As a small builder of custom road race bikes in North Carolina, Kane Bicycles pride themselves on their custom paint work, and have been growing steadily since officially opening their doors in 2001. Their story appealed to us for a few reasons – of course we love custom gear, but as regular readers know, we love rooting for the little guy, so when a small company comes along that’s turning out something worthy, we like taking a closer look.
The Kane “K Team Carbon” in custom PEZ colors. Click the thumbnail at top for the big sexy view.
Kane suggested we ride and review their top end “K Team Carbon”. Since every order is essentially a custom build, we decided to kit it out with Campy Chorus 10-speed, Kane’s compact 50/36 crankset, Modolo Curvissima handlebars, Thompson stem and seatpost, Selle Italia Signo saddle, and just for fun, FSAs all-carbon 488 aero tubular wheels. Since they build every bike to order, this review would be about a lot more than just a bike.
Is it a seat stay, or a billboard?
Although I was unfamiliar with Kane Bicycles, I have come to consider them a worthy find, and for a lot more than just their cool and unlimited paint options. Jack Kane and his son Jonathan have been involved in bike racing for a long time – so many years that if they hadn’t figured out what makes a good race bike, they’d have been outta the biz long ago.
Actual archival photo from the Kane family albums.
After many years running a retail bike shop, Jack Kane Custom Racing Bicycles was started in late 2001 by Jack and his son Jonathan, and gave birth to their first bike sold about 8 months later. But Jack has been building bikes for 32 years, and working with the full gamut of materials including aluminum, steel, titanium, and now carbon.
Several front fork options are offered – from straight to curved blades and different rakes to suite your build. I prefer the smoother ride of a nice curved blade, and was assured that like every customer, forks can be replaced if some grave error in judgement has occurred.
Jack was interested in the engineering and creation of frames since he was about 19. As a young pro motocross racer, he began to understand the connection between design and performance, and while the angles in motor sport are different, the principals are the same.
Even before then he hung around bike shops as a kid sweeping floors just to learn more about bikes. At age 14 he’d scavenge old junk bikes from wherever, cut them up and re-weld them into Frankenstein bikes. (Although some were reportedly quite cool).
• The Bottom Bracket: a massive down tube sets the anchor for all your power.
This BB isn’t oversized, but the combination of a large down tube and a fairly stout monobox carbon chainstay (think big fat wishbone) combine with a seat tube to keep things plenty straight.
The Importance of Small
Speaking from personal experience, can state unequivocally that everyone started somewhere, and if you’re any good, you might just end up in that place you’d rather be. With a staff of only 5, Kane Bicycles is a small company, but they’re stepping to the next level. They’ve just signed on as the official bike supplier for the 2006 Manulife Financial Elite Cycling Team, and are actually looking to quickly hire two more people.
Current production is around 120 frames a year, and although not huge by modern standards, this volume does allow Jack to still work on – and paint – every one of those bikes. Frames are welded to Kane’s specs either in house, or in nearby facilities that are able to deliver the level Kane demands.
Kane offers 17 stock frame sizes, but for those looking for an even closer fit, they will build a “made to measure” bicycle with customer spec’d geometry.
Customers can choose from a variety of frame options, but the biggest “wow” comes from the fully custom paint and color options they offer. More on that later. But regardless of how the bike looks, if it’s not designed and built right, it’s no fun to ride.
• The Rear Triangle: A bit of curve in the seat stays allows for a touch more vibration damping, and given our spec of the aluminum seat post, more is better.
So what is the “Kane” version of a race machine? Unlike some builders who feel compelled to re-invent the wheel – or in this case the bike – with their own “version” of ideal design, Kane (thankfully) offers no surprises: make it light but durable, make it stiff but rideable, design the geometry to be responsive but stable. And all at the same time?
The K Team Carbon frame/ fork weigh in at 2.62 pounds (according to the Kane website). My complete bike weighed in at 17.2 lbs with pedals and as an “all in weight” instead verified by my own scale, that’s absolutely acceptable.
We kitted Modolo Curvissima Kaly aluminum bars. Like a good seat, you gotta take the time to find a bar shape that works best for you – the Modolos are one of my faves.
The combo of u6 aluminum tubing for the front triangle and 3K carbon rear triangle and fork work well together to produce a ride that is stiff where needed, but surprisingly more comfortable than I expected from an aluminum/ carbon bike. The tubing is selected specifically based on rider and frame size, to meet Jack’s own specs for ride quality. The geometry of 73 degree head angle and 74 degree seat tube is what I call “classically steep”, and has proven for me to be responsive and stable – turning quickly and holding steady across conditions from heavy braking to high speed descending and cornering.
• The Seat Tube/Stay junction: Provides a big anchor for the carbon seat stays. The weld finishes throughout are baby-smooth… Baby!
Jack told us: “Our bikes follow a standard geometry pattern that fits most riders. We really do not “push” custom geometry because we offer so many stock sizes …17… that we can pretty much fit one of our frame sizes to any rider.”
You want red … globules splattering on your bike? You got ’em!
These guys are very much into building bikes for racing, so if you’re looking for comfort-oriented bikes, touring bikes, mountain bikes or any other non-road racing bikes, you’d best keep on pedaling partner. The company’s main offerings include full aluminum frames and combos of aluminum front mated to a carbon rear triangle.
