Long Distance Dreaming - The Build
Known for his frame building prowess and his success on the bike as a time trialist, Rob English of English Cycles plans to take his efforts to the next level by competing in the grueling TransAm race this year on a bike he built just for the event. In the story below Rob tells us in his own words how he got to this point and explains the design goals and build process employed during the fabrication of his race bike.
Completing a 132-mile ride in February felt really good. I just can't think too hard about the fact that I plan to ride twice that distance. By myself. Every day. For 17 days in the 4200-mile unsupported TransAm race. Nope, can't think about it, just focus on the details and hope the big picture takes care of itself. Balancing what to think about and what not to think about has been the struggle ever since I began considering taking on the TransAm. It all started in 2014 when I heard that there was a race on the TransAm route. I mulled it over for a while, eventually deciding it was the challenge I needed for the year I turned 40. I toured the Western Express version of the route back in 2003—going back to ride it fast was for some reason appealing! I have a background in endurance mountain bike events, road racing, and time trialing, as well as extended touring. So this kind of brings all that together.
Of course I would need a bike—not a big problem there since I am a frame builder. But what would a fast, ultra-light road touring bike look like? The end goal is efficient speed, so aerodynamics are important, but the bike also needs to be comfortable for very long days in the saddle. Additionally, it needs to be able to carry a minimal amount of gear.
I went back and forth on rim brakes versus disc brakes for a while—eventually discs won out for a couple of reasons: Firstly, the rims will be carbon for the best aerodynamics/lightest weight, and if I am descending mountain roads in the dark and rain, then I don’t want to be reliant on carbon rim braking. Secondly, wider (28mm) tires will give lower rolling resistance and better comfort, but need a much wider rim to not hinder the aerodynamics. There are some wheel options designed with these properties in mind, but they are all made for disc brakes.
Having selected the brake type, I then needed a suitable fork. I could build a steel one, but I could save a little weight by going with carbon. There are not too many aftermarket aero forks available, let alone disc aero forks. But then I remembered that Parlee had introduced their new TT bike with disc brakes, so I gave them a call to see if I could get just the fork from them. They were able to help me out, along with the caliper fairings for front and rear. When the fork arrived, I discovered that the crown had an airfoil shape to mate up to the head tube. And the hose routing was fully internal, up through the steerer tube. That is a routing method I have used a few times when building custom bikes, but for this application I didn’t think it was sensible not to have easy access to the stem and headset. Fortunately Ruckus Composites were able to add a hose exit at the crown to resolve this for me.
For the frame design, it is my standard road position, but the geometry has a few changes from my race bike. I lowered the BB a little, which gains me a little stability since I don’t plan on aggressively pedaling around corners as I cross the country. I also stretched the front center and chainstays a little to lengthen the wheelbase, again for increased stability. I went with a -17 degree stem to lengthen the head tube, and very little slope on the top tube – these two features give me more room inside the main triangle, since I will fit two large bottles and a frame bag there. The seatstays are dropped a little, which gives room for a third bottle cage on the back of the seat tube.
As a framebuilder, one of the great things about eTap is of course that I don’t have to worry about gear cable routing—less work! And for this application, having eTap Clics extension shifter buttons on the aerobars so I can easily shift from there or the drops/hoods is perfect. So just the rear brake hose to worry about – this runs internally through the down tube, then externally under the chainstay.
The Parlee fork fits a Cane Creek 1-1/4” lower bearing, so I custom machined a lightweight head tube to directly fit this bearing, with a 44mm zero-stack race at the top. A nose cone was fabricated to match the profile of the fork crown, and brazed to the front. The rest of the frame is fairly standard, with a mixture of True Temper S3 and Columbus Life tubing. The rear dropouts are Syntace X12, machined down to match an Extralite thru-axle. There are additional bosses under the top tube for a custom frame bag to bolt in place.
Some cutting, mitering, brazing and finishing work later, and I have a frame ready for paint – handed off to Colorworks with the modified fork. I’m excited to get it back and assembled so I can start getting it all dialed in and ready for long miles.
All photos © English Cycles