The Custom Way: How to get exactly the bike you want

Up close with a very personal titanium mountain bike

What happens if your dream mountain bike frame isn’t among the vast range of off-the-peg options? Then you go custom and get exactly what you want.

What Mountain Bike magazine tester Jon commissioned such a frame from British custom titanium specialist Setavento.

Until recently, Setavento offered seemingly impossible value-for-money custom created titanium framesets. Unfortunately, it seems the pricing was too good to be true, and Setavento folded without warning late in 2007.

Nevertheless, this truly custom titanium rendition of the much-loved Marin Rocky Ridge demonstrates what good design can deliver when a cluey rider and a custom builder get together.

Frame: custom tweaks for handling accuracy

What Jon wanted was the handling of his beloved Marin with the weight, springiness and durability of titanium. But he didn't just send his Marin frame to Setavento to copy. He also combined his ideas with feedback from his metallurgy engineer mate Rob to make sure the custom-built bike would ride exactly how he wanted.

Setavento had no problems with switching the top tube brake hose routing for a cleaner line with a UK left-handed rear brake setup. Jon also insisted on a substantial box gusset under the head tube throat to keep the head end from twisting, not just keeping it attached.

He also specced a standard top tube and oversized down tube to keep compliance without losing strength. A 'better safe than sorry' half tube saddle gusset was then added on the top tube junction and the widest possible mudroom created out back.

Components: picked for durability

As an ex-Superbike magazine tester, occasional skunk tester for brands such as RockShox and key member of our component demolition team, Jon has honed down his Dark Peak equipment preferences very clearly.

Being able to handle a RockShox Dual Air Pike was a key aspect of the Setavento's design, on account of the fork's phenomenal reliability and accuracy. Jon has been testing our set of Mavic Crossmax XL wheels for years, too, albeit with a few fresh spokes and a few sets of freehub giblets to keep them going. The broad rims bulk out the excellent Schwalbe Nobby Nic tyres, both in 2.25in UST tubeless format for shrugging off those pointy Peak District rocks.

Original, but Freeridespain.com trip-proven XT brake levers sit alongside scarred XT Rapidfire and ODI lock-on grips and Easton Monkey Lite bars, connected cleanly by a 90mm Hope stem. Race Face Turbine cranks on an SKF ISIS bottom bracket are proving much longer-lived than any external bearing setup, too. 

New USE Sumo seat post replaces a bust Race Face one (the frame was fine, though), while a classic WTB perch makes epic rides like the 'Stoopid Loop' as comfortable as possible.

Ride: balanced & biddable, springy & stingless 

Bearing in mind that any custom frame you have built will reflect your preferences, and this frame reflects Jon’s how does all this custom loveliness ride?

The Setavento engaged us instantly; everything meshes superbly.

The geometry was based exactly on Jon's original 2004 Rocky Ridge layout. The result is a slightly steeper, sharper-steering beast than the '08 Rocky Ridge, but still a rock-steady gunship for blasting down the rocky technical descents of Jon's Peak District patch.

As planned, the straight gauge front end with its extra gussets produces a tight and tactile link to the super accurate Pike fork up front, but things definitely smooth out towards the rear. It'll still clunk if you clobber something hard at low speeds, but get some pace into the situation and it'll float and skim over the sharps in classic titanium style. The standard diameter top tube means there's no hand buzz or sting when you're working the front end hard, either.

Standover clearance on the radically sloped frame is ample, and there's plenty of space under the belly to clear rocks and logs without needing a bash guard. Its compact dimensions make it really easy to move around when normal body positions aren't enough to keep you in control, too.

Push it hard through corners and the balance is excellent. Push your weight forward over the front to nail the Pike into the turn, or sit amidships on faster turns and let it naturally drift the rear end a little as it fluctuates slightly in response to side loads. Even when the fork is diving hard under braking or impacts, the front end stays controlled and biddable rather than tucking under and jack-knifing.

You can definitely feel the slight spring in the power delivery compared with alloy bikes. What instant kick you might miss is amply compensated by the extra traction and connection created over rough ground.

Despite the heavy-duty fork and sturdy kit, the Setavento is a consistently quick and agile bike, either on long climbs or stop-go singletrack. Speccing a longer top tube for more breathing space will require a stiffer tube set to maintain the overall dovetailed feel, though.

Summary

You might not be able to get a Setavento any more, but Jon's ride proves that any custom bike is only as good as the original idea you come up with.

This means that ordering a custom from other companies offering a similar service will result in a dream bike for patient riders with either a lot of experience and engineering savvy, or those who just want a classic ride with the cable guides exactly where they like them.

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