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sissypants

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Reply with quote  #1 
ICAN has hit another home run with their GRA02 gravel racing frame. I built up a frame a month ago and since tested it over nearly 500 miles of diverse terrain. I am very pleased with the quality, ride characteristics, competitive price, and outstanding customer service.

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KEY FEATURES

  • Aggressive geometry designed for fast riding
  • Large tire clearance (up to 27.5x1.95” and 700x42C)
  • Competitive price tag
  • Fast delivery, great service, 2-year warranty
underneath - small.jpg 

The ICAN GRA02 is designed in-house with geo numbers a bit different than other offerings on the market. It’s molded from stiff Toray 700 carbon fiber and weighs just under 1.5kg in a size 56cm, including hardware. ICAN includes a proprietary expander seatpost clamp and carbon seatpost with the frame, as well as a derailleur hanger. The internal routing is tidy, with a removable sliding port underneath the bottom bracket making it easy to shove cables through in either direction. The ports on the headtube are positioned normally, making for a setup that’s as clean as the average frame out there.

ICAN has designed the frame around a 2x drivetrain, though the mounting bracket can be removed. The chainstays and fork are shaped to fit big gravel-friendly rubber, up to a recommended width of 700x42C or 27.5x1.95”, with margin for experimentation.

GEOMETRY
There are several cyclocross frame options on the Chinese market, but based on geometry, aesthetics, and my preference for original design, I quickly zeroed in on the relatively obscure ICAN GRA02 and the mega-popular CFR505. I was looking for aggressive race geometry that could deliver fast and comfortable rides even on grumpy roads, quite like the 2018 Salsa Warbird.

I did not consider the 3T Exploro knock-off cloned by Tideace due to awful experiences with their products and their service, not to mention other issues people have had with this frame.
Geometry pic.png 
The GRA02 wheelbase is ~20mm longer than the CFR505 due to a 10mm longer chainstay and ~5mm longer reach, despite a ~1o steeper HTA. This fit on the GRA02 should encourage a more aggressive riding position and provide better stability in the sprints than the CFR505. Conversely, the CFR505 should outperform the GRA02 at endurance riding.

The 2018 Warbird geo appears quite different than both the CFR505 and GRA02 at first glance, but when the frames are superimposed, the key contact points on the Warbird and GRA02 are positioned similarly. For instance, compare the sum of fork length and headtube length, the seat tube angle and toptube effective length, or the sum of chainstay length and reach to the wheelbase. The seat tube angle is a bit less steep on the GRA02, however. I did away with all spacers and used a -17o riser stem to get the handlebars positioned down as low as I wanted them.

RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
I reached out to Linda at ICAN bikes to learn more about the R&D process leading up to the GRA02. I didn’t get an indoctrinating marketing spiel in the likeness of Spesh, C-dale, or Big Giant, but did collect evidence of a vast spectrum of marketing prowess within the industry. The R&D process I learned about is unflinchingly customer- and quality-focused, but candidly reliant on innovation by industry pioneers.

Here’s what Linda kindly shared, edited for English:

What were your goals when designing the GRA02 frame?
We wanted to meet our customer requests for a gravel-specific frame that can handle a variety of road conditions and meet the requirements of different riders.

How do you structure your research and development at ICAN? What engineering, design, and testing is needed to take a frame from an idea to a product that’s ready to ship?
Our R&D team follows 5 steps. First, based on market demand, we do market research to see what products will be the most popular based on sales in the last year. We look at what features, performance, and aesthetics customers like, and of course and most importantly, quality. Then we draw pictures, design, solicit customer opinions, mold, test, run actual test rides, and evaluate. After rigorous testing we solicit customer opinions again to further optimize and perfect the products to meet customer requirements. Finally, we put the product into mass production, optimizing it yet again and again. After designing, small batch production, and testing, it takes about half of a year until sales are ready to be launched.

