I’ve been thinking about another road bike since early 2009. That year at the Pigeon Lake Road Race, which I went on to win with Stefan [race report] I could really tell that the bottom bracket of my aluminum Cervelo Dual was swaying back and forth pretty seriously when I was laying down the watts. I didn’t necessarily suffer big losses as a result of this but I did decide at that point that if I was going to really decide that I was going to race seriously I should probably get another frame under me that solved some of the bottom bracket stiffness issues that I was seeing in a 2004 aluminum frame. This definitely isn’t a criticism of that bike, it’s an observation. It’s an older aluminum frame by this point and no-one is going to tell you that they’re supposed to be the stiffest bikes with long lives. Aluminum has a fatigue curve that’s a heck of a lot different than steel, and there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ve ridden my way down that fatigue curve a LONG ways.
In 2010 I wasn’t about to be upgrading my road bike because the focus was on Ironman Canada and I also had to unfortunately deal with the replacement of my Cervelo P2 carbon fiber frame after an unfortunate incident with an exploding chain. That basically decided for me that the new bike wasn’t coming so soon! I also had an experience riding a Giant TCR that showed me what riding an entry level carbon fiber layup was like. I wasn’t super keen on slapping down any money if I wasn’t going to do better than that, I was going to be picky with my geometry (the back end of the TCR seemed squirrelly) and also not buy a carbon fiber bike that some bike company made out of carbon because they wanted to serve the “I want a carbon bike” demographic. It had better be made out of carbon fiber to serve a purpose, and unfortunately I see a lot of riffraff in the catalogs and shops that aren’t exploiting carbon, they’re just using it. I did upgrade my road bike to 10 speeds though at the end of 2009 and made the leap (sorry, couldn’t help myself) to SRAM with some Red doubletaps. I did so with the intention of taking those components along to my next frame at some point, and still managed to put on a bit more than 3500kms on that bike this past summer including an 800km week training camp in Penticton. The time has come though, that I’m going to retire my “first bike”. Well, at least the first bike that wasn’t purchased with Dad’s money!
The looking started amongst Ti frames. I was pretty sure I wanted to buy a life-long bike. I wanted to get the geometry right, and have something I could put ten thousand kms on every year for the next three decades. Once the looking got serious and I paid a visit to a shop to start discussing details the reality set in, it wasn’t going to happen. The cost of doing that was basically unjustifiable and so, as time wore on I gave up on the dream of buying a Moots and being “that guy” every time I was out on a cool ride. Not that I want to be “that guy”, I certainly don’t, but I did want to be able to ride “that bike”. I don’t know if the difference is understandable to someone who doesn’t know “The Rules”, but learning Rule 4 would be an appropriate place to start (please oh please read this stuff in context!).
It was about this time that pretty much all of my heros descended on a little town by the sea otherwise known as
Mecca Kona for the annual pilgrimage showdown (OK, Heather Jackson and Angela Naeth weren’t racing but they were still there!). The number of powermeters used at the top ranks of my sport is mind-boggling considering the fact that they’re still not cheap. I am fully aware of the fact that there is a bit of a chicken and egg question here. Do they help people qualify, or is their purchase the result of being a qualifying level kind of triathlete. I’m well aware that Stefan’s only power measurement was on his trainer (inaccurate, but repeatable for his key sessions) and that both of the Pro winners did not race with power-feedback on the day. That said, after reading Gordo’s thoughts on the matter I have nearly decided that it’s an egg and not a chicken thing. Power-feedback is worthwhile, and if I decide to gun for a qualifying time then I would be wise to be training based on watts in addition to RPE and HR. That being said, there was now a big budget hole arriving right around the bottom bracket! Ti was unquestionably out.
OK, the search was dialed back to basically square one and I set out in search of a bike with a few less criteria than I had when I’d started out in dreamland (otherwise known as Steamboat or Chattanooga) earlier. I wasn’t about to give up on trying to cheat the custom bike builders rule of three, but I did decide I had to start learning and looking at carbon fiber with more seriousness.
Custom Bike Builders Rule of Three:
Light, Durable, Cheap – Choose Two.
OK, I’m going to try to get through this stuff quickly. There are a dozen different blog posts in here if I go into all the detail I’m tempted to. This is supposed to be chronological, not logical, so don’t suspect that the order makes much sense! I started by looking at the cheap carbon bikes that you can buy built from the old Kuota layups. They max out at 59cm frame size, No deal. Ibis Silk. Too small again, no deal. Kuota KOM and Cervelo S2, too close to the Ti pricepoint to feel like I was coming out ahead, no deal. KHS, not big enough, no deal. Colnago, doesn’t suit my style. Look, BMC & Pinarello, far too expensive. Trek, Giant and Specialized all seemed to have offerings right in my price-bracket but as soon as I started reading about them I realized the quality I was expecting was actually a step higher on their rather complicated ladder of products than I was looking at. Worth noting is that all of these guys are pushing women’s geometry, something I don’t believe, sure, sell women’s paint and a women’s parts kit, but base the geometry on research. Research says no dice there. This really makes my impression of them go straight to question the marketing, these are marketing companies. There are smart people selling those bikes for sure, but I figured I could do better, No Deal. Cannondale, very tempting actually, they’ve actually got an excellent spread of bikes at the moment. And if I decided on a cannondale I’m sure I would have been happy. I probably would be incredibly happy with a CAAD10 even if I didn’t nose my way all the way in amongst the SuperSixes. Then I was looking at laying my hands on a Scott Addict, but I didn’t actually read too much about it because I got distracted by the Wilier Imperiale. I was actually *really* keen on this bike for about a week. Then it started to make me feel the same way as I had with the Kuota KOM and Cervelo S2. This is a fantastic bike but it’s not the best bike, so why would I pay such a high fraction of the price of a best bike without getting one. Revamping this thinking AGAIN after basically doing a complete survey of almost all the bike bike companies out there made me re-evaluate my plan.
