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Why Speedvagen Makes My Favorite Steel Road Bikes

For years I've dreamed about owning a Speedvagen Custom Road bike. With stunning paint and exquisite details, these boutique steel beauties are unlike anything else on the road. When I saw this 2012 example come through TPC, I just had to pull it aside.

Written by: Bruce Lin

Published on:

Posted in:Features

This 2012 Speedvagen Custom Road bike came through TPC recently and I just had to get some fancy photos of it. 

Every once in a while, a bike will come through our doors and cause a wave of nostalgia to wash over me. It happened last month when this 2012 Speedvagen Custom Road bike showed up. I saw the bright blue paint and the segmented aluminum cable housing, and I was instantly transported back 7 years. 

Back then, TPC was still an eBay store, and my job was creating eBay auctions for our bikes. I was fresh out of grad school, nearly broke, and my idea of splurging on a bike was buying a heavily dented 2013 Cannondale CAAD10 with a 10-speed Shimano Ultegra for $800. But that bike absolutely ripped, and to me, there was no point in buying anything nicer.

Then, on a summer day in 2016, I saw it: a bright blue Speedvagen Custom Road bike. I felt things I had never felt for a bike before. I stared at this bike every day while it hung by my desk, waiting to get sold. One day, I even stole it away to do an impromptu photo shoot on the local bike path. It was my desktop wallpaper for over a year. 2016 Bruce had discovered his dream bike. I had to have it, but I couldn't afford it. "One day, I'll own a Speedvagen," I said. 

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Speedvagen custom road bikeThis Speedvagen Custom Road came through TPC in 2016. It has stuck with me for the last 7 years. 

Speedvagen is a boutique bike builder based in Portland, Oregon, and to me, they make the most beautiful and drool-worthy steel bikes in the business. Before I go into why, let’s rewind a bit and look at where it all started.

[product-block handle="2012-vanilla-workshop-custom-steel-road-bike-l"/]

If you look at the product listing above, which is for the 2012 Speedvagen that inspired this post, you’ll notice that it’s listed as a “Vanilla Workshop Speedvagen.” But I’m just referring to it as a “Speedvagen.” So what’s Vanilla Workshop?  

The History of The Vanilla Workshop and Speedvagen 

Sacha White Vanilla Workshop and SpeedvagenSacha White of Vanilla Bicycles and Speedvagen. Photo: Vanilla Bicycles

Portland is one of the epicenters of American framebuilding, and of the many builders who got their start there, one who stood out early was a young builder named Sacha White. White founded his brand, Vanilla Bicycles, in 1999, and his work was so renowned, that within a few years, he had acquired an enormous waitlist. In the early 2000s, riders interested in a Vanilla were waiting up to 4 years to get their bikes!

To help take some of the pressure off and make his bike more accessible, White started the Vanilla Workshop around 2006. The Vanilla Workshop was a collaborative group of skilled craftsmen who could build custom bikes in batches at regularly scheduled intervals throughout the year, thus reducing wait times. The bikes coming out of the Vanilla Workshop were called Speedvagens. 

Speedvagen singlespeed cyclocross bikeSpeedvagen started off with singlespeed CX bikes like this.

The first Speedvagen was a singlespeed cyclocross bike. Then came road, endurance, and randonneuring bikes. While they weren’t Vanilla bikes (they weren’t built start to finish by White himself), Speedvagen bikes had the same fine details that made Vanilla bikes so desirable (more on that in a bit).

Over the years, the Vanilla Workshop was able to dial in its Speedvagen production process so well that it could produce fully custom framesets in 3-4 months. Eventually, the Vanilla Workshop moniker faded away, as Speedvagen became its own established brand.

These days, Speedvagen is one of the most desirable boutique steel brands around. Whenever we get one at TPC, it never sticks around for very long (the 2012 Speedvagen that inspired this post lasted less than a week on our site). Not that we even see that many, since most owners consider their Speedvagens to be forever bikes. 

The Details Matter

Speedvagen custom road bikeA riveted stainless steel headbadge plus a Chris King headset and matching aluminum cable housing. Yes, please. 

To me, Speedvagens are classically beautiful machines. The lines just look right. The tubes aren’t too thick or too thin, and they flow perfectly across the bike.

Weight isn't the most important thing, but the Speedvagen at the start of this story only weighed 17 pounds, even with a pair of beefy HED Belgium Plus aluminum rims and Gatorskins.

The example I lusted over back in 2016 had Mavic carbon wheels and was just under 16 pounds (15 pound 15 ounces). This is impressively light for a steel bike, and it’s thanks to the lightweight True Temper steel tubing. (Speedvagen has since switched to its own custom-drawn steel tubes since True Temper exited the bicycle tubing business in mid-2017.)

Speedvagen custom road bike seatstaysHourglass seatstays will always be classy.

The tubing is larger and stiffer at the front of the frame and tapers to a smaller diameter toward the seat mast to smooth out any roughness from the road that might be transmitted up through the saddle. The seatstays are the highlight. They hug the rear wheel, and when viewed from behind, they have a classy hourglass shape. It’s a classic look that I miss on more modern carbon bikes. The flowing curves are designed to provide a bit of extra compliance to help the bike ride more smoothly. When the seatstays are viewed from the side, they're also noticeably flattened, which is done to improve lateral stiffness so the bike feels more efficient under power.

Speedvagen Custom road seat mastStainless steel reinforcement on the seatmast with a color-matched topper . 

Then there are beautiful details like the custom cast dropouts with stainless steel faces and stainless steel reinforcement in high-wear areas like the seat mast. Also, all Speedvagens use a seatmast, which I think is pretty cool. These are matched to a riveted stainless steel head badge. Details like this are small, but they exude quality.

Speedvagen Custom Road bike Berzerker dropoutThe Berzerker dropouts are my favorite.

The custom dropouts are known as the “Berzerker” dropouts. They’re cast from a super strong steel alloy, and they incorporate stainless steel inner and outer faces for extra wear protection. Set in the dropout is a “V,” a callback to Vanilla Bikes and the origins of Speedvagen. (Unfortunately, Berzerker dropouts are only available on rim-brake bikes, as disc models require a different design.)

Speedvagen Custom Road Bike custom Hollatext paintHollaText paint is my dream paint.

Finally, the thing that really sets Speedvagen apart for me is the jaw-dropping paint. Speedvagen paints all of its frames in-house, and it offers a ton of custom options. Because it sells complete builds rather than just framesets, it can color-match stems and even hubs to the frame.

The paint job we see here is called “HollaText,” and it’s my absolute favorite. When I first saw it seven years ago, I was stunned. When I saw it again last month, I felt just as impressed as the first time. It's done with painstaking masking, and there’s nothing else like it. If I ever get a new Speedvagen built for myself, it’s definitely the paint scheme that I’ll choose.

Speedvagen custom road bikeThe 2012 Speedvagen Custom Road as it appeared for sale at TPC. 

So why didn’t I jump on this Speedvagen when it appeared? Well, unfortunately, it was simply too big for me. The bike I saw way back in 2016 was the right size, but it’s long gone. The chances of another blue and pink HollaText Speedvagen in the right size coming through TPC seem slim. Maybe it’s time for me to finally order a custom Speedvagen of my own. We’ll see…

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