Some of you might be wondering what this Darkside Tupperware content is doing here, well….
As well as Mountain Biking I also like to dabble in the dark arts and do a bit of Triathlon (the sport for gadget freaks with Attention Deficit Disorder). Having signed up for IronMan UK this year I thought it was about time I treated myself to a replacement for my 10 year old road bike. I wanted something Time Trial/Triathlon specific and at first thought about an XACD custom build. The only problem was I didn’t know what sort of geometry to go for – and that most of the titanium ‘aero’ frames I’d seen were, well, hideous!
Working on the same principles as going direct to XACD I found that there were a number of Chinese wholesalers who are happy to deal in carbon parts direct. Checking out the RoadbikeReview forums three companies came up as being the easiest to deal with: Hong Fu, Deng Fu and GoToBike.
Having decided on making a purchase I couldn’t find any reviews of the frame I fancied so thought I would redress the balance:
I could see GoToBike’s TT223 was being sold by Planet X as their Exocet model and thought that was a pretty good sign. GoToBike wanted £430 (not including p+p) for the frame, forks, headset and seat post compared to around £880 for the same thing from Planet X – a pretty good deal in anyone’s books.
“I’ll have one of those please, ta, very much”
Sadly I found out that Planet X have an exclusive deal on that frame in the UK and GoToBike can’t sell it over here – bugger!
Which lead me to their newest model the WS01, slightly more at around £490, but if you squint a bit it’s a pretty good ringer for a Cervelo P3:
The Round Things
Having decided on a frame I thought it would be a good time to spring for a matching set of deep dish rims to complete the aero package. Wanting a bike that would just about keep a straight line if there was a bit of a cross wind, I thought a 50mm deep rim on the front matched to an 80mm rim on the back would be a good compromise.
Often carbon rims are made for tubular tyres only – for the very simple reason that they’re easier to make. There’s no need to worry about forming a ‘hook’ for the bead to fit into, and they also don’t melt and fall apart under heavy braking.
‘Err, pardon me?’
OK, I didn’t find this out until I bought them but early carbon rims designed for clincher (or beaded) tyres often had a problem with the braking surface getting so hot it melted the resin causing the rim to deform! It should be pointed out that this was under fairly heavy load – like an 85kg rider going down a proper Alpine mountain. I figured that as a 65kg rider faced with a few British hills I’d probably be OK, but it’s worth bearing in mind.
GoToBike also supply some carbon specific brake pads with the wheels, it’s essential to use matching pads with carbon wheels to keep the heat down and ensure you don’t start grinding away at the braking surface!
The current crop of big name carbon manufacturers have started to gain confidence in making clincher rims – although how that might compare to the likes of GoToBike and the other Chinese wholesalers I couldn’t say. The good news is that unlike the £1000+ charged for ‘named’ brands the GoToBike wheels, built up with aero spokes on to Novatec hubs, were around £380 not including p+p.
The one good thing is that the frames and rims GoToBike sell are all (allegedly) certified to the CEN road standard (EN14781) and also have a 2 year warranty (one year for wheels/rims). Although there could be the small matter of shipping things back to China for inspection! To be fair they are a lot more up front about the warranty aspect than XACD.
It’s a Fit Up
But what size to go for? Always the tricky choice, I’d made a few estimates about the top tube length compared to my road bike. The virtual top tube length on that was around 555mm + 110mm for the stem gives a distance to the bars of 665mm. I thought I could do with reducing the reach from the bars to the saddle by around 70mm to use aero bars properly, and would likely to be using an 80mm stem. 665 – 80 – 70 = 515mm which fits in the middle of the range provided by the small frame (530 – 493) so that was the one to go for.
The other thing to consider when going for a time trial bike is the head tube size, too large and you won’t be able to ge the bars low enough to get a comfortable position. At least on the small size I knew the 100mm head tube would be more than short enough.
