In and of itself me getting a new bike shouldn’t be all that interesting to you. This particular story though has connections that make it worth telling. There’s the story of why Mike Flanigan of ANT built me a bike. There’s the story of how the plan for a family touring bike became a road/time-trial race bike which later became a more versatile all-around road bike. Then there’s the bike itself which is a sort of Workcycles of the road bike world.
First let’s get our terminology straight… I call this a “road bike” even though I don’t particularly like the term. To me “road bike” implies that other kinds of bikes aren’t suitable for the road, while this is just one of many types of bikes that are ridden on roads. Even stranger old skool roadies like me ride their “road bikes” in the dirt, sometimes to the shock and horror of nü skool roadies.
Bikes more specific in purpose or type get their own names: recumbents, fixies, track bikes, touring bikes, porteurs, biporteurs, triporteurs, randonneurs, 29eurs etc. So what would be a more specific, appropriate name for what we know as a “road bike” which is actually a bike that looks more or less like the bikes road racers ride but will most probably never be used for competition? I’m drawing a blank for a concise term so for now I’ll just leave it at “road bike”.
I didn’t really NEED a new road bike. I had two others, one lovely with a long history and the other super functional and ugly for crapy weather cycling (which we have a lot of in Holland). The lovely one is my 1980ish DeRosa built with a mix of modern and old parts. I’ve had that bike, in various forms, since it was a year or two old.
I bought this frame from Gimbel’s ride acquaintance Brian Fucci for $450 and have ridden it on and off for 30 years. A chainstay broke in the 90’s and friend Brian Spitz repaired it and updated the braze-ons. I left it wrapped in paper until I found myself wanting a geared road bike again a few years ago. It’s pretty but was never a perfect fit, especially as I’ve gradually shifted my saddles back from my criterium/road sprinter days. Its saddle is now slammed back in a seat post with 25mm of rear offset. As many fine memories as we’ve had together the DeRosa will be sold. It’s a 55cm c-c with 55.5cm top tube in case you’re curious. I don’t yet know which parts I’ll sell with it or for how much so if it’s interesting just tell me what you’d like.
The ugly road bike actually gets ridden more because the fenders, fatter tires and slightly more relaxed position make it great for racking up the kilometers in crappy weather and on unpaved roads.
I don’t even know what kind of frame this is aside from its features pegging it as early 1970’s Dutch or English. There are no markings nor serial number so it was probably built by a small, local builder. I bought it as an old bike at a 2nd hand store in Groningen, tossed the parts in my bins and had a friend add all of the braze-ons: cantilever bosses, cable guides etc. It’s even got low-rider bosses in case I ever want to add front panniers for touring. I built and continue to maintain it with old parts from my bins. The rust, BTW, is fake, to reduce the chance of theft while touring.
Just as proof of my old skool racing cred, here’s one of the few pics I have, this one from when I was 15. My friend Chris Newman put it up on Facebook. I’m the kid in front with the orange helmet and red arm warmers (actually a long sleeve jersey under the short sleeve jersey). We did hundreds of these crits but this one I remember from the cold, howling wind and sand we then washed from our eyes for days. Only a handful of us finished in the group and I remember treating my folks with my prize: lunch in a local Italian restaurant. Ah, the glamorous life of a Junior bike racer.
Fast forward a few decades and I’m an adult with a young family in Amsterdam, designing and building Workcycles bikes. Our first Workcycles from the ground up bike, the iconic Fr8, captures a lot of hearts and “inspires” some other bike companies as well. There’s the well-known and sordid story of the hypocrites at former dealer Baisikeli in Copenhagen who claim to be doing “ethical business” but copied the Fr8 to the millimeter, claim it as their own and then tried to sue us for writing about it. More about the Baisikeli story here. Meanwhile Mike Flanigan of ANT (Alternative Needs Transport) in the US simply licensed Workcycles’ Adaptive Seat Tube design. Knowing that ANT only produces a small number of bikes and only a small number of those would be built with the AST design we kept the agreement very simple; For as long as less than X bikes are built Mike just credits the design to Workcycles in his communications. That’s it. He builds a dozen or so bikes with a handy design and Workcycles gets a little publicity and recognition for it.
That’s Mike above with a Basket Bike, his AST equipped transporter. Mike and I actually worked together for a short time in 1989 at Fat City Cycles, the brilliant little firm that struggled to earn a living but spawned much of the Massachusetts bike builder scene. Amongst others Merlin, Independent, Seven, ANT, King Cage are all former Fat colleagues and Fat influence is still visible in their styles: No-BS, straightforward designs, mostly using straight, round tubes and clean TIG welding. That’s also my aesthetic and the Workcycles Fr8, Gr8 and upcoming Kr8 bakfiets are essentially Dutch Bikes in this style s well.
Mike apparently felt that my offer was too generous so he promised to build me a frame as well. I certainly couldn’t refuse that but what frame did I need? That’s actually where things started to go wrong. Full of enthusiasm I retreated to my secret design cave and after several months of intense work I sent the drawings to Mike: the family touring bike, a solid but fairly light bike both Kyoko and I could ride with the two kids aboard. It featured a stiff, step-through frame with Workcycles AST geometry, long rear carrier for kiddy seat and panniers, hydraulic brakes, Rohloff hub and much more. It would be a considerable improvement over my current “papatourfiets”:
The family touring bike was an ambitious design but an interesting mix of Workcycles and ANT to show off each of our firms’ capabilities and possibly build in series later. Mike liked the design and said he could build it with a couple small changes. But it didn’t happen. Super busy with work that actually pays the bills I couldn’t send the final drawings to Mike until after my allotted time slot (Mike’s a busy guy). Furthermore I’d since updated the design with tricky details and added a rather complicated rear carrier. I suspect Mike privately said something like “Fuck it. This is just too much too late.” After a couple months of radio silence I got a note that the bike would have to be built in the following year. I had hoped to be taking this bike on our summer holidays and that wasn’t going to happen. We’d only need this bike for another couple years, after which our existing touring bikes would suffice so I wrote Mike to kindly hold my build slot but that I’d send plans for a different frame.
