Tuesday, 12 July 2011

TT Bike Project - Guest Post

One of my fellow riders at North Cheshire Clarion cycling club has just built a TT bike.  I know lots of people are going in for triathlons or TT, so I asked him if he's share his build story with the race-pace.net readers.  It's a stunning machine. 


Back in the 90's I used to Time Trial, 10's, 25's and if my memory is correct just one very painful 50. My times weren't exactly stunning but I kept plugging away on my Reynolds 653 steel framed road bike assembled from a mish-mash of components working in a clumsy sort of harmony as race, TT and training machine rolled into one. Then one day I stopped, not just racing but riding bikes altogether, I'd had enough of not improving week after week despite my very best efforts.

That was 16 years ago, now I'm back and well into my second season of obscure lay-bys and asking complete strangers to pin my numbers on! This time it was going to be different. I'd got some quality miles under my belt with my NorthCheshire Clarion club mates, I'd been having regular ramp tests so new exactly where my strengths and weaknesses were (this being money very well spent at TheEndurance Coach) and importantly, I'd set some stretching goals for 2011 – to achieve all-time Personal Bests for every distance I competed in. 

But to turn the clock back over 16 years, I'd need the right tools for the job. I didn't want to (and didn't have the cash to) buy a bike off the shelf, so 'Project Stealth' was born, a long term project to give me a TT machine on time for the 2011 season.

Time trialling is the ultimate cycling test, man and machine against the clock, the race of truth, a race with literally nowhere to hide. From my ramp tests I knew exactly how much power my 'engine' could sustain and I figured that wasting any of this energy was just plain stupid. So where to start in building a bespoke Time Trial bike to my own specification? I thought long and hard and then remembered some basic physics, I needed to start from the bottom up, to conserve the energy I produce.

Every pedal stroke is precious, every joule expended has to count, so why waste that effort with an inefficient drive train? My first, and probably most strategic choice for the bike was a Hope Ceramic Bottom Bracket. Beautifully manufactured in Barnoldswick, Lancashire, ceramic bearings replace the usual stainless steel, minimising friction in what is arguably the most important component in any bike. Whilst definitely pricey, reducing energy loss nearest to its source (my legs) seemed to be a engineering no-brainer.

Hope Ceramic Bottom Bracket
I'd already decided on and purchased (in a Summer sale, £200 off) an Argon 18 E-80 - an aluminium, carbon forked TT frame made in Canada. Extremely well finished and great looking, my thinking was that aluminium, whilst not the lightest and most fashionable choice these days, would take being loaded and unloaded into the car, week after week, without me fretting about the occasional ding.

With the frame and bottom bracket sorted, next was the drive train itself. For me the choice was simple, go top end, go Shimano Dura-Ace. Again, why waste energy with inefficient shifting? There was absolutely no way I could afford new, so what started as a quick smash and grab online, became an epic eBay trawl. 

I was targeting roadies who were undertaking winter upgrades, their low mileage, well cared for kit was locked firmly on my radar. After a good few months of late night bidding, disappointing loses and crafty wins, I'd sourced a chainset, front and rear mech, cassette and bar-end STI shifters all for under £150! An incredible bargain, and apart from a few very minor scuffs, all in excellent condition.

With the drivetrain nailed, next up, the cockpit. An integrated set-up was essential to maximise the time gains of a single unfaltering riding position, undertaking optimal gear changes with those Dura-Ace bar-end shifters. In the end I went for the 3T ProMistral carbon wing bars with aluminium tri-bars which provide the aerodynamic position necessary, picked up with a matching aluminium stem using an online discount code. Another bargain!

3T ProMistral Bars with Dura-Ace Shifters
 With the component trawl largely complete - the hardest choice was yet to be made, wheels. Tubulars or clincher, carbon or aluminium, shallow or deep section, difficult choices indeed. In the end it was a practical compromise that emerged. A online Boxing Day sale saw me bag a pair of Mavic Cosmic Carbone SL wheels, £250 off - Santa came late to our house! 

With aluminium braking surfaces and a 50mm carbon fairing these lightweight hoops spin up quickly and give the aerodynamics so essential on a TT machine. In the end I stuck with clinchers as I was familiar with them, pairing the wheels with Veloflex Master 22 tyres and featherweight Vittoria inner-tubes.

With a saddle retired from an old Felt road machine, SRAM TT brake levers and the nifty Tektro aero brakes which came free with the Argon frame, Jagwire cables completed the items necessary for the build, apart from one essential item, the chain.

This brings the component story full circle returning us to the principle of efficiency. No expense was spared here with a top of the line KMC 10 speed chain - no point having a Dura-Ace set up for it to be let down with clumsy shifting due to a dodgy chain. A few weeks waiting for a worthwhile discount code and this final item was snapped up.

After a few leisurely evenings building the bike up it was ready for its first test ride round one of my usual training haunts. What was immediately apparent was the transfer of power from my legs into immediate speed, pushing on the pedals literally made the bike leap forward. Gear changes were near seamless with Dura-Ace and whilst the bike was twitchy with its steep geometry, it was very responsive. Finally my engine had the equipment it needed!

The Completed Bike
Those first few rides threw up a few niggles with minor changes needed to get the tri-bar rests and length comfortable. One big problem however was the saddle. The old Felt saddle with its long nose was causing the seat post (which the option to alter the saddle angle) to slip during hard rides. Another quick eBay trip secured a nearly new Fi’zi:k Ares TT saddle, much shorter nose and ideal for the job. Problem solved.

And so into battle, armed with my new bike, Specialized TT helmet, skinsuit and overshoes, my first competition beckoned on the new bike, a ‘10’ on the D10/1 Rainford course. Boom! An all-time PB by 51 seconds, a 23:24, result!

It’s not just about the bike, it’s also about the quality miles, it’s about the careful diet, it’s about coaching and structured training. All those things have helped me achieve the goals I set myself and I’ve now secured PBs in 2011 at every distance I raced – the mid-week club 8.75 and open 10, 25 and 50 mile events – by considerable margins in each. I succeeded in turning the clock back 16 years!

What’s next? Well, the planning for 2012 has started already!

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