I've been racing since the Three Peaks on a 2012 Gin and Trombones frame set Van Dessel (the USA based company of former Belgian pro Edwin Bull) which has been kindly supplied at a nice discount by 'The Bearded Man' - an offer he extended to all Here Come The Belgians riders via Duncan. The bike has a definite 'Flandrian' flavour with its black and yellow paint job and Leeuw van Vlaanderen top tube decal. What follows are my impressions of the frame and forks so far and a few mechanical musings thrown in for good measure. I'd count myself as an experienced cyclist - I met @crossjunkie back in the late 80s at an MTB event whilst I was working as a bike courier in Manchester and I've been riding bikes fairly seriously ever since. I'm not an expert (but I do spend my own brass so I'm fairly honest) - I don't get to ride multiple bikes to make direct comparisons so please bear that in mind, other online reviews such as CX Magazines review may be more appropriate if you're after that sort of expertise.
|Van Dessel Gin and Trombones|
First off from the home mechanics view point the frame built up fairly easily straight out of the box. Two new technologies BB30 and a 1.125 - 1.5" integrated headset meant the purchase of some new tools but the assembly was trouble free. As I had existing 24mm spindle (external BB) cranks I used a Wheels Manufacturing adapter to fit them to the BB30 bottom bracket. I purchased the Park Tool BBT 30.3 tool and used my existing headset press to do this - check out the Park Tools site for more info. I'm not a massive believer in all the new BB technology, yes it does allow lighter stiffer cranksets but some of the arguments are a bit lame for mortals, don't forget that at the last Olympics most of the British track riders including Hoy were still on square taper, if they didn't need the stiffness I'm quite sure I don't! Having said that press fitting the bearings was simplicity itself and they certainly spin freely and replacement will be cheap and easy. The headset required a new, massive, crown race setter and I was a little nervous as I slammed it down on the full carbon fork but there was no need to worry as it seated perfectly. Just pushing the bearings into the frame by hand without cups or a headset press seemed weird to my old school mechanic's senses. Integrated headsets are becoming the norm but I must admit I'm not convinced - there are some serious forces at work there and the fit of the bearings is not 'precision', very easy to replace but I feel they will wear more rapidly (hard steel race soft aluminium frame) and on the supplied headset there is no real sealing which may exacerbate wear in CX conditions. In the end this will mean the frame doesn't last as long, but for a CX frame that will probably be replaced in five years or less it's probably not a huge problem. OK thats the grumpy old git bit out the way. The Seatpin was 27.2, front mech 31.8, all fairly standard and straight swap across for my kit. The frame set was supplied with a neat FSA CX headset, carbon steerer tube bung, seat collar, BB cable guide, spare rear mech hanger, touch up paint and some plastic blanks to use if you remove the canti studs and opt for discs.
What is it like to ride? Light, lively, superb! My previous CX bikes are Planet X Uncle Johns and they are very good bikes - a little weighty maybe but rock solid and great handling - fantastic Three Peaks Bikes. The Gin and Trombones is a LOT lighter. I reckon it saves 750g over the Uncle John, partly down to the full carbon fork but the frame is a good 400g lighter itself. On my inexact scales with a fairly normal 'build' it registers around 18lbs (I'll get an accurate figure soon) In terms of geometry it has a steeper seat tube, shorter chain stays and a lower bottom bracket. The massive BB area also means it is laterally stiffer (yeah yeah laterally stiff and vertically compliant - I'm not going to say it!). Ride wise to me it feels 'snappier' a little more road bike like but still very stable and sure footed. The lower BB may help here but I'm not convinced I can really tell the difference as I could just be imagining it - the new kit placebo effect if you will. I do notice that the bike is marginally easier to remount. To be honest I've not been able to detect any negatives as far as the handling goes, in my view it's all good and that massive head tube really stiffens up the steering adding precision. I have caught a pedal once accelerating out of a corner but whether that was because of the lower BB is moot - it may well just be incompetence or the fact that the planted feeling of the bike allowed me to lean over more. At Brockhole the technical root rocky decent from the house proved no problem for the lower BB so short of full on MTB terrain I can't see an issue. One of the more important selling points for me a are the frame clearances, they are massive. If you're an enthusiastic weekend warrior it is unlikely that you have a dedicated pit crew. In muddy races you'll either be riding the same bike or swapping once (no one will be there to clean the pitted bike). You NEED decent clearances. The clearances on the G & T are fantastic both around the rear wheel (infront of especially and to the sides of the tub) and the fork. At Brockhole on day one of the Rapha Super Cross I didn't need to pit - others suffered severely clogged bikes (Waggey actually quit in frustration on his Focus) or had to swap bikes. The G & T was unaffected. Another muddy selling point to me was the full shifter housing run down the seat stays. I've actually drilled the stops out on my previous bikes to achieve this but the G & T came ready fixed - a sign of a design team that understands muddy cross! Gore cables may be excellent but they're pricey and a fiddle to fit, full cable housing runs at the rear are virtually as good - I used this system all last year never suffering a single cable related problem with shifting. The front shifter cable is routed along the down tube, again my favourite choice. Is it me or does it make little sense to route the front mech cable along the top tube, down the seat tube to a pulley (that can clog) then up the seat tube to the mech? Certainly with Campag the front mech doesn't need the precision shift you need at the rear. As of this year the frame is also disc ready but I'm still on Cantis so can't give any feedback on that front.
In conclusion the Gin and Trombones provides a responsive, snappy yet stable ride, with massive clearances for North of England mud and a cable routing set up that should ensure a reliable ride. Did I mention the gorgeous 'Flandrian Yellow' paint job? The only weak point I can think of is the integrated headset's durability and this is really a reflection current 'fashion' in the bicycle trade. The bottom line is that I intend to spend my own brass and get a another so I can again pretend to look pro with matching bikes! Any Belgians in the Yorkshire area who get a G&T and want to pop over to use the tools just drop me a line. Please feel free to play 'bike review buzzword bingo' in the comment section below