Longtermers: CW tech editor Michelle Arthurs-Brennan's custom carbon build

The Cycling Weekly longtermers series lifts the lid off staff members' personal bikes - this month, it's tech editor Michelle's custom carbon Werking

Michelle longtermer
(Image credit: Future)

In hindsight, it’s quite amusing that the frame I had designed as part of a project to investigate female specific geometry is called ‘A-nor-male’. Regardless, my Werking Anormale is a custom frame - the geometry and layup were based upon a detailed bike fit and riding interview, and it’s neither male specific nor female specific - it’s gender neutral. I expect you can anticipate the conclusion of the feature ‘is women’s specific geometry outdated?’

I was fitted for and reviewed the bike back in 2018. At the time I noted that one of the flaws in the philosophy of custom geometry is that a rider’s ideal bike fit changes over time. If everything is going in the right direction, we become stronger and more flexible; sometimes in life we become weaker, more rigid. Right now, what was designed to be my race bike feels more upright than I’d like, but that’s fine, because 2021 me prefers disc brakes for a race now, anyway. This rim-brake Italian beauty has become my 'for everything else' bike. 

The tubes are round, because this is a bike for riding, and round tubes just ride better.

The Anormale frame was brought to life at Werking’s home in the Italian Dolomites. She’s a carbon construction, and the chassis is created via marrying cut and mitred tubes with specifically shaped carbon wraps at the joins. 

The tubes are round, because this is a bike for riding, and round tubes just ride better. I don’t need an aero edge to get me to the coffee shop faster, and should there be a sprint for a free round, I’ll wager I can gain more watts via optimising my position (see: the 36cm handlebars).  

The geometry is the work of Lee Prescott, of Velo Atelier. The key metrics are 537mm (stack), 379mm (reach), 71 degrees (head angle), 1,020mm (wheelbase). It’s not an especially aggressive setup, my last longtermer was a Basso Diamante with a stack of 513mm. However, bear in mind that most geometries listed are as per slammed, and unlike most, this bike has never worn a spacer. I'm particularly surprised at the wheelbase, I tend to favour something in the 900s. Perhaps stability is underrated; the proof is in the riding not the geometry table and this bike has worked with and for me since day one. 

Fresh new look

Side profile of custom painted Werking

(Image credit: Future)

I created the ‘longtermers’ series as an opportunity to celebrate longevity. Being Cycling Weekly’s tech editor, I’m well aware we dedicate many of our allotted pages to the glorification of all that is new. In this landfill age I wanted to make sure that we make time to elevate the alternative: maintaining and extending the life of the kit that we already have. In that vein, I had the Anormale repainted in 2021, to give her a fresh new look.

longtermer with chris king bottom bracket

(Image credit: Future)

The paintjob was executed by Prescott. I left the brief pretty open, aside from a theme of sugar skulls and leopard print - a throwback to my youth which was largely orientated around the punk and psychobilly cultures. I still feel an association between smashing out a hard effort on the bike, and smashing it up in the writhing mass at the front row of a gig - they’re both excellent outlets for excess energy.

The repaint was accompanied by the addition of a Chris King headset and bottom bracket. I’ve only ever heard good things about these components, including stories of 20-year-old headsets being passed on from bike to bike. I can’t confirm that reputation yet (you'll need to ask me when I'm 52 years old) but of course I also think they look great.

Swapping Campagnolo for Shimano

longtermer shimano ultegra

(Image credit: Future)

When the Werking first came to me, it was wearing a Campagnolo Super Record groupset. Reader, I swapped it for mechanical Shimano Ultegra. Some of you may feel this is blasphemy, others that it’s only sensible. Regardless of your allegiances, for me, mechanical Ultegra really is the optimum for someone who wants to be able to maintain their own bike and replace parts on it without panicking at the slightest indication of a worn component (or investing in a range of proprietary tools to complete the job). Not only that, I can now reach the shifters when on the drops, which is nice (something Campagnolo has worked on in later groupsets).

Gearing wise, I still feel that a 52/36 is the sweetspot. I am partial to an 11-25 on the back, but those are being phased out by new releases and in reality, an 11-28 suits most of the terrain around me. And is probably better for my knees. The cranks are 165mm.

Werking longtermer

(Image credit: Future)

The handlebars, stem, seatpost and wheels are all from Black Inc. The bars measure 36cm, and the stem 90cm. There’s always been this idea within road cycling that long stems are the way to go, but I think in a few years' time we’ll all have moved to the mountain bike philosophy of placing the length in the top tube for improved handling. 

