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  • Writer's pictureKaisern Chen

On two wheels

Updated: 2 days ago

My bikes, my cycling journal, all things bikes

As a cyclist, photographer, and industrial designer, my journal of riding my custom-built bike and the photographs along the journey.

"The bicycle is the noblest invention of mankind."

~ William Saroyan


August 28 Bangkok, Thailand

Most kids grow up with some memories of bicycles; as a native Taiwanese, I probably have more than the average share from witnessing the explosive growth of the bicycle industry and its gain of world-wide popularity. My relationship with bikes has been a lasting one since as a kid. And the spinning bike is what I spent the most time visiting a gym as an adult, thousands of hours.

I have a few bikes, from aluminum hardtail and carbon fiber full suspension mountain bikes, a chromoly tour bike, to a titanium road bike. Wanting another one is something those who love bikes always have in mind, but as an industrial designer, I want to design and custom-build the next one.

It is the best time ever to design and build a custom bike with professional CAD softwares, 3D metal printing technology (DMLS - Direct Metal Laser Sintering), modern alloy or steel tubing, and filament winding carbon tubes/parts available today, limited to how one wants to stretch the budget. I want to keep it logical, durable, and maintenance-friendly.

But it is 2022, and I want it to perform with efficiency and one worthy of my design studio label - SOTA - State of the Art. The new all-road bike is not for racing, but it needs to be responsive, agile, and sprint when I want to push it; comfortable enough when sometimes I want to scale a 300+km/day ride.

The all-road bike will be the first of a series of bikes I would design and custom-build moving forward. It will be a titanium bike. I name it "SPIN".

The design criteria:

Geometry: Adopt the current NACA (Aerodynamic) trend, so "SPIN" has a modern appearance as I already have a 2006 Litespeed titanium bike of traditional fashion which is still a great bike, albeit looks dated! Now I am ready for a fresher-looking bike. I have decades and tens of thousand kilometers on my bikes, so I will not need to look into a particular stack-to-reach ratio; I know what I want. However, I am going to make "SPIN" a bit more aggressive!

Frame - Tungsten inert gas weld 0.8mm & 0.9mm double-butted and straight gauge titanium tube. I am no weight weenie, and I am not bothered that my frame may be a few hundred grams heavier for my riding type, with this bike anyway. Maximum tire size 32c.

Headtube - CNC milling titanium ∅56mm supports full-internal routing. I will compress the head tube length for a more aggressive approach.

Hydraulic Disk Brake - I have been using hydraulic disc brake bikes since 2006, and all my current bikes are with hydraulic disc brakes. They are dependable, consistent, and low maintenance.

Carbon fork (market stock)

Aluminum or titanium stem (market stock)

Carbon dropbar (market stock)

∅27.2mm Carbon seat post - I will also prepare a titanium seat post just as an extra spare

Wheelset - filament winding carbon rim with carbon spoke (market stock) - I have an old pair of Shimano Dura-Ace carbon wheels which I like, and it is time to go for a deeper rim with carbon spokes.

Groupset - 2X12 Wireless shifting, either Shimano Di2 or SRAM, compact chainset

CAD: Solidworks

September 9 Work in progress

My approach to arrive at a more modern titanium frame, which many custom Ti bike makers already did and some in a combination of Ti-Carbon, such as Bastion, is not exactly what I would like to do now. Not being able to top Bastion with such an approach is one of the reasons, but I want to keep the titanium bike look instead of making it a titanium replica of a carbon bike.

Work in progress at SOTA Ruamrudee Bangkok, Thailand September 9, 2022

Other concerns are that the "SPIN" will be only one of a series of bikes I would like to build - an all-road, a Ti E-touring bike "STORM" (a coupler, maybe), and a Ti KOM bike "SPRINT", which all would share a family look. As the likelihood of an E-touring bike plays into consideration, the dropout will eventually host an electronic connector if I use a Mahle motor, an option anyway. Although the dropout will be 3D DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering) components, the consistence look should maintain, a part that requires more time to settle.

Work in progress at SOTA Ruamrudee Bangkok, Thailand September 9, 2022

This preliminary frame geometry using double-butted 0.8mm/0.9mm Ti 3Al-2.5V tubes and Ti 6Al-4V for T47 BB, CAD simulated frame weight approx. 1,307grams so this may be slightly less than I originally thought it will be. Curious to see the actual frame weight after it is built. Note: January 31, 2023 - actual frame came in 1,374g, the actual butted frame gauge and TIG welding process probably contribute the discrepancy from CAD calculation.

