The $5,000 Bike Put the spoke in bespoke with a bicycle built for you. (FORTUNE Magazine) By Scott Mowbray November 26, 2001
(FORTUNE Magazine) – Turns out I needed a custom-measured hand-built bicycle that cost four times the blue book value of my car. Turns out, according to Allen Trepel, the owner of Roy's Sheepshead Cycle in Brooklyn, that I have no torso. This is what Trepel yells at me as I ride by his shop on my factory-issue Trek bike, while he crouches down to get a bead on my riding profile. Trepel looks like a white-haired first-base coach for the Yankees. He's loud, he's tan, he's 110% sure of his advice, and I gotta love him, even when he's telling me that from the point of view of optimum cycling physiology I'm built like Mr. Potato Head. Ergo, I need a custom-built bicycle to get a perfect fit.
Which wasn't actually the reason I decided to drop five grand on a bicycle. I had my bike handbuilt because once you're into serious road riding you may find yourself on the slippery slope to the gear obsession that infects many sports. Soon the two loci of bikemania are revealed: America and Italy. The Italian bikes--the moss-green Bianchis and often bordello-garish Colnagos--have the heritage, and Italophiles think they're the prettiest. The upstart American machines are more nakedly about the technology. I like naked technology.
My friend Peter Sikowitz, a former editor of Bicycling magazine, had just traded in his tomato-red steel Pinarello for a titanium Litespeed made near Chattanooga, and mentioned that if I really wanted a piece of exotica I should check out Seven Cycles, a boutique frame builder in Massachusetts known for its titanium work and its obsession with detail. Ten minutes later I was visiting sevencycles.com; a few days after that I had in my hands a lovingly detailed brochure that included an eight-page customization form exploring the minutiae of drive-train rigidity and vertical compliance. I called Roy's Sheepshead Cycle, local agents for Seven, and soon I was in Allen Trepel's hands for more body measurements than you'd get from a Jermyn Street tailor. Fifteen hundred dollars confirmed the engagement. A phone consultation with a fellow at Seven headquarters followed, to discuss riding style and how the bike can be adjusted as I approach decrepitude--the basic amortization argument.
When the Seven arrived we stood around in the shop to stare. The machine is weirdly light, as if it's not all there. The titanium frame, a polished dull gray, has a gunmetal seriousness. There's a dead clink when you tap the frame; it sounds eggshell thin. My model, the Odonata, has forks and other parts made of filament-wound carbon fiber, which has swirling patterns of black on black and makes you think of stealth bombers. Little details like the fork crown are as handsome as fittings on a vintage Chris Craft. Against the festooned Italian bikes, this feels weapons-grade.
Next day, doing 60 miles up highway 9W in New Jersey, I experienced the feeling often described in reviews of high-end sports cars--the one when the machine feels like an extension of your body. I was powering the cycling equivalent of a Swiss watch up the hills, and it was a nice feeling, maybe even a five-grand feeling, for a guy with no torso.