Updated: Apr 29, 2021
One has to be able to dream in order for dreams to become reality. More importantly, one has to have an amazing, brilliant, generous and obsessive friend in order to not only make that dream a reality, but to awaken it. As it happens, I tend to dream quite a bit, and am fortunate to have such a friend.
It all started with a bang. Two actually. One dark rainy evening in December 2019 on a major Vancouver, BC street, my partner and I were rear ended with such force we damaged the car immediately in front of us. After a long half year conversation with ICBC, I settled my injury claim and realized I’d had a small amount of unexpected cash to which I could, with the encouragement of my partner, put towards that “dream bike” she’d seen me pouring over hour after hour, night after night, day after day, online site after online site, shop after shop for the vision of perfection I’d been haunted by since I first discovered my obsession of human powered two wheeled vehicles. As a child and teen I loved riding, the freedom it afforded me and the thrill of the more than occasional wheelie or long rear wheel skid, snaking and weaving inches from my sister’s feet, leaving a snarled question mark on the boulevard in front of my home. But moving from home to university and into my adulthood, my use of a bicycle was merely a means to get me home safely (or so I hoped) without losing my drivers licence after a night out savouring multiple libations with mates. Besides, I lived in Ontario at the time and cycling was something one only did between May and September. Five months if one was lucky.
In 2001 I moved to British Columbia. A decade later a very close friend and colleague talked me into the Ride to Conquer Cancer; a 200km two day ride along the Pacific Northwest between Vancouver, BC and Seattle, WA. I rode it on a new hybrid I’d been very proud of owning, but was awestruck by the whir of groups of road cyclists freewheeling past me on gorgeous carbon fibre frames, slender tires and looking like they’d been blessed with speed in their genes. Therein began my infatuation with road bikes and a steep learning curve that makes me realize how very little I know when I meet an individual who actually knows something about cycling and bicycles.
Ten Years Later.
On a sunny afternoon in August of 2020, stuck on the one place I found great comfort during the COVID-19 pandemic, my deck, I decided to ring up a close friend who’d I’d lost touch with over the enforced isolation. During our catch up, I’d mentioned I was leering at online digital images, suffering from a bad case of carbon fever and was about to drop the ICBC settlement cheque on a bike I’d been oogling since I saw the first tinge of celeste green. I casually mentioned something about a “dream bike” when suddenly my good friend Ravin said “Hold up. What would your dream bike be?”
“Well if I could afford it, I love the idea of titanium custom bike. Something classic with a hint of modern. Something that would last for life. My last bike. You know. Maybe ride it until I can’t ride anymore” I cheekily replied.
After looking at every titanium custom builder online, okay not every one, (there’s that obsessive worm hole tendency my partner has witnessed over and over again) but enough builders and sites I’d come to realize there was no way I could get close to a titanium (ti) custom frame on my budget.
I heard a brief silence, a small quiet chuckle and then in Ravin’s subtle, but definite Aussie accent: “Mate. What if I told you you could get that for close to the same price of that carbon fibre bike?”
I tend to be at times, cynical and sceptical. Knowing Ravin’s passion for all things bikes, and his love of seeing others who enjoy them as much as he, I was curious and listened to a very long explanation of what he knew, what he’d found and how it could all work in my favour.
Then came the flurry of links and videos he sent me, testifying to the reality of such a dream: Walty Titanium. After watching a few videos from some very happy customers and a few more conversations I was convinced that I could do this. It would take a hell of a lot of support from Ravin, but I had already been journaling for years about components and colour schemes and all I had to do was open my bike journal and recall some of my earlier research and ideas.
First Things First.
“Go get a bike fit.”
“What? But I already got one a little while ago” I said confused.
“Yes, but now you need to get measured for what would be the ideal frame size and geometry for your body.”
After a bit of searching, a phone call, and some free time, I decided to meet up with Rob Wright of Bike Fit Solutions in Burnaby, BC. I took my old bike in, Rob took a raft of measurements of my COVIDized girth, talked to me about what the plan was, the type of riding I did (or used to as I’d not actively done so after some health issues that finally were resolved this past summer). After some adjustments to the bike, and about two hours of my time, a very clear email arrived a few days later from Rob, suggesting my ideal reach and stack and geometry, standover height and a bunch of other data. I fired that email off to Ravin and the real work and research began.
Using Geometry Geeks, an online app that allows one to enter frame dimensions and other pertinent data that then matches the myriad of frames and brands available globally, I searched bikes I liked, bikes I didn’t and specifically looked at manufacturers of ti frames. I then took the time to research as many reviews and narrowed down the bikes I thought suited my riding style, my data and as importantly, my aesthetic sensibilities. As one can see by the image of my shoes that I wear at work, style is important to me. I have to say it: if one doesn’t like the look of the dream bike, it isn’t really a dream bike is it?
