I’m spoilt for choice when it comes to bikes (there’s a slim chance I own a few too many), but there is only one in my stable that I would actually choose for this year’s route. The Transcontinental is effectively a very long time trial, so the bike has to be built for racing – race geometry for speed and handling, range of positions available (drops, hoods, tops, extensions) and capable of stopping 80kg of me and 10kg of luggage on an alpine descent at short notice.
I deeply admire Ultan Coyle for utilising a Trek Speed Concept in last year’s race – he’s either found the magic saddle I’m still looking for or has a steel-lined undercarriage. If I had the constitution (and the contacts to be able to make aero luggage), this is definitely the route I would go down. Over a race this long, the benefits of being aero simply add up to scarily large numbers. Sadly, my Boardman AiR TT 9.8 is just too aggressively set up for a race of this nature – I could manage 12 hours on it, but not over multiple days.
Making this bike comfy for such a challenge would require magically re-growing some steerer, investing in some custom aero luggage and a great deal more faff than simply looking to a slightly more suitable bike (and let’s not forget, the bike is a small percentage of overall aerodynamics, with position and other factors weighing heavily, particularly when you involve luggage).
The next best thing to the Boardman would be my Felt AR1 – an aero bike with plenty of scope to find a really comfortable multi-day position. I seriously considered the Felt for a long time, but eventually it had to be discounted for two major failings – firstly, the luggage options would be limited by the deep aero tubes and I would almost certainly have to go with a large saddle pack, which would upset the handling and be less aero than my preferred style of luggage. Secondly, the rim brakes, while excellent, aren’t as powerful as discs or as reliable in the wet (and an out-of-true rim could derail my race).
The Planet X RTD-90 solves these problems. The geometry is similar to the AR1, the tubes are boxier, so can accommodate my preferred luggage and it runs on disc brakes. With clip ons attached, I can get good and low, while not putting too much pressure on the wrong places. The pads can be set wide to relieve fatigue and Di2 means I can shift gear without shifting position. In an ideal world, I’d have hydraulic brakes set up, but budget considerations put Shimano’s Di2 hydraulic brifters out of reach and I found TRP’s Hy/Rd hybrid design too fiddly and unreliable. Mechanical disc brakes have less stopping power, but the benefits of reliable performance and less issues with a wheel coming out of true remain. It will also be easier to carry spares.
All in, the bike weighs around 8kg. Rather more than the Boardman or Felt! However, while the route is very mountainous, an extra kilogram of bike pales in comparison to the 5-10kg of luggage most of us will be hauling around. Even with around 50,000m of climbing planned, I believe aerodynamics will be a bigger consideration than weight. Keeping luggage in-line with the frame, keeping the centre of gravity low and riding in a low, but not too aggressive, position on the extensions should easily make up for the slightly heavier bike.
At some point further down the line I’ll share a detailed overview of the bike set up and the final kit I’ll be using, but for now, much is still undecided and needs to be chosen carefully over the next six months of testing and experimentation.