We Build The Ultimate Commuter: The Sycip Java Boy

Rising gas prices, traffic, environmental concerns, heavy workload, and never enough time to ride are issues that we all face on a daily basis. The staff of RBA is no different, and when the crazy idea of actually riding our bike to work was mentioned, we took it a step further and decided to build the ultimate commuter bike. And then, of course, we had to test it.

Where’s the carbon fiber frame and fork? Where are the ultra light aero wheels? Truth be told, the ‘ultimate’ commuter bike is very different from what we road riders would call ‘ultimate.’  Commuters must be durable, lightweight, and still be able to handle the worst city streets. Our  secondary goal was to build a more environmentally friendly ride, that at the end of its life, could be recycled. This meant that steel and aluminum were our materials of choice. Most road bikes lack fender and rack mounts, and the more upright riding position needed to negotiate urban obstacles. We also wanted to use thicker 28-centimeter tires.

When word got out that a member of the RBA staff was going to be commuting, several companies stepped up to aid the cause of getting one more car off the road. The talented Brothers Sycip offered up their formidable skills and built us one of their famed Java Boys-specially equipped with derailleur hanger, cantilever brake mounts and road angles for quicker handling. Next, SRAM equipped our Java Boy with their Rival group, and FSA provided the wheels, seatpost, stem, handlebar and headset. We finished off our ultimate commuter with Crank Brothers pedals, and Continental GatorSkin tires.

Sycip’s quality and attention to detail is carried throughout, the head tube badge is no exception
The Sycip Java Boy frame is TIG-welded from double-butted steel tubing and is Sycip’s 700-C format cruiser. Sycip usually builds the Java Boy with flat bars, internal gearing or as a single-speed setup. Fortunately Sycip can build anything you can imagine and went the extra mile and built a drop-bar version for us to test. 

Constructed for the sole purpose of commuting, Sycip’s first step, knowing our racing background, was to build a frame with the handling of a road bike. In fact, at first glance the frame appears to be a standard road bike, but under closer inspection one will notice the increase fork rake and longer chainstays. This adds to the stability of the bike and makes the bike more comfortable on rough roads. The bike has a beautifully crafted wishbone seat stay design that not only adds stiffness but creates extra wheel clearance for fenders or a rack. Sycip rounded out the frame with cantilever brake mounts and vertical rear wheel dropouts. Our Java Boy came in a muted primer gray color with a fine metal flake clear coat that added a new dimension to the bike when in direct light. As with the frame’s construction, paint quality was also first-rate.

SRAM’s Rival group is third down in their road line, topped by the race-bred Force group and the newly launched Red ensemble. The shift/brake levers were mated to Avid Shorty 6 cantilever brakes. The FSA 220 wheels are light at only 1785 grams. Mated to wide Continental GatorSkin 28c tires, the wheels rolled smoothly and endured much punishment without a wiggle. The FSA Energy handlebars, OS 150 stem, S-LK seatpost, saddle and Orbit CX headset helped shave weight from the bike, and Crankbrothers topped everything off by sending us a set of their Quattro 4ti pedals. Weighing in at a scant 225 grams a set, the Quattro pedals were a little rich for a commuter, but we found their dual-side entry, fifteen degrees of float, and large, supportive platform quite useful.

The geometry on our Sycip was close to standard for a road bike. Our 56-centimeter frame sported a 56-centimeter top tube, 27.5-centimeter bottom bracket height and parallel, 73-degree seat and head tube angles. The seatstays were long,  at 42.5-centimeters, and with the increased fork rake, the wheelbase stretched out to a Cadillac-length 103.75-centimeters.

The Java Boy reminded us how wonderful a quality steel frame can feel. The Sycip’s handling is trustworthy, especially when at speed and in sweeping corners. The long chainstays and increased fork rake add to the stability of the bike and make the Sycip near perfect for urban riding or long-haul touring. Climbing on the Sycip is best done by sitting back and using a little power, as the long chainstays do not encourage sprinting up climbs. Anything that was lost climbing, however, will be recovered on the descent. Simply put: the Sycip descends like a rocket.

The wishbone seatstays added stiffness, and gave the brothers at Sycip a chance to show off their near perfect welding skills
In addition to its great power transfer, the bike soaked up road vibration and allowed the rider to sit back and enjoy the ride. The Sycip handles the worst roads with poise and grace. Java Boy’s  steel frame, non-aero wheels, and thick tires do an amazing job of soaking up road vibrations. The steel fork is worth noting because of how much it inspires confidence when hitting deep potholes or sharp pavement breaks. There was never a fear of failure-something that cannot be said for some of the ultra-light carbon forks currently on the market.

RBA’s Sycip Commuter project may be a little over-the-top for most budgets-and if we lived where it rains more than three days a year, we’d definitely include fenders-but it didn’t take long for the Java Boy to teach us why we should leave our race bikes hanging and take a more capable ride to the office. After just a few minutes aboard the Java Boy, we felt comfortable enough to jump curbs, ride dirt trails, and attack gravel roads with abandon. These are maneuvers that would not be possible on a standard road bike-and great timesavers when gas guzzlers gridlock the city streets. Now, at 7 a.m., we throw a leg over the Java Boy and get to work the best way possible: on a bike.

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Commuting Tips: Six Essentials
We all have reasons not to commute. Here are six necessary tips to help ease you into the growing world of commuting.

Plan your route. Oftentimes the most direct path to the office is not the easiest or safest. Look for streets that have bicycle lanes or wide shoulders. If you live in an area where bicycle lanes and wide shoulders are nonexistent, look for routes that are not high traffic areas.

Ride easy. Take your time, and enjoy your time on the bike. Unless you’re late, it’s not a race, and therefore no reason to stress out. You will feel better during the day if you have started it with a light exercise session as apposed to a hard one. If you are using your commute time for training, it is better to use the ride home for your harder efforts. By doing so you will be able to recover at home and at your own rate.

Pack more than you need. Even if it’s the middle of summer, carry arm and knee warmers along with a rain jacket. Ride one time soaking wet and cold, and you never will forget why you carry them. If you are not used to riding before work, take extra food with you; you will find yourself hungry earlier than usual. If possible, take all your work clothes (including shoes) for the week on Monday, and take them home on Friday. This lightens your load for the remainder of the week and forces you to plan and prepare properly over the weekend.

Take all the tools you might need. When packing for your commute it is also important to pack spare tubes, tire levers, multi-tool, pump or CO2 inflation system. These are must-haves.

Buy a lunch box. This might sound odd, but a hard case lunch box is extremely helpful. It prevents other objects like a laptop or shoes from smashing food while riding, or in the event of a crash. It also allows you to buy that limited-edition Dukes of Hazzard lunch box you always wanted.

Find a safe place for your bike. Ideally, your employer will support you in your commuting effort and provide a place for you to store your bike during the day. If you are unable to put your bike inside, invest in a good lock and try to vary the location of where you lock it during the day.