The Tale of the Humongous Rock Lobster

This is the story of a perpetually unfinished project, but also of a really cool bike that’s taken me a lot of great places – and how it came to me is its own unlikely story. The fact that a custom Rock Lobster built for someone else has been the best fitting bike I’ve ever owned is pure coincidence, particularly as I would learn that it didn’t quite fit the original owner as they had hoped. Settle in for the Tale of the Humongous Rock Lobster.

The Setup

The perpetually unfinished nature of this project, combined with review bikes coming through and putting this bike into long periods of dormancy, meant that it’s been almost six years now since I’ve owned it, and have yet to bring its story to the Radavist.

Back in 2017, after Stephanie and I had returned from our three-month tour of western Turtle Island, we each had our dream custom frames in mind. When you think of a custom frame, you’re not only thinking of the connection you might have with the builder, but also the aesthetic they’re most associated with.

At the time Stephanie and I couldn’t stop thinking about Paul Sadoff’s pale green customs out of Santa Cruz, CA. We’ve featured literally dozens of Paul’s bikes here on the site, and two shop visits by Josh Becker and John Watson, so I won’t go into great detail about Paul’s history or his setup. Suffice to say, our crush on Paul’s seafoam beauties goes way back.

The Rescue Mission

While working from home on a sunny Friday afternoon in January 2018, a Rock Lobster popped up on Craigslist. It was listed as a “Custom Cyclocross Commuter” but I knew from the too-low price and the potato-phone photos there must be more to that story. I quickly got in contact with the seller and jumped in the car right away. Would this be the day for a CL jackpot?

I know what you’re thinking, and I was too. It was a shady situation: the seller didn’t know too much about the bike, and they had me meet up at an auto wrecker in an industrial area out of the city. The situation seemed a bit fishy, but I figured, if this bike was stolen, I’d do my best to get it back to its rightful owner.

My initial build with the 10-speed Campy. I rode this setup on a 300 km brevet in 2019.

Turns out the seller worked at that auto wrecker, and while he was a bike enthusiast, he wasn’t really part of the bike community. His story was that he goes to salvage auctions for work, mostly to buy wrecked cars, but he’s always got his eye open for wrecked bikes, which he parts out and sells on CL.

He described the Rock Lobster as one that he thought he’d keep for himself, cause it seemed like a cool bike, but it simply turned out to be too big. All the while, of course, I’m trying to hide my excitement that I’m looking at a super rad custom bike that the seller doesn’t appear to know the real history of.

The Grease (Seriously, the Grease)

The bike was set up with exactly the kind of weird parts bin mish-mash you might expect, with the only part worth mentioning being perfectly functioning 10-speed Campy Record shift levers and a lower tier Campy derailleur and cassette. Bent handlebars, mismatched rims on 36 hole hubs, OG BB7 brakes. On my test ride the chain dropped and jammed between the mismatched chainrings. No big deal, though. I’m just here for the frameset, right?

Yet beyond the components that would need attention, the entire frame was covered in a thin layer of stinky automotive grease. Truly disgusting. I knew that whatever the outcome, I was saving this bike from a dark time in its history. It felt a bit like a rescue mission, with the possibility we’d be adding a Rock Lobster to the collection. I drove home with tempered excitement.

I scrolled back through Rock Lobster’s Facebook page and found these photos from when my bike was built.

The Back Story

As soon as I got home I began my due diligence of tracking down the owner of the bike. I sent Paul Sadoff an email and over the next couple days we worked out who originally commissioned the bike in 2013. I sent a text to Daniel with a picture of the bike, to which he responded “I thought I’d never see that bike again.”

Daniel had commissioned this bike from Paul to be his forever commuter, a steel disc frame and fork with a front rack and fenders. Turned out Daniel had been involved in a collision with a vehicle, and the insurance company offered a payout he couldn’t refuse. The Chris King headset and hubs, and some other fun parts, were never to be seen again.

