FRAMES STRONG BY NAME AND STRONG BY NA­TURE

Us-based frame­build­ing veteran Carl Strong re­veals his ethos, his process and what might just be his next bike

Cyclist - - Contents - Words JAMES SPEN­DER Pho­tog­ra­phy DANNY BIRD

het­her it’s ro­bust­ness, sto­icism, pos­sess­ing courage or just out­muscling an op­po­nent, the con­di­tions of strength seem highly de­sir­able in a bike. No won­der frame­builder Carl Strong chose to stick his sur­name on the down tube. Yet, while the typ­i­cal at­tributes of strength are present in a Strong frame, they aren’t the man’s pri­mary mo­tive.

‘My ethos is to be re­ally, re­ally prac­ti­cal,’ says Strong in an avun­cu­lar now look here, son tone that man­ages to be au­thor­i­ta­tive with­out be­ing dis­mis­sive. ‘Don’t do any­thing that doesn’t add to per­for­mance, and start with the cus­tomer. Draw them into the process, ed­u­cate them if they need ed­u­cat­ing, be proac­tive, and col­lab­o­rate.’

It’s an ap­proach that could be ap­plied to a range of busi­nesses, but it’s one Strong has been hon­ing since he first started build­ing frames out of his nan’s garage in Mon­tana in 1993. Since then he’s ‘prob­a­bly built around 3,500 frames’ in ev­ery­thing from steel to car­bon fi­bre, but to­day his main stock in trade is in that most ex­otic of met­als: ‘Ti­ta­nium. These days I do 90% ti­ta­nium, and 60-70% of that is all-road. It’s a tough cat­e­gory to qual­ify, as in a sense it cov­ers ev­ery­thing and noth­ing. Cer­tainly disc brakes have opened up a lot of possibilities, al­low­ing for wider clear­ances for tyres that could never fit un­der a rim cal­liper.

‘I know many peo­ple are against discs, but a lot of that is down to tra­di­tion and peo­ple not lik­ing change – they want a bike to look like a bike and that means rim cal­lipers. I’m one of those peo­ple who en­joy adopt­ing stuff early on, which is why I was Tig-weld­ing frames back in 1993 when peo­ple were still braz­ing. It just made sense to me. I’m prac­ti­cal. Very, very prac­ti­cal.’

There’s that P-word again. But, based on this race-bred cre­ation by Strong, it’s more than just rhetoric.

Tra­di­tion­ally mod­ern

At face value the Strong looks like a reg­u­lar bike – nice parts, yes, but overtly frilly touches? No. Yet as so of­ten in the cus­tom world – par­tic­u­larly cus­tom ti­ta­nium – there’s dev­il­ish ge­nius in the de­tails. For starters, the top and

down tubes are straight gauge, not butted, 3/2.5 ti­ta­nium, mean­ing the wall thick­ness is con­tin­u­ous along the tube’s length. While this adds a few grams, Strong prefers it be­cause thin­ner tubes are sim­ply less ro­bust in the event of an ac­ci­dent. There’s also a metal in­sert all but seam­lessly welded into the top of the seat tube to shim the wide tube down to fit a 27.2mm seat­post and re­in­force this high-stress area.

‘This is the hard­est part of weld­ing,’ he says. ‘You’re deal­ing with vari­able thick­nesses and tight an­gles all over. It’s a real pain in the ass, and you know ev­ery­one’s go­ing to see it. When­ever you weld you feel self-con­scious.’

That may be so, but on this bike there doesn’t seem to be any­thing for Strong to be self-con­scious about, de­spite his protes­ta­tion that he could point out flaws in the frame and that no frame­builder worth their salt is ever fully sat­is­fied. To all but the most highly trained of eyes, the crafts­man­ship in this frame is im­mac­u­late, and is only ac­cen­tu­ated by care­fully con­sid­ered build choices.

The brake cal­lipers, for ex­am­ple, are flat-mount and thus neatly squir­reled away in the cor­ner of the left dropout and flush against the left fork leg. And where most builders would have routed the rear hose ex­ter­nally or in­side the down tube, Strong opted for the more fid­dly op­tion of run­ning the hose along the top tube and down the seat­stay.

‘I like sleek lines, so I kept the hoses out of the way and the top tube kind of level. The an­gle of the top tube is pretty much de­ter­mined by the seat­post – the top tube is sloped so there’s enough post ex­posed to be able to clamp it in a work­stand. I don’t want peo­ple clamp­ing the frame. With a bike like this you’d ex­pect to see round-pro­file chain­stays, but I chose ta­pered stays from Deda, like on a tra­di­tional steel bike. Those end in dropouts with re­place­able threaded in­serts, so the frame isn’t af­fected if you strip the thru-axle threads.

‘Most of the ma­chined parts are 6/4 ti­ta­nium, like the cable guides and dropouts, done by Paragon Ma­chine Works [a sta­ple sup­plier for cus­tom bike builders], with the ex­cep­tion of the head tube. That was made by Loco Ma­chine.’

The head tube is ta­pered with in­te­grated bear­ing seats, which

‘It was the first time I’d worked with this head tube so I wanted to trial it first. So I thought, “Hey, I may as well build it in my size”’

although not unique are still rel­a­tively un­com­mon in ti­ta­nium frames, and Strong wanted to en­sure it tran­si­tioned smoothly into the crown of Colum­bus’s new thru-axle disc fork, the Fu­tura. He’s pleased with the re­sults, for more than one rea­son.

‘It was the first time I’d worked with this head tube so I wanted to trial it first, be­fore I used it for a cus­tomer. So as there was no cus­tomer to build the bike for, I thought, “Hey, I may as well build it in my size.” Which means I might just have to keep it.’

Prices for a ‘cus­tom blend’ ti­ta­nium road frame start from around £2,500. See strongframes.com

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