The Soma San Marcos has been on the market for a handful of years now. I recall seeing it when it first became news, but if I'm perfectly honest, I didn't give it a second thought at release time, and didn't think much about it over the years that passed either. I'd read a few reviews at various points and thought it sounded like a perfectly fine Rivendell design built for Soma's brand. I like Rivendell. I like Soma. I just didn't see that I had need for this particular bike.
|Soma San Marcos|
*Image from Soma
At the beginning of the year, as we plodded our way through winter house renovations, I was thinking a lot about bicycles and the types of rides I hoped to take this year. I had desire for a bike that would behave like a road bike in that it would be lighter than some of the other bikes I have, but would also allow for comfort over potentially long rides; a bike that would handle a 200-300k possibly without unnecessary discomfort.
As is the case for many, the problem came in trying to test this sort of bicycle out in person. My one very specific requirement for this bike was that it be steel. I don't have anything against other materials and have often enjoyed the ride on carbon and aluminium, but this was my own weird sticking point. Despite many available local shops, they simply don't stock the sort of bike I hoped to test. So, my shopping and browsing headed online.
I browsed possibilities from the fairly inexpensive to the ridiculously costly, but decided that I wanted something in a reasonable (to me) price range, especially knowing that I wouldn't be able to test it out first.
One bike that stood out to me as a possibility was the Velo Orange Pass Hunter. After reading a number of reviews of this bike, it sounded ideal for my purposes: comfortable, able to handle longer distances, but not too heavy so that a bit of speed could be gained.
After looking over the geometry charts, my biggest problem with the Pass Hunter right off the bat was sizing. The smallest frame available is what VO terms a 51cm. Now, depending on the manufacturer, design, geometry and so on, this size could potentially fit, but the fact that the seat tube measurement was 51cm concerned me. I do not have long legs and I am not considered tall. Still, there were many positive things to be said about this choice.
The second option I spent time researching was the Soma San Marcos. It is available in a 47cm, but because it was designed by Rivendell, I was well aware that the 47cm size would actually fit larger than the numerical size would indicate.
I quickly realized that each of these bikes had the potential to be too large, and for each this was my biggest concern.
So, as we rolled into spring time, I started looking more seriously at each of these possibilities. After lots of debating and looking into geometry and how I thought these would fit, I went for the Velo Orange Pass Hunter and crossed my fingers. My reasoning was that given the measurements, this option had the best opportunity to fit as I hoped.
Before getting into the details of the San Marcos build though, I just have to say that this has to be one of the most gorgeous frames for the price I have ever seen. It's frankly prettier than many other far more expensive frames too. It screams Rivendellian to anyone familiar with Grant's choices. Love him or hate him, he has a point of view when designing frames and the Soma San Marcos is no exception.
From my point of view, though this may be apparent from what I've shared thus far, I find this to be a quite striking frame and fork. For several days it's been sitting (when not being ridden anyway) in a passageway from one area to another in our home and I cannot help but turn to look at it every time I pass by. It is simply eye-catching and photos are difficult to capture or represent this fully.
Just a quick for-your-reference, and to provide a bit of background on my experience with these two companies, at various points I have owned three different models from Rivendell: a Betty Foy (their mixte, now going by the name Cheviot), an A. Homer Hilsen, and the Samuel Hillborne (that still remains as part of my personal bike fold). I have also owned a couple of Somas: the Buena Vista (their mixte) and the ES (Extra Smooth) model. I've additionally had opportunity to try a plethora of parts sold by both companies from handlebars to tires and many bits in between. All of this to say that I am by no means all-knowing in regard to either company, but I do have some experience riding parts and frames from each.
For the initial set up of the San Marcos, I tried out trekking/butterfly handlebars that have worked well on another bike. I thought it was actually quite nice with this set up. The ride was stable and the bars offered lots of hand positions. These handlebars provided options to be close or stretch out as needed. They were perhaps a little too upright though for my wants on this bike (meaning almost cruiser bike upright because of the length of the stem) and there were some issues with the shifting setup, so I knew it was probably time to try out a more "roadie" like build.
The original drivetrain was a tad odd (not completely un-workable, but not super either). In reality, using a setup that was trying to combine part road and part mountain was not the best combination. Parts simply were not communicating well together. So, instead, we opted to change things a bit, put drop bars on the bike as well as STI shifters just to help things move a bit smoother and to allow for a slightly more leaned position on the bike.
|This is probably the most accurate photo of color (at least on my monitor & with the limited number of photos I've taken) that I've been able to achieve of the Tiburon Blue color which shows off those Riv lugs nicely.|
One of my early rides out on the San Marcos I pedaled just over 20mi/32km and used the drop portion of the bars about half of the time. For me, this is a rarity because of hand and back injuries and just generally feeling uncomfortable on most bikes in that lower bar space. With the San Marcos, everything is comfortable, regardless of my hand position.
