Custom

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Photo credit: Dan Chabanov
Photo credit: Dan Chabanov

Takeaway: A fully custom and beautifully balanced steel road frame made by Pratt Frameworks, a small builder from Providence, Rhode Island. Pratt takes a refreshingly modern approach to steel frames while maintaining a clean aesthetic that has a classic look.

  • Available with rim or disc brakes.

  • Comfortable for all-day rides without sacrificing responsiveness or quick handling.

  • Built from a mix of Columbus SL, Life, and Sprint tubing.

Photo credit: Dan Chabanov
Photo credit: Dan Chabanov

Price: $3,600 (frame and fork), $8,900 (as tested).

Weight: 17.6 lbs. (including pedals, cages, and computer mount)

Style: Road Bike

Wheel Size: 700c

Frame: Steel frame made from a mix of Columbus SL, Life, and Spirit tubing

Fork: Enve Carbon, 12x100mm thru-axle, flat-mount disc, 45mm rake

Drivetrain: Shimano Dura-Ace R9200

Cranks: Shimano Dura-Ace R9200, 172.5mm

Chainring: Shimano Dura-Ace R9200, 52/36T

Cassette: Shimano Dura-Ace R9200, 11-30T, 12-speed

Brakes: Shimano Dura-Ace BR-9270 brakes, RT-MT900 center lock rotors, 160mm (front)/140mm (rear)

Chain: Shimano Dura-Ace CN-M9100

Wheels: Front: Roval Terra CL DT Swiss 350 Hub 24h, Rear: Roval Terra CL DT Swiss 350 Hub 24h

Tires: Panaracer GravelKing 700 x 32

Saddle: Specialized S-Works Romin Evo with Mirror

Seatpost: Zipp Service Course SL, 27.2 x 300, 0º offset

Handlebar: PRO Vibe Carbon Handlebar, 42cm

Stem: PRO Vibe 110mm, -10º

Photo credit: Dan Chabanov
Photo credit: Dan Chabanov

When Shimano contacted us about testing the newest generation Dura-Ace groupset, we initially considered getting a frameset from a large manufacturer for our test riding. However, like everyone else trying to find a bike in 2021, we quickly ran into the realities of low stock and long lead times on frames. Then we called Max Pratt, founder of custom frame builder Pratt Frameworks. Max picked up the phone and was immediately drowned out by nearby cheering and a booming announcer’s voice.

“Where are you?” I asked.

“Oh, we’re at Elite Track Nationals with the team for the week,” Max answered.

“Cool. I’m actually calling because we need a frame to test the new Dura-Ace. Would you be interested in that?”

“Well… I’m happy to make the frame. Do you mind waiting a few days until I’m back in the shop?”

“That’s no problem,” I said. “But, we’re on a bit of a deadline. Shimano need’s the frame in hand in two weeks. Do you think that’s doable?”

Max paused for a second. “I think I can make that work.”

A few emails back and forth about my preferred measurements, and Max was sending me progress photos within days of being back in his Providence, Rhode Island workshop.

Unfortunately, customers shouldn’t expect that kind of insane turnaround time from any frame builder, but it shows the level of attention and care Max gives to customers. Currently, Pratt Frameworks quotes roughly a 4-5 month lead time for a fully custom frame. With pricing starting at $3,600 for a Road, CX, or Gravel frame in a single color with a painted carbon fork from ENVE. Pratt also offers an all-new Oyster Rock gravel frameset with pre-configured geometry with a 1-2 month lead time and a $2,850 price tag.

Photo credit: Max Pratt
Photo credit: Max Pratt

Max started building frames at 19 when he was a Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) student. Now 24, he’s making frames under the Pratt Frameworks label, which he runs with his partner & co-owner, Kaitlyn Cirielli. He has also returned to RISD as a teacher in the Industrial Design department.

