Thursday, October 18, 2012

Seven Mudhoney SL - test ride

 Seven Mudhoney SL in tested configuration

Riding back home from work yesterday, I decided to stop by at Riding Studio Cafe in Lexington to test ride one of their demo bikes - a titanium Seven Mudhoney SL. It is a mid-range cyclocross bike built locally by Seven Cycles from Watertown, MA. Prices start at $3598 for frame only and $4140 for a frame+fork set. The SL version is built from double butted Ti tubing, which apparently saves about 250g of weight compared to the straight gauge tubing. Whether it is worth extra $800 compared to the basic S version - it's up to you to decide.

After the very helpful staff at the Cafe spent a few minutes setting up the bike (installing pedals, adjusting the saddle height, etc.), I was good to go. Unfortunately, I didn't have much time since October days are short and I could spend only about half and hour riding. Not enough for a full test, but certainly enough to give me some sort of feeling on how it handles, and to be able to compare Mudhoney SL with my own Lemond Poprad. Plus, I don't mean to judge this beautiful machine on its suitability to cyclocross as I don't race, so my test would be meaningless to those who do anyway.
The bike arrived with a road-like crankset. The small chainring had 34 teeth, which would indicate its cyclocross origin. But the larger one had 50 teeth and gave the bike more of a on-road than off-road feeling. My Poprad has a 46T chainring and even though it makes the bike slower than all regular road bikes, I am very happy with it. Arlington, MA is a hilly place and having a smaller chainring helps me avoiding unnecessary gear changes. In fact, I noticed that I never really have a chance to ride fast enough to use the tiniest 11T sprocket in my cassette (I don't race). That makes me use the top 3-4 sprockets much more often than any others.

But Mudhoney was different. Because of its 50T chainring it was a fast bike but at the same time I was quickly running out of gears despite the 10 speed cassette. Sure, I could just drop the chain on a smaller chainring but then I had to make some serious adjustments with the rear derailleur too. Otherwise the 34T front chainring would change the gear ratio too much. Overall, these are details since chainrings are easy replaceable, but I think that for me more than 46-48T for daily riding may be unnecessary.
 Mudhoney's front brakes and mud clearance with 38mm tire (WTB Interwolf).

Mudhoney had Avid Shorty 6 cantilever brakes installed and I have to say that they worked too well. It's likely either the pads or rims (Ksyrium Elite) that made a huge difference but their setup was also quite different than on my Poprad. They were very powerful and could stop the bike very quickly. Too quickly, I think. Plus, it was quite difficult to feel what the right dose on the brake levers was since even at a moderate speed brakes (especially the front one) were easily vibrating and I thought that bike had a stutter. Or maybe it was just a new kind of ABS system I never heard about...
Clearance with 38mm tire. Still enough space for something slightly wider.

One thing I couldn't complain about was the frame. It was beautifully made, with clean welds, smooth lines, great color (bare titanium) and plenty of clearance for even 40mm tires. It was also very visually appealing with its stainless Seven crest bolted to the head tube and subtle decals.
One interesting detail I noticed was that the right (chainring) side of the bike had a white Seven decal on the downtube (see the first photo on top) but the other, left side had a much more stealth one without the white contour (see photo above). I don't know if that was intentional but I definitely like the stealth look of the left side much more.
Toe overlap is still there. Barely.

The bike I tested turned out to have a 52cm seat tube (measured center to center). That surprised me at first, since my Poprad has a 55cm seat tube (measured the same way) and I always thought that it was maybe slightly undersized for my height (6ft). However, Seven's top tube is sloped a bit so the effective frame size is larger - probably about the same as my own bike. On the other hand, Mudhoney's top tube was 1cm longer than on my Poprad. Even though, there was still a tiny bit of toe overlap.

The biggest surprise came when I compared the handlebars height on both bikes. I have absolutely no idea why but the first impression I had after mounting the Seven was that its handlebars (made also by Seven) were positioned higher than on my bike. This made them more comfortable as I didn't have to bend down that much. That turned out to be exactly the opposite - my Poprad's bars were about 2cm higher (due to a different stem) than on Mudhoney and both bikes had the same bottom bracket drop. Now I think that this feeling came from the handlebars themselves. The bars were just more comfortable than what I have on my bike. Their bends were more square, leaving more space for hands on flat sections. And at the same time they were shorter, placing the brake hoods closer to rider.
Mudhoney I tested, had SRAM Rival shifters and derailleurs. As far as I know, this is just a mid-range groupset and I wasn't awed by it. There was nothing wrong with it but I had a feeling that gear change was not as easy and smooth as with my Shimano 105 shifters. I am definitely biased, since I have never really used SRAM shifters before and have no experience with them. Even though, I didn't really feel like their Double Tap way of shifting gears is in any way superior to Shimano's and I didn't like that upshifting required a long travel of the shifter lever. Once I returned the bike and hopped on my Poprad I felt like home again. It is definitely a matter of taste but since I am perfectly happy with Shimano STI shifters, I see no reason to switch to anything else.
The Fi'zi:k Arione brick... err, I mean... saddle.

The saddle attached to this bike was Arione. Fi'zi:k states that it is a "high performance saddle" that weighs 225 grams. My Selle An-Atomica Titanico weighs double that and feels like riding on a comfy couch while Arione feels like sitting on a brick. Or a log of firewood. Well, I guess it is still better than sitting on a bare seatpost. Since me and Elka are planning on having one more child some time in the future I would never install Arione on my bike. Those 250g of saved weight are just not worth it.

I really like the Mudhoney I tested. Surely, I would select different components but overall, the ride quality is really high. It is a beautiful bike that I may consider buying at some point in the future. Then, I would rather go with the basic S version and since Seven offers a very good custom program, I would also like to add rack and fender mounts to the frame.

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