September 18

It will be a lengthy period to prepare the titanium tube and the pressing jigs, and while doing so, there is a window of time to decide on other components.

A custom logo - likely to CNC engraves on the headtube before the TIG weld process.

Bottle cages - 2 should be enough, each on the seat and down tubes. Silca Sicuro titanium bottle cage has been on my Litespeed and will be on the "Spin", including space for a pair of CO2 inflators mounted on the seat tube bottle cage.

Finishes - a combination of brushing and sandblasting, probably some local anodizing. This may take some time, but this is the last stage.

Keep the bike looks simple!

September 23

A close friend of mine, the great Steve McCurry, just published a blog about bicycle

Steve McCurry "The Noblest Invention"

Over a decade-long friendship, countless conversations over the subjects of photography and matters in life, and unforgettable trips together, wandering the streets in the US, Taiwan, Thailand, Myanmar, China, and Russia. Steve Mccurry is a source of inspiration for my photography and the one who helped me to make more meaningful images. I hope one day this blog will amass enough photographs to give inspiration to those who love the ride on two wheels and the pictures along the journeys.

September 24

I made some adjustments on the chain stay and seat stay to give slightly more allowance for the rear wheel according to the suggestion from the frame builder, who has more experience building custom titanium bikes. I prefer my original approach of a cleaner profile of the rear triangle but decided to compromise for my first custom frame, which I can build a revised one after a 3,000-5,000km ride.

October 9

Filippo Ganna did it! Setting the new UCI Hour Record - 56.792 kilometres

The bike Ganna rode to smash the record is a Pinarello BOLIDE F HR 3D which claimed to be the first, and the fastest, single-speed track with 3D printed monocoque frame using high-strength Scandium-Aluminium-Magnesium alloy, an aerospace material specifically designed for 3D printing a week before Ganna's historical feat.

Pinarello BOLIDE F HR 3D

Pinarello BOLIDE F HR 3D

It is a proprietary Pinarello development closely associated with Filippo Ganna who was prepping his attempt for a record-setting hour record on October 8, 2022 at 20:00 CEST.

Filippo Ganna, two-time world time trial champion with this new 3D printed 64t chainring Pinarello Bolide F HR 3D costs €33,000, custom 3D printed cockpit by MOST that cost between €17,000 - €20,000, Princeton Carbonworks track wheels at €8,000 a pair, 25mm Continental's GP5000 TT clincher tyres, 170mm Wattshop Cratus aero cranks with a 64-tooth chainring paired with a 14-tooth rear cog from the same Wattshop Cratus range and added an Izumi KAI chain - total drivetrain cost £1,100.00.

Added the Kask Mistral helmet, Bioracer Katana skinsuit, and Northwave Extreme shoes among other accessories - the total cost at over €75,000.

Speed is costly! Speedy ride is besutiful.

However, this is not my dream bike, my SOTA Spin in the middle of the building process is!

November 1 Work in progress

The SOTA Bike logo design by my wife, Kanjana Chaiwatanachai.

The Titanium head tube with the SOTA logo engraved. My bike is coming around!

The SOTA bikes typeface:

SOTA Cycles - typeface for SOTA bikes

Three Ti bikes:

"SPIN" all-purposes road bike

"SPRINT" lighter weight, KOM climbing bike

"STORM" all-terrain touring bike, possibly will build the E-bike version first

December 1

Postman with his bike - a beautiful photograph by a great Russian photographer, Yury Chernykh, one of my best friends, shot near Tutayev, Yaroslavl Oblast, Russia, recently. Tutayev is one of my favorite little towns in Russia and almost a must visit each time I visit Russia. Must be fun to cycling there one day.

Postman and his bike, photographed by Yury Chernykh, a great Russian and one of my best friends. November 2022

December 2 - my bike is almost done, coming soon!

Sandblast masking and laser etching scheme

The frame will be hair-line finish around the top tube and down tune for logo masking before sandblast process, the rest will be laser etch. I scraped my original plan to PVD or local anodize the frame and decide to apply a thin matte paint so it is easier to maintain. The logo will be in "mint" color and a gradient paint over the bike with darker tone fades towards the rear. The paint job will be executed in Thailand.

December 22 - Shimano ULTEGRA Di2 R8100 groups to go with my SOTA SPIN

I have never use the group set other than Shimano for all of my bikes and I thought that I might make a different choice this time, but I did not! At last, the HYPERGLIDE+ Di2 12s is my pick.