Stems do also need to be proportionate to the top tube length: no 50cm frame was designed to be paired with a 120mm stem. Once upon a time pros favoured this approach because smaller triangles are stiffer and frames were too flexy, but it's not the case any more and this isn't a fashion that benefits many amateurs. 

A 36cm handlebar is my preference - it’s the size bike fitters have always recommended as it mirrors my shoulder width. I’ve avoided speccing 36cm bars in the past as it only exaggerates the difference when test bikes come fitted with 40cm ‘cockpits’. For this bike, I wanted to be able to have and enjoy my very own optimum. 

Chris King bottom headset

(Image credit: Future)

The 30mm wheels are shod with Continental GP 5000 tyres (with tubes), because frankly, it’s the best all-rounder there is. For race day, I'd go for a Specialized Turbo Cotton.

Why tubes? I would never even entertain the idea of opting for tubes off-road, but I’ve had some complaints about the ability of sealant to do its job at road pressures, so whilst tubeless rubber does allow you to float around the corners, it’s not my go-to yet. 

The saddle is the Specialized Romin Evo in a 168mm width. Finding a race-ready saddle in a width that supports me was a revelation: many stop at 155mm. The pedals (not pictured) are Garmin Rally. I had major issues with the Garmin Vector 3 pedals, and whilst I scored the Rally lower than the Favero Assioma due to price and the fiddly process of changing the pedal body, they’re reliable, easy to swap between bikes, and they look great.

Future changes

Longtermer side one

(Image credit: Future)

This bike has just received a fresh lick of paint and a rebuild, so there’s not a lot I would immediately change for all-round riding.

I did have the Werking designed before disc brakes were permitted racing stock. If I were ever to have another created, I would opt for disc stoppers.

The Black Inc Black Thirty rims are pretty reliable when paired with a good pad like the Swissstops I have here. The wheels come in at 1,390g, and retail from £2,000. The wheel market has moved on quite a bit since I first came across these hoops, you can find some very competitive spec sheets for half the price. If I was speccing the bike again, I’d opt for a deeper rim from one of the many high-value competitors: Hunt, Parcours and Scribe are all excellent options.

One thing I’d never do is change the amount of flexibility and customisation available with this frame. The cable routing is external at the bar, and whilst fully integrated cables look neat, they bring with them a host of mechanical complications that I’m not prepared to accept in the interest of saving 2 watts per cable. I also love having a separate bar, stem, and 27.2mm seatpost which means that, provided standards don’t change, I should never have an issue making component swaps.

My riding

Michelle Arthurs-Brennan specialized aethos

(Image credit: Image: Chris Sansom for Specialized)

I raced the Anormale from the second half of 2018, and throughout the entire 2019 season. The latter was, if not my most successful, then certainly my most prolific year - largely because I created a rod for my own back by writing (in print) that I'd get a cat one license, so of course, I had to race myself silly in pursuit of the elusive 200 British Cycling points. 

That goal ticked off, and the Covid pandemic calling a halt to any real routine in 2020, I've since taken a much more relaxed approach, splitting my time between race circuits and South Downs exploring - the latter gaining a much heavier weighting on the volume and enjoyment scales.

The Anormale's not overly aggressive geometry rather suits this shift in attitude. The emergence of disc brakes in the peloton means I'd rather use rotor stoppers when pinning a number on, but for everything else the Anormale is an absolute beauty to ride: stable, planted, fast handling, and punchy as ever.

The spec

Top tube sugar skull

(Image credit: Future)
  • Frame: Werking Anormale custom geometry by Velo Atelier
  • Groupset: Shimano Ultegra R8000 (mechanical), 52/36, 165mm crank, 11-28
  • Brake pads: Swisstop Flash Pro
  • Wheels: Black Inc Black Thirty
  • Tyres: Continental GP 5000, 25mm
  • Stem, bars, seatpost: Black Inc
  • Bar tape: Fizik Microtex 2mm
  • Saddle: Specialized Romin Evo, 168mm
  • Pedals: Garmin Rally Power Meter

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Michelle Arthurs-Brennan

Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is a traditional journalist by trade, having begun her career working for a local newspaper, where highlights included interviewing a very irate Freddie Star (and an even more irate theatre owner), as well as 'the one about the stolen chickens'.

Previous to joining the Cycling Weekly team, Michelle was Editor at Total Women's Cycling. She joined CW as an 'SEO Analyst', but couldn't keep her nose out of journalism and in the spreadsheets, eventually taking on the role of Tech Editor before her latest appointment as Digital Editor. 

Michelle is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 1904rt.