The Seven/RKP Project

The Seven/RKP Project

From my current vantage point I can’t say if it was a stroke of genius or hubris that saw me call Seven Cycles one day and suggest they should more deliberately market their ability to make travel bikes. Mine is a complicated world with few answers as simple as the love of my sons, so it’s likely that the call contained equal measures genius and hubris. A jerk’s best intentions, or something.

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My call was rooted in a awareness that multiple factors I’d been watching were converging. First is the fact that traveling with a standard bicycle has become stupidly expensive. The charges that airlines are imposing vary wildly and due to their inconsistency can seem capricious when the airline employees are polite, punitive when difficult.

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However, there’s never been a more interesting time to be a cyclist with a boarding pass. There have never been more reasons to pack a bike up and go someplace else for the weekend. Considering all the gran fondos and gravel events, not to mention plenty of multi-day tours, if you’re not traveling to an event once or twice per year, you’re really missing out.

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But $300 one-way to travel with your baby? Yeah, can I get the appetizer of thanks I’ll pass? And if traveling with your bike seems an obscene waste of greenbacks, renting a bike can sometimes run $100/day, so that can also make the quest to ride in a far-flung place utterly futile.

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So I told Seven Cycles they ought to build more travel bikes. It’s not a bad idea. The most I’ve ever paid on a major airline to travel with my travel bike has been $25. Good idea or not, they did what any reasonable organization ought to do in that circumstance.

“Can we get back to you?”

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The funny thing is, they did. But what they proposed was even crazier than what I came up with. They suggested that they do a special run of their Evergreen model built and spec’d with an eye to the lessons I’ve learned in my travels since I got my Axiom retrofitted with S&S couplers back in 2010.

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So yeah, there’s going to be a special RKP-edition of the Seven Cycles Evergreen. That notion is a bit surreal, but it also feels very right. This project was what occasioned my visit to Seven a couple of weeks ago. While there I went for a ride with Neil Doshi, Seven’s chief bike designer and Karl Borne, Seven’s marketing director. This would be the ride Robot was supposed to join but instead he was being evaluated by a hand surgeon. Such delight. You can see Seven’s take on my visit here.

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The ride we did was a revelation. Our route started in Watertown at Seven’s headquarters and led us to Ride Studio Café in Arlington over a mix of roads and trails. I rode Rob Vandermark’s personal Evergreen, which was a pretty close fit. It was equipped with a fine complement of parts, some of which made me rethink certain conclusions I’d drawn and rolled on some 40mm Clement tires that seemed as adept on asphalt as they were on pine needles. That ride was first-kiss fun.

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The point is to come up with the ultimate travel bike, a solution thought through in such detail that you can ride anything from the Oregon Gran Fondo to Rebecca’s Private Idaho and need little more than a second set of tires in your case.

I’ll be heading back in a few weeks to meet with them again and debut the bike on some rides. Stay tuned.

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27 comments

  1. Hoshie99

    Good timing, been eyeballing the Evergreen for these SoCal mountains (live near Angeles / San Gabriels) and some club riding as a “one bike” option to simplify the stable so really curious about your take Padraig.

    J

  2. Andrew

    Why must you torture us with more news about Seven Cycles? :- )

    As far as traveling with bikes goes- how do you get a box big enough to carry two wheels and the (broken apart) frame onto the airplane without them extracting additional fees on you?

  3. Brian feltovich

    Great idea, but I really wish they’d leave off the disc brakes. A solution in search of a problem. I’ve done plenty of gravel riding and rim brakes do the job just fine; not a fan of heavier, more complex brakes. Travel bikes don’t need to mess with hydraulics, and mechanical discs kinda suck. Keep it simple, please!!!


  4. Author
    Padraig

    Everyone: thanks for your comments, opinions and feedback. I hope you’ll bear in mind that the bike shown isn’t the bike we will put into production. That’s Rob’s personal bike and we have a few surprises up our sleeve.

