|Just don't tell Darth about the bits Malone did|
I've spoken to a number of cyclists over the years who wax lyrical about their bike collections. When I started riding, the thought of having more than one bike seemed overly extravagent. But after seeing the pride of my fleet (of one) take on the british weather, all year round, I started to think seriously about getting another bike.
|Ultegra groupset. Schwalbe Ultremo tyres. Intrepid wheels. What could go wrong?|
Eventually I got a Charge Plug (fixie) for riding to work. It helped the Trek keep her looks for another year or two. But after another couple of harsh winters, she was starting to really show her age.
And my eye started to wander. Our long-distance relationship has been kinder to me than her. With each passing mile I tone up whilst she gets a bit .... looser in places, creakier and crankier. The demands for replacement parts is steady and continuous. But however I try to stem the ageing process, there's no escaping the fact my beautiful Trek has seen better days.
|My Trek's better days included modelling|
After long consideration I decided to go for a "cheap chinese carbon frame" (CCCF for short). My reasons were simple enough. I don't have enough money to go out and purchase a brand new, Ultegra-equipped, branded carbon bike. I also had enough contacts to facilitate the building of a bike. I know a bit about building bits of bikes, and Steve Malone (aka "The Terminator" from previous articles) knows the rest.
As luck would have it, and this is the main reason I went ahead with the purchase, Steve had already bought and built up his own CCCF. I hadn't seen it, but he was happy with it and had ridden 800 miles without any structural issues. These were powerful words of reassurance as internet forums are dotted with plackard-bearing doomsayers citing 3rd party stories of broken bikes and maimed riders. I wasn't really concerned about these negative forum comments as none appeared to have evidence of an actual bike actually breaking. Steve on the other hand owns a CCCF and is a happy customer.
Steve is currently not in tip-top shape and at the time I emailed him was unable to move. However, he did reply with the following.
I am unable to move at present but Mrs M has perched the laptop on my chest so I can have a look though the web for some bits for you.
My frame only goes to a 58 maximum. The larger sizes are here
or here: http://outdoor-bicycle.en.alibaba.com/productgrouplist-211905475/Carbon_road_racing_frame.html#products
or here: http://flyxii.com/products_1.asp?menuid=308&id=479
They had to mould my 58 by request but once they have the mould they keep on selling the size so it does not cost more. You can try mine for size? They will prob make you a 60.
Best way to spec is open these all up and compare the prices in baskets:
Don't forget the little things like barrel adjusters etc... You will need in-line cable adjusters for internal cables. I have a lot of that sort of stuff here so can sell it to you cheaper than these dudes.
Campag lasts longest and you can replace small parts cheaply instead of entire units. Hoods are meant to be best, I don't like thumb shift, make sure you get campy wheels or compatible hub.
Shimano is heaviest but takes least maintenance. Fairly reliable, easy to get parts and interchanges with most other brands. Sram is lightest and cheapest but takes most fettling to keep it sweet and wears out in shitty weather. Sram do make best cranks and the BB's last longer than Shimano. Shimano and sram mix except for rear mechs and shifters, campy is exclusive. Don't rule out Microshift as up and coming, their top end stuff is strong and light, works with Shimano.
wheel guys: http://cycletaiwan.com/
As usual, the information he provided set me some tracks upon which to travel. The issue with 58cm or 60cm had been rattling around in my head from the moment I decided to buy another bike. My Trek is 60cm and I am 6'2" in old money. After years on the Trek I was coming round to the idea of a smaller frame as I felt I could fit on one. That's as scientific as it got. Naturally I wanted to ride the smallest frame possible to shave grams off the overall weight. It's easier to do that than eat less pies.
I decided on a Flyxii frame with a large headtube in 58cm. I did ask Flyxii to build a 60cm frame but they clearly don't see a market for that frame size. So if you're particularly larger than me, expect to pay for the custom build, if they consider it worthwhile going any bigger than 58cm.
I placed the order and on a whim ordered some very shiny one-piece carbon handlebars for around £80. I checked with Flyxii and they promised that they would send a headset free with the frame. They also confirmed that the seat post clamp doesn't come with the bike and would need adding to the order. I added it to the order and sat at the living room window, waiting.
