This blog series follows me, an extremely average cyclist, as I go all in to complete the legendary Leadville 100 race on a singlespeed mountain bike.
It is the lightest frame ever made, so says Specialized about their new Epic HT. At less than 900 advertised grams, it very well might be. It boasts a limited edition paint job, Oil Slick, they call it, changes with the light. A slacker head tube angle, engineered to pair with a 51mm offset fork, improves its handling on the descent without sacrificing its ability to climb a wall. The build features carbon everything-that-can-be-carbon, and titanium where it can’t be. The best 100mm fork that Fox sells, an oval chain ring, and a Stages power meter ensure that my ride will be smooth, efficient, and my effort well-documented. There is a bit of an issue though, other than the fact that it won’t shift. The bike I plan on racing in Leadville isn’t actually built yet. In fact, I’m just happy to have the frame and parts back in my possession after months of one issue after another, so my happiness is of the cautious variety. I will back up.
Earlier last summer we started talking about replacing my old singlespeed, Hans, the Felt. There is actually nothing wrong with Hans, I absolutely love that bike. He is about 10 years old and in great shape, and I had some amazing rides and races on him. In fact, none of the reasons I have for getting a new bike, such as lighter weight, newer fork technology, and ability to take wider tires justify the cost of the new bike. Neither does my desire to have two bottle cages on the frame, which Hans can only take one. Petty, I know, but bike shopping is fun. Lee and I decided to do our own build, since we shamelessly modify and upgrade everything we own anyway. We had our wish list narrowed down to two frames: Niner Air 9 RDO, and the Specialized Epic HT.
We spotted a Niner frame in my size on Pinkbike for a great price, and I bought it. Lee opened the box to find that the frame was cracked. Luckily, the seller took the frame back and gave me a full refund, but that was strike one. A few weeks later, after much agonizing on how much money we wanted to spend on a frame alone, Lee called me at work to tell me he ordered the Specialized frame through our local bike shop. Then he told me how much it cost. Then I got rear ended and totaled my car the next day. That was strike two. I ended up selling one of my bikes and got a fair sum for my totaled car, so we decided to keep going with the frame. I was excited because it was late August, and if all went well with the build, I would have all of September and at least some of October to start riding and debugging the new bike. All did not go well.
The fork I wanted in the color I wanted was weeks away from being available. No problem, I would wait and accumulate other components we would need. Then, one day, in mid-October, most of the parts we needed to get started on the build were more or less in one place. And Lee got to work as I handed him tools and bolts, and tried to learn something while I watched. For two days straight, Lee labored. First he threaded the rear brake cable through the frame. Then he put the fork and stem on the frame. He switched out the end caps on my wheels to fit BOOST spacing and mounted the brake rotors. Soon the wheels went on. All those parts were starting to look like a complete bike. Everything was meticulously aligned adjusted, and torque specs double checked. He agonized over chain tension, bottom bracket position, and whether the chain ring we had, paired with the crank set we had, would would clear the chainstay sufficiently. All Lee had left to do was tighten the bottom bracket with the torque wrench we bought specifically for this job and..Crack.
Lee was devastated. I know this because he said “I’m devastated”. I tried not to be, but I already named the bike and everything. Foxy. The bottom bracket shell had cracked. He was still well below the torque spec while tightening the bottom bracket, but it cracked anyway. Strike three.
When the dust settled, we braced for a warranty waiting game. Our options were: Find out if Specialized would accept the warranty and if a replacement frame was available in the same color. Or send the frame off to a specialty carbon repair shop. Or cut our losses, sell whatever parts we could, and call it quits with the whole project until things start to come together more organically. That would have been the smart choice. It was mid-November by the time we got an an answer on the warranty. Yes, they would accept it. No, the same color was no longer available. We decided to go with the repair instead.
I hated the thought of that frame just being crushed, and the repair would involve replacing the shell with a sturdier one that should be able to take repeated tensioning of an eccentric bottom bracket for the life of the bike. Calfee Carbon Repair wanted us to send the bottom bracket with the frame so they could get the fit right, and we decided to order a different bottom bracket that put less torque on the shell. In the mean time, we dropped more money on a different crank set with a power meter that would work in theory, with a different oval chain ring that should, in theory clear the chainstay. Thank you, Christmas bonus. It was late December by the time we got that bottom bracket, and we were finally able to send the frame off, just in time for the holidays.
The frame came back today in a severely crushed box. Lee picked it up at the FedEx, and was not allowed to open the box to see if there was damage until he signed for it. We are out of strikes, but he signed for it and took his chances. The frame seems okay, and he is really happy with the repair. He spent the evening putting the pieces back together in a mock-up, so that they at least it looks like a bike again. So far so good.
I still have so many doubts about this bike, in part because of the setbacks. Is this just a challenge, or a sign that we should have scrapped the build idea for an undetermined amount of time? Part of that doubt comes from my fear that I am not worthy of this World Cup level bike, that I am a poser, and other people will see that I am a poser, and that I should just stick with my old aluminum bike that has served me so well, the bike that better fits the kind of rider that I perceive myself to be. I am also worried that we are trying too hard, and putting all this time and money into a bike I won’t love the way I love my other bikes. The others, I was able to at least ride around in the parking lot, and get a general feel for, and I loved them all right away. This one is such an unknown, and the expectations for it are so high. Besides,this bike has already been such a diva, what the hell am I going to do the first time I crash it and scratch it? We can’t run permanent marker on this paint job like we do on my other bikes.
But Foxy is here now, at least in bike-like form, literally in the living room as I write this because I can’t stop staring. Well aware that there are plenty of riders that can school me on 45-pound, two-wheeled monstrosities from Wal-Mart if they wanted to, I am still trying to convince myself that I don’t have to justify having this level of bike. Yet I plan on training my ass off to feel like I deserve it a little more. I plan on growing into it as I get better and stronger. I also plan to have this bike for a long time, so why not have the best? If we ever manage to actually build it.