    Andrew: Here’s the deal with regard to airlines. An S&S travel case isn’t oversize. It’s just shy of the oversize threshold (by about 3/4″). The most I’ve paid to travel with my S&S coupled Axiom was $35 on either Hawaiian or Aloha. They insisted that all bikes, no matter whether they are oversized or not, get charged $35. I wasn’t exactly happy about that. Every other airline has been pretty cool. I’ve had a few insist it was oversized until they pulled out the tape measure and found out it wasn’t. On many flights, because I checked only that one case, it traveled for free.

    Truly, having a bike that will cost you $50 or less to travel (round trip) completely changes the considerations of travel with a bike.

  5. Michael

    Andrew, The maximum size for checked luggage is 62″ in the US. A 700c wheel with the tire smooshed fits inside a 26″x26″ square, leaving room for a 10″ width for the case. I travel many times a year with my bike in one of these cases (S&S sells the suitcases as well as the couplers) and have, like Padraig, only paid the now-normal luggage cost (Southwest is a better deal for this). My coupler bike is a Rock Lobster steel frame. It is heavy compared to a common carbon bike, but it can handle road, rough road, dirt, touring (light – I think it might be a bit of a drag with really heavy gear) and tires up to pretty darn fat. Definitely want fender/rack eyelets. Cable splitters make putting the bike back together without having to adjust brakes and derailleurs great. Sell it with the velcro padding S&S has – way better than pipe insulation, in my book. Framefit or good mini pump would be nice – you want a real pump not CO2 cartridges with these bikes. Riding on Reunion Island a couple months ago, I realized I really wished I had disc brakes when hit by a thunderstorm at the top of a 15-km 10% descent on bad roads. It was a little sketchy but perhaps descending slowly was the better thing to do anyway. The thing with a coupler bike is you want it to be able to do anything and everything you might encounter, and you have no idea what that may be, so a little extra weight is not a problem if it provides more capabilities. My opinions, anyway, after a few years living with this bike.

  6. Michael

    I guess Padraig and I were writing at the same time. One other comment: I figure I have saved several thousand dollars in bag charges over the last few years with this bike. That goes a long way toward paying for it.

  7. Rob

    I’ve had an S&S coupled bike for a few years now, and have arrived at a handful of things that make it worthwhile, as opposed to more trouble than it’s worth.
    Basically, the more time it takes to pack and unpack, the less likely you are to take it on a trip. My threshold right now is essentially a weeklong trip or more, or a dedicated event that I’d target. ie: I’m not bringing my S&S bike on a random 3 day weekend to visit relatives.

    Bear in mind I ride a 56cm (and other people my height may be on a 57/58cm).

    – Assuming you have to take the left crankarm off, Shimano 105 is pretty good here. (This beats pulling the entire fork.)
    – Canti brakes are nice, particularly with a straddle hanger like the Paul’s version, because you can leave the brakes mounted and just unhook the brake cable from the straddle.
    – I typically take my coupled bike to a reasonably flat part of France to visit relatives, so a 1×10 setup minimizes hassle. I’m currently converting it to a 1×10 with a 40T ring and CX1 r/d, and will see how it goes later this month.
    – The fewer spokes you can get away with, the easier it is to pack. However, that comes at a detriment to durability. Best to swallow your pride and just buy a set of bombproof Aksiums or similar for your travels. Your wheels will take a beating anyway.

    I understand the market is headed towards discs, and eventually I wouldn’t mind my travel bike also being a rain bike/ commuter/ cx racer, but I’ve heard repeated instances of rotors bending, and so you need to add the extra 5 mins either side to take them off.