What’s next? Do you have any new gravel or road models coming soon?
We are updating the professional AC388 cyclocross frame with a 60cm size to meet the heights of very large riders. In terms of new road models, we have begun the R&D process for a new super light disc road frame that will succeed our A2 design.

top - small.jpg 

RIDE IMPRESSIONS

I’ve been enjoying my time on the GRA02. I like taking Strava KOMs and this thing is up to the job. The bike has seen huge climbslots of gravelrails to trailsloamy double-track, and flat tarmac.

Compliance on gravel and rough tarmac is remarkable. The frame absorbs vibrations on rough surfaces while staying laterally stiff on the sprints. Carbon drop bars and 700x38C rubber helps, but the frame still absorbs the bump brunt. However, the compliance isn’t quite enough on technical singletrack to make it the steed of choice. This, however, is not what I expected from this bike.

Climbing is also very efficient, thanks to a relatively light setup. The bike delivered on an 80-mile HC assault on Mt. Mitchell, just doing what it had to do and meeting my expectations. I was never bothered by rear flex whether in or out of the saddle, and I could ride the top of the bars and stay upright comfortably. On the way down from Mt. Mitchell I chose to take a rough gravel forest road, and this was too much—a plethora of sharp stones, washed out ruts, and steep grades made for a precarious and bone-rattling experience.

On steep and long descents, the low top tube helps achieve a nice “top tube safe” aero tuck. This is a challenging position on many bikes due to the top tube height, but it just clicked on this bike.

I weigh 167lbs at 6’2” and ride mostly gravel roads, some two-track and hard-packed singletrack.

LOGISTICS
Cost. ICAN is like most online vendors and quotes only on demand. I encourage negotiating if you have any leverage. Their prices are competitive compared to the rest of the market, but the service and quality they provide is more than worth any extra penny you may find yourself spending. Less risk, more satisfaction, better quality, better service, and faster shipping. I recommend using a PayPal balance and the friend method to avoid all fees, just let them know that’s what your doing so they don’t upcharge your invoice by 4.5% to account for PayPal fees on their end.

Shipping. It took just two and a half weeks to get to my door after payment even with the custom paint job! ICAN handled import duties at their discretion and packaged everything excellently.

design-4.png 

Pai
nt. Linda at ICAN was a pleasure to work with, and after a few emails we came up with this Salsa Cutthroat-inspired design. It turned out nicely except that the gradient was quite abrupt. For reference, this 4-color paint job cost $110. Note that you can get a metallic glitter look integrated into quite a few paints, though it’s not a typical Pantone code.


glitter - small.jpg 

ABOUT ICAN

I’m a repeat ICAN customer but have also worked with three other companies in the past (Pro-Mance, Tideace, and Angle Sports). ICAN is my favorite. I can email at any time of any day and get a reply usually within minutes and at most within 8 hours. These agents must either work from home or put in impressively long days and weekends. They honor warranty excellently—I once broke a chainstay due to riding an overly wide tire and they immediately sent two rear triangles by EMS express, painted to color. That was a surprise! Communication is also excellent, I have never had a “misunderstanding” with them over three separate purchases.

BUILD KIT
The frame requires a press-fit bottom bracket, tapered headset, 12x100mm front hub, 12x142mm rear hub, quick-release style 12x142mm rear axle and 12x100mm front axle, and a 27.5mm round seatpost. The seatpost and proprietary expanding clamp is included with the frame, and I recommend getting at least their rear axle since they were unsure of the thread pitch when I asked. You can use your own seatpost if desired. You may ask for an extra derailleur hanger just to be safe.

The cockpit features my favorite padded carbon 134g $30 saddle, a great set of carbon aero drop bars, the ICAN-supplied seatpost, Cane Creek 40 tapered integrated headset, thick and super-cheap bar tape, and XTR SPD pedals.

