Stoemper, a new Springfield, Oregon-based cyclocross frame maker, has an interesting philosophy for launching a new brand: Hire a really fast, heavily tattooed Belgian, put a Belgian-inspired bike with a Flemish name underneath him, and bring him over to the States to turn some heads. David Alvarez, the business side of Stoemper, spends a good amount of his time in Belgium, and he met former U23 Belgian national champ and Worlds bronze medalist Ben Berden while there through mutual bike buddies. The two started talking, Alvarez enlisted the help of his friend from back home, frame builder Todd Gardner, and Stoemper was born.
Gardner cut his teeth hand making his own mountain bike line dubbed Bronto Bikes. He made the drive up to Portland to deliver the freshly-made frames to Berden – who had just completed a harrowing, four-leg, 36-hour journey from his homeland – early last week, and they let me tag along. The frames were still tacky from the painter when Gardner started building them up, and I managed to get the scoop on the bikes and the team, and I snapped the first photos of Berden’s new rigs and freshly-sublimated kit.
Stoemper’s tag line says a lot about the company’s philosophy: “Designed to be raced the shit out of. Then built by Todd according to that design.” If there’s one marketable where that brazenness works, it’s cyclocross. The flagship frames are aluminum, and as Gardner said, “A lot of the design is Belgium-inspired, with a more Euro geometry, but we Americanized it a little bit. It has a slightly higher bottom bracket, but we didn’t go full-on Euro. It’s a 60mm [BB] drop. I think it’s going to transfer really well. I don’t think it’s so much higher that it’s going to impede him at all and the handling will be really good.”As far as the tubing, it’s all triple-butted 7000-series aluminum, sourced from several different sources for a unique blend. “The head tubes are made in house, BB PF30 shells I’m turning myself as well. I’m putting an external butte profile on the seat tubes. It has tapered head tubes and forks, which makes a big difference for stiffness,” said Gardner. “The dropouts are our design, they’re machined by a buddy of mine. So we’re trying to approach it by making as much of our own stuff as we can. The paint is done locally too, in Eugene by the former painter for Co-motion. He’s getting his own operation up and running, and he does a fantastic job.”
Is there a niche market for handmade aluminum cyclocross frames? With most manufacturers looking to carbon for their top models, and smaller frame makers tending to choose steel or titanium, it’s an interesting approach. But both Gardner and Berden are big believers in the material’s suitability for cyclocross, combining light weight and stiffness.
As for Berden himself, he’s one of the featured athletes in the “Euro Invasion” article in the soon-to-hit-the-newsstands Issue 14. After being a dominant force in the Junior and U23 ranks, Berden turned to doping when he didn’t enjoy the same success in the Elites. He was busted for EPO use in 2005 and served a suspension. He reassessed his life, goals and priorities. He also went from a relatively clean-cut look to getting covered in tattoos during that period, with some designs referencing the bust and other things of personal significance to him. “I had a lot of time on my hands to think about things,” he told me. “Whereas before it was all about winning and I had a hard time no longer being among the leaders, I learned how important it is for me just to be out there riding and competing, regardless of the result.”
While Berden may seem like an unorthodox spokes-model, he’s personable, his English is great, he’s wicked fast, and he’s clearly excited for his time in the States. He’s got a joie de vivre, and he kicked off his US season with a win at the Cycle U Kick-Off Cross in Seattle on Sunday the 11th – a great warm-up for CrossVegas.You’ll have to pick up Issue 14 for more details about Berden, but here are some tidbits from our chat this past week:
The Ops Ale-Stoemper kit: There are Belgian sponsors prevalently displayed, including two from Berden’s own neighborhood: Chaos bike shop and Ops Ale. Belgium, of course, is as famous for its beer as its cyclocross, but the two don’t always mix. Berden confesses to enjoying his periodic beers, and he confirms the rumor: Sven Nys has always been completely alcohol free, even in that land of delectable temptation. Not only that, the guy doesn’t even eat frites. “He’s just really dedicated to his performance, but it’s a little too much for me,” said Berden. “For some strange reason, it seems like I always find myself eating frites and mayo on Thursdays.”
Americanaphile: “I’ll get to see a good part of U.S. I drive a pick up truck in Belgium, so that’s definitely not what everybody does there. It’s an old V8 Chevy. I had an El Camino for a while, a ’72. I have two kids now though, so I had to get rid of it.
“When I was growing up, I was watching A-Team, Dukes of Hazzard and everything. And I’ve done everything in Belgium, so that’s one thing I have to do is to check out the racing in the US.”
“Stoemper” is a Flemish term for a masher (a stomper) who tends to remain seated and power through the course in a big gear. Berden himself fits that model and, as he says, the young guys are more likely to spin a high cadence, but as riders get older, they tend to rely more on their strength.
While single rings were all the rage both in Europe and the States for a while, they’ve largely fallen out of vogue. Berden never gave up on them – his “A” bike proudly sports a 42-tooth ring. Berden’s “B” bike, which he also uses for training, sports a compact 46/36 crankset – another relative rarity in the pro peloton, where a 38 on a 110BCD crank seems to be the typical lower chain ring limit. “It’s great for training, and you need something like that for races like Koppenbergcross,” Berden tells me.
The “A” bike also features a SRAM left brake lever and a Shimano Dura-Ace integrated right brake/shift lever. Here are the SPECS:
Frame: Stoemper Ronny with 7000-series triple-butted aluminum tubes from various sources
Fork: Enve Carbon Monocoque
Stem: FSA SL-K Carbon Matrix 4-Axis
Handlebars: FSA SL-K
Front brake: FSA SL-K wide profile
Rear brake: FSA SL-K wide profile
Shift/Brake levers: Shimano Dura-Ace – although single ring bike uses SRAM left brake lever
Front derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace (on double-ring bkes)
Rear derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace
Cassette: Shimano Dura-Ace
Crankset: FSA SL-K carbon. 46/36 on double setup, 42 ring on single
Bottom bracket: PressFit 30
Pedals: Shimano XTR
Wheelset: FSA SL-K tubular
Front tire: Tufo Flexus, 32mm
Rear tire: Tufo Flexus, 32mm
Saddle: Fizik Tundra
Seat post: FSA SL-K carbon
Chain Catcher: K-Edge on both setups, and FSA carbon chain guard on single ring bike.
See more of Ben Berden’s Stoemper in the Photo Gallery below: