Seven Cycles 622 slx, Part II

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To read part one, click here.

So let’s talk ride quality. I’ll be blunt—I haven’t ridden another bike  that offered as vibration-free a ride while maintaining a lively, responsive nature. I’ve ridden bikes that were stiffer in overall torsion. I’ve ridden bikes that were stiffer at the bottom bracket, too. But of all the bikes I’ve ridden that were meant to put a pillow over the face of vibration, none did so as effectively as the 622 slx. The closest was the Serotta Ottrot, and while I loved how that bike handled, it wasn’t exactly light and it lacked a certain lively feel on the road that the 622 slx possesses. That’s also a quality of geometry and can be part of the flip side of a bike that descends like water poured from a pitcher.

Allow me a slight restatement of that last idea. The last time I rode a bike that possessed as quiet a ride as the 622 slx, I was on a carbon fiber bike that didn’t particularly impress me. While it could turn a fair road into smooth pavement and a good road into a marble floor, those bikes (I’m not singling out any one manufacturer because there are so many of that ilk out there) lacked the stiff, responsive ride of something like the Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL4. The 622 slx is unusual because it combines great stiffness—stiffer than most carbon bikes on the market as recently as 2005, though not as stiff as some current offerings like the Cervelo R5 VWD or Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL4—with a ride quieter than even the new S-Works Roubaix SL4.

Let me add that while the Serotta Ottrot is a fine example of a bike that mixes titanium and carbon fiber, it is by no means the only bike that does it. Sampson has offered one; it had most of the ride quality of the Ottrot at something like 60 percent of the cost. There have been other examples—especially Seven’s own Elium—but outside of Seven and Serotta no one has done a bike with as attractive a mix of ride characteristics.

I’ve made it clear previously that my favorite bikes send a fair amount of vibration through to the rider. Now it’s true that the amount of vibration that any bike delivers to the ride can be influenced by a number of factors; that’s a detail I’m aware of and do what I can to mitigate. I use the same bar tape on all the bikes I review. I will run a couple of sets of wheels I’m very familiar with on the bikes. Those wheels feature the same tires pumped up to the same pressure. The point is to zero out as many variables as possible, so that if a bike seems to be sending less vibration to my hands and butt, it’s not just a matter of needing to pump the tires up another 20 psi.

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So while I’m a fan of bikes that deliver as much high-frequency vibration as possible to the rider, I have to admit that the feel of the 622 slx was something I quickly came to appreciate. Imagine driving a Ferrari for your daily commute, then you go on a weekend jaunt to Yosemite in a big Lexus sedan. The ride is ice-cream smooth, quieter than a field of wheat on a windless night, and more comfortable than your mother’s arms. It’s the sort of experience that could make anyone rethink the attraction of a sport-tuned suspension.

I have friends for whom vibration is a real issue, that it causes nerve impingement. I see them on rides sitting up to shake their hands in an attempt to restore feeling and bloodflow to their deadened mitts. For anyone who faces issues with nerve impingement and numbness, whether it be in their hands, shoulders or back, reducing vibration can increase not just enjoyment, but the number of miles someone can ride without feeling the discomfort of numbness.

When considered against bikes like Time’s VRS Vibraser or the Specialized Roubaix, the 622 slx does more to reduce vibration and insulate the rider from rough roads. Of course, that shouldn’t be the only reason someone chooses a bike, but let’s be honest—we are all aging. Every one of us. And while vibration may not be an issue for you today, it’s fair to harbor some concern that being rattled like a paint can for a dozen hours each week will result in some sensitivity as you pass your fifth decade.

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Another factor contributing to the 622 slx’s comfort was the fact that this isn’t an über-stiff bike. In plain terms, this isn’t a race bike. It reminded me of the Kestrel that I rode for an afternoon at last year’s Interbike. That bike was designed to be enjoyable, not adrenal. There was no mistaking that when considered against the other two road bikes I was riding at the time, the Felt F1 and the Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL4, the 622 slx simply wasn’t as lethal. Sure, it was sharp in its handling like any great road bike ought to be, but this was paring knife-sharp, not scalpel sharp. So what’s that in an absolute sense? Here are the specs from Seven:

  • Seat tube length: 50.0cm
  • Top tube length: 58.1cm
  • Head tube angle: 73.5˚
  • Seat tube angle: 73˚
  • BB drop: 7.0cm
  • Chainstay length: 40.5cm
  • Top tube slope: 8˚
  • Front center: 59.7cm
  • Head tube length: 16.8cm
  • Head tube diameter: 1.125″

Seven allows customers to choose four different parameters of ride quality as they go through the purchase. They are all specified on a 10-point scale.