Check out that perfect color match to our PEZ jersey.
IT’S IN THE SKIN
Jack On Paint Philosophy: “We really believe that our paint is one of the true unique things we offer. There are very few companies who can paint a bike anyway you like it – literally. To our knowledge there are no other companies that will paint your custom bike pink with chameleon lime green flames or purple polka-dots(or both). We truly paint whatever the customer wants.”
Jack’s skill as a painter runs the risk of overshadowing his skill as a frame builder. Having long dreamed of a bike painted in full custom PEZ colors, I was ready to put Kane to the test. Only problem was, I didn’t have a clue what it would look like, other than it had to match our official PEZ blue, and incorporate our logo in a way that was true to our kit and the official graphics.
Here’s where I got to really see what they could do, but also get a feel for how much they listened to what I wanted. Our efforts were a nice collaboration (several sketches were proposed and refined), but I was also cognizant of allowing Jack his creative freedom to do what he’s great at.
Another example of the paint detail customers can expect from Kane.
When I opened the box, I was very impressed (and relieved) to see that they’d almost perfectly matched the paint color to our PEZ blue, I couldn’t wait to suit up and get out there for some serious riding – and posing. They worked closely with their Dupont paint supplier to match our blue, and when the first batch of paint wasn’t close enough, they sent it back for another go. They also worked off a digital file to size and include our logo prominently on the top tube – lest I forget how I got here… no danger of that happening now.
• The Chain Stays offer some cool detail designed to… look cool.
The detail work in using our stylized ‘cyclists’ was also impressive, especially on the forks where they were knocked out of the paint to reveal the carbon weave underneath.
Great example of the detailed paintwork on offer: checkout our PEZ ‘Cyclicts’ as knocked-out detail on the forks. Another nice touch are the Jagwire cable buffers – no more scuffed paint from rubbing cables!
Jack is used to creating paint schemes a lot wilder than what he did for us – I wasn’t so keen on rainbow colored flames – no matter how cool he could make ‘em look. But a look through the paint gallery on the Kane website is proof enough that they can pretty much paint a bike any way you want. In fact as cool as the PEZ color scheme looks, it didn’t come close to testing Jack’s limits an artist. Never mind – I love what they did for us.
• The weld finish is superb. Each weld is twice-passed, and smoothed by the welder’s skill. Filing things back down is minimized, and most welds only require smoothing with emery cloth.
You can’t pull a fast one on Jack! Each and every frame is personally finished and painted by Jack to the customer’s specs.
YOU GONNA RIDE THAT THING?
As tempting as putting a bike like this on permanent display in my home museum, the real fun is in the ride. Unlike the joke about riding mopeds and fat chicks (they’re both fun until someone sees ya), this is one ride that is best seen to be believed.
Okay, there’s a percentage of us who know and admit to loving our egos stroked (while the rest just don’t admit it), and what better way than to show up at your local ride with a complete one-off custom painted bike? It’s so cool soaking up the envy of your club mates as long as their drool doesn’t get on the paint… [tech ed note: Drool on paint isn’t what scares me…]
The Stem + seatpost were from Thompson – among the cleanest designed and strongest parts around. The headset spacer is another example of the cool stuff you can more often get from small builders – the inside of the spacer is hand machined to fit perfectly over the headset – very nice.
Appearances aside, I was expecting the ride to be somewhat harsh. But this was the first time I’d ridden the u6 aluminum tubes, and when mated to the carbon fork and rear tri, the ride is almost as comfortable as anything I’ve ridden. In fact, after fitting my baseline Zipp 303 clincher wheelset + Vittoria Diamante Pro tires, the ride became even more comfortable. Don’t get me wrong – this ain’t no “comfort” bike, but it is comfortable, and the whole frame/fork comes together and works like I expect a responsive yet well-balanced bike should.
The Crankset: I went for compact drive – 50/36 up front rotating on external bearings, with shifting controlled by Campy’s Chorus compact front derailleur. The external bearings provide a wider (thus more stable) platform to crank against, and shifting was flawless up front – especially from big –> small rings – no dropped chains here.
The bike is fast and responsive – the geometry dictates it – with the right amount of stiffness to never lose the feeling of razorlike steering response. And it’s stable – even descending at speeds up to 75kmh (my record on the Kane so far), there was never a hint of speed wobble. Cornering the bike is direct and confident – it holds the line and even let me relax for a second, knowing it’ll go where I expect it.
Get One While They’re Small
Jack’s skill as a painter, coupled with his solid design philosophy and pride as a builder, result in a solid option for a one-off bike that will likely be a lot more affordable than you’d expect. Prices are not posted on the website, as each bike it treated as a custom build, so prices can vary wildly, but the bike we built up would retail around $4100US.
Sure there are other guys doing similar things to Jack Kane, and while Jack only works for one of ‘em, he’d be happy to go to work for you – on that bike you’ve always dreamed of. I suspect that bigger growth this coming soon for these guys, so you may just want to avoid the line-ups and get Jack cracking on your dream bike today.
Get more info at their website: KaneBikes.com