Doing it all the hard way...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Curtlo CX frame review

Proud Evo with the orange machine

I was assessing my season and had come to the realization that my bike handling skills had gone from a D to a B. It was a long time coming. Then reluctantly I realized it wasn’t me, it was the bike.

In 2009 I was fortunate enough to upgrade to a Curtlo Steel CX frame. For a completely custom frame it was very affordable and it was built by a true veteran frame builder residing in the wilderness Nirvana of Winthrop, Washington.

My past CX riding had been on three different aluminum frames. I started on a Specialized CX frame with a Campy drive train. I later sold that frame and went to a Kona Jake the Snake. I added a carbon fork and although I painted the Jake and loved the way it looked, I was forever washing out the front wheel and it just didn’t seem to want to hook up when the terrain was rough. I picked up a spare Ibex CX frame which I built into a single speed, and despite the anonymity of the Ibex bike name, that frame (to me) handled the best of the three aluminum frames. The Ibex later evolved into a commuter bike for me.

My hope was that a custom steel bike would fit me better and provide a more compliant platform. I could not imagine being any happier with the results. I wanted a more upright riding position to improve handling and a slightly sloping top tube to give some clearance without looking like a step through frame. I was able to pick my color and discussed my desired ride characteristics at length with Doug Curtiss (The “Curt” in Curtlo).

I am big for a cyclist, but I am usually able to find a decent fit at the top end of most stock frame sizes. Lucky for me, I am not tall or wide enough that I need to shop for clothing in special stores. About the only real oddity is that I run 180 cranks when I can find them, and for my cross bike I haven’t found them.

When I first saw my CX frame, it was proud to be in my team color of “Eddy” orange and sported a tall head tube, which I had said was okay. The sizing was perfect and it made going from my road bike to my cross bike painless. I had asked for the holy grail of bike building, a compliant back end for traction and comfort, and stiff front triangle so when I applied the power it went into forward progress rather than frame flex. Once again, the Curtlo frame delivered. The elegant tubes were shaped to provide the stiffness I wanted and the seat stays are gently curved to enhance the compliance. The joints are beautiful and the simple lines give the bike a timeless look that speaks class.

I had won some SRAM swag at a race a while back and had set up my commuter with SRAM Rival controls and drive train. My oldest was riding that and when I was tuning it for him I was so impressed with the ergonomics I stripped off my Campagnolo Record right shifter (and Chubby left hand brake lever) and installed the SRAM shifters. They work like a dream with my Campy Chorus back end. I picked up a Dura Ace crankset (175) with worn out rings and painted it black and coupled that with a Chris King BB to complete my Rodney King (Can’t we all just get along?”) build.

The frame is able to handle the stiff crankset, yet I can stand up for anything loose without losing traction. I still have to keep it planted to maintain grip on slippery mud uphill’s. I can roll through corners faster and with much more control than any aluminum frame. I also haven’t washed out my front end once all year. It is light and agile and the angles are perfect for cross.

A few seasons ago the guy I always found myself battling in the final lap was a fellow named Steve. I would power past him on climbs and long straights only to have him squirt past me on technical sections. I was all muscle and he had the bike handling skills. Although I haven’t seen Steve for a couple years, this season I was the one with the bike handling skills and when I combined that with the power that I still have, I was pleased with the results. Part way through the season I also made the leap to tubular tires and that was also a huge improvement. Based on the time I rode on clinchers, I am convinced the frame was fully half the equation.

Evo flying atop the Orange flash !

There is more than a little Karma packed into the frame from its builder Doug Curtiss. While some proudly point to their carbon steeds that were made far away in smelly factories by people wearing (I hope) hairnets, goggles and breathing apparatus. I feel an eerie power from the Zen that went into metal tubes that were measured, cut, ground, shaped and welded by a man whom I have met and talked with. I know the bike was made in a place where the air is fresh and the snow piles high in winter. I am honored to ride the handiwork of the artisan who crafted my bike with the same skill that he used built bikes that were ridden in the Olympics and in races around the world.

This is an awesome ride !

1 comment:

markfishler said...

I loved your blog. I am getting my Curtlo bike in september 2010 (hopefully). I agree with you that there is something special about getting a custom made bike
made in the USA by an artisan that cares about the product he is making. I also think that part of the pleasure is the anticipation. Waiting for weeks and talking with Doug about the bike makes it very much like a kid waiting for Christmas. I am sure that my experience will be every bit as good as yours

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