Custom road bikes mean different things to different people. For some, irregular body dimensions truly require a custom fit. Some riders just know what they like and look for a brand that either offers what they need in a stock model, or are capable (and willing) to provide a true custom fit-to-measure experience. Kirk Pacenti has vast experience in all these arenas, but his approach is a bit different.
As a frame builder at Bontrager in Santa Cruz, California and Match Cycles in Seattle, Pacenti learned from some of the best engineering and innovative minds: Keith Bontrager and Tim Isaac.
Pacenti took his experience to Litespeed and Merlin in the early 2000s, handling all the custom requests and working directly with customers. Well versed in steel and titanium fabrication, Pacenti’s was a rising star. He built on his passion for lugged steel by developing carveable investment cast lugs in 2001, which led to bottom bracket shells and other framebuilding bits. He quickly built a deep customer list, selling to boutique builders all over the world.
For 2007, Pacenti has entered the seemingly crowded waters of custom bike builders, offering road and mountain in steel. I built up and spent several hundred miles testing a Pacenti road bike.
First, the 57cm frame provided by Pacenti was a “spec” bike, and not designed for anyone in particular. Pacenti happened to have a photo sample in my size, so that’s what we agreed upon for this test.
“All Pacenti bikes are made to measure, but not “custom”, meaning I design the bike to fit the client, but the client does not dictate the design parameters to me,” Pacenti said. “In short, it’s `my’ bike; you just get to ride it!” This ideology follows suit with one of his childhood influences, Connecticut’s Richard Sachs. Sachs has been building frames since 1972, and turned to Pacenti to have some of his Sachs-branded lugs and fork crowns designed.
As a distributor of Columbus tubing in the US, Pacenti has access to quality steel tubing, which is what he’s chosen for his custom line. Like most good frame designers, he includes a healthy mix of tubing from Deda and Reynolds. My 3.6-pound Pacenti Road frame was handbuilt with a mix of Columbus LIFE and Deda main tubing, using Reynolds rear stays. Head and seat angles are 73 degrees parallel. The burly (and straight) chainstays measure 416mm. The bottom bracket drop, which dictates how nimble the ride feels, is a solid 76mm. The painted-to-match Reynolds Ouzo Pro carbon fork was spec’d with a 45mm rake.
As I mentioned in the preview of this review, sometime in 2007 Pacenti is moving his company from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Portland, Oregon, home of Vanilla, Chris King, Castelli USA, the Bike Gallery chain, and other notable bike companies. Pacenti has also introduced a lightweight 650B mountain bike, first shown at the North America Handmade Bicycle Show in San Jose, California.
Curiously, Pacenti’s flagship brand departs from the curly-que carved lug and steel fork found on his customer’s bikes. Pacenti instead worked closely with Columbus to develop an ultra-light road tubeset suitable for TIG welding, and is designing new Wright-style dropouts to boot. The result? A race-worthy and trusty steed that doesn’t look all too special at first glance, but pulls you in for a closer look.
For this test, we built up our Pacenti with SRAM Force shifters, crankset, cassette, chain front and rear derailleurs; SRAM Rival brakeset; Campagnolo Record 1-1/8″ threadless headset; Zipp Contour carbon drop bars; Zipp 185 carbon stem; Zipp synthetic cork bar tape; Zipp 343 carbon/alloy clincher wheelset; Zipp Tangente clinchers; WTB Silverado saddle. I used my trusty Time RXE pedals. The Pacenti frame included a painted-to-match Reynolds Ouzo Pro carbon fork and WoundUp carbon seatpost.
The new Zipp 343 carbon/alloy road wheels and Zipp Tangente clinchers were a good match for the Pacenti. The supple steel frame felt good with a bit of stiffening, thanks to the deep-section carbon Zipp rims. At first I was a bit skeptical about running 700x21c tires, but the Tangente’s have a nice sticky road feel, and after several hundred miles, not one flat.
Steel tubing? In this highly carbon-rich era, most people fail to realize that if steel was invented today, it would still be hailed as one of the most advanced materials. Its strength-to-weight ratio and ductility make it ideal for bicycle tubing. There’s a noticeable snappiness to steel as well, something hard to describe for beginners, but inherently obvious on longer rides. Titanium shares this ride quality, but is more labor-intensive to manufacture into tubing, hence the sizable price discrepancy.
The Pacenti’s beefcake chain and seat stays stand out in the typical S-bend rear triangles seen on most road bikes. I was impressed with the resulting stiffness, but never overwhelmed by any aches typically brought on by too much of a good thing in the saddle. Pacenti’s geometry and tubing choice combined for a very satisfying riding experience, and coupled with the nimble Zipp 343 wheelset, scooting up really climbs was a breeze.
Verdict: 4.5 stars
All told, Pacenti has done well with his flagship brand. It appears all those years learning at the feet of others and making others look good is paying off. Whether you’re new to road cycling or have a stable of bikes and an itch for something special, a safe bet is to consider Pacenti.
Total weight with pedals: 17.6 lbs. for a 57cm centre-to-centre size.
Delivery: 10 -12 weeks.
Price: $2,750US (frame, fork, WoundUp carbon seat post).
Contact: Pacenti Cycle Design.