While I am in no way old fashioned or overly conservative, I am not wowed or smitten with the “latest” technology. I listen to vinyl. I have been using a fountain pen since I was 14 years old. I prefer hardcover books over digital formats. I am also the proud owner of a virtually spotless 1979 Nishiki Competition.
I appreciate and value things that work, work well and last. Thus my decision to use a mechanical group set and given that I am also not a weight weenie (see rotund image at beginning of article or previous reference to COVIDized girth), I decided upon the ever dependable Shimano 105. Despite the UCI endorsing disc braking systems recently, and the industry’s move to a prevalence towards disc brakes, I wanted rim brakes. I simply prefer the cleanliness of the hubs clearly seen. After some long chats with Ravin about the benefits of disc brakes, I agreed and started my search for reasonably priced group sets on the multitude of online sites such as Pinkbike and Craigslist. The idea was that I’d happily use someone’s recent purchase of a new bike and their pull-off of a group set they’ve removed to upgrade their bike. It would be a cost savings measure as I’d decided the frame and the wheels were the primary focus. As it turns out, I got extremely lucky, found someone who’d bought a brand new unopened Shimano Ultegra hydraulic group set and was willing to part with it. It was an utter steal of a deal. As it happened, it was also my birthday and I was thrilled to come home, slice the tape open and gaze lovingly at my first real purchase towards the dream bike. This was really happening.
Wheels & Frame.
On Ravin’s advice, because I’d landed on the disc brakes, I decided to go with carbon rims for the first time. Thinking that a carbon set would expend a significant portion of my budget, again he sent me a link to an online company called Lite Bicycle and a LBS called Kissing Crows Cyclery on Main Street, Vancouver, BC. I popped by Kissing Crows early one Saturday morning where I was greeted by a super welcoming staff member who’s knowledge
was significant without the condescending snobbery that one sometimes encounters when dealing with staff at bike shops that reveal one’s ignorance and limited cycling knowledge.
I ordered the Chris King hubs, in a gorgeous deep metallic blue, with 28 holes and black Sapim Lazer spokes. When my rims arrived, I dropped them off and voila, the next part of dream was complete. In the middle of October, my communication with Walty Titanium began. Using the geometry of the frame I’d decided upon, the data and recommendations from Rob, Ravin, and a staff member at Walty named Amy, thus began the very intricate and detailed process of ensuring all the aspects of the frame were included. The process is while on the surface straightforward, there are the things that need to be confirmed and reconfirmed and reconfirmed again. Like the old carpenter’s adage, “Measure twice, cut once” the three of us exchanged a barrage of emails (poor Ravin - he didn’t realize what a time commitment he’d made in offering me his assistance) to ensure everything was exactly as expected: fork compatibility (straight or tapered), fork rake/trim, internal or external cable routing, clamp on or braze on front derailer, wheel size, brazes ons for fenders/racks locations, disc or rim mounts, centre lock or or or…the list was endless and at times I felt that I was way over my head and was terrified I was going to make an error or overlook something critical that would affect the ride or the bike, or be locked into something I didn’t want. Thankfully, both Amy and Ravin were patient, clear and helpful. Eventually, after a downpayment easily transferred through an international payment system I woke one early late October morning to this:
I’d worked for my father in the industrial steel building business in my first years of university and had been handed more than a few blueprints. I couldn’t read any part of them despite my father’s patient attempts to teach me something of his trade and knowledge. I still glaze over confusedly when he talks about gable ends and flashing. What was striking to me that after printing a hard copy of the CAD drawing, I somehow instantly understood portions of the CAD. I then cross referenced everything ensuring what the emails stated appeared in the drawing. A few more confirmations, a bit of back and forth (okay, a great deal of back and forth) and I sent a confirmation to Amy for them to proceed with the construction of the frame. This process took about three months from October through to December. Not exactly what one would call rushed.
In early February 2021, I received an email from Amy. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There it was, my finished frame, sitting shiny, pristine and waiting to be packed and shipped once I’d sent Walty the remainder of the payment.
The welds were amazingly clean, and it appeared to be just as I’d ordered. I couldn’t wait to see it and hold it in person. But first I had to wait and knowing that the pandemic had impacted everything around the globe, especially bike parts and manufacturing and shipping I figured it would be well into late March or even April until I saw my frame arrive.
On February 20, 2021 I finished my payment on the frame. I then I received a confirmation of shipping, a tracking number, well-wishes from Amy and a request to let her know when the package arrived. Like a kid looking at the skies on Christmas Eve, I checked the tracking number hoping to see progress hourly. There was a note that the package had departed and then I knew it was out of my control and that it was simply a waiting game for which great patience would be required. The Pacific is a big ocean. But I was wrong. In fact I was utterly wrong. To my great surprise and glee, the frame arrived in less than a week. I was shocked. I was even more shocked when I picked up the box. I thought it was a joke. It seemed empty. There was no way that my frame was inside. There must be a mistake, but the only mistake was mine.
To be continued…