Given the chance to test a custom bike, Cycling Plus's Warren Rossiter considered getting a titanium or carbon ﬁbre dream machine from a high-end racing brand.
But his boss, editor Rob Spedding, beat him too it (his review of the Viner Perfecta will appear on BikeRadar soon), and Warren decided that if he was going to get something bespoke and expensive, it should ideally be versatile and comfortable as well as fun.
He’d met Joe Ingram, chief ﬁnance ofﬁcer of Independent Fabrications, at the 2008 Eurobike show where they had chatted at length about the ethos of Independent, and the history of the brand, so he knew where to turn. The result was this Club Racer, which has completely changed his opinion of custom bikes.
- Frame: Expert advice pre-design and build makes for a bike that ﬁts like a glove, incredible attention to detail and a fabulous ride (10/10)
- Handling: Designed for big miles, but responds perfectly when you want to push it (10/10)
- Equipment: Affordable groupset and ﬁnishing kit to keep costs relatively achievable (9/10)
- Wheels: Mavic Ksyrium Elites are lightweight, solid and dependable, though with hindsight a pair of handbuilt hoops would have looked more in keeping with the Indy’s classic ﬁnish (9/10)
Built to last
Started in 1995 after the closure of pioneering mountain bike company Fat City Cycles, IF set out to make bespoke bikes to the highest standards from the best materials.
I contacted Joe and a long series of conversations ensued, where I described the sort of riding that I would be doing on the bike – namely big rides and big miles, the occasional sportive, and I’d also like to give some light touring a go. My ideal bike would be relatively affordable and tough enough to last. Let’s face it, an expensive custom bike for most of us would be a once-in-a-lifetime option.
The Club Racer is IF’s take on the classic British light tourer or audax bike. My own race bike feels more than comfortable enough, so I asked if the dimensions and geometry could be based on that. No worries there – Joe explained that IF will make whatever you require, though the company’s designers will give some input using the knowledge they’ve gained over many moons creating bikes.
The next step was to ﬁll out IF’s extensive spec template: numerous body measurements, measurements taken from my most comfortable bike, any injuries or aches and pains from normal riding… This was then sent off to the design team – something that can be processed by IF’s UK dealer Mosquito Bikes, who will take all of your measurements in the shop, interview you about your riding and handle the process if you so wish.
Just a few days later, the designers at IF came back with a plan drawing of the frameset complete with all my requirements and in a conﬁguration very similar to my own bike, with some suggested tweaks to the dimensions. First, they’d added a bit of height to the steerer-tube to give a more comfortable position (reducing the drop from saddle to bar) and suggesting that, because of my size and shape, adding 0.5cm to the top tube would give me a better ﬁtting bike. In view of their experience I deferred to their suggestions. They’re the ones that have been making frames for the past decade and a half, after all.
Painting by numbers
Then it was time to decide on the ﬁnish. IF said they could match the Alpha Q fork of my race bike with one with exactly the same rake and trail but with the addition of mudguard eyelets, painted to match whatever colour I chose.
IF offer 23 colours as standard, plus three specials and four levels of custom paint which you can design yourself if you’re feeling creative! They also offer three different logo designs in 12 colour combinations, so the chances are that whatever you choose you’ll never see another like it when you’re out on the road. However, to try to keep to the ‘relatively affordable’ cost I went for a standard deep metallic blue with black/white standard box logos.
When it came to the ﬁnishing kit, I chose an aluminium bar and stem from 3T – a wide, shallow drop Ergosum Pro handlebar and 100mm ARX Pro stem, both of which were recommended for their stiffness. For the groupset I went for comparatively modest 2009 Campagnolo Centaur, complete with an alloy compact chainset, and for light but strong wheels that wouldn’t break the bank I opted for some Mavic Ksyrium Elites.
The saddle is a classic styled Selle San Marco Regal complete with brass rivets, the deep drop Shimano brakes give clearance for fatter tyres should I need them, and ﬁnishing the bike off are some wide Honjo polished mudguards.
For tests we always strip the bikes down to check weights of components and to look at the workmanship. The Club Racer is astonishing – the frame is so perfectly built with all but the seat tube sealed to prevent corrosion. It’s made from True Temper tubing, which was chosen to match the rider weight and intended use (IF also use tubesets from Columbus and Reynolds). The paint ﬁnish is the best I’ve ever seen and the dropouts, brake bridge and cable guides ooze quality. We’d heard tales of how well IF frames were ﬁnished and had always been a little sceptical, but now I’ve seen it for myself.
So, did the ride live up to the excellent service and beautifully realised machine? In short, yes, very much so. I don’t know whether it’s the tweaks to the geometry or the quality of the frame, but the Club Racer is an absolute joy to ride. On long days in the saddle at a reasonable pace it’s one of the most comfortable bikes I’ve ever ridden; on the shortish, fast blast of my 12-mile hilly commute it excels; on climbs it’s light and lithe at 19.1lb (8.6kg), and on descents it’s as stable and surefooted as the super-stiff Storck race bike the geometry was based on.
I haven’t tried it touring yet, though I have ridden it with panniers (the chainstays are extra long at 425mm to allow for heel clearance when I’m riding with bags), but I’ve planned some tours in both Britain and the Continent as soon as the weather improves, and I’m pretty conﬁdent that it’ll cope admirably.
The Club Racer has completely changed my outlook on custom bikes. Before this test I’d always thought of them as a bit of an unnecessary indulgence – I’m fairly standard sized so why would I need it, especially given the likely extra cost over a similar off-the-peg machine? But riding the IF is just outstanding, it ﬁts me so well – I’ve even changed the setup of my own bike, sliding the saddle back half a centimetre, and it feels better – thanks IF!
Of course all of this does come at a price: £1,595 for a frame and fork isn’t cheap by any standards, and you might not want to pay over £3,000 for a complete bike that isn’t even specced with one of the big three’s ﬂagship groupsets.
But for me personally I’d say the frame’s quality is worth it – it really is a work of art. And when you add in geometry that’s exactly perfect, I reckon every penny is very well spent. The bike is also backed up with a lifetime warranty, and Mosquito offer free servicing to boot, which, if you live within a reasonable distance of their doors, could end up being a great cash saving.