A custom frame story (Speedvagen)

TokyoLiving

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#1
It has been a long time coming, and at the urgings of a few TCCers, I have finally come around to writing my first experience of purchasing a custom frame.

A little back story - I used to be a cat 2 level cyclist in the US 20+ years ago. Sponsored by Bianchi and a local shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As some of you may or may not know, back then the industry and technology was very different, dare I say antiquated, in hindsight.

Fast forward many years later, I moved to Japan 10 years ago. But cycling was the furthest thing from my mind. It took me a good number of years to just adjust to the culture and language. Then going back to school to get a Masters degree in order to teach at universities, which by the way you get 4 months paid vacation a year. (A cyclists dream!) Then 6 years ago my son was born. Still cycling was the furthest thing from my mind. But two years ago, I decided I'd had enough of the trains in Tokyo during rush hour and purchased a decent commuter bike. I teach at Chuo University out in Hachioji three days a week. So I started commuting there (18km or so each way). It was great! No more train stress, save a little money from the commuting costs. But each time I rode I would see the mountains off in the distance. And each time they were calling my name. My son was older, my masters degree was complete and my teaching schedule was all lined up. It was time to take my riding up to a new level. So I purchased a road bike from an American living Taiwan who had his own brand called Culprit. Aluminum frame, disc brakes, ultegra set up. In my mind, it was top of the line compared to what I used to ride 20+ years ago. So I rode with that bike for about 1/2 a year or so. I joined TCC at that time and well as we all do, I started getting deeper and deeper into the sport reading articles, buying gear and doing research.

Then one day I came across an article in a bicycling magazine that had an interview with Sacha White the founder, designer and builder of Speedvagen and Vanilla Workshop (steel frames) out of Portland, Oregon. I was intrigued. And it just so happened that he was coming to Tokyo for what they call a "Fit Tour". I of course scoured the internet reading any and everything I could on Speedvagen to get a better understanding of what it meant to have a custom frame versus an off the shelf brand frame. During that time I had no idea that I would actually be purchasing a Speedvagen. But the more I read the more it seemed to make sense. I love cycling and this is what I will be doing until I can no longer ride. I wasn't planning on racing, just training as if I would race. But also I wanted a bike that would last until I can no longer ride. And I did not want to get caught up in upgrading frames, parts, wheels etc. Go for the best. Sacha is at the top of his game from what I read.
I wasn't quite ready to pull the trigger, it's a lot of money. But I went to an evening presentation that Sacha gave at the Rapha Tokyo store. Seeing the bikes first hand and listening to what Sacha had to say about not only Speedvagen bikes, but also customs in general I was sold. So I plopped down $1,000 for a fit and set up a time to return to the Rapha store.

My day arrived, full kit in hand I met Sacha (who did the fitting) and Jenn (who handles the business side) in the morning. Sacha spent over three hours with me on my fit. He took videos, asked me all kinds of questions about my riding, took many measurements and spent a lot of time with me on balance. I cannot explain exactly what he did, but from what I read, there was nobody doing this kind of measurement and action to determine balance. After the fitting and a lot of sweat, I met with Jenn and we discussed color schemes, group sets and wheels. From the beginning I was set on going with disc brakes, I went with top of the line Enve fork, wheels, Chris King hubs and headset, carbon seat post and Ultegra Di2 groupset. (You can see it all from the pics)

This took place in March of this year. After a month or so, I received Sacha's design via email. After reviewing and approving it with Sacha, I then exclusively dealt with Jenn. She was great and you felt like the Speedvagen family. Prompt replies and very helpful. Of course you could say, you should expect that for what I spent on the bike. But they did go above and beyond sending me a number of different design color schemes before deciding on going with a simple cyan color. Speedvagen is known for their funky color schemes. I am not a fan of that and went with simple. After final approvals in order to avoid any kind of import taxes, we worked it out to schedule completion and delivery while I was in the US in August of this year. I sent them a bike bag, and they sent my bike to my family address in the US. Of course I was chomping at the bit waiting. But good things come to those who wait. Besides I still had my Culprit bike, which to me was still amazing compared to my old school Bianchi.

I received the bike, brought it back to Japan, no taxes. I proceeded to unpack the bike. I was in awe. It was a piece of art. Understated, yet if you look closely you see the amazing attention to detail. The lines are clean, no unsightly cables hanging out. It was clean and simple. Unfortunately, there was a string of rainy wet days and I had to wait a week before actually taking "Blue Beauty" (coined by Jenn at Speedvagen). out for a ride. The day arrived and I took her out. I was riding an expensive bike for the first time and had you seen me that day you would have thought what the hell is wrong with this guy, going slow over every hole in the road, taking corners at the pace of someone in their 80s. Of course as we all know, over time this just goes away and you ride it like you mean it. I loved it!!!

In the end, what can I say, a custom frame is an extension of your body. It is seamless. The balance that Sacha focused on really is amazing when climbing out of the saddle, or cornering. The overall experience is like riding at a whole new level. You just feel the road. You feel the frame following your every movement. And you don't feel nearly as fatigued over long rides. It really is a beautiful experience. I will say, I still enjoy the Culprit very much. It is my go to bike for inclement weather. In fact, I think I enjoy the Culprit more than I did before because of the differences between the two bikes. But if given the choice I would always reach for Blue Beauty.

Here are some pics. And PM me our reply if you have any questions.
 

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Conrad

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Dec 8, 2014
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#2
After seeing this baby in the flesh I can confirm it is one sweet beast, top of the line all the way. Other people may also be able to catch a glimpse of it if they come and join us for a 5am spin (just not this week) :) wadayareckon @TokyoLiving ?
 
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TokyoLiving

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Dec 9, 2015
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#3
After seeing this baby in the flesh I can confirm it is one sweet beast, top of the line all the way. Other people may also be able to catch a glimpse of it if they come and join us for a 5am spin (just not this week) :) wadayareckon @TokyoLiving ?
Yup the only way to catch a glimpse of this rare beast is to join us for the oh for god's sake early morning Sunday ride.
 
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leicaman

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Sep 20, 2012
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#5
Thanks for the write up. Enjoyed reading it. So you got a fitting back in March 2015 huh. Sacha came over around the same time this year too. I thought you had been fitted out then. I believe the people who ordered theirs this year received them about four months later. Not a bad turnaround for custom. Mine is only half built at the moment despite being ordered early November 2015.
 
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TokyoLiving

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Dec 9, 2015
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#6
Thanks for the write up. Enjoyed reading it. So you got a fitting back in March 2015 huh. Sacha came over around the same time this year too. I thought you had been fitted out then. I believe the people who ordered theirs this year received them about four months later. Not a bad turnaround for custom. Mine is only half built at the moment despite being ordered early November 2015.
I had a fitting in March 2016 this year and had it sent to a US address in August of this year. So five months total. I think people had fittings in March actually started getting their bikes three months later. Mine was longer only because I was timing it with a US visit.

November 2015? That's a bit too long. Are you getting a speedvagen or Vanilla workshop frame built? I know the vanilla frames take time as they are being built by Sacha himself.
 

leicaman

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#7
I had a fitting in March 2016 this year and had it sent to a US address in August of this year. So five months total. I think people had fittings in March actually started getting their bikes three months later. Mine was longer only because I was timing it with a US visit.

November 2015? That's a bit too long. Are you getting a speedvagen or Vanilla workshop frame built? I know the vanilla frames take time as they are being built by Sacha himself.
Ah ok, so not so long for you then. You said in your original post that you got fitted in March of last year.
Nope, I didn't go with a Speedvagen or Vanilla. I think the wait on a Vanilla is crazy long. In an interview last year, Sacha said his Vanilla book has 400-500 people on it and he completes 15 frames a year which wild mean his waiting list is 33 years !!!!!!! I had originally thought of going with a SV but decided to go with something a little closer to home. In fact, I might start another thread very soon regarding my build.
 

TokyoLiving

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#8
Ah ok, so not so long for you then. You said in your original post that you got fitted in March of last year.
Nope, I didn't go with a Speedvagen or Vanilla. I think the wait on a Vanilla is crazy long. In an interview last year, Sacha said his Vanilla book has 400-500 people on it and he completes 15 frames a year which wild mean his waiting list is 33 years !!!!!!! I had originally thought of going with a SV but decided to go with something a little closer to home. In fact, I might start another thread very soon regarding my build.
Ahh I see.. Sorry for the confusion. I changed it to this year.
You are right, the wait for Vanilla frames are long.

Did you go with a local fame builder here in Japan?
You ought to start a thread on your build. Would be interested hearing about your experience.