Suppose someone presented with you a weekend of riding that included more than 200km (127 miles) of distance and about 4,300m (14,000ft) of climbing on a mix of pavement, rough dirt, and gravel roads. Suppose they then explained that you were only allowed to bring one bike, and there was a good chance of being among much fitter and faster company.
What would you bring? This was the opportunity (and dilemma) I faced at the Baller’s Ride earlier this summer. Luckily for me, Seven Cycles stepped up to the plate with an utterly fantastic custom Evergreen Pro.
- The course: The Baller’s Ride, a demanding weekend of riding deep in the heart of Virginia on a mix of pavement, rough dirt, and gravel
- The equipment goal: A bike that would not only be able to keep up among fast and fit company but also survive the grueling conditions where equipment failures are common, and mechanical support decidedly absent
- The horse: A custom-built Seven Evergreen Pro with short-and-fast geometry, disc brakes, thru-axles, and just enough room for 30mm tires
My faithful steed for the Baller's Ride – a Seven Cycles Evergreen Pro with fully custom geometry
Baller’s Ride is no typical weekend. It’s an annual gathering of premier custom frame builders and their friends to compare notes, test their wares, and generally just have a good time with plenty of riding (and drinking) to keep things interesting. It’s also a bit of an informal competition of sorts, to see who’s not only built the most intriguing machine but one that will survive the relentless gauntlet of mixed terrain that awaits.
Bringing a bike that’s fast is easy: road bike, check. Likewise, bringing one that would survive: cyclocross or gravel bike, check. However, putting something together that’s not only fast and light but durable and comfortable to ride on all day isn’t quite so easy, and when you add in the unspoken requirement that said steed should be suitably chic to hang with such a discerning crowd, things really get interesting.
It's not easy to impress the handbuilt crowd but I did my best with details like this
In my head, the functional requirements sounded similar to what’s needed for Paris-Roubaix – and that’s essentially what I had the folks at Seven Cycles build up. We started with the company’s gorgeous carbon-and-titanium Evergreen Pro adventure frame but modified the geometry to wrap more closely around a maximum envelope of 30mm-wide tires on 20mm-wide (internal width) rims.
Ultimately, the geometry that resulted isn’t too far off from the modified R3s that Cervélo built for its sponsored riders when the company was dominating the cobbled classics. Compared with a standard road racing bike, the chainstays were extended about a centimeter, the Whisky No.9 disc fork has a generous 49mm of rake but a short 367mm axle-to-crown length (the same as a standard road fork), and the bottom bracket is nice and low. And unlike most so-called ‘endurance’ bikes on the market, Seven built this one with the aggressively short head tube I often look for in production models but rarely find.
The Whisky fork has an unusually generous 49mm of rake but enough room for 30mm-wide tires, despite a standard axle-to-crown length of just 367mm
To suit my thru-axle requirements, I requested Paragon Machine Works’ versatile (and adaptable) Polydrop dropouts with aluminum inserts specific to a 142x12mm axle and 140mm-diameter disc rotor while the front wheel is secured in the Whisky fork with a RockShox 100x15mm Maxle Lite.
Just as I requested, there’s enough clearance for 30mm-wide tires on 19mm-wide (internal width) rims and little else – no fenders, no ’cross knobbies. After all, any additional clearance would have compromised the relatively tight geometry I wanted for the project.
The head tube is notably short as compared to most off-the-shelf 'endurance' bikes for the more aggressive position that I prefer
As delivered, the frame came in at an impressive 1,381g (3.04lb) plus another 370g(0.82lb) for the fork – slightly heavier than a full-carbon chassis but in my opinion, a more than reasonable price to pay for the quirky geometry I was looking for, not to mention the appeal of the exotic welded titanium-plus-carbon construction.
Baller’s Ride organizer Josh Simonds – inventor of NixFrixShun chain lube – warned participants beforehand that much of the route was unforgivably remote with little chance of rescue from passersby and almost no mobile phone reception. Reliability and field serviceability were high priorities for the build kit, then, so I dressed the frame up with a Shimano Dura-Ace mechanical drivetrain (with versatile 52/36-tooth chainrings and an 11-28t cassette), Shimano RS685 hydraulic levers and matching disc brakes, Bontrager Aeolus 5 D3 TLR Disc carbon clinchers wrapped with tough 28mm-wide Hutchinson Sector 28 tubeless tires, an Enduro XD-15 bottom bracket, and a full carbon cockpit from ENVE Composites – including ENVE’s rarely used deep-drop bend for a wider range of positions.
The deep-drop bars offer a greater range of positions than more popular compact bends
To help gauge my efforts more carefully, I installed a crankarm-based power meter courtesy of the folks at Stages Cycling.
