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Independent Fabrication Steel August 17, 2007

Posted by Bill in Equipment.
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Until recently I thought I was attached to the ride of a steel bike because I owned a steel bike. You love what you know. I’ve taken aluminum rides and found them a jolting experience, so I come back to my 25 pound Bianchi and pet it, but secretly wondering if those carbon dream machines would be a revelation.

Esthetically, I am resistant to investing in a fashion statement. Mechanically, I am nervous about a frame that could shatter. But as a technology-oriented guy, it’s hard for me to completely let go of the potential promised by the new.

Then I wandered into The Bicycle Business, a small shop on Freeport Blvd. in south Sacramento that specializes in road bikes and racing. With dozens of frames hanging from the ceiling, it seemed like fertile ground to begin my search for “the ride of dreams.”

After a lot of jawing about some very appealing Look carbon frames, my eyes were directed to a rather nondescript bike sporting a fairly unfashionable (no fins, flames or fairings) name decal indicating it was made by Independent Fabrication out of Somerville, MA. It was their steel Crown Jewel model, painted plain white, but equipped with Campy Record throughout, carbon fork, stem & bar. This might be interesting. I admit to responding to the pitch, “You have to ride it to understand.” The white bike was a demo model… a white black hole to devour the unsuspecting. Moby Bike.

IF Crown Jewel Steel

My next visit to the store included time with Bob, the manager of the shop and the person charged with guiding the IF experience. IF is a custom frame fabrication outfit, and the process of becoming an IF rider is involved and intense. I arrived equipped for my demo ride. Gulp. Would I love it? Would I crave carbon afterward? Would I understand?

Standing over the bike, its eighteen or so pounds felt light to the touch. The ride did not disappoint. In fact, as I try to conjure words to describe the experience, I fail to find them. Perhaps I’ll come back and edit this paragraph if I find something beyond “steel ride from another universe.” All I know is standing in the shop after the ride, I was looking at the bike in contemplative confusion, and Bob smiled. “And if you think that was great, wait until it’s built to fit you.” What? This gets better?

So in my mind, IF steel is the standard carbon has to beat, and it’s an exceptionally high one. Doing business with builders that have established themselves as a business cooperative is also extremely appealing: these are people who know bicycles, and every weld, hanger and bit of paint is handled by people making a profit from their decisions. A ride that starts as a partnership of impassioned intellects seems worthy of attention.