    Hoever, given this is Seven, they have the benefit of building with titanium. So, if they’re being honest with the customer, rather than trying to sell them the flavor of the month, what I’d most recommend is as follows:

    – Ti Mudhoney frame for canti brakes, include fender eyelets so the bike can serve a dual purpose while at home.
    – Shimano crank for ease of removal.
    – Do NOT spec one of those Seven stems with the bolts behind the faceplate- pain in the neck for travel purposes.
    – 1×10 setup if the customer’s terrain allows. Otherwise, definitely something where all the cables run under the handlebars (I think this is pretty much everything these days.)
    – Durable wheels with few spokes as possible.

    If you absolutely have to sell the customer disc brakes, set the geo so they can swap between 650b and fattish tires for traveling, and 700c and 33mm tires for racing CX, commuting, etc.

  8. Michael

    I think those are good points about traveling with disc brakes, Rob and Brian. Cantis might be a good compromise, although they might stick out and get in the way during packing. My frame is about a 53 or 54 – never actually measured it but expect he built it about that size. I have never had to take off any crank arms. I take off the handlebars and front brake (so I can rotate the forks backward) and rear derailleur (just for safety – it fits fine), and bottle cages and seat post, unscrew the cable splitters, let the air out of the tires and take off the front tire, wrap the frame in the S&S padding (I marked each cut segment for where it fits), unscrew the couplers, and pack the bike. Packing takes about 30-45 minutes depending on beer breaks and whether I have a work stand and putting it together more like 45 minutes. It took a couple trips to figure out the optimal packing arrangement, but I took photos of it and use those if it has been a while since I last packed it. Rob is right about wheels – worth having bomber ones. With the cable splitters, I rarely have to adjust the derailleurs after setup. Oh, one other thing is that the couplers themselves are not water-tight. In a wet climate (I am currently working and living in Ireland), I cut short sections of a mountain bike tube and slip them over the fore and aft parts of the coupler and that seals water out. I also smeared Phil Wood grease inside the couplers to coat them to prevent rust. Someone should have a little summary of tips for traveling with coupler bikes, but I haven’t found a complete one. Some good web pages and videos showing how to fit everything into the case, though.

    1. John Bayley

      @Michael I grew up in Ireland, so I am, how shall we say? attuned to issues involving precipitation in general, and precipitation in relation to bikes and cycling in particular. With that as background, I have made it a small mission in life to make builders who install S&S couplers aware of the “correct” orientation to use for their installation, for the downtube in particular. I deduce that the downtube coupler on your frame has the nut on the front/headtube end of the frame and the threaded section on the rear/bottom bracket end of the frame. That leaves the open/unthreaded end of the coupler facing both skyward and towards the front wheel. As you have experienced (but worked around, with what I refer to as a “coupler condom”), that allows all manner of crud into both the coupler and the frame.

      If the coupler is installed in the reverse orientation, with the threaded section on the front/head-tube end of the frame and the nut on the rear/bottom bracket end of the frame, this problem is essentially eliminated. Co-Motion are one of the few companies that install them in this orientation by default. And guess what? They are based in a location that has a little bit of precipitation too.

      My dream travel frame would combine a downtube coupler in this orientation, placed to allow a third bottle cage under the down tube, with a split seattube, à la Ritchey Breakaway. I admire the engineering/machining tour de force of the former and the simple elegance of the latter.

  9. Pamela Blalock

    Ah, the *ideal* travel bike. We’ve been traveling with coupled tandems and single bikes for many years now. Over time, learning from each trip, we’ve come close to designing our ultimate bikes – as far as ease of packing and transporting, while also trying to keep the bike versatile and fun for all types of riding. A coupled Evergreen is a very good starting point. This design is super versatile, and can be used for everything from adventure touring on dirt roads and trails in New Zealand to flying up and down mountains on a gran fondo in Italy. Thanks to Seven’s approach to building each bike to order, you can customize it to fit both your dimensions and style of riding! And with a simple tire change, the bike can be fine tuned to excel at whatever you want.

    I’ve decoupled and packed and unpacked bikes and tandems so many times now that it is almost automatic and I can do it pretty quickly, even on the sidewalk in front of an airport with an audience and tight deadline. It took a few times to get this comfortable, and a few iterations on frames to get the ideal set up.

