Speed from scratch: CW Tech Challenge

Now that going under the hour for 25 miles isn’t so hard for most people, here’s a new challenge. It’s a challenge especially suited to this period of belt-tightening austerity. Go under a grand for your time trial bike and see how far under the hour you can go?

Or what about a handicapping system where you add onto your time the cost of your bike in pounds divided by 500? For example if you do 55-00 and your bike cost £3,000, you would divide 3,000 by 500, which equals six, and add that six onto your 55. You’ve missed the hour by one minute!

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We’ve built a bike for about a tenth the cost of the Trek Speed Concept 9.9 (£8,999) and so far it has done a 54-minute 25. Unless you went wallet-free shopping to Evans wearing a balaclava in August we think that must be hard to beat.

Cheaper, lighter, more aero
The key is to build a fixed bike. If you’re doing away with gears, you don’t really need a groupset any more. If you’re riding fixed you don’t need a back brake. You’re not just saving cash, but weight and the watts needed to push the extra components through the air. Cheaper, lighter, more aerodynamic!

We started with a tough-looking track frame from tattooed hardman of 1980s time trialling Dave Hinde. The Pista costs just under £500. It’s made from aluminium with bondo-welded joints that are filled and smoothed, giving it the look of a carbon monocoque.

The Hinde is stiff enough for the most violent accelerations by the biggest track bullies, and that makes it perfect for time trialling, where you’re spreading your energy as thinly as possible for maximum sustainable speed.

It also has all the aerodynamic accoutrements of the pure time trial bike: integrated seatmast, rear wheel cut-out, deep, teardrop section tubes and a low front end. Plus as a track frame it is 10mm narrower at the back.

Literally all it needed was wheels, a chainset, a front brake and some bars.

The rear disc was an old HED screw-on-block type from the 1990s bought for a bargain £121.03 on eBay thanks to some blurry photos of it leaning up against a rotting garden fence.

The beauty of the old screw-on types is that you can use them with gears, or fixed with an adapter. The axle can easily be spaced for track (120mm) or road (130mm). If you don’t have the original spacers you can bodge them out of old axle ends that your LBS will probably have at the bottom of a greasy old biscuit tin full of discarded bits.

As it’s a road disc it has a QR axle rather than a threaded one, but the Hinde frame has screw adjusters at the track ends which stop the wheel from being pulled over, also helping you to get chain tension perfect.

Wheels going fast
The front wheel came from an equipment-fanatic clubmate who is always buying and selling, and he let it go for £120. It’s an old Shimano WH-7700 carbon, and is super-light and with so few spokes, very aerodynamic.

The bars were another eBay find. I had the base bar from an earlier bike but picked up the GCB extensions, which are not made any more, for £31.

The FSA road chainset and ISIS bottom bracket were also from an earlier bike, not a current model.

The Shimano Tiagra front caliper is also a budget item, and the aluminium cut-down brake lever is old Syntace.

As for the gearing – it’s sporting courses on 51×15 (92in) and faster courses on 51×14 (98in). For the very fastest lorry-assisted courses, 100in is about right.

I’ve done all my best rides on fixed and I don’t think there’s anything scientific behind it: it’s just that it requires you to pedal harder on the headwind/uphill section where you gain time over down-shifting rivals, then you spin along and recover on the faster bits where you save energy and lose a little bit of time, but not as much as you gained – that’s the theory, anyway. It doesn’t work so well on very windy days.

So for comfortably under a grand, here’s a bike that isn’t a Specialized or Cervélo as ridden by everybody else, but one that turns heads with its brutalist but simultaneously graceful look, and one that turns a nifty pedal as well, assuming you’ve got the legs to turn one gear.

If you think you’ve beaten us in the combined 25-mile time/pounds spent on bike handicap competition, email Simon Smythe and prepare to produce your receipts!

This article originally appeared in Cycling Weekly magazine, September 15 2011