Benedict’s Crust Romanceur
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Named after Benedict’s Instagram alter-ego, the Crust Romanceur fits him like a glove. We had a chance to catch up with Ultraromance in Tucson to find out what makes this bike special. Read on for details…
As described on CrustBikes.com, “The ROMANCEÜR is a swashbuckling tender heart of a fantasy warrior, who not only seduces its rider, but acts as a psychedelic aphrodisiac on the psyche. Together you become thee Romanceür, a sacred, lustful partnership rendering all riding surfaces swooned out and speechless, pining for an intimate evening including a tray of rosé Jell-O shots.”
What exactly does that mean? We’re actually not quite sure, but we had a chance to meet up with Benedict “Poppi” Wheeler, the man who penned that prose, and who also had the bike named after his Instagram [alter]ego. Read on for the interview and build kit details…
First off, tell us a little about how the Romanceur came to be?
Five summers ago, Matt [Matt Whitehead, Crust Bikes founder] was making waves across folks’ iPhone 4s by visiting all of the top names in USA instagram cycling. Matt was an early instagram person as @afewsketchymoments, and already had quite the following for the time. He had made his way to the East Coast where I was recovering from a crippling bought of Lyme disease that surfaced right after the Bicycling Magazine cover came out. I was HOTTT, but hobbled. Matt pedaled into my small Connecticut town and swept me off my feet. It was during this short courtship in Nutmeg Country that the Towel Rack handlebar and Romanceur were conceived. Matt wanted to run Crust like a BMX brand, where each rider has their own model; and I thought that was a pretty cool and subversive idea. About six months later I had my first romo proto, and I knew this Aussie whack job was legit. Maybe the MOST legit. Been best buds ever since.
There’s plenty of Poppi-Poetry™ on the Crust website about this bike, but give us a quick rundown as to what makes the Romanceur special in 2019.
The Crust Romanceur is a no-bullshit bike that takes relevant tech from the new, but brings all the simplicity and style from the olde. I don’t know of any other production frameset that can say that. A 1” quill suspends the handlebar with flex. You want your cockpit to flex; yer on a curated picnic ride after all, not sprinting for the green jersey. The aesthetic of the elegant quill starkly contrasts with the barbarity of the modern threadless stack washer power stack. The horror.
People really like disc brakes, and I do too for the most part, but the biggest advantage I see with them is being able to swap wheel sizes. The Romanceur can run anything from 26 x 2.4″ to 650B x 47mm with fenders to 27.5 x 2.2″ without fenders. You can even run a 700 x 28mm in there if you’d like, although don’t know why you would. Aside from the fancy carbon hoops on this particular build, the rest of the kit cost me $200 and some time on eBay. I encourage folks to get creative and build these bikes with the plethora 90s MTB parts that are just waiting to have a second chance at the shralp. The design has no new asinine standards that will confuse you, or make it hard to find parts for. The frame is a canvas for creative builds, and a quick #romanceur search on the ‘gram will show you what I mean. You can have a modern bike that is an instant classic.
What types of rides do you normally take it on; where does it excel?
This bike was designed to be an all-day mixed ride kinda ride. You won’t ever use this bike without a bag on the front full of your stuff for the day. It’s a low trail randonneuring bike in pedigree, but beefed up in ways that allow it to excel in lightly loaded backcountry touring conditions. I designed it with the carriage roads that link all the groomer gravel and single track of the lower Connecticut river valley in mind. Tackles the technical stuff just fine, but doesn’t slog ya on the smooth.
What’s been her biggest voyage, to date?
Its longest trip would be on the prototype a few summers ago on the “DFL the Divide” thing from Banff to Missoula. It was like 500 miles, which is about as long as a trip I’ll take on anything and still have fun.
Benedict’s Crust Romanceur Build
- Handlebars Crust Towel Rack 61CM
- Stem Nitto Technomic 80
- Seatpost Ritchey Logic by Nitto
- Saddle Brooks All Weather C-19
- Crankset Ritchey Logic compact 32-44
- Rear der Shimano LX
- Front der Shimano ultegra
- Cassette 8 speed 11-32
- Chain KMC 8
- Headset FSA Durron 1”
- Tires Panaracer Gravel kings SK 650×47 with proto casing
- Wheels Roval CXP 32
- Brakes Paul Klampers
- Skewers Paul QR
- Levers Grand Comp Obscure
- Tape Newbaums cloth
- Pedals Specialized
- Bottle cages King Cage Iris
Big picture question: carbon or aluminum rims?
