Back in 2008 I fairly abruptly switched from mountain biking to road riding. A fortnight of touring loomed over me, a final opportunity before having kids: the itch in need of a scratch, which your wife thinks will be a matter of “getting it out of your system” when in reality it’s a matter of getting addicted to something new. What goes on tour would very much like to stay on tour.
Fast forward a year to parenthood and touring was firmly off the menu. But there was still that addiction, that desire to draw a big line from A to B on a map and ride it.
Two years later still, I kicked off Le Jour de France, concocted for this specific purpose: a big ride, a new one each year, without the need for a fortnight away from home. With it came the need to ride through the night, and the need to fit in “training” (ha) rides at less family-compromising times: early in the mornings, and through all manner of unsociable hours in the winter.
That means having a bike that’s fit for riding in all weathers, in all light conditions, for hours on end. My longest ride so far (and I have bigger plans for this bike) has been just under 600km; it involved about 25 hours in the saddle, and for that sort of ride everything has to be just right. The compromise between comfort and efficiency is important. And that’s not just a rational measure of efficiency, but a perceived measure: when you’re 300km down and staring at the same again before you can finally crawl under a duvet, you don’t want to feel as if your effort’s being even slightly wasted.
Throughout this time I’ve been well served by two bikes: a Cannondale CAAD9 and a Surly Pacer. The former is just about perfect from the point of view of ride qualities—it feels like not a drop of output from the legs is wasted, and it’s supremely comfortable—but it’s not well suited to the rigours of foul weather. The Pacer fares rather better, packing mudguards and a dynohub, but it’s 3kg (6.5lb) heavier and lacks the stiffness that befits a 6’5″, 90kg rider: there’s always the awareness that things would be slightly easier on the Cannondale. On top of that, neither are disc brake compatible, and I like discs: the lack of filthy sludge all over the tyres and rims is actually the main reason (it’s something that makes fixing a puncture in the middle of a wet winter’s night even less pleasant, especially if you’re wearing your best gear and don’t want it to acquire permanent black stripes), but the lack of rim wear, greater tyre clearance and—of course—improved braking in most conditions are all wins for discs.
So, I wanted to avoid having to choose between all-weather capability and pleasing efficiency. And the only way to do that was to try and somehow build something which was the best of both worlds: to blend the best of these two bikes into one.
With a 40th birthday fast approaching (and now having sailed past) I figured it was time to do something about it. If I’m having a mid-life crisis then this is—I think—its sole material manifestation.
The challenge, then: something as fast and efficient as the Cannondale, but as weatherproof as the Surly. Something that would be as suitable a tool for the 50km sprint home from work on a summer’s evening as for a 200km nocturnal winter slog or a 600km epic. Something fairly stiff and fairly light, but still with mudguards, dynamo lighting and disc brakes. And something not hideously expensive.
And, the factor that made a challenging task almost impossible: something meeting my geometry requirements of a roughly 61cm top tube combined with (ideally) a 72 degree seat angle and a 73 degree head angle. The top tube requirement alone rules out vast swathes of bikes: once you go over 60cm, you’re pretty much looking at American brands or custom builds. And, boy, did I look.
So let’s see what I found.
Shutter Precision PD-8 dynamo hub; DT Swiss 350 rear hub; Shimano XT skewers; DT Swiss Revolution and Competition spokes; DT Swiss black steel and gold aluminium nipples; Sun Ringlé Inferno 23 rims, 32h; Schwalbe rim tape; Continental Grand Prix 4000S II Reflex tyres, 25mm.
The wheels are one of the key parts of any build, but rarely is that more so than when a dynohub is involved.
Normally my hub decision would be easy: Shimano XT front and rear. I like cup-and-cone hubs. But I wanted the weight savings of the SP hub, and since that was gloss black with a 6-bolt mount, an XT rear (matte black and Centerlock) wouldn’t have matched. So, after some deliberation, I ended up with the DT Swiss 350. Hubs was the one area where I ended up spending a bit more money that I felt I really ought to, so let’s hope they perform well.
Had I built these wheels a few months later, I probably would have used Velocity Blunt SL rims: at 410g they’re about as light as a moderately wide-profile aluminium rim is going to get, and they’re not hideously expensive. But I hadn’t discovered those when I started this build, so I used Inferno 23s. I’ve used these before and been happy with them. At 460g they’re still pretty light for a reasonably wide rim, and at £30 each they’re a bargain. To top it off, the stickers peel off with no residue, leaving a stealth look. They’re taped with Schwalbe tape, which is tough but thin, making for slightly easier tyre removal.
The tyres are GP4000S: I wouldn’t use anything else. The current ones are 25mm because they’re what I had lying around, but—although I normally prefer narrow road tyres in spite of current trends for slightly wider ones—I might venture to 28mm now I’m using wider rims. (Actually, I confess: I’m also contemplating trying out the Compass Stampede Pass.)