  • Handling: 6 (1 is stable; 10 is agile)
  • Drivetrain rigidity: 7 (1 is lightweight; 10 is stiff)
  • Vertical compliance: 3 (1 is comfortable; 10 is stiff)
  • Weight-to-performance: 8 (1 is lightweight; 10 is responsive)

When I went through the custom process back in ’97, there were only two scales to choose from—handling and stiffness/weight. Seven has a much improved ability to control for these different variables now. What is perhaps most impressive in these numbers is that they were able to achieve such high numbers for drivetrain rigidity and weight-to-performance while keeping the bike remarkably vertically compliant.

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Perhaps the most remarkable detail I haven’t revealed about this bike so far is that it wasn’t custom. Though the fit was remarkably good, this bike came from a demo fleet. They shipped the frame and fork to Shimano for my review of the Dura-Ace 9000 group. It was assembled by one of Shimano’s techs. Incidentally, after our tech presentation and initial ride on the 9000-equipped bikes, I had a chance to speak with the tech who assembled my bike. Actually, he approached me. He wanted to make clear to me that of all the bikes that they assembled for this shindig, the Seven was the easiest to install the group on, the most fun to work on because the cable routing was so straightforward, and all the fittings and threads so perfectly cut.

Even though the folks at Seven expressed a high degree of desire to take me through the custom process again, I sold them on the idea of letting me do a “stock” bike. If after my review hit they didn’t think they’d gotten the high marks they hoped for, I said we could then do a custom bike. So why do this? I wanted a chance to ride a bike that was meant to be emblematic of the ride Seven wants to sell. I don’t know if they would necessarily call this bike emblematic, but because it was built as an example of their work meant to woo a prospective customer, this bike must possess many of the qualities Seven thinks are among its most winning. Sure, they can build a lighter bike or a stiffer bike or a pig that can carry panniers, but this bike is meant to be nothing so much as a good time.

And I can say it is. Once you’ve let go of being the fastest guy (or gal), or having the ultimate climbing bike or whatever, and you just focus on the qualities that will make a bike enjoyable on group rides, on solo rides, at long gran fondos and short recovery rides, this bike does it all very well. It was yet another occasion of packing a bike in a box only under duress. I’d have continued to ride it regularly.

Here’s the thing I keep thinking about when I contemplate reviewing a custom Seven: I don’t think I would have requested this bike and in that you, the readers, would have been cheated. Sure, the dimensions in the wake of my fitting last winter would be different, but I’m talking about issues larger than just fit. The fit on this bike was perfectly workable. I probably would have requested a bike that was a 7 or 8 in handling. I would have asked for an 8 or 9 on drivetrain rigidity. I’m not sure I’d have had the presence of mind to request the maximum in vertical compliance relative to the drivetrain rigidity I requested. And for weight to performance, that’s the one number that is probably close to what I would have requested.

To me, the point of going with a demo bike was to learn more about what Seven thinks is a good time, not what I think is a good time. It was a chance to gain more insight into what Seven hopes to deliver to customers. Granted, their bread and butter is custom work, but once you’ve built tens of thousands of road bikes, you come to some conclusions and they are reflected in this bike. When you’re not driven by making a race bike, you’re suddenly free to make something that places enjoyment ahead of performance.

There ought to be more bikes made with that priority.

 

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14 comments

  1. RichInMV

    Padraig, I picked up a used Seven Elium (titanium/carbon mix too) about 3 months ago, as an experiment. My “regular” bike is a Parlee Z5, a pretty responsive (and vibration-transmitting) bike. I was expecting a less responsive, “boring” ride from the Seven, but after several months (and yes, I did control for ALL of the components – basically duplicated my Parlee components, wheels and tires), I hardly ride the Parlee anymore. I stopped racing (I’m 56 now), and do a LOT of long rides (2-3 centuries per months), lots of climbing (SF Bay Area) and this is a “do it all” bike – surprisingly although this was a “custom” bike for someone else, I bought it off Craigslist, and its geometry turned out to be almost identical to the Parlee. Even use the same Enve fork on both. I’m completely sold on the Seven, and still amazed at how fresh I feel after 7 or 8 hours on the bike. Great stuff. Your review is spot on!

  2. Petros V

    I love reading reviews like this. First of all, the little sticker on the ST in the top picture should mean a lot more than it does. “Made in the USA”. No, I am not a protectionist, but after spending that kind of cash on a bike, that sticker ought to be there. Sure, everyone wants the lightest, the stiffest, the whatever-est. And then they put gel pads on ‘strategic’ places to soften the ‘stiffest’ so that a 25 mile ride doesn’t hurt like a 50 miler.
    I tried to buy a Seven. It quickly blew my budget. I bought another full custom Ti frame, and I practically saw it being built. And I paid way less for it than I would have for an Asian-made carbon TREK, or a SPECIALIZED, or a Cannondale.
    It is a shame that marketing sells bikes (and cars, too), rather than good old fashioned common sense. Please help by keeping reviews like this one coming.

