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In this week’s edition of Bikes of the Bunch we take a look in-house to profile another CyclingTips staff member’s ride. This time it’s the swish Mosaic travel bike belonging to editor-in-chief Caley Fretz.
The average Tour de France ride, in my experience, is about 50 minutes long, meandering out from an Ibis Styles at the edge of town, its first 15 minutes dedicated to sweating out rosé and its last 15 minutes dedicated to finding the Ibis Styles again. Those middle 20 minutes, the two half-hearted intervals, the dog sprint, the sunrise, the old lady sweeping her front porch, the smell of baked bread and the sound of plump July wheat in the wind; those 20 minutes make the best rides all year.
I call this bike my Sanity Machine. It’s the second of its kind, because the first was stolen. It goes with me everywhere, packed into a bag the size of a single wheel box, slung on my back and through airports and into the back of rental cars.
I’m cognizant not to complain about covering races like the Tour de France, because, if I’m honest, it’s something I don’t think I’ll ever want to stop doing. But it is hard. You don’t sleep much. You eat like shit. To decompress after working for 16 hours you drink two beers and then a bottle of rose with your friend Rupert every night. And so the bike becomes a lifeline, a hitch to some semblance of normalcy, the one thing you can wake up and do just like you wake up and do at home. You leave the Ibis tired, hungover, uncaffeinated, grumpy, and return tired, hungover, uncaffeinated, and smiling.
The Sanity Machine is a Mosaic RT1, built by Aaron Barcheck in Boulder, Colorado, with three S&S couplers. Two of them are functional, necessary to pack the bike in an airline-fee-free bag, and one, on the seat mast, is an homage to foolishness. People ask why it’s there, and I sometimes make up seemingly intelligent reasons like “this way my saddle is always dead straight when I unpack it,” which is true but also: who spends hundreds of dollars and adds quite a bit of weight to make sure their saddle is straight?
As I said, this is V2.0 of the Sanity Machine. Aaron built me the first one when I was a tech writer at VeloNews, traveling two or three times as much as I do in my current role. It was sort of early in the road disc days, so I thought maybe I’d put discs on it some day. It was built with quick releases and rim-brake mounts but also a rear disc tab. I think I put discs on it once, then promptly took them off. Disc brakes don’t belong on travel bikes.
Walking out to where your bike is supposed to be and finding it’s not there is among the worst feelings one can feel, but the pragmatic man knows insurance exists. I treated it as an opportunity for a re-do. After spending four years with the first Sanity Machine, how would I build the second one?
Both V1.0 and V2.0 are (I use the present tense because I choose to believe that V1.0, which had my last name polished into the top tube, is out there somewhere and someday my eBay alert for a “Mosaic Fretz” will come up good) based roughly on the geometry of the original Scott Foil, which I loved. It’s very race-bike traditional — 56 cm top tube, 160 mm head tube, 56 mm of trail. The couplers apparently make the bike stiffer, and I’ve never had any complaints in this department. I like my road bikes to feel like race bikes and Aaron did a pretty marvelous job at that.
I didn’t paint it because Ti doesn’t need to be painted and, if at all possible, travel bikes shouldn’t have paint. They go in very small bags or boxes on a regular basis. Instead, I had matte logos sandblasted on, kept it subtle, and if it gets too scratched up I’ll just have Mosaic blast it again and it will look good as new.
There’s a small error in the “Handcrafted in Boulder, CO” badge at the bottom of the down tube. Whoever did the masking forgot to take a bit of tape off the inside of the second little e in Boulder. I like this; it reminds me that Mosaic busted ass to get me the bike ahead of last year’s Tour de France. I like to think that little filled-in e, the one imperfection on the whole frame, is responsible for me getting the bike just 48 hours before I left for France and a few weeks ahead of their normal lead time.
This section is sort of interesting, for the bike nerds out there. The life of a travel bike isn’t like the life of a home bike. I once lost the crank bolt for a set of Super Record cranks at the start of the Giro and the bike wasn’t functional again until the end of the third week. I nearly went mad. Things that you could fix easily at home — or your shop could — can in a foreign country with limited time to actually get to a shop become insurmountable barriers to riding, when all you want to do is get out for a ride.
So, no disc brakes.
I’ve traveled with hydraulic disc brakes quite a bit. Nine times out of 10, it goes fine. One time out of 10, you kink a hose, or the caliper block falls out and the pistons push in, or something else weird happens and you need to do a bleed. Have you ever tried bleeding brakes in a hotel room? I don’t recommend it.
