New metal for a new decade, February 2020

What happens when the time for change arrives?

Just to set the scene, I am not a fashion conscious, money no object cyclist. I still ride my 29-year-old steel Ribble (below) and have battles with myself when it comes to spending money. I am a Yorkshireman after all, and we have a tradition to uphold.

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Ribble 708 steel updated with Shinmano 105 10 speed

So, it was as big a shock to me as anyone when I decided it was time to upgrade the frame on my gravel/CX bike.

I bought the Cannondale in January 2016, so I have had four years and 25,000 km out of it and it has been amazing value for money. It has also introduced me to a completely different way of using a road bike. With a set of fatter tyres installed, there have been many days when I have set out on the road then just shot off down bridleways and tracks, discovering places I would normally have missed. It is this discovery that has prompted me to carry out the upgrade.

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If I am going to spend some money and upgrade, what was I looking for?

I want something that was crafted, rather than mass manufactured, a bit more niche. I want it to be compatible with 650b and 700c wheels, so I could put much fatter tyres on and remove the need for a mountain bike on most of the local trails, if not on true mountain bike terrain. I also wanted something that would have flexible accommodation for luggage, be light and stiff, for performance when not loaded, and most of all bring a smile to my face, as the Cannondale has.

Technically I also wanted to move back to a BSA bottom bracket, old school I know, but repairable at home, quiet and reliable. Interestingly I have noticed during this period of research how many off-the-shelf frames are coming with these, or T47 bottom brackets as standard. Maybe threaded is the future?

OK, so I not asking too much then?

I looked at three options:

  1. A hand built 853 steel frame, made by Rourke Cycles in Stoke. They build beautiful frames, to your own spec, and made to measure.
  2. A hand built titanium Reilly Gradient, from Reilly Cycleworks in Brighton, a company with great titanium heritage.
  3. The British designed, Italian built Mason Bokeh, from Mason Cycles in Lansing on the south coast. The Bokeh is made from Italian Dedacciai, custom formed, triple-butted performance Aluminium to a design created by Dom Mason and this frame was recently updated based on customer feedback.

It has been a real tussle, but I have followed Mason Cycles development since they introduced the Resolution (steel) and Definition (aluminium) bikes around six years ago.

Since then, they aligned closely with Hunt Wheels and Josh Ibbett (ex-Product Manager at Hunt Wheels, Bikepacking expert, Transcontinental Race Winner). Masons work with Josh and people of his calibre, who all started winning ultra endurance events on the Resolution, and have been instrumental in creating a world beating gravel bike, the Bokeh. Recently their feedback has taken the development one step further with the introduction of the ISO (InSearchOf).

With that kind of pedigree, and the fact that the Bokeh 2 has just been released with some subtle, but useful changes, my decision was made.

Interestingly, I have two friends in the Lakes, Gordon and Neil, who have cropped up in the blog on a regular basis, both bought complete Bokeh bikes over the last three years and have nothing but praise for them.

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Test day down in Lansing

At test ride at their base in Lansing on the south coast back in December sealed the deal. A great team there, with Alex willing to help with the decision making process.

Frame decision out of the way, the next decision is what do I do about fitting kit and running gear?

Wheels

In the early part of my four years with the Cannondale the freehub bearings collapsed, so I quickly rebuilt the wheels on Hope Pro4 hubs, which from my 20 years mountain biking experience have proved to be bombproof. That confirms that the wheels are going over to the new build as 700c, but may get new 650b rims later. That would be a great combination.

Groupset

Originally the bike came with Shimano Tiagra 10 speed with an FSA 36/46 cyclocross chainset. I was surprised at how well it shifted gear, but the brakes, cable operated Promax on 160mm/140mm discs were neither use nor ornament. When riding off-road the rear brake is so important for tightening lines through loose corners, and having run wide through the bushes a couple of times, I knew they would have to be upgraded.

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Hydraulic at the time was out of the question, firstly because, hard as it is to believe, the choice of road hydraulic systems wasn’t that great three years ago. However, TRP did a cable operated hydraulic option, the HyRd, which would just bolt on. I replaced the rear and stuck a 160mm disc on at the same time. Amazing stopping power and bags of control. A front replacement unit was also added soon after.

So, if I change the groupset, now I would go hydraulic, without question, but do I change the groupset?

At the back end of 2018 I upgraded the groupset on my best bike, so had a perfectly good, 23,000 km, 105 groupset going spare, and as the Tiagra had started to get really clunky and badly worn it seemed like a good idea to replace it. I dropped the 105 groupset on in January 2019, added a long cage rear mech to give me the option of 32 tooth cassette, which with a 34 inner chainring provided a great range of bikepacking gears.

OK, bearing in mind all of the above evolution, I think I will keep the shifters, front and rear mech and TRP brakes for now. I will have to change the chainset because I am moving to a threaded 24mm bottom bracket, but I have the old 34/50 Shimano 105 from my best bike, which was quite new, plus I may look at some sub-compact chainrings from Absolute Black, once the funds are available.

That’s kept the build cost down, all I need now is select the finishing kit.

Finishing Kit

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  • Handlebars, Deda Gravel 100 with a 12 degree flare, comfy with a bit more leverage off-road
  • Handlebar stem, Deda 100 RHM, light, strong and reasonably priced
  • Saddle, Fabric Scoop Shallow Elite, standard on the Bokeh build, so lets give it a go
  • Seatpost, Mason Penta, carbon fibre, so light but flexible, giving more comfort on rough surfaces, like most British roads these days
  • Some new floating disc rotors from Clarks, which will keep the brakes cool on long loaded descents (the TRP only have a small reservoir, so could heat up and fade)
  • A couple of Topeak DualSide bottlecages on QR cage mounts adds the finishing touch

There we have it, the new Mason Bokeh build, ready for spring and some more adventures.

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The new Bokeh and the remains of the donor CAADX, a bike that has done me proud and may be resurrected at some form before next winter.