A couple of winters ago I became entranced with the idea of building a bike up from scratch, my dream bike. I didn’t know much about bike components at the time, so this was quite the learning adventure. I started with a Santa Cruz Stigmata frame - bright yellow with mint highlights. For months I researched components, asked friends questions and their opinions and pulled together countless spreadsheet tabs. I gathered components from local bike shops, online sites and wheel takeoffs from a friend’s rig. When it was all said and done, I had a bike that looked like a beauty and performed like a beast.
For several years, it was my go to bike for gravel and cyclocross racing, helping me take to the podiums on a couple of occasions. It was light, fast, responsive and sure looked pretty. So why did I let such a dream bike go?
I got hooked on bikepacking. And although the Stigmata did a great job at getting me started in the bikepacking realm, I knew it wouldn’t cut it for the adventures I had planned. I wanted a rig that could clear wider tires for gnarly terrain and a fork that items could easily be attached to so I could go on unsupported rides for longer periods of time.
The deeper I dove into bikepacking research, the more enticed I became by a titanium rig. The suppleness of the ride, durability of the frame and unique quality drew me in. Once I was set on titanium, it only seemed logical to go custom. I am quite tall and all legs, so the geometry of bikes on the market never quite suit me. If I was going to invest in a bike for endurance riding, fit was just as key as functionality. Cue True North.
Hugh Black has been making bikes for almost 30 years out of Fergus, Ontario, with titanium being his specialty. A few of my friends have bikes made by him and I have heard nothing but raving reviews. I met with Hugh at his shop to talk about the potential bike build - what I would be using the bike for, desired tire clearance, components, fit, etc. It was a lot easier to talk through these options this time around because I had learned so much from the Stigmata build. After chatting, there was no hesitation on my part, I felt comfortable with the bike build being in Hugh’s hands.
Next time I visited the shop, I brought my Stigmata and jumped on the trainer while Hugh analyzed my current bike position. After a few body measurements, he showed me a mock-up of the proposed bike geometry. Pretty sweet - a bike finally designed for my body!
True North Bike Design
Before no time, Hugh had crafted a titanium dream - so sleek, so light. I won’t pretend to know a ton about frame design, but aesthetically speaking, this frame is a work of art. Anyone can see that the attention to detail is high; the lines are so clean. Hugh included eyelets on the downtube for an extra water bottle mount or storage as well as mounts for a rear fender/ rack.
PC: Top Photos by Hugh Black
While the frame was being constructed, I was busy dreaming up a colourway. Initially, I whipped out my pencil crayons and tracing paper to come up with a design. After a single mock-up, I knew I had to flip to a digital planning process or iterations would be painful. Luckily, one of my friends had me over to hangout and we put together a couple versions in Illustrator. All set!
To make the bike build experience even more special, I anodized the frame myself! Hugh knew how much I loved art so let me run wild with the anodization after a short tutorial. I practiced on some scrap titanium and settled on 21.3V as my main voltage. If you don’t know how anodization works - it’s kind of like painting with electricity. Each voltage setting results in a different colour of oxidation on the titanium surface. I incorporated a slight fade in my design, deep purple at the head tube to a purplish rose-gold along the top tube. Hugh’s colleague, Michael, took the time to bead blast the leopard print on the downtube to help with the Cosmocat vibe.
The neat part about anodization is that the oxidation layer is so thin that you can Scotch Brite the layer off and re-anodize without any structural integrity issues. This also means that the colour will wear away (grit, sand, bag attachment points) and expose titanium in certain areas over time. I plan to invest in some equipment so I can do touch-ups freely and update the bike aesthetics when I’m looking for a creative outlet.
Picking out components for this rig didn’t take nearly as long as with the Stigmata. I was pretty keen on going 1x with this bike. There will always be pros and cons with 1x and 2x systems. Ultimately, I wanted less equipment to deal with when out in the middle of nowhere. I’ve always been a Shimano gal, so the new gravel drivetrain series, GRX, was a no-brainer. Hugh internally routed the housing until the bottom bracket, at which point it peaks out along the seat stays. He did this for two reasons - to keep the seat stays as light as possible (adding holes would mean beefing up the stays) and to allow for ease of maintenance in a pinch.
Hugh introduced me to Rodeo Labs and I’ve since been hooked on their stuff. The company is stationed out of Colorado and makes some superb bikes and forks. The carbon Spork 2.0 has a 55 mm opening, meaning I should be able to squeeze on 2 in. tires for rough adventures. It also has internal dynamo routing. Down the line, I plan to get a front wheel with a dynamo hub - essentially a little generator that is powered by wheel rotation, used to charge lights and other electronics. Additionally, the Spork 2.0 has eyelets for attaching bikepack gear and cute little sporks imprinted on either side of the fork. What’s not not love?
I might have put Hugh through the ringer when I asked him to install a headbadge last minute that Velocolour crafted for me. Suzanne at Velocolour took the Cosmoscats logo and brought it to life - the perfect way to top off such an intricate build.
PC: Velocolour and Hugh Black
After over 500km of riding on this rig, I can truly say it is a titanium dream. It handles so well and is such a fun bike to ride. I can’t wait to get it suited up with bikepacking gear and bring it on a multi-day trek!
Titanium Dream Specs
True North custom titanium frame
Rodeo Labs Spork 2.0 carbon fork
White Industries headset (ZS44/28.6, EC44/40)
Shimano GRX drivetrain
42t 175 mm crankset (FC-RX810-1)
11-42 Deore XT cassette (CS-M8000)
Shadow RD+ rear derailleur (RD-RX810)
Hydraulic disc brake calipers (BR-RX810)
105 11s chain (CN-HG601)
Shimano 160 mm center lock rotors (SM-RT99S)
DT Swiss R23 Spline wheels with 12mm end caps
Panaracer GravelKing SK 43 mm tires (tubeless)
Thomson stem (SM-E163 10° x 80 mm x 31.8 mm)
Thomson seat post (27.2 mm setback, 330 mm)
Bontrager Aeolus Comp saddle
Salsa Cowchipper 42 mm handlebars
Shimano XTR pedals
Fizik gel pads
Brick Lane Bikes Supreme Pro bar tape - zebra
Velocolour custom headbadge
10.2 kg as noted with bottle cages and a rear fender