  3. Gal

    Great Review Padraig, I have a little time on one of these (not mine) and my impression was quite similar, really great bike.
    I think you missed out of the short list the IF XS, similar concept and very similar ride.

  4. Les.B.

    I’ve read a lot of other reviews, mainly in Bicycling Mag. that say that some particular bike is stiff in handling but easy on the vibration. But somehow your review really makes me want to take this one for on joy ride.

    And if I were to, I’d take it to our SoCal version of the cobbles, Yerba Buena Road for a quite abusive test of vibration.

  5. RM2Ride

    Terrific, thorough review. I consider myself extremely fortunate to own a 622 slx, and almost the exact build you have here (a custom fit, though) including wheels; my only key difference is a Thompson setback seatpost. I have to say you’ve hit the ride characteristics nail right on the head. I had a LeMond/Trek Ti/carbon mix (Victoire) previously and liked the vibration-dampening; didn’t realize it’s the materials junction that you point out in Part I that makes the difference, only knew it is important to me as a Clydesdale. This frame is twice as nice, easily.

    I have to say I find the power transfer pretty solid, and the spin up speed amazing (though at least some of that I’ll attribute to those D-A wheels, which are spectacular). But the smoothness dominates, going up, on the flats, and descending (“like water poured from a pitcher” – Yup). This line is priceless: “The ride is ice-cream smooth, quieter than a field of wheat on a windless night, and more comfortable than your mother’s arms.” And 100% accurate. The difference I really see is that at mile 60 or 70 or more on this frame I’m ready to keep riding and my wheelmates are looking for the cafe chair or bar stool. That’s comfort. Thanks for describing the bike in ways I never could have. (And now I’ve officially come out as a raving fan of Seven, I suppose…)

  6. Scudder

    I come from a boating background where there is a saying: “The Price? If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

    Is that the same situation here?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Scudder: Actually, I’d say no. Boats and cars occupy a space entirely more expensive than motorcycles, and motorcycles are a pursuit more expensive than bicycles.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Scudder: I meant to mention that there’s no one price for a 622 slx. They begin at $6595 for the Shimano 105 build and go well up from there.

  7. fred taylor

    Looks like an awesome bike, saw the seven @ a showing of the great divide race.
    Although I buy American,TREK, I am put off by the price of the 7 and Parlee.

    I think that they should expand their market, and put out some responsive frames in the 100 to 3000 dollar range.

    Not all cyclists can afford boutique rides, my TREK Madone was 500, so if my kid or I crash it out on a ride or race, it is not such a great loss.

  8. Don G

    Padraig, thank you for what I agree are among the best cycling reviews out there. Thoughtful, articulate and possessed of all the critical elements.

    I’m hoping you can help me choose amongst great options for my next road bike. I’m a long-time MTB racer and have at least a hundred races across road, mtb and tri by now, with some interesting stories to tell for it all. I still race mtb although not on a national level. I ride both Ti and carbon MTBs – horses for courses. Both are top-level bikes, the Ti currently set up rigid for whatever that’s worth. I’m not a cushy-dependent rider but comfort matters as you’ve stated many times.

    My current road bike is a 1999 Litespeed Ultimate which until the last year or two I’ve not been able to exceed in overall ride quality vs performance. Tapered head tubes and stiffer bb’s along with improved engineering have finally convinced me it’s time to update.

    The choices have come to at least 3 bikes- S-works Tarmac, No.22 Great Divide, or a long-ball 622 SLX which would come later after updating my Ultimate to DA 9000 until I can afford the frame set. My Ultimate has a newer Easton EC90 aero fork an DA 7800 with Ksyrium ES wheels and a newer crankset…

    Here’s where you can help me – my road events these days are typically longer challenge rides and fast club rides, up to double centuries. I’m big but am drawn to mega-climb rides. I’m a spinner more than a sprinter but like driving the pace in club rides. I’ve been known to ride double-digit hour rides more than rarely.

    I know the 622 SLX would meet my criteria – how about a Tarmac with 25c tires and maybe some gel bar tape? I prefer a lively feel and didn’t care for the Roubaix that I rode; the Giant TCR Adv-SL was clearly responsive but too buzzy for me… Could a Tarmac do what I’d like or is it too much to ask – ie, will a long day in the saddle of a 25c-shod Tarmac hurt too much vs a 622?