But I ride this bike in all sorts of weird places, often accidentally off road. I once did a loop before a stage of the Giro that was about an hour long, and 50 minutes in I just needed to pop over a small hill to get back to the hotel. I’d mapped it out using Strava’s heat maps. Which, it turns out, showed so much heat because this last 5 km was on a marathon mountain bike course. So my options were to ride 25 km back around, or huck it on my 25s. (Obviously, I hucked it.)
This is a roundabout way of saying I wanted to be able to run 32 mm tires, but also wanted to run rim brakes, which required some creativity. Most custom rim brake bikes these days are built with an Enve fork that fits no larger than a 28.
I sourced a fork from Specialized that would normally go on their Tarmac. I knew that this fork, in its direct-mount variant, could fit a 32. That was one pinch point sorted.
For the brakes themselves, I looked to Cane Creek and their EEbrakes. These are silly expensive, but, hey, insurance money is great, and they leave tons of room for a big tire. They’re also super powerful. I love them. I grabbed a direct-mount front and normal-mount rear. For the rear brake bridge I simply asked Aaron to raise it as high as he could, and it too easily fits a 32.
I’d love to say I thought long and hard about what drivetrain to run, but the reality is I just wanted something mechanical. Simplicity is key. I don’t want to be diagnosing battery problems at 6am as the sun rises over the Massif Central and all I want in the whole wide world is to enjoy those two half-hearted intervals and inevitable dog sprint.
Sanity Machine V1.0 had Campagnolo Super Record, left over from a test, and I’d love to run that again. It was gorgeous.
Currently, V2.0 is running SRAM Red22. I like double tap. I have 50/34 chainrings on there and an 11-32 cassette, which is outside SRAM’s recommended range, but it works fine. The low gears are because I do dumb things like try to ride the Mortirolo before breakfast.
The shift and rear brake cables split using handy splitters sold by S&S. The rear brake cable splits right behind the top tube coupler, and the two shift cables split right in front of the bottom bracket. The splitters have small rubber grommets that are supposed to keep them from pinging against your frame but they still ping, so I stuck a bit of the fuzzy side of velcro underneath them.
Have I ever rolled away without re-connecting my brake cable? Why yes, yes I have.
The wheels are a pair of Enve 4.5s built on Chris King hubs. They’re a bit too deep, to be honest, but they’re also fast as heck and I like them. I sometimes take these off and travel with basic aluminum Bontrager wheels, just to be safe. But I haven’t gone anywhere in a while.
Specialized’s Turbo Cotton Hell of the North are the best road tire I’ve ever used. They only come in 28mm, which is sad, but I still run them often. They ride like a race tire but have a bit of extra rubber and a thin puncture strip, so they’re tough to flat. I wish they made them in 30 or 32mm. I never run tubeless because trying to re-seat a bead in a hotel room sounds even worse than bleeding brakes in a hotel room.
The bar and stem are from Ritchey, and half the stem bolts have gone missing at one time or another so don’t judge their creatively sourced replacements. Classic-bend bars hurt my hands but soothe my soul, which is a tradeoff I’m willing to make.
If you look closely, one of the bar end plugs is missing. I thought about replacing it before I took photos, but thought that would be disingenuous as this is a travel bike and at least one bar end plug is always missing.
I left some spacers on top of the stem because V1.0 was slammed, when I was 25, and V2.0 is up a centimetre, as I’m now 32, and I assume I’ll need those spacers before I quit cycling journalism.
As I write this, we should have been six stages into the Tour de France. Generally, in the pandemonium of the pre-Tour workload and chaotic early stages, this is about when I’d get my first ride in.
Tonight I would have been staying in the Grand Hotel de France, 10 Place Jean Séquier, Meyrueis, France. I’ve stayed there before. There aren’t many hotels in this region, and this one is a find. There’s a road to the north, D986, that squiggles up the side of one of the massif’s huge canyons. The first 15 minutes I would have been slightly hungover, as yesterday’s stage was a doozy and Rupe and I were certainly up late podcasting and writing and imbibing. The last 15 minutes would have been spent dropping back into Meyrueis and then trying to find the hotel. The middle 20 might have been the best 20 all year.
Frameset: Mosaic RT1
Headset: Cane Creek
Wheelset: Chris King R45, Enve 4.5 rims
Shifters: SRAM Red22
Crankset: SRAM Red
Bottom bracket: SRAM Red
Rear derailleur: SRAM Red22
Cassette: SRAM Red XG-1190 11-32T
Chain: Shimano Ultegra
Tyres: Specialized Turbo Cotton Hell of the North 28 mm
Handlebar: Ritchey Neo Classic
Stem: Ritchey WCS, 120 mm
Seatpost: Woodman topper
Cages: King Kage SS
Bar tape: Black
Saddle: Specialized Mirror 143
Pedals: Look Keo Blade
Accessories: K-Edge Wahoo mount
Bike weight: No idea