    So based on my experience, I’ll add my 2 cents for your consideration.

    Smaller wheels do make packing easier, as they fit into the standard S&S case with fully inflated fat tires. We’ve had 26″, 700C and 650B wheels on various machines over the years. Disk brakes make it reasonable to swap between wheels of different sizes. Our travel tandem uses 650B wheels, but was built to also take 700C, meaning we have loads of different tire options. For ultimate versatility using different sized wheels, John added an eccentric bottom bracket to his Evergreen, so he could run the BB low on the 700C wheels and high on 650Bs.

    Centerlock disk mounts make removing the rotor much easier for travel. A hybrid disk brake, like the TRP HyRoad – allows one to use cable splitters – handy for dis-assembly, while still getting the self adjustment brake pads of hydraulics. I have to disagree with some of the commenters who haven’t found disk brakes worthwhile. After a few wet dirt road rides with steep loose descents, one may come to appreciate the benefits of not wearing out a rim from grinding grit while braking – or having relatively clean hands after repairing a puncture.

    Split cable guides, combined with cable splitters, also make the reassembly process much smoother.

    We have found removing cranks eliminates risk of paint damage, and is often necessary to get the puzzle pieces in the box. With newer style cranks where the spindle is attached to one arm, it can be awkward to pack the crank with attached spindle, but SRAM unknowingly addressed this with the new Force crank where the spindle attaches to the left arm.

    Speaking of paint damage, an unpainted titanium frame is great for travel! S&S padding is great for preventing damage, and is even better if you label each piece the first time you pack!

    Some of the new bike packing saddle bags and frame bags are spacious enough to eliminate the need for a rack and the hassle of fiting that awkward shape into the case!. But if you want a rack, having one that comes apart and lays flat does make packing easier. Seven has made a few racks in this style.

    I look forward to seeing your ideal travel bike.

    Pamela Blalock

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  11. RonS

    I just bought a used Litespeed Ti frame which I am planning to convert to disc brakes. Now I think I’ll add S&S couplers and make it a versitile travel bike. Oh boy oh boy oh boy, can’t wait for next season. . .

  12. Mark

    I’m on the precipice of ordering a ti gravel bike and have been eyeing both the Evergreen among others. As it happens, I’ve also been seriously contemplating a bike with couplers. Is there an approximate release date for this Padraig?

    And to me, the HyRoad solution makes a lot of sense. When I switch to disc brakes, I want hydro.

    Sounds exciting!

  13. irv

    Hi Patrick (or Seven folk),

    Which model is the orange bike in the first photo of this article, looks like it may be an ideal bike for me. I think it says Expat on the TT but has a number of interesting options….

    Thanks,

    Irv

  14. Zach M

    Padraig, you get the AWESOME award for this idea! I’ve been deliberating what bike I’m going to take on cycling trips that can handle everything from mountain passes to gravel roads and this is it. My wife and I are getting away for a cycling trip to the Boston area in a few weeks and are planning a visit to Seven as I am the proud owner of a Seven and she soon will be. If the special RKP-edition Evergreen is still present, I might try to take a sneak-peek!

  15. Michael

    John Bayley: Thanks for your note on couplers. Following your explanation of reversing the coupler orientation, I asked my frame’s builder about reversing it. He said that there is some debate within the builder community on this, as doing it your way requires a larger “stub” on the rear triangle to fit the nut on with clearance. This can make for more problems in packing the bike. My frame is about a 53 or 54 cm, so small enough that I suspect this would not be a big problem. The smallness of my frame may also explain why I don’t need to take the cranks off either, although having a larger rear triangle with the reversed coupler orientation might make the difference. In any event, the bit of water leakage is easily fixed and I suspect I’d put a rubber gasket over the coupler regardless of its orientation, just to keep the threads clean.

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