The spokes are DT Swiss: a mix of Revolution (front wheel except for disc side leading spokes, plus rear disc side trailing) and Competition (rear wheel except for disc side trailing spokes, plus front disc side leading) in black, with black steel nipples on the front disc side and rear drive side, and gold aluminium nipples on the remaining spokes. This was the best way of ending up with a uniform pattern front and rear without using aluminium nipples on the most highly stressed spokes. Once it’s spinning and catching the light it looks good from the cockpit, which is enough for me.
This is one of the little pleasures of building your own wheels: being able to pick every last part of the build, right down to the aesthetic details. (Though to be fair I’d originally wanted gold hubs, but couldn’t find a suitable pairing.)
Time Atac XC8 pedals; SRAM Rival OCT GPX chainset, 175mm 39/53; KNC X10-EL gold chain; Shimano Ultegra 6700 cassette, 12-30; Shimano Sora front and rear mechs; Shimano 105 5700 STI levers; Jagwire Racer XL gold cables.
This is stuff that all just works. The Rival OCT chainset is a favourite of mine: aesthetically it’s perfect for this build, and the GPX system has never once creaked on me (unlike Shimano’s Hollowtech 2, which has always done so). I’ve always got on better with standard chainsets (or triples) than compact; normally I’ve used 12-27 cassettes but I’ve gone for a 12-30 in anticipation of gradually throwing more hills into the really long rides.
The 105 shifters were already kicking about so while black would have been the ideal choice, I settled for the silver ones that I already had. Both derailleurs are Sora, which may seem a bland choice for a special build, but it’s black, it shifts just fine, and the rear handles the 30T cassette. And it’s as cheap as chips.
The decision to use Atac pedals was a fairly easy one. Firstly because they’re easy to clip into, making busy junctions safer to pull away from, but also because of considerations off the bike. Big rides involve more stops for all sorts of reasons, and often I’ll take a train halfway across the country and ride back. Road shoes are terrible for walking in, and once you’ve got some recessed-cleat shoes with sufficiently stiff soles there’s little if any advantage to be had from a road system.
TRP Spyre, 160mm front and rear; Jagwire Racer XL gold cables.
I’ve always used either Avid BB7s or TRP Spyres on road and CX bikes, and what I like about Spyres is the ease of adjusting for pad wear: a simple barrel adjustment is sufficient for the most part. They’re a little more fiddly to set up than BB7s, but a little less fiddly to live with after that. Both brakes seem equally effective, and despite what some others say I find them comparable with hydraulics. One thing I’ve noticed is that hydraulic systems have always seemed more prone to squeal than cable systems; maybe this is just coincidence, but I’ve never had squealing cable disc brakes.
One thing that can be problem with Spyres, however, is clearance against the spokes on the front wheel. In this case I had to shim the rotor out to avoid the caliper fouling the spokes, and there was only just enough leeway in the caliper mounting to cope with it.
Ritchey WCS Pro bar, 44cm; Ritchey WCS Pro stem, 13cm; Fizik Superlight Soft Touch tape.
I’ve always liked Ritchey’s bars and stems for combining decent conservative aesthetics with light weight, and the WCS Pro kit is no exception.
I’m less enamoured with the Fizik bar tape, though. It feels very nice, but it’s hard to get a decent wrap with this stuff: whilst it seems fairly strong, it doesn’t seem terribly elastic, and getting round the bends and levers without uncomfortable folds in the edges is a real challenge. I ended up concentrating on this so much that I hadn’t noticed I’d wrapped the right-hand side with—as you can see above—the cables too far towards the top of the bar, so I’ll have to redo that side. Bah.
Selle Italia Flite Trans Am saddle; Race Face Deus XC seatpost.
No question what the saddle would be: I’ve been using these things for 25 years now. As for the post: the Deus XC is long, fairly light, and has one of the best clamps in the business.
Busch & Müller Cyo Premium 80 and Secula Plus.
I had the option of using a Luxos U for this build, but the Cyo Premium is smaller and lighter, and puts out at least as good a beam. It lacks the USB charging, but in reality I’m not hugely convinced by the Luxos’s charging. For tours, yes, but for big rides it’s arguably better to use an external battery.
The Secula is a great rear light: more effective than the old Seculite, and nicer-looking to boot. My only issue here is that I drilled the guard a little further up than I should have, so the light is angled slightly upwards. Oops. This is what happens when you’re fitting workshop time in around children rather than having time to double check everything…
I have a plan to build a switched main beam using a second Cyo, as well. Watch this space…
Radial Cycles Avert Pro mudguards; Rainy Day Biking Stealth mudflaps.
Originally I’d planned on using SKS Chromoplastic P35s, but they wouldn’t have been a great aesthetic match for this bike. PDW Full Metal Fenders were under consideration, too, but they’re expensive and even though the anodized finish is very nice, again it’s not a perfect match.
Then I happened to spot the Radials: £20 a pair, black aluminium, with black stays. (Adjustable stays, too, so they can be positioned for optimum stability.) Sold. There are, however, two issues: one is that the nominal widths are way off—I’m using the 45mm version which is actually 37mm wide—and the other is that they have quite poor coverage: there are no mudflaps, and the front in particular is rather short.
