Testing Times

The premature death of a Schwalbe Pro One (on the turbo, no less!) is the latest in a run of kit woes that have me questioning my approach to the Transcontinental. My ethos thus far has been to plan for the lightest, fastest, most ‘race-like’ approach possible – a race bike, fast rolling tyres, light weight wheels etc. and this has worked perfectly for long days in the saddle and individual events… it is, however, proving less ideal long term.

All of the kit, at a minimum, has to make it 3,800km, including some pretty rough roads in the more remote parts of Eastern Europe. Longevity and comfort need to be balanced carefully with speed – and that balance seems to lie closer to longevity than I had previously banked on. I’ve hollowly repeated phrases like ‘you don’t have to be fast, you just can’t be slow’, but my inner time-triallist has stubbornly refused to yield outright speed and some of my original kit choices were overly optimistic. But this is why we test. Without riding my preferred kit to destruction before looking elsewhere, I’d always be asking ‘what if’. Time to kill off a bit of the blind optimism and surrender to reality.

I maintain that the RTD-90 is a great bike for this type of challenge and, with a few compromises/changes in my kit, would cope admirably. However, the compromises I would need to make involve using inferior kit or carrying more spares than I’m comfortable with, and I’m lucky to be able to take the more expensive approach to fixing the issue… it’s time for a new frame.

All of my previous considerations remain – I’m not switching out a race bike for a tourer or anything that sticks me bolt upright and steers like a barge. The replacement simply needs to be a race bike… plus a bit more (big clue there as to what I’ve gone for!). Turns out this is surprisingly hard to find and I spent hours poring over the options… custom steel (a dream, but I’d want to do it properly and get something far too beautiful to abuse with a challenge such as this)… titanium (everything was either too heavy, too ugly, not available in my size or too relaxed geometry)… carbon (one or two options that fit the new bill… but eye-wateringly expensive)… or…. the Bowman Pilgrims.

It’s not absurdly expensive, not absurdly heavy, not absurdly upright… as their marketing says, it really does appear to be a ‘road plus’ bike. A bit of faffing with stems and I should be able to set it up to my standard race position, while fitting more sensible (but still very fast) rubber and solving the various niggles the RTD-90 has thrown up. Importantly, being aluminium, it’s also about equal in price to a cheap carbon import like the RTD-90, so I’m not too worried about damage and coddling it across Europe. Anything it loses in outright speed to the RTD-90 should be made up for in not having to stop to fix/replace/repair kit (…what would Ultan’s race have looked like without that long walk down the Assietta…).

I’m kicking myself for not having had a closer look at Paul’s Pilgrims at 3 Down, but confident (having looked at literally every frame within budget) that it’s the best ‘compromise’ available. I was sorely tempted by a Mason, and titanium efforts from Kinesis and Enigma would have been in contention if they were available at short notice, but I think the Pilgrims would have narrowly won regardless – the road plus ethos just says it all.

Hopefully this is the final big kit change – there isn’t much time left to run more components through a full 3,800km test cycle!

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