We’ve had some striking bikes through the revolving doors at grit.cx HQ recently. Whether it be shapely carbon fibre and suspension, bright paint jobs, or understated stealth. Each draws the odd comment out on the trail, but ultimately, it’s only a very small proportion of the wider population that recognise these as something a little out of the ordinary.
I rode the latest tester into town during the week. The ride took 15 minutes longer than usual. At each set of traffic lights I was questioned by other bike commuters. What is it? What is it made out of? Arriving at my destination I settled down for a regulation macchiato and enjoyed watching the odd passer-by double take as they walk past.
Sven Cycles is a small scale frame builder, based in Dorset. Darron (who’s middle name the company is named after – he, rightly, felt that Darron maybe wasn’t the right brand image) has grown the company to a small team of three. Starting as a bespoke builder, Sven now offers semi-custom builds, as well as full bespoke. “What does semi-custom mean?” I hear you ask. Well, the bikes are still handmade by Sven, but come in a range of standard sizes. Componentry and finishing touches (from additional bottle bosses to pannier mounts) can be tailored to your preferences.
Drift your mind back to the halcyon early days of mountain biking. Steel frames, no suspension, exploring tracks and trails all day, during endless summers and under Mint Sauce skies. It was this kind of riding that Darron was seeking to emulate with the Pathfinder. I guess it is what many would now call gravel or adventure riding. “Just riding a bike” is as good a name for it as any. It is easy to look back at the good old days with rose tinted glasses. Fortunately, Sven has done so with one foot firmly in the now – the Pathfinder comes with modern attributes such as disc brakes and thru-axles – but lets spend a bit more time on that stunning looking frame before we get on to the finer details.
“Steel is real” has become one of those cliches trotted out so often it is more likely to annoy than it is act as a rallying cry of the traditionalist. Talking to Darron he is refreshingly open about frame materials. We agree that steel can be built into terrible bicycles. Equally, carbon, titanium and aluminium have properties that make them excellent frame building materials. However, steel is still a bit special. Why? No other material is so easy to turn a bunch of pipes into something that can be ridden and enjoyed. This has allowed small scale builders to refine this art, making beautiful creations for a small but growing customer base.
Sven worked with Reynolds directly to develop the tubing for the Pathfinder and its fork. 921 is stainless steel, and the most corrosion resistant in the range. It is thicker gauge than the more commonly spotted 953 stainless. This makes it a little heavier in the build, but also allows thinner diameter tubing and (according to Sven) a better balance of flex and rigidity. It is the stainless nature of the tubing that is most striking, however. Its corrosion resistance allows it to be polished and left unfinished – the almost mirror like shine was what initially caught the eye of my fellow commuters. The lack of paint allows you to see the functional, but neat fillets and brazing and almost magnetically draws a flick of the tubing.
Designed around 650b wheels, there are mountain bike levels of clearance on the Pathfinder. Our test bike came fitted with 2.2in Schwalbe Thunderburts, and still had just about enough clearance for guards should you wish. The rear has a 12x142mm rear axle; adding stiffness here should counter some of the twisting flex in the steel, without the need to overbuild seat and chain stays.
The unicrown fork is also made by Sven, and once again 921. It features a neat 12mm bolt thru axle and a straight 1 1/8th inch steerer.
Sven Pathfinder Features
- Sven Pathfinder frame, Reynolds 921 stainless steel, 12x142mm thru-axle
- Sven Pathfinder unicrown fork, Reynolds 921 stainless steel, 12x100mm thru-axle
- Clearance for 650b x 2.2in tyres
- BSA bottom bracket
- Post mount disc brake
- Internal brake routing through main triangle for brake, gear cabling
- Two waterbottle mounts (additional available for £20)
- Additional braze ons available
- Available sizes: Small, Medium, Large, Extra Large
- Price: £1600 (frame and forks); £3000 (bike as tested)
Should you wish, you can buy the Pathfinder as a frame and fork package for £1600. Sven does offer a number of different build packages though. Our tester is the Pathfinder 11 Speed. £3000 provides you with a full SRAM Apex 11 hydro groupo, Hope Pro4/DT Swiss X392 wheels, Salsa Cowchipper bars and Hope/Thomson finishing kit. There’s a pleasing nod to the 90s with the evergreen Selle Italia Flite saddle. The Sven Cycles headset top cap is also a thing of beauty, manufactured by Bentley Components on behalf of Sven.
Sven Pathfinder 11 Speed Specifications (as tested)
- Frame // Sven Pathfinder, Reynolds 921
- Fork // Sven Pathfinder unicrown, Reynolds 921
- Wheels // 650b, Hope Pro 4 hubs, DT Swiss X392 rims
- Tyres // Schwalbe Thunderburt
- Chainset // SRAM Apex 42t
- Front Mech // N/A
- Rear Mech // SRAM Apex 11 speed
- Shifters // SRAM Apex Hydro
- Cassette // SRAM 11-42
- Brakes // SRAM Apex Hydro
- Stem // Thomson, 90mm 10º
- Bars // Salsa Cowchipper
- Seatpost // Thomson layback, 27.2mm
- Saddle // Selle Italia Flite Titanium
- Size Tested // Large
- Sizes available // Small, Medium, Large, Extra Large
As you can probably already tell, we’ve already taken the Pathfinder out a handful of times, and it is fitting nicely into its do-it-all design remit. We’ll report back once Tom can peel himself away long from it to write up his thoughts.
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