Long-distance specialist and intrepid adventurer Darren Franks talks us through his TCR race bike in full battle dress before he competes in the 4th edition of the epic Transcontinental race across Europe.
A balance of speed, comfort, durability and style. Every single component was agonised over and chosen with the unique demands of ultra-distance racing in mind.
Aerobars are a must when it comes to ultra-distance and not just for the aerodynamic advantages. They offer more options for riding positions and spread the damage more evenly across the body, especially the hands, which take a huge beating. Having my gadgets mounted where they’re visible from any position is a great help. The eTrex is my no-frills primary navigation. I have a second head unit for data (I like data) and as a navigation backup. Stem-mounting the phone means my camera is always to hand and I can also search for facilities, check the leaderboard and anything else, all while on the move. The 3T aero handlebars were something of an indulgence, but they are wonderful things. Flat tops (unwrapped as I hold onto the elbow rests when I’m upright) and integrated cabling give some marginal aero gains, which can all add up to significant numbers when multiplied by the distance of the race.
Gearing is 50/34 and a Frankenstein’d 12-32T cassette. I’ve deliberately dropped the 11T sprocket because I should be disciplined about resting during descents. Di2 electronic gears have two distinct advantages when it comes to ultra-distance racing: there’s no stretch or friction from cables so they need very little maintenance and should perform consistently all the way to Turkey; and when my hands have failed (as most riders’ hands will do) it’s much easier to lightly press a button than to shift a mechanical lever. Di2 also allows me to have shift buttons on the aerobars, which saves energy, helps me keep an optimum cadence and means I spend more time in an aero tuck. A chain catcher is a safety net against chain issues that could easily cost a lot of time to resolve.
My luggage philosophy is fast and light. A top tube back is reserved for food; I’ll be eating around 12-13,000 calories per day. The custom frame bag holds a small selection of spares, warmers, hygiene kit, electronics and more food. The 3L saddle pack is smaller than most TCR riders use but just about holds my bivvy bag, down gilet, rain jacket and waterproof shorts. I’ve done away with the sleeping bag and sleeping mat as they’re too bulky and I’ll probably be tired enough to sleep anywhere.
My requirements for wheels were too weird for anything off the shelf so I worked with DCR Wheels to design these. The 40mm disc-specific carbon rims are great for aero yet very light and, I hope, durable enough for the demands of the race. They’re laced to a SON Delux dynamo with aero spokes and shod with Schwalbe’s Pro-One tubeless tyres. The dynamo means I can create my own power to keep gadgets and lights charged without stopping. The disc brakes are hydraulic which has the same maintenance-free benefits as the electronic gearing and also requires much less strength to pull compared to mechanical disc brakes, so I’ll still be able to stop when ulnar palsy robs me of hand function.
Comfort is much more important than speed, if it means you keep pedalling for longer. I won’t be needing maximum stiffness to sprint out of corners so Oli Laverack suggested dropping the seat tube to a thinner 27.2mm diameter. This added a little more of the compliance that riders love titanium for but it also allowed me to use the Ergon CF3 seat post, which adds even more. For the easiest possible servicing I also requested a threaded bottom bracket, so any possible issues can be resolved anywhere on the route with only basic tools.
A final little touch was to include the Transcontinental Race logo on the top tube as a nod to why this bike was conceived. When I get tired and my head drops I see the logo and remember that it’s a race. Those dots above the mountains represent the position of riders on the map and also remind me that friends, families and strangers are all watching my dot and following my performance.