Ten days later the box arrived from China looking undamaged and remarkably compact. Looking at it I was dubious that it contained a frame, fork and handlebars. Not only did it look too thin, It felt empty.
I opened each seal meticulously, cutting through the tape with a steady hand. Peeling the lid open as cautiously as Indiana Jones examining booby-trapped treasure, I found the contents were indeed all present and very carbon (click here for the painstaking process)
|"Chinarello" frame and forks|
My first impression of the frame was mixed. Lifting it out of the box I was immediately impressed by the weightlessness of the components. The giveaway sign is a too-rapid lifting of the arm. All my family did the same, lifting it up faster than they expected to, followed by widened eyes and gasps of appreciation.
The second impression was that the frame was visibly cross-hatched with trademark "carbon" patterning. I didn't expect this as I had paid an extra 20 dollars to have the frame painted matte-black. I had expected a solid dusty black colour without the criss-cross markings. However, I spoke with Steve about this later and he confirmed that this is how matte-black looks on Flyxii carbon. I still prefer it over the glossy look.
The last thing I noticed, and it struck me hard as I wasn't expecting it, was the uneven layering of the "raw" carbon. Whilst the finish was smooth, and from three metres away the frame looks flawless, on closer inspection it looks patched. I guess it was my lack of knowledge about the formative process behind carbon frames which left me feeling a bit let-down. Having thought about it, I imagine all carbon frames look like this before they're liveried up with glossy paint-jobs.
The finish is distinctly patchy where the layering process mismatches the minute cross-hatching. That said, if you don't want this effect, then go for a glossy finish. Retrospectively, I would still order matte, it looks so "stealth".
And so I set about pretending to build the bike. Steve wasn't available for a few days due to not being able to move very well and getting married. But my other items, such as a complete Ultegra groupset (lurking in a big box) were sat in the back room waiting to be opened.
Now, I haven't built a complete bike before and at this juncture I can only stress that you need someone to help you if you haven't either. It's all well and good starting the build, but finishing it will require more skill and finesse than high hopes and good intentions can provide.
But as no one shouted "STOP YOU IDIOT!!!!!!!" I felt obliged to start trying to build the entire bike. And so the first thing I absolutely needed to do was go to my local bike shop, Mike Vaughan Cycles. The reason for this emergency visit was my lack of tool (or suitable household item) for knocking the first bearing onto the fork.
I wasn't to know this, but the bearing that sits on the fork, doesn't sit there. It is hammered in, quite brutally (considering what we are dealing with) using a long tube that sits over the steerer tube and onto the bearing. This allows for the application of even amounts of pressure, forcing the bearing to sit snugly on the fork. You cannot push the bearing on with your hand, I tried. How you get one off I may never know.
I went into Mikes shop and spoke with Brian. I did find when unboxing the frame that spacers don't come with it. So I asked for spacers and also asked if "ahem" they had a tool for knocking bearings onto forks. Brian popped out back with the fork, handed it to a mechanic. Three violent clangs later he emerged with the fork, bearing mounted proudly on the steerer tube.
I examined his selection of spacers and came away with three matching carbon fibre ones, adding up to more than ten quid. I returned home with all the items I would need to build the headset. Having googled this a bit, I also knew that the steerer tube would need to be measured for correct height before I would cut it, perfectly evenly, at the point where the headset would sit. I am pleased to say that having measured the spacers on my trek, and allowing for the smaller frame size, I went into this part of the build with my eyes open.
I know my limitations, and after putting the bearings into the integrated cups both below and above the front of the frame, and sliding the fork into place, I stopped and made a call.
|The functional headset comes free with the frame and forks, if you ask for it.|
|The seatpost clamp however, doesn't come for free. Make sure you order one or have one ready.|
Ted is my father-in-law. And whilst emasculating me on a daily basis with feats of DIY brilliance, he is the perfect person for asking to cut a steerer tube "flatly". He came over straight away with a hacksaw and some sandpaper. We measured, allowing 4mm of clearance from the top of the handlebars to the intended height of the steerer tube. This lack of height can appear counter-intuitive, but it allows the headset to pull the bearings upwards, resulting in a smooth and fluid headset.