Wrapping things up were a Specialized Romin saddle, Arundel’s tough-wearing and grippy Gecko Grip bar tape, a Cane Creek Forty headset, Shimano Dura-Ace SPD-SL pedals, a pair of Specialized bottle cages, a Garmin Edge 510 computer clipped on to a K-Edge mount, flat repair gear tucked inside a small Lezyne seat pack (with a frame-mounted Lezyne mini-pump instead of CO2 cartridges), and Gore’s sadly discontinued Ride-On sealed derailleur cables and housing. I also went with Specialized for the steerer tube-mounted chain tool, cleverly hidden multi-tool, and ultra-bright Flux Expert taillight.
All in, the complete bike – fully outfitted – hit the scales at 8.94kg (19.71lb).
I'm a big fan of Specialized's clever SWAT accessories, such as this chain tool that's hidden inside the steerer tube
Fast, fun, and (mostly) bulletproof
That the Seven Evergreen Pro looked fit for duty goes without saying but as with any bike equipment test, the proof is in the riding and I’m happy to say that the bike survived the Baller’s Ride weekend with flying colors (well, mostly – but I’ll get to that shortly).
The aggressive positioning, reasonably low weight, and fast wheel-and-tire setup proved fast and smooth on the flats. The deep-drop handlebar was especially welcome when it came time to take a pull up front. While the tops were fairly high for a comfy and powerful climbing posture, the drops encouraged a long, low, and aerodynamic profile for cutting through the wind. Speaking of which, the 50mm-deep Bontrager wheels didn’t exactly hurt, either.
I dressed the cranks up with versatile 52/36-tooth chainrings and a Stages power meter
As Simonds promised, the route on each day included plenty of surprisingly coarse dirt and gravel, and yet the Seven remained supremely comfortable and composed. The handling was still agile – a necessary trait for avoiding the bigger rocks in the way – but confidently stable such that I could happily drift a bit through loose corners at speed while still staying upright.
Not all of those rough sections of road were fast, mind you. Several were punishingly steep uphill grunts that simply weren’t suited to more traditionally sized road tires, and it was here where I especially appreciated the extra casing volume (and footprint). Whereas some of the other riders struggled for traction, I simply had to keep the pedals moving (and could even climb out of the saddle without spinning out).
The Shimano disc brakes were simply awesome with tons of power, no fade, and utterly predictable performance. I had no issues with unwanted lockup even on sketchy minefields of gravel descents, the firm-feeling levers returned plenty of useful feedback, and the brakes also stayed utterly silent despite more than a few hair-raising plummets downhill.
Likewise, the Shimano mechanical drivetrain was consistently reliable with a light and precise action at the levers and crisp chain movement back at the other end of the cable. Some other Baller’s Ride participants questioned my preference for a mechanical setup rather than Shimano’s incredible Di2 transmission (and I was definitely questioning my decision to fit some no-name aftermarket pulleys without testing them first, although that’s another story). While I’ll readily admit that Di2 is a better performer on paper, I still just prefer the more raw and tactile feel of a good mechanical drivetrain, especially when it’s paired with Gore’s ultra-slick cables and housing.
I dug into my special stash for a set of discontinued Gore Ride-On sealed derailleur cables and housing
The only letdown throughout both days (besides my legs, that is) was the tires. I considered the Hutchinson Sector 28s to be a rather conservative choice what with their tough casings, not-too-low weight, versatile file tread, and self-repairing tubeless construction (with a healthy dose of Stan’s sealant).
Just an hour into the first day's ride, however, I suffered a sudden bead failure up front that resulted in a wicked speed wobble (and eventual catastrophic blowout after I had stopped on the side of the road). I hadn't hit anything, hadn't run anything over, and was careful not to use tire levers during the installation that could have caused any damage.
Luckily, I was able to hitch a ride back to the inn to grab a loaner tire (thanks, Cone family!) and rejoin the group later on in route but the failure rattled a bit nonetheless. In more than 25 years of road riding, I'd never experienced such a thing. Hutchinson has had the tire on hand for inspection since mid-June but so far has yet to return a reasonable explanation for the failure.
As the saying goes, the best-laid plans often go awry but thankfully, that was the only real incident I had during what was otherwise a stellar weekend of not only some of the best mixed-terrain road riding I'd ever done on a truly wonderful (and beautiful) machine. As a further bonus, I also enjoyed some of the most engaging and thought-provoking conversations I've had to date with the always-impressive handbuilt crowd – many of whom built for themselves bikes that weren’t all that different from what I brought with me.
Why don’t more people ride bikes like this? Beats the hell out of me but as far as I’m concerned, this one’s a keeper.
For more information, visit www.sevencycles.com.