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The bicycle you can't buy

 

The Benson, parked in the middle of the King Country while we stand around eating sugary treats. The Benson, parked in the middle of the King Country while we stand around eating sugary treats.

My friend David Benson could be a professor of cycling. He knows a lot about bikes, and the sport.

Once in a while he builds a bike frame. If you are lucky enough to get one you have a thing which is crafted by hand and is totally unique. But much better than that, it is informed by the experiences of a guy who doesn’t drive a car, and uses a bike for transport as much as anything else.

DB has built full-race track machines, but of late he has been building road bikes that are intended for general riding.

My example is now approaching the end of its second decade of regular use. It is made of steel, I forget what the tubes are but I know they are not a set from one manufacturer. DB chose the tubes to give me a bike that would be comfortable, predictable, and flexible in its uses.

The bikes you can walk into a store and buy are generally put together to get as close as the price point will allow to what a pro would race on. At the top of the range they ARE what a pro would race on, and as you go down the range the weight goes up and the carbon evaporates, but the general idea remains the same.

My bike is very different. It is long and low, because I have short legs and a long torso. The bottom bracket is lower than normal which makes the bike even lower. The geometry is ‘slack’, that means the head and seat tubes lean back a degree or two more than today’s race inspired bikes. Those two features of the frame’s design mean it is very easy to ride: it goes straight, it corners as if it is on rails, my toes can reach the ground easily from the saddle.

Steel is an amazing material for bike frames. It is strong, light, repairable, and has a natural springy compliance that is unmatched by anything else. Other materials can be stronger, lighter, and more marketable in the 21st Century, but steel is hard to beat for a long term ride.

The frame is designed with plenty of space for big tyres. Race bikes are optimised to fit tyres of around 25mm. The Benson easily fits 32mm bags, and might swallow more if the brakes allowed it. DB tracked down some super light touring tyres that are pricey but beautiful to use, run at about 80psi they smooth out even the worst of New Zealand’s rough chip roads. Big tyres are not the handicap you might think they are: on less than a perfectly smooth surface a flexible tyre with lower pressure actually rolls more easily, but the big payoff is comfort. I can ignore my road bike for weeks, then pull it out and ride 100kms with no discomfort during the ride or afterwards.

The kit and the wheels are as old as the bike, mid-range Campagnolo and Ritchey rims. DB built the wheels, which are still dead straight and round. The Campag gruppo is scarred but still functional, the right shifter was rebuilt after about 12 years (by DB) with new bits inside for fresh shifting. The gear range the bike runs is lower (easier) than usual, an idea that has caught on with mass-produced bikes of late. While they now carry very low gears for getting beginners up long hills, they still have top gears most sport cyclists will never really need, my Benson doesn’t. High gear is 50 X 14.

The bike has been round Taupo in 4.28, and could go faster if it didn't have me on top of it. It has also through Chinese Menu, a Grade 3 singletrack in Whakarewarewa Forest. It has been on a trip through the Forgotten Highway. It has had three paint jobs (it gets a hiding).

If I had to choose one bike to take to a Desert Island I would probably refuse to go, but if it was unavoidable and the island had anything resembling roads I would probably choose the Benson. One thing for sure, I will never sell it.

Ready for anything, second paint job. Ready for anything, second paint job.

The first paint scheme. Fitted with stupid wheels for Taupo one year. They were too light for somebody of my volume, and eventually gave up the ghost during K2. The first paint scheme. Fitted with stupid wheels for Taupo one year. They were too light for somebody of my volume, and eventually gave up the ghost during K2.

Third paint job, fillet brazed beauty, with false lugged seat junction and DB designed seat stays. Fillet brazed beauty, with false lugged seat junction and DB designed seat stays.

Dig that fork crown, and those fillet brazed tube junctions. Hand made in Onehunga. Priceless. Dig that fork crown, and those fillet brazed tube junctions. Hand made in Onehunga. Priceless.

Another view of business end. Note hand made sleeves on head tube, brazed on barrel adjusters, and St Christopher's medal DB procured off a dodgy Italian junk vendor at the Madonna del Ghisallo, the church that celebrates cycling on the course of the Giro di Lombardia. Another view of business end. Note hand made sleeves on head tube, brazed on barrel adjusters, and St Christopher's medal DB procured off a dodgy Italian junk vendor at the Madonna del Ghisallo, the church that celebrates cycling on the course of the Giro di Lombardia.