Past Imperfect

I can say it now that it’s gone, but I never liked the Kaffenback.

Black Planet X Kaffenback with drop bars
The Kaff in road bike guise. (Image by the author.)

I’d bought it from Planet X in 2015 in a bid for something that split the difference between “practical road bike” and “Surly Straggler tribute band”, and it had never entirely convinced on either front. The Kaff, so I’d heard, was a geared version of On-One’s fabled Il Pompino, a steel single speed with nifty wishbone stays and, depending on the version, clearance for wider 700C tyres – all of which sounded pretty much ideal, especially with a derailleur hanger and disc tabs into the bargain.

The reality was disappointing. From the off, the Kaff was an unlovely frame to look at: bulky welds, a dull black paint job, and conventional seat stays rather than the Pomp’s wishbones. It weighed a ton, too. But then, what should I have expected for £150? I bought a Kinesis carbon fork to add a bit of lightness, costing almost as much as the frame, along with a pair of Mavic Aksiums, the cheapest 700C disc wheels I could find.

Built up, the Kaff was just a bundle of disappointments. Meh by a thousand cuts. I managed to squeeze a 32mm Clément Strada LGG between the chainstays, but that was as far as it went. The mudguard mounts were down by the dropouts but there was no way to route the stays past the disk brakes. I managed to bodge a pair of SKS guards onto the disk tabs on the one side and the dropouts on the other, but they never quite sat straight. Nor did the Steco Flow carrier I managed to squeeze onto the fork.

The ride, too, was uninspiring. The Kaff never quite escaped its boat-anchor weight, and, compared to the lithe (read: flexy) Peugeot, it exhibited precisely none of BQ’s mythical planing properties. For better or for worse, the heavy steel frame, carbon forks and alloy bars combined to make the Kaff a largely immovable object. Even so, it was mostly competent as a (g)road bike: predictable, solid handling that was unfazed by bumps and rough surfaces. 32s aren’t wide, but they were just about wide enough for towpaths and potholed roads.

A while after our son was born, I thought I’d try out the Kaff as a baby-hauler. My weirdo 26″ drop bar MTB was starting to get a little over-ratty, so I moved the Hamax child seat to the Kaff. It worked, after a fashion. This is us one summer’s day, cycling between the fountains on Centenary Square:

Bike with child seat riding between Centenary Square fountains.
In Centenary Square. (Image courtesy of Simon Felton.)

Sticking a three-year-old on the back revealed three notable foibles. First: borderline hazardous toe overlap. I lost count of the number of times I almost dumped the bike, and him with it, going round sharp low speed corners. (I did wonder if the Kinesis forks were the cause, but a brief experiment with the original steel forks made the problem even worse.) Next, unforgiving 1× gearing: a 42×32 low gear was just about fine with me on the bike; not so much with him too. Last: short chainstays. With most of my son’s weight behind the rear axle, I could lift the front wheel on any vaguely serious hill, and had to pay attention to every little change in direction. It was never a relaxing ride.

Other niggles crept in too. The mudguard clearance was so tight that I had to yank the wheels off after almost every wet ride and hose down the guards to get off all of the dirt and leaves. (It was never an easy job, for some reason; the derailleur was always reluctant to let go of the rear wheel.) The Avid BB7s I’d robbed from another bike were old and worn and very difficult to adjust: either the brakes rubbed or the levers went all the way to the bar. There was no middle ground.

Black Planet X Kaffenback with flat bars
One last roll of the dice. (Image by the author)

After six years with drop bars of various types (Ritchey’s flared, ergo Venturemax bars were a favourite), I thought I’d change things around a bit. On went a set of swept-back On-One Mary bars, aimed at creating a sort of rad FBNPNA-style hybrid, and missing the target entirely. The front end was too low, too short and too wide, making it twitchy and uncomfortable at the same time.

I had also realised that I just didn’t like the Kaff very much.

It looked every inch the bargain-basement bike that it was, and, six years after having bought it, my perception had finally caught up to the reality. It was a budget frame with a budget frame’s compromises, and it was time for it to go. I stripped it down and put it on eBay as a rolling chassis, and off it went one Saturday morning. I haven’t looked back.

Component Model Notes
Frame Planet X Kaffenback v2 Medium
Fork Kinesis DC37 disc 405mm axle to crown
Wheels Mavic Aksium disc 6-bolt disc mount, QR axles
Tyres Clément Strada LGG 700C×32mm, 120 TPI. Clément is now called Donnelly.
Brakes Avid BB7 Road
Shifters Campagnolo Veloce 3×10
Crankset Shimano 105 CX50 46/36, 170mm. Run with a single chainring. A good Hollowtech II gateway crank.
Chainring Hope Retainer Ring 110 PCD 42t
Rear derailleur SRAM Apex 10 speed, mid cage
Cassette Shimano something or other…? 10 speed, 11-36
Bars Various drop bars; Ritchey VentureMax Comp were the best
Stem A succession of 80-100mm FSA models
Seatpost Identiti 27.2mm. An absolute unit of a seatpost, I think meant for jump bikes.
Saddle Charge Spoon