The weird turn PRO.
First, we’ll kick the obvious elephant out of the room, as the last thing we need right now is more viral saturation. In that vein, we bring you an iridescent, eye-cauterizing journey into the annals of WEIRD, a steel Letras now roaming the deserted streets of a quarantined San Francisco. Internally, we called it “UNICORN VOMIT”, and we felt the moniker needed its time in the public sun.
It wasn’t always supposed to be this way.
When a bike is on order from us, we send over initial paint drafts after pulling some inspiration from the future owner. Usually? Four to six of them. However, the future owner of UNICORN VOMIT got…one. Or so she thought. Your absentminded author forgot to attach the paint drafts, late on a Thursday night. “Job’s done, time for a glass of wine at home!”
Wrong. I got home, and quickly realized my mistake, with the paint drafts sitting on the studio computer.
I had a mea culpa moment, drank a few more glasses of wine, and whipped up something I’d always wanted to try…mostly as an apologetic joke for not fulfilling my obligations as paint-renderer, fully intending to send over the real paint drafts the next day. When I was fully sober. At our studio.
I thought she’d laugh, and do the sensible thing - wait for the sane paint ideas in the morning. Instead, I got a two word response within 15 minutes: “DO IT.”
This bike, though, is so much more than a glorious lunatic fringe paint job. Its owner is a person, who like many women, struggles to find a stock bike that fits their height/proportions without completely sacrificing ride quality and handling. We as an industry have long failed this large group of people, who deserve to have a bike that works every bit as well as the ones built for taller folks (read: Men - mostly).
Is more than just fit. Our design philosophy revolves around bikes that don’t just fit well - they should also be a blast to ride. To that end, many small stock bikes that will fit smaller riders make compromises to make the bike function, taking away from the fun of riding. Extremely slack head tube angles, in an effort to keep the rider from having toe/wheel overlap, cause these small bikes to “flop” at lower speeds. They can feel lazy and ponderous as the front wheel gets farther and farther away from the rider, exacerbated by the very short stems used on these sizes, which bring the rider farther back. Fun is a bike with the rider’s weight in the right places over the two wheels, and oftentimes, that’s hard to do.
Why? Wheel size. In short, designing small bikes with “road standard” 700c-sized wheels is trying, at best. We are trying to wedge two big wheels into a small bike while maintaining proper weight balance (see: Make bike fun). It doesn’t work. The answer? A basic one: Smaller wheels. Plenty of purists scoff, but with the advent of disc brakes on road bikes, the reality is that we can now more easily build proper road setups around 650B and 26” wheel sizes.
And that’s what we did, designing UNICORN VOMIT around 650B DT Swiss road rims, custom-built in-house to the outstanding DT350 hubset, and wrapped in Schwalbe Pro One TLE 28mm tires. We could use “normal” road bike handling geometry. We could put the rider’s weight in the right place. And they could have a bike that rode like a good road bike should: FUN.
Is more than just frame design, too. We choose components that work for the individual rider. Many standard road shift/brake levers are too long for people with smaller hands to use properly. Hence, we try to use Shimano’s short-reach levers on smaller builds, seen here in 105 guise. Cranks are another pain point, with most brands bottoming out at 165mm or even 170mm length cranks. This is often not even remotely proportional to a smaller rider’s fit and dimensions, and can exacerbate toe overlap issues common on small bikes. To solve the problem, we use Rotor’s ALDHU cranks on smaller builds, which are some of the only higher-end cranks available down to 150mm in length. Added bonus? They’re lighter than a set of SRAM Red cranks, and they come in chainring combinations as low as 46/30t.
Made-in-Minnesota component maker Wolftooth picks up headset, seatclamp, and bottle cage duties, with blue alloy cage bolts for added style points. fi’zi:k’s perennial Microtex tape wraps up the Zipp bars, looking right at home with the Letras’ classic skinny-tubed lines. We kept everything on the black side for this build - after all, it really needed nothing else.
Parting Shot, and a COVID-19 Update.
We hope you enjoyed checking out a bike we thoroughly enjoyed putting together, thanks to its risk-taking owner. Hopefully, it can be a bit of light at the end of a long tunnel we’re all going down together. Our production operations are on hold as Colombia is in full-lockdown until mid-April. We’re still able to get bikes going from a design/deposit standpoint, and backfilling the queue really helps a small builder like us keep the lights on.
Thanks for reading, and stay safe!