Thursday, March 8, 2012

Tsunami Bikes - Frame Review

My rating:  4.5 / 5 (read below to find out why)

Tsunami Bikes is a small builder out of Phoenix, AZ specializing in custom geometry aluminum frames.  I had seen pictures of their work floating over the internet, and they always struck me as well-built, no-nonsense frames.  So when the opportunity presented itself about six months ago, I decided to pull the trigger and get one for myself.

The ordering process was painless.  The owner (Joe) responds to communications very quickly, and after we exchanged a couple of emails, I sent him the deposit and the process was underway.  I pretty much knew what I wanted to do with the geometry, but still I sent the dimensions over for comments first.  Joe provided a couple of comments, and once the geometry was agreed upon the build was started.  Here is the final geometry:

One nice thing was that Joe sends pictures during the build process.  Here it is in the jig, ready for welding:

After welding:

After painting (the color is called Sepang Blue):

From placement of deposit until I received the frame was about eight weeks.  This includes a delay caused by me trying to decide what color to go with.

Upon receiving the frame, everything looked good upon close inspection: solid welds (well, they at least look like it) and a good quality paint job.  I put the frame on my scale, and it came in 1,660g (including the rear derailleur hanger, and the Chris King headset cups).  Heavy by today's standards, but I told the builder weight wasn't a priority so no complaints.

I then proceeded to build the frame up using a mix of components:  SRAM Red shifters and derailleurs, Shimano Dura Ace 7800 crankset, Planet X CNC brake calipers, Ritchey fork / stem / seatpost, Easton handlebar and a pair of custom built wheels using Ambrosio Nemesis tubular rims and Shimano Dura Ace hubs.  This is how it turned out in the end (the pedals were on my other bike when I snapped this picture):

One quality that is immediately noticeable about this frame is the stiffness in the bottom bracket area.  Of course I don't have any tools to quantify this stiffness, but when placed in my trainer, the lateral movement in the bottom bracket is noticeably less than my Lynskey-built titanium and Planet X carbon fiber frames (and seems similar to my Cannondale Six13).  I don't believe this really makes a difference in real life, but the difference is still there.  

As far as front end stiffness is concerned, it feels good and I haven't noticed anything out of the ordinary here. Combined with the Ritchey WCS fork, the bike tracks and corners well, and holds its line confidently in the corners. With regards to the handling, the best way for me to describe it would be neutral. The frame and fork combination yield a 58mm trail, and the bike feels neither twitchy nor too slow. Just how I like my bikes.

The frame is also reasonably comfortable when I am using my Ambrosio Nemesis wheels / Bontrager tubular tires combination, or using my Campy Zonda 2-Way Fit / Hutchinson tubeless combination.  Not as comfortable as my previously mentioned titanium or carbon fiber frames, but still not bad.  With the Mavic Cosmic Carbone SL / Veloflex Corsa clincher tires combination, the ride can be buzzy / harsh at times however, especially over chip seal.  But I ride tubulars pretty much exclusively these days so it works out.

As for complaints; well, I don't really have any major ones at this point.  As I mentioned, the frame was a bit on the heavy side, but again I didn't ask for a light frame.  Also, the ride can be a bit harsh with certain wheel / tire combinations, but I have several sets to choose from and with the tubular tires pumped to about 100-110 psi, the ride feels good.  Certainly not plush, but again nothing to complain about personally.

So all in all, I rate it as a very well-built, high quality and nice riding frame.  Also, custom geometry means you will get a great fit (provided that you know what that fit is, which can take years, or a very good fitter, to figure out).  The buying experience is great as well, with Joe answering all questions quickly and in a thoughtful and insightful manner.  On top of all of this, I think the price is very reasonable and it is American built which to me is a nice bonus.  If it was a little more "vertically compliant" it would be perfect, but nonetheless this is by far my favorite bike to ride out of all the ones I have in my stable.

Actually, I like it so much that I am getting another built right now.  Below is a sneak preview; it will be an integrated seat post aluminum frame, with a matte red paint job (most likely, not 100% sure yet) and internal Di2 shifting.  Stay tuned...

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