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In this edition of Bikes of the Bunch, Tim Webber tells us about his new custom Gellie steel road bike that was built with S&S couplings to make it easier to travel with.
Over the last few years I’d been regularly taking one of my bikes with me when travelling, both on family holidays and riding-specific trips. Although not impossible, fitting a big bike bag in rental cars, cabs or on trains was always a bit of a hassle, particularly when travelling with my wife and two kids, so I started exploring the alternatives.
I researched a number of collapsible travel frames made out of different materials (carbon, titanium and steel) from off-the-shelf brands and custom frame builders. I already had a couple of carbon and titanium bikes and so I decided to try a steel frame (if I could get it light enough). All my existing frames had been off-the-shelf so I did some research on local builders, and that was how I discovered Ewen Gellie and the work he does.
Ewen is based on the outskirts of Melbourne and is a one-man band custom frame maker (although craftsman might be a more apt description). He has a wealth of experience from racing MTB (he was the Australian downhill champion in 1988 and 1991) while his technical skills come from working as a mechanical engineer in the automotive industry for a number of years.
I first contacted Ewen towards the end of May 2017 and I visited his workshop in early June to place the order. We talked through all the specifics of what I wanted after Ewen asked what sort of riding I’d be doing with it, how much I weighed, how much weight I might ever carry on the bike, and whether there were any particular handling characteristics I was after.
I was basically after a bike I could travel with, would be very comfortable on really long rides, not too heavy so I could climb with it, and really stable for long descents. To help with the fit, I supplied the results of a recent bike fit from a local cycling physio and showed Ewen two of my current bikes.
From this Ewen put together a design based on butted Columbus Life steel tubing with S&S couplings for the top and down tubes. S and S Machine has been making these couplings since 1993; when installed and tightened, they’re stronger than the tubing it replaces, so they have no impact on performance other than adding ~230g.
Ewen created a schematic demonstrating how the frame would fit in a case just large enough for the wheels without the need to remove the front fork. I’d already decided I’d run a Shimano Di2 groupset to ease the disassembly and reassembly of the bike, so Ewen would create internal routing for the wires and position the junction box near the down-tube coupling for easy disconnection.
With the design all locked down, my frame went into the queue to be built. There were a couple of frames ahead, so Ewen said it would be a couple of months until he’d be able to start on my bike. I was in no rush, so I went about sourcing parts in the meantime.
I hadn’t chosen a colour for the bike yet, so I figured I’d stick with basic black for the most part. I already had a Dura-ace 9000 Di2 groupset sourced at a runout price when 9100 was introduced. The Enve Road 2.0 fork was chosen to fit a 28mm tyre, the Pro Vibe seatpost had Di2 battery integration, and I settled on a Pro PLT aluminium stem because it has front-facing bolts that are easily accessible. For the handlebar, I chose a Deda Elementi Superleggera on the basis of price and external cable routing, while I know from experience that a Selle Italia SLR Flow saddle fits my undercarriage!
Purists may be shocked to see a pair of Campagnolo wheels on a Shimano-equipped bike but after I had a pair of Shamal Ultra C17 wheels on one of my other bikes, I decided to stick with them for the new bike. They are very reliable without being too heavy to ride up some decent cols, plus they have a sparse spoke density that makes them a little easier to pack in my travel case.
Finally, I wanted to keep the bike as clean as possible, so I sourced a Fouriers Di2 junction box holder that attaches to the steerer tube so that I could do away with the band that goes around the stem.
Frame: Gellie custom steel with S&S couplers
Fork: Enve road 2.0
Headset: Chris King
Stem: Pro PLT
Handlebars: Deda Superleggera
Groupset: Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 Di2 with 4iiii power meter
Wheels: Campagnolo Shamal Ultra C17
Tyres: Continental GP4000s
Seatpost: Pro Vibe
Saddle: Selle Italia SLR Flow
Pedals: Shimano Dura-Ace
Bar tape: Deda foam
I’d thrown around a number of colours in my mind since first ordering the bike, but nothing seemed quite right. Then one day, I was walking down my street and noticed a nice looking “velocity orange” Toyota ’86, which I thought would suit the bike quite well. I emailed Ewen with the colour and he said he could source it, no problem, so I settled on it, but I needed a second colour for the frame’s two-tone scheme.
I thought a metallic grey might offset the S&S couplers nicely, but I wasn’t sure, so Ewen first mocked up a couple of versions in software, then proceeded to paint up a couple of tubes to check the look. This is the sort of service you get from using a craftsman who really cares about his work, and it proved that black was a better choice.
A couple of issues delayed my build by a bit, so Ewen didn’t get started on the frame until November. I received a number of progress photos during the process, and because I was doing quite a bit of travelling in December, I asked Ewen to build the bike for me.
The bike was ready a week before Christmas, but Ewen wanted to be able to “take a couple of photos” before I picked it up, so we agreed to meet Christmas Eve. Little did I realise that “a couple of photos” was a professional photo shoot by photographer Evan Jeffery. The day before I was due to pick it up, Evan posted on Instagram one of the photos of the bike and my jaw almost dropped off. I couldn’t really believe that it was my bike.
I’d love to say that it’s exactly what I had in my mind when I selected the frame-builder, the colours and the components. I’d like to say I knew silver-highlighted components from the 9000 groupset would complement the S&S couplers beautifully, and that I knew that some black on the underbelly of the frame would blend in perfectly with the saddle, tyres, and bar tape. I’d like to say all that, but I’d be lying.
The truth is that I was actually aiming for a bike that was easy to travel with, reliable, and looked respectable. The choice of components was dictated more by function than form. Luckily, it all seemed to come together, so if it wasn’t by design, then I’ll have to claim it was my intuition!
Needless to say, I’m very happy with the outcome. The bike comes apart and packs down into a box 26in x 26in x 10in, which is just large enough to fit a regular wheel – with the tyre deflated! The only problem with having such a nice paint job on a travel bike is that I’m paranoid I’ll scratch or damage it. I’ve only done one trip with it so far, and it took a bit to work out the right packing order, but it certainly fits in nice and snuggly. Once it’s in, it’s very secure and protected; with support struts inserted I can stand on the case without it deforming at all.
Functionally speaking, the new bike rides well and feels the smoothest compared to my carbon and titanium bikes. It’s not too dissimilar to titanium, but it’s definitely not as stiff and firm as my carbon bikes. I’m only a B-grade level rider, so I’m probably not as demanding on my bikes as some, but I don’t really notice a significant loss in terms of power transfer or responsiveness. I don’t feel like I’m compromising anything when riding it and would quite happily spend a full day in the saddle on it.