Sourcing the Parts

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Gearing / braking as the 1st order of Business…

At the time of the build, hydraulic disc brakes for road bikes was just approved by the UCI for use in the pro peloton. Not that I would race at that level…this year…or ever…but…it meant product options started trickling in from SRAM, Shimano and other players. I knew I wanted disc brakes and from previous experience with a touring tandem, I knew I was looking for a hydraulic setup.

Both Shimano and SRAM have just launched fully hydraulic setups, with shifters housing the fluid reservoir driving pistons much as we know from the MTB world. A super-sexy setup no doubt, but also rather pricey. Other options included cable/fluid combinations, which would allow me to decouple the groupset/brake setup options.

I kept this in the back of my mind as I filled my trolley online, comparing options on price while reading as much as I could about pros and cons either way. In the end I figured: I actually have to start with the brake set up, since everything else would hang off this backwards. Buy Shimano and I will have to go Shimano road gearing. Ditto SRAM, but at least there I would have the option of mixing road vs. MTB parts.

This then went the direction of gearing. I’ll be hauling approx. 35kg of kit up 20km passes at 10% ave. grade. That requires MTB gearing at best I thought. Options, options. 1×10, 1×11? 2×11? 3xwhatever.

It became so confusing, I spent days in the fetal position in a semi-catatonic state. Safe word was “Simplification”.

I decided to decouple the braking/shifter/speed dilemma by going for a cable-to-hydraulic option from TRP (they call it Hy/Rd, pronounced “High Road”). This allowed me to make the groupset decision later, while being able to look for good deals on standard equipment.


Sold as a single caliper, it ships with a 160mm rotor (6-bolt) and adapters for direct and IS mount.

Interestingly, with the TRP setup, the hydraulic fluid is housed in a reservoir on the caliper assembly. This makes for a bulkier brake and requires some consideration to limit heel-strike.Its a hefty little unit, with the reservoir located on the caliper body itself – the shiny plate is the cover:


Additionally, TRP and several others recommend running compression-less brake housing to minimize drag and create a more direct braking feel. Some research pointed to Yokozuna brake housing, in the league of Nokon, but more reasonably priced. My credit card cried tears the shape of dollar signs as it gleefully gotten itself whipped and abused. The set arrived with brake and shifter housing, promising an improvement in already-sweet shifting (from the experience of my all-Campy set up on the road bike).

Back to shifters/gearing then.

A chance discussion with my local Campy dealer opened up a whole new can of worms…what about using a triple Campy Record crank up front? This can be run with a standard 10 speed Campy shifter set, since the front shifter has enough trim positions to cover all three blades. As luck would have it, I was running a Record 10 speed setup on my road bike. All I needed was a reason to upgrade to 11 speed on that bike…eventually. The plan was thought over and then committed to. I picked up the triple crank for next to nothing, and had a triple front derailleur and long cage rear derailleur thrown in. The latter not top-of-the-line stuff, but certainly adequate for my purposes…


Of course, one needs a bottom bracket too…I picked up a matching Record BB in the right size. Unfortunately no pictures since this has been dispatched to my frame builder along with the crank. To check clearances, you see…

Voila, gearing was sorted (for now)!

While the classic alloy Record crankset is something to behold, the theme of the bike turned into black/cream/gold/copper with very little silver/chrome. After some consideration, I found a local anodizing shop and commissioned a “mirror-black” finish. They refused to anodize the blades, which thus still leaves a bit of silver splash in the wrong place. To be sorted.

Now for something to make your head spin…Wheels…(har-har-har)

The wheel size matter was settled almost off the bat: 26″ is out, 700c and 29er have the same bead seat diameter and are thus for all intents and purposes the same. One easy thing out of the way.

Next up: Spoke count. As I said, I’ll be hauling 35+kgs of kit, mostly on the back wheel. While a 32-hole set up could do on the road, I didn’t feel comfortable with this on gravel. I settled on 36+. Additionally, I’d like a double box section setup, preferably with eyelets linking the sections. This helps spread the spoke tension over a bigger surface and (reputedly) limits tearing of the rim where the nipple exists, a weak point under prolonged heavy load.

To add a minor complication, I’d be running disc brakes, which basically means the rims won’t need sidewall braking surfaces. This could help in two ways: 1) The profile could be different (doesn’t need to have the initial flat box section) and 2) the rim could be lighter since the heavy reinforcing required for a braking surface would be redundant.

