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by Dave Rome
August 24, 2018
Photography by David Rome
“Sydney is getting gnarly with custom bikes. On any given day, you’ll see half a dozen Baums, a few Speedvagens and even Parlees. I always thought: when you look at custom bikes these days, everyone seems to get the same thing. The typical faded paint job, Chris King components, Enve and covered in eTap. It’s the custom bike shopping list. So why go through the process of custom, just to get the same as others?” – Lucas Tarnawski
In the pursuit of getting something different (and timeless), Sydney-based Lucas Tarnawski found himself attracted to a historic family-run framebuilder out of Tokyo, Cherubim — a name that just isn’t seen on the local streets. The thought of a custom steel frame wasn’t a perfect match for Tarnawski’s love for super-light bikes, but it was balanced by his desire to ride a traditional road bike – mechanical shifting, rim brakes, tubulars, standard gearing and deep drop handlebars. “I wanted this bike to retain the purity of a ‘real’ road bike,” said Tarnawski, providing a polarising viewpoint shared by many.
Tarnawski first came across Cherubim through online coverage of the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS). “In 2012 they won best in show at the NAHBS for their Humming Bird concept. It was ridiculous,” Tarnawski said. “They did the AirLine, another aero steel bike which was equally as crazy.”
And while Tarnawski has been to Japan, there was no connection to the country that drew his decision toward the storied brand. The motivation was far simpler: “I’d been stalking them on Instagram for ages.”
The Cherubim story dates back far further than recent awards at NAHBS. The Tokyo-based company got its start in 1965 with Hitoshi Konno at the torch. Three years later, Cheribum would be the official frame supplier for the Japanese national team at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. The company quickly became a family business, run by three brothers, and today, it’s Hitoshi’s son, Shin-ichi Konno, at the helm.
As it turned out, ordering a bike from the Japanese company wasn’t all that simple. “I tried to deal with them directly at first,” said Tarnawski, “and it wasn’t going to go anywhere due to an obvious language barrier.
“So I reached out to Mike at Blacksmith Cycles in Toronto. I noticed they had so many going through their Instagram. And he acted as the liaison between myself and the guys at Cherubim.
“There was shit-loads of back and forth. [Questions] started with what I currently ride, what’s working, what’s not. I even sent photos of me on a bike. You’re dealing with a guy in Toronto and a guy in Tokyo — I just wanted to give them as much information as possible.”
Adding to the international process, Felice Santoro of Cycling Projects in Sydney (a store perhaps best known for its long-running Campagnolo repairs) was involved, too. “He helped with the build including mocking up an entire bike for me to ride for a few months in the same setup/position of the proposed build,” Tarnawski explained. “Felice’s decades of experience with custom bikes really shone through. Nothing was too hard and I can’t praise him enough for his patience and attention to detail.”
With a wait time of somewhere between 9-12 months, Tarnawski had plenty of time to play with the specifics. “We had so many conversation around [geometry], but funnily enough, we actually ended up going with the very first figures that were mocked [up],” he said. “After all of that, we went through this huge circle to come back to the initial Cherubim figures. Most of the messing with it was me, not them. Their first draft was spot on.”
The frame is built with custom Kasei tubes, a Japanese-made steel tubing which offers a higher strength-to-weight ratio than the equivalent tubing from Columbus. “They’re used to building bikes for smaller dudes, and so they have experience building lighter bikes that aren’t noodles,” Tarnawski said. “I’m 5’9” [175cm], and only 64kg so I’m no power monster.
“There were a few details I was firm about. They’ve got a really cool CNCd head tube with an internal headset, but I wanted external. I love Extralite external headsets. I’ve always liked lightweight bikes, and this is a steel bike, so it’s never going to be crazy light, but when you’re starting with double the frame weight of what you’re used to, these little pieces are easy grams [to save] without impacting performance.
“Paint wise, I actually selected something from Cheribum’s archives that they’d used on a triple-crown track bike ages ago,” Tarnawski continued. “It’s very Japanese and quintessentially Cherubim.
“Mike from Blacksmith handled all the translation and transaction. Always responsive, open and honest, he went above and beyond to ensure the finished product exceeded expectations.”
