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In this week’s Bikes of the Bunch, we look at a lovely lightweight and timeless custom steel ride from the London-based builder Saffron Frameworks. Both the bike’s owner and the bike’s builder offer insight into the creation of this new rim-braked “forever” road bike.
A bike forever
A forever bike. It’s the bike that, at least at the time of creation, is the culmination of all your cycling experience, and wants and dreams, made into something you plan to keep until the end of time. That’s exactly what Denis, the owner of this Saffron Frameworks steed sought to create with his new road bike. For Denis, the journey to a custom steel bike came after many years, many bikes, and even a prior custom titanium bike.
“I loved the versatility and durability of titanium, so the first custom bike I commissioned was titanium,” he said. “This bike was built as an all-weather, road and adventure machine, which can be set up with mudguards and 35 mm treaded tyres or with lighter wheels and 28 mm slicks. At the same time I went through several light carbon road race frames, which I loved for their focus, responsiveness and light weight. Some felt quick, but left me beaten up after longer rides.”
Denis soon found himself on an S-Works Tarmac SL6 Disc. “This felt great to ride and disc brakes really made a difference to my confidence and speeds in the mountains. But whilst the Tarmac is purposeful, light and capable, it is not really an aesthetically beautiful bike and will likely not fare well over time. Crucially, [it’s] not a bike you’d keep for years to come.”
And so began the search for a forever bike. “I looked at all of the materials again and decided pretty quickly that a high-end stainless steel rim-brake bike could give me what I wanted. This material was robust, surprisingly light, and there were many options to choose from. There was also a greater choice of craftsmanship and artistry available.”
“I pored over many many pictures, researched many builders, and tried to see as many bikes as I could in person, but several of Matthew’s bikes [the owner of Saffron – ed.] and his approach stood out above the rest for me. This was further reinforced after meeting him in person and seeing a few of his bikes up close. I could feel his passion and see his incredible attention to detail, even in the elements which would go completely unnoticed by most and hence, would be considered unimportant by others.
“The more I scrutinised his work, the more impressive it became. After the very first meeting, I knew I had to cut back on flat whites, raid the piggy bank, and try to get one of his creations.”
Like anyone looking to make a significant purchase, whether it be a new bike, a car or a TV, there is always a list of requirements. For Denis, his bicycle ownership history made that list long and equally refined. That list was as follows, in Denis’ words:
– Stainless steel: “For the weight, strength, durability and raw beauty of the metal.”
– Rim brakes: “For the weight and the classic look/feel. I think the brake surface technology has improved a fair bit in the last couple of years and this bike was primarily intended for good weather days.”
– 28 mm tyre clearance: “The frame and fork had to accommodate these for comfort and grip.”
– Fork: “Enve Road provide the technical aspects and a slender profile I was after.”
– SRAM Red eTap groupset: “I loved this from my previous bikes. It provided clean, simple, and very intuitive shifting without the need for extra holes and cables.
– Threaded bottom bracket: “Having previously suffered from the dreaded creak, this was the only way to go. I wanted something that was easy to live with and change.”
– Lightweight, wide, tubeless, mid-depth aero wheels: “I love how a ‘classic’ steel bike looks with these and they probably make me go a little faster on most rides.”
– Zipp aero bars: “I got on very well with these on my Tarmac. The flat sections probably provide some aero gains, but for me, they provide a very comfortable platform for my palms when climbing.”
According to Matthew Sowter of Saffron Frameworks, Denis also wanted the bike “to be light, handle just as aggressively as his S-Works, and to look clean and classic.”
“We used Columbus XCR because it’s the lightest tube set, it’s resilient to corrosion and lasts forever,” Sowter said. “This is not a winter bike though the stainless steel offered longevity. It also has a slightly lower elongation to carbon steel (elongation is the degree a material will bend before it breaks).”
The classic modern look
Sowter focussed on the smallest of details to meet the demand for a classic, traditional look. “The rim brake configuration helped create the classic look,” he said, “and we used stainless steel breezer dropouts which are hooded to allow a detachable derailleur hanger.
