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By Anthony Tan
One of five American women that took on the might that is European cyclocross at the 2005 'Cross World's in St. Wendel, Germany this January, Velo Bella's Sarah Kerlin took a very respectable top 20 placing and finished as the second-best American rider behind veteran Ann Knapp.
The bike she rides on tackles similarly formidable opposition, going up against the Giants and Bianchis of the world. Somewhat of a cult figure in the Cali MTB scene, Paul Sadoff is the man behind Kerlin's Rock Lobster 'cross machine, and has been building custom frames for over 20 years - starting with his sister back in 1978!
While Sadoff has branched out of the family tree since then, he continues to keep his Santa Cruz, CA, operation ostensibly a one-man band: "If the frame has my signature on it, you can be sure that I built it," he writes on his website. "I don't have a production line in my shop and most likely never will."
Despite being a non-profit cycling team based out of Monterey, CA, the Bella babes have a number of 'patrons', one of which is Rock Lobster for their cyclocross bikes. Kerlin's custom frame is made from Easton Scandium hydro formed tubes, a very popular choice in 'cross circles (is that an oxymoron?), with a True Temper/AlphaQ cyclocross-specific full carbon fork up front.
"It is based on my road bike, with obvious cross specific changes," says Kerlin to Cyclingnews. "It has more clearance for bigger tires, and while having a somewhat compact design, a lot of room is left to shoulder the bike. The angles are fairly similar to the road bike as well."
One of the benefits of having a bike based largely on her road steed, says Kerlin, is that it behaves like a road steed. "A little force into the pedals gives instant acceleration. No loss of power here, and the handling is superb. I can launch off a drop, or fly down a steep rutted chute with no chatter or noodling whatsoever. It is a very comfortable ride, I don't experience any vibration, thanks to the Easton Scandium tubing."
Kerlin mentions that after plenty of road racing and criterium experience the last few years, her riding style is now more attuned to the road rather than a mountain bike: "I spend lots of riding time with my hands on the hoods, it gives a more upright position and shifts my weight to the rear," she says. "No chicken levers, I am almost never up on top of the bars."
However, the Masters 30-34 national champion adds that the hoods on her 'cross bike sit a little higher than her road bike - a little extra leverage for steep ups - and after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, she's gone with a one centimeter shorter stem, most likely for that extra bit of maneuverability. "And of course smaller chainrings - same cogs though!" she quips.
The tubular wheels are key to performance, Kerlin remarks about her custom built wheels. Components are a real hodgepodge; a mix of Shimano Ultegra and Dura-Ace 9-speed, TruVativ, Thomson and SRAM are seen on Kerlin's Rock Lobster in various quantities, with Fi'zi:k's Aliante doing the honors at the rear - literally. "The best component upgrade I made this year was the [Crank Brothers] Eggbeater pedals. The technology here is head and shoulders above any other pedal on the market," Kerlin says.