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Back in July of last year, the folks at 183rd Street Cycles sent over a frameset for us to use and abuse…they even painted it our choice of colors (dark green with silver sparkles). And we got to keep it once all was said and done. I’m down with that!
I was out of the initial loop as far as talking to the company…I heard I was getting a 55 or 57 cm frame from my boys in California, and either of those fit in my preferred range of frame sizes. From what I saw initially, the frame had a traditional horizontal top tube, so I was sure that things would be ok. Well, 183rd Street measures their frames from center of bottom bracket to the top of the rather extended seat tube, so the 55 cm frameset I got is actually 51 cm when measured center-to-center (the traditional way). Even more crucial to my fit is top tube length…I prefer somewhere around 56 cm as my torso is rather long. This frame measures out at 53 cm. So, in a nutshell, the frame is a bit too small, and that dictated how I was going to build it up. A sleek drop-bar pavement slicer was out of the question since I’d never be able to get tucked in over that short top tube, so I went with a more citybike-style build with a touch of hipster flair.
Building the bike up in this way also gave me a good excuse to try out some of Velo Orange‘s “Grand Cru” product line. I ordered a VO seatpost (with some much-needed setback), threadless stem, VO Milan handlebars and cartridge-bearing threadless headset. All of those parts are finished in what I like to call “high satin”…not quite mirror polished but much shinier than typical silver components.
Color accents were determined by a pair of brake levers that have been kicking around in my parts bins since the early 90s (when colored ano was all the rage the first time) and the blue Panaracer T-Serv Messenger tires I bought for another project bike. Tracking down some blue bits like the grips and waterbottle cage was easy, and I was ready to get this machine on the road.
The 183rd Street frame has fairly typical “track” geometry…short wheelbase (about 3 cm shorter than my road bikes), high bottom bracket and steep head- and seat-tube angles. The included fork has 30 mm of rake and that gives the bike some fairly sharp handling. Tire clearance is tight…the 28mm tires I used are just about the biggest that will fit within the confines of the frame. Here, take a look for yourself:
The only concession to road use is the addition of waterbottle cage bosses on the seat tube — otherwise this frame is ready to rip up the velodrome. Although the fork and the rear brake bridge are drilled for brakes, there are no cable guides anywhere on the frame…keep that in mind if you want to run a rear brake on this frame as you’ll need to source some cable clips.
The frame is made of TIG-welded double-butted Tange chromoly tubing, so it’s reasonably light, quite stiff and very strong. But, with the track-friendly geometry, I find this frame to be rather punishing on the rough roads of Tampa. You WILL feel the road’s imperfections…the fabled vibration-soaking properties of steel just don’t apply on a stiff frame like this. Good thing I get some extra cushioning from the bigger tires!
What makes this frame different from other reasonably-priced track framesets on the market? Well, nothing really…I tried to come up with a catchy acronym, but all I could come up with is “JATTB” (Just Another Taiwanese Track Bike)…the frame is made by Maxway in Taiwan and rebadged once it gets over to the U.S. Actually, “rebadged” isn’t exactly the case as the 183rd Street Cycles folks didn’t add any decals to this frame. The only giveway of its origins is a tiny “Maxway” logo cast into the rear fork ends. It’s only visible if you’re really looking for it…see?
(hint: it’s on the chainstay-side of the fork end…it really just looks like a smudge in this picture!)
In any case, it’s a fairly low-key frame…subtle details that I like (long point crowned fork, in particular) but nothing that screams “look at me!”. Well, I suppose the silver sparkle I chose screams something, but let’s not go there…
I mentioned saddle setback a few paragraphs ago…because of the short top tube and the backswept handlebars, I needed some breathing room. The VO Grand Cru seatpost has 25 mm of setback and I slammed the seat back almost as far as it would go. Otherwise, I would be completely upright (Omafiets-style)…not necessarily a bad thing, but it gets windy here in SW Florida during the winter and I need at least a little aero advantage.
As sort of a “review within a review”, I just want to mention the VO Milan handlebars again. These bars are great; just enough backsweep to give the wrists a natural angle and just enough width to be stable yet able to negotiate narrow, traffic-laden streets. These Milan bars are hands-down the best citybike bars I’ve ever tried, and I have since ordered another pair for another bike in my fleet (and thinking about retrofitting two others, including my Xtracycle).
Alright, now let’s talk about the commuting potential for this frameset — many folks desire fenders, chaincases and racks on their bikes for the purposes of all-weather commuting, and I appreciate that. Still, there are plenty of people who want something sleek and stripped-down; they may not have much to carry or live in dry areas. While I wouldn’t necessarily choose this frame to build up a primary commuter (it has no attachment points whatsoever for racks and fenders, nor does it have the needed clearances for fenders), I find myself reaching for this bike more and more for my daily commute. I’ve put almost 500 miles on this bike since I finished building it in October…club rides, commuting miles and the occasional Critical Mass ride. Why? Because this bike is a BLAST to ride — razor-sharp handling at speed, stiffness for sprinting and not a whole lot to go wrong or come loose. I like to ride fast, particularly on my way home, and this bike fits the bill for that. I have it geared 44/18 free and 44/16 fixed with both front and rear brakes — suitable for cruising around and also a bit of hammering when I want to. Yes, it beats me up a bit on longer rides, but I’m the sort who will trade a bit of comfort for performance. That’s not everyone’s cup of tea, though.
The frame retails for $399 and the fork is an additional $139…a pretty ok deal for a nice frameset made out of good steel. There are others on the market, but if you’re looking for a basic track frame, this 183rd Street Cycles frameset is worth looking into.
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