*Update* Having played around with the fit and going through three stems I think I’m sorted now! I’ve ended up with the saddle in the middle position and a 100mm stem which gives me a 50mm difference in saddle to bar reach compared to my road bike. As a benefit the handling is better with the longer stem, although it’s still not as stable as a normal road bike but that’s one of the compromises you make riding a time trial frame.
Postage on the above was around £140 for everything, plus a few quid more as I paid via PayPal, although this was no more expensive than paying bank charges when doing an International bank transfer as I’d done previously for XACD orders.
Sit back, twiddle thumbs, wait for order. GoToBike have a fair stock but the wait on my order was around two months before dispatch, they told me this before hand and requested a 50% deposit which I was happy with – everything seemed to go smoothly.
Unwrapping the boxes
The parcels took about a week to arrive with the usual bubblewrap fest all over the frame. The wheels had poked out of the side of their box but nothing was damaged.
First impressions were pretty favorable with the frame finish about what you would expect for a £400 carbon frame. The layup of the fiber on this frame is unidirectional (UD) which means it doesn’t have the ‘carbon weave’ look but a rather more uniform flat finish. You can still see where different sheets start and end as the light catches it, and the whole frame is has a gloss clear coat applied. There are options to have the frame painted/stickered up as you like but I thought I’d just keep things simple.
The wheels were both perfectly straight and true. The spokes and hubs aren’t the worlds most expensive but again they’re what you would expect for the price. They also came with a set of functional, if not particularly light, quick releases. I swapped these for some super lightweight one’s from Planet X.
The only obviously cheap bit was the seat post – the bolt and clamp are rather agricultural and weigh a ton! No complaints about how it works though, the saddle is easy to adjust and stays secure.
The derailleur cables all run internally through little ‘straws’ that come pre-threaded through the frame, you’d have to be a bit careful if you wanted to replace these but it should be possible to cut the cable and maybe thread a replacement through. The rear brake cable outer just runs neatly through a tube built into the top tube of the frame.
Frame weight: 2.4 lbs (1075 grams), that’s, well, pretty light! The frame feels solid and I can’ t flex any of the tubes with my thumb.
Bare wheel weight: 625 grams front wheel, 960 grams rear (both naked without cassette, skewers, rim tape etc.) 1585 grams is pretty competitive for a carbon rimmed wheelset and cheaper sets that use an aluminium rim are quite a bit heavier.
Whole bike weight is around 17.8lbs (8.1 kg) which is pretty decent for a time trail frame with deep rims on.
I decided on a fairly reasonable spec build, trying so save cash where I could, but it still came out a little higher than I would have liked! Brakes, skewers, stem and a few other parts are from Planet X, with the rest coming from Chain Reaction. The drive train is mainly Shimano Ultegra and the saddle is a tri favourite from Adamo.
The handlebars were one of the hardest parts to spec, most people want a fortune for a carbon base bar, either that or they look rather hideous like the own brand Planet X model! I finally found the 3T Mistral Pro which looks pretty decent and comes in at under £250.
Total cost was around £2300 including the frame and all the goodies.
How does it ride?
Getting the bars where I wanted them was the main aim, a time trial frame needs to be lower and shorter than a road bike to get everything in the right place. The first ride proved a little cramped and I managed to keep hitting my knees on my elbows! Swapping to a 90mm stem from an 80mm, and moving the saddle clamp to the middle position from the furthest forward, sorted that out and got things just about right. *Update* wanting to tame the handling a little more I’ve now gone to a 100mm stem and brought the saddle forward a similar amount to compensate. The handling has been improved again and is much less twitchy, I think I’d suggest to anyone else building this frame up to start off with a 100mm stem and see how it goes.
It’s comfortable. With so much carbon on-board the amount of road vibration that’s absorbed is pretty impressive, much more so than my aluminium road bike.
It’s fast. Very. Mainly due to the position, with a flat(ish) back you can keep tucked in for a good low profile and stay out of the wind. On a general ride around I’d estimate it’s worth an extra 1mph compared to a standard road bike. On a 10mile TT course I was able to take a minute off my previous best (compared to a road bike with tri bars and standard wheels) I’d estimate here it’s worth about 1.5mph.
