Seven Cycles – known worldwide for their hand-built Boston craftsmanship. These expensive bespoke bikes are considered some of the finest on the road.
When it comes to custom bikes, there are a lot of companies to choose from. There’s new shops, long established shops, and shops that have distinguished themselves in a particular area of expertise. Seven Cycles is known best for their custom build titanium road bikes – but they have been making mountain and tour bikes for quite a while.
I chose Seven based on personal experience with their bikes, word-of-mouth, and, to be honest, a lot of hope. This bike has now done over 4,000 km of extremely rough trails and I’m ready to put my thoughts down into a proper full scale review.
Made entirely in Boston, MA from double-butted titanium, this bike is custom built for each customer. The geometry and materials are based on a combination of in-depth physical measurements and a very detailed interview or two. The interviews will cover everything from riding style to personal habits, injuries, nitpicks and complaints to goals and equipment. Seven takes building a custom bike very seriously. More so than any custom bike manufacturer I’ve talked to before. They make big vendor efforts like Trek’s Project One seem extremely inept. Seven’s custom business isn’t about being allowed to choose the paint colors for an $8,000 bike or decide between a limited range of components. It’s about having every single line, curve, and piece of tube stock be chosen and fitted to you. Personally. You can also choose things like paint of course. The Sola SL is available only from Seven and a participating dealer, and runs from ~$5,395 to $6,845 depending on components.
There are no two identical Seven Custom bikes.
This review is about mine. Seven Sola SL #1404F
Here’s the specs from the manufacturer:
- Usage: Mountain Race, Mountain Endurance, Mountain Expedition
- Average Frame Weight: 3.3 lbs (1.49kg)
- Tubeset: Seven’s Argen™ Double Butted 3-2.5 Titanium
- Wheel sizes: 26, 27.5, 29
- Geometry: Totally depends on rider
- Belt drive configuration available
- Fat tire configuration available
- Custom racks available
My specific build is on the build review. The frame + rack weighed in at 1.8kg (3.9lbs). I’ll summarize my component set here:
- Drivetrain: SRAM X01 11 speed with 10-42 tooth gear range cassette
- Crankarms: SRAM X01 X-Sync
- Chainring: US-Made Wolftooth 30T
- Brakes: Shimano XT, with 180mm rotors to better handle the touring weight
- Hubs/Headset/Bottom Bracket: US-Made Chris King
- Wheels: 29″ hand built with all US-Made double-butted spokes/brass nipples and tubeless rims by Cosmic Cycles
- Tires: Continental Mountain King 2 2.4
- Fork: Rockshox Reba RL with 15mm thruaxle
- Bars: Easton EC90 carbon fiber
- Pedals: US-Made Twenty6 Predator
- Saddle: US-Made Selle Anatomica NSX Watershed
- Saddlebags: Ortleib Roller classic
Like all of my reviews, we’ll cover Fit, Build, Comfort, Performance, and Value. I have personally put 4,272 km (2,654 miles) on this bike since it arrived November 2014. I’ve ridden it from Mexico to Canada, all over the Southwest, and on trails ranging from downhill and pumptrack to singletrack, aggregate and asphalt. My max touring load was 25kg (55lbs) of gear, supplies, and water.
I did a lot of heavy riding before embarking on a ride north across the the US, such as riding from central Arizona to central Nevada, hundreds of kilometers of the Arizona Trail, and quite a few actually nice rides such as Black Canyon Trail. I can say with confidence that I’ve hit the majority of terrain types on this bike now and feel I can offer you a solid opinion.
On to the Review!
- First: Fit
If your bike doesn’t fit and you can’t easily adjust it, what’s the use of owning it?
It should go without saying that a custom bike should fit like a glove. However, my previous experience with custom bikes including “pseudo-custom” such as the Trek Project One series has proven that it’s not a slam-dunk.
Seven put me through a lot of measurements and quite a long interview process for this bike, but I was still leery of it. What if they were wrong? It’s an awful lot of money. They weren’t wrong.
This bike was built up by Cosmic Cycles, my friendly local shop, and it fit like a glove from the very first moment. I didn’t even have to adjust the saddle height. My traditional first spin around the block showed me how right my decision to trust Seven was. In 30 years of cycling, I’ve had tons of professional fittings and even some custom bikes. Never in my life has one fit like this bike fit. The Seven Sola SL fit like a fine bespoke suit.
