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
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.
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