Let’s see how cheap I can get a bike that is still a definite upgrade from what I’ve got. If I do that, I can almost certainly find the bike with a pricepoint that allows me to buy some carbon wheels to trip it out for racing. The performance of that combination is going to be good. It might even be better than the tripped out bike (I’m comparing against the Wilier here) with the mid range Mavic Cosmic Elites that I used as my TT training wheels and road racing wheels this past year. OK, my mind was made up, or more made up. I still now needed to find whichever bike it is that fits this performance metric and scores on the pricepoint.
I went straight to Neuvation. I was frustrated (to say the least) that the FC500 wouldn’t come big enough for me, and I started to despair and was considering the Neuvation FC100. This was NOT going to be an upgrade from the dual, and I knew it. The geometry was excellent but the carbon layup was supposed to make for a bike with satisfactory stiffness according to review, not great stiffness. I couldn’t convince myself that this bike was anything better than a full carbon Trek Madone built up with cheap carbon and Tiagra components to put a bunch of groupies on “the bike that Lance rides” that a few friends and I have spent so much time making fun of in the past couple weeks. OK. Neuvation is sadly out. I’m starting to wonder about the viability of me finding what I wanted. How good of a bike will I be riding if I put carbon wheels, a new crank, and upgrade the bars/stem on my Cervelo? I think I could bring it in under 18 lbs, maybe mid 17s
Then I had a brainwave. I was pretty sure there were other companies out there making similar bikes to the ones that I’d seen on Ebay using the old Kuota molds. I didn’t need something from a Kuota mold, I didn’t care actually but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to get something with funny geometry that some dude built in his garage. Then I decided I wanted something from a Cervelo mold as I am proof of the effectiveness of their superior geometry. I was 100% certain that Cervelo wasn’t going to sell their Soloist molds to anyone but what if there was someone out there who reverse engineered it? I plugged “Cervelo S” geometry into google. On page three my world got a bit turned upside-down. I found EXACTLY what I wanted.
Aerocat is a little company out of Indiana. Good sign, that’s where ZIPP is from I thought to myself. (Not that that makes any difference, but at least I stayed on their site!) They have a bike called the R509 that’s built up based very similar geometry to the Cervelo S2/S3. I might even go so far to say that I like the geometry a bit better because the toptube is closer to flat. For someone who rides with a lot of post on the largest bike you can buy the idea of sticking with a level toptube is actually valued by me. I don’t know if this is a silly line of thinking. I haven’t read all that much about it because I don’t think much has been written, but I do think it is logical. If your bike is going to be a bit on the small side (which any bike except for that Lynsky custom Ti is going to be), then you shouldn’t exasperate the problem by selecting a compact geometry or heavily sloping toptube (a big reason Specialized doesn’t look quite right). A quick email to confirm that I could buy the fork/frameset and not a full bike from them and I was sold. So, if it sounds like the flat toptube really sold me on this bike you’d probably be at least partly right. But the rest of it checked out too. I can’t say that I was able to read all that many reviews of this bike in particular as it’s a new addition to the Aerocat line. The number they gave to it suggests that it fits in their “ranks” quite near the top. I was able to surmise that the carbon fiber layups in some of the lesser numbered bikes was actually pretty fantastic and that stiffness wise I’d have nothing to worry about with this bike. I am concerned that a company without a whole ton of proven engineering experience may not have perfected the balance between bottom bracket stiffness and vertical compliance. If it’s the case that I get road shock up through the back of this bike I am going to understand why but I am not buying an R5 so I can’t expect the world. I’m almost certain though that vertical jamming is not going to be worse that that which I experienced on the Giant TCR I rode in San Francisco (which didn’t ruin my ride by any means, but it was noticeable enough to be noticed though). With a proper geometry I would surmise that the effect of perhaps less than ideal vertical compliance isn’t going to be as noticeable. With the R509 I score the proven geometry, a la Cervelo. I wasn’t convinced that the TCR had it right because it felt off balance especially descending, perhaps not enough bb-drop or a chainstay length issue. Now that I’ve thought about this I’ll probably be hypersensitive to how that feels and I’ll let you know. I’ll be sure to run it with my same default Ritchey wheels when making the comparison as good vs. great spoke lacing can make a difference in that regard.
The proof of whether or not this bike is as amazing a coup as I think it is will arrive shortly. This bike is ON THE WAY! I’ll be building it up temporarily with parts I have before I get everything together for the build I plan to use next summer. That final build is going to look like this:
I make no apologies for the hack-job I did stitching together these images. It’s supposed to help you dream about what it looks like from the side, but as you dream don’t start criticizing, I think I can build even better than I can sketch. For starters I promise my bike won’t violate Rule 46 once I build it. Travis just un-sold me on the prospect of white Nokons, I am undecided what the alternative to that will be.
An aside for anyone who read all the way to the bottom, I’m sure you’ll appreciate Coach Gordo’s advice on how to make flat coke. Any wonder that tri geeks love this guy?