Monday, April 30, 2012

Smoothies All Around!

Soma Smoothies on the Minuteman Trail
No sooner had I returned from New York over the weekend, than the Soma Smothie I'd been anticipating for review had arrived. So I took a break from the loop frame delirium of the New Amsterdam Bicycle Show and immediately took it for a spin. Soma roadbikes are not very common here on the East Coast. So imagine my surprise when on my way home I encountered another Smoothie!

650B Converts
As I stopped to snap some pictures at the end of my ride, these gentlemen recognised me and we had a nice chat about their 650B conversions - one a vintage Andre Bertin and the other a Soma Smoothie ES with a Bontrager fork. I am so happy to be back home! Where else but in Boston does one encounter this sort of thing?

Soma Smoothie
But enough about other people's bikes for now, and here is more about the one I am riding. This Soma Smoothie is on loan for review directly from the manufacturer. It is a 52cm steel frameset that was built up to accommodate my Campagnolo lever preferences, which was very nice of them. Everything shown on the bike is directly from Soma, except for my bag and pedals.

Soma Smoothie
I have not weighed the bike yet, but (without saddlebag) it feels pretty similar to my vintage Moser - so I'd say around 21lb. Described as a road/race frame, the Smoothie nonetheless has eyelets for fenders and clearances for 28mm tires.

Crankbrothers Candys, Soma Smoothie
One thing it does't have? Toe overlap! That's right: Here is a stock 52cm road/racing bike with no TCO. They exist. I wear size 37-38 shoes and with 23mm tires there is a boatload of clearance (well maybe it's a small boat, but still). I can definitely fit it with 25mms without a problem, maybe even 28mm.

Soma Smoothie
The pearly white colourscheme is adaptable to a wide range of aesthetics, from classic to colourful to stark. The TIG welded frame will not satisfy lug lovers but is solid and smooth-jointed. It is a versatile, unobtrusive frameset. A carbon fork is available in place of the standard steel one for those wishing to go that route.

Soma Smoothie
This is not a review, so I won't go over the details of the build at this stage. But as far as first impressions (and mind you this is after just 25 miles), a couple of things stand out: First, it is smooth - as advertised. And I am talking about ride quality: very comfy over bumps and I do not feel any road vibration. And second, it handles tamely and predictably. No twitchiness and very precise cornering at the moderate speeds maintained during my conservative "shake down" ride. 

Soma Smoothie ES
The Smothie ES owner I met on the road is very happy with his bicycle, which he's got outfitted with 32mm tires and fenders. I will refrain from writing more about the bike I have on loan until I ride it extensively, but at under $400 for the frame, I am impressed so far. We need more of these on the East Coast and I hope some local shops will carry floor models in the near future. 

55 comments:

  1. While I'm generally not a fan of whites (and the near whites) as a bike colour, the pink metal fittings, matching the tire tread, and the greens in the bar tape and saddle make this a pretty attractive build.

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  2. That color scheme is just perfect - the pink really pops against the white frame, while the green bars and tape keep it from becoming overly sweet or expected. Did you choose it?

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    1. The bars and saddle yes, the pink stuff I did not choose per se but agreed to. They only had these brakes in stock at the time they were doing the build and it seemed like a fun idea. I do think it came together well, a light-hearted springtime sort of look.

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    2. The pink brake cable crimps are from Peppy's private collection. I think they match the brakes/headset nicely.

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  3. That Green Brooks saddle is gorgeous.

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    1. That is actually a Cardiff saddle from Soma. Here is a close-up. VO sells the same saddles under their own brand.

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    2. So VO Saddles and Cardiff ARE one and the same then? I just picked up a VO Mod 1 for the road bike, and it seems to be a pretty good quality for the price.

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    3. VO Saddles are made by the Taiwanese company Gyes. Gyes saddles are also marketed under a bunch of other names like M-Wave. So I suppose the Cardiffs are also made by Gyes.

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    4. Right, that is a better way of putting it.

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  4. There aren't a lot of Soma's around here in Virginia but there are a few well loved examples, Smoothies and a mountain bike or two. They do seem to be all over the place in Texas and Colorado though. I've ridden a few.

    They strike me as a contemporary version of the better 80s Japanese race bikes we all used to buy when we had just wrecked our latest fancy Italian bike and were too poor to buy another. Well designed, middle of the road for weight/stiffness/ride quality and tough as nails. There even used to be a Japanese Soma brand but I don't think there's any connection.

