I needed a bike to fill the gap that had been created by the passing away of my Raleigh R700 (RIP).
For over a year now I have been commuting to work on my chinese carbon mountain bike. To be honest that was partly the reason I built the mountain bike in the first place. Knowing my road bike was on it’s way out and that I had a forthcoming bikepacking trip in Israel I needed something that could serve both purposes at least until I could afford another road bike. The mountain bike has served this purpose admirably and for the first winter I have been able to ride with impunity on icy roads, rain soaked roads and anything else the British winter throws at us cyclists. The mountain bike has performed flawlessly. However, I needed a true road bike, not to replace the mountain bike, but to complement it. The road bike would have to be used for commuting aswell as the odd audax and now, endurance racing. I’d been eyeing up the Transcontinental Race.
Around the latter half of 2014 there weren’t many bikes that would fill the criteria that I’d been searching for; Disc brakes, road geometry, carbon frame, thru axles, tubeless capabilities and the ability to take mudguards. And no, there weren’t and cheap chinese frames that would fulfil this criteria either. The chinese options all being cx frames with the higher bottom bracket.
The US gravel scene was coming to the UK and with it bikes filling all the above criteria, except for the tubeless capabilities. I’ll go further into that later on.
I’d been eyeing up the Specialized Diverge and having committed to the Transcontinental race entry fee in November 2014 I was getting a little anxious to see whether a wider choice would spill onto the market. Now, of course there’s a flood of disc braked road bikes on the market but at the time the choice seemed sparse
So, in February I searched around for deals. Deals on Specialized bicycles don’t seem to exist around that time of year. The only carbon Specialized Diverge frame in the UK was the Expert in a horrible grey colour and at an extortionate price with a heavy wheelset that wasn’t going to be compatible with tubeless tyres. Then, I discovered that in Europe there was a stealth black carbon model for sale not too dissimilar in appearance to the Di2 model that was for sale in the USA. In fact the frame was basically the same, being FACT 10R, but the difference in price was thousands of pounds due to the component mix and a bit of marketing. The Euro to pound exchange rate at the time was plummeting so my mind was made up.
Specialized don’t allow their retailers to export their products across borders so it looked like I’d need to go to Europe. So, identify a continental Specialized store as close to me as possible and then hope they have the bike I wanted in stock, in the size I wanted. These bikes were only just coming into stock in Europe and some shops weren’t expecting them until at least June 2015. I needed to get some training in for the Transcontinental start in July so would desperately need a bike well before that.
After the third email I struck lucky. The bike I wanted had just arrived at a shop in Belgium. Sticking down the deposit over the phone with 150 Euros worth of free extras in the offing, it wasn’t until two weeks later I’d get the ferry over and drive to Wetteren. I chose the S-works cranks with the 150 Euros off. Paying the extra and then reselling on Ebay in pounds allowed me to recoup some cost on the bike which sweetened the deal somewhat. I was tempted to keep the cranks but was scared off by how exposed the bearings on the bottom bracket appeared. On the way back to England I’d even scheduled in a trip to picturesque Ghent, for my mum who’d never been there before.
So, bike purchased now to get it ready for the Transcontinental Race. This is where the nightmare began. I always knew I’d be replacing most of the components on the bike. Especially the wheels but I never knew just how difficult it would be to replace the rear wheel.
Now the Short ChainStay or SCS hubs are a proprietary type of hub designed to keep the chain line within Shimano specifications whilst allowing the use of shorter chainstays.
Anything that makes this bike feel as much like a standard road racing bike is good in my book so in essence this is a great idea. What is not great, however, is the fact that Specialized have not released any after market hubs to enable guys like me to build a second wheelset for this bike. Now cynical as I might sound, Specialized have a hugely expensive set of Roval wheels available as a separate purchase which they clearly want everyone to buy. Perhaps then, they aren’t releasing hubs to encourage take up of those wheels. Regardless the Rovals wouldn’t suit my purpose since the rear only has 24 spokes and even if they did I wouldn’t pay £900 for one rear wheel. As far as I know it isn’t tubeless compatible either. So I really was stuck in a corner. I needed a front wheel built round a dynamo hub, tubeless compatible with preferably no less than 28 spokes and a rear wheel with preferably no less than 32 spokes.