After measuring twice he cut once. The cut was perfect, and after five minutes of gentle sanding the steerer tube was no longer two inches too long for my bike. After he put the sandpaper down I started breathing again.
|Cutting bits off your new bike isn't a comfortable experience. Luckily I had a Ted.|
With the wheels provisionally attached and the headset in place, it was beginning to look like a space-age concept bike. It was getting late, but I still had some skills and unused tools at my disposal.
|Without tyres,saddle and a groupset the bike is rather .. naked|
I dug into the big box of Ultegra yummies and located the bottom bracket. Having borrowed the BB tool from my mate Neil, I slid the lubed-up tubular component into place and prayed it would fit. Remarkably, the screwing action on both sides felt like fitting an airlock. It fit perfectly and tightened up without undue persuasion.
|Easy to fit, satisfying to behold. Sofa is photoshopped. I did this in the garage, naturally.|
Filled with confidence I set about fitting the handlebars and brake/gear levers. Again, this process was a flawless victory .... right up to the point where I destroyed the carbon handlebars.
And here is my first cautionary tale to the uninitiated reader: Doing stuff yourself for the first time usually results in things breaking. Sometimes it's a handlebar, sometimes it's a condom. What I did wrong, and I'm fairly sure I broke these bars, was I lubed up the steerer tube. Being used to dealing with aluminium bike parts, I thought you lubed everything.
I think the two carbon surfaces were so smooth that the lube created a micro ice-rink between them. As a result the handlebars were never going to clamp on. Furthermore, because both surfaces were carbon, the application of lubrication was really irrelevant; neither surface will ever corrode so a protective coating is pointless.
|Dear God what have I done!|
After about an hour of staring blankly/disbelievingly/forlornly/dispairingly/angrily/sadly (it was a long hour) at the two bolt craters I had created from over-tightening, I took the bars off and set about disassembling my Trek. Leaving it barless, levers hanging limp over the front wheel I returned to my creation like an agitated Frankenstein.
|Some may say that the destruction of that bar tape was an act of kindness. But it's Lizard Skin and it felt great.|
Familiar with my old bars, this time they held firmly and the bike started taking shape. Out came the front and back brakes. Out came the allen key. I must say that they weren't difficult to screw on. Calibrating them however isn't such a walk in the park. The rear derailleur was fantastically easy to screw on but then came the front derailleur.
This was my moment of terror. Allen key in hand, derraileur in the other, I moved in on the frame... Only to find I needed a clamp. Ultegra doesnt provide the clamp in its groupset as some frames are already fitted with an integrated fixing point. Another trip to Mike Vaughan's later I returned with an "M-Part Components" clamp, which conveniently matches the same branded spacers.
|Around this point, with wires dangling, I realised I'd used up my limited abilities. Time to visit Steve.|
Having crushed my handlebars I wasn't in a mood for more wanton destruction. In fact I got as far as gripping the clamp to the frame to stop it sliding down before I backed off and put everything away.
It's worth noting at this point that the seatpost I had bought for this bike was too small for this frame. I was going on measurements from my Trek, when I should have simply looked at the Flyxii schematic and ordered the corresponding size. Thus began my seatpost debacle which trundles along this entire story practically unnoticed until the end.
Arriving at Steve's the next day I had the opportunity to check out his fully built CCCF. Although the frame is more aggressive in geometry than mine, the two bikes share a lot of similar features. My Intrepid wheels are a deeper rim than his and were purchased mainly because they were on offer from £400 down to £200. His groupset is SRAM and the seatpost elongated for aero goodness. Mine looks definitely more sportive-orientated, which is the kind of bike I wanted. His looks like it was created for racing on weekdays and time-trials at the weekend (with aero bars fitted).
|With holes in the frame for Di2, Steve's frame is capable of housing some seriously gucci kit.|
For the next few hours I looked on as he went about feeding cables into housings and trimming the gears. It started taking shape very quickly. Being something of a Valhalla for bike bits, he dug out a spare seatpost which fits my frame. He fitted it and measured me against the bike. This was the first time I would find out if 58cm frame would fit me, and the pressure was mounting.
|Saddle to pedal, the distance worked out to be a perfect fit!|
He showed me a useful way to guage the correct amount of force to use when tightening the front derraileur; using one finger he tightened the allen key until the pressure of the fit stopped the finger from tightening any more. The front derraileur hasn't moved since.
