Custom builder bike profile: Zukas’s swoopy cyclocross machine

Curvaceous stays, gorgeous paint and extended seatmast

We’re all used to seeing the bikes that custom builders create for their customers but what do they build for themselves? In this new series on BikeRadar, we take a look at what these artisans create for themselves, free from the restrictions of client requests, budgets, and time constraints. Forget that old saying – the cobbler’s shoes are mighty dapper indeed.

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Baller’s Ride is an annual invitation-only gathering in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains where several custom builders (and some of their customers) exchange ideas, share a few laughs and beers, and, most importantly, ride bikes – preferably quickly.

The routes are also far from easy. Day one comprises a mix of surfaced road, dirt, and rough gravel over 82 miles and more than 8,000ft of elevation gain. Day two is slightly shorter and wholly paved but the entire weekend still presents the riders with an unrelentingly undulating landscape.

It’s the high point of the year for many attendees but for the builders, it’s also a condensed test session. Equipment failures are common, there’s almost no cellular service or shops to replenish food and water anyone on course, and little chance of outside help in the event of a major breakdown. Ideally, builders are supposed to use the same bike, tires, and wheelset for the whole weekend.

For this year’s Baller’s Ride, Nate Zukas of Zukas Cycles brought a stunning steel cyclocross bike that deftly blended traditional construction techniques and materials with modern features and aesthetics.

Nate zukas not only builds his own frames but he paints them, too. this one was specifically built to tackle the baller’s ride – a challenging mix of fast pavement, rooty dirt, and loose gravel with lots of climbing tossed in for good measure:

If you think this bike looks good on screen, you’ll unfortunately have to imagine how good it looked in the flesh

Zukas joined the Columbus, True Temper, and Plymouth chromoly tubing using a mix of fillet brazing and lugs. Those classic materials are arranged in a low-slung profile that includes his trademark extended seat tube (with an offset binder) and impossibly slender and seductively swoopy S-bend seatstays. Up front is an oversized 44mm head tube while the lugged bottom bracket shell sports a Z-shaped drain lined with stainless steel mesh.

“[The rear end] is inspired by [Rob] English,” Zukas told BikeRadar. “He does a loop with a single brace and I thought for the longest time that that’d be really cool if they were just normal stays with nice S-bends. I tested it on myself on local mountain bike trails and they held up. I think it gets you that little bit of compliance that everybody wants and, at day’s end, it just looks really cool.”

Zukas uses 3/8in-diameter seatstays for riders up to 160lb, increasing the size from there to better handle the additional weight:

Zukas uses tiny 3/8in-diameter tubing for the seatstays for lighter riders and increases the sizes from there. Either way, the curves are included

Disc brakes are used at both ends but Zukas opted for simple TRP Spyre cable actuated calipers instead of a fully hydraulic setup. Likewise, Zukas decided to run a single-chainring drivetrain but instead of a stock SRAM Force 1 setup, the chainring is custom machined to mount on a previous-generation Campagnolo Record crankset while the standard non-clutched Force rear derailleur makes do with increased spring tension on the pulley cage.

Zukas likes to build frames with semi-integrated seatmasts, which offer a dramatic look but without many of the hassles associated with fully integrated ones. the braze-on on the back of the seatmast is for a custom light mount:

A tidy light mount is built right into the extended seat tube

Cables are internally routed throughout in Zukas’s signature style, with tidy entry points just behind the head tube and stealth guides situated above the bottom bracket spindle.

All of this is wrapped in a metallic fluorescent pink paint job with contrasting bands and a matching Ritchey integrated carbon cockpit and disc ’cross fork. And as for the white rabbit on the head tube, Zukas offers up a simple explanation.

Zukas is of lithuanian descent and his last name translates as

We’d love to see this head tube logo on a t-shirt

“My last name is Zukas and I’m of Lithuanian descent. In Lithuanian, ‘zukas’ means ‘white rabbit’ so it’s kind of cool. I got lucky.”

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