Smithy Frame Works Graean Frameset Review

I recently visited Chris Yeomans at Smithy Frame Works HQ in Wales to record a podcast (listen here) about the history of Smithy frameworks and what to expect when asking for a frame to be built. In order to experience the process Chris asked if he could measure me and build a bike that I would like to ride. This would also give Chris more experience in building off road drop bar bikes. Chris has years of experience building MTB and flat bar gravel bikes but wanted to perfect the dimensions and angles needed for a drop bar bike. I could hardly refuse this opportunity so we sat down and I played the customer in a sort of role play (funny how i hate role play when it is in a training session at work but not when it’s about a new bike!) over tea and biscuits in Chris’s house.

We discussed what I was looking for in a bike, how I wanted it to feel, did I want a racy position or a more upright comfy all day riding bike. What was I going to do with the bike, did I need lots of mounting points for bags and bottle, rack and mudguard mounts, how big a tyre did I think I’d want to run in the frame etc etc.

Buying a bespoke bike is a lot of fun, you can literally have anything you want, you are not tied down to what a designer has added to the bike like you would have to when buying an off the shelf, mainstream brand. Obviously if you come up with the idea you want two wheels on the back and one on the front with a lorry steering wheel then Chris may point out the problems with that, although I’m sure he’d love to build something like that. So, you don’t have to be a designer yourself, just have an idea of how you want the bike to ride and what you’re going to use it for, Chris will do the rest.

So I chose a gravel/adventure frame with room for 50mm tyres on a 700c rim in a fairly upright but still sprightly geometry. the frame would leave room for a frame bag and bottles but still be able to accommodate a dropper post if i fitted one. I wanted external cabling for ease of maintenance and an external bottom bracket. Chris designed the frame on some software on his computer around my body measurements and after another tea and more biscuits we had come up with a schematic drawing, now the only thing left to do was build it!

The build started from a set of carefully chosen tubes of steel that Chris than mitred, brazed and filed into a frameset and forks. I can’t believe how simple that sounds but this part of the process is where Chris’s skill comes in. To know how to manipulate those tubes, how to choose how they are butted (thicker internally on the ends where more strength is needed, more on this in the podcast) and then to braze them together has been honed over years of blacksmithing and frame building.

The whole process from start to finish took just over a week. This was because Chris had most of the tubing in stock apart from the flat mount bolt through rear dropouts. It was also quicker as we decided to just add a very light clear coat on the frame. We did this for two reasons. 1 – It shows of the braze-welds to good effect, and i think looks awesome! and 2 – This frame set will be for sale after the review and so the new owner can have the clear coat removed and paint it what ever colour they want. Chris has a great paint shop contact so he can arrange that too.

We could have done the easy thing and added a generic carbon fork but Chris wanted to build a fork in steel. Again, he’s done many MTB and road forks but wanted to do a gravel specific fork. We chose a unicrown design with bolt through drop outs

So the frame was built and I collected it and brought it home to build up and ride it to see if what we had created pedaled how we thought and hoped it might. I had to use parts that I already had, I’m not sponsored by anyone so can’t throw high end bits on this frame. i suspect this is the situation that the majority of you reading this are so I hope that it makes this review a more realistic one.

The tyres are quite narrow on this build, they are 40mm Pirelli cinturato S tyres. There’s a couple of reasons for me putting these on. The first is that if i’d put wide higher volume boots on I’d be experiencing the ride feel of the tyre rather than the frame. narrower tyres at a higher PSI for a time allowed me to see how the frame reacted to rough, stoney and rooty surfaces. Was it harsh and stiff or too flexy? The second is that despite the test period being the UK late spring, we have had a lot of rain and everywhere off road is really muddy, so those soft condition narrow tyres are a must if you want to pedal anywhere. The bottom bracket shell is a 73mm threaded one with an external BB. this was added to run a MTB chainset with a 34T ring. You could fit up to a 36T or maybe a 38T. this frame is pretty much single ring specific to allow the chainstays to curve out to fit a bigger tyre. This is the beauty of a bespoke frame though. if you wanted to run a triple chainset Chris will design the frame around that choice for you. I won’t go into the other parts as the review is about the frameset and the process of having a frame built for you. Please do watch the video below to get more info and insight into the reasons for the design.

Hopefully you’ve had chance to check out the above video where you can see the bike in action but if not here are my thoughts on it.

The design was meant to be a gravel/adventure cross over, biased more to off road than on and I think we achieved that. I don’t want to use the old cliché of “steel is real” but the frame does seem compliant in all the right places. It’s not a magic carpet ride by any means but riding the bike back to back with an aluminium framed bike you can definitely feel the difference. There’s no discernable sideway flex at the bottom bracket though so at no time do you feel all your effort is being lost, pedal turns go straight into forward motion. Riding to some trails on tarmac i was a little worried as the bike handled so well on that surface, turn into a curve at speed and the bike holds its line tenaciously even with the knobbly tyres on, I though maybe we’d got the geometry too biased to road riding. The first venture off road soon put those fears to the back of my mind though.

Over my local routes which are a mix of loam, polished pebbles and exposed roots and muddy single track the bike felt right at home. A good test is to find a section of trails and see if it’s possible to ride no-handed. The bike was stable enough to do this without me hand-hovering over the bars. the more distance I covered the more confident I became. Around here we tend to ride the MTB trails too and I was confident in the bikes ability to drop into some smooth descents, the dropper post will help a lot with this too. The dimensions felt spot on, the tall head tube meant I could ride on the drops comfortably for long periods and also gave me extra control on the rough stuff without feeling too upright.

The most surprising part for me was the fork, I’ve ridden a few steel MTB rigid forks and as they are usually longer length they are generally not too harsh (29″ suspension corrected forks). The Smithy FW fork is shorter and yet seemed to soak up all the chatter from the pebbles and roots. Look down when riding and you can see the very slight fore-aft flex that makes them feel so good. Climbing or sprinting though there’s no unwanted side to side movement. I think this explains the tarmac performance and the road holding in turns.

The one drawback usually with any steel frame is the weight, This frame weights a hair over 2.2kg for the frame. its by no means heavy compared to off the peg steel frames but compared to a carbon frame it does lose out. however this bike is not about being super light, this bike was designed to take you over all terrains in comfort, multiple mile rides where you get up the next day and do the same again, and again the next day. Load the bike up with bags and camping gear and it’s a nice smooth stable ride which means you’ll have energy to spare for pedalling rather than wrestling the bike to stay on track. This doesn’t mean boring though, throw off those bags and this bike will rag through your local single track leaving you giggling and wanting more.

if calling bikes ATBs (all terrain bicycle) was fashionable again then this frame would be definately in that genre.

On this frameset you probably won’t win the UCi Gravel worlds but you could ride it around the world!

The whole process from start to finish has been a joy, Chris has listened to what I wanted and added a few suggestions of his own, communication was regular about different aspects of the build. You could visit Chris in Wales and he’ll happily discuss your new frame while you are both out riding the fantastic trails he has right from his doorstep. After all the designing and hard work in his workshop Chris has come up with this great riding frame and fork.

Oh, and the name, as mentioned in the video above, the frame didn’t have a name when I picked it up and there have been quite a few ideas for it but in the end Chris came up with “Graean” which he tells me is Welsh for “gravel”

To be able to say a bike was specially made for you and you get to choose how it rides and how it looks is a truly great experience and I totally recommend you have a chat to Chris if you fancy something special.

Chris’s website can be found here SMITHYFRAMEWORKS

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