I highly recommend ICAN wheels as they are great value. However, I kept things very affordable and had Velocity build a set. A $160 pair of 29er double-wall hookless ultralight carbon rims from a ridiculous sale was laced to $70 Hope-esque CNC machined hubs (PM me if you want a pair) with DT Swiss Competition spokes and alloy nipples. Yep, that’s a <1450g wheelset for <$400 including the build fee. I needed to get a Velofuze 12mm-15mm axle shim for the front hub which is inconvenient, but it’s nice having wheels that I can run on my MTB as well.

drivetrain - small.jpg 

For the drivetrain, I chose a 42T oval WolfTooth cinch chainring to Race Face Next SL crank arms, a wide-range SRAM XG-1195 10-42T cassette, and SRAM Force 1x11 shifters and a SRAM Rival 1 11s long-cage derailleur. I transferred my crankset from my 29er and still love it just as much. I preferred a Rival 1 derailleur over a Force 1 derailleur because it’s just 8g heavier and was said to perform equally well and saves $100. I've been having shifting issues, however, and regret not going with a Force derailleur. I really don’t need as much range as the cassette has to offer--I never used the 42T cog even while climbing Mt. Mitchell. SRAM Force flat-mount brakes and Ashima AI2 discs handle stopping duties. Contrary to popular rumor, Ashima AI2 rotors are simply the best, won't bust up your brake pads, weigh less than anything else, cost less than almost anything else, and pack plenty of power.

For your reference, my build weighs 17.5 lbs.

POTENTIAL LIMITATIONS
Although I’m very impressed overall, I noticed room for a few minor improvements. First, there is no 1x-specific option. The mounting bracket for the front derailleur screws into a flat surface molded right into the frame, meaning even if you remove the mounting bracket you’re still left with an awkward space. I suspect we will not be seeing 1x-specific options in the Asian market before model year 2020.

Second, it would be ideal to spec a seatpost with a more robust saddle mounting mechanism. I should not mount a saddle with oval carbon rails using this mechanism, but I did anyway. There are some scary creaking noises when I slam down on it.

The rear dropouts are not compatible with Burley’s steel hitch, which means my wife now does the pulling on family rides.

Finally, there aren’t rack mounts, which does limit what this bike can be used for. I’ve settled for a front triangle frame bag.

rear - small.jpg 

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s0ldats

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Reply with quote  #2 
thank you for this comprehensive review! 
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heybrady

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Reply with quote  #3 
Great looking bike and great write up. Question: at 6'2" wasn't this bike too small?  I am the same height and ride a 58 usually (top tube 575-585).  Side note: the china carbon manufacturers dont like to make big bikes. Usually the largest size is not even a true 58.
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sissypants

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Reply with quote  #4 
Quote:
Originally Posted by heybrady
Great looking bike and great write up. Question: at 6'2" wasn't this bike too small?  I am the same height and ride a 58 usually (top tube 575-585).  Side note: the china carbon manufacturers dont like to make big bikes. Usually the largest size is not even a true 58.


The bike fits me fine, a 58cm would have worked as well.  I run the seat quite high, but I like having the bars low relative to my hips so I don't mind. If the top tube were a bit longer I might run a shorter stem, I'm happy with that length.

I've had nearly 10 Chiner frames and the seat tubes all measured exactly as advertised, so I'm surprised you've found that not to be the case.  Was there a specific manufacturer you were thinking of?  Geo numbers have always been right on for me.
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CyclingClyde

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Reply with quote  #5 
great build and write up. 

I was wondering the same thing about the frame sizing...according to the ICAN geometry chart, the seat tube length (center of BB to top of seattube/clamp) is quite short for the corresponding frame size. For your 54cm frame, that dimension is listed as 48cm, maybe thats what Heybrady is referring to? I am about your height too, (6'2"+) and usually am on 58cm+ frame but ICAN listed seat tube C-T for their 58cm frame as 52cm. that leaves a whole lot of seat post for my 80.5cm saddle height; on top of that, the provided seatpost is only 300mm so I might need to see if they can provide a longer one depending. 

Whats your bb-to-saddle height and how much seatpost do you have exposed?