I’m not sure why I was surprised, but I was. Over 4,000 km later, I still haven’t adjusted anything. It still fits like a glove, and has through rain, snow, sleet, climbs, descents, and crazy trails. I used to be in the habit of dropping my seat manually for hairy, rocky descents… I don’t have to anymore. It just isn’t needed.
Mike Salvatore is listed on my Seven Frame Card as the builder – and he did a phenomenal job. Thank you.
Fit Score: 10
Incidentally, the 1st perfect 10 I’ve ever given out on a review.
- Second: Build
Durability, weight, design, layout, and comfort are all vital to a bike
I was impressed with the build quality the first time I saw a Seven. I weld a little myself, and I have an appreciation for a well done weld. The welds on Seven Cycles are just like some sort of welding porn. They are flawless, even when they’re on minor things like cable guides. Every weld on my bike and custom rack is an individual flourish by a top-notch craftsman. Stef Adams did the welding, and produced a masterpiece. I enjoy showing it off to other welders and other cyclists. I’ve caused crowds this way – seasoned professionals gathering to examine a bike in a parking lot is definitely an odd scene. I’d applaud the finisher as well… but I can’t read their signature!
Build Score: 10
- Third: Comfort
Comfort is highly subjective, and it’s hard to isolate
Not sure how much of the comfort is down to just the frame, but I can say for certain that compared to a high-end carbon fiber frame, this one smooths out the road chatter a little better. It’s not buttery smooth or anything, but I don’t get any numb extremities even after I’ve been on the bike for 160km in a stretch. I’ve put several long rough days in, and I’m always looking forward to swinging my leg over it again. This might get a higher score if I changed out my saddle. Hard to say.
Comfort Score: 9.5
- Fourth: Performance
This is everything in a high-end bike. The road feel. The trail feel. The confidence and the handling.
I wish I had some amazing photo to convey what this bike feels like. I usually don’t take selfies, however, and I don’t think I have the talent to capture that feeling if I did. The import thing is that it somehow combines the lively responsive spring-like feel of a steel frame with the soft suppleness that’s uniquely titanium. There’s no dreaded titanium wobble like Merlin or Litespeed frames sometimes have. There’s no dead wooden feel like carbon fiber. When I stand up and hammer, all 100kg of me, this bike goes like a scared rabbit. If I tackle a crazy rocky mess and don’t have the perfect line, the bike is very forgiving and helps me get through in one piece. This year alone I’ve tackled big wild jumps, putting 2 meters of air under my tires, 1-2 meter drop-offs, massive hill-climbs, and lots of days when I rode from dawn until dusk. I passed armor-clad full suspension downhill riders on intermediate and advanced tracks, and then plunked the saddle bags back on to ride back to the hotel.
The only nit that I can pick is the that it’s a bit tricky to get the saddlebags on and off the rack. They just barely fit, making it more time-consuming than it really should be to bring them with you into places.
This bike performs like it was made for me. Because it was.
Performance Score: 9.7
- Finally: Value
What are you really getting for your money?
The Seven Cycles Sola SL is a pricey bike. It’s not at the top-end by any means, that’s reserved for the truly expensive race bikes – most of which cost more off the shelf than a custom bike does with the same components. It is, however, more than many will ever spend on a bike.
Is it worth it?
For my money, I’d buy it all over again. I don’t think a ride has gone by where I wished I’d done something differently with this bike, and that’s an unusual experience. Whenever I rode my previous bikes, even my Trek Project One 5500 OCLV, I’ve always kept an eye on what others were riding. I always fidgeted with seats, stems, crankarms. I have raced, I have done endurance rides, and I’ve ridden cross country, and I’ve never felt truly at home in the saddle until this bike.
Yes, I’d replace the saddle. The one I have didn’t handle rain well, and it’s a bit too squishy. The rest of the bike, however, I just adore. I finish rides with only muscle soreness. Long gone are the numb hands and toes. Long gone is the shifting position constantly.
What is it worth to you to buy possibly the last hardtail mountain bike you’ll ever buy?
To me, just losing the discomfort and pain is worth the cost.
Value Score: 9.8
2019 Update – 7,000 km
Here we are nearly 4 years and over 3,000 km later for a follow-up. Part of the reason we buy custom bikes is their longevity, right? Well since this review in January of 2016, I have done a fair number of kilometers on this bike, though not as many as I would like.
Let me share a few things this bike has seen as we’ve done lots of small rides:
As a bike goes, the Seven Cycles Sola SL has held up. My calendar girl is by no means ready for retirement. A new set of brake pads, a new set of tires, and she’s ready to roll. I even got that seat to break in, finally.
Do yourself a favor and get your own.