When I was a young shop rat, the sort of college kid so full of opinions it was hard to learn anything new, there was one thing my more experienced co-workers did impress upon me: No one was making a finer road bike than Serotta. This wasn’t just some idle opinion based on the fact that our shop was the sole retailer of Serotta for 200 miles in any direction. My boss could chapter and verse their silver brazing, their swaged “Colorado” tubes, the paint that would survive nuclear way, the chainstays curved to accommodate size 13 feet and on.
But life on a bike wrench’s paycheck did not permit me ownership of a Serotta.
Not many years later, as a fledgling editor at Bicycle Guide I enjoyed the good fortune of riding a Serotta Atlanta for a year. The Atlanta, dubbed for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, was a budget bike that rode like its more expensive brethren. I spent a year using that bike as a yardstick against which to measure other bikes. I came to know it like few other bikes I’ve reviewed.
More than anything else, what I remember about that bike is how it handled. Out of the saddle, the bike flowed like water. Its movement beneath me felt natural and changes in line were effortless to the point of seeming telepathic. Carving through high speed corners inspired such confidence as to make one wonder the purpose of brakes. You could make bikes for 30 years and not design anything that rode as well.
But Ben Serotta is tireless as a star and he is back with two bikes, a road bike and a gravel bike, both produced from titanium.
A solid philosophy
The backbone of Serotta’s philosophy has always been to make the bike stiff at the drivetrain and more supple at the dropouts. In the days when steel was king, this was a challenge because most bikes were reasonably flexible at the bottom bracket. What set Serotta apart was how the down tube grew in diameter from the head tube down to the bottom bracket, a process called swaging (say swejing). The chainstays and seatstays were also swaged so that the tubes were at their smallest diameter at the dropouts. But to keep the handling crisp and the ride comfortable the top tube grew in diameter from the seat tube to the head tube.
All of these features can be found in the Scappero. People who are pros at working with titanium have been telling me for years that swaging ti is as onerous a process as tying a shoelace one-handed. Serotta upped the ante by adding shaping to the menu with the top tube being shaped into a square-ish shape at the head tube and the down tube being squared at the bottom bracket.
I can report that no one made a stiffer bike from titanium. In certain circumstances a bit too stiff. The Scappero is stiff, very stiff even, but not too stiff for a gravel bike. Call it more forgiving than your parents, but less than a parole board.
The carbon fork is similarly stiff and includes enough braze-ons for all-day adventures or even bikepacking.
Where tire meets gravel
Making a gravel bike out of titanium comes with a few challenges. Because gravel bikes run bigger tires, a frame must allow for a good deal more room at the bottom bracket. And to be stiff, titanium generally needs to feature larger diameter tubes than you’d see in carbon fiber or steel. My Scappero was shod with Panaracer GravelKing SKs in the 38mm width. That’s no small feat. On many rims the 38mm width measures 40mm across. And my experience riding on the rocky fire roads in Sonoma County is that any bike that can’t accommodate at least 38mm tires isn’t a bike that can be ridden everywhere.
Dropouts for thru-axles and braze-ons for zip-tying cable housing are a new look for a Serotta, as is the disc brake tab, but one thing remains from when Serotta was producing titanium bikes in the past. The double-pass welds are good enough to compare against the industry standard bearers like Seven and Bingham Built.
One aspect of Serotta’s former operation is that they did stock sizing like no one else. At one point in time not only did they offer bikes in 1cm increments, but each size came in three different top tube lengths. That’s a kind of ambition for fit that demands inventory on a scale that could swamp a battleship. The Scappero and its sister the road model Duetti only come in custom sizing that begins with a phone interview.
These custom Serottas will not be cheap. Complete bikes will feature two digits before the comma. I’m reminded of what prospective first-time Ferrari buyers are told: If you need to ask how expensive the maintenance is, you can’t afford a Ferrari. Similarly, if you’re concerned about the cost of a Serotta, you’d do well to consider Trek.
Final thought: Once you ride a Serotta you’ll know how a bike is meant to handle.