Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sketchy Cycles: the Talk of the Town

Susan's Pink Sketchy
I first mentioned Sketchy Cycles last summer, when I went on a ride with Jim and he rode his new custom bike. Since then I have been curious to try one, and now I finally have.

Susan and Her Pink Sketchy
This pink Sketchy belongs to Susan, who works at Harris Cyclery and also writes the blog Twelfth Bike. She has had it for exactly a year now, and has used it for everything from commuting to the D2R2. Susan is an experienced cyclist, who has ridden many other nice bicycles over the years, and she likes her Sketchy the best and has a review of this bicycle here. Susan's bike has a pink, white and black colour scheme going, which I find very pleasant.

Susan's Pink Sketchy
Sketchy frames are steel and handmade by Mike Salvatore, who is a welder at Seven Cycles. There is no website yet, but you can get in touch here. What intrigued me about Sketchy, was that some pretty knowledgeable local bike people started getting them: mechanics, bike shop employees, even other frame builders (Brad of Geekhouse Bikes has just had one made). What is it about Sketchy that has made it the "it" bike for those in the know?

Susan's Pink Sketchy
Well, here was my chance to find out. I was able to try Susan's bike, because not only are we the same height, but she uses Campagnolo ergos (my hands don't work with Shimano STIs, which really limits the roadbikes I can competently test ride).  

Susan's Pink Sketchy
Threadless stem and modern compact drop bars, the feel of which I quite like. I've been trying to get a feel for whether I prefer handlebars like these to the likes of Nitto Noodles and Grand Bois Maes, but really can't decide. Possibly it depends on the bike.

Susan's Pink Sketchy
Is it normal that I find brazed-on brake cable hangers "pretty?"

Susan's Pink Sketchy
Paul's cantilever brakes.

Susan's Pink Sketchy
A J-Tek adaptor to make the non-Campy drivetrain compatible with the Campagnolo levers.

Susan's Pink Sketchy
Carmina crankset and a very cool chainguard.

Susan's Pink Sketchy
Velocity wheels with wide tires (usually 35mm) that change based on season and the type of riding Susan is doing. 

Susan's Pink Sketchy
At the moment they are Schwalble Marathon Supremes.

Susan's Pink Sketchy
Dynamo lighting. 

Susan's Pink Sketchy
Lezyne pump mounted next to the waterbottle cage, which I thought was a neat idea.

Susan's Pink Sketchy
Berthoud saddle (which Susan is not quite sure she likes yet).

Susan's Pink Sketchy
SKS fenders and Tubus rear rack (which may get replaced with a custom-made rack at a later stage).

Susan's Pink Sketchy
And this very cool Nokon beaded cable housing.

Susan's Pink Sketchy
In order for me to ride the bike, we had to lower the saddle a bit, and Susan switched her clipless pedals to MKS Touring pedals. Everything else remained the same. I rode the bike with the handlebars just about level with the saddle (though maybe a tad higher) and no foot retention. 

Susan's Pink Sketchy
My ride was short and did not do justice to what this bicycle is meant for - which is long, spirited rides while transitioning between road and trails with ease. That's the problem with riding somebody else's vey nice custom bike - I just wouldn't feel comfortable taking it on a 40 mile ride on and off road. Still, trying the Sketchy for a few miles along the back roads allowed me to get acquainted with the bicycle's feel and handling - both of which I quite liked. Because the bicycle fit me well and I could comfortably use the levers, I was comfortable on it immediately. I rode from West Newton to Belmont and back, trying to choose hilly streets. In some ways, the handling felt similar to the Seven I rode earlier this summer: the easy acceleration and maneuverability, albeit with wider tires and a more "grounded" feel to it. I can see how it would do especially well on trails for that reason.

Susan's Pink Sketchy
The ride was comfortable over bumps and potholes, though in a completely different way that the titanium Seven had been. On the Sketchy I could feel the road more, but that feeling was springy and cushioned and therefore not painful. On the Seven it was as if I could not feel the road in the first place. I don't know whether that description makes sense, but it is the best comparison I can think of. I felt very natural riding the Sketchy and can readily imagine it as my own bike, with the one exception being that I'd prefer a slightly longer top tube and lower handlebars - this felt a little bit too upright. But otherwise I would not change much about the frame or Susan's build.

Susan and Her Pink Sketchy
I feel privileged to have tried a Sketchy bicycle and give my sincere thanks to Susan for trusting me to ride hers. I hope you enjoyed this introduction to one of Boston's latest custom builders. 

23 comments:

  1. Like this bike, I send it a message of love.

    Whatwith "Sketchy" though? In cycling terms, it is the guy you stay away from in group rides because he's, y'know, sketchy. Or when the descent is rilly, rilly gnar. "Tweaker" or "meth head" also come to mind.

    Furthermore, I had a bike that exact shade of internet pink.

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  2. Cool bike, I like it.

    Based on your 5th pic from the top, the stem looks short and so hypothetically maybe add a centimeter or two there, and maybe bring stem down a centimeter lower on the steer tube, which could alleviate your feeling too upright and/or scrunched.

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  3. Nice bike, not exactly the component mix and color I would choose, but that is to be expected on a custom bike.

    My only real quibble is I don't like how the wire for the dyno light is wound around the fork blade. As this is a custom bike ideally the wire would be routed internal to the fork blade. At the very least it should be neatly zip tied to the back of the fork with ties that blend into the fork color.

    To be fair I've seen plenty of factory and custom builds where the headlight wiring is wrapped around the fork like this.

    I'm still curious why those in the know in the Boston area are choosing Sketchy bikes over all of their other options. What makes it better than a Seven or a Royal H. for instance?