    The Soma's I've seen look so much like Surly's(of which there are a bunch around here) in finish and detail that I can't help but think they're all made by one family of elves in the same hollow tree somewhere.
    I'd be interested to see how they got so much toe clearance with that set-up so don't keep us waiting.

    The shop we're setting up might be stocking some Soma's to fill in the gaps in the Specialized line-up we're carrying. It's cool that they don't change as much from year to year as the bikes from the Big 3 and they don't have a rigid dealer arrangement but it does mean there are fewer screaming close-out deals to be had for us skinflints.

    Spindizzy

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    1. I am interested in how they achieved the lack of TCO also. The front-center is 582.45mm (not listed on their geometry chart), which works for me.

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    2. A dimension given to 0.01mm just has to be calculated, not measured. Measure it. Measure the right side. Measure the left side. The reason to do this is that the next bike you meet with identical derived front-center could be quite different. Catalog 72.5 degree head could easily be shorthand for 72.384 and there's no way you would know. Then there's sample variation. And, presuming the person holding the rule is able to make reproducible measurements accurate to 1mm, equal left and right is a proxy for frame alignment/quality.

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  5. Somas are as common as dirt here; my dirtball friend owns a Smoothie in fact.

    I'd be very surprised if this thing handled anything but well or ridden anything but smoothly.

    Positioning itself in line w/Surly wrt prices I can see if it rides more lively than Surlyesque it would be a very attractive option.

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    1. I have nothing against common as dirt, if it's good quality, rides well and decent looking!

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    2. Uh oh. I spy a sssloping top ttube.

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  6. So cute that you have already got the clipless pedals on this bike! But I wonder, did they contribute to how much toe clearance you are getting?

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    1. Ha yes, I am very proud : )

      Re clearance: Well, my feet are in the same position on the pedals as they were with Power Grips, so it shouldn't make any difference I don't think. But moreover I had put PG pedals on them first, so I did try both setups (no TCO in either).

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    2. I don't think they do. Tight powergrips don't let the foot slide further on the pedal than clipless. I think some cages may protrude further.

      I suppose if one uses flat pedals and regularly sticks their foot out (and has large shoes) then 58cm front center may result in a bit of touching, but on a road bike with foot retention, it's probably fine for most shoe sizes/pedals combinations as it is. People with giant shoes probably will ride a bigger frame.

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    3. The cages on pedals with traditional toe clips do protrude pretty far and exacerbate TCO. One of the many reasons why they are the devil.

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    4. No love for traditional toe clips from Velouria? That is funny! They certainly make bicycles more lovely.

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    5. The "lovely bicycle" concept (oh how often I wish I'd thought of a different name...) was never meant to be synonymous with retrogrouchiness. There are aspects of vintage bicycles I like and there are those I am glad we now have better solutions for. The toe clips fall into the latter category. If used properly (i.e. actually tightened) they are far more dangerous than the foot retention systems we have today, and it irks me that their cute vintagey look completely overrides that in people's minds.

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    6. When I got my first "good" bicycle in 1987, the shop staff set it up with toe clips and showed me how to use them. They said the straps should be loose, and that only racers tighten their toe straps -- and I've used them that way ever since.

      With loose straps, toe clips are an ideal foot retention system for commuting and touring. They work with any shoes, they are easy to get in and out of, they provide enough attachment for pedal lift, and they keep the feet from slipping off the pedals.

      However, it's certainly true that toe clips can aggravate TCO, so if that's an issue for you, I can see why you prefer other solutions. And I agree that modern pedal binding systems are safer and better than tight toe straps for fast road riding. But I do think there are good reasons to choose toe clips besides their vintage look.

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    7. TCO is not the main reason I dislike toe clips. As you've been cycling since 1987 you are obviously more experienced than I am and I respect that. People have different preferences and in the end we just have to agree to disagree.

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  7. I owned a Soma Double Cross before getting a custom built bike and I liked it alot. Unfortunately the stock geometry didn't work well for me, I was on a smaller frame than was comfortable. For the money I think they are a bit nicer than the Surleys.

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  8. The steep seat angle of 75o really helps with getting the front wheel out there. The slightly slack head angle of 72.5o also helps.

    I really like the look of this bike :)

    I am interested in what the gearing is? What is the rear cassette size and which rear der did you use?

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    1. ^Given this sta it will be interesting to see if you can your desired setback. Got a straight post on it now...

      I like the big pie plate - nice to have climbing bail out options. From the rear it looks like a 19-39.

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    2. The rear derailleur and cassette are Campagnolo Veloce. The cassette is 12-28t.

      I do not know what I was thinking with the straight seatpost on a bike with a 75deg ST; I will switch it out for one with setback soon.

