of paper and sent a photo of it to Mick and the design that he sent back was spot on. I’m a vegan, so I had to chase up some ‘vegan leather’ — for want of a better term — from a place in Melbourne before he could do the work.”
Frame: Prova Cycles Molti custom steel
Fork: Enve Gravel Road Disc
Headset: Cane Creek
Stem: Easton EC70 SL carbon
Handlebars: Easton EC70 AX carbon
Shifters/derailleurs/brakes: SRAM Force 1x, 11-38T cassette
Cranks: Easton EC90 SL Cinch powermeter, 42T and 38T chainrings
Bottom bracket: Chris King T47
Wheels: Enve AR4.5 rims with Chris King R45 Disc hubs
Tyres: Panaracer Gravel King tubeless 700 x 35C
Saddle: SMP with Busyman Bicycles custom vegan upholstery
Pedals: Shimano XT
Bar tape: Busyman Bicycles custom, vegan leather
Bottle cages: King
Accessories: Silca Impero pump with Busyman Bicycles custom pump strap; Enve front fender; Swarf Cycles carbon rear fender.
When Dominique collected the bike, he was thrilled with the final result, and it has performed far better than he could have imagined. “It’s sort of beyond my expectations. In part, I didn’t really have a clear idea of what it would ride like. I’ve ridden my road bike on gravel before, so that was the only experience that I had to measure it against. It’s actually so different that it’s hard to describe it, but I feel sort of more secure, and the bike has a certain confidence about it. I don’t how much of it has to do with the geometry, or the steel, or the tyres that are on it, but my guess is that it’s a bit of everything.
“The first time I rode it, it just fit like a glove. It felt really stable and it’s a really comfortable bike to ride. I’m thoroughly impressed with the 1x. I can go over some pretty rough stuff and the chain never looks like its going to come off. I’m loving the disc brakes, too; they’re just beautiful. I’ve never really had a problem with rim brakes on any of my other bikes; they work perfectly well. But the discs are really, really nice, and it’s given me a reason to start thinking about getting another bike.
“I’ve taken the Molti on some pretty gnarly fire trails that you would usually ride with a mountain bike and it was no problem at all. It was surprisingly good. I just had to slow down a bit for the washouts and pick my line, which made it a different sort of ride, with the absolute bonus of being able to belt along when I got to the flatter, clean bits. It was just a buzz, I couldn’t get the grin off my face.
“It’s never going to be as fast as a road bike, but I tell you, it can belt along on the road. I have been surprised at how quick the wide tyres can be, because you look down and you feel like it’s going to be like riding a wheelbarrow or something like that, but it just doesn’t feel like that once you get moving.”
Dominique is now in the early stages of planning a couple of multi-day trips with a few of his mates, and the Molti seems to be fuelling his enthusiasm. “I go out there and see it in my quiver, and I just want to ride it. At the end of the day, that’s what you’re after in a bike. A bike that makes you want to get out and ride is your best bike.”