After he'd removed his seatpost I left and put the bike back in the back room (a temporary luxury accomodation) to await the arrival of the Wiggle seatpost. It was wednesday and I was riding the 100mile Stratford Sportive on sunday. I was beginning to worry about delivery. Contacting Wiggle I discovered the item wasn't even in stock! Cancelling the order I switched to ChainReactionCycles and hastily selected a very funky mountain bike Race Face seat post which was on offer at £25 down from £85. I wanted a rock steady seat post and at 16 stone it's probably not such a silly idea to buy Mtb equipment (when it's this light and funky). I chose next day delivery on wednesday night, so expected the delivery to land on friday.
Come friday I sat at the window (again), this time dressed in lycra, helmet on, waiting for the seatpost to arrive. I waited all day and nothing came. Panic was beginning to set in. The next day I was doing a car boot sale with the kids and would be out of the house most of the day. My window of opportunity to test-ride the bike was disappearing.
|Race Face Turbine seatpost. A very fine piece of equipment.|
|It comes in any colour, as long as it's black.|
With committments coming out of my ears, I could only fit the post to make sure it was the right size. It slid in like it grew there. I hopped on and rode it up and down the road a couple of times unable to do any more with it until the 100 mile ride.
The next day I met up with Neil and we made for Stratford. At the Park and Ride, it was clear that this event was now beginning to explode in popularity, riders were all over the place, smearing baby bottom butter into crevices, urinating into bushes, fitting heart rate monitors to hairy chests and tinkering with their machines. We got changed in the car and minutes later were riding our last sportive of 2012.
My first impression of the bike was its rigidity. Every pedal stroke seemed to impart maximum power down the cranks into the wheels. There is no percievable flex and the Schwalbe tires glide over the road surface with minimal resistance. The gentle hum of the aero wheels was the only sound from the bike, which considering this was its first outing, was most fortunate.
As usual I pushed the pace up to the leading group whilst Neil sat behind saving himself for the other 99 miles (his work always seems to come in the last 20 miles). After a couple more miles I noticed a minute clicking noise from the front derailleur and adjusted the setting with my in-line barrel adjuster whilst rolling. The adjustment was too generous and a short time later when changing from small to big ring, my chain popped off the outer ring.
Another 10 miles later whilst waving at a crowd on the roadside, I hit a small bump in the road and heard a horrific cracking noise from the frame. At least that was my perception. After a few more metres I realised the seatpost had slipped down an inch, due to my newly found softly softly approach when tightening stuff. The noise had been the seatpost sliding into the frame.
The skipped chain had left us in no mans land between grounps. But the readjustment of the seatpost resulted in Mike Vaughan's group of cheerful riders passing us. I usually ride with MV, but today I'd arranged to ride with Neil.
We caught up with them and settled into their brisk pace. They had started a few minutes after us so the pace was around the same as our original speed. We travelled another 15 miles drafting each other and calling out potholes etc. The bike was settling in. Cables had stretched and I was now having to change up two gears and then drop it down one to get it whirring smoothly, but I'd expected this at the start.
Around bends I found the bike reliable and rapid. Descents were even more noticeable. Neil said at the end of the ride that where I usually drop back on my Trek, I was whizzing off down downhill with more speed. This is down to confidence in the machine, and confidence arises from stability. The bike is very good at speed.
At the first feed stop Neil was itching to get moving again. He is in the best form of his life and he wanted to show it. We left the Mike Vaughan crew purchasing food and slinked off towards Saintbury hill. Once again between groups I suggested we up the pace until we found somewhere to shelter.
