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Can a bike be both ostentatious and classy at the same time? Sure it can. Introducing this lovely Tsubasa Crow as put together by Zac Smiley of Skunkworks Bikes in Sydney for an anonymous customer.
This build blends Tsubasa’s raw finish with a stealthily customised groupset and finishing components, plus a few gold leaf touches and hard-to-miss limited edition brakes. There’s an incredible amount of manual labour and fine detail in this custom lightweight rig.
A year in the making
Based in London, Tsubasa is a one-man workshop run by Edvinas Vavilovas. Vavilovas specialises in full custom carbon frames, and while he’ll happily finish one in any colour (or colours) of your desire, it’s his raw, almost industrial and certainly lightweight finish that his bikes are best known for. His lead times are surprisingly short, and yet, it took nearly 12 months for all the pieces of this bike to come together.
The Tsubasa Crow is a lightweight performance machine and a bike we’ve reviewed on CyclingTips before. A frameset typically weighs south of 800g and the layup, geometry and finish are all custom.
With anyone that buys a premium custom carbon frame, the story behind such a machine tends to be pretty interesting. “[I] was looking for something that was not off-the-shelf and ideally fairly uncommon,” explains the bike’s owner, who’s clearly succeeded in that goal. “Since I wanted carbon there were limited options. I like Tsubasa’s raw aesthetic and after I met Ed of Tsubasa in Sydney and rode one of his demo bikes, it was an easy decision.”
The geometry and fit were a group decision. Tom Petty of Pave The Way in Sydney did the original fit, while the angles were based off a much-loved Colnago V1r. Smiley then assisted with a few tweaks in order to get the desired setup, such as the -17º stem.
The subtle gold leaf paintwork was done by Cole Coatings Workshop near Tsubasa’s workshop. Unlike the truly raw Crow that CyclingTips’ Matt Wikstrom previously reviewed, the requested raw frames are now treated to an extremely subtle “vapour” clear coat. “There’s no way you could do gold leaf without a clear coat, and it’s a matte finish that retains the unfinished look,” explained Smiley.
A golden build
The raw finished bike is a polarising choice, as are the efforts to remove many of the component’s logos. However, it’s the gold finishing touches that will perhaps draw the most comment out on the road. And as it turns out, it all started with the brakes.
“I’d always planned for [Cane Creek] eebrakes as they had an industrial aesthetic that matched the final look I wanted on the bike,” the owner said. ‘But when the limited edition gold version became available, I couldn’t pass them up and they started us (Zac Smiley included) down a path where most of the bike would look raw, prototype, unfinished carbon but there would be a few high-end features that were picked out in gold.
“Perhaps we went a bit too far but I can’t judge that anymore.”
Coincidentally, Smiley’s suggested Extralite gold anodised cassette lockring and skewers match the brakes almost perfectly, despite coming from different continents.
It’s easy to overlook the lack of logos, but it’s this easily missed touch that perhaps took the most effort. “The tricky part was stripping the eTap levers down. I knew it could be done but I had to work it out in a non-destructive way,” said Smiley. “I actually had a crashed pair I worked it out on first, then it was off to Tristan at the Carbon Bike Doctor to hand sand them back and then re-clear coat them in matte.” Similar treatment was given to the cranks and derailleurs, too.
Putting the freshly painted levers back together led to more stress. “They were pretty tricky to get back together — the tension spring inside led me on a fishing expedition. Taking photos while I pulled them apart to reverse the process was a good move.”
While the de-branding of the SRAM eTap shifters was the hardest part of the build, it was the Schmolke carbon that was the most frustrating.
“They turned up as one rim with painted decals and the other with stickers. I removed both to get them looking the same,” Smiley said. “I then had to do a fair bit of hand finishing with needle files to get the spoke holes straight and clean. They came up nice, but the quality control from Schmolke is far from ideal.”
The bike is finished with matching black and gold bartape from Mick Peel of Busyman, wrapped around a de-badged carbon handlebar from German lightweight component specialists MCFK.
Frame: Tsubasa Crow, with 24c gold leaf logos and a vapour matte clear coat (paint by coles Coatings Workshop)
Fork: 3T LTD, stripped and custom painted to match
Headset: Deda taper headset, logo removed
Wheelset: Schmolke SL rims, Extralite CyberFront SP front hub, Extralite CyberRear SP-T triplet rear hub, Sapim CX-Ray spokes – built by Skunkworks
Skewers: Extralite Streeters
Tyres: Pirelli Pzero Velo, 25c
Brake calipers: Cane Creek eebrakes, El Dorado Edition
Crankset: Quarq Dzero powermeter (stripped) with Praxis Works chainrings
Shifters: SRAM eTap, stripped and repainted
Derailleurs: SRAM eTap, stripped and repainted
Cassette: SRAM XG-1190, Extralite cassette lockring
Chain: KMC X11-EL, gold
Bar tape: Busyman custom cow leather tape (black and gold), with 3D-printed Skunkworks plugs
Cables: Jagwire Road Elite Link
Seatpost clamp: Tune Würger Skyline
Stem: MCFK, -17º, de-badged
Saddle: Berk Composites Lupina, 150mm
Bidon Cages: FairWheelBikes V2, matte with black bolts
Weight: 6.3kg (13.89lb) as pictured