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  4. Nice machine! The cable hanger is nicely done & the forks look neat too, although can't help thinking that a threaded headset would be better with a quill stem :>/

    The narrow rack is tidy too - maybe she may consider having it coated a different colour? Or is there a functional problem with it?

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  5. It sounds like a lot of thought went into that bike, both from the framebuilder and whoever assembled it.

    It's ironic that people are now "discovering" those road-to-trail bikes that were made for decades by the French constructeurs as well as a number of English and Japanese builders. They make a lot of sense for people who don't race and who want to (or can) own only one bike.

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  6. THAT is one BEAUTIFUL bike! It looks well used and capable of anything.

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  7. I asked Mike why he calls them Sketchy after I bartered for a frame that was his old cross race frame and he told me because when he made his first a friend said "Dude that looks Sketchy."

    In response to Christopher, Mike is a welder for Seven he makes these steel bikes for friends and family for fun and the love of making bikes.

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  8. Christopher Stefan - I think it is quite similar to a Seven, except steel, specialising in on/off road, lower priced, and a one-on-one experience with a small builder. Some prefer that. Royal H is very different in that Bryan specialises in lugged frames, and as a builder he has a track/racing background.

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  9. Peppy (the also, isn't it time to feed me cat)November 13, 2011 at 4:53 PM

    I like the Scratchy.

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  10. Velouria,
    Ah, I think I get it now. So it is like a custom version of a Surly Cross-Check or Long Haul Trucker? Or if you'd rather a custom TIG welded version of a Bridgestone XO-1 or Rivendell Atlantis.

    The one-on-one experience is very valuable when springing for a custom bike as is a builder who does the same sort of riding you are planning to.

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  11. "So it is like a custom version of a Surly Cross-Check or Long Haul Trucker...or Rivendell Atlantis"

    Hmm I guess the Surly Cross-Check comparison comes closest. But the Sketchy is much lighter and felt faster &more maneuverable than the XCheck I tried in my size.

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  12. Hi! Sketchy owner here. Thanks for the lovely coverage Velouria!
    Just a couple of comments, I chose the components and assembled it myself.

    I agree with the comment about the wiring wrapped around the fork, but at the time that it was built, I didn't think I'd be riding with the dynohub that much, and I also wasn't comfortable-not being in the know- with the idea of internal wiring through my fork. A more suitable solution is in the works in the near future.

    I also agree that a threaded headset and quill stem might be more suitable for riding with the bars as high as I do, but at the time that the bike was built (this time last year actually), I was "in" to threadless. and I still don't mind it at all. I have ridden quill stems for years, and I remember them always creaking and flexing on me, not that that's a bad thing, but I like the solid feel and the silence of my threadless set up. I also love compact bars, they're the bees knees, and I'll never go back to a traditional long reach, deep drop nitto (which I've also ridden with for years).
    I think my bike is just awesome! I've ridden it about 4000 miles within it's first year, it's versatility means that it's replaced 2 of my bikes (which I sold this year) and I really do ride it everywhere! I put nobbies on it for riding through Cutler park, or Gran Bois for heading out to Ptown. Just AWESOME! and Mike is also AWESOME.

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  13. Cycledote....lovely to hear your thoughts. I recently tried the compact bars during a custom fit session and agree, they are the bees knees...the cat's meow :) Also, I won't go back to a quill stem, as much as i adore the looks of my stable of Cinelli and TTT stems, the new set-up is so much more stable. Really love your bike.

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  14. Thank you for commenting Susan! 4000 miles in the first year - that's awesome indeed.

    If I were getting a welded road frame made, I'd go with threadless as well. And I like your handlebars a lot.

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  15. Quill stems creak and flex and are less than stable?
    In which universe?
    Amazing that any quill stem riders are left alive to tell the tale.....

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  16. Though I have not experienced this myself, I've heard a number of former or current quill stem users complain about flex, my husband among them. It may depend on your riding style.

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  17. Bif - I think the stem is 9cm. The bike has a touch of TCO with the wide tires and fenders and I'd want mine to be without, so elongating it would help with that as well.

    cyclotourist - I don't think Mike has a fixed price list yet, so best thing is to get in touch and ask.

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  18. Wondering about this rack, as I'm thinking of getting the same model. Any insights on strengths or limitations?

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  19. I've tried this rack and considered it for the Bella Ciao "Superba." Meant to write a review, but other things got in the way. It is the Tubus Fly and there is also a stainless version, which I love.

    The rack is light, well made, will fit a variety of road/touring bikes without braze-ons for a rack, and includes both bungee loop attachments and a tail light mount. Weight limitation is 18kg (40lb) if I recall correctly. On the downside, some may not like that the platform is quite narrow - so it is meant mostly for panniers, not to carry huge items on top. Also, it will not fit city bikes with tires 700Cx35mm or larger and chunky fenders. On the Bella Ciao it basically hugged the fender. The Sketchy somehow has a lot more clearance there.

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  20. Sounds like an awesome bike,thanks for the mini-review on and links to it,I had never heard of the brand.

    Disabled Cyclist

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  21. "On the Sketchy I could feel the road more, but that feeling was springy and cushioned and therefore not painful. On the Seven it was as if I could not feel the road in the first place."

    This has been my experience too when test riding the two different materials. The Ti has a hollow, disconnected feeling (though smooth and by all accounts a nice ride), while steel has a more solid connection to the ground, making you aware of its presence. It was explained to me by someone working at a bike shop but I've forgotten the reason why.

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  22. Lauren - Yes on the disconnected feeling. I can imagine how for some that would be a reason to dislike titanium, but to me it feels like flying.

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