With all pieces of the puzzle finalised, the finished frame was sent from Tokyo to Sydney. “[The frame arrived somewhat] raw from the maker,” Tarnawski said. “It’s a really old-school way — the guys have been around since the ’60s. The head tube and bottom bracket had to be faced.
“It has the old-world construction method to it. There is a bit of prep work to be done by the builder when it arrives. Facing and reaming is just a part of that. Thankfully I was working with Felice at Cycling Projects who knew how to do all that stuff and was comfortable with it.”
As touched on, Tarnawski shows signs of being gram-obsessed. “It’s ridiculous, but many of the parts on this bike are from the parts bin,” he said. “Such as the older eebrakes and the 3T TourNova LTD bars. The seatpost was from my old NeilPryde. I have a mate who owns an auto-body shop, and he helped strip the graphics from it. I tried to keep everything understated and let the frame shine through.”
Some seriously lightweight wheels.
While Tarnawski claims he’s mostly rehabilitated from his darkest weight-weenie days, and the steel frame hints at such progress, the wheels and tyre choice say otherwise. Built by Skunkworks in Sydney, the carbon tubulars are another item from a previous bike.
Built with AX lightness rims, Pillar Mega Lite spokes, and Extralite Cyber hubs, they’re said to weigh just 760g for the pair. And apparently, they’ve been rock-solid despite Sydney’s notoriously poor road surfaces. “I tend to ride light, and I don’t tend to be too hard on my gear,” Tarnawski said. “Beyond the Carbon Works bottle cages, the wheels are the only super-weight-weenie item on the bike.”
Tarnawski is a loyal tubular user, and chooses to ride them full-time. “Vittoria Corsa Controls (25c) are my practical everyday training tubulars,” he said. “Veloflex Extremes are reserved for special occasions.” Liquid sealant is used inside the tyres and Tarnawski states he’s meticulous about checking for glass and other debris. Likewise, he finds the occasional gluing process to be therapeutic.
Still, tub life isn’t for everyone, and Tarnawski suggests that it’s best reserved for those with a somewhat obsessive maintenance routine.
At just 6.5g a piece, the Carbon Works bottle cages offer a surprisingly firm hold. We tested these at Eurobike and they do indeed grip tight.
Those Carbon Works bottle cages are said to weight just 6.5g a piece. “They sound like they’d be terrible, but they’re one of the grippiest cages I’ve ever used,” Tarnawski said. “They do nail bottles though; scratch them up heaps. Especially larger bottles, such as CamelBak.
“[The] saddle is Berk Composites. I had them custom make it as they don’t do wide as standard anymore. We went through a couple of iterations. The first they did was leather and it just scuffed immediately. The new cover came out lighter. I get along with the shape. I don’t really have issues with saddles, as long as it’s within a certain width.
“As far as the ride, it’s everything I was told steel would be. It feels like it has an inherent springiness to it,” Tarnawski continued. “I was expecting it to feel a little sluggish, but I don’t get that at all. It just seems super nice.
“I didn’t want it to be super stiff, or super racey. I wanted a good all-rounder that I could hopefully keep for a long time. And it’s kind of ticked all of those boxes.”
The question one has to ask: Is it the holy grail or is there another bike in the pipeline?
“The itch for the next bike never ends,” Tarnawski admits. “The next bike will be a 1990s downtube shifting replica race bike. I want to do a massive ‘fuck you’ to modern bikes [laughs]. It’s the anti-aero, anti-electronic, anti-tubeless [bike]. Something like a Merckx or similar.”
Frame: Cherubim Uli custom geometry and Kasei tubing
Headset: Extralite Ultratop and Ultrabottom
Drivetrain: Campagnolo Super Record 11, Jagwire Elite Link cables
Brake calipers: Gen 2 eebrakes (now a Cane Creek product)
Wheels: AX Lightness 25 Tubular rims, Pillar Mega Lite spokes, Extralite Cyberfront and Cyberrear with Kogel ceramic bearings
Skewers: Tune AC14 Titanium
Tyres: Vittoria Corsa Control Tubular 25c
Seatpost: NeilPryde (tuned)
Saddle: Berk (custom covered)
Handlebars: 3T Tornova LTD
Bar tape: Pro Race Control
Stem: Deda Superleggero (painted)
Pedals: Speedplay Zero Titanium (tuned)
Bottle Cages: CarbonWorks (6.5g model)
Weight: 6.4kg as pictured