You try match that spec to something that is available: 700c/29er + 36H or more + Disc brake + re-enforced eyelets. That’s right, extremely limited choices. Almost everything I looked at went up to a maximum of 32 holes. All profiled rims were 32 holes or less and no eyelets.

From some research I stumbled upon the DT Swiss TK540 – a touring rated rim which has garnered much praise from those who use it in anger. Here it is:


(Source: DT Swiss)

Notice the hollow box section and eyelets. Unfortunately, at check out it emerged only a rim-brake version was available. Nothing a good spray job can’t fix…

Getting to the hub of the matter, several more challenges emerged. Since I’d be running Campy gearing, I’d need to get a set of hubs that could accommodate a Campagnolo cassette. Remember, disc brakes? Remember how discs on road bikes aren’t that big a thing yet? Remember how Campagnolo tried once to get into MTB parts (and gave it up as a fad that will never take off)? Punch that shit into Google and see what you find. Oh, add 36 holes into the mix.

Bottomline for my build: I’d have to go Shimano/SRAM freewheel body with rear spacing at 135mm. All of a sudden, the options opened up: Chris King, Shimano, Hope, White Industries. I settled on a set of Hopes in wet black, with quick release.


(Source: HOPE)

Hope, by the way, HAD a Campy freebody some time back, but this has become quite impossible to find locally or online. Again, research to the rescue and by all indications Campy could be made to match Shimano/SRAM cassette spacing, especially in 10 speed guise. Never one to take a chance, I researched this a little and found the answer in JTEK’s Shiftmate. This nifty device basically converts the cable pull ratio between the Campy shifter to that required by the Shimano/SRAM cassettes.


(Source: JTek)

Incidentally, this is likely the most expensive part of the entire build, considering its size. Its also not available through any of the mainstream online suppliers and I had to use some obscure shop with a pretty rudimentary web portal. Of course, despite all other intentions, and having hit the “SEND WITH TRACKING” option, it still got to checkout without this and without me noticing…which obviously meant the little fucker hit South African shores with no past and no future. It is likely still stuck in customs  waiting to be claimed. I ended up ordering a second one, clicking “WITH FUCKING TRACKING” ten times to be sure. Still ended up in checkout WITHOUT this checked (WTAF??) which required a mail to the shop to get sorted out. Good thing I had time and our currency got its stuff together just a little bit. @JTEK: You could sell bucket loads of this stuff if you get in with the main bike part sites. Stop being humble about how nifty this is.

Anyway, back to the wheels…here’s Jean my local builder man busy with the build:


..and the finished product:


The sound of the freewheel is something to brace yourself for…the sound of mechanical robustness I think. A bit of a close up of the hub.


You’d have noticed the Schwalbe Marathon tire already mounted. This wasn’t my initial first choice, but after speaking to a couple of long distance expedition riders, their feedback was more or less unanimous: The single most-valued piece of kit they have used on their tours turns out to be this particular tire. No mean feat, actually, beating “double-ply toilet paper in Nairobi” (I kid you not) by some margin…

All this robustness makes for a pretty heavy setup: I don’t even WANT to weight it. Bargain on 3.5kg+ for the wheelset with tires.

You might recall I mentioned running mechanical discs on a touring tandem some time back? On two occasions I managed to glaze the pads so comprehensively that they had no braking effect at all. I realized afterwards (likely while cleaning my underwear) that the correct braking technique on a long descent is to let the rig run and apply hands full of brake to take off speed as you approach corners (vs. dragging front/rear the entire time). This stops the system for overheating, which causes the brakes to go all spongy, and the pads to glaze over. Of course, it takes some courage to try this for the 1st time…

In line with this lesson, I decided to go with the supplied TRP 160mm rotors units at the back, but up front to rather run 183mm Hopes. The latter will obviously require a spacer, but this is easily sourced from my local bike shop.

Here’s the front rotor mounted to the hub:


While waiting for the frame to be built, I started looking at saddles and other finishing kit. While there are several options to go for, in my mind there was only one final choice: Brooks. I bought their Swallow for my roadbike and was so impressed by the packaging (I know, ALL the reason to buy a product), that I promptly followed suit with an order for the Swift, a slightly more touring-orientated version.

Nothing can quite prepare you for the sense of awe when you receive a vintage-printed box with a heft to it that speaks of a form-and-function-over-weight mindset. As the box slid open and the saddle was revealed bit by bit, I held my breath…this thing is beautiful!

Brooks Saddle

I ordered a set of matching brown leather bartape, perforated for an old-school feel.

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Dream, build, ride, repeat