In this modern age of carbon framed bikes available for less than a £1000 it might seem strange that someone would spend upwards of £1600 on a steel frame and fork package. However, bespoke doesn’t come cheap and that’s exactly what you get with a Malcolm Custom Bicycles frame – a one-off, made-to-measure frame and fork.
Given the very nature of going custom the exact choice of steel tube and geometry, and to a lesser extent the lugs used at the joints of the tubes will be different for each frame. On this particular build, the tubing came from Reynolds 853 collection and the lugs are custom cut Ritchey designs. There is very little point discussing seat and top tube lengths or frame angles as these will be specific to each frame to suit the rider and the use the frame will be put to.
One feature of Malcolm custom frames that may appear strange to today’s riders is the use of a one-inch headtube, but as Ashley Malcolm, the man behind the eponymously-named business doesn’t like carbon forks and, instead, builds his own steel ones it is not really an issue. A similar nod to the old school of road cycling comes with the inclusion on this particular frame of a race number tab under the top tube and a chain pip on the drive-side chainstay.
There is little point concentrating too much on the componentry either on a full custom build bike, after all each bike will be specced differently. Nor for the same reason is there much point discussing how it works. However, this particular model, built as a race bike runs a full Ultegra groupset. Its finishing kit is a slight mix and match featuring RHM D1 handlebars and Zero 1 stem from Deda above the Chris King headset. While the other end of the bike sees a Fi’zi:k Arione saddle mounted to a Thomson inline seat post.
A set of Ultegra hubs laced with double butted spokes to a pair of Mavic Open Pro rims might not sound very exciting to a generation of cyclists used to factory system wheels, but these hand-built hoops should last a lifetime and should you ever break a spoke replacement will be easy as is maintenance of the hubs themselves. If you’re in any doubt of Ashley’s ability as a wheel builder a quick look at his bike shop CV reveals he was formerly head mechanic at London’s legendary Condor Cycles and if you go to the internet you can find a video of him building a set of wheels while blindfolded.
Everyone should ride a top end steel bicycle at least once in their life. Sure carbon and aluminium frames offer stiff and fast rides, but with a quality steel frame like the ones coming out of Ashley Malcolm’s workshop there is an additional benefit that is difficult to quantify in words alone. Many reviewers will talk about the springy feel of steel frames, but that does them a mis-justice suggesting to many that steel frames are flexy. It is more complex than that. Where an aluminium frame with over-sized tubes or a carbon frame will transmit road shocks to the rider a well-designed and carefully built steel frame like this will absorb them.
The slim profile of the frame’s tubes might suggest that out of the saddle climbs would have the bike waggling and flexing, but despite my near 90kg bulk pushing through the pedals on steep climbs there was no evidence of brake rub or the cranks clipping the chainstays, both of which are sure signs of a frame flex. Heading downhill and the bike was remarkably stable and sure-footed. So much so that I found myself staying off the brakes more than I normally would. Then again that could have had something to do with my trying to keep up with Ashley, the builder of this bike and a former World Championship, Olympic and Commonwealth medallist in his native Australia.
My only criticism of the fork and frame package is the toe clip overlap. Then again this is a race frame with a short wheelbase and straight bladed forks, and if I was having the frame built for myself I would request geometry that avoided this. Even then once you become aware of the overlap it’s something you soon learn to accommodate and it can be forgiven for the speed with which the bike can be made to change direction thanks to those custom steel forks that also help to provide such a comfortable ride.
It’s safe to say that a Malcolm custom frame is now on my list of bikes to own before I die. Having been fortunate enough to have ridden steel, aluminium, carbon fibre and titanium frames, and even frames that use various combinations of those materials, I always find myself coming back to steel as my frame material of choice and that feeling has now been reinforced by my time aboard one of Ashley Malcolm’s custom steel frames.