The steel road bike that proves the #partybrand can make a damn fine race bike.
I’ve ridden some nice bicycles over the years. Like most people in Traverse City, it seems it started with a Specialized Allez. That bike gave me 30,000 miles of joy before being swapped out for a Focus Variado. Working at a shop, the trade-in, trade-out progression was quick and proliferous; everything from the original BMC GF02 Disc (Ultegra, Firebird paint job and a Tom Selleck mustache) to both the rim brake and disc versions of the Focus Cayo, a BMC Roadmachine, and the All City Macho King that’s still technically in my stable.
Of all those bikes, it’s always been the steel frames that have gotten me excited. Blame it on reading too many books on Coppi and Bartoli and Yates and Gaurin, but the history of the sport is just as exciting to me as the present. It’s part of the reason I first grabbed an All City. My Nature Babe was a throwback to Costante Girardengo and was ideal for riding in Michigan’s cold, windy, wet spring and fall seasons. A steel frame, a single gear, a man against the elements. Is there a more pure form of cycling?
Of course, there are also group rides, and those tend to be filled with a plethora of fast riders with eleven (11, count ’em) gears in the back and two up front to offer some spice to the dish. The Mr. Pink has been on my radar for years, but with just a touch of pressure to ride what was a. carbon b. a higher margin c. lighter I always ended up with a different bike. And let me preface the rest of this piece with a clear statement: Those other bikes are great. They are. There is nothing wrong with a carbon rocket ship that weighs 14 pounds. That’s just not what I’m excited about right now.
Finally, I pulled the trigger. Tyler and the guys bugged the All City rep to get one headed to Grand Rapids Bicycle Co., and after one very conveniently timed business trip to GR, my bike was stuffed into the back of Wes’ Volkswagen Golf.
All City does a great job going over the specs and geometry, and since you have a mouse and obviously some time to kill, head over there to see the details. But not yet! You’re going to want to see what we did to it.
The goal was not to make this 14 pounds, but my bike weighed in at 20.8 pounds stock, without pedals or cages. That’s a pound lighter than my Macho King, so it was certainly a step in the right direction. The bike comes with Novatec Thirty rims; we have a long a sordid love/hate affair. The disc version of those wheels came on my Kona Private Jake, and while these wheels weigh 2,000 grams, they’re also completely bomb-proof. You don’t need to swap them, but if you’re racing, at some point, you’re just going to want to.
I did ride the stock wheels for a little while, set-up with Schwable Pro One in a cushy 28mm. As Susan Vigland once remarked, all my bikes end up being ‘cross bikes, so the 28s add some comfort and a bit of floatation for my patented in-the-gravel-shoulder-dodging-mail-boxes attacks. On the first Tuesday Night Ride with the bike, I could feel the 2k weight penalty on the climbs; they just felt like a lot to get up to speed, especially if, say, somebody accelerates on a 12% grade.
Luckily, Brad White from Velo City Cycles loves to wheel and deal (get it) and I just happened to have some Ailerons bouncing around the garage. He traded me for another set of very non-disc A23s, and I saw the light. It was a night and day difference, which is, if you’re wondering, almost a pound and half. From 2,000 grams to just shy of 1,500, that’s a LOT of weight off the rims.
I swapped out a few other things, too. The biggest difference was putting on my heritage Ritchey seatpost. With the supple and smooth Colmbus tubing and the slight flex of the carbon post, it’s as smooth of a ride as I’ve ever felt, and that includes the very cloud-like BMC GF02 Disc. The other changes and additions were a Fizik Arione R5, 3T stem, and King Cages.
The final touch was my Absolutle Black oval rings. A million things have been said, and this isn’t the place to go into it, but I average a higher cadence, less leg fatigue, and a slightly better feel climbing. For our hilly but certainly not mountainous terrain, I can spend most of my time in the 50t across an 11-28t cassette. I did grab an AB oval 36t inner ring from City Bike Shop, which is a lot more useful around here than a 34t.
With all these changes, the bike is not a lightweight, but it’s a huge difference in how the bike feels, especially on the climbs. It’s now 18.2 pounds. Yep, that’s the same as most comparable carbon bikes stock. Yep, your bike weighs less, sure. The beauty of this bike is, you’re not going to care.
I got the bike in April, and as we roll into July, I’ve put over 1,600 miles onto it. The range of rides has been very cool, including everything from a gravel ride, some short sprint rides, long days in the hilly and hot Leelanau County, to a 100 miler in June that really tested the comfort factor. And even with a pretty aggressive set-up (stem slammed on a relatively short head tube for this day and age), comfort is still the operative word for this bike. Take notice, this isn’t a competitor to your dad’s Roubaix or Domane. It’s not upright, and the classic steel geometry means the top tubes are long (I normally ride a 54, but am a rock solid 52 on ACs, which have a 545 top tube) and your stem might end up slightly short. I dropped from a 100mm stem on my Cayo to a 90 on the Mr. Pink.
Between the steel frame and tubeless 28s, this bike takes out road vibration, shallow potholes, and makes gravel feel largely innocuous. Nail your tire pressure and it feels like you’re on 35 or 40mm tires, not 28s. I weigh about 150 pounds and never go above 70psi, even on totally paved, fast group rides like the aforementioned TNR. It clears 32s as well, though I haven’t tossed them on yet. That’s in the works for the fall.
One big plus of this bike is how All City and their sister brand from QBP, Whisky, fixed the fork issue. Moving from the steel to carbon fork certainly saved weight, but it also stiffened up the bike in a big way. That’s the biggest difference in ride quality between the steel-pronged Nature Babe and the Macho King and Mr. Pink; the carbon forks keep the whole frame more responsive when you’re out of the saddle. I will admit, though, I miss bouncing over gravel roads and watching that steel fork flex like on the Nature Babe.
So, after 1,600 miles and more, is it a bike for more people than just riders that miss Sean Yates? Absolutely. For a lot of riders, the weight penalty is offset by the ride quality. When you compare it to the added weight seen on even WorldTour Roubaixs and Domanes as racers get them ready for Flanders and Roubaix, 18ish pounds isn’t that crazy. Plus, if you knock it over in garage, you don’t have to have an infarction; this bike is tough as nails, and it’s going to outlast me, I’m sure.
We’ll be taking a look at the Salsa Timberjack with B+ wheels in the next few weeks, so check back for that whenever Beckwith gets around to it.
Thanks to Jeff from QBP for helping make the Mr. Pink happen, too.