Overwhelmed by the relentless march of the market and today’s gluttony for high-tech carbon frames that are replaced each season with ‘latest and greatest’ technologies like disc brakes, thru-axles and electronic shifting, we set-out on a journey to Italy, looking for a piece of timeless beauty. Our love for custom bikes led us to Stelbel, where tradition meets modern technology.
So, why get a custom bike? It’s a question that has boggled the minds of many cyclists for decades. An act that involves investing a fair amount of money in order to get your hands on a custom-built steel frame, where the end product is likely to be at least 500 g heavier than an off-the-shelf carbon bike. But once your measurements have been taken and the bike stands in front of you, you’ll understand why. Now you’re the proud owner of a one-off bike that has been masterfully welded, seeing the frame builder furrow their brow in concentration, sweat at the task and perhaps even spill a few drops of sweat, blood and tears in the process.
Custom geometry is what makes such a bike so special; an acute awareness of ‘just right’ that’s not dissimilar from the sartorial poise that comes from wearing bespoke clothes. In fact, once you’ve been suited and booted like this, it’s hard to return to off-the-shelf items.
While many ‘average-shaped’ riders get on great with the fit of standard bikes, for those who’ve got particularly long legs or a short torso – or anything that even nominally differs from a ‘standard’ size – a custom bike is just perfect.
It’s a process that begins with conversations about where and how you’ll ride the bike before moving onto preferences and physique. Then it’s down to your choice of model and taking your measurements. Through years of experience, custom bike builders flex their know-how in creating the perfect frame design with the right bike fit in order to achieve the ultimate product. That’s when one of the hardest decisions comes: choosing a colour. While buying an off-the-shelf bike usually only leaves you with a couple of colourways to choose from, the beauty of a custom frame offers virtually any paint-job imaginable. You might sway between Ferrari red, a Martini Racing design or club colours. Stay true to your own aesthetic compass. Ours reads ‘heritage meets modern’ with a decent dose of Bella Italia. Devoted advocates of the ‘steel is real’ mantra, we’ve opted for a ‘raw’ finish, so as not to hide the beauty of stainless steel.
But now it’s time for a bit of time travel to explain our choices for this custom build…
Stelio Belletti is a veritable master when it comes to custom frames and pioneering technology. He was the first frame builder to opt for TIG welds when creating the very first Stelbel steel fork – a design that is still insurmountable when it comes to weight, performance and aesthetics.
In an era when lugged and brazed frames were the standard, Stelio Belletti, the founder of Stelbel, demonstrated that things could be done differently.
Even today, Stelbel is considered a visionary with a groundbreaking approach to new technology. The overarching mission of Stelbel is to make steel frames even faster, even better, and even more beautiful. But it goes beyond this – the recent launch of the Ti9 is part of an ambition to create the highest quality titanium frame around. Stelbel dearly holds on to tradition, and continues to collaborate with Columbus in order to constantly revise and optimise custom tubing (and yes, that’s without wind tunnel testing or high-end carbon). These days the company thrives under the leadership of Andrea Cimò and Alessandro Caccia.
In 1931 Tullio Campagnolo created the first quick release, setting the stage for a wealth of visionary inventions for the bike. The launch of the first parallelogram derailleur demonstrated the Campagnolo were ahead of the times for drivetrain technology. The Italian brand also contributed to propelling the fastest race car of that era with magnesium rims to victories, as well being part of NASA trips into space with their know-how. Based in Vicenza, the company still has the capacity to stun the market, most recently with the introduction of the first 12-speed groupset, continuing the industry standard of creating more steps within your ultimate gear range.
“It is not the name of Brooks which makes the saddle good, but the saddle, and its excellence, that makes the name supreme,” The Brooks Book for Cyclists, 1912. Since 1866 Brooks have been adding ‘excellence’ to the bike industry, demonstrating an aptitude for quality, durability and aesthetics. Aligned with those high standards, the brand even offer a ‘Brooks Forever’ program with a ten-year guarantee on every saddle.
Deda Elementi – with their HQ on the aptly named Via Leonardo Da Vinci, the amount of style and sophistication that this brand bring to a project won’t surprise you. No other component manufacturer can claim to be as closely linked to steel as Deda. The brand’s roots go back to the turn of the 20th century with Martino Colombo, the grandfather of the Locatelli brothers and co-founder of the legendary A.L. Colombo (better known today as Columbus). Dedacciai has been a vocal pioneer of frame materials, supplying them for a wealth of notable victories including rides by Miguel Indurain on TIG welded steel back in 1992, for Jan Ullrich’s aluminium Team Telekom bikes and Marco Pantani’s hydro-formed Bianchi frame. Since 1999 Deda Elementi has brought its expertise to the component market, at the forefront of certain materials and techniques – including oversized clamps.
The piece of art
At the core of this custom project is a Stelbel frame set, based on the classic Strada Super frame, whose profile, slim tubes and signature Stelbel fork epitomizes the sense of heritage and channels Stelio’s spirit.Now time to unite heritage with high-tech, which would be nothing without the Columbus’ XCr stainless steel tubing. Timeless, virtually indestructible and astonishingly lightweight.
