I was in bed when Jeff texted me.
Not asleep. Yet. Just sitting up, sipping bourbon, and retyping stupid dumb sentences that I hate and are terrible in an effort to jump start something inside of me. (Anything) Because aside from passing out rereading the same three pages in a book I may never finish, that’s apparently what I do at night.
(Squinting with increasingly bad eyes at my phone to see who the fuck was texting me at this hour. Oh. Jeff. Hi Jeff)
“You should hire me to build you a single speed.”
“Ha! Let’s do it!”
I never confirmed, but I would guess that he had just read (skimmed) my last Editor’s Choice Awards for Bikerumor, wherein I mentioned the possibility of a custom Wilde. Regardless, I was all in. Staff and customers at the shop like to tease me… because for someone who hates “gravel” I sure do have a lot of gravel bikes. It’s probably because I love “gravel.” (What? But you said…) It’s complicated. Gravel and I are like that torrid affair who try not to talk anymore, but still instagram stalk the fuck out of each other, and occasionally send drunk 2am texts.
Actually, it’s pretty simple. I love long, quiet, low-traffic dirt roads. I hate the self-congratulatory shitshow that riding them seems to engender.
And it’s not that I’m an N+1 kind of guy either. Outside of my problematic hoarding of plastic trash for no reason other than to keep it out of the landfill, I’m always actively trying to purge the things I own. But there you have it; Four gravel bikes. In a sprawling suburban yawn of a city with no real gravel to be had.
More on that another time. (So much more.)
Things I knew I wanted:
-A racey bike. Something steel and durable, but fast and light. Something to take on my long trips, but also maybe race Unbound, again. Gravel Worlds. UnPAved. True Grit. Appalachian Journey. Verboten Schotter, or some other whoevenfuckingknows event again. I’ve enjoyed the shit out of my heavy bikes and decided not-race times of late. But… call it a mid-life crisis. IDFK.
-A longer top tube. It makes sense; Jeff’s bikes fit Jeff, whether that was with All City or now with Wilde. But at 6′ even, I land solidly in that nowhere of being slightly too big for his large (55) and too small for the xl (58). I needed a 56.5 top tube at least. Maybe 57 depending on the reach.
-Some sort of slider or rocker dropout so I could seamlessly transition between singlespeed and geared. Because dumb.
Outside of that? I let Jeff pick the lengths, widths, heights, and angles. I mean… it’s his bike brand. Show me what you got.
We went back and forth a little on the paint. Damn, does that boy love a fade. Me not so much. And he listened patiently while I made aureate pronouncements about being a 90’s MTB kid in love with Herboldian kaleidoscopes of zebra stripes and pink. In the end… we went with something clean and subtle that still popped. A metal flaked black with a specific shade of pink that he had recently come across. I gotta say, it’s pretty fucking perfect.
I’d hoped to have the frame in time for Rule of Three last May, but eh… not quite. And even when it arrived soon after, I still didn’t have some of the key pieces I wanted. So I let it simmer. It’s not like I had any pressing events on my calendar. And travel has been hard of late. Sometimes I would get close to a complete build and a customer would need a part I’d squirreled away. Or I’d overthink something. (Never) Or the Nausea would creep back in. And start the waiting game all over again.
But about a week ago, it finally came together.
Ummm…. It’s pretty great.
Because it was baby’s first custom gravel-bike, I gave myself some boujee leeway. I wanted to build it up “nice.” Can I afford nice things? Do I deserve nice things? God, no. Call it a midlife crisis. IDFK.
The Main Deets:
Industry Nine Ultralite 250 TRA Carbon Wheels. I resisted carbon wheels forever. 1) They are expensive. 2) Why would I be worthy of that? and 3) Even. More. Plastic. In. The. World. I don’t have any great logic as to why I’ve given myself a pass, save that I am a very big deal washed-up has-been C+(-) racer. The initial plan was to carry an XD freehub body and cassette for on the fly swaps, but currently I have an older set of Ultralite 250 CX Carbon wheels as my ready to roll geared set. Because apparently I’m a boujee bitch.
White Industries G30 Crank and BB. What? They’re just really nice. Light. Strong. Nice. And made in the USA. And also nice.
Sram Force AXS. Sigh… I had a feeling it would eventually come to this. But for one reason and one reason only: The ease and cleanliness of transitioning back and forth to singlespeed. (Don’t even get me started.) Remove the derailleur. Swap chains. Swap cassettes/cogs. (Or wheels) And it’s done. No fucking with cables or housing or wires and what to do with them when not in use. Let me be honest and clear… I hate Shimano Di2. I just don’t see the appeal. It seems like all of the hassle of routing cables, and fucking with batteries, but with no great benefit. Smoother shifting? Beepboopbeep? It’s kind of like E-bikes. I just. don’t. care. But SRAM AXS wireless?… So easy. No lie, the shifting is fucking weird. It is. Left hand to downshift. Right hand to upshift. Which can be awkward. But you know what else is awkward?
I decided to go with the mechanical-brake version of AXS, because when traveling, I can easily maintenance a cable replacement, but a fleld-bleed on hydraulics not so much.
HA! That actually sounded pretty good, but the reality is that at some point during Covid, I apparently ordered two sets of the non-hydro caliper-brake brifters for the shop? And well… that’s what I get and deserve (Dumbass). Although they actually feel really good. So, yeah. Currently I have them paired with some TRP Spyres, but might one day swap them out for secret Paulcomp Klampers I have stashed away. Or maybe I’ll legit go hydraulic. Who even knows? Who even cares?
I think there’s an Easton AX 90 handlebar on there now? Because I had one? But it’s highly possible that it’s a recalled Whisky. (Hmmm. I should probably check that out.) A Thomson stem and seatpost. Just because. Brooks C13 saddle. Because that’s my go to. And tires come and go, but currently I’m trying some of Ronnie and Patrick’s Rosé JFFs on one wheelset and REEN HERS Steilacooms on the other.
Last weekend, I took the bike down to Uwharrie and managed to find some roads I’d never ridden (which is hard, because I’ve ridden them extensively). And I have to say… goddamn. God. Damn. Maybe it’s just having a bike that really fits me. Maybe it’s the super great spec that I picked. (Me!) Maybe it was just the ride and that soul-glow that comes with finding new roads (which is my absolute favorite). Or maybe the frame really is that nice. But I had such a good ride. I wouldn’t call myself taciturn, but I’m certainly not effusive about things. (Unless I’m really drunk or stricken with l’amour fou.) I think I get it from my mother, but my normal rating for anything outside of “the fucking worst” is typically “fine,” regardless of how good it actually was. I enjoy the shit out of riding long miles on all my other bikes, and if you asked me how they rode, I’d tell you. “Fine.” Why? What do you want me to say? What are you asking? Why are you talking to me? Is that your breath? Are we done here?
But my Wilde? It rode “pretty fucking great.”
And that… is a “pretty fucking big deal.”
WattsFappening. (Probably. We’ll see.)