Old World Meets New World – A Bike Build Saga

Old World Meets New World – A Bike Build Saga

by: Loc Vo (Pleasant Hill, CA)

Some may say it’s not about the bike; however, with this project, it’s all about the bike and the artisans that build them. In a world of ultra-light and super aero bikes, this project went in the opposite direction. The project is meant to pay tribute to and showcase the artisans that handcraft bike frames and components. The goal was to build a bike that perhaps transports you back to the post-World-War era bikes while using advanced materials and integrating today’s best technologies… and of course, something that can truly be used daily with minimal (emphasis on) maintenance.

A few years ago (2012 in fact), I saw the first Di2 internal gear hub from Shimano and it was love at first sight. What an awesome internal hub shifted by an electronic motor. I’ve been a big fan of Shimano electronic shifting since I used the first generation of Di2 in late 2009 on one of my bikes. It has worked flawlessly without requiring any adjustments since it was installed! Those that have used them will never go back to mechanical shifting, at least that goes for me. Hence this project must include Di2 shifting for the internal gear hub.

I am also a big fan of minimizing maintenance as I dislike cleaning my chain on a traditional drive mechanism. In support of the build goal to minimize maintenance, a belt drive was chosen. Gates’ belts are used widely in many industries and applications across the world. Belt drives by Gates only make sense as they’re practically maintenance free and with a smooth and quiet ride to boot… what’s not to like?

While there are many debates among both professional and amateur/recreational cyclists about the need for disc brakes, I included hydraulic disc brakes in a bike build 3 years ago. Similarly to Di2, once I used disc brakes, I cannot see myself returning to rim brakes. I live in Northern California where some (a lot) of our rides are hilly and require good brakes. I found myself enjoying the descents much more with disc brakes than ever before. For those that have driven cars in the 70s with drum-brakes and then transitioned to cars in the 80’s with disc-brakes, would you ever go back to drum-brakes? I rest my case…

“Let there be light…” Lights are required to be utilitarian similar to the post WW bikes. Many people relied on bikes as their primary transportation after the WW and lights were a necessity. I have selected a SON Dynamo hub to provide power for the front and rear lights.


With key technologies selected for this project, I focused on the frame material. While carbon is the real deal in terms of advancement for bicycles, I wanted the look of a traditional steel bike but without the worry of rust long term or the need for paint. Titanium fits the mold of advancement while providing a care free maintenance long term. Well, to be honest… it’s also because titanium simply looks awesome in its bare form!

Seven Cycles is regarded as one of the best custom bike builders in the world. They started the company in 1997 building custom titanium frames and have evolved to include the use of carbon and titanium for their frames now. However, a full titanium frame is still a core part of their products. I chose Seven to build a custom frame that included a custom titanium seat post, stem and handlebars. Unfortunately, Seven does not offer a titanium fork and they no longer offer custom racks with their
frames. With the desire for a titanium fork and racks, I commissioned Ti-Cycles to deliver a custom fork along with a complete set of racks and a belt guard. I’d heard (primarily read) of Ti-Cycles great work but seeing the results of their work, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat !

What are racks for without saddlebags? Like the rest of my build components, I had something specific in mind and I also didn’t want something right off the shelf. I did some searching and happened to fell in love with bags from RuthWorksSF. Ely is the creator and he makes beautiful custom bike saddles and other bike bags right in my backyard, the Bay Area, California. How lucky was that…?

If you’re like me… by this point, you are probably tired of all the bla bla bla… just show me to the results already! So without further ado, let me introduce you to my “Café Racer”. Again, this is a build that’s meant to pay tribute to the artisans of the bike industry and showcase the limited few that hand build components for this bike!

p.s. I welcome any comments or suggestions… you can reach me at Locbvo1@gmail.com

Pleasant Hill Cyclery (Pleasant Hill, CA) – Eric Amundson is the proprietor of PH-Cyclery and happens to be one of the best mechanics (with over 30+yrs of experience) that I know in the Bay Area (Northern California). He has been a great friend and helped me navigate through the build choices throughout this entire project. He spent a significant amount of time with me to complete this build. PH-Cyclery is a down to earth bike shop that doesn’t have the look of an ultra high-end shop… but like most things in life, if you judge a book by it’s cover, it is your loss… I’m sure you know of such bike shops in your local area.

Ti-Cycles (Portland, OR) – Dave and Eric patiently worked through all of my design and met my requests for the racks that included light mounting requirements and a custom bullet tail lights. The Ti fork is a beauty to look at and it’s built like a rock. Dave took my requirement for the belt guard and implemented it beautifully (elegant but simple mounting points). I highly recommend Ti-Cycles and I would love to work on another project with them.

Seven Cycles (Watertown, MA) – PH-Cyclery is a dealer for Seven and they provided once again a beautiful custom frame, seat post, handlebars and stem for this project. I can’t speak enough about their build quality and frame design. I visited Seven in Watertown a couple of years ago and saw the men and women that worked on building frames. It’s incredible to see their quality checks in the process of building a bike (frame, components, etc…).

FSE.bike  Dan Kellerby (Managing Partner for FSE) worked with me to provide a tubeless set of rims with custom spoke holes for the front SON and rear Alfine hubs. After seeing the rims and building the wheels, I can say with confident that the quality and build of the rims are top notch as I’ve been using high-end carbon wheels for the last 7-8yrs. In fact, I’m ordering a few more sets for other projects.

RuthWorks (RuthWorksSF.com) – Ely is the creator of bike saddles and other bike related bags. He worked and delivered my exact needs for bags and he know his craft. He seems to love his work and is willing to customize your exact needs. Definitely found a gem in this build journey.
Old Farts (East Bay, CA) – The men & women in my cycling group have been a huge inspiration for my cycling life… a huge thanks to them for always putting up with me tagging along their side week after week.