Singular Swift – final setup…..almost!

Posted: May 20, 2011 in 2011, Product Reviews
Tags: , ,

This really has been a labour of love. In my 25 years of cycling, this has to have been the hardest bike to set up….ever. OK, let’s qualify that, it has to be the hardest bike to set up, that I have really wanted to devote time and attention to. Other frames have come and gone, promises made and unfulfilled only to be shown the ‘exit’ way before their allotted time. So why have I spent extra time and effort on the Swift, why didn’t it go the way of the Scandal, the Soul, the Surly (hey, there’s a theme here) or any of the Massi’s that have adorned my garage/shed over the years? On the one hand, moving to another platform (29er) meant that the wheels were not transferrable to another bike but mainly it is because unlike the others, this frame was good enough to give me tantalising glimpses of its’ nature even when I had all but written it off. Those fleeting zephyrs of excitement, of promise had me pretty much hooked from the start and the rest, as they say, is history.

So what was wrong in the first place? I couldn’t get my position sorted, I couldn’t get the gearing right, it felt heavy, unwieldy and ponderous, it felt slow, it handled ‘slow’, it didn’t accelerate and finally it was uncomfortable. So what was it that made me persevere? Even when things were at their worst I had moments where the ride was sublime notwithstanding the underlying issues. I could see the promised land, I just couldn’t get there.

I tried the bike as a singlespeed but I just couldn’t find the right gear. After years of running singlespeeds on 26 inch wheeled bikes, I knew what I was looking for but it just wasn’t there; under geared or over geared – those were my options;  the magic gear, the good all round compromise,remained elusive. I decided to run gears and settled on 1×9. It made things better but still the same problem, the gearing just didn’t work to my satisfaction.

I decided to move on and look elsewhere and having found on and off road joy on a new CX bike, I decided to copy the settings down to the last millimetre – the logic being that they used the same size wheels, the frames were similar -ish and they both had to do a similar job. A lot of juggling ensued but I failed time and time again until I bit the bullet and got myself an inline post. I was moved forward over the bars a bit and power output was immediately improved but the bike still felt strangely heavy. It worked well in singletrack and was a (qualified) delight on fire roads but it was just such hard work. Some of the trails I ride are tight singletrack, you can’t carry much speed through so it is a case of sprint, brake, sprint, brake etc etc (for up to an hour with little respite) and if you are going to keep up with the others you need to work damned hard. Not natural terrain (in my opinion) for a 29er and by the time we get back to long fire road sections I am usually knackered.

It was about this time that I bought new wheels for my Superlight. Going tubeless made a massive difference even to that bike. Getting up to speed was easier, keeping speed required less effort and it had to be the answer. I ordered a pair of Crest rims and waited for them to be imported. Meanwhile, cue more frustrating fettling with tiny, incremental improvements. Protracted email correspondence with Sam at Singular must have tried his patience but he stuck with me, making suggestions here and there but ultimately, I was waiting for the new wheels.

At last the day arrived when I picked up the new hoops but I was ill and they had to stay in the shed, with the bike, a while longer. The first ride on the new setup showed promise, lots of promise and I suddenly ‘got’ what the bike was all about but it still wasn’t ‘sweet’. I was restricted to using maybe 3 gears out of the possible 9 and was still getting left behind. A small, local, race proved that I needed to think about the gearing a bit more. I wanted to have the whole block available, to have a setup which didn’t see me struggling for speed in too big a gear while equally, allowing me to ride in the easier gears without bobbing up and down like a manic ‘jack-in-the-box’. The solution was to ditch the 34 tooth chainring and move up to a 36.

A few minor adjustments to position etc and I was there, my journey was at an end and the Swift was ready to show me the full range of its talents. The killer upgrade, as Sam had suggested all along was the wheels. Light wheels are an absolute must and they were the main key to unlocking the secrets of this enigmatic bike, light wheels and a tubeless set up – that is my recommendation.

If you have read about the rolling and bump munching capabilities of 29er wheels, believe it, it is all true. Sections where 26 inch wheels struggle are eaten up for breakfast, they don’t become magically impact free zones but you just roll through them much more easily than before. While there are times when I wish I had a suspension fork, on the whole it really isn’t necessary. Rolling ‘moguls’ as found in Thetford, become easier to ride, just select your biggest gear and just flow through them without the saddle trying to become a permanent part of your rear end! Railing round the berms literally feels as though you are on rails and minimal skipping out inspires confidence like nothing else I have ridden before. Fire roads are gobbled up with ease but it does take noticeably longer to get to the top end. Once there though, engage cruise control and sit back… enjoy the ride!

