27 July 2016

My road bike history – since I started riding the stainless bike a few weeks ago, it occurred to me to think about the various road bikes I have built for myself since the whole English Cycles thing got started. I guess for the full story I should actually go back to the very first road bike I purchased – which I still have (I tend to hang onto bikes….).

So, back in around 1992 I was a keen mountain biker, but knew little of the road scene. I put together a beater old Raleigh road bike from various scavenged parts. I rode that for quite a while until the chainstay snapped…. At that time I was in high school but working part time for a bike hire company that used Trek bikes, so to replace the broken bike I got a bottom-of-the-range 1994 Trek 370. Steel frame and fork, 14spd with downtube shifters. That was the bike I took with me to university the following year, and used to start racing time trials, followed by my first road race – I can remember racing a local E/1/2/3/4 race, and as a cat 4, make it into the break with two cat 1s, and two Elites. As I chewed on my stem to hang on, I recall having the thought that the bike in front had a Campy Shamal rear wheel that cost more than my bike!

Realising that I might have a good aptitude for road racing, it was time for a race bike – still having the Trek connection, I got one of the very early OCLV frames in the form of a 1997 5500. I liked this bike a lot, and since it was working for me, the parts got gradually upgraded, but I stuck with the frame and raced it for 11 seasons, which included the first couple here in Oregon.

Once I had a race bike, the 370 became the permanent training/commuting/rain bike, with the rack and fenders staying on all year. It got a few hand-me-down parts over the years, eventually going to 9spd (but still downtube shifters!). It is still going, and resides back in England for use when I visit.

I have always liked to have a dedicated race bike – both for the psychological edge of pulling out the special bike on race day, and for the practical purpose of not wearing out the expensive parts by using it for training. So after I graduated from college, I added a third road bike to the mix in the form of a dry-weather training bike. Initial this was a cheap Coyote frame that got built up with spare parts. But that never fitted me very well (too short in the toptube), so it was later swapped out for a carbon/steel Lemond (made by Trek, so the geometry was the same as the 5500), which itself was later traded in for the carbon/titanium version of the same frame. This was probably not the most sensible move – the steel bike was great, and I actually ended up hardly riding the titanium one as I soon after moved to Oregon and spent a while riding Bike Fridays a bunch…..

I have proportionally quite long arms, and so for production frames I should really ride a 56cm for the toptube length. But then the headtube is too tall, so with the Treks I always rode a 54cm with a long (130mm) stem. After I built my first (TT) frame, I decided I should do a road frame to match, which meant I could get the correct fit without compromise. I used a similar layout to the TT bike, with an integrated seatmast and ovalised downtube, to end up with this bike. This is the only frame (#2) I have built for myself that has been resigned to hanging on the wall  – it was just not torsionally stiff enough, but was a good platform for learning, and helped generate interest as the nascent English Cycles came into being.

Next up I decided to build a frame (#6) to replace the Lemond. For comfort I designed it around a long titanium seatpost, and went to extremes to make it as light as possible. Another learning step – I rode it for a year or so before concluding that it needed just a little more stiffness. It was super comfortable, but felt a little vague when blue16pushed hard into downhill corners. To increase the torsional stiffness I swapped the downtube for the next size up, and found the sweet spot for my size, weight and handling preferences – a 1″ toptube and 1-3/8″ downtube. Seven years on and this is one of my favorite bikes, I refer to it as ‘my little blue bike‘. Pretty much my standard go-to for dry-road training.

gold1aAfter deciding that the V1 race bike wasn’t quite right, the V2 (#9) was a big success – I scaled down the ovalised, integrated seatmast, added an aero downtube, and had a lot of racing success on this bike. Quite a harsh ride because of the stiff seatmast, but a great race tool, especially for hillclimbing.

In 2011 I had plans to return to England for the National Hillclimb Championships. Which of course meant flying with a bike, which is always quite a pain. Having had success with my folding frctina1mountain bike design, I decided to build a road version, and get it as light as I could so it would be suitable for the race. The result was the prototype FRC (#34), which worked great (I came 11th in the hillclimb). This bike also ended up being used for a couple of gravel races since at the time it was the only road frame I had with clearance for 28C tires (the nature of the design means the chainstays are widely spaced).

Later in 2011 I was contemEnglish_Cycles_006_3070plating bikes to show at my first NAHBS attendance the following year. I ordered some carbon tubing from Enve with the intent to use it to build a gravelish bike. But when it arrived it was so stiff that I decided it only made sense to construct a race bike. I was still super happy with the V2, but anytime I want to test a new design I build myself a prototype, so the V3 (#41) came about. What a great bike! Sad for the V2, as it was not ridden for a couple of years – but when there was an ‘Eddy’ TT Blue_Rob_English_001_2684category introduced in Oregon, I resurrected it with a new paint job and parts to be my aero-road-TT bike.

I raced the V3 for four years, and likely will continue to do so. I’m still happy with 10spd and a downtube shifter for the front derailleur! But the next thing I wanted to test was stainless steel, which brings us back to where this story kicked off – frame #128, the stainless superlight, which is currently a month into testing. This was built for NAHBS this year, along with frame #136, the ‘Best Road Bike’ fat-tired pink machine.

So somewhat unintentionally I have ended up with six great road bikes (seven if you include my trusty winter bike (#11)). Which means I have to keep riding a lot to ensure they all get some love!

11 Comments

  1. great story (and, of course, great bikes)!!
    best regards,
    Mircea

  2. “with the Treks I always rode a 54cm with a long (130mm) stem”
    i see in the peloton a lot lot of riders doing that, riding small frame with 130-140mm stem (sometimes 150). what is the downside of doing this? like front wheel too much closer/under the rider or other things?

    why did you not ride a 56 frame with shorter stem but with 17-20° stem angle, so you could get lower on that too tall head tube?

    thank you!
    best regards,
    Mircea

    • Hi Mircea,

      Yes that would have been the other way to go. But still a compromise and an even shorter seatpost extension. And yes it is about getting the weight distribution right – also dependent on the front end geometry and chainstay length.

      thanks,
      Rob.

  3. Rob, nice story! Curious if you permit me to ask your height and weight.

    • Hi Adam – sure, I am 5’9″ and 144lbs.
      thanks,
      Rob.

  4. Great cheptel !
    I love your work so much , full of details …
    Would you mind share the geometry of the pink one and the features like what maximum tyre size ?
    thank you

    • Hi, thanks for the kind words. The goal with the geometry was to match my race bike but with clearance for 35mm tires. The effective seatangle is 73 degrees, the headangle is 73 with 47mm rake to yield 57mm of trail with the big tires. The chainstays are 405mm and the wheelbase is 994mm, with an effective toptube length of 573mm.
      I designed around 35mm tires with fender clearance, so likely 38s or 40s would fit too.
      Rob.

      • Hi Rob, I’m curious how the pink bike corners (deep) with the large tyres / and pressure? Cheers

        • As I said to a friend after I passed him on the inside around a tight, highspeed corner: ‘I have more grip than you can possibly imagine’. Those big 35mm tires, run at 45psi, conform to the road surface so well that there is no chance of the tires skipping, and it is incredibly confidence inspiring just to push it over as far as I want. Compared to 23mm tires, I can corner faster on good roads, and MUCH faster on bad road surfaces.

  5. Nice story and wonderful bikes, thanks for sharing.

  6. Truly one of the cleanest and sexiest designers out there. Really stunning eye candy Rob.

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