The following components to build on the coming titanium frame, all internal routing:

- Crank 165mm (52/36T)

- Cassette 11-30T

- Disc Brake Rotor 160/160mm

Shimano ULTEGRA Di2 R8100 12 speed group set

December 23 - Lún HYPER D67 Disc Brake Wheelset

I came to the conclusion to have the Lún HYPER D67 Disc Brake Wheelset for my new SOTA SPIN for its modern rim profile - 60mm Front / 68mm Rear F-RAPID with 21mm internal and external 28.5mm width.

Carbon-fiber filament-wound rim - Lún HYPER D67 Disc Brake Wheelset

The manufacturer, Winspace Xiamen, Fujian, is among the more reputed carbon wheel suppliers in China. The D67 is lightweight for such a rim profile at 1,515g/pair (+/- 25g per wheel), with carbon spokes and ceramic bearings. I would go for 25mm Front / 28mm Rear tubeless tires. The final build is near!


January 4 - Lún HYPER D67 Disc Brake Wheelset

The parcel arrived on December 29 and only got time to take a picture of the wheel set before the fully assemble.

Winspace Hyper 2023 D67 Carbon rim with carbon spokes, front 60mm + rear 68mm January 4, 2023

January 13

The LOOK X-TRACK CARBON Ti clip-less pedal is the choice! No penguin walking! Under 300g/pair is more than acceptable to me, and keeping all my bikes and bike shoes consistent.

Almost the exact same shape and size of my SELLE ITALIA SLK that I am accustomed to in the last 15 years. This is feather weight, with 7X10mm carbon rail, at 145.6g!

January 27

The Vittoria Airliner

Not exactly new, the Vittoria Airliner has been in use for a few years with MTB and I decided to run the Airliner Road size M with the Continental Grand Prix 5000 S TR 700X25c (front) and 700X28c (rear) for my bike which adds the weight 25g X 2 which is lighter than an inner tube at around 32-36g each. The set up will eliminate the need of 2 Co2 Inflators (69.7g X 2) I originally plan to use or possibly even the air-pump. This is weight saving while the practicability "checked"!

The multi-way air-valves that come with the airliner package are nice but too short to use on my Hyper D67 wheels so I need to order an extra 80mm Vittoria Multi-way air-valve for the 60mm wheel (front) and 100mm for the 68mm rear wheel.

The airliner claimed to allow "run-flat" for 50km at moderate speed of 20km/h in case of puncture which frees me from carrying spare inner tubes, the Co2 inflator, and might as well the air pump. The result is the bike will run with a super clean look with no real weight penalty in practical use. I hope.

Headset & Integrated Handlebar - DEDA S-DCR headset is the choice to assemble with the Alanera Handle Bar that I decided to use to give the bike a cleaner look instead of the original stem + drop bar approach. The Alanera (334g) is also re-finished by (1) removing the OEM cover paint (2) silver leaves applied to the surface - to give a reflective metallic look (3) semi-transparent paint over the silver leaves to match the titanium frame finish.

The fork is also re-finished as the handlebar but with a gradient tone so it reveals the silver leaves texture to blend with the white/stainless steel disc rotor.

January 28

Finally ready to fly! The all road Titanium Bike "SOTA SPIN 23" final weight 7.86KG, Shimano Ultegra Di2 12s , Continental Grand Prix 500 S TR 700/25C

The man-machine! A shade of matte smoke matte paint from the handlebar faded towards the rear end to reveal the titanium color. A light green tint was added at the front so it gives a slightly different color presentation under different lights.

For speedy rides!

The CNC milled head tube and engraved logo, full internal routing keeps all cables invisible.

January 30

“A bicycle does get you there and more…

And there is always the thin edge of danger to

keep you alert and comfortably apprehensive.

Dogs become dogs

again and snap at your raincoat;

potholes become personal.

And getting there is all the fun.”

– Bill Emerson, On Bicycling, Saturday Evening Post, 1967

Bicycles on Train. West Bengal, India, 1983 by Steve McCurry ©

This is one of my favorite pictures of bicycles and trains which fascinates me every time it appears in front of my eyes.

I wish I can see and possess the talent to photograph pictures such as this! However, to celebrate the first custom-built bike of my design and engineering, I ask for a print of this image from Steve McCurry, a great friend of mine, as a special gift! My wish was granted!

