The DeSalvo Project Bike


Photo copyright Mike DeSalvo of a recent road disc bicycle frame

Ashland, OR, 2 August 2013 – The DeSalvo Project Bike – A custom titanium road disc brake bike

As someone who’s accustomed to doing things like tearing down walls, installing recessed lighting, replacing toilets, and maintaining cars, the thought of handing over the design of a custom road bike to someone feels, I suppose, like the day I’ll watch my soon-to-be-grown kids prepare to move out of the house and head to college.  I’m already experiencing a cavalcade of emotions racing by at the speed of light.  There’s the anticipation of freedom, the fear of their unseen future, and the apprehension that they might not have understood my intentions because of my poor verbal delivery.   And we’re talking about the discussions I’ve had with the bicycle builder.   Thankfully, I have a few years before I have to do the same with my kids.

Why is having a custom-made bicycle such a big deal? Certainly the cost is remarkable; I could buy two very nice Italian-lineage Asian-manufactured carbon road bikes with similar components and race geometry for the same money.  But then I’d own two-of-a-million Asian-manufactured bicycles. They wouldn’t be very special or unique.  What I’m really excited about is being able to ride a bike that will be a sibling to a few hundred bikes on the road and maybe one other DeSalvo bicycle in Utah.  I will have a personal connection with the builder who lives in Oregon and I will have contributed to the local economy by supporting his business.  There are some very pretty commercially produced bikes available on the market but I’ve never felt like the guy who fits in with everyone else, a little one-off, so why should my bicycle be any different?

I mentioned earlier that I decided to hire builder Mike DeSalvo of DeSalvo Custom Cycles in Oregon to build my dream.   When I met Mike at NAHBS in Denver he asked some basic questions about my current bike, a Cannondale CAAD9 with Shimano 105 components.  Having an off the rack bike with standard geometry made the explanation simple since all of the specifications are available on line.   I knew from my earlier research that the Cannondale has almost the same geometry as Mike’s standard build.

I told Mike the component line I was considering for the new bike and he suggested I go with a Shimano Ultegra groupset because in his opinion the shifting was the best bang for the buck.

He asked about the handling of my current bike and where I would be using it.  I told him about my predilection for climbing hills but I said my CAAD9 was a bit twitchy on the downhill.  He said there were things he could do to the angles to make the bike more stable.  But after looking at the CAAD9 geometry, which I had in a file on my phone, he said it should be very stable on the downhill.   His bewilderment made me think there might be something off track about my riding skills.   We talked about disc brakes a little and Mike agreed they were the next big thing, but were not refined—at least as of six months ago.

We parted ways and I walked away thinking that he hadn’t written anything down during our conversation.

As soon as I got back to Salt Lake I put down the required deposit to get in the build queue.  Then I spend the next five months riding the CAAD while trying to figure out how I wanted the new bike to be different.   His comment about the downhill feel of the CAAD had stuck in my head and I spent a good part of the past several months testing a theory.

I noticed while riding that by the time the bike was getting over 30 miles an hour I was starting to grab the brakes to slow down.   And I realized Mike was right; the rider was the problem, not the bike.  It was after my experience with a fellow rider’s Stravacide attempt that I lost confidence in my riding at high speed.   In the time since my discussion with Mike I’ve progressed to descents at nearly 45 miles an hour.   It took small steps and a ton of willpower to tell myself to relax and to enjoy the wind in my face and the feel of the bike, which is absolutely stable on smooth downhill roads.  There is an issue though when the wheels hit any sort of bump.  The aluminum frame does not absorb the energy but bounces up off the road.   This is a sensation that should disappear with a titanium frame.

Having a custom bike built is no inexpensive endeavor and if you’re going to have one built you should consider that a finished bike would most likely cost nearly $5,000.  Add the cost of the disc brake setup and other custom work and you could get beyond five easily reaching the ten thousand dollar range if you select high-end wheels and other components.   With my mid-sized budget I have to stick closer to the cost of a higher end production carbon bike and not exceed the five thousand dollar mark.

In order to meet my budget I have to be able to make some compromises in the selection of components.   A full-blown ENVE front end would be awesome but I would rather spend my money wisely on a good set of light wheels and buy less expensive but similarly serviceable components.  So, Mike suggested I stick with Ritchey handlebars, stem and seat post for their quality and value.

When Mike contacted me in late July that I was nearing the top of his build list I was elated.   He had remembered the details of our conversation and asked if I still had the same thoughts about the twitchy downhill feel of the Cannondale.  I told him I’d figured out the problem and it wasn’t the bike.  I think he was relieved knowing he didn’t have to take away from the race geometry of the frame, which would have compromised the bike making it less than I expected.   The little details like remembering our conversation and my concern about the feel of the bike six months after we spoke are what make Mike a superior builder.   I can say that I put my trust into his expertise without reservation.

If you ask most experts, the wheelset is the most important component related to performance, road feel, and handling.  The Shimano RS10 Wheels that came standard on the CAAD9 weigh in at 1,848 grams; they’re not the best choice for hilly terrain either.   What I’m learning while I research wheels for the road bike disc brake set-up is that there’s not yet a huge selection for this emerging market segment.    I’ll follow this post up after I speak to a few custom wheel builders so that I can do a comparison of some of the choices available.

For now, here’s the short list of my build kit taking into consideration that the custom frame and fork are a huge part of the budget.

  • Frame – Ti Road Disc Butted Tubes 44mm
  • Fork – ENVE Disc Road
  • Gruppo – Shimano Ultegra
  • Headset – Chris King Tapered Steerer
  • Bars – Ritchey WCS Evacurve alloy
  • Stem – Ritchey wcs 4 Axis
  • Seatpost – Ritchey WCS Alloy
  • Saddle – Selle San Marco Concor Race
  • Brake Calipers – TRP HY/RD

Having had some email conversations with Mike about the build certainly has dispelled some of my angst about the bike.  Like an expectant father I can’t wait to see some images of the new baby.


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About OneOffTwoWheels

Being on a bicycle is my escape from all the things that make life interesting. My partner Greg and I have a shared interest in staying healthy and enjoying life together and the bicycle makes everything a little more fun.

One response to “The DeSalvo Project Bike”

  1. Matt Gholson says :

    Sounds like its going to be a sweet ride, this is just a personal thing but I don’t get disc breaks on a road bike. I suppose it makes sense if you want carbon wheels and like to ride in rain alot. I’m also a little concerned with overheating and brake fade.

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