The Pratt Racing team, also run by Max and Kaitlyn, is not just a platform for the brand to test and improve new frame designs. The team also serves as a tool for social change, working with a group of athletes who race Women’s track, gravel, and cyclocross disciplines. Pratt envisions the team as ambassadors and role models for equity and inclusion in sport.

Photo credit: Dan Chabanov
Photo credit: Dan Chabanov

As for the bike itself, while the frame is thoroughly modern, it’s also pleasantly simple. A threaded bottom bracket, a round 27.2 post, and universal fit parts sharply contrast the plethora of overly integrated frames with proprietary standards that currently dominate the market. Because the frame was built with the express purpose of testing Shimano’s new Dura-Ace groupset, there are only provisions for hydraulic lines (run externally for my sake) with holes drilled for wiring up the front and rear derailleur to the seatpost mounted battery. But, customers can specify their frame’s groupset compatibility and preference in cable routing.

Photo credit: Dan Chabanov
Photo credit: Dan Chabanov

Max takes a thoroughly modern approach to his steel frames, forgoing traditional brazing techniques in favor of tig welding and 3D printing. For this frame, he used a blend of Columbus SL, Life, and Sprint tubes. Upfront, a 44mm headtube holds a color-matched Enve fork. The rear dropouts are of his design and use a 3D SLM stainless steel printing process, resulting in a 142g saving over traditional forged dropouts. The chainstays are dropped slightly away from the top tube and seat tube junction, and the top tube has a nearly imperceptible slope from the head tube to the seat tube. From a few steps back, the frame strikes a thoroughly modern, yet understated silhouette. It’s very clearly a steel road bike, just modern with a clean and understated aesthetic.

The bike rides with the crisp buzz of modern steel. It’s certainly not the smoothest bike I’ve ever ridden, but it’s not harsh. Under hard pedaling, the frame is bright and spirited, but it also has bite. There’s enough compliance that I am happy to ride it all day, particularly with some larger tires fitted. But at its heart, the Pratt is very much a bike designed for racing and fast riding. When I put power into the pedals, the response is instant. I won’t pretend that it’s carbon fiber stiff, but truthfully, it’s very close.

Max built my frame with what I would consider very traditional road bike geometry. A 73º head tube angle is matched to an Enve fork with 45mm of rake, giving the Pratt a traditional 58mm of trail with a 30mm tire fitted (a figure shared amongst many popular road bikes such as the Specialized Aethos and Trek Emonda). The seat tube angle is a similarly traditional 74º with slightly longer chainstays at 416mm.

It’s worth mentioning that Max quoted this bike's tire clearance to me at 32mm. However, my current u">>32mm Panaracer GravelKing tires measure 35mm on my caliper and have ample clearance in both the frame and fork to protect the paint. Which, for the kind of mixed surface road riding I like to do, was a nice bonus.

The handling is best described as frictionless. Turns are initiated with a light touch but still feel sharp with enough feedback to dampen any twitchiness. It’s a bike that manages to be composed at high speed, lively in the middle, and smooth at low speeds. Essentially, it seems to do all the right things at the right time.

Photo credit: Dan Chabanov
Photo credit: Dan Chabanov

At $3,600 ($8,900 as tested), it’s impossible to make a case for the Pratt being cheap; it most certainly is not. But it is a good value in a world where a stock S-Works frameset will set you back $5,500. Sure, you could opt for the non-S-Works version and save $300 over the Pratt, but at that point, you’re probably asking yourself soul-searching questions about what kind of rider you are. From a purely practical point of view, you can actually order a Pratt frameset right now and have it delivered well ahead of next spring; which is at best an optimistic view of availability for many high-end bikes. Plus, going custom presents a nearly incalculable benefit for riders who find it hard to fit themselves on a stock bike.

Photo credit: Dan Chabanov
Photo credit: Dan Chabanov

For me, Pratt hits the perfect balance. Its clean lines are both modern and classic. Its ride is lively and responsive, without being twitchy. It’s the kind of road bike that I could happily keep riding for a decade or two, particularly with its generous tire clearance.

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