All You Have to Do is Ride
by Chris Hanna
Wearing your old stretched-out tighty-whities in the name of saving some cash isn’t anything worth bragging about. There’s no argument they’ll serve their purpose, you can still go to the movies and play basketball in them but there just won’t be a twinkle in your eye.
The same goes for bikes. Yes, you could convert your old dusty ride or hand-me-down frame into a singlespeed. It would be a great way to go. Strip off the shifters, cables and derailleurs, slap on a Surly Singleator, get a conversion kit for your rear wheel and boom, you’re riding. All fine and dandy, but it’s just not the same snuggly feeling as those new briefs all starchy right out of the package.
When I daydreamed about a singlespeed, I always envisioned a clean, custom singlespeed-specific frame. A simple frame with disk brake mounts, bottle cage bolts and horizontal dropouts. That’s it. After the 2007 North American Handmade Bicycle Show guide was published, I combed through the bios feverishly looking for the builder who would best suit my style. Choosing the right builder is hardest part in my opinion. I chose Steve Potts.
It was June 2007 when I committed to move forward with a custom Ti singlespeed. This was a huge step for me because a custom bike is not something you sell in a year or two just so you can have the latest paint job and model year parts. It’s also a big financial decision. I’m crazy for bikes, but $3,500 for a frame requires some major consideration and planning. For me, it came down to a builder I believed in and a frame I could stare at for the rest of time.
In case you're not familiar with Steve Potts, let me help you out. You can thank him for a lot of the parts on your bike.
A native of Marin County, Calif., Potts was a member of the original Marin County gang. He built his first mountain bike to get out into the California wilderness areas. Realizing there weren’t many component options for these newly crafted mountain bikes, Potts and his friends Charlie Cunningham and Mark Slate teamed up to build parts for these frames. In 1983, Wilderness Trail Bikes (WTB) was born. Potts, Cunningham and Slate were in their glory. Their designs were on the forefront of the sport and other companies took notice. They licensed the Ground Control Tire to Specialized, designed bikes for Trek and designed parts such as roller cam brakes and water bottle cages for companies like Suntour and Bell Sports.
In 2002, Potts and Cunningham split from WTB and Potts is again doing what he loves best, building custom bikes under his own name. His refinement of titanium fabrication and welding is legendary, which all starts with the best machinery, custom fixtures and a thorough understanding of the materials he uses to craft mountain bike frames. In fact, Potts uses methods that led to innovations in argon gas purging, which regulates the proper argon flow during the welding process. He has also been called one of the best bicycle framebuilders in the past 30 years.
The build process began with numerous conversations. I supplied him with the measurements he requested and information regarding the ride qualities I was looking for in a Ti 29er singlespeed. I also gave him measurements of my current bike and what I liked and disliked about it. One major concern of mine was not to end up with a super flexy frame. There are tremendous stress loads passed into a singlespeed frame from the rider, and titanium is not known for its rigidity. He assured me he would take care of that.
After that point, surprisingly, we were pretty much done. I was in line waiting for my new frame. Most of our communication was on the front end of this process. He would get in touch with me occasionally with questions like where I wanted the brake housing, on the top or bottom of the top tube, and what color decals I wanted.
Potts presented my frame to me at the Handmade Bike Show in Portland, Ore., in February ’08, nine months after our initial conversation. I felt extremely fortunate to get it. I have a lot of respect for this man and our sport would not be what it is without his efforts. But I finally had it and I couldn’t wait to get in some serious mileage.
I logged my first couple of rides on the new Potts in Fruita, Colo., in early spring. The combination of singletrack, a new singlespeed and the first ride of the year left me giddy as a schoolgirl. The frame fit me perfectly and Potts delivered with a tubeset tuned perfectly for my size and weight. He achieved this through selecting varying wall thicknesses for specific areas on the frame, eliminating or encouraging the frame to flex. It’s definitely solid.
After figuring out how different riding a singlespeed was from my geared bike (and by different I mean harder), I chose to ride it in the Growler, a 32-mile race with 4,000 feet of climbing on mostly singletrack in Gunnison, Colo. Immediately after the start I felt like I choose the wrong steed for the day, but I settled in and completely bonded with my new bike. The ride is silent. There’s nothing rattling, no chain slap or clicking derailleurs. The simplicity of a singlespeed relaxes me. All you have to do is ride.
Impeccable is the only word that comes to mind when I look at the frame. The welds, the curvature of the tubes, even the head badge is a work of art. Pedaling my Potts has made me think twice a couple of times about picking my line. But after eating it in a corner for the first time, I got over it. I think that’s what I love most of all. It’s still a bike. You ride it and put it away then grab it and ride it again. It is so simple. No gears, no cables, no shifters, just a tight short chain and clean chain line. Everyone needs a singlespeed in their stash of bikes.
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