We found a group about 10 miles before Saintbury hill and nestled in. However the pace wasn't really fast enough and by the time we got to Saintbury we were about 20 metres ahead of a group of 10 skinny looking people.
Neil is good on climbs, particularly this year. I'm not so impressive. With a group behind us and Neil to my side I could see me coming out of this climb behind everyone. However, the lightness of the bike and the rigid frame was helping me match Neil's output. The heart rate monitor on the newly purchased Garmin (my first SatNav cycle computer) was beginning to spike.
|My theoretical maximum heart rate of 181 turned out to be my maximum heart rate on Saintbury.|
As usual, big climbs generate a silence interspersed with panting. Looking back I could see the group were actually falling behind. Neil was within a metre of me and I didn't even feel like I was dying. My heart rate indicated I hadn't got anything extra to give on certain parts of the climb, but it dropped steadily to a respectable 160bpm when the gradient fell off slightly.
That was the penultimate test of this bike. We finished the sportive in a very commendable top 20'ish position. Neil dragged my (relatively) unfit ass around the last 30 miles of the course.
|One of the inline barrel adjusters. A feature I particularly like.|
The final test had to wait until yesterday, hence the 2 weeks time lapse since the Stratford 100 .... I had to pedal in anger .... And the only way for me to do that properly is to join the Mike Vaughan crew on a tuesday and thursday evening for the bash.
I'd ridden tuesday but nearly crashed on the final sprint. This had happened because my new pedals and old cleats didn't fit each other perfectly. They had been fine for gentler rides, but the sprint finish has me pounding the pedals at maximum effort. Whilst doing about 25 miles an hour at the bottom of a sharp finishing hill, my right foot popped out of the pedal. I wobbled precariously for a moment but kept the bike from crashing.
Yesterday, new cleats fitted, I rode again. This time the 30 miles was much more gentle and I could feel power in my legs as we approached the finish. There are some very good riders in the crew but the two to watch yesterday were Mark and Jack. Both of these riders have destroyed me time and again this year. My lull in training for the first half of the year has left me with a lot of work to do.
The final sprint was typically explosive, with 5 riders hitting the bottom of the sharp climb into Kenilworth at maximum effort. The sprint is up a steep hill and lasts approximatley 100 metres. It's short enough for speeds of 20+mph to be maintained.
As we hit the bottom Mark and Jack scythed past me on both sides. I took the prompt and got my arse out of the saddle and slammed my feet against the pedals. The power transfer was immediate. Acceleration palpable as I caught Jack's wheel and found myself jostling for position up the left side of the road as we rocketed up the hill. Such was the power and the lightness of the bike, my front end kept rising off the floor. This isn't a sensation I'm familiar with on the Trek and I realised that my sprinting position would have to change.
Jack found himself boxed in with Mark in front and me beside him. I crept past young Jack as a result of this and finished the sprint within touching distance of Mark. This is by far the best result all year for me. The bike had passed its final test with flying colours.
Inline Cable Tensioners £7.99
Raceface Turbine Seatpost £24.99
x2 Schwalbe Ultremo ZLX Folding Road Tyre 700 x 23c Black £60
Lizard Skins Carbon Patches and Chainstay protector £10
Lizard Skins Handlebar Tape £25
Flyxii Frame, Forks, Headset, Seatpost Clamp, Matte Black Paintjob £253
Flyxii Handlebars £72 (not used but included in final tally)
M Components Spacers and Clamp £20
Shimano Ultegra Groupset £552
Intrepid RC38 Alloy Clincher Wheelset £200
Saddle already owned
Total cost of this bike build = £1225
In less than five years the "stealth" bike may be too much of a common sight. Already, riding this one out on its first and only 2012 sportive, I saw three other stealthy unmarked black CCCF's which shared a lot of features with my own. The wheels were the only things that really set them apart. When they become "too" common, I shall have to indulge in some dramatic decals, or buy a glossy frame. But not for quite some time....
|Stealthy, fast, rigid and rapid acceleration. My perfect machine.|