Very interested in this frame but that is what's holding me back. 
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sissypants

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Reply with quote  #6 
Quote:
Originally Posted by CyclingClyde
great build and write up. 

I was wondering the same thing about the frame sizing...according to the ICAN geometry chart, the seat tube length (center of BB to top of seattube/clamp) is quite short for the corresponding frame size. For your 54cm frame, that dimension is listed as 48cm, maybe thats what Heybrady is referring to? I am about your height too, (6'2"+) and usually am on 58cm+ frame but ICAN listed seat tube C-T for their 58cm frame as 52cm. that leaves a whole lot of seat post for my 80.5cm saddle height; on top of that, the provided seatpost is only 300mm so I might need to see if they can provide a longer one depending. 

Whats your bb-to-saddle height and how much seatpost do you have exposed?

Very interested in this frame but that is what's holding me back. 


Great point, I'll measure this when I get a chance (likely Friday evening or Saturday) but unfortunately it's in the shop right now because I stuck my derailleur into the spokes yesterday evening. I do have a lot of seatpost exposed (I know I run my seatpost at the 255mm mark), but I don't mind because I like sitting on my low top tube on the fast descents and I like having the bars very low.
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CyclingClyde

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Reply with quote  #7 
Thanks Sissypants! Crappy to hear about the derailleur [frown]

I don't mind exposed seat post, just have to watch minimum insertion.  

What tires are you running? I couldn't find it in your build info. 
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sissypants

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Reply with quote  #8 
Quote:
Originally Posted by CyclingClyde
Thanks Sissypants! Crappy to hear about the derailleur [frown]

I don't mind exposed seat post, just have to watch minimum insertion.  

What tires are you running? I couldn't find it in your build info. 


I'm running Maxxis Rambler 700x38C.  They have been a fantastic tire on gravel of all sorts, a little slow on pavement, but not quite enough on doubletrack. No punctures and at this point that's quite amazing to me.

I live in Grand Rapids, MI where gravel rides are the in-thing, and Schwalbe G-One's are the popular choice by far, with Ramblers a distant second. I may try G-One's soon.
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heybrady

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Reply with quote  #9 
Quote:
Originally Posted by CyclingClyde
great build and write up. 

I was wondering the same thing about the frame sizing...according to the ICAN geometry chart, the seat tube length (center of BB to top of seattube/clamp) is quite short for the corresponding frame size. For your 54cm frame, that dimension is listed as 48cm, maybe thats what Heybrady is referring to? I am about your height too, (6'2"+) and usually am on 58cm+ frame but ICAN listed seat tube C-T for their 58cm frame as 52cm. that leaves a whole lot of seat post for my 80.5cm saddle height; on top of that, the provided seatpost is only 300mm so I might need to see if they can provide a longer one depending. 

Whats your bb-to-saddle height and how much seatpost do you have exposed?

Very interested in this frame but that is what's holding me back. 


Yes, this is exactly what I'm talking about.  I run my saddle 80cm from the BB, so in this case the 350mm seatpost that comes standard would not actually be able to work in this bike (just 80mm of insertion depth).   The long seatpost exposure does not bother me in and of itself (used to it by now on all my bikes) but 52 ST seems excessively short.
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sissypants

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Reply with quote  #10 
Uh oh, folks. Let me preface this by saying I tend to be a very rough rider and go through parts like nobody else. I went OTB on Tuesday and sent my derailleur into the spokes, bent the hanger back, and completed a 40 mile ride. After taking off the hanger, I noticed this crack in the chainstay at the dropout:

IMG_1147.jpg 
It seems like it's through several layers of carbon and may not affect my ride safety, but if it spreads I'll have to submit a warranty claim and stop riding.

I have two hangers now on order from ICAN for $28 ($16 for the hangers, the rest in shipping and PayPal fees).

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CyclingClyde

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Reply with quote  #11 
Oh, that sucks. Hopefully it doesn't propagate. 
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