Building custom bicycles by hand is a craft that’s been around for a very long time. However, new technologies like wireless shifting are changing the way framebuilders ply their trade.
To get an idea of how wireless shifting is evolving the craft of framebuilding, we spoke with four builders that presented dedicated wireless shifting bikes at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS) in Sacramento. We talked to Rob English of English Cycles, Kent Eriksen of Eriksen Cycles, Wade Greene - a carbon fabricator at Lov Bikes, and Carl Strong of Strong Frames. We asked each of the builders the same four questions and listed their answers below.
How much fabrication time is saved on a frameset by eliminating the need for internal cable or wire routing and battery placement?
English: Maybe an hour. Rough estimate.
Eriksen: Probably 300 bucks to the customer and we don’t make money on any of that, so it’s something that I really appreciate with SRAM. It’s also going to make a lot of retrofits easier, so for the customer that’s awesome. I hate to see people thinking that they have to throw their last bike away. Although, for some - not me – some big companies might see that there isn’t as big of a market for people having to buy new bikes. I love the stuff.
Greene: It’s huge. There’s no cutting holes in the frame and for a small custom builder that’s making their cable stops in house, it’s huge. You have much less to deal with and it’s a cleaner looking bike and just easier.
Strong: For frame fabrication we’re probably knocking off 20 minutes and for assembly we’re taking off more time than that so we’d probably get about an hour out of that all together. With the wires coming through the tubes we have to create some kind of reinforcement or thickener so that the grommet fits on there and then you have to weld it on. And to pass the wires through you have to put big, giant holes in the head tube and bottom bracket. And then you have to fish wires, and no one likes to fish wires... That’s a significant amount of time, at least it is for me.
Does having fewer cable guides or eliminating internal derailleur cable routing affect your tubing selection?
English: It might affect bottom bracket choice because if I don’t have to have any room in the bottom bracket shell for wires then I can stick with a BSA and still get a 30mm spindle in there. Something that’s hard to do with wires in there as well.
Eriksen: It always allows for a little thinner tubing I would think. If you don’t have to put on guides [near the head tube] it’s going to be a stronger bike.
Greene: Not necessarily. We layup based on how it feels. The holes we have to drill aren’t that big. It’s more of a convenience than a ride quality consideration.
How much lighter can you make a road or ‘cross frame that is a dedicated eTap bike?
English: Not much, maybe 5 to 10 grams.
Eriksen: I think that’s about the same. We go off of the weight of the rider.
Greene: I’d probably say we could save 200-300 grams just with cable stops and battery. It depends on the material of the bike. Some of the cable stops are pretty chunky. [On a carbon frame alone we can save] about 100 grams just with cable stops and routing.
Strong: I don’t know. Probably not any lighter. But I don’t know, I’d have to give it some thought because this is the first one that I’ve done. I’ll learn as we go.
What possibilities does wireless shifting open up for you as a framebuilder? Anything that we haven’t already touched on?
English: It’s a lot of fun setting out for the first time. It is really easy… I’m pretty excited about it. That’s my personal bike [points to the pink eTap bike in the corner].
Eriksen: I think it’s great for the consumer, I want it on my next bike just because I find it more intuitive, the way the shifting works.
Greene: It’s just simplicity. When you don’t have to think about cable routing the bike just goes together so much easier. You don’t have to think about, ‘where’s that going to go’ or, ‘how am I going to do that’. Especially with new bottom bracket standards and trying to run cables around BB cups, you don’t have to worry about that.
Strong: I’m not sure. I’d have to give it some thought. I think with ease of use and the fact that with tandems you eliminate all of that cable, all of that cable induced drag. We got this right before the show so we didn’t have a lot of time to really play with it yet. So we’re looking forward to giving it some more thought, thinking about ways to do more to take advantage of it. Right now the big advantages are the obvious, easy things that are clear to anybody: The cleanliness of the bike and how it looks. When we give it more thought we’ll be able to think about maybe running a thinner bottom bracket or seat tube. I’ll just have to think about it. The [eTap] crank is beautiful. It’s gorgeous.