Last summer, I moved from central Illinois to west Texas. I've done some riding since then, but not as much as I'd like to because I just haven't found the riding very enjoyable here, the primary reasons being narrow roads with fast traffic and a surprising number of loose dogs. Like central Illinois, the area is crisscrossed with small farm roads, but the farm roads here are mostly unpaved. The dirt roads are readily accessible from where I live, and I've found them to be much more traffic and dog free, so I've concluded that riding the dirt roads is my future, and that I want a bike designed for such riding. That is the origin of my next project, a cyclocross bike, or rather two cyclocross bikes so Heather and I can ride together.
My first plan was to find some kind of inexpensive cyclocross bike from someone like bikesdirect.com, where aluminum frame cyclocross bikes with disc brakes start at about $900. We both like our carbon road bikes a lot, and since my last experience ordering a frame with custom paint job direct from China last year was relatively painless, we eventually decided to spend a bit more and go in the direction of carbon again.
I had three requirements for the frames: the size range needed to go as far as 48 cm and 58 cm (60 would be preferable, but I can make 58 work), disc brake compatibility, and through axle dropouts. Because I haven't owned a mountain bike made more recently than the mid 1990's, I really don't have much prior experience with disc brakes and through axles, but based on all of my research, this is the direction cyclocross bikes are going, with road bikes likely to follow soon. Some major brands, such as Giant, are already selling cyclocross bikes with through axles. My primary motivation for doing this is forward compatibility: through axles and disc brakes make it more likely that the wheels and frame will be interchangeable with future wheels and frames.
It took some time to find someone selling a frame that met all three criteria. Nearly everyone has a disc frame, and several manufacturers appear to have recently introduced through-axle compatible frames, but I could only find one that offered all of the sizes I wanted: the MT-MC286 from Miracle Bikes. The frame is also listed on Alibaba.com, which is how I contacted them. I got a reply pretty quickly, and I went back and forth for a few days with the person about what I wanted. The base price of the frame was quoted to be $480. I don't know whether this represents any kind of a discount over the price of only buying one frame. A custom two-color paint job was quoted at $70. Shipping is effectively two for the price of one because the frames will ship in a single box. (The frame I bought last year was in a box probably big enough for two.) They requested payment via PayPal, and add 4% to the cost to cover the fee that PayPal deducts. Total for the two frames came to $1300. I was told that they have a bit of a backlog of up to 20 days on their painting (apparently due in part to Chinese New Year). All of this is pretty consistent with my previous experience, so I wasn't too worried.
Before sending money, I thought I should read some more about them. I didn't know anything previously about Miracle Bikes, but after doing some research I did find at least one blog that discusses importing frames directly from Chinese manufacturers, and he lists Miracle Bikes as one of the ones he considers to be reputable. Given that and the built-in protections that come from using PayPal, I decided I was ready to give it a go.
We've decided to get matching frames, so we came up with a design, and sent the following image to Miracle Bikes:
I placed the order a little over a week ago, and I'm hoping that it will ship within about 2 weeks.
I'm in the process of finding components to go on the frames, but one persistent question in my mind has been what kind of through axle to use. It's my understanding that there are different types of through axle designs, and they need to match the dropouts of the frame, but there's very little information online about what is compatible with this frame. I eventually found this very helpful thread on the forums at mtbr.com. A number of commenters on that thread have already bought this frame from Miracle Bikes, and some of them bought through axles from Miracle Bikes with the frame. I contacted Miracle Bikes and was quoted a price of $29 for a set of axles, so I have added that to my order. Now, I just wait...