In the classic Chinese story, Journey to the West, the Monkey King is an arrogant and mischievious supernatural monkey who declares himself a God. He’s imprisoned by Buddha until, one day he’s given a chance to redeem himself. The Monkey King is tasked with protecting a young monk on his journey of enlightenment to the West. Dangers lurk around every corner and it takes all of the Monkey Kings magical powers to protect his young charge.
As regular visitors to my Twitter feed may know, I recently attended Bespoked – The UK Handmade Bicycle Show in London.
As a new builder I could exhibit a couple of bikes but the logistics of getting them to the UK safely meant that I felt comfortable only taking one. But what would that one bike be? Whatever it was it would have to play Monkey King to my own Journey to the West.
I have long admired the old school lightweight touring bike. They were built with generous tire clearances, comfortable geometry and were fitted with racks for touring and long distance rides. These bikes were the ultimate transformers – able to convert from stripped down road machines to fully fledged touring bikes with the addition of fat tires and pannier racks.
I decided to build a modern version of the classic lightweight tourer. I based my frame design around 35c cyclo-cross tires with a relaxed road geometry of 72.5 degree head and 73 degree seat angles. I’ve always preferred slightly shorter top tubes on my road bikes and as such I made the top tube length 56cm while the seat tube length was 57cm. The BB drop was penned at 70mm which is relatively normal for a road bike but together with cyclocross tires would ensure slightly more clearance over bumpy ground. The frame was going to sport custom built stainless steel racks front and rear, a custom lugged steel fork, a custom steel stem and a few other bits machined in the workshop to finish it off.
I started with a full Columbus Zona tubeset with cyclocross s-bend seat and chain stays. For the joinery I wanted to try a bi-laminate technique – this involves the use of both lugs and fillet brazing. A set of standard Long Shen head and seat lugs and a classic sloping fork crown provided the starting point.
I started with standard long point lugs but removed the sockets where the top and down tubes would normally attach. The remaining lugs were then slip brazed into position before the top and down tubes were fillet brazed into the empty socket holes. This is a very time consuming way of joining bicycle tubes but I think the results are worth it.
The BB area was fillet brazed and I added some hand-carved chainstay gussets where the chainstays meet the BB shell. The chainstay gussets help to re-inforce the outer surface of the chainstays – a high stress spot where many frames eventually break. By using chainstay gussets a framebuilder can avoid using a chainstay brace – this helps with tire and mud clearance and, in my opinion, gives a cleaner overall look. In the case of Monkey King there are some thin chain and seat stay braces but these are designed as fender mounts.
The fork was built from Columbus blades and 1.125″ steerer tube brazed into a classic sloping Long Shen fork crown. I modified the fork crown a little by opening up the triangular windows in the outer tangs and accentuating the leading edges of the body of the crown. The fork blades were given a pert little bend right near the tip and the blades were offset forward in the crown by 0.5 degrees to get a desired rake of 50mm. I hoped that by using bent fork blades the ride would be a little softer than with straight blades – hopefully the forks would take the edge of the rough roads I wanted the Monkey King to accompany me on.
With the forks completed all that was needed to complete the frameset was a custom stem. I reused the bar clamp from an old steel stem I had lying around and fashioned a new steerer clamp and dog-bone for it. The stem was fillet brazed before machining the slot in the steerer clamp. I decided to give the stem a 5 degree rise from horizontal. This would mean that I could do away with using spacers to get the bars to the right height and it wasn’t such an obvious rise that it offended my sense of tradition.
Only a few finishing touches remained to be added to the frame before I could send it off to BMC for some Jared Spray Magic. A handcut stainless steel headbadge finished off the front end and brass BB cable guides and brass name badge took care of the underside.
I built a pair of pannier racks – traditional narrow deck rear rack with low-rider front racks and then did a mock build of the completed frame set before I was finally happy to commit it to paint.
It’s one thing having customers agonising over colour choice but when it was my turn to go through the process it seemed an unending ordeal with impossibly complex nuances of variation. After hours of deliberation I finally settled on a regal metallic blue hue with pearlescent white highlights and then spent the next few weeks in an agony of indecision wondering whether my judgement had been correct. It was too late to change anything now, the show was only a couple of weeks away but my concerns had been for naught – when Jared revealed my finished frame I wanted to weep with relief – it was beautiful.
Back home I eagerly built up my new bike. I’d aquired a full SRAM Force 22 groupset and American Classic Victory wheels. Thomsen seat post, Cane Creek headset, Flite saddle and Ritchey Classic WCS bars completed the picture. As my nod to it’s classic heritage I polished up an old set of vintage Dia-Compe cantilevers from the 80’s.
To route the front brake cable I made a little cable guide from stainless steel and some bent brass cable guide tubing. It incorporates a threaded stainless socket that accepts a brass barrel adjuster and routes the front brake cable neatly from the bar to the brake. For the stem top cap I turned some aluminium on my lathe in the workshop.
The Monkey King was almost complete – the only thing missing were it’s pannier bags. I’d commisioned my friend Guy McKechnie of Guy’s Bicycle Shop to make me a custom set of pannier bags from old pairs of jeans I’d been hanging onto for years. There were delays and hiccups and I counted more and more grey hairs sprouting on my chin as my departure date got closer. With only a few hours to spare, Guy finally delivered the goods.
Thanks for reading! Join me again soon for a chronicle of the Monkey King’s adventures on the soggy, boggy isle of the UK.