Last modified: October 22, 2009

Product Testing: Big Block Track Frameset

I've been waiting and planning how to write up my review for All-City's first frameset and now that the moment is upon me I've frozen up at the keys like a deer in the headlights.  As I am currently without direction on how to proceed I guess we'll just start with our intentions.

Our intent with this frame was to design our dream bike, the bike we've been envisioning and wanting, and wishing someone would make.  Let's narrow that down a bit.  We wanted to design the perfect frameset for the urban fixed gear rider.  Many years ago now when I built up my first fixed gear (a conversion Viner) my good friend and NYC messenger (at the time) Eric hopped on it and the first thing he said was "it's not a track bike." My fragile ego was crushed, and I wrote his sentiments off as snobbery and jerkiness (I think he was riding a Cinelli at the time).  A year later I built up my first "track bike," a 2005 Marinoni steel Pista, and I began to understand.  It turned on a dime, was fast, and actually fun (as opposed to scary) to pedal through corners on.  A few years on and I can never go back to anything but track geometry for riding fast fixed in the city.  I like the upright position that  traditional track geometry provides, I love carving around on a bike that only needs the slightest amount of rider input to rail a turn, I've become accustomed to the sensation of a high bottom bracket, and I really enjoy a bike that comes alive in a sprint. 

Thus the criteria for our first bike became: traditional track geometry, a NSC Velodrome approved bottom bracket height of (our local velodrome is wooden and steep as heck, many bikes with "track legal" BB heights are not allowed by the track administrators on it due to the risk of clipping a pedal), clearance for 32c tires because we like fat meats on the streets, and a very traditional appearance with some thoughtful All-City touches. 

We are bike geeks, this is our life and livelihood.  We set out with the above criteria to design a bike that a rider would want to own and cherish for years.  Some bikes you get, ride for a while, and move on.  Some bikes you never want to imagine being without.  It is our goal to provide you with the latter.  It is a well designed, carefully thought out, traditional steel track frame; suitable for the boards or for working a full day on.  It is a work of beauty, it is a labor of love.  It is the All-City Big Block.

So about that name, yes we can finally announce what we are calling this beast, and it is the Big Block™. I could give you all sorts of reasons for the name such as the fact that in Minneapolis and in the surrounding burbs there are often double stacked blocks without a break or "big blocks," or I could tell you that this bike is a big building block for the future success of All-City. I could tell you a bunch of things and they'd all be lies.  The truth is that one day I was listening to Steve Earle sing Copperhead Road (in full disclosure, I love country music. I'm from a small logging town in Northern Wisconsin, the kind of place where the chamber of commerce might have issued Johnny Cash albums to all it's citizens.  So you'll have to give me a pass on the country music, it's in my blood.  I won't apologize, and I wouldn't be caught dead listening to the junk they call "pop country") and there is a line in the song "my daddy ran whiskey in a big block Dodge."  I had been struggling with a name for this machine, nothing quite fit, and that line struck my ears like a bolt of lightning.  Big Block it is.  It just works for me.  The old school bootleggers still hold romantic sway over my country heart, and the analogy between whiskey runners evading the police in the country and messengers and alleycat racers doing the same in our modern cities is just too fitting to pass up.

maybe too much fun?

So yeah, the name is the Big Block and I've been riding the first generation prototype for about four months now.  Whatever I tell you about how the bike rides you probably won't believe me since it's our baby and All-City pays my bills so I'll just describe to you a little about my relationship with the bike; since in the end it is our relationship with our rides that give them their true value. 

This bike is going to die with me.  I love it, it turned out way better than I ever could have imagined or hoped for.  Our designer Adam is good, I knew that, but what I didn't expect was for him to hit it out of the park on the first try.  This is my favorite bike to rip around the city on.  It hurt my heart a little to write those words. I currently own three track bikes and one fixed gear, three of them handmade in North America, and if I had to choose a bike for a quick across town jaunt or a race, I would go with the Big Block every time.  At first I thought my vigor towards this machine was simply due to it's newness and the fact that it's the only one.  When it first came to me I had to ride it so that I could provide Adam with the quality feeback necessary to make changes and improvements for prototype round two. Once we decided upon the changes that were to be made for the second generation of prototypes (the only change being slightly increased standover clearance, and the addition of the new production dropouts) I was free once more to ride any bike of my choosing.  I stuck with the BB for a while but soon started feeling guilty that my other bikes weren't being ridden, and due to a flat that I was too lazy to change, I put the Big Block away for a while.  A week passed and I started missing my All-City, two weeks passed and I had to get  back on it.  I often found myself wishing, while riding my other bikes, that I had chosen the Big Block instead.  It has the great bump compliance that you expect from a steel frame, it sprints like crazy (at first I thought it might be too stiff, until I started riding it hard, then it all made sense), and once you get it up to speed it wants to stay there. 

Have you ever had that experience when you're out late at night on your bike in the city, perhaps you've imbibed a few and you are rolling around looking at the buildings, enjoying the air, feeling lucky to be alive, and you just inexplicably start cranking?  You put your head down low, slide your hands in toward the center of the bar, relax your back, and really start to just "feel" the bike (I don't know of any great way to describe this other than the sensation of your body just being draped around the frame).  Well in those rare moments the bike just begs to be ridden faster and harder, you're pedaling through one green light, then two, then three, not tired, but completely lost in the moment and in the sensation of being the fastest thing in the city.  Well I've had a few of those moments on this bike, it just begs to be kept at speed and really encourages hauling ass. For me that is what riding a bicycle is all about:  those moments, the sensation, the connection.

So that's my review, I don't know if any of that makes sense to anyone but me, but I can tell you that I love this bike and look forward to many years of pleasure on it.  It's going to get scratched and dented and beat up.  The only thing it won't get is dusty.


Here is some other information regarding the Big Block that I think you'll find useful.

  • It will be available as complete bike in a similar build to what you see here (no pricing info yet) or as a frame and fork
  • MSRP for the frameset will be in the neighborhood of $500 (finalized soon)
  • The Big Block Track Fork will be available in both 1" and 1 1/8" threadless versions 
  • Six sizes available (geometry chart down below), size your appropriate bike via the top tube length
  • ETA for frameset and complete bikes is Fall '09




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