In the last few years I’ve been steadily getting back into fast recreational cycling, both on the track and the road. Friends even roped me into doing a local club race, which turned out to be really fun. My mid 90’s custom track bike is working just fine for me with a few updates but was hankering for a more modern road bike; for example one with shifters on the bars again, more suitable geometry for my own ape-armed body and a frame that didn’t become a wet noodle in a sprint. So I retreated to my secret design cave and researched what’s developed in road bikes since I last designed one 20 years ago. Of course 99% of what’s developed is
ugly plastic carbon which doesn’t particularly appeal to me and Mike doesn’t build anyway. But I also had to get up to speed with the fit and clearances for modern parts: in particular handlebars are shaped differently and drivetrains have evolved considerably. Steel tubing is also much more advanced now, with very thin-wall tubes from ultra high strength alloys and many specially shaped tubes available.
This time, months before the deadline I sent Mike the plans for a road frame with all kinds of cool features. The cables passed diagonally through the tapered tubes to reduce cable friction. The airfoil shaped seat mast was made from two sections of aero down tube. Had I considered that, in the past year, my ideas had drifted considerably from ANT’s core business of building bikes for transportation? Uh, no I hadn’t really thought about that. But Mike (diplomatically?) replied “I think I can build it.” A couple months and my time slot pass and I send another note to Mike to check on the progress. This time he’s not so sure he can build it; can he eliminate a couple of the special features? I try to compromise: “Well bummer but OK; how about you skip W and X but do Y and Z?” Another month of radio silence and Mike replies that he has to backpedal even further, making it clear that from the very beginning he meant to offer a typical ANT frame. Yes, he is capable of building steel frames like I drew but he’s not well equipped for it. His program and tooling is for round tubing, welding equipment not ideal for extremely thin wall tubing. Duh, what a bonehead I’d been. Sorry Mike, I should have read that into our discussion a year and a half ago. A couple friendly mails back and forth about experiences managing customers’ expectations and adapting my design to Mike’s methods and we were back on track.
A couple months later the frame and fork showed up, so thoroughly packed that damage would be inconceivable, perhaps even had a truck run over the box. I’d been collecting parts for months so I had the bike on the road a week later and took a few pics of bike and myself during one of its first rides. So without further ado I’ll introduce my wicked (that’s New England speak for super cool), new ANT road bike.
I’ve now ridden it four times for a total of 375km this week and I really like it. Actually it’s exactly what I expected, no great surprise after having ridden and designed so many bikes. Of course it fits perfectly since the position is the same as my other bikes aside from some small adaptations for the modern handlebar and longer brake lever handles. It is much stiffer than my 70’s era bikes with skinny tubes, stems and small diameter crank axles. That’s great for the handling but also brings the downside that rough pavement is felt more sharply at my hands and butt. Lowering the tire pressure by a half bar compensates effectively.
This bike is a real contrast to most modern road bikes. It’s an attractive tool for fast cycling while the bulk of bikes between roadies’ legs are aspirational; They aspire to look like the bikes professional racers ride, complete with the ridiculous billboard graphics covering their considerable surface area. The only graphics on my bike are the small ANT decals and the few logos I couldn’t easily remove from the parts. The parts were chosen on the basis of real world considerations and are exotic material free. Amongst modern road bikes it’s not particularly light at 8.5kg (18.7lb) but that doesn’t actually matter. In this sense it’s like the road bike Workcycles would build if Workcycles were in that business.
Here are some more details for those who dig such stuff. The frame is TIG welded from Columbus Life tubing with 0.6/0.4/0.6mm tubes. That’s about as thin as one can go when building a bike that will last. The fork has heat treated Dedacciai unicrown blades. They’re very light for a steel fork but a couple hundred grams heavier than any decent carbon fork. I prefer the more compliant ride of a steel fork and the safety factor when bouncing over cobbles and rough trails.
The devil is in the details and this is my favorite part of building bikes. The derailleurs and brakes are just a mix of Shimano Ultegra and Dura Ace but I’ve gotten everything working buttery smooth with the super slick Gore teflon coated cables. The criss-crossed shift cables really improve the cable path around the head tube and tuck the cables in under the down tube. They also show off the cool ANT head badge. Both front and rear brakes have clearance for fat 28mm tires though I usually ride with 23’s. The Cane Creek headset and Thomson stem/seat post are just solid, well designed parts that do their jobs perfectly without costing a fortune.
Accommodating this Cannondale Hollowgram crank was essential. It’s the narrowest crank available, has lots of ankle clearance, is rock stiff and has huge bearings. It’s even very light. However it requires a frame with a special, large diameter bottom bracket shell and is obscenely expensive. I found a nice one second hand. Barely visible behind the chainrings is the chain catcher that drops the chain right back on the chainring should it get bounced off while shifting on a bumpy road. The stainless steel King Cages hold bottles with authority and are hand made by another former Fat City colleague Ron Andrews.
All in all my transition from old skool to nü skool road bike has been quite fun. I’m especially pleased that all of my measurements and plans just translated into a perfect riding bike, even one of a type I hadn’t explored in decades. It just confirms my opinion that designing or choosing a bike isn’t a mystery if you understand the principles involved and do your homework.
Lastly a big thanks to Mike Flanigan for offering the frame and delivering on his promise. I will ride it proudly for many years.