The first build with the Super Record group, Klampers, and Easton wheels. Oh, and I finally got all the grease out of all the nooks and crannies.

The Build

I have a habit of not documenting my personal builds for many years, usually for the same silly reason. Once I find a build’s direction, I tend to imagine how I’d like it to end up – but don’t always get there quickly. You see, my style is very much slow curation, identifying the right pieces but not rushing into acquiring those pieces. While the in-process build may take months or years to come together, I for whatever reason don’t want to write the story before it feels finished. And so here we are, close to six years later, finally telling the story of this bike.

Sim Works fenders on, 35mm Rene Herse tires, as ridden from Seattle to Vancouver on winter solstice 2019.

In 2018 I had rando fever and was actively trying to re-enact the 2016 Seattle Rando scene. I wanted silver Honjo fenders, some gold ano, and yet also wanted a modern build in other ways. I also initially really wanted this bike to have bigger tires and a rack with a rando bag, and began going in that direction. But, as the project has matured, and other bikes have come through that do fit that description, I’ve come to conclude that I don’t need a rack on this build.

With this one I can tell you exactly what was holding me back: I always envisioned this bike to have a dynamo system. In part that’s because I wanted this to be my long distance bike, and dynamo lights are common there – but also because, in order for the project to feel “finished”, I wanted lights to be integrated rather than added on. At one point I even acquired a 36-hole SON dynamo wheel with the intention of re-lacing one of these 24-hole rims onto it, but a friend needed the wheel more than I did, and I eventually stopped worrying about wiring up lights.

Final form.

The Scavenger

While I rode the bike for a long while with the 10-speed Campy that came on it, it was the serendipitous acquisition of a bashed up Super Record group that really started this build on the way to what you see now. At this point, five brands make up the drivetrain, and I think that’s really fun.

I had long lusted after the ergonomic superiority of 11-speed Campy: the shift levers and rear derailleur on this setup are from a generation introduced in 2009, and I’d argue that it took Shimano and SRAM nearly a decade to make anything nearly as good ergonomically. A road racing friend’s abandonment of this group after a crash presented my opportunity; my contribution was a couple hundred bucks and a bit of filing and sanding.

Now, the Super Record short cage derailleur officially maxes out at 29 teeth, so I knew I wanted a sub-compact crank. The next piece to fall into place was the made-in-BC Easton EC90 SL crankset and a 46/30 ring set. I also picked up an Easton Cinch power meter, which is still working but sadly no longer available. (If you’re keen on the Easton crank and want power, Power2Max does have a product for you.)

The Mismatch

At this point the Easton EA90 AX wheels with Vault hubs determined that I could only run an HG freehub (they since make a Campy freehub body), which presented an issue for that Campy drivetrain. Fortunately the difference in cog spacing between Campy and SRAM/Shimano 11-speed cassettes is in the fractions of millimetres, so I took the chance on a SRAM 11-28, and it goes just fine. (Actually, that’s a lie, it shifted like garbage for a while, until I bought a derailleur hanger tool, and THEN it was fine. DAG your bikes, y’all.)

The final piece is my favourite of all: my friend Ryan, who’s worked with Campy for many years, suggested that 11-speed Shimano front derailleurs play really nicely with this era of Campy shift levers. And I’ll tell you what, he was absolutely right. The front shift on this bike is the most satisfying and quick of any bike I’ve ever ridden. Just perfect. Thanks Shimano. Add in a KMC X11 chain and you’ve got my favourite weird drivetrain. If I had my way, I’d have a bigger cassette out back, but I’m definitely not rushing into buying parts before the old ones are worn out.

The Fenders (Of Course)

I pride myself on weird fender installs, and this is perhaps the one I’m happiest with. The big challenge with this frame is it basically maxes out at a 38mm tire in the chainstay. I initially saw this as a limitation but it made me get creative with my fender install. The fenders I was eyeing up were the Sim Works Honjo Turtle series. Something about the hammered Honjos makes me feel a certain way.