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  9. Christopher FotosMay 1, 2012 at 8:44 AM

    Nothing could make me happier than to see Velouria reviewing a Smoothie, or any Soma. I bought my Smoothie ES from Oasis Bike Works in Fairfax, Va. They did a great job helping me choose components and building it up. I'm intriqued by the 650B conversion because I've thought of doing it as well with the goal, if that would do the trick, of eliminating toe overlap--unlike V's test Smoothie, it is an issue at least on my generation of the Smoothie ES with 700s. (Soma reduced confusion by just calling these two models the Smootie, and the ES).

    More later but I just had to jot this down before the work day starts. I was smiling the whole time I was reading this.

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    1. I reviewed another Soma here last year - the Buena Vista with a 650B build.

      The ES does have more TCO than the regular Smoothie, in 52cm at least. They asked mw which bike I wanted to try, and I specifically asked for the Smoothie because the front-center looked promising compared to the other models in my size.

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  10. I got a Smoothie ES a few years ago after two shops independently recommended it. Great ride, zero bullshit bike. Seems well manufactured, even if it doesn't have all the little details that the aesthetes crave. In the 62 cm size, built with Rival, a carbon fiber fork, and a 350 mm Thomson seatpost, it comes in at 21.6 lb. I would love to get a Soma 29r hardtail mountain bike, but I wish they made a larger size.

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  11. Since the Smoothie ES has been mentioned here several times, I just wanted to point out that it is not the same bike as the one I am reviewing. The Smoothie has road race geometry, whereas the ES is "road sport." I believe they also have different tire clearances and slightly different tubing.

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  12. I look forward to a fuller review of the Smoothie. Another reviewer described a 54 cm built up to just under 20 lb and agreed with the smoothness, tho' remarking that the Smoothie was probably slower than "racing" bikes. The SOMA site claims 4.0 lb for the 54, not at all bad; after all, Tange Prestige is nice stuff. And a number of sites advertise the frame at well under $400. But I can't find a geometry chart for the angles and top tubes and talk of a 74.5* st angle makes me wonder if this frame is for me who need a 72* or shallower seat angle. Am I right in thinking that the Smoothie has compact geometry? Any suggestions where to find complete geometry specs?

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    1. Sorry, spoke too soon: Soma has the complete geometry on a tab at their frame page. 57.0 effective tt for the 58 st, my size, and a st angle of 73* which is doable with a very large setback saddle. I will be very interested to hear of others' reviews of the ride and handling.

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    2. I wonder if that reviewer was weighing the bike with saddle and pedals as I do? I am guessing no, but don't know. Either way, the bike could be built up lighter if I were to install a straight out Campagnolo group instead of the Campy/IRD medley currently on there. I think the wheels and tires on my Moser might help as well. Still, we're not talking about a dramatic difference here.

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    3. Dunno. It's a very minor issue, at least for me -- a nice-riding 22 lb road bike would be a very desirable addition to the stable -- but, fwiw, my 58 cm '03 Riv f/f/headset weighed in at 7 lb and built up to 18.75 lb with one chainring/shifter. (It's now a fixed gear.) I imagine that a 58 cm Smoothie, all dressed, could come in well under 22 lb with nothing silly light on it. (Just did a 20-miler, dirt+pavement, on my what, 35 lb? Fargo with 800 gram, 45 mm SnoCat SL -- = Superlite!! -- rims, 800 gram, 60 mm Big Apple "Liteskin" (hah!) tires and 200 gram tubes with a 20 -gusting-to-35 headwind from the west as I slowly and painfully crawled up the hills. 22 lb would be magic!)

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    4. Interesting. So are you including saddle & pedals in that 18.75lb figure? Because my Mercian Reynolds 631 fixed gear is over 20lb.

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    5. Saddle (original issue Flite, which I choose for comfort) and Speedplay X-2s, with two (Nitto "Butterfly" bottle cages but no bag, pump, computer, etc. Note that the wheels are 559 bsd with 22 mm Specialized Turbos or 23 mm Conti GPs -- smaller wheels are considerably lighter than larger ones. Phil titanium 113 mm bb, single 46-ring TA 5 Pro Vis crankset, 11-23 10 sp cassette. And, I am embarrassed to say it, a titanium (quill) stem binder bolt. But that's the extent of the light stuff. The almost identical '99 Riv, built as a fixed gofast, is a lb lighter.

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    6. Try the Moser wheels. Easiest way to compare tires. Much of the road feel on any bike is the tires. Soma tires are Panasonic with the distinct Panasonic feel.

