FEATURES: HOLLAND EXOGRID
August 23, 2011


Holland Bikes is a name you’ve probably never heard before, and that’s not surprising since the 50 or so frames that annually come out of Bill Holland’s San Diego shop are hardly enough to satisfy the brand’s cult like following in Southern California—let alone make a name on a national level. But with some recently hired hands to help grow the brand, Holland is hoping to double the amount of frames hitting the streets in 2011.

Bill Holland’s frame business began in 1976 after studying the craft under the godfather of American custom frame building, Albert Eisentraut. Originally building lugged steel bikes, Holland switched his material of choice to titanium during the early ’90s. Although the titanium tubes that Hollands are built with haven’t necessarily changed much over the past two decades, what’s in them has changed.



THE FRAME

Holland is one of only three builders licensed to use the titanium/carbon-fused
tubing called ExoGrid. The process involves taking a titanium tube and strategically laser-cutting the majority of the tube wall away in diamond patterns, and then co-molding carbon fiber in the tube. What you end up with are Ti tubes that are greatly reduced in weight, while the inlaid carbon adds vibration damping and torsional stiffness that the metal tubing doesn’t have on its own.

When a frame is ordered from Holland, a lot of work is done long before a weld is ever laid. After getting the customer into his fit studio or following phone consultations, Bill creates a blueprint for the new frame.

“Some people know exactly what they’re looking for in geometry and ride characteristics of a frame, others don’t. So I talk them through what kind of riding they plan to do: racing, touring or whatever. And then I take into consideration rider weight and frame stiffness to choose the right tubes for the frame. It’s a very hands-on approach to making sure my customers get exactly the frame they’re looking for,” explains Holland.

Our Holland test bike had a svelte 35mm top tube and seat tube, with a 38mm downtube held together by beautiful TIG-welded beads. Adding to the carbon on the frame were Reynolds carbon seat stays to help with vibration damping. The bike was built with a 72.5-degree head tube and seat tube with a 55.7cm top tube. But, since all Holland bikes have custom geometry, customers get exactly what they want.

Our test frame had a claimed weight of around 1200 grams. And although a rideable Holland frame has tipped the scales at 660 grams, Bill doesn’t like to go below the 1000-gram mark because he believes the ride quality suffers below that point. There are few limits to the frames that Bill Holland can create. Case in point: the 70cm frame he built for 7- foot-tall basketball legend Bill Walton.

THE PARTS

With the exception of Shimano’s posh $4000 Di2 electronic group, the parts that the Holland came dressed in were oriented more for function over flash. As always, the shifting and braking of Shimano’s high-end group leaves nothing to be desired. The shifter’s wires are elegantly routed in the frame, keeping the downtube free from any cables cluttering the ExoGrid’s distinctive looks. While the wires are neatly hidden out of sight, what’s not out of sight is the battery pack that is conspicuously mounted under the down tube’s water bottle cage—a consequence of the electronic group. Dura-Ace 7900 50/34 compact cranks paired with a Dura-Ace 11-25 cassette give the Holland ideal gearing for all-around riding.

A perfect example of Holland’s detail and custom work are the wheels. DT 240 hubs with Kinlin rims are hand-built using DT Aerolite spokes and have been tied and soldered where the spokes cross, creating a laterally stiffer wheel. The front end gets a custom-made sub-400-gram carbon fork made specifically for Holland Bikes by Mike Lopez, one of the original founders of Reynolds Composites. The rest of the build included a Fizik Aliante saddle mounted to an Easton EC-70 carbon seatpost. A carbon-wrapped alloy stem holds a pair of FSA SL-K handlebars. And, the Holland has a Chris King 1-1/8-inch headset.

Holland bikes have been hard to come by in the past, but as production gets bumped up, more people will be able to experience the ExoGrid’s synergy of titanium and carbon.




THE RIDE

When was the last time we tested a titanium bike? Too long ago to remember. Out of the last hundred or so bikes that have come through the RBA office door, approximately 85 percent of them have been carbon fiber, 10 percent aluminum, 3 percent steel, and now, both bamboo and titanium get a 1-percent share. After riding the Holland, it’s apparent it’s been too long since we talked about the material with an atomic number of 22.

The bike’s relaxed geometry made it easy to ride; even with our hands off the bars, the front end was stable and balanced. Descending and cornering on the Holland wasn’t a test of mettle; the steering was consistent through corners, giving it an even flow without feeling like you’re on rails. It had pop, tempered with comfort. Someone looking for a race bike would want to go with a slightly more aggressive geometry, but for non-racers looking for a great all around feel, we wouldn’t stray too far from how ours was built.

The Holland’s lateral stiffness wasn’t as good as some of the full carbon bikes we’ve tested of late, but was still enough to feel peppy when jumping hard for a town-sign sprint. It wasn’t until we hit the rough country roads that the Holland distanced itself from the pack. It seemed that as the roads got rougher, the Holland got smoother. We found ourselves looking for the roughest roads in the area to keep testing the Holland’s road-smoothing characteristics.

You’ve been forewarned: if you get a Holland, you might be aiming for every chewed-up road you can locate, and thus find yourself riding alone.

THE VERDICT

At nearly $5000, the frame is definitely not for everyone. But the 100 or so customers this year that decide it is for them will be treated to a bike that leaves little reason to be replaced in the next decade. Owing to the durability of titanium, this is a frame that could see a couple of component groups come and go before ever needing replacing. While
molded carbon frames have plenty of attributes of their own, it’s nice to have the option to have a frame built exactly how you want it. The ExoGrid tubes provide a nice balance of both carbon and titanium merits.


PUNCH LINES

• Di2, clean wire routing, ugly battery
• Gorgeous welds that are all too uncommon these days
• ExoGrid brings out the best in both carbon and titanium

STATS

Price: $4700 frame w/ Reynolds carbon seat stays; $4400 with Ti seat stays;
$10,000 bike as tested
Weight: 16.1 pounds
Sizes: Custom only
Holland Cycles

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