Anyhow, while the chainstays only have room for 38s, there’s lots of room otherwise. My options were a Turtle 44 and a tight squeeze on 32s, or some dremel time and the Turtle 58 to keep 38s. I went with the latter and got busy with the dremel. This was probably a 6-hour fender install – but they haven’t been off since. You know I’m a proponent of all-year fenders, and Sim Works Honjos make it such a pleasure.

The Pieces of Flair

Once it was sorted that I was running silver fenders, the final pieces of the build came together aesthetically. I splurged on gold Klampers from Paul Component and skewers to match. My friend Jeremy had that Salsa seat clamp. And there was going to be a gold King headset thanks to Steve G in Seattle, but it just never went on, and ended up on my Stooge. (I always kinda wondered if it would have been too much gold…)

Something still didn’t quite feel right about the balance of black and silver, and two things helped here. First, going from tan tires to black was a big change and for the better, according to my opinion. (I’ve taken those 35mm G-Ones on a couple 200 km rides, no complaints.) Next was the funky dual offset seat post from my friend Andrew’s parts bin. Just a little bit of silver up top balances the look. (If you can definitively identify that seat post, I’ll mail you some Radavist and Found in the Mountains stickers!)

The Ride

Let me just say that I feel like we can be blinded by the coolness of a bike and that can colour our interpretation of how it rides. Particularly when we’ve invested thousands, possibly even tens of thousands into a bike. But here’s the catch: not all bikes, not even one that was custom built for you, are going to have that sublime ride quality or perfect handling for the purpose you’re envisioning.

By the numbers, I might have expected this gigantic Rock Lobster to ride “heavy”: it’s got double-oversized tubes – that means a 31.8mm top tube and a 34.9mm down tube. In comparison, most production steel gravel bikes have a single-oversized 28.6 top tube and 31.8 down tube. The larger diameter your tubes get, the stiffer they’ll be for a given wall thickness.

And yet, it’s one of the smoothest riding disc bikes I’ve ridden. Having ridden lots of bikes in the overlapping category of cross-gravel-rando over the past 15 years, this one causes me to question my assumptions about tube specs and trust the experienced builder. There’s something special in these tubes, and despite not feeling flexy at all under power, it just sings underneath me.

The Numbers

Of course I was curious about the tube specs and the geometry, and since I had Paul Sadoff on the other end of an email chain, I figured I’d ask. But, at this point, the bike was already five years old. Paul said “I would have to look through some drawings. Might take awhile.” and I figured he was busy and I wouldn’t worry about it. Instead, I measured it up.

That gigantic head tube is 200mm, plus the headset. Reach and stack are 400 and 630mm respectively. Bottom bracket drop is 70mm. Rear center 432mm. Seat tube 590 and ETT 595. The head angle is 72º and the seat angle is 73º. I did ask Paul if those angles and the bb drop sounded right and he said most likely.

While this fit geo would usually be suited to someone much taller than me (I’m a hair under 6’0, 77 cm saddle height), the stars aligned and it’s absolutely perfect with a 100mm -6º stem. You’ll notice that I’ve got a 35mm offset post on there, but the saddle position is quite neutral. I suppose if given free reign I’d slacken out that seat angle (hint hint, my Framework Black Rainbow).

The Feels

With the fit and the build and the ride characteristics coming together so harmoniously, me and this Rock Lobster have gotten on real well. As a result, a number of rides on this bike are some of the ones I’m most proud of in my life. Not just in the physical accomplishment, but the memories created riding long miles with friends and that perfect front shift.

The humongous crustacean has stood the test of time in my collection, patiently waiting and watching other bikes come and go, none yet capable of displacing it. It’s compelling to throw around the idea that this might be a forever bike, despite not being built for me. I’m sure happy we found our way to each other, dings, dents, and all.

I’ve had this bike for nearly six years, have on average ridden it about 1000 km a year for that time, and it always feels like home when I jump on. It is the stick against which other bikes have been and will be measured. I think I did win the lottery that day.