Appleman Custom Road Bike
I recently completed a new road bike with the help of custom builder Matt Appleman of Appleman Bicycles, out of Minneapolis.
Having raced for 3 decades, I have had the opportunity to ride a lot of different bikes. Some of the whips I have had the honor of pedaling:
1988 – Vitus 969 bonded aluminum
1989 – Cannondale 3.0 aluminum
1990 – Zinn steel road, LeMond steel track. Specialized Stumpjumper hardtail (rigid fork)
1991/1992 – Bridgestone RB-1, Zinn steel TT bike
1993 – Zinn steel road #2, TIG welded
1994 – Nobilette steel track
1995 – LeMond titanium (made by Clark Kent in Denver), Lotus 110 TT bike
1996 – Litespeed Vortex 6/4 titanium road
1997 – Moots titanium soft tail MTB
1998 – Litespeed Vortex 6/4 titanium road
1999 – Marin aluminum (Shaklee)
2000 – Marin aluminum (Shaklee)
2001 – LaBici aluminum (Prime Alliance)
2002 – Klein aluminum (Ofoto)
2003 – LeMond Aluminum (5280 Magazine)
2004 – Javelin aluminum road bike (TIAA-CREF)
2006 – Felt F1 carbon road bike, Specialized 26″ hardtail with a 650b front wheel (like a 69’er but really a 6-27.5’er?)
2007 – Felt DA TT bike, TK-1 track bike, road bike, Javelin track bike
2008 – Cannondale 26″ Scalpel (ridden with a 650b front wheel for most of it’s life)
2010 – Cannondale Scalpel 29er, Cannondale Super Six Evo
2009 – Felt FR-1
2011 – Bianchi Oltre carbon (Horizon Organic p/b Panache Cyclewear)
2013 – Trek ProCaliber (test program) , Salsa Beargrease 1 Fatbike
2017 – Fifty Point One aluminum track frame (look for website soon!)
This is only a partial list, because it is hard to remember all that stuff. Having ridden this many bikes gives me great context to understand how subtle differences in geometry, tubing material, wheels and tires, and rider position impact handling and ride experience.
As road bikes have evolved, they have changed with the demands of the market and this has meant frames are now much taller than they used to be (in comparison to the same length, historically). In 2004 a 54cm Felt road frame fit me quite well off the shelf, with a 120 or 130 x 84 or possibly 73 degree stem. As a rider who is 175cm (or 5’9” in obsolete units)/ 63kg, and who has average length limbs for his torso size, it would not appear that I need a special frame but there are factors that change this equation; I am extremely flexible, I bend very effectively at the hip, and I sit with an extremely extended spine. This means I ride a frame with a very long reach, and a large saddle to bar drop, in comparison to similarly sized riders.
In other words, I tend to get a lot of complaints from people who sit on my wheel, because I don’t give off a lot of draft. As I like to say, some riders are blessed with actual horsepower, some (like me) are blessed with an aero shaped ass. You take it where you can get it.
Given that I am a bike fitter, it makes sense that the frame I ride fits me perfectly, and in 2018 there are few if any production bikes that will do this. The last 4 years I have ridden a 56 cm Felt FR-1. For years, Felt built some of the ‘lowest and longest’ production frames on the market, and because their stack was acceptably low I chose a larger size to get more top tube. The bike is set up with a -20 degree stem, which looks at odds with the sloping top tube, but gets the job done. In 2017 Felt jumped on the short/ high geometry train, and this led me to explore various custom bikes. After researching a lot of different options, one that appealed to me most was Appleman, a custom frame builder out of Minneapolis who specializes in carbon.
I began to dialogue with Matt Appleman about 2 years ago, and the project finally came together in the winter of 2017-18. Appleman frames are custom built for each rider, and have a minimalist, industrial look. The frames are finished in UV resistant raw carbon, which allows the rider to see the workmanship that goes into the frame. Matt has tubes made in the US to his specifications and runs all cables internally, which gives the frame a clean aesthetic. The Appleman name and logo are made from carbon, wood or metal. He has complete control over the design and manufacturing process from start to finish, which makes the product an authentic representation of his labor and passion.
Matt and I went back and forth on various details of the frame, based on the geometry I supplied and the intended use. Most of my rides include hard pack dirt or gravel, and I wanted the bike to be capable of handling fast group rides (and maybe some races) with plenty of tire clearance for rougher riding if desired. However, I didn’t want this bike to blur the lines and become a gravel bike. I wanted the bike to be capable of riding on gravel, but also race ready. My philosophy aligns with the saying “pick the right tool for the job” and for my jeep road/ adventure / high alpine explorer-scout missions that will involve significant off-piste time, I will use my custom Seven Evergreen (being built as I write this, stay tuned for a similar review when it is done). For road riding, I will use the Appleman.
Disc brakes were an easy choice for me. Even after all the controversy I am still surprised to find people resistant to adopting them. The technology is inarguably superior and a rim brake simply has too many jobs on the To Do list in to pull it off without compromise. Separating braking load from suspension, cornering, holding a tire on and dealing with road surfaces has freed engineers to make a rim that is much more capable and true to it’s purpose. I can’t help to think that anyone who is still holding on to rim brakes simply has not tried good disc brakes, because once you realize how good the performance is, there is no going back.
The Mavic Cosmic Carbone Pro wheels are silky smooth and fast. The rim depth is enough to be an aero wheel but not so much that they become unpredictable in the gusty winds of the Colorado Front Range. Tubeless set up on these wheels was beyond easy. With an internal rim width of 17mm, 25mm tires mount up easy but I can go up to 30mm and still have a good relationship between rim stance and casing width. Being a rider who regularly negotiates long descents in the summer, I decided to skip the entire carbon clincher movement until disc specific rims were engineered and came to the market.
I selected Syntace 42cm aluminum handlebars. The features I like in this bar are the 6 degree back sweep, which allows for a slight external rotation to the hands and shoulders, even when the thumbs are wrapped around the bars. The low angle of the anatomic drop works for me as well, I would be ok with an ‘infinite curve’ style but these are working for now. I am still on a quest to find the perfect road bars, and while these are the leading candidates at the moment, there is still work to be done in my opinion.
The saddle is a SMP Forma with carbon rails. Those of you who know or ride with me understand that my butt doesn’t touch anything else. It is the best product on the market by a significant margin not only for me, but for 90-95% of my clients. At some point down the road I may spring for a custom cover from Busyman cycles to bling it up a bit. If you want to read more about why I love SMP saddles so much, check this.
In the end, we agreed on a stack of 510 and a reach of 390, which I have set up with a 73 degree x 130 mm road stem, with 5mm of spacers underneath. If you compare this to most modern geometry charts, this is comparable to a 52 or 54 in stack, and a 56 or 58 in reach. In order for me to fit a Cervelo S5 in the current iteration, I would ride a 51 cm frame with a 140 or 150 x 73 degree stem. While bikes set up like this can certainly function, and a good bike handler can make almost anything work, it doesn’t mean things should not be optimized.
Matt specifies a PF30 BB on his frames, noting that as he has precise control over manufacturing, the design works as it should (read: no creaking due to QC frame manufacturing issues). Following James Huang’s perfect review of the Enduro XD-15BB, this is the BB I chose.
House of Spin built the bike for me, from start to finish. They are the best service shop in Boulder, if you need your new whip dialed in and want perfection, look no further.
I have worked with Ceramic Speed over the years on a few projects and they were kind enough to send me an Oversized Pulley Wheel System for my 9100 rear derailuer. They even laser etched my name in the pulleys, which is ridiculously cool, it feels super World Tour and the drivetrain is lightning with this addition.
Some people can’t understand why I chose mechanical shifting over electronic. Just because someone makes something with a battery, does not mean I have to run out and buy it. I have too many batteries in my life already, the last thing I need is more EMF’s and to not be able to shift when the battery dies on a ride. A cable fails only once every 10 years or so. Over and over, I hear about how long the charge lasts in the battery for Di2, and over and over I hear stories about how people’s batteries run out of charge on rides….It’s like the statistic about how many women have orgasms during sex. If you do the math, someone is faking something.
The other problem is my current number of bikes, which is drifting towards N+1. Although the track bikes don’t count, If I put electronic on one, I would eventually have to install it on the others.
After testing power meters from virtually every manufacturer on the planet, the unit I chose for this bike is the SRM Origin 30. With Dura-Ace 9100 rings, it has perfect shifting and the carbon arms (made by Look) are ridiculously light and stiff. Some people complain about the price but the stuff just works, day in and day out. After Greg LeMond, Jonathan Vaughters and I were the first Americans on SRM (back in 1995) so I am very familiar with their products.
Matt chose internal cable routing for a clean look, which I definitely appreciate. The fully guided cable routing means no weird bent coat hanger tools are required.
APPLEMAN CUSTOM ROAD FEATURES:
- internal cables
- fully custom geometry (collaboration between Colby and Matt)
- flat mount disc brakes
- clearance for 32mm tires
- 44mm headtube
- industrial, natural carbon aesthetic
- thru axles
- flat mount brakes
COMPONENTS and BUILD SPECS:
- stack: 510mm
- reach: 390mm
- stem: 130 x 73/ -17 degree Zipp SC SL
- bars: Syntace 420mm
- drivetrain + brakes: Dura Ace 9100 mechanical/ hydro, 11-28
- pulleys: Oversize Pulley Wheel System by Ceramic Speed, with my name on them
- cranks: SRM Origin 30 Power Meter with Dura Ace 9100 Chainrings, 52 x 36
- seatpost: Thomson Masterpiece 16mm setback x 27.2
- saddle: SMP Forma with Carbon Rails
- wheels: Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbone SL SSC tubeless
- tires: Mavic Yksion Pro Tubeless 25mm
- pedals: Speedplay titanium, 47mm axles
After riding production bikes for 30 years, it is great to have a bike made specifically for me. Everything about this bike feels like home. The bars are in the perfect place, and the bike is “point and shoot” when it comes to corners. It does exactly what I want it too. The frame is plenty stiff for me, but floats over dirt and crap pavement. Every tube was selected by Matt to help the bike ride the way it should for me, based on the specifications I supplied. Tire clearance is fantastic, designed for that day when I hit 50 meters of the infamous Colorado clay and the bike normally just stops.
I designed the front center to be just a few millimeters shorter than my Felt, while allowing the bars to be about 10mm lower. This prevents me from having to make a small slide forward on the saddle to weight the front wheel enough, which sometimes happens on the Felt. The 71mm bottom bracket drop and 415mm chainstays are made for long descents and high speed stability. I don’t need to out criterium anyone on this bike, I want it to carve big fast arcs bombing (safely) down SuperFlagstaff, and be able to dodge the deer and tourist vehicles long before they interrupt my velocity. The 72.75 degree head angle and combination of 43mm offset Enve fork make the trail 59mm, right in the sweet spot.
Click here to find out more about Appleman Bicycles.
Thank you to House of Spin for building the bike!
Thank you Ceramic Speed for the sweet drivetrain candy!
Thank you Matt Appleman for working with me on this amazing project!
Thank you Mavic for the sick tubeless hoops!
Thank you Speedplay for years of support!