Bicycle Builds — Waltly Gravel Travel
*Full gallery alllll the way at the bottom ;)
In winter 2019 I thought it would be a fun exercise to get a custom frame built from the ground up, as up until then I’d only bought stock-sized frames/bikes from more established companies. I ended up opting to do a full custom ti frame built up by the folks at Waltly Ti, an overseas company in China that has a solid reputation among the various cycling forums and who does custom one-off frames at very reasonable prices. I figured I’d do a little write-up on my experience given that I receive messages from people on a regular basis who are interested to know about the whole process from start to finish.
The intent with this frame was to have it be a swiss-army knife that could take a beating on commuter duty, gravel duty, travel duty, etc. As such, my goals with the build were pretty specific:
-Clearance for up to 700x45 tires with fenders
-Couplers for traveling/disassembly
-Internal cable/wire routing for both hydraulic brake lines and GRX Di2
-Internal dynamo wiring on fork
Given that this bike will see a lot of use/abuse through commuting and travel I wanted a bike that I could feel okay about getting scuffed, scratched, etc. With that in mind, I reached out to Waltly to get the process started. To be completely transparent, I paid for everything from Waltly at full cost, and I have spec’d all other components from eBay, my parts bin, etc.
My primary contact at Waltly was Amy, and she was really great to work with. Her english is great, and her response time was usually within 24-48 hrs throughout the whole process. On this note, probably the most important thing to note when initiating a custom order with Waltly is that you need to have a really solid grasp of EVERY. SINGLE. DETAIL. about your frame before you begin. This takes quite a bit of homework on the customer's part, as it requires that you specify everything about your bike’s tubing diameters and wall thickness (and that includes every tube — head tube, downtube, toptube, chainstays, seatstays -- you get the point), tube shapes (ovalized, round, etc), tube lengths, and geometry. You will also need to specify decisions including cable/wire routing, bottom bracket size/style — and in my case travel couplers, rack mounts/provisions, etc.
That being said, given that this was my first time designing a frame I inevitably had questions arise, and by and large Amy was able to provide solid recommendations from their own experience — keep in mind, they build a LOT of frames and they do a good job doing it. It was also pretty apparent that she was in communication with the actual framebuilders in their shop at various steps along the design process who were also able to chime in with suggestions on some of the details (such as cable routing options).
It took a couple solid months of back and forth emails with Amy before I felt we were ready to go ahead and begin production. For those interested, the cost breakdown was as follows:
Frame (with breakaway-style seat tube coupler and S&S downtube coupler): $1200 USD
Spare ti rear derailleur hanger: $30 USD
Carbon fork (which I may not use after all): $120 USD
Total: $1350 USD + shipping
No, that's not a typo. Yes, that's how much it cost. But note that these were the prices in early, pre-pandemic 2020 -- a lot has changed since then, and I haven't kept tabs on Waltly custom pricing since then. Don't be surprised if prices have changed a bit.
Now for some frame details:
You may have noticed by now that this bike features what I refer to as a "hybrid" coupler system. The upper coupler is a traditional breakaway-style coupler that connects the two halves of the frame together by two bolts (one for the front half of the bike, the other for the back half) that clamp down simultaneously on the seatpost to lock the frame in one piece. It works great, is low fuss, and most importantly (to me at least), is pretty discrete in contrast to a traditional full S&S coupler setup.
The lower coupler, on the other hand, is an S&S style coupler. The reasoning behind using this type of coupler for the lower connection is that it's a little more tucked away and out of view, but more importantly I've always felt like the S&S coupler has a more robust locking mechanism compared to the downtube coupler on a traditional Breakaway coupler system. I previously owned a Ritchey Breakaway Ti Cross frame (a sweet bike!), and while it worked great in the time I owned it, there are reports online of customers needing to purchase replacement downtube clamps because the original clamp failed or stretched. This simply isn't an issue for an S&S coupler -- hence the design choice.
I'm not a huge fan of externally-routed hydraulic cables and Di2 wires, which presents a problem given that I wanted a travel bike with couplers. Although it’s probably a bit over-the-top, I had Waltly weld hydraulic cable entry/exit points at the top of the downtube, the bottom of the downtube (below the S&S coupler), and then another cable entry point underneath the chainstay before the cable’s final exit next to the rear brake caliper.
Did I press the easy button by opting to build a travel bike with internally-routed brake hoses and Di2 wires? Heavens no. Do I care? Also no.
Now, how do I decouple the bike for travel if my rear hydraulic line runs internally through the S&S coupler? That’s where a company called Zeno Bicycle Components in Taiwan comes in with their hydraulic Q-Connectors. They are not the first to come to market with a hydraulic quick disconnect, but they certainly are the most reasonably priced -- for example, the Zeno setup cost me ~$40 USD.
The folks at Zeno were super easy to communicate with directly through their Facebook page. About a week after paying for the Zeno Q Connectors they arrived in my mailbox from Taiwan and everything so far has worked great since I got them installed — I’ve had no brake bleed issues thus far after disconnecting/reconnecting the hydraulic lines multiple times and the brakes perform as expected.
Alright, back to the Waltly specs — the Di2 wiring is internal as well, and they were able to drill a tidy wire exit hole at the end of the rear chainstay that looks super clean. All in all the welds are solid, tubes are straight, and the bike handles really well.
Additional details about the frame spec:
Headtube: 42/52 mm integrated & tapered
Downtube: 44mm OD
Seat tube and top tube: 34.9 mm OD
Seatstays: 19 mm round
Chainstays: Tapered and ovalized (25mm down to 19 mm)
Flat mount brake mounts
BSA threaded bottom bracket
Now for the build details (some of these may contain affiliate links):
And for those interested, here is a list of a few supplies I have on hand at all times to keep my bikes as clean and tuned as possible (note that these do contain affiliate links):
RainX Foaming Car Wash Soap (initial spraydown and scrubbing)
Muc-Off Bike Protect (final frame polish)
Copaslip Antiseize (must-have for Ti frames -- prevents seizing with non-Ti surfaces)
Red 3M ScotchBrite Pads (for the occasional Ti refinishing)
Molten Speed Wax (for chain waxing)
Crockpot Mini (dedicated exclusively for chain waxing)
Park Polylube 1000 (bearing, thread lubrication)
Blue Loctite (light threadlocker for screws -- e.g., bottle cage mounting screws)
I've owned this bike for over three years now. I've traveled with it and I've graveled with it. It's been on a few long canyon road descents. It's seen mud, it's seen rain, and it's been through a few minor rock gardens along the way. I've disconnected the Zeno hydraulic quick disconnect coupler a dozen or so times and it still doesn't need a re-bleed. The ride is what you'd expect from a quality Ti frame (ie, smooth as butter), and the handling is exactly how I envisioned it would be.
It's one of my favorite bikes. If there is such thing as a do-it-all, swiss army knife bike, this is pretty close to it.
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