It seems that the average price for a “good” bicycle these days is right around $1500 or so at your local bike shop (LBS). This excludes the thoughtlessly produced and deceptively branded stuff from a well-known overseas online retailer who personifies the expression “too-good-to-be-true”, so let’s just stick with the $1500-ish amount. Using some random example bikes, it seems to hold up pretty well across most cycling categories (I’m purposely avoiding some); for roadies, it gets you a 105-equipped CAAD 10, the casual cyclist can get a very lovely Civia Kingfield, the on-and-offroad hardcore tourer can get the Surly Ogre, and the cyclocross-ist-er can have a Kona Jake the Snake. All of these are good at what they do, all are pretty popular, and all are about the same money. There are more expensive options, sure, but the law of diminishing returns takes over and you know how that goes. In any case, you’ll have a quality bike that will do what it was designed for, 90-95% as well as the expensive stuff.
Now you’re faced with the choice of what to get, which is confusing. I mean, choice is great, but all these bikes give up something to be specialists, a lot of which comes down to component choices. The Surly won’t keep up on club rides, the Civia won’t either, the Cannondale can’t be loaded for touring/can’t fit big tires, and the Kona just isn’t comfortable for casual riding. You must choose one, but all are lacking. What to do?
Whatever you’d choose, it’s this line of thinking that got my brain working overtime about a month ago. What I decided was that for my $1500 I wanted to build an All-Arounder; a true 7-days-a-week-bike that could easily keep up in a fun group ride, do light touring and camping, ramble along the fire trails, and knock around the nasty, pot-holed city streets of Seattle. Last year I built up what I think is one of the best value bicycle frames currently available, the Rivendell Sam Hillborne. It’s a versatile frame and I love it for that reason, but I have it set-up in a very touring-ish kind of way. It’s hardcore and ready to go cross country at a moment’s notice, which means that I forced it to have the same problem the bikes I mentioned earlier have; it’s become a specialist (my fault). I learned quite a lot from the Rivendell build, so I knew I could pull this off.
So I had two goals; spend the same as I would on a pre-built bike AND build it up to be way more versatile than a pre-built bike. I won’t tell you all the things that went through my head as I was agonizing over the choice of bike frames and parts, but it was maddening to say the least. Making as few compromises as possible while staying within budget is really hard. If money wasn’t a factor here, I may have ordered up an A. Homer Hilsen, a Davidson Sport-Touring, or maybe an Audax, but one of these frames alone would exceed my total budget, and would have to serve double duty as my blanket while I was living on the streets.
At the end of my painful road to madness, I found salvation in the Soma Double Cross as my perfect choice. Soma is a fairly small and really smart company located in San Francisco. They’re owned by Merry Sales, which means their products are super widely available. Other close runners-up were the 2020 Cycle Kalakala, the as-of-yet-unreleased Velo Orange 700c Polyvalent “Campeur” and the Rawland Nordavinden, all of which seem like very fine frames. I ordered a 62cm Soma Double Cross frame in the beautiful but discontinued cream color, and splurged a little on the Soma Classic Curve Cyclo-Cross Fork. First, a brief explanation of why I chose the Soma and then the full parts rundown, which I know is practically pornographic for some people (including me). The Soma frame geometry suits me and this project perfectly; a bit snappy but not even close to annoyingly twitchy. The frame is Tange Prestige, and the fork is Tange Infinity. If you know about steel, you’ll know these are nice, and they’re NOT HEAVY so stop rolling your eyes. It uses cantilever (or linear pull or center pull) brakes, which give good clearance, have good stopping power, and are budget-friendly. Tires as large as 700x47c can squeeze in, and I’ve tested this (Soma says 45c, close enough). Bikes that can’t fit at least 700x32c tires with fenders are unbelievably confusing to me (seriously, what’s the point? Just give me the choice and I’ll pick the tire size I like). The fork has low-rider rack eyelets so I can use panniers up front. There are plenty of mounts for fenders and racks and such. The rear spacing is 132.5mm so I can use either 130mm or 135mm rear hubs, which is awesome and gives me access to about a trillion hubs. Ahhh, freedom.
Here’s the build list with way too many notes, mostly accurate prices, and hopefully nothing omitted. Everything (pretty much) was purchased either through 20/20 Cycle (my favorite LBS), Rivendell Bicycle Works, or Velo Orange. (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!) It actually works out to be $1650 for those who are ready to break out the calculator. I figure a new off the rack bike will probably get a new saddle and pedals anyway, so we’ll just call it equal. Could I have stayed on budget? I suppose, but this was close enough and I have a bike that I’ll enjoy so much more than one I felt I’d skimped on. I also had a great time doing the assembly myself, which is something I strongly recommend doing at least once.
Soma Double Cross frame $425 (ordered through 20/20 Cycle)
Soma Cyclo-Cross Fork $150 (really exceptional, really great value)
Salsa Delgado Cross/LX Wheels $270 (hand-built by Jim Thill)
Schwalbe Marathon Racer 700x35c $15/each (scored at Bike Expo from Schwalbe)
Velo Orange 48x34t Double $100 (on sale)
MKS Touring Pedals $40
9 speed chain, KMC probably $20
Shimano 12-36t 9 speed cassette $50 (serious range)
Shimano bottom bracket $30 (I think)
ENE Grand Comp bar end shifters $70 (friction shifting is sweet)
Shifter cables/housing $15
Nitto Moustache Handlebars $90 (super versatile, great bars)
Shimano brake levers $50 (Tiagra, Sora, something like that…)
Brake cables/housing $15
Shimano cantilever brakes $15 (old as hell design, still good, still in production)
Civia Stem $20
Velo Orange Headset $40
Soma set-back seatpost $25 (probably)
Velo Orange Model 6 saddle $45 (crazy sale price + coupon)
Shimano Deore RD $55
IRD Alpina triple FD $40 (in case I ever want a Sugino triple for instance)
Newbaum’s cotton bar tape $10
King stainless water bottle cage $20
Miscellaneous stuff I forgot $25 (?)
So what don’t I like? Well, I’d have strongly preferred that the frame was made to accommodate a 1” threaded headset and quill stem. The ease of adjustability and the beauty of a quill stem are impossible to beat. I’d have also preferred lugs or fillet brazing, but I know those things don’t come cheap. I wish the cable stops along the top tube were offset slightly left so as to get a better line with the brake cable. Now I’m just nit-picking, but I’d have also preferred the Soma logo to be in the font they use for the San Marcos. Maybe a kickstand plate would have been nice, oh well.
Really though, it’s fantastic. It truly is. I don’t think I could be much happier with how it rides. It feels especially good and fast with the Schwalbe Marathon Racer 700x35c tires, which just seem to shrug off the bad roads around here, and therefore maintain speed extremely well (Jan Heine has done some interesting tire size/speed comparisons and the results might surprise you). The components aren’t fancy, but they work absolutely beautifully together. The Nitto Moustache bars are also a bit of a revelation for me; I knew they’d be comfy and versatile, but I was surprised at how good the hands-on-hoods position was for both descending and climbing.
Last thing; you’ll have to pardon the filthiness of the bike. I’ve already been riding it through the city on a daily basis, it did the whole 202 mile Seattle to Portland ride with me, and I’ve been hit (pretty hard) by a car while riding it. Still looks good if you ask me, all things considered.