Not particularly scientific I’d admit but it should certainly help keep me on course for the IronMan where I’ll be mainly using it for efficiency rather than speed!
Brakes aren’t particularly strong but do the job. The wear on the blocks is fairly rapid too, but you’d expect that given the way it’s sacrificing the block to save the rim. I’ve checked how hot they got after a few minutes of being dragged down a hill; the rims got warm but certainly not too hot to touch. I think I’d need a proper Alpine test to really show anything bad up.
Crosswinds. Ahh, now then. Not surprisingly it’s not very happy when it’s windy! Relaxing into it helps but like any deep rim bike it’s going to wiggle a bit and feels a bit like you’ve undone the front quick release. The more you ride it the more you get used to it though.
Descending is another area where it feels nervous, particularly if combined with a bit of a side wind! Not having a position equivalent to the drops on a road bike keeps you a little higher than you’d like but it’s a small compromise given the extra speed overall.
Was it worth it – and would I do it again?
I’d have to say ‘Yes’ and ‘Maybe’. It might not be the right thing for you though. Take a good look at the latest offers from Planet X and you’ll see the difference that economies of scale can offer. They do a very similar bike to the one I’ve put together for about £100 less – although for me I’d have to tweak the spec as the gearing would be too high and it uses tubulars rather than the easier to work with clincher tyres.
The bare frames are certainly cheaper when bought direct from GoToBike, but the wheels can be a very similar price. It’s harder to find clincher wheels in this country but Planet X are doing a set of 50/50 tubular wheels for £500. Wheelsmith are offering 50mm clincher wheelsets built on Novatec hubs starting from £600 so again it’s starting to get close. *UPDATE* Planet X are now doing a set of aluminium rimmed, carbon faired, 50mm wheels for £399, they’re not that heavy either!
For me part of the fun is taking the DIY approach and not having ‘someone else’s’ logos plastered all over it. You never know, I might even come back again next year for a road bike frame (unless Planet X are having another sale!).
Any questions as always feel free to drop me a line via the contacts page – or if you’ve brought your own frame from China then let me know how it went!
If you’d like to find out more then have a wander over to GoToBike for more info. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org who’s a very nice lady and will be able to give you more details (her English is fine, like Porters, although she’s not prone to be as grumpy!).
Tech Stuff I wish I’d known about the frame!
Here’s some info you’ll find useful that I discovered as I built the frame up:
- It’s a BB86 bottom bracket (aka BB90 or BB92), this uses the same cranks as a regular external bottom bracket system (like Shimano Hollowtech) but the bearings are all in a press fit sleeve that push in flush to the shell. Some other carbon frames use this size bottom bracket but non of the regular UK mail order suppliers had one in stock – I finally tracked down a KCNC bottom bracket on eBay being sold by a shop in Plymouth! It fitted with a headset press, although you might need some plates to sit flat against the bearing cups, I just did one side at a time too. The plastic ‘top hats’ that go between the bearings and the crank axle were way too tight and I had to get some sand paper on them to get everything to fit!
- The headset is an integrated one with bearings that just drop into the ‘cups’ bonded into the frame. FSA’s Integrated Orbit CE was the recommended choice and seems to do a fine job.
- Deep dish rims need valve extenders on the inner tubes. I got some from Planet X and then had a bit of a head-scratch on how to fit them. You need to find some presta inner tubes with removable valve cores, Continental seem to be the best bet, you can tell if the core is removable as the part that the cap screws on to will have two flats cut into it. Unscrew the valve core and then fit the extender(s) before screwing the core into the end of the extender, job done.
- Rear tyre clearance is tight – a 23mm tyre won’t fit as it’s designed to tuck the rear wheel right into the back of the frame. I’m running a 700x20c Continental GP 4000 which fits perfectly.
- Having tried a few stems I’d say it handles best with a 100mm stem, going shorter makes the steering a little twitchy for my liking and makes the bars too easy to hit with your knees when out of the saddle!