Bikes of 'Cross Nationals, part 2
The Vanilla essence
By Steve Medcroft
The flower insignia
Skerritt runs Paul's Neo-retro
Skerritt runs the front
Chris King's NothreadSet
One of the many reasons
to look closely
Skerritt's Alpha Q Carbon
Sacha White fillet-brazes
his steel frames
At Cyclocross Nationals in Providence, Rhode Island, we spied several
finely made and beautiful bikes built by custom frame builders. In the
first installment of this special three-part tech series, we brought
you Maureen Bruno-Roy's Independent Fabrication Planet Cross. Next up,
we take a look at Master's 35-39 national champion Shannon Skerritt's
pearl white Vanilla Cross.
Who is Vanilla Bicycles?
The Vanilla Bicycle Company, comprised of frame builder Sacha White
and one assistant, opened in 1999. "My main focus at that time was on
building 'cross and road racing bikes," begins White. "Over the years,
my interests as a builder and a cyclist have grown to include commuting,
touring and track racing, but I have to say that I have a special place
in my heart for 'cross." Special because White races 'cross and is active
in the thriving Portland-area 'cross scene.
Asked why, when his company has limited production capacity, he finds
the time to provide bikes to elite-level riders (Shannon Skerritt, Molly
Cameron and Rhonda Mazza), White says "there are a few things at work."
"The first is that cyclo-cross is near and dear to my heart. I race
when I can and I feel strongly about helping the community by building
frames for three national caliber Portland residents."
There is also the valuable research and development feedback he can
receive from pro-level racers. "I find it hugely beneficial to work
closely with pros like Shannon, to dial in what is and isn't right in
my racing machines. You can't find that kind of experience and feedback
Shannon's Vanilla Cross
What stands out mostly about Skerritt's 'cross bike when you first
see it is how clean and simple the lines are. Built from steel, the
fillet-brazed frame tubes seem to flow into each other. What Skerritt
also says turns other racer's heads as much as Vanilla's aesthetics
is its weight.
"I'm an assistant manager at The Bike Gallery in Portland," Skerritt
says. "We sell full carbon, titanium, steel and so on. With all the
marketing around more exotic materials, steel has the reputation for
being a heavy, cheap material, but the reality is that my 'cross bike
weighs eighteen pounds; pretty much the same as a Scandium bike I had
built up with the same parts."
Skerritt's bike is light because White used a mix of Tru Temper and
Dedacciai tubing and was careful with the brazing. "The brazing looks
so pretty," he says, "and the bike rides better than any other bike
I've had. You just can't get this look with aluminum."
Adds White: "The frame was designed and built with Shannon's specific
parts kit in mind. If certain braze-ons weren't needed, we didn't put
them on, resulting in a svelte race bike. "There are small touches,
like custom stainless dropouts. The bare stainless is forgiving and
can be reworked without a problem [if it gets nicked up by the chain]."
Skerritt started his cycling career in the mid-nineties mountain biking
phase in New York, winning state titles his first two years of competition.
He didn't make the move to 'cross until he moved to Portland in 1997.
"I was a roadie really," he says, "but I really liked the concept of
it and jumped right in when we moved."
Since then, Skerritt, who competes with the Bike Gallery/Trek VW regional
team during the road season, has raced several cyclo-cross nationals.
"I've come close to winning before. And I've been second a couple of
times," he says.
After missing half of last season following a collision with a fellow
cyclist that left him with two broken elbows, Skerritt carried strong
road-season form and a pair of custom 'cross bikes provided by Sacha
White into the '05 'cross season.
"You can't buy a Vanilla in a store," Skerritt says. "Sacha builds
them to order, one at a time, and most customers have to wait a year.
So for him to build bikes for me to race on is very, very generous."
The build-up of Skerritt's race bike started with the fit. "Although
Sacha takes a lot of rider input and doesn't just dictate what you will
ride, I didn't get crazy with the specifications. He knew exactly what
As for the rest of the build, Skerritt pulled parts off his team-issue
road bike; many of which he, as a non-professional rider, bought himself.
"It's a mixed blessing to buy your own parts; I get what I want but
I do have to pay. If I break a wheel, I pay for it."
The drive-train is all Shimano Dura-Ace. "I run Bontrager Carbon Aero
wheels," Skerritt adds. "My store is tight with Trek, so if I ever have
a warranty issue or a part for a rebuild, Bontrager is really quick
about responding to us and I haven't found another company better to
Skerritt runs Salsa's Short and Shallow bar on the end of a Bontrager
Carbon stem, routing the front brake cable up over the bar instead of
tucked underneath the tape. "Because my cable hanger and stem are so
close, [Skerritt runs the stem reversed, neutralizing the angle so it
is level with the ground], routing over the top is much cleaner and
doesn't pinch the cable."
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Robert M. Huff/www.designpony.com
U.S. Master's 35-39 national cyclo-cross champion Shannon Skerritt
and his Vanilla Cross bike. Skerritt says that although the championship jersey (his first) is on his laundry pile right now, it will probably be framed and hung with respect in his home in Portland.
The flower insignia
Sacha White imprints on most of his bikes is a modified image of a Vanilla plant leaf. "An orchid actually," White says, "but as a decal on a frame, people often thought it was a bug or a pot leaf, so I decided to go more streamlined and a little more modern."
Skerritt runs Paul's Neo-retro cantilever brake
on the front of his Vanilla Cross. He says he scraped the decals from his Bontrager Carbon Aero rims because they were "looking a little ratty".
Skerritt runs the front brake cable
over the reversed 130mm stem because "my cable hanger and stem are so close, it's much cleaner and doesn't pinch the cable." He runs a 44cm-wide Salsa Short and Shallow handelbar.
Chris King's NothreadSet headset
keeps the carbon steerer on the Alpha Q fork locked into the Vanilla steel head-tube. The frame is was built with a 58cm seat-tube and 58cm top-tube (C-C).
One of the many reasons to look closely
at the elegantly simple Vanilla is the detail of this cutout in the rear drop-outs.
Skerritt's Alpha Q Carbon fork
gets a complimentary paint job to keep the whole bike looking clean. And despite being a Bontrager fan, Skerritt says he'll probably build a set of wheels on Chris King hubs for 2006 "because they stand up so well to the power washers."
Sacha White fillet-brazes his steel frames,
which results in an almost invisible join. The process keeps the lines simple and clean, a philosophy to frame building evident in this simple head badge; a sterling silver cutout of the company logo and symbol.