Bike Build, About the Frame

I promised Habanero that I would "review" the frame. So, here it is. Habanero is a designer/retailer of titanium frames that are fabricated at a plant in China Taiwan (a western style democracy, in case you're confusing Taiwan with the PRC) [ed. see Mark's comment below]. I discovered them via Googleing for "titanium bike frames". The website is, frankly, nothing too impressive. It has a sort of retro 1998 nostalgia to it, and given my profession (in IT) it burned like a rash to have to look at it. But, look at it I did, specifically the Cross/Tour page and the Pictures page. I thought the frame looked great, and the price was right, assuming it was fabbed well. So I dropped an inquiry. Mark was very responsive, and in fact remained so the entire time that we discussed the project over email.

I knew that I wanted to go with discs front and rear, and that such a thing would be way easier to source if I was looking for a "29-er disc" wheelset, rather than a 700c rim laced to a road disc hub. And that was true. But, that required a 135mm rear end. The Cross frame was specced with a 130 rear. This took a small amount of back-and-forth over email (mostly because I was skittish about getting it right), but a Cross/Tour frame with 135 rear-end and disc drop-outs was a modest $50 upgrade. I was able to also specify leaving off the canti posts, and some specifics about how I wanted the cable stops to be positioned. Mark accommodated all of my dithering and questions well.

The other thing that took some discussion was the size of the frame. My old frame (a 2006 Redline Conquest Pro) was a 52, and waaay too small, I'd been reading about other ways to size (including more traditional approaches) and decided I was going to go bigger. Mark thought I should get a 52 or a 55 based on some measurements that he had me take from the old bike. The problem is that the old bike was too small, so any measurements there would only perpetuate the problem. Mark thought the 55 would be the way to go. I wanted the 57. I held firm, and ordered a 57. I think maybe Mark was right and that the 55 would be a tad better, but I fit just fine on the 57.

So, modifications were sorted out and size was sorted out. That just left waiting. I put in the order on October 12th. The site states (and Mark re-confirmed) the "10 week" lead time for custom mods. That seemed reasonable, and I was planning on just riding the Redline until the season ended, and then it wouldn't matter anyway. Well, by week 8 I was antsy and pestered Mark. It still wasn't in the US yet. By week 10, it still wasn't here. I actually was called in the middle of week 12 that it had arrived at their shop and they were installing the headset and prepping the frame. All things said and done, the frame arrived on January 3rd. The delay was longer than stated, but I don't really think that Habanero has a lot of direct control over the components of the manufacturing and supply chain (most container ships from China to the US spend 2 weeks just on the water).

The frame was shipped in a re-used Specialized box (score +1 for the reuse!) and the voids around the tubes were filled with empty 2L soda bottles. Score another +1 for that reuse, but a -1 for delegating the recycling to me. ;-) There was the normal bubble wrap and clear plastic tape to get through. Included was the remainder of the headset (after the cups had been installed by Habanero) and a pulley for use with a bottom-pull front derailer. So, packaging wasn't like Rivendell, but neither was the price of the frame!

Once out of the packaging, I put the frame on the stand and took a look. As I mentioned before, I spent nearly 20 minutes looking at welds. They are nice. They are clean and tidy, and don't look like a blob of toothpaste. The threaded inserts (where most bikes have "braze-ons") were really nice - discrete and nearly flush to the tube surface. The integrated seat post clamp was beautiful and locked fine on my old Syncros seat post. The decals and logo were also a little mid-90s-retro, but they are mercifully few and pretty discrete as well (unlike the Redline which felt the need to put a decal of the URL of Redline's website on the inside of the chainstay. Like we can't use a search engine.). Some other nice touches include the cable routing - all over the top of the top tube. No cable stops or bottom -tube shifter mounts - just smooth, clean TI. I don't know why so many bike builders insist on putting down-tube shifter bosses on. Only 2% of the retro-grouch population even runs those any more. Everybody does STI or barcon shifters - give up on the nasty warts on the downtube already!

Back to the Hab. There were no extra cable stops. I'm running a 1x9 drive-train, which is good, because I actually think there isn't enough run for all three cables heading to the rear of the bike - rear brake, rear derailer, and front derailer. There's only channels for 2 cables. Oops! You might want to confirm this if you order one. In my case, that was fine, since I see no reason to have a front derailer! I could see how the builder could easily weld-on a different cable bridge with three channels and you'd be good to go. I'm just saying that my bike only has two channels in the cable bridge. The drop-outs looked water-jet cut. I'm not sure if they are, but it's a really nice look. And, in general, bare titanium is a damn fine material to look at.

I did notice, as I went to install the rear wheel, that the rear drop-outs are slightly more than 135mm ID. Additionally, TI is a pretty flexy metal - the DOs seem to flex pretty easily in under the skewer. So, if all you needed was a 135mm rear end, there's probably not a reason to wait for it, since the 130mm stock rear might be pretty close to 135 anyway ...

In summary, the fit and finish of the frame is stellar. This is a really nice bike frame for an incredibly reasonable price. I am eagerly anticipating meteorological conditions other than "total crap" in which to ride. The wait was painful, but that's not really a ding on the frame. The service was very responsive and helpful. The rear DO was a little wider than the spec, and I think a person running a front derailer could be surprised by the cable routing without some advance clarifications.

Do I think this is a great frame? So far, yes. Of course, I need to ride it to be sure (such are the limitations of winter hobbies in MN). Do I think the company is good to work with? Yes, absolutely. Would I recommend Habanero to a friend? Yes, I would, and have a buddy that is already considering it.

And really, Mark, comp somebody a frame and let them build you a decent website. Sheesh!

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