Bikes of Sunflower the first bike to win the kanza

My mother and I used to have a statute of limitation of 7 years. Meaning: I didn't tell her about the bad things I’d done until about 2500 days went by. Such was the case when I briefly owned a BMW motorcycle…without a license. She would not have approved but would likely never have known about it had a mutual friend not drunkenly babbled about it at a Sunflower Customer Appreciation Party. By the time she found out, the motorcycle was long gone and there wasn’t much she could do about it, but I like to think that she would have been okay with where the funds from its sale went.

I bought my first gravel bike with it.

In the early 90s, there weren’t a lot of cyclocross bikes in the mainstream cycling world. Sure, you could maybe find a “screwed and glued” noodly frame from Alan or Guerciotti (really the same frame), or a radically sloped top-tube model from the likes of Rock Lobster, but true level-top-tube steel cyclocross frames were a rare thing. Especially those that had the necessary clearance for fat rubber.

Unless you talked to Brent.

Brent Steelman (a man apparently BORN to build steel bikes) was in Redwood City, CA and together with his wife Katryn was cranking out some top-notch steel cyclocross bikes. I talked with him on the phone and he got to building a custom bike for me.

At the time, Brent had two cyclocross models: the “Eurocross" and the "Psychocross.” The Eurocross featured a horizontal top-tube construction (which I liked) but lacked the stay clearance for big tires (which I wanted to run). The Psychocross had the flaring stays and fork to take the preeminent gravel tire of the day (the Bruce Gordan Rock & Road 700x42) but used a sloping top tube design that was an aesthetic turn-off for me.

So the compromise was to take the main frame of the Eurocross and marry it to the stays of the Psychocross and create a custom build. Voila! My first gravel racer was born. But it was a complicated birth and to say it was a little bit of a Franken-bike is not completely unkind.

For one thing, the chainstays (which due to their bridgeless design that allowed the Gordon tire) swept out from the bottom bracket so quickly that there were barely any road crank options that would work. A 50T chainring (de rigueur for gravel riding) bottomed out on the chainstay unless a very precise bottom bracket spindle and crank was used. The only crank that would work was a Dura-Ace old-school, wide Q factor crank paired with (at first, later a custom Phil Wood) a White Industries Ti bottom bracket that featured an adjustable chainline. This allowed the crank to clear the stay but the resulting chainline was a little wonky and the bike never shifted really well in the back.

Add to that the fact that I was a die-hard Campagnolo guy back in those days and you can see why the bike was a little mismatched. Dura-Ace crank, Campy Record shifters and rear derailleur, Mavic Ksyrium wheels, Shimano Ultegra front derailleur, Avid brakes, etc.

But it rode like a dream.

The combination of the fat tires, Fastback seatstays (a Steelman trademark), the compliant Dedacciai tubing, and the Selle Italia Turbomatic suspension saddle all worked together to smooth out the harshest gravel.

And it carried me to the finish in the first Dirty Kanza ever.

As my interest in gravel racing grew, I looked for ways to up the equipment game wherever possible and eventually the Steelman got evolved out of use. It hung on a hook for awhile and then I sold it to another Sunflower staffer for $800. A KILLER deal. He rode it for awhile, but a little more than a year ago I asked him for it back. I said “if you ever sell that bike, I’ve got dibs.” He thought it over and I bought it back from him for what he paid for it. I likely won’t ever let it go again.

Now…let me consult my calendar…it’s 2016, what was I doing in 2009 that it’s safe to tell my mom about now?

Side notes:

It wasn’t white originally. It was blue with red decals, but Brent’s painter had a bad batch of clear coat and the bike started to rust underneath the clear. It got sent back and repainted white with yellow decals.

My bike was the first of these we got at Sunflower, but I can think of a few other people in town (and now out of town) that bought a Steelman from us after that. I think all of those are still on the road somewhere.

You can see Dan's Steelman on display right now at the Sunflower Pop-Up shop in Emporia, KS through June 4th. You can also find Dan on Instagram where you can see his many bike riding adventures and his assortment of adorable pets!

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