Looking around I found the rims that would suit my needs perfectly. Now although not cheap and with no reviews online I took the plunge and bought the DTO-40 rims from a retailer called BDOPcycling.com. High risk at £200 a piece but I was close to getting a custom wheelset with precisely the specifications I wanted which would be considerably cheaper than one Roval rear wheel!
Firstly before deciding on the drillings I would need to sort the rear hub out. I tried a few different configurations. The Hope Pro 2 mtb hub with the 135mm thru axle end caps and a road 11 speed freewheel. The result…
So desperate measures now. I bought a Novatec XD612SB hub with the 135x12mm thru axle from Slovakia. It would have to be a 28 spoke hub as a 32 hole model didn’t exist. The same problem existed as with the Hope but seeing that there was a fairly large area that the cassette could overlap I thought the best solution (the only solution) would be to machine the cassette. Time was moving on. I had to get some serious mile munching in so down the machinist I went. I asked him to stick the derailleur hanger into his lathe and mill off about 1.5mm (can’t remember precisely how much) and again on the cassette spider 1.5mm deep and an additional 0.5mm wide to ensure the cassette wouldn’t rub the black lip on the hub with the results below…There’s lot’s of daylight between the cassette and the derailleur hanger.
However, of course when the cassette wears it does mean I’ll need another visit to the machinist but I’m hoping when that happens there’ll be a wider choice of 135mmx12mm 11 speed disc hubs on the market. Here’s hoping. Now that was fixed I was extremely relieved to be able to get on with the full build.
Now if you thought the hub modification was over the top you’ll really like this one or not!
I needed a third water bottle cage fitted to the bike. Now I know this will be open to criticism but it works, I’ve had no issues with it over many miles, sleep deprived rough handling and some pretty rough terrain. It coped with the 40km long course gravel section of the Strada dell’Assietta with a full water bottle anyway. That’s about as rough as any road bike should be subjected to.
I’ll be posting up details of my approach to this along with any disclaimers if you try this and cock it up, under my techie tips section. Needless to say use good tools and take a slow methodical approach and the job would probably end up better than if this was carried out in a factory. Oh and say bye bye to the warranty. I said bye bye to it from day one.
I felt the reach was too long for my liking so this and the handlebar were replaced for Ritchey Superlogic Evo Curve Carbon 44cm handlebars and Ritchey Superlogic C260 90mm stem. This would allow me to fit my Revelate Bar Harness, if required, with enough space to change gears aswell as position the Medium sized Syntace C3 aerobars comfortably under my elbows.
To ensure I could use a reasonably sized frame bag within what is quite a small triangle I decided on a bottle size that wouldn’t be too much of a compromise. So the Camelbak Podium 710ml bottle. Slightly shorter than a 750ml, with not a huge loss in water carrying capacity. Besides I’ve got my third bottle. I then fitted the Mount Skidmore Bottle Cage Adaptor to lower the seat post mounted water bottle freeing up more space. That combined with side exit water bottle cages allows me to squeeze everything in whilst still remaining functional. My Rab Event bivvy bag, being perhaps the heaviest item I carry, comfortably fits into the front end of the frame bag keeping the weight central.
The headset bearings were replaced for stainless steel bearings. Although not cheap the Specialized supplied bearings fell apart very easily. The seals are rubbish and the bearings will rust. Especially the lower one. So I bought some cheap FSA bearing from Aliexpress and covered them in grease. They’ll last forever.
Next up was what regulator to use and how to wire the light cable. I wanted to stick to my Exposure Revo light. I also wanted the Sinewave Reactor. It is neat, efficient and supposedly bomb proof. So I came up with this solution which would allow me to neatly route the cable through the fork…..and yes I had drilled a small hole at the bottom of the fork. No pictures yet but I’ll post one up here soon.
All in all I’m very pleased with the bike. It stood up to the rigours of the Transcontinental Race and I think that’s as much of a test as I would put it through.
My choice of tubeless tyres was vindicated. Not one single puncture. They’ve done over 4,000 miles now and they do need replacing as they’re through to the threads but still they stay inflated!
Here’s the bike in full race mode overlooking the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro..