You’re not going to see any Speedvagen bikes in the pro peloton when (or if) you tune in to watch le Tour. And you’re almost certainly not going to see any of their bikes in your local shop, either. But mass-quantity production and big brand recognition aren’t the point(s); the brand’s own mission statement includes a desire to not “make a gagillion bikes” but to “make a handful of great bikes that will be truly meaningful to their owners.”
And this little shop is definitely doing something right. Speedvagen’s two newest releases, the King OG and the GTFO, are further proof that properly crafted steel bikes are relevant, desirable and even exciting.
How can a steel bike be exciting or relevant enough to compete with carbon fiber, especially when we’re talking about utility, commuter and touring bikes that cost several thousand dollars? Part of this has to do with Speedvagen’s proprietary construction methods. Taken straight from the brand’s website: “Made from the latest technology, our new steel is to traditional steel what a Tesla is to a 60’s Ford. Speedvagen tubes are 4-6 times stronger than the tubing people typically associate with a steel bike. Because it’s stronger, it can be made lighter, resulting in a Speedvagen as light as 13lbs (6kgs) complete.” (I looked into this claim; it’s true.)
I can’t divulge a lot of technical secrets here — to be totally transparent with you, I’m no bike scientist — but I can tell you the brand uses both Columbus tubing from Italy and dead-stock True Temper stuff to achieve these impressive strength-to-weight ratios. Good steel, sure, and maybe a little bit of magic. It might require a few test rides to really know for sure.
When I spoke with Richard Pool, a designer and jack-of-many-trades at the Portland workshop where these bikes are built, told me he was excited as hell about these new models. The GTFO in particular has been sort of a brainchild of his; it was the first bike he pitched to the brand after he was brought on a couple years ago to oversee Speedvagen’s soft goods.
“Don’t call it a touring bike!” the GTFO’s press release warns, even though at first glance it looks like a cut-and-dried touring bike. Of course there’s more here than meets the eye. The fully-rigid build is versatile enough to tackle gravel, pavement and non-technical trails, and the single-speed design keeps things as simple as they can be.
This is where “dumbed-down” becomes “elegant” — while there aren’t as many moving parts on this bike as the average cyclist is used to, every part that does make it into the build is high-end, and made to perform over miles of trials. And as is the case with any utility-first design, the fewer moving parts you have in the equation, the less likely things are to break down on a dirt road 50 miles from the nearest town. Side note: Pool intended this design to be single-speed only, but you can pay an additional $500 for a Shimano XT build. “Part of the beauty of this bike,” Pool said, “is that riders can more or less make it their own with the options we have available.”
The simplicity of the GTFO’s stock build comes with perks other than simplicity itself: even fully spec’d out, with the bags and lights and pedals shown here, it weighs just shy of 24 pounds.
(For reference, while it’s no custom-built beauty, the Salsa Journeyman comes in above 25 pounds without any bags, lights or bottles. Salsa’s Marrakesh model, another touring-crowd mainstay, appears to start at 29 pounds.)
“This bike is for guys like me,” Pool says — something most product designers are probably secretly pleased to admit. “You get done with a long workday, you’ve got some bags strapped to the bike, you get on it and hustle out of town to set up camp somewhere. Then you get up in the morning, sprint back to the house, and have breakfast with your family.” He reflects a little further to say that most guys like him — that is, guys with young families and demanding day jobs — can’t just get on a touring bike and head out for a week of bikepacking in a state park or along a scenic country highway. But the desire for a quick escape into nowhere, with the promise of a quick return? That attainable quick-hit of fresh air and solitude? That’s where the GTFO comes from, and that’s what it promises when you climb on.
The King OG
The King OG is what it looks like — a beautiful hand-crafted road machine that’s as ready for Tuesday night criteriums as it is for slow-and-steady Sunday rides. Want to blast through a sprint? It can do that. Want to sit up, breathe through your nose and admire the scenery? It can do that too.
The standard-model Speedvagen OG Classic, which has been on the market for years, is already pretty special. So what are you getting when you buy the upgrade, the King OG? Pool weighed in here to say that it was a thing of beauty, and if value is on your mind, you’ll find it here in spades.
“We took our OG Classic model and said, ‘Okay, how can we add more value to this, and make it even more special?’ And the result was a sort of cross-town collaboration with Chris King. We worked closely with them to keep the price from rising too much, and we were able to add their headset, bottom bracket, and wheels to what we already had,” Pool said.
Speedvagen claims this build to weigh in at about 17.6 lbs (maybe a bit more if you’re rocking the XL frame size), which puts it ahead of many carbon bikes in the same price range. Sprinkle in some truly stunning detail work — stuff Speedvagen is known for — and you’ve got something that looks great, feels great, and performs as well as a perfectly-dialed road bike can perform. In other words, it might function as a kind of showpiece when it’s standing still (did you see those dropouts?) but once you get on the pedals, it’s sure not going to slow you down any.