Ben Berden is a traditionally schooled Belgian cyclo-crosser. Businesses from his home country, including brewers Ops Ale and Chaos Bike Shop, have joined forces with Oregon-based custom bike builders Stoemper and other US brands including the resurrected Clement Tires to bring him to the US to race a full domestic season.
The idea was brewed with the help of David Alvarez, former marketing manager for Ridley Bikes, who now owns half of Stoemper. He's an American, an ex-pat of sorts who lives in Belgium full-time. "I've known Ben for some years and he always dreamed of racing in the US," Alvarez told Cyclingnews. "What started out as a plan to do one or two USGP weekends grew into what it is, now, the first pro Belgie to race an entire US calendar.
"Racing over here, at the twilight of his career, is really good for a number of reasons. It adds a lot of depth and excitement to US racing for starters, but also it allows Ben to race more and compete for more UCI points. The field is so deep in Belgium that it's extremely difficult to get to World Cups where the top riders pick up a lot of their points. On those World Cup weekends there's not a lot going on in Belgium [if you're not at the World Cup], whereas in the US there's a big C1 race almost every weekend."
Small builder Stoemper externally butts certain tubes, including the head tube and seat tube
Stoemper – it's Flemish for mashing a big gear – make their bikes in Springfield, Oregon with the concept of mashing together the accepted 'norms' in bike design from the two very different cultures. Because each machine is custom built it can be whatever its rider wants it to be. Berden's Ronny is decidedly Belgian, marked by a high bottom bracket, short top tube and tall head tube. "When you have a lot of uneven roads the aluminum absorbs a little bit better than the carbon, I think," he said. "It's not as aggressive as the carbon ones."
Berden's Ronny incorporates a PF30 bottom bracket, tapered head tube – with trick external butting, which is also used on the seat tube – and dropouts that are all custom machined by Stoemper for Stoemper. The tapered carbon fork is a custom painted ENVE. "Stoemper is made in sweet Springfield, Oregon," said Alvarez. "It's half Todd Gardner – who does all the hard work – and half me. I update the website; Todd is a very talented welder and a good friend."
Berden says the back of the bike is more comfortable than on the carbon bikes he's ridden previously
"Our other project is the mountain bike brand Bronto Bikes," he continued. "For road and 'cross we wanted to take advantage of me living over here and celebrate what's great about both Belgian and American road and 'cross racing. So, Stoemper was created with the intent to be a mix of the two racing cultures. This spells out in our geometry, naming [and the brand's identity]. The goal was to make serious bike racing frames that could be raced at the World Cup level. The Ronny is in fact extremely competitive in terms of weight and stiffness."
Berden rides a 1x10 drivetrain made up of a Shimano Dura-Ace 7900 mechanical transmission with an 11-28-tooth cassette that's supported by an FSA SL-K crankset with a 42-tooth chainring. The chain is kept in place by a K-Edge Cross Single Chain Catcher and FSA carbon fiber 'cross chainring guard. Elsewhere, the bike is fully equipped with FSA's SL-K components, from cockpit to brakes, to carbon wheels.
FSA SL-K everywhere; note the externally butted seat tube
The 50mm deep, 1,480g (claimed) SL-K carbon wheels are wrapped with Clement tires, which are made by Tufo in the Czech Republic and are both extremely light and true. "I have good tires and they help me with the turning," said Berden, who asserts that Belgian 'cross courses have fewer corners than those in the US. "I use a knobbier tire than the rest [of the pros] and it also makes traveling easier, because I always have the same tires."
Berden had been riding the PDX mud tire for most races, even when dry, because the LAS file-tread only recently became available, just in time for the fourth round of the Exergy USGP of Cyclo-cross series in Fort Collins, Colorado.
This article originally appeared on BikeRadar