      20lbs plus on the Mercian includes heavy heavy tires.

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    7. Moser tires are 23mm carbon krylions, fairly light. Campy wheels on the Moser aren't much lighter than the A23 wheels on the Smoothie. Some, but not a lot.

      Mercian tires are heavier for sure but still kevlar bead and we're splitting hairs. Mercian wheels are somewhat heavier I suppose, definitely front, not sure about rear.

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    8. I knew it!

      ATTENTION: THE "SMOOTHIE" IS SMOOTH IN NO SMALL PART TO THE A23 RIMS. WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF WIDE ROAD RIMS.

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  13. Christopher FotosMay 1, 2012 at 12:22 PM

    Since the Smoothie ES has been mentioned here several times, I just wanted to point out that it is not the same bike as the one I am reviewing. The Smoothie has road race geometry, whereas the ES is "road sport." I believe they also have different tire clearances and slightly different tubing.

    Yes, I didn't say this very clearly before. When I bought mine a few years ago, Soma sold the Smoothie and the Smoothie ES. (extra smooth). I think this eventually caused enough confusion--because they were indeed different--so they now just have the Smoothie and the ES.

    Thanks for the Buena Vista link Velouria.

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  14. For a blog like yours I imagine it is difficult to strike a balance between reviewing bikes that you are personally interested in and bikes that appeal to a wider audience. But I think this one succeeds! I am trying to decide between the Surly Pacer and the Soma Smothie and looking forward to your review.

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    1. I agree about the wide appeal of this bicycle. That said, I am not necessarily interested in catering to a wide audience. Not because this blog is "elitist," but because there is a number of excellent blogs out there already that review popular, commonly available bikes. They are better at it than I am. My reviews work best when they are of niche products I am excited about. I believe there is a benefit to having a focus.

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    2. Is "niche" pronounced as "nitch", "neesh", or "Nietzsche" ?

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  15. see lots of soma es bike around, but not so much the regular smoothies; looking forward to your review! - cait

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  16. To which niche does the smoothie belong?

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    1. Good question. I guess it is a fairly classic, comfortable, highly customisable bicycle made by a small manufacturer. Most bicycles I feature here fall into this category.

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  17. This is a very nice bike, no argument. But I wonder how accurate it is to describe it as "excellent for stage races and competitive club rides" Has anybody actually raced on a Soma Smoothie? Or is it the same deal as the Surly XCheck, which is a great bike but not really used for cross. Please take it on a club ride at least and compare to your Moser, I am genuinely curious.

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    1. I will definitely take it on some fast rides and share my impressions. So far I can only say that the Soma is suspiciously comfortable. Not sure how to describe it, but I feel relaxed and settled in, as if my positioning is less aggressive than it actually is. The Moser by comparison feels as if it is in a constant state of anticipation. Maybe what I am really sensing is the Moser's twitchiness, I don't know. But it's an interesting difference I sensed right off the bat.

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  18. "excellent for stage races and competitive club rides"

    Ha! Fast club rides yes.

    Stages races...wth are you guys smoking?

    The known variables on what constitutes good geometry in "average" sizes has been quantified as is pretty well known.

    Lately "good" geo has made its way to smaller bikes too.

    Your Moser, aside from spotty QC, the dent and its usage/age, was born in an era of experimentation.

    In other words, an army of smart Taiwanese engineers know a lot more about this stuff than many of the "name" italo-artisans.

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  19. NICE looking bike,looking forward to more on it! Glad you made it home safely,my friend :)

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  20. My son and I built up two bikes this Christmas. A Smoothie for him and an ES for me. His is all Sram Rival with black Thompson seatpost and stem, Velocity wheels, 28c tires green Brooks saddle and bar wrap and green Chris King headset. Really gorgeous. My Es has Campy Veloce, Brooks, Nitto, 32c Grand Bois Cypres tires-also beautiful. They both ride really well- pretty much as described. The Smoothie is smooth, but feels very tight, climbs very well and feels/is fast. The ES is more relaxed, but still very responsive. I was going down a steep downhill run tonight (40 mph without pedaling)-the bike had that nice balance between feeling stable yet still very responsive to steering. I also think the finish is a real step up from Surlys I've seen.

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  21. Lot's of Cross Checks at the races here. Not in the frantic top classes but in the rather larger fields of 35 to 50 year old dudes doing it for fun(?), yes. Lots.

    Spindizzy

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  22. When should we expect a full review? I am very interested as I will be getting rid of my Look frame and going back steel. This frame has caught my eye and looking forward to your assessment!

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