    I’m open to your ideas and perspectives. I’ve seen a 622 and share your enthusiasm for seven and specialized both. Haven’t ridden a 622 though…

    Thanks!

    Don Gabrielson


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Hi Don: There are a couple of considerations that would go into a choice such as the one you face. Before I’d make a recommendation—any of the bikes you’re talking about would be terrific—I’d want to know more about your weight, your age and flexibility, how likely you are to stand up and sprint with everything you have, and just what it was about the Roubaix you didn’t like (and which one it was). If you’re really looking for a bike that it noticeably stiffer at the BB, what I can say is that the Seven and the No. 22 won’t be order-of-magnitude improvements, though they will be stiffer. There will be a bigger difference if you go to the Tarmac. The other big difference between those bikes will be in all-day comfort, with the Tarmac and the 622 slx leading the Great Divide.

    2. Don

      Thanks for your reply! Here are some details-

      I rode an SL4 Roubaix with Ultegra Di2; too upright and very isolated from the road feel to me. Also may have been too small in a 56 for me.

      I’m 47, 180 lbs, 6′ tall, above average flexibility but not a yogi or gumby. My saddle-bar drop is noticeable but not extreme… Maybe 2-3 inches if I measured it.

      I’m relatively aggressive in club rides but not typically all-out sprinting more of a rouleur if I could make a wishful claim. I enjoy attacking then holding on for dear life until the young guns reel me in…

      My prime point will be a bike for long days with lots of climbing in challenge rides like the Mountains of Misery in VA or Horribly Hilly in WI.

      It’s interesting that your reply implies the Tarmac and 622 as close in comfort for long days did I read that correctly?

      I thought the No 22 would be less comfy and less stiff BB than the 622 so that doesn’t surprise me.

      My Ultimate has a 1-inch steerer tube – I suspect the biggest change will be in downhill tracking, even my relatively new fork can’t compete with a tapered front end? That is probably my biggest factor. BB stiffness is second, weight third alongside longevity. Comfort seems reasonably moot with each of the choices?

      I suspect the long, steep climbs would have me appreciate the Tarmac most but how about a long day of 10 hours? I was impressed by the Tarmac ride quality in my short ride – it was noticeably more comfortable than a new Giant tCR A SL to me which felt alive as in a live wire…

      I agree they are each fantastic bikes!

      Thanks so much for your thoughts!

      d2g

  9. Jack

    Yours was one of the reviews I used before purchasing my Seven, I appreciated the insight from your and those who commented. I went away from a race frame to a comfort and endurance/gravel frame, the Seven Evergreen. I ride in rural New England and the ability to go from tarmac to gravel and back to broken tarmac adds greatly to your ride options. I also have a MTB bike, but to ride trails I have to drive 20 minutes. I can ride back roads right from my house. My Seven Evergreen SL includes an Enve CX fork, Avid BB7 disc brakes, Ultegra Groupset, Thompson AL set back seat post and stem with Thompson carbon handlebars, Shimano CX hubs with H+ Archetype wheels, and Ruffy Tuffy 28 mm tires.

    I don’t believe custom bikes are for everyone. I went custom titanium, for a few reasons: (1) Durability, last year a 70 year old friend of mine road across country for the second time. I asked what bike he rode, it was a custom titanium Merlin he bought in 1995. I hope this is the last frame that I need to buy. (2) Comfort, I am a big guy, 6′ 1″ 235 lbs, over 50, with a titanium hip and a banged up shoulder (14 years of Rugby). (3) Versatility, I am well aware that no bike can do everything well, but I did want a bike that could ride a variety of surfaces, that I could take on a fast (for me) training ride or put a rack on it a do some light, credit card, tours. And, (4) Fit/Comfort, I am built like an ape, short legs (29″ inseam), long torso, and 34″ arms. Although I had my old bike professionally fitted (well worth the money), I hoped a custom design would be even better.

    I am not going to win any races, or probably even enter any. I enjoy just being outside and active. So far the Seven Evergreen has lived up to my expectations and allowed my to more comfortably bounce down some gravel roads that are common in my area. The custom fit has been worth it, I noticed a difference with a significant lessening of hand numbness and neck pain immediately. I still get some hand numbness on longer rides, particularly if I get lazy with my posture and body mechanics. I do believe that people can get an excellent fit with a tweaked stock frame, and that is probably a better financial option for many people. But for me, no more college tuition payments, I can afford a few personal luxuries including a custom titanium bike.

    The only addition I am going to make is a second wheel-set over the winter (I am lazy would rather switch wheels than tires) so that I can go to a wider/knobbier tire and do some of the long gravel rides that are becoming more common in the Northeast.

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