Of note at this point is that no matter how this bike has been set up (and there have been a few tweaks along the way, including stem height/reach, handlebars, shifting, etc), it was comfortable from first turn of the pedals. The Rivendell philosophy of being able to simply get on a bike and enjoy is evident in this frame. At no point after the first build up did I wonder whether or not the San Marcos would work for me - it just did.
|This photo was taken prior to the change out to the Grand Bois Maes handlebars and was using an 80mm reach stem. The San Marcos rode fine with this setup, but I needed to try different handlebars due to the shape of these.|
Frame/fork: 47cm Soma San Marcos
Stem: Nitto Technomic 1" quill (tried 60, 70, and 80 mm length reach; currently using 60mm)
Brakes: Tektro R559 (I'm not in love with these as they don't seem to brake well on this bike, but they are at least something for now)
Crank: Velo Orange Grand Cru 110 fluted double (34, 48t), 165mm
Shifters: Shimano Ultegra Flight Deck
Rear Derailleur: Shimano Tiagra
Front Derailleru: SunTour XC
Cassette: 11-32 Shimano (I believe it's 105, but I could be mistaken)
Wheels: The most generic/inexpensive 650b set I could find in silver (I've used these before and they've been quite reliable, tough and are surprisingly light for a cost under $100 for the set) The rims are Weinmann Zac19 and the hubs are an unbranded alloy - I've been told they're a Mavic hub, but cannot swear to this
Tires: Soma New Xpress 650x38b in black (my white ones have disappeared into the parts abyss, but I'm sure they'll make an appearance again at some point)
Pedals: Started with VP's Thin Gripster, currently has Velo Orange Grand Cru Sabot
Saddle: Brooks B-17 Champion
Bottle Cages: King
Handlebars: A few different models, but currently testing out the Grand Bois Maes
The only items purchased specifically for this bike were the wheels (because we didn't have a full set of 650b wheels), headset, and the brakes. There is always an opportunity to upgrade later, but I wanted to test this with minimal initial investment. I also have to admit I haven't weighed the bike, so I'm not able to give an exact measurement in that regard. I will say that it feels light enough to fairly easily pick up and hang on the wall as needed, so I'm going to guess that it lands somewhere in the vicinity of 25 pounds (11.3 kg) or so.
|Circled "ding" spot on the chainstay. If you look up to the above photo of the "Designed by" sticker, you can just see a very small indentation in the middle portion of the top of the chainstay.|
I will add that we did try to set the San Marcos up with 700c wheels, just to see if they would work. Had I purchased a different set of brakes, I believe it's entirely possible that a set of 700c wheels and tires could work, though the frame in this size was not designed for this option. Additionally, the stand over for me is nearly at its maximum, so it would probably not be the best choice regardless.
There have been those who have criticized this frame stating that it doesn't know what it is or that it isn't an excellent bike for any particular purpose, but I think that is precisely what I enjoy about it. It isn't a race bike, and no one is likely to use it for sprinting. It also isn't a touring bike because it's not equipped to handle the load needed for this type of travel (though it does have eyelets for racks as desired), but it can take a small amount of weight in front, back, or both and would likely do fine on a very lightly loaded or fully supported tour.
The appreciation for this bike (at least to me) comes with its adaptability and ability to take a rider comfortably over distance. If I were looking for a race bike or one to keep up with speedy club rides, this would likely not be the choice, but since most of my riding is done solo and I can push (or not) as much as I choose, why wouldn't I want something that fits well and is comfortable?
Let it not be assumed though that this ride is slow. I've bested some of my own records on local segments with relative ease - even being injured - so if the rider is willing to push, the San Marcos is perfectly capable of working with the rider's abilities.
Sam has made reference more than once comparing the San Marcos to the A. Homer Hilsen. I had mentioned the idea of re-purchasing the Hilsen as I found it to be comfortable and practical on long distance, slightly slower speed rides. However, practicality took over and unless I was able to find a second hand frame, I wasn't willing to splurge at this juncture.
In some respects, I agree with Sam's comparison of these two frames, but there are differences in the feel between the two. I don't know if it's entirely realistic to compare the ride of a more expensive frame to one much less so (nor in trying to compare two bikes that are being ridden years apart from each other), but I find myself enjoying the San Marcos just as much as I did the Hilsen, and on some days, perhaps even more. That in itself is enough for me to think this frame was a great decision.
|Current setup for the San Marcos|
What I find interesting is that I have yet to take the San Marcos out over a distance my body is conditioned to handle and return feeling spent. I always know that I am ready to take on more if the need or want arises. This causes me to believe that my hope for a bike that will allow me to potentially cover brevet-type distances with relative ease is being found in the San Marcos (at least if I can get my body to cooperate and heal). At present testing, I believe the only limitation is my own body and its training (or lack thereof, as is the current situation). Which is actually rather exciting.
Time is probably the best indicator as to whether or not a bicycle is working well, and for that we will have to wait and see. However, the San Marcos and I are off to a fabulous start, having covered quite a few miles in our limited months together given the present circumstances. I look forward to seeing how this particular bike pans out and hopefully having the opportunity to ride some longer distances down the line.
Until then, I wanted to share somewhat early impressions of this bicycle. I think I was more surprised by this bike than I thought I would be. It's just easy to ride, and at the present that is all that I need and want. At some point, for those interested, I will take better photos and add them to the collection which can be found here.
If you've had experience with the San Marcos, I'd love to hear what you think of it and what you've liked (or not) about the bike/frame.