When it comes to road bikes, I'm a sucker for good looks but I tend toward the classic. Nothing too fancy, just the solidness and predictability of chromoly steel in a tried and true configuration. That's just one of the reasons I wanted to piece together a Soma Stanyan. Now for the full story behind the build...
When I first caught the bicycle bug in the '80s, I was riding on a borrowed Ross Eurotour 3-speed, stripped down to the bare essentials--thanks li'l bro, and sorry about shearing the cog off! When I moved out of my parents' house, I was bike-less until I found a beat-up Nissan Kabuki frame and restored it. It was a great bike to learn on, and though it wasn't much to start with, everything I replaced or modified made it faster. I bought a spoke wrench and learned to true the wheels, and could feel the results each time I took it for a spin. My favorite routes included Clifton, Fountainhead, Bull Run, and any gravel roads and hills I could find. Eventually, when my life's traveling phase started, I left the bike which had brought so many miles of enjoyment behind.
Fast forward to 2001, when I bought my first race bike, an aluminum Cannondale R2000 Si. I swapped the Shimano Ultegra components out for Campagnolo Chorus. I liked the look, sound, and feel of the metal Italian gruppo much more than the plastic-feeling yet efficient stock setup, and before long I was on a regular training schedule and entering races. Several years later, I sold the frame and kept the parts, and shipped off to Spain, where the fine Italian gruppo stayed neatly packed in a box, tucked safely away.
After I returned to Washington DC and opened BicycleSPACE in 2010, I made a few trips back to Spain, and on one of those I finally decided to bring the Campagnolo box back with me.
I spent day after day looking at those parts in my closet on my way out the door. I realized I had to have a frame to mount them on. Being a bike shop owner, the options were almost limitless. And being a bit older now, I didn't feel comfortable on a bike with “in your face” graphics and colors. For the longest time I couldn't find an appropriate frame but then I stumbled across the San Francisco based company, Soma Fabrications.
The first thing I noticed about the Soma Stanyan was that the frame geometry looked a lot like the old Kabuki I had loved so much. The “metallic smoke” paint was perfectly played down, and the understated logos were exactly what I desired. The polished stainless steel lugs and fork crown gave just the right amount of old-school bling. I had ridden 54cm and 56cm frames, and one seemed just a little too small, and the other too large. The 55cm Soma would fit like a glove.
Now the fun began. First thing most people in a bike shop do when they see a bike they like is they pick it up to feel the weight. I wanted this baby to be a light bike behind its steel façade. I used the entire Chorus gruppo to build it up, except for the brakes, for which I would need longer reach Tektro brakes. Wheels are a great way to make a bike significantly lighter, but I wanted to stay as true as I could to a classic look, and David at the shop introduced me to Velocity Aerohead rims. I laced them up and they were shockingly light, even with the tough-as-nails 25cm Continental Gatorskin Hardshell tires and Swiss DT stainless spokes. I still had my old lightweight Thomson seatpost wrapped in newspaper packing, which I had used on my Cannondale race bike, and it fit perfectly. Being one of the biggest Brooks England dealers in the nation and a guest of Brooks crew for the 2012 L'Eroica race in Tuscany, I went with the most incredible saddle I've ever owned, the Brooks England Swallow with titanium rails--it only touches where it needs to and it's super comfortable, especially on longer rides. The Brooks D-Shaped tool bag compliments it perfectly.
My old stem, light as it was, looked out of place on the Soma. I decided to run with the bling idea and decided on an elegant Nitto CT-81 chromoly and chrome-plated stem. What I lost in weight advantage I gained in looks, but life is all about priorities, right? To continue the theme, I chose a matching set of Nitto handlebars and finished it off with Brooks leather bar tape. The combination of the flattened curves on the Nitto bar with the ergonomic Campagnolo brake hoods makes even 100 mile rides comfortable. As a finishing touch, I mounted a Nitto Stainless Steel R bottle cage with low-profile bolts.
The result is spectacular. It's predictable in sub-optimal conditions, it tracks amazingly well, and it's fast when it wants to be. It doesn't get noticed right away, but once someone starts looking at it, it's usually a while before they look away. As if I needed a pat on the back, a staff member showed it to a regional manager for one of the big French fashion houses one day in the shop. The manager took it out for a spin, and then when he came back grinning, he asked that we build one up for him in the exact same way.
It seems like every bike build we do has a story associated with it. This bike is the story of my life because it essentially makes my '80s frame what it should have been, adds the parts from my racing era, and updates it with both modern and classic bits. Each time I ride, I remember the feel and freedom of discovering new routes on my first road bike, the blistering jaunts I used to carve on my racing bike, and my overseas adventures. That's everything I can ask for from a bicycle.
By Erik Kugler, Co-Owner