Grinduro Fat Tracker; a monstrous project, that only just made it
Our Grinduro invite this year was a bit of a dream come true. The deal was I would build a frame and Columbus, Hope, Maxxis, Rapha, Ritchey and Fabric would supply all the components and parts. I’d just have to have it painted, get it there (to the Isle of Arran in Scotland) and ride it in the race.
I was asked to build a Monstercross bike. A whacky racer in a literal sense, a mountain bike with road bars - a little off brand - with massive tyres and laid back geo.
This company and everything we make is about hitting the highest possible standard (that’s why it took me so long to find our fabricators) so hobbling together a bike frame at short notice IS NOT how I like to do things. Further, I don’t build many of our frames here anyway, they’re all made by hand by our team in Northern Italy.
It wasn’t a customer bike of course, so I figured I had some leeway but I was nervous about getting on the tools again for the first time in years and if it was going to wear my brand, I definitely couldn’t do a shonky job and turn up on a nail.
I’d got the initial invite three weeks earlier, but by the time I’d worked out how to fit it in I now had just two weeks, and I called Andrew at TBA to discuss the best way forward.
He was pushed and short staffed, with one member of staff signed off work with a broken ankle. It meant I could borrow a bench but I would have to build the frame without their expert guidance. Despite this, I had a lot of casual input from Burf (BTR), Tom (Sturdy Cycles), and a tube notcher. These machines are really helpful, and do save a lot of time.
By the Friday - three days later than expected - I’d managed to build a front triangle and fit up the internal routing (there is a lot of blood on one of the stainless tubes that’s now incarcerated in the downtube). Head scratching trying to remember this and that and get it right eats time too and it took me an age to work out clearances for the back end, drawing out the rear end, tyre and chainrings in pencil on the bench. Running close to my deadlines, I switched out our machined SC drop outs for some off the shelf cast parts and some beefier but bendier MTB stays to save time on bending material. A few checks and they’d just about fit according to the third (!!) iteration of my drawing.
Still, I was short on time and practice to fit up and braze the flat mount rear end solo. My Italian team do this sort of thing in their sleep, but I’d never fitted up this set of components before and it needed to be straight first time and functional. With TBA at capacity and time fast running out, Andrew put me in touch with Lee Cooper in Coventry to help finish the frame. He was four hours drive away and if the bike was going to get to paint on time, I needed to get to him.
Andrew loaned me a whole spare set of tubes just in case and I got on the road.
Lee is based three hours north near Coventry. He’s into motorbikes and by his own admission isn’t that fussed about riding bicycles, but what he doesn’t know about fabricating them (learned over a 40 year career building frames for some of the most established British names in the business) isn’t worth knowing. He’s also bloody lovely, and at that point in the project the only person in the universe who was available and keen to give up their Friday evening to help me out of a jam.
I arrived, drank some tea and chatted with Lee. Four hours later the flat mount rear end was finished, straight, true and looking like a proper bicycle. I then spent the next two days filing fillets and finishing the frame, preparing it for Sam at WM Paintworks, who was good to go on the guns.
One more cup of tea later (all things are built on cups of tea) and a wide ranging discussion about various shades of purple and Sam suggested Silk Cut racing cars. Martin Brundle had raced Le Mans in an XJR9, and I’m a small boy from Norfolk who loves a Scalextric car so I knew it well and Sam’s suggestion just made sense to me so we ran with it.
I clumsily masked up some bands in tape on the bare frame and we knocked ideas and positions around a bit, discussed the logos and I left him to it. That’s not how it usually happens, so it was really freeing to walk away confident after twenty minutes planning having absolute faith that he’d nail it.
The build of the bike should have gone smoothly too, but nothing about this project was easy so I should have guessed we might have some trouble. TBA had arranged all the build parts and sent them on. I was like a kid at Christmas opening all the parts, and I was good to go.
I just needed a head tube reamer and whilst it was ordered just in time it had arrived incomplete, so build day stalled to a stop and it looked for a minute like it wasn’t going to happen. I called everyone I knew locally and no one had the cone we needed. Build day was all used up so we couldn’t knock something up and I only had the 11-hour-drive-day left to go.
Then Chris (Houghton, owner of WM Paintworks) had an idea. Perhaps I could build it at Hope. It was roughly half way, and if I could use their workshop and build the bike real fast, we couldn’t stay on schedule but at least we’d have a fighting chance of making it on time for the pre-ride bike show.
Amazingly Hope agreed to let me use their stand and workshop and the very next morning I was on my way. Collecting Petor from Dear Susan Cycles, who was coming along for the ride. It was an inconvenient diversion to his parents house, but Petor’s calming presence and eclectic playlists make everything better, so he had to come too.
Hope is one of those brands I’ve adored since I was a kid. So did Petor, so we were ridiculously over excited about the visit. The brakes they’d given me - four pot CNC’d perfection - were set up from start to finish, mounted, bled and working flawlessly in twenty minutes. I work with people who know their craft everyday, but watching these guys fit and set up their own product was a masterclass. Massive thanks have to go to those guys for letting me in, and sorting me out.
The bike was almost there. Perhaps unbelievably though, whilst we had a almost fully fitted up bike, we still didn’t have access to a head tube reamer so couldn’t finish the front end. Ted James (almost unbelievably) was still fabricating his bike and hadn’t left the South West yet. We had one last chance, in the car park at the Ferry Port if a very sleep deprived Ted could bring us the tool we needed. Ted arrived next morning and he’d got everything with him except a seat tube reamer so he reamed the HT with one eye closed, whilst I rushed off to Irvine Cycles in the car to get a seat post shim, and the bike got built with most of the major jobs done. We had ten minutes to go before our one and only ferry to Arran.
If you’d like to know how it rode, or anything about Grinduro, head on over to The Radavist to read the full story and see some pics of the bike and event.
So many people involved, not least the generous sponsors mentioned already. But Special thanks to Grinduro and TBA, Lee Cooper, Sam Weeks, WM Paintworks, and Hope Technology.