Ooh, good one! Welp, I will start by saying Velocity is a sponsor of mine, and they’ve always gone above and beyond to be good to me. Some amazing people work there, and the product is top notch, but they don’t do carbon (yet). You really don’t give up much on weight anymore between carbon and aluminum when you use a blunt SS for comparison, so both options will generally be the same ballpark weight. Where carbon excels is in strength. The wheel is such a strong shape to begin with, and carbon lends itself extremely well in this application. An aluminum rim will dent beyond repair before a carbon rim cracks from impact. An aluminum rim will go out of true from time to time, a carbon equivalent is pretty darn service free. This took me some consideration and experience, as carbon is wholeheartedly NOT a reliable, long-lasting material for frames and forks. I’ll ride carbon bikes from time to time, but if I’m smiling, it’s fake. I’m crying inside. Now it just comes down to the cost. If I didn’t get carbon rims for free would I spend the money? Probably not. That, and I like rim brakes in general, and carbon braking surfaces are not an adventure I wanna take myself on.
I’ve probably read or heard your case for Ultra-wide drop bars, but give me the rationale once more. Are they for everyone, or only people like us with chimpanzee arms?
They are for everyone, considering we have three widths now. If you aren’t bumping elbows in the pro peloton, then you are doing yourself a HUGE disservice by riding around on those pogo stick handlebars. The kinds of bikes we are riding drop bars on now are essentially what we rode on mountain bikes in the 90s. My first mountain bike had narrower tires than what I consider my road bike today. Mountain bikes have always had more latitude with innovation, as the racing governing bodies aren’t as tied to tradition as road. In turn, most of the modern advancements in bicycle tech have been borrowed from the mountain bike.
A simple modern advancement in mountain biking is the wide handlebar. You’d be hard pressed to find one under 800mm these days, and thats because they’re BETTER. Why are we still pogo sticking around on our gravel bikes? You are running fat tires and riding technical terrain. You owe the extra level of control and comfort to yourself. Those towel racks sell out same day any time we offer ’em, so folks are catching on, and that’s nice. I’m most proud of those bars.
Will you ever give up on square taper?
Nope; no reason to. The industry has been chasing its tail with BB standards since 1998 and they still haven’t found anything as simple, reliable, smooth, and inexpensive. Not to mention beautiful. Outboard bearing BB’s are a real eyesore in my opinion. Looking down and seeing those cups stick out, robbing you of precious Q factor fractions gives me chills. Modern cranksets are so damn ugly these days, too. Don’t even get me started. Okay, I’m started. I’m sweating now. The really the only acceptable modern crankset IMO is a Rene Herse wide range double. For the most part, I just use eBay stuff, though. All the best parts have already been made in huge quantities. Those parts were built to last, unlike what you’d find today. There is little risk in finding them used, even if they’re 25 years old.
What bikes and components are going to be fashionable for the 2019 summer season (post Memorial Day)?
Paul has some fun stuff in the hopper that I can’t talk about yet. Simworks are always putting out fun stuff. But I gotta say I’m rarely impressed with what others offer, and that’s why I generally just do it myself. Matt feels the same way and does the same thing; so naturally our egos get along pretty well. I’m inspired by what he puts out… and Paul… and Jan… to reiterate; all of the best parts have already been made for “gravel grinding.” All “GG” bikes are just drop bar MTBs from the early 90s. The quality and attention to detail in these 90s era MTB parts is above and beyond anything being offered today. So just use those.
What’s your next-in-line favorite bike?
My 650b Rivendell Sam Hillborne. It was my first curated bike purchase that wasn’t built for speed alone. Built for comfort. What a bike. Will cherish it forever. I LOVE Rivendells, and they’ve been doing this sorta thing all along. Too bad they’ve moved onto bikes that most people just don’t get these days; and for good reason. It’s hard to sell a bike that needs 1.3 chains to span the chainstay. I’ve always imagined myself diving into a swimming pool of their lugs some day, though.
Any new products/projects you’re working on right now?
I recently returned from Dirty Kanza, managing a small gravel team for Brooks. We aren’t necessarily there for results, rather to promote our stylized brand of athletic expression. Crust is the bike sponsor, and a number of other small brands I work with round out the gear set ups. We should be taking the team to a bunch of events this year. Lots of components and softgoods stocking on my new web store RonsBikes.com starting July 1st, including a tire! My olde friend Patrick and I have started a tire company. That’s been REALLY fun.
Any big trips planned this summer?
Planning on spending most of the summer in Idaho/Montana. Will likely check out that new Wild West route. When September rolls, around we might be back in Europe, although I must say I don’t have much of an international travel bug anymore. One could spend five lifetimes exploring the endless ribbons of track that populate the public lands we have here in the US.
Be sure to check out Benedict’s Rivendell Atlantis in another Rider and Rig from back in 2015.