Subtle sophistication is achieved with understated engravings and brushed stainless steel. The bottom bracket is strengthened with Stelbel’s signature aero bridge, which elevates the bike’s responsiveness when out of the saddle.
In the same style as the Strada Super, our custom Stelbel Inox also gets internally routed cables.
But a frame without wheels or a groupset won’t get you far. Movement comes courtesy of Campagnolo, who’ve been on the roads for 85 years – we knew that no other brand would be a better fit for this bike. The top-end Super Record groupset and Bora 35 wheels bring the requisite performance and style.
This groupset is well regarded for its performance, low weight and ergonomics, while the Bora carbon wheels perform well in every condition – at 1,406 g, they’re light enough for any mountain pass, with the structured AC3 (All Condition Carbon Control) braking surface technology to get you down any long and twisty descents with ease and guarantee perfect brake performance in dry and wet conditions. The modest 35 mm rims shouldn’t be susceptible to any interference from crosswinds.
The bike’s finishing kit comes from Deda Elementi, adding yet more of that Italian love for detail-meets-ultra high tech technology. The Deda Superleggero RS Carbon seatpost is not only one of the most beautiful on the market but also weighs in at only 176 g.
The double-butted Deda Piega aluminium bars might not scream ‘high tech’ but they’re a stellar performer. Wondering why we’ve gone for aluminium instead of carbon? The way a bike handles is so dependant on the synergy of all the components; the added rigidity of the aluminium balances out the comfort of the steel fork and translates into a direct, responsive ride.
Often overlooked, saddles are a crucial contact point between rider and bike. The Brooks Cambium C13 is a common sight on the roads, having already become a modern classic. On anything from vintage steel racing bikes to achingly modern carbon whips, those who ride this saddle demonstrate an appreciation for style, comfort and performance. We’ve done enough rides to know that comfort shouldn’t be underestimated, so won’t begrudge the extra grams that this saddle adds to the bike. Of course saddles are a very personal thing and one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Our saddle of choice is the Carved Version of the C13, which utilises vulcanised natural rubber and classic rivets.
The only thing that’s missing now are the tyres. We had no doubts when it came to choosing these – the unanimous favourite within the GRAN FONDO test crew, Vittoria Corsa G+ tyres deliver major comfort and superb grip in all weather conditions. Packaged in a classic style, they’re still able to deliver a performance that’s worthy of a place at the front of any peloton thanks to Vittoria’s graphene technology. The Vittoria tyres are fast rolling, with an emphasis on predictable handling and comfort. Plus, they’re sure to get some admiring glances at your mid-ride coffee stop.
It wouldn’t be fair to such a superlative custom build if it didn’t have the accessories to match: the SILCA Seat Roll Premio with a Boa fastening not only offers modern technology but also significant style. The same applies to the T-Ratchet +Ti torque kit, which is compact, stylish and failsafe when it comes to torque measurements – fortunate really, as those carbon components, such as the Deda Superleggero seatpost, won’t respond well to excess torque.
Frame and fork Stelbel Inox – custom frame and fork
Shifting Campagnolo Super Record 11s
Brakes Campagnolo Super Record
Wheels Campagnolo Bora One 35
Stem Cinelli 1A – custom anodized and engraved
Bars Deda Piega Aluminium
Headset Chris King GripNut Sotto Voce
Seatpost Deda Superleggero RS
Saddle Brooks Cambium C13 Carved 145 mm
Tyres Vittoria Corsa G+ 25 mm
Bottle cage Elite Ciussi Inox
The creation of a custom bike is only the first chapter in a love story, as your relationship with the bike develops with every ride. The custom geometry is a key part of this, inspiring confidence with all the right dimension for the ultimate in handling and comfort in every situation guaranteeing lot of pain free miles. During the short time span since finishing the Stelbel Inox we’ve already covered more than 6,000 km and there are many more to come.
The cobbles of Paris-Roubaix were a fierce test of this steel bike’s comfort, with perceptible compliance lent by the steel fork over bumpy ground. The combination of the steel frame, carbon seatpost and Brooks saddle translates into comfort, a trait that still shows no sign of fading – no matter how far you’re riding, or even if you’re riding over the Alps right down to Bergamo.
On descents the Stelbel knows exactly how to keep you upright. Thanks to the custom geometry, Campagnolo Bora 35 wheels, superb grip from the Vittoria Corsa G+ tyres and the comfort given by the frame and fork, you’ll soar over the tarmac, beating all your personal bests on Strava which have been earned with sweat and blood on thecrème de la crème of the carbon world. The braking track on the Bora 35 lives up to the hype, ensuring superb braking and modulation in all conditions, including the wet.
There are so many reasons to get a custom bike, but only one real emotion that reigns once you have one: chest proudly puffed up, you’ll feel like you own the road on your custom steed. As fitted as a tailored suit, we wouldn’t have it any other way. Our aspiration to unite tradition with the most high-tech technology around has been realised to an extent that we hadn’t even considered possible. The Stelbel Inox draws its share of admirers and continues to prove its worth by tackling the world’s most notorious roads. 6,000 km and counting.
This article is from GRAN FONDO issue #009
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Words: Photos: Valentin Rühl, Manuel Buck, Laura D'Alessandro, Gökhan Kutluer