There are a couple of other characteristics that warrant their own paragraph. Sand and sandy climbing: I am not a good climber and my sand riding technique is pretty dire; combine the two (you have to in Thetford during the summer months) and it is a rough approximation of my own personal hell. Sandy sections however, are despatched with aplomb; you still have to work at them but you will find more speed than on a standard mountain bike. At worst, it lets you jump on your (faster) riding mates’ wheels and sit there resting while they make all the effort or you can rub salt in the wound and ease yourself away. Climbing generally seems to be easier as well, I can ride the local climbs in a bigger gear  without expending quite as much effort as I used to…result! The frame is plenty stiff enough but it has that strange springy feeling you only really find with steel frames. In these days of uber stiff aluminium or carbon frames, steel is often unappreciated. Maybe it is an acquired taste but as someone who grew up on steel bikes, I know when it feels right and believe me, this frame feels spot on. Another characteristic – once you have got the bike set up just right is the comfort and as an addendum to that, its’ mile munching capability. If you are in pain, every yard seems to be a drag, every mile a lifetime and you just don’t enjoy yourself. Get it right and you can ride for ages; I don’t care that this bike is a rigid, it just rides through and along stuff with ease, it isn’t the armchair comfort of a well sorted full susser, but it is the next best thing. My only criticism is that after 20 miles or so the EBB starts creaking and I can’t stop it!

I don’t know enough about tube profiles, comparative designs, etc nor do I care overly about weight to spend time discussing them – I’ll leave that to ‘proper’ journos. All I can say is that you really owe it to yourself to have a ride on one of these. Ignore the Luddites who complain of ‘clown wheels’ and ‘bikes that look like gates’, they have no idea what they are talking about.

The Swift is a clean, uncluttered bike and it will charm you with its ways. Getting a bike out for a ride is not going to be easy any more…Swift, susser or CX? I tell you what, I am going to enjoy choosing.

The moral of this story has to be ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’. I suffered all the way along this build but it was worth it in the end.

The build then:

Pablo Esco Bars.

Yeti Lock On grips

Shimano LX Brakes

1 x Shimano LX 9 speed shifter

Ritchey Pro 100m Stem

Cane Creek S-3 Headset

Shimano XT HT2 chainset and bottom bracket

MRP 36 Tooth chainring

Thomson Elite in line post

SDG Bel Air Saddle

Shimano SLX 11 – 34 cassette

SRAM PC 951 chain

XT Rear Mech

Shimano M959 Pedals

KCNC Razor Rotors

Superstar Superleggera Hubs

Crest 29er rims

DT Spokes

Racing Ralph 2.4 (front) and 2.25 Rear.







EDIT: this bike now sports On One carbon forks. A much improved riding experience because I found the standard forks too tall. I understand Singular have since reduced the fork height and the net result is pretty much the same as I have achieved here.

There is more about the Swift elsewhere in this blog, specifically a comparison with a Niner Sir9 – my ‘other bike’.

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Comments
  1. ady seeley says:

    Very intresting read and good that you stuck with it and its sorted just the way you wanted .
    But ive looked at several 29 inch bikes and test road a gary fisher and it just felt weird i suppose more time spent on one might convince me to change ,but just love the way my R8 handles when being pushed and ridden hard or as hard as my lack of fitness allows.
    Also it may well depend on your riding style as i like to chuck the bike around and your stlye is some what more refined .

  2. slowjo61 says:

    It certainly is a different type of riding sensation and it took me a while to get used to it, even before I set to work trying to get the bike set up as I wanted it. I’m not sure you’ll ‘get’ the 29er thing in one go and if you struggle with basics, as I did, then it may take a while longer.

    A lot of the problems with set up have to be down to my body shape – longer body, shorter legs. I need the reach but not too ‘tall’ a bike. There is also the argument that I was being over fussy but Chris (he of the wacky beard) bought my wheels and said he found them a bit ponderous.

    The key to the build was ultimately the wheels, closely followed by the gears. These were really the easy fixes but all that faffing about, tweaking positions paid massive dividends in the end. Once I had the main issues sorted, they made the difference between a good result and fantastic one.

    You are too kind about my riding style Ady, I never thought of myself as ‘refined’ before….Earl Grey and cucumber sandwiches on the lawn anyone! 🙂

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