So a drill and a pair of Rainy Day Biking flaps were called for. These are the “Stealth” model, which are black but retro-reflective. Neat.
I have one remaining adjustment to make, in that the mounting bracket for the front guard is a little short and the guard sits a little too far from the wheel at the crown: if I can get the slot milled to be a little longer then I can drop it down to a better position.
Other parts and accessories
FSA Orbit headset; unbranded seatclamp, Radial Cycles bottle cages; Lezyne Road Drive Medium pump.
Let’s face it, these are all aesthetically-driven choices. But why not? It’s all in the details.
Trek Crossrip LTD, 61cm.
I think this is something of a hidden gem.
For a start, the aesthetics of this frame are exactly what I was after. Its styling is rather conventional—the tubing profiles are mostly round, for instance—but it has a couple of neat but distinctive details, such as the bulge in the head tube which meets the correspondingly-profiled top tube. Speaking of the top tube, it’s tapered and quite narrow, which not only makes for good knee clearance but also should in theory provide some compliance in the ride. Far preferable to the wide sections often seen on hydroformed frames.
It has a BSA bottom bracket shell and takes a straight 1 1/8″ steerer, which is all good. The headset is an integrated type; I can’t help having natural reservations about that design, but I have to concede that in 8 years’ use on the Cannondale it’s not been a problem, so I can live with it.
The geometry is almost unique in just about ticking all my boxes. The 60.9cm top tube is pretty much the exact length I was after, and the parallel 72.5 degree angles are right on the boundary of what I wanted: any steeper in the seat angle and I’d have had difficulty getting my saddle positioned correctly; any slacker in the head angle and I’d have been hankering for livelier steering.
Many “all road” (call it what you will) style bikes have rather high front ends that put them out of contention for my purposes, but the Crossrip is low enough: for now I have a spacer under the stem but once I’m back to more regular riding this may well be replaced with a smaller one.
Add to that a rear end that’s neither too long nor too short and it’s a rare example of a compromise that works well for all of its intended uses: I have another Crossrip built as a cross bike, and at no point—whether on the tarmac or on the dirt—have I yet found myself thinking, “you know, a different bike would work better here”. And that’s unusual.
The Crossrip uses internal cable routing, which I was initially rather ambivalent about, but the nice thing about this implementation is the large opening at the bottom of the down tube: from here, the gear cables are fed out with ease; only the rear brake cable must be passed back out through a guide hole, and once you’ve found a good strategy, that’s not so hard. The real bonus is that there’s enough space to take the lighting cable into the frame with the brake cable and then out under the bottom bracket, which is a welcome bit of tidiness: I like external cables, but electrical wiring routed along a normal down tube is always an ugly affair.
The frame itself weighs in at around 1760g, with the fork at 593g. Some googling suggests that these are, respectively, around 250g and 50g heavier than my CAAD9, which isn’t bad considering the Crossrip is built for laden touring and off-road riding. I was expecting the frame to be 150g or so heavier than it is, if I’m honest, so to have such a reasonable weight on something reassuringly beefy is a result.
Coming from the Cannondale and the Surly I was initially unsure about the aesthetics of a compact frame, but when I was drawing up custom frames on Bikecad I realised that more exposed seatpost means not only more compliance in the ride but also more space to mount things: a backup light, a rear-facing camera, and a post pack (you can see the the Rixen & Kaul Klickfix block mounted just above the gold seatpost clamp). So for big road rides a compact frame makes a great deal of sense.
At £500 I think this frameset is impressive value, considering I was largely weighing it up against custom steel and titanium options which would have cost between two and four times that. It might be a Chinese-built jack-of-all-trades from a major manufacturer, but it just works, no matter what you throw at it. And, unusually for a jack-of-all-trades, it doesn’t just work, but works well.
There we are. I’m not sure how intentional it was (my original plans had been for black and red) but it’s ended up as more than a nod to the Raleigh Record Sprint (and also the Lotus 72), which I recall ogling fondly in the early 80s.
The full bike (as shown here including pump, cages etc) weighs in at a bit under 10.7kg, or 23.5lb. For a fully-kitted out bike of this size, it’s not so bad. And there are other factors that are more important than weight. I actually started out with a full Crossrip Elite bike (long story) which weighed 11.12kg in its stock form, so to shave 0.4kg off that while adding mudguards, dynamo lighting and some accessories, isn’t bad going.
It’s 1.6kg more than the Cannondale and 1.3kg less than the Surly: a little heavier than the halfway point of 10.5kg that I’d hoped to get under, but not much. There aren’t any obvious places to save weight without spending a pile of cash or having to rebuild the wheels (or resorting to cheap, unbranded Chinese carbon components). This was never intended to be a really expensive bike: hubs aside, there’s been a tight eye on the point of diminishing returns at all times.
All that remains now, really, is to ride it.
Better get on with that, then.