Does the quality of the Sola and the vast experience of Seven justify paying three times more than a Setavento or twice as much as a Cotic? The ride and the frame tell the tale.
Seven has been synonymous with superb quality titanium frames since its founders split from the original titanium titans Merlin back in the day. The unashamedly cross-country Sola has won two World Championships and national championships the globe over – and become part of the aspirational dream bike elite in the process.
Ride: extra surge feeds the need for speed
Our example here is actually the personal race bike of What Mountain Bike’s product editor Justin Loretz, and as he warned us, “It’s very me”. In fact, the whole frame is designed more like a road bike, with a super short top tube, meaning the ‘correct’ reach is only achieved on the stubby bar ends, not on the grips.
The result is definitely an acquired taste, with a short wheelbase and a low, narrow bar cockpit position that’s fabulous on tight, technical climbs, but unnerving on steep descents. Even Justin admits there are some days he wishes he’d gone for something more conventional, but that’s the gamble of a true custom bike.
For comparative purposes, we’ve ridden other, more conventional Solas besides this very ‘Justinian’ version, but the thing that unites them all is an certain ‘je ne sais quoi’.
It’s a trace of extra surge over the top of every pedal stroke, a tiny feint and shimmy away from every hard root and rock slap. It’s tyres that feel a few PSI softer in terms of grip and comfort than they actually are; thin foam grips feeling like nice fat ones.
Above all, the recurring theme of our test rides on the Sola was looking down and finding ourselves in a significantly bigger gear than it felt like we were pedalling.
As a dedicated performance bike, our custom Sola gets large diameter top and down tubes to keep everything taut and not waste a single muscle twitch between your shoulders and the singletrack.
Even with the legendary wayward legs of a RockShox SID fork up front, you can feel the bike respond instantly to your trail-processing thoughts. It’s accurate enough to hit tyre width gaps when it really matters, but with enough ductility to stop every rut, root or cambered rock from snatching the bars out of your hands.
This inevitably means it doesn’t have the trail-melting softness of the Cotic Soda or a really whippy lightweight steel bike, and it only goes through its subtly supple ‘sound barrier’ – as Justin described it – when you’re winding on the middle ring with a serious purpose.
However, when the Sola starts to plane along the previously rattly trail surface, and you keep feeding it gear after gear to quench its seemingly insatiable thirst for speed, you’ll quickly understand exactly why Seven bikes command the prestige and price that they do.
Frame: perfect finish for raceworthy performance
In terms of material, the Sola’s ‘Argen’ tubeset is – like most titanium hardtails these days – a totally 3Al/2.5V chassis. It’s been double butted to drop the weight low enough (3.3lb in an average medium-sized model) for world championship glory.
Look more closely and you’ll see the Seven’s class. Every millimetre of every weld is totally perfect, each tiny scale completely consistent with the next, whichever way you twist the frame around to try to find a flaw.
In terms of basic layout it’s actually very conventional and understated. There’s ample – but not excessive – tyre clearance, and just enough tube shaping to let ankles spin past bruise-free.
The only ‘catch your eye’ bits are the tall curved arcs of the dropout sections, cradling the disc brake safely away from potential interstay stress creation.
Whatever way you to choose to join the dots of your bike, that much sought-after head tube badge is screwed lovingly on as the crowning glory of a long and intensive custom consultation process, dedicated to getting you your dream bike.
Components: built to keep the weight down
From the matching custom Seven Ti flat bar and inverted ‘head down’ stem atop the useful SID fork, to the carbon fibre Tufo wheels with matching tubular tyres, the kit of this custom-built bike is as idiosyncratic as its layout – but we wouldn’t expect anything less from our Justin!
Obviously, weight saving was a key aim here (look at the Cotic for a rough weight of a more trailworthy wagon), but we’d be almost tempted to take it even lighter. Specifically, there’s enough feedback and finesse in the Argen tubing to make this a natural home for a carbon rigid fork to drop it even nearer 20lb. With Seven only supplying frames, though, it’s entirely up to you how you dress up your dream bike.
With so many cheaper bikes now coming within a few percent of the ride performance of a Seven, and top carbon frames weighing over a pound less, justifying a Sola is hard.
If you’ve honed your riding enough to know exactly what you want, though, Seven can deliver your ideal blend of speed, subtlety and suppleness. In that case, perfection is hard to put a price on.