Argon 18 E-117 time trial bike frameset review
Argon 18 has a reputation for making wind-cheating bikes
The E117 takes notes from some of Argon 18's fastest bikes, but provides them at a more manageable price tag, with a little less integration at the front end which certainly makes for a more user friendly machine. The brakes are less user friendly, but we did love the ride quality on offer from this frame.
Easy to live with cockpit
Nippy on sporting courses
3D headset system
Brake set up
Argon 18 has an excellent reputation for creating fast bikes that cheat the wind.
The Electron Pro track models are used by the Huub-Wattbike team, well known for their meticulous attention to aero detail, and it's also the bike ridden by the World Record beating Danish pursuit squad, who coincidentally (not) are advised by Hubb-Wattbike's Wattshop aerodynamicist Dan Bigham. Whilst this E-117 Tri/TT bike is of course a different machine, it's cut from the same cloth, and that shows.
>>> Best time trial and triathlon bikes
I'm not an aerodynamicist, and Cycling Weekly does not have a secret wind tunnel hidden away in the photography studio, so we can't verify the brand's time saving claims. However, the frame includes plenty of features we expect to see on fast bikes: the seatstays are dropped, with a wide bridge, and the downtube holds on to the front wheel whilst the seattube tracks the rear. The seatpost is, to put it simply, huge.
Upfront, things are a little less smooth. The E117 is the entry-level frameset, it's also UCI legal and has space for tyres up to 25mm. Owning to the lower end build, there is far less integration of cables when compared with the E118 and E119 (the latter comes in a 'Tri' version with storage boxes, too).
The negative side of this lesser integration is that there is certainly a marginal aero loss by way of the mass of exposed cables. The upshot is that riders can choose any bar/extension set up they wish, taking the bike apart (for travel or any other reason) is really quite easy, and making adjustments (hopefully not the evening before a race) is simple.
My test machine came equipped with Vision handlebars and extensions, featuring Shimano Ultergra Di2 - but this being an assessment of the frameset, I'll avoid comment on components outside of the frame.
The E117 uses Argon 18's '3D headset' tech. This is actually pretty clever, and it's a feature that you'll find on many Argon 18 bikes. Rather than placing the top bearing inside the top tube, it is built into a spacer - which comes in three heights. This means that riders can adjust their stack without piling up spacers, reportedly avoiding flex at the front end. With spacers as well, riders gain 60mm of available stack instead of the traditional 30mm.
My model came with the 25mm option as standard, but I can appreciate how a lower position could be achieved via the 15mm or 0mm versions. Since the rider's position can make the most difference to the overall system drag (super fast riders being the exception), but the ideal position varies so much between riders pending individual factors, this makes a lot of sense.
The cables disappear into the top tube, and in my case the Di2 junction box was housed under the bars, with a further connection in the seattube. The frame uses a BB86 pressfit bottom bracket, which as always will divide opinion.
The seatpost is huge, measuring 8cm in depth. The clamp can be positioned anywhere along the top of the post, meaning there's more adjustment than any rider could possibly need. Again, this is excellent in that ride position is so pivotal in system drag. I paired this with an ISM saddle (not the Prologo saddle pictured).
I did find the size of the seatpost meant that it got stuck quite easily. Adjusting it often meant going too far, pulling the seatpost out and disconnecting the Di2 cable, which thankfully was easy to reach and reconnect (this is not always the case, necessitating removal of the bottom bracket in some cases). Once your saddle height is set, this shouldn't be something you're doing regularly. The clamp uses an expander bolt which was effective and looks clean.
The biggest sticking point for me was the design of the brakes. They're made by TRP and labelled as Argon 18. Each brake arm can be adjusted laterally by a screw located at the bottom, whilst the cable is clamped in place by the bolt at the top (the middle bolt positions the brake pad).
I'm sure the system hides the brake from the wind, and serves a purpose - but I found it hard to get the pads centred. As a result, I rode one time trial listening to the rear brake rub every time I got out the saddle and I'm sure that slowed me down more than drag from any brake calliper would. Not to say that these can't be adjusted to avoid brake rub, they can and I got there eventually, but I'd say the system is over-engineered. Since time triallists are often loading their bikes into cars where the brakes can be knocked, setting them out of line before a race this is not ideal - you don't want to be messing with those two tiny screws in a high pressure environment. It might be worth adding a dab of Loctite on the grub screws to ensure they remain solidly in place, also a set of thinner brake pads helped to alleviate any potential issues.
The E117 is available with disc brakes (for £2199 at Sigma Sport), having initially been against the need for disc brake time trial bikes, I can see a case for them here.
At the rear, the brand has opted for a standard drop out, so there's no fumbling with complicated time trial systems there.
Argon 18 has chosen to construct this frame from what it calls 'Cyclosportif' layup, as opposed to the Pro layup on the higher end E118. Typically, that means the carbon will be a tad heavier, but also more compliant. I really liked the ride quality of this frame - it was plenty stiff enough when I got out the saddle to punch up the climbs, but I could imagine completing long-distance events (such as a 100 mile time trial) on this bike with relative ease considering the task in hand.
The geometry is designed to place the rider in a forward, aggressive position, and of course it does that, aided by the reams of adjustment at the seatpost. However, this bike also has a relatively short wheelbase for a TT bike - my size small measures 976cm. Interestingly, it's longer on the E118 model (990cm). This has the upshot of creating a really fun, nippy ride quality which I found particularly welcome on twisty, windy sporting courses (the antithesis to which is the traditional dual carriageway time trial).
Argon 18 also promises that this bike uses its 'Argon Fit System' so those on the XL and XS frames should experience a comparable ride. Having only ridden the small, it's hard to comment here - but the frame felt well suited to me, with no surprises in handling, geometry or ride quality.
The frame weight is a claimed 1405g, with a 398g fork - and my size Small wearing Vittoria Elusion Carbon 42mm carbon wheels and Ultegra Di2, with an ISM saddle, came in at 8.6 kg. Time trial bikes are rarely particularly featherweight, and this system weight puts the machine in class with its rivals.
The RRP on this frame is £1,999 - making it a pretty heavy investment - but distributor Zyro Fisher have offered it to their dealers at a Summer Sale SRP of £1399. Whilst the RRP doesn't mark this out as a particularly value-orientated choice against the competition, the current offer represents value far and above comparable offerings.
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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.
Michelle is on maternity leave from July 8 2022, until April 2023.
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