Co-Motion and Rolf Prima

Co-Motion and Rolf Prima

When I went to Eugene, Oregon, for the Oregon Gran Fondo I rode one of Co-Motion’s signature models, the Nor’Wester. I last rode a Co-Motion—the Espresso—in 1998. It was a dynamite TIG-welded steel bike with a killer blue to purple fade. The Nor’Wester recalls the Italian stage racing bikes of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, what I tend to refer to as “grand touring” bikes.

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The Nor’Wester begins with a low-ish bottom bracket (7.5cm of drop) and a conservative chain stay length (42cm), parallel 73-degree head and seat tube angles (in the 58cm frame I rode) and a bit more rake than I typically saw in the Italian bikes, with 47mm. Combined, the bike was agile in descents, but still easy to ride in a straight line over the chip-seal road that dominated the ride. My bike had a 57cm top tube and was paired with a 12cm stem.
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Co-Motion has a really stable workforce with a great many employees who have been there for years. Having a stable workforce means you can produce bikes with welding this good.  IMG_8104

This beefy carbon fiber fork is one of the only items Co-Motion doesn’t make in-house.  One of the details about the Nor’Wester I really liked was how I could turn in hard on a descent and the bike held any line I established without wavering or weaving. IMG_8105

The bike was spec’d with a mostly Shimano Ultegra group, but they paired these TRP long-reach calipers with the bike so that I could ride 25mm tires on the ride. I’m so glad they did. The chip-seal on that ride really wore on me. I was in a lot of pain by the end of the day. I could see running 28s there, and this bike would have accommodated them. IMG_8106

The last time I rode Rolf Prima wheels, they were being distributed by Trek and they only offered alloy wheel sets. This bike was equipped with the Ares 4 carbon fiber clincher. I plan to do  a full review of the Ares 4, if only for the simple reason that riding them at the Oregon Gran Fondo was so enjoyable. In broad strokes, they featured a rounded spoke bed for superior aerodynamics and good handling in cross winds. And they did handle well, but better yet, it was a distinctly fast wheel.

The wheels rolled on Continental’s Grand Prix 4000S IIs in the 25mm width. While the wider tire mounted on a wide rim helped a lot, and as I mentioned, I think I’d be inclined to run a 28mm the next time I tackle that event.

Co-Motion describes themselves as a niche manufacturer, and while I believe that’s true, for anyone really thinking about what they want in their next bike, anyone thinking longer-term, about versatility, about more than just lightweight racer-fast, they have more to offer than people think. 
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I managed to fit visits into both Rolf Prima and Co-Motion, so I did more than just ride the bike, I got the nickel tour, which I’d easily have paid $10 for. Rolf Prima is located in a cool facility on the north side of town and they do all their wheel building in house. Above a some hubs that have had spokes inserted and the threads prepped and now they simply await being laced into wheels. IMG_8628

Here is one of Rolf Prima’s builders truing a wheel. Because the nipples are recessed into the rim, the spoke wrench is a driver, meaning every turn of the nipple requires a twist of the wrist. 
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Which is why when I saw the tennis ball screwed to the driver, I grinned. Repetetive-use injuries are no fun and keeping the hand opened up like that decreases the chances of carpal tunnel syndrome and they also increase the builder’s precision in truing the spokes by making small adjustments easier to execute. IMG_8631

These are rim extrusions that will soon be turned into rims.
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This machine drills the spoke holes in the alloy rims. IMG_8635

I love me a big machine.

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Rims waiting to be built into complete wheels. I was amazed to learn that because Rolf Prima offers their wheels in so many variants—axle width, cassette body, etc.—they assemble each hub from components shipped to them. It gives them a level of flexibility unusual for a wheel manufacturer.IMG_8641

As I mentioned, I love big machines and this is one of three CNC machines at Co-Motion Cycles, which is also based in Eugene. They make all their own dropouts, seat collars, disc brake mounts and more.
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These bins hold mitered tubes that will be built into tandems. You can see some tubes that have been brazed into S&S couplers. Co-Motion does a surprisingly high number of tandems with S&S couplers, which, honestly, is the only acceptable way to travel with a tandem. Everything else is insanity. IMG_8647

My thoughts as I shot this ranged between lustful and larcenous. My bad.
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Mitering is one of those operations that is almost endlessly fascinating to watch, if only because you get to see something cut at high speed. Yum.
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Even the trash is interesting. IMG_8657