“In keeping with the clean lines, we guided cables through the top tube for the rear brake and used a pinch bolt in the seat stays to clamp the seat post in place. We also custom-machined the head tube rings to create a seamless transition from the top of the head tube.” And according to Sowter, the geometry is equally as classic: “the head tube angle we ran at 73º and the rake of the fork at 43 mm making the steering super responsive.”
As is often the case with a custom build, Denis suggested that choosing the paint proved to the most difficult element. “I used to be interested in cars and motorbikes some years ago and remember seeing some pretty amazing custom paint jobs,” he said. “I spent ages looking at various images of hotrods, low-riders and choppers, as well as visiting many car showrooms in and around London to see paint samples.”
“He was fixated with House of Kolor candy paints and chose a red brandywine colour leaving the chainstays exposed giving yet another nod to the classic frames of the 90s,” explained Sowter. “We used three layers of paint to produce this extraordinary depth of colour and incorporated a simple design of six ‘go faster’ stripes that run across the top tube, down the down tube and on to the fork. Our favourite addition is the morse code running down the back of the seat tube that translates to D E N I S.”
A forever bike doesn’t have to be the only bike
“The Saffron is an addition to my stable, as I currently do not intend to get rid of any of the other bikes,” Denis said. “They all serve slightly different purposes.
“My J.Laverack J.ack titanium bike is an all-weather, all-surface bike – a workhorse, if you will. I can strap on a couple of bags and go away for a weekend. My S-Works Tarmac Disc is for the fastest (or rainy) days in high mountains with a fast bunch, where my physical deficit can be marginally compensated for by the bike’s disc brakes and aero abilities. For the rare rides where it all matters.
“The Saffron is for most of my riding in good weather, whether I just want to enjoy myself or go on a smashfest with my club’s fast group and not be bothered about the last few watts it might lack, as compared to the presumably more aero Tarmac.”
And while the Tarmac should be faster, at least on paper, Denis admits that the Saffron’s setup, geometry and the feeling it offers “are just perfect and I have bettered many of my PRs on it. [It’s] a testament to how it makes me feel and consequently how I perform when I ride it.”
Frame: Saffron Frameworks Columbus XCR custom
Fork: Enve Road, 43 mm rake
Headset: Chris King
Wheelset: 20/24H Light Bicycle AR56 carbon rims (56 mm deep, 23/30 mm wide), Carbon Ti hubs, Sapim CX Ray spokes
Shifters: SRAM Red AXS eTap
Crankset: SRAM Red AXS 48/35T with Quarq power
Bottom bracket: SRAM DUB BSA (threaded)
Front derailleur: SRAM Red AXS eTap
Rear derailleur: SRAM Red AXS eTap
Cassette: SRAM Red XG-1290 10-33T
Chain: SRAM Red
Brakes: SRAM Red rim, with SwissStop FlashPro EVO Black Prince carbon brake pads
Tyres: Hutchinson Fusion 5 Performance 25 mm tubeless (29 mm measured), inflated to 66f/70r psi (Denis is 70 kg).
Tubeless setup: Orange Seal tubeless valves, Orange Seal sealant
Handlebar: Zipp SL-70 Aero, 40 cm
Stem: Zipp Service Course SL, 6 deg, 110 mm
Seatpost: Zipp SL Speed
Cages: VEL SL-O Carbon Cage
Bar tape: Lizard Skins DSP 2.5 mm, Supacaz alloy bar end caps
Saddle: Selle San Marco Aspide Carbon FX, narrow (132 mm) , open (with cut-out)
Pedals: Shimano Dura-Ace R9100, +4 mm axle version
Skewers: LifeLine Carbon-TI Quick Release
Accessories: Wahoo Elmnt Bolt, Raceware Direct 3D-printed Wahoo Bolt stem faceplate mount, Lezyne Road Caddy saddle bag
Bike weight: 7.5 kg (with pedals and cages)