January 31

The challenge - a custom solution to combine my riding and photography together, safe and elegantly.

Possible camera set up to go with "SPIN" ~

Ideal: My Leica M11 + Summicron-M 35/2 ASPH

Compromised: My Leica Q2

Practical, although cumbersome: SONY A7C + FE 24-70/4G

The direction of the design will be using Dyneema fabric for a pouch for the camera gear, waterproof Coil zipper, an integrated half-shell fused with the fabric and a 3-D printed Nylon rail structure with double clamp to lock on the saddle and seat post.

Got to have a real camera with me wherever I go!

January 31

Took this picture on July 8, 2018 during my visit to Martynovo, Yaroslavl Oblast, Russia. A chef from a local restaurant returning from her shopping trip on her bike.

February 1

After some initial runs, the handling is sharp and the 0.9mm Ti-6Al-4V chainstay works wonderfully for positive and responsive power transfer. So far so good!

February 3

At the Bangkok Railway Station, Thailand

Met this couple from St. Petersburg, Russia, traveling on their folding bikes from Hat Yai, now at the Bangkok Railway Station, waiting for the train bound for Hau Hin to continue their journey.

Bangkok Railway Station, Thailand February 3, 2023

February 5

Saw this on the wall over my lunch table at a Pakistan & Indian food restaurant, Talad Noi Bangkok, Thailand February 2023

It echoes Queen's single released in 1978 "Bicycle Race" as a "Double-A-Side" with "Fat Bottomed Girls" which became an international hit, reaching the top ten in four countries and charting in four others.

Bicycle Race Lyrics

Bicycle, bicycle, bicycle

I want to ride my

Bicycle, bicycle, bicycle

I want to ride my bicycle

I want to ride my bike

I want to ride my bicycle

I want to ride it where I like

You say black, I say white

You say bark, I say bite

You say shark, I say, hey, man

Jaws was never my scene

And I don't like Star Wars

You say Rolls, I say Royce

You say God, Give me a choice!

You say Lord, I say, Christ!

I don't believe in Peter Pan

Frankenstein or Superman

All I wanna do is

Bicycle, bicycle, bicycle

I want to ride my

Bicycle, bicycle, bicycle

I want to ride my bicycle

I want to ride my bike

I want to ride my

Bicycles races are coming your way

So forget all your duties, oh yeah

Fat bottomed girls

They'll be riding today

So look out for those beauties, oh yeah

On your marks! Get set! Go!

Bicycle race, bicycle race, bicycle race

Bicycle, bicycle, bicycle

I want to ride my

Bicycle, bicycle

Bicycle, bicycle

Bicycle, bicycle race

(I want a bicycle race)

Hey! You say coke, I say 'caine

You say John, I say Wayne

Hot dog, I say, Cool it man

I don't wanna be

The President of America

You say smile, I say cheese

Cartier, I say please

Income tax, I say Jesus

I don't wanna be a candidate

For Vietnam or Watergate

'Cause all I want to do is

Bicycle, (Yeah) bicycle, (Hey) bicycle

I want to ride my

Bicycle, bicycle, (Come on!) bicycle

I want to ride my bike

I want to ride my bicycle

I want to ride it where I like

February 12

My print arrived! Hand carried to Bangkok, Thailand by the photographer himself! The print was not signed until February 18 when we finally have a break from the busy working week.

Steve signing my print at SO/ Bangkok, Thailand February 18, 2023

Steve dating the print for me, at SO/ Bangkok, Thailand February 18, 2023

The water bottle wrapped with iconic Kodachrome 64 label - signed by none better, none more appropriate, the photographer who shot the last roll - Steve McCurry

Thanks to a Bangkok-based, Thai photographer friend - Jate Pokmangmee, who got me these water bottles for cycling, wrapped in the iconic Kodachrome 64 color slides label; in time to get them signed by no other than the photographer, one of my best friends - Steve McCurry, who shot the last roll of Kodachrome 64. Thank you, Steve!

March 1

Myshkin, Yaroslavl Oblast, Russia - a charming little town I visit each time I travel to Russia! It is not unusual to see people taking their buckets or bottles to fetch water for lacking of plumping system albeit Myshkin is already a popular summer home destination for the Moscow middle-class.