The welders who work for Co-Motion work at such a consistently high level they are widely admired within the industry.
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I’ve seen a great many alignment flat tables in my time. This was the first one I’d ever seen for tandems. It speaks to just how hard it is to make a tandem that will track straight. A truism of tandem builders is that if they can make a straight bike for two, they can do a fine job on a bike for one. IMG_8662

This boom allows the welder to get the welder to achieve easy access to the joints once they have been tacked. Those two-pass welds result in a better-looking, more consistent weld with less tube distortion. It takes longer, but it’s almost required in order to make a straight bike. IMG_8663

And the key to a good weld means starting with ultra-tight tolerances in the miters. IMG_8664

The joints are so tight, you can’t slide a sheet of paper between those tubes.
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The captain’s seat tube pierces the top tube. IMG_8666

This is one of the tandem jigs. It’s a surprisingly flexible system, and one I’m told is reasonably easy to set up. IMG_8667

This is an S&S tandem preparing for paint.
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Co-Motion offers more than 40 different standard colors, plus a number of premium options, such as pearls. IMG_8671

And yes, these kids do have a sense of humor.IMG_8672

The whole gravel bike thing seems to have exploded overnight, but for those who have been watching, Co-Motion has been offering bikes that will go virtually anywhere for years. IMG_8673

The orange tandem is one of Co-Motion’s Periscope models that allows for a wide variety of rider height thanks to the telescoping seat tubes for captain and stoker. The blue bike shows what the S&S couplers look like in a finished bike.IMG_8674

 

Dan Vrijmoet, one of Co-Motion’s founding partners, designed and made the clamps for the Periscopes. It’s a genius way to be able to accommodate both children and adults in the stoker position.
IMG_8675Clean, simple and yet beautiful.

 

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8 comments

    1. Tod

      Skinny Contis? I regularly run 25mm Grand Prix 4000’s on my Co-Motion Americano, mounted on Velocity Dyads (24mm external width). Caliper-measured width is over 28mm with those, not remotely “skinny”.

  1. Ian

    Great article, thanks Padraig. Like you, I’d happily pay to look around places like that.

    Just a thought on the shoulder discomfort during the ride. I think I read in your other article on the ride that you were running 100psi? Subject of course to your own weight, with the wider tyres on the wider rim, have you tried a lower pressure?

  2. Tom in Albany

    Well, those are some beautiful bikes. I hate to say it but I’ve been considering, more and more, that maybe it is time to replace my 15 year old Serotta CTi as the primary bike in my stable. That said, the Serotta is a beautiful bike with the Titanium welds as beautiful as those you showed in your pictures.

    Now, I’ve just got to start saving money!

  3. souleur

    well, hats off to co-motion
    seeing their process and well…that coping is just fantfreakintastic, the attention to detail bumps them up the list for me to a real premium maker
    i just love the craft, its a beautiful thing to see done

  4. Pat O'Brien

    Great piece Padraig with excellent photos. Speaking of long reach caliper brakes, I searched for Shimano BR-650 brakes for my Soma ES build but could not find them. The few places that carry them were out of stock, and my LBS ran into the same issue. How were the TRP brakes on your ride? I just switched from 25 to 28 Continental Hard Shells on the ES and the 28 ride smoother and, I think, roll easier.


  5. Author
    Padraig

    Ian: I’ve tended to stick with 100 psi for a couple of reasons, the first, biggest reason being consistency of experience given how frequently I’m on product I’m reviewing these days. And while decreasing pressure can help some, it hasn’t made a difference the way getting in the gym to strengthen my back and shoulders has. The challenge with the gran fondo was that it was just well beyond my endurance level for those little muscles in my shoulders.

    Tom: One really great thing about Co-Motion is that they are an extremely well-managed company that has been around and will continue to be around for a long time.

    Pat: The TRPs were pretty nice. That said, none of the descents were that challenging. Were I to review those brakes, I’d want to have a chance to get them on some canyon descents to see if the power was really as good as it seemed.

    Cash: The frame is still with Joe Bell. Part of my request to him was to go super-extra special. I wanted him at the height of his creative powers and he said he needed some time to get through a big crush of work so that he could have some time to just think about the frame and dream a bit. As a fellow creative, I know what the pressure of production does to creativity, so I gave him the leash he needed. That said, I should be seeing it soon.

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