Here's my new Rock Lobster, with a photo and a review.
For those that donít know the history of Rock Lobster, hereís a good lesson:
Rock Lobster History
Iíve provided links to both of his blogs, ďWhatís Up In Santa CruzĒ, and ďCanít We Just Get Along?Ē. They give you a good idea of Paulís personality and views about framebuilding and the business.
Rock Lobster Blog
You wonít find his order form very detailed, but donít get dissuaded by it. My experience was itís not a ďbe all, end allĒ document. It just gives him a general idea of what heís building for you. If necessary, add your own page with more information. During that initial phone call, heíll even give you a realistic lead time for your frame. The 4 1/2 months he quoted for me was quite reasonable and he apologized for the ďdelayĒ explaining he was in the middle of delivering bikes for the upcoming cyclocross season. He delivered the finished frame on time.
The week he was ready to build my frame, he called to finalize things. Rather than a ďmy way or the highwayĒ mentality, he was very willing to listen to my desires on some of my bikeís dimensions and features. My body dimensions arenít unusual and nor was the frame I was asking for; perhaps thatís why he was so easy to work with. The phrase I kept hearing from him was, ď I just want you to be happyĒ.
Funny thing about the top tube length: I had asked for a 5mm shorter top tube versus my Salsa Ala Carte. During the week he was building the frame, I was fooling with my seat position and moved it forward 5mm. Then crazy ideas started running through my head, ďAHHHH! NOW THE FRAME WILL BE TOO SHORT!Ē I had to laugh and just embrace what would come.
Paul kept me updated with the frameís progress and even posted photos of the bare frame on his blog. He gave me lead times for the powdercoater and painter for the clearcoat. Paul even sent me a note to tell me thereíd be a delay because the painter sanded through the clearcoat and muffed a decal.
When it was shipped he e-mailed me a tracking number so I could peak at its progress every night before I went to bed.
So whatís the frame all about? Slip on over to my Flickr page to see more photos:
Peter's Rock Lobster Flickr Page
The frame is built with Tange Prestige Ultimate Extrastrong. I told Paul I didnít need anything extra stiff or light. I was interested in a frame that could take day-to-day use. He said the tubes he used are new old stock that he was able to pick up cheap some time after it was out of production. The unique feature is the top and down tubes: theyíre not quite round. Instead, think of a hexagonal or octagonal cross-section. Same concept except there are MANY more sides. Itís something you can barely see through the powdercoat but can feel with your fingers. Paul seemed pretty excited about these tubes and said they were quite dent resistant. Itís with details like this that you put your trust in the builder.
I asked for the bike to be powdercoated olive drab and provided a RAL powdercoat number so thereíd be no confusion. I also asked for a satin or flat clearcoat but instead I received a gloss finish. When I mentioned this to Paul, he didnít hesitate to tell me to ship it back for a refinish, or as compensation he offered some unspecified schwag. If this were a road frame Iíd probably take Paul up on his offer. But since itís a mountain bike and scarring comes with the territory, I couldnít justify it and would feel sorta sheepish asking for a refinish of a frame thatís destined to be abused. And to tell the truth, the bike got scratched on itís first foray into the woods and itís all behind me now.
Also during assembly, I noticed there was a run in the clearcoat on the back of a fork leg and a peculiar chip in the clearcoat on the top tube. In full disclosure, I didnít notice the chip during assembly and had originally placed a sticker on that spot. A day or two later I changed my mind and removed it; only later, still before the bike hit the road or dirt, did I notice it. Whether the chip preexisted the sticker or the sticker pulled the clearcoat off with it, I donít know. After the first off-road ride with its requisite crashes, I scratched the fork leg-see the Flickr photos. I think thereís something wrong with the clearcoat because itís not ďoneĒ with the paint. Instead, when the bike gets scratched, it peels like a film. I still think something went wrong with the application of the clear, but Iím gonna let it go. I mentioned this to Paul and he didn't hesitate to offer to have the clearcoat redone. He later confirmed he has the same problem with his 5 year old personal frame, and thinks the painter didn't prep the frame well to receive the clear, and this problem is rare with the painter he uses.
To the bike:
Check out the front dropouts. Even though Iím using rim brakes the dropouts are still oriented to address the problem of disc brake forces on the front wheel. It doesnít affect wheel removal or installation onto a roof rack. Whether it was intentional or not, I donít know. It just looks funky and unique.
The fork itself sports larger, round tubes that taper less than the oval/round blades on the Independent Fabrications fork I had on my Salsa Ala Carte. I was worried I would be in for a harsh ride. Frankly, I canít tell the difference.
The headtube is externally machined, yet so lightly youíve got to wonder why bother since the weight savings is practically nil. Paul does it because he ďlikes the looks of itĒ.
And the welding; look at the welds. Theyíre TINY. Smaller than fillets, for sure, but just as smooth, and Paul says he leaves them unfinished because otherwise you compromise the strength of the joint. Theyíre so tiny you wonder whatís holding the frame together. I never would have noticed them had someone else not pointed them out, but I lack the refined taste to appreciate this stuff.
Thereís a lot of work in the rear triangle, too. Both the seatstays and chainstays are slender enough to be at home on a road bike, a contrast to the beefier tubes on my Salsa. Perhaps they were chosen to match my lightweight 130 lbs., I donít know. And both sets of stays have subtle, extra bends in them, similar to a Speedvagen though I donít want to imply heís a copycat. And heís certainly not, considering the trademark monostay rearend, the first bike Iíve had with a monostay.
Paul installed all the braze-ons I asked for with no mistakes, from the fender mounts to the pump peg to the waterbottle locations, including the Columbine chainwatcher I asked for. Actually, he said he couldnít get a Columbine in steel so he promised to fabricate something from a pump peg that would work. Itís a little bit over the top style-wise; a simple nail would have been fine, but it works great. The V-brake spacing on the fork and stays is a bit wider than on my Salsa such that I had to shift the pad spacers around, but the spacing allows me to remove either wheel without having to push the knobs past the pads. Paul says the spacing is to Shimano spec.
So howís it ride? Honestly, Iíd be hard pressed to notice any difference between my Rock Lobster and my near deceased Salsa. Iíve only had one ride in the woods so far and it looks like with the snow that my mountain biking season is going to be over until the spring, so I canít be too definitive on the ride. But the fork didnít seem harsh and neither did the frame. Itís off-road manners are just fine. Paul only needs to coax his painter to improve on his clearcoating skills to ensure a top-notch frame.
Hereís how Paul sees his work on my frame, as well as his work in general, as he wrote to me:
ďAll these things (details) are what should set a custom frame apart from an off the shelf item. I'm not some guy who sits proudly in my shop and declares that I have a perfect product.....I'm a guy who is trying to do his job better all the time-maybe it's insecurity , maybe the challenge of the work is what keeps me interested. All I know is that when I see a photo of a bike like yours where the cockpit looks really balanced and your words are positive, I know I'm on the right track. I'm all about making people happy with their bikes.Ē
I enjoy the bike and Iím proud to count myself among the owners of a Rock Lobster frame.
April 2010-I caved in and sent the frame back to Paul at Rock Lobster because of the chipping of the clearcoat on the fork I commented on above. I had barely ridden the bike a half dozen times. He didn't hesitate to accept responsibility. While he was at it, I asked for the matte clear I should have received with the original order. The turnaround time was reasonable and he always kept me updated on my frame's progress.
The new finish feels like finely sanded paint; you'd swear there was no clear coat on it al all, but Paul confirmed it's there. In the top tube photo you can clearly see the external ribs on the Tange tubes.