The locals using their bicycles as the transport for fetching water, Myshkin, Yaroslavl Oblast, Russia January 2017

March 8

In the middle of the first inter-province ride on International Women's Day, Samut Songkran Salt Farm, Thailand March 8, 2023

In the middle of the first inter-province ride on International Women's Day, Samut Songkran, Thailand March 8, 2023

March 14

local man on his bike, Khlong Lord, Trok Sake, Bangkok, Thailand March 14, 2023

March 23

Abandoned bikes by Tom Stahl Black Rock Desert, Nevada, USA 2012

One of the more unique capture of bike images, by Tom Stahl

March 28 The To-Go Pump!

Cycles Cube tiny e-pump

This is a bike accessory of 2023! A to-go pump from CYCPLUS weights at 97g and measures 65*46.5*28mm with 7.4v#300mAh USB-C re-chargeable internal battery and a brushless electronic motor capable of max pressure of 100PSI! It is lighter than my Silca Impure Mini Pump - 150g and free from all the hassles! Must get one!

April 18 Sichang Island ride

46.99km of constant climbing and downhill rides on the hilly Sichang Island (Ko Sichang) during my Songkran vocation in the hottest time of the year!

46.99km of constant climbing and downhill rides, Ko Sichang, Thailand during the Songkran days. April 18, 2023

May 10

Albert Einstein on bicycle, photographed by Ben Meyer, a Caltech Trustee, Santa Barbara, CA, USA Feb 6, 1933

"Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving."

~ Albert Einstein

May 24

Not much riding these days as the NBA now runs into the playoffs which keeps me in front of the TV monitor for live broadcast games in the morning hours I usually ride.

May 25

Mirror Worlds of Bolivia - Salar de Uyuni (Uyuni Salt Flat) by Andrey Andreev

Wonderful biking image from Andrey Andreev - Mirror Worlds of Bolivia - Salar de Uyuni (Uyuni Salt Flat)

One of the locations on top of my list to visit as a photographer - Uyuni Salt Flat, Bolivia. Now I have another good reason to go!

June 5 - the "VISTA" Camera Bag

It is time to design a camera bag after some 3,100 km rides with SOTA Spin!

I have a rather clear vision to use Dyneema® Fabric for its strength and lightweight - a material which I experienced with great satisfaction for years with my Hyperlite ULTAMID 2 tent. The white silver-ish color is great to match my Titanium bike, apart from its ultra-lightweight and super strength properties.

A custom 3-D printed nylon attachment with a quick release will be designed for locking onto the seat post and velcro to saddle rails for extra security.

For which camera?

Selection criteria:

  • Quality above my iPhone 14 Pro Max which will be with me anyway

  • For still pictures, a high-megapixel mirrorless camera

  • Prefer a full-frame system camera, high-quality fixed lens the minimum

  • Compact & light-weight

Possible candidates:

  • Leica M11 + Summicron-M 35/2 ASPH - probably the largest size and weight I will go for a particular day/event.

  • SONY A7C - a camera I don't have yet because I prefer a 47mp or 60mp upgrade from SONY to convince me. My SONY A7R IV and V are my most used cameras for many years. It can go with a Zeiss FE 35/2.8 ZA or Leica M lens with a Techart AF adapter.

  • Sigma fp-L - very tempting, flexible choices with many compact yet high-quality lenses such as the 35mm & 45mm DG-DN Contemporary lenses.

  • SONY RX1R II - Probably the most suitable one but I sold it after the Leica Q2 came out. It is a camera with my preferred focal length, high-quality and ultra-compact size. It is the camera most close to Leica Q2/Q3 in terms of quality for the type of camera, and better to go along with cycling.

  • Leica Q2/Q3 - This could be perfect for me if it is fitted with a 35mm, nevertheless, it is still an excellent camera. I have been using the original Q, then the Q2, and managed a blog of all things all images with Q2/Q2M since March 2019, I love the camera. Q3 with the 60mp sensor is a better option to pair with my M11 as a secondary camera for the same resolution but it is a tab on the big side to go with cycling. Cropping is always an available option as Leica has marketed it, but I have not used it even once since owning Q/Q2!

There are some very capable APS-C cameras that I don't consider in the design process because they are in general smaller and will fit my new camera bag for cycling anyway. My current camera systems are either 24X36mm full-frame, or 33X44mm & 40.5X54mm medium format digital I am accustomed to and would prefer to stay that way, with the expectation the cameras will continue to get better and smaller.

This is a personal project for a camera bag for my bike and I am not preparing to design multiple sizes unless I am commissioned to. The new bag will be named "VISTA".

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