After contacting David Tiemeyer last year, the first part of my Tiemeyer project was to measure my current position for David to translate into a frame, which involved measuring the bike that I knew fitted. I had some questions for David about forward reach and forward drop on a short track – and I had in mind using a particular stem reach and angle (110mm and -6˚), so wanted to see how that would affect the build. I also gave David details of my weight, height, riding style (not that I really have one…..) and the contact points (saddle, pedals etc.) that I intended to use, as they can all affect frame fitting.
Based on my experience at Calshot track and speaking to Harry Jackson, our coach who was twice in the Great Britain Olympic team, I’ve always set my track bike up exactly the same as my road bike set-up: same measurements and forward reach and drop. David agreed with this, based on his track experience, so this made fitting the frame from my existing numbers a bit easier.
David came back immediately with a frame drawing based on my current road bike. I wanted to see if the stem I wanted to use could work, so David tried a couple more alternate frame designs. Two elements were apparent – firstly, I need a long head tube, so putting a negative rise stem on the frame would mean either a lot of spacers between the headset and the stem, or a frame with virtually no standover height. Also, a 110mm stem for someone my size would slow the handling down a bit (useful for events like Madison, but more stable handling isn’t what you always want in a track bike) and also give me toe overlap (where the front wheel can hit your toes in a really tight turn) due to a shorter front end.
So, back to the drawing board – David advised me that a 100mm stem with 0˚rise would give me less headset spacers, no toe overlap and a ‘classic’ track bike handling feel. Also, because the head tube had to be tall, a sloping top tube would increase standover height. I wondered if we could extend the head tube above the top tube junction, but this is where David’s long experience kicked in: if the head tube extended far above the top tube, the aluminium tube could deform. OK, a sloping top tube on an aerodynamic frame is a little less aero……but having too little standover height is potentially dangerous in a crash. I’ve always liked sloping top tubes, so I was happy to give up some aerodynamics in favour of being able to climb off the saddle in comfort.
This process took about six weeks of transatlantic e-mails and ended up with five frame designs – the final design drawing is shown. Lots of angles and numbers, but I could see that they would fit perfectly, based on my fitting measurements and other bikes.
Three final questions remained. David’s frames come with a Chris King No-Threadset and Edge Composites track fork as standard. Did I want a different fork, like an Oval Concepts? No, as Edge Composites are an awesome company for Carbon components, so I can’t think of a better track fork. What colour did I want the headset? Silver, as I was planning a build using silver components. Finally, I asked for the anodized finish, rather than the standard paint finish. This was because the anodized finish is noticeably lighter (nearly half a pound) and I knew from reading about David’s frames elsewhere that they’re built for strength first and weight second, so being a little guy, I wanted to keep overall weight down if I could. That meant that I had to have a silver frame, as David has found that coloured anodizing discolours around the welds.
The great part of the process was the communication with David. I asked a question; David responded usually same day with a reasoned and sensible answer, often pointing out areas I hadn’t considered. I learnt a lot from the exchange of ideas and we settled on a frame design that we both agreed would be ideal for what I wanted. All the while, David was able to steer some of my less knowledgeable questions into a more sensible design. That experience is the most valuable element of going to a great custom builder – their guidance to make sure you are on a bike that does what you want when you get it, with no hidden surprises.
Building the frame took about ten weeks, which meant that I could choose parts for when it arrived. We’d designed the frame around a 100mm stem with 0˚ rise, so a Thomson X4 stem and a matching Thomson seat post made sense: both rock solid reliable and both in silver to match the frame. I use a Selle Italia SLR XP saddle on all my bikes so no issues there. David and I had also discussed which bars I was intending to use – I always use Deda Newton 40cm anatomic bars, which I find really comfortable, so the frame build had these bars in mind (I also prefer aluminium bars: decent value, decent weight, as stiff as I need and cheap enough to replace if you crash).
Two areas were up for discussion – drive train and wheels. The drive train question was do I use classic 1/8” track chain, sprockets and chainrings, or drop a lot of weight by using a ‘road-sized’ 3/32” chain and drive train? It ended up being 3/32” as I didn’t feel I needed the extra strength of 1/8”. Stronglight track cranks, a Spécialities TA 49 tooth chainring, a Dura-Ace 16 tooth sprocket and a Connex 808 chain were the main drive components and kept cost right down – but all are tried and trusted components, having used all of them before. That gave me some extra to spend on Speedplay Zero pedals with Titanium axles, which I got in a sale, and a Spécialities TA Axix Light bottom bracket with a Titanium axle. I’m OK using Titanium axles on the track (big guys can bend them) because I’m not that heavy and don’t notice any loss of stiffness. I upgraded the bearings on the bottom bracket to Enduro Zero ceramics, as I got the bearings at a good price, with the design of the TA bracket making replacement of the bearings easy.
Now, I build wheels, mainly for myself, but also for friends. The wheel build took ages to decide. You can spend a fortune on wheels, but I didn’t want to – I wanted something reliable, reasonably light weight, reasonable cost and aero. That’s quite a hard ask, to be honest. I was able to get some unbranded Gigantex 50mm deep carbon rims from another UK wheelbuilder (Gigantex make rims for many better known brands). Sapim CX-Rays are my favourite spokes to build with, so they were a no brainer. I used hexagonal alloy spoke nipples to push the nipples onto the spokes, giving less wind up at the nipple and a secure grip on a tiny component. Hubs were the last thing. I’ve often used Goldtec hubs before and generally never had any issues. Goldtec also distribute Enduro bearings in the UK. They set me up with a custom drilled 20 hole front hub and 24 hole rear hub, both upgraded to include Enduro Zero ceramic bearings. When they arrived, both hubs span for ages with finger pressure alone. The last thing were tubulars – I’d heard good things about Schwalbe Milano tubs as a decent all round training tub (no point using race tyres until you are going to race) and I found somewhere selling these for about half the price of Vittorias. A bit more cash saved…….all in all, I’m very happy with the wheels – they feel as stiff as wheels I’ve used with a lot more spokes and are noticeably quicker to get up to speed, with the Schwalbes proving a very good tubular indoors. Cost was about the same as a pair of Campagnolo Pista wheels.
Finally the frame arrived. It was very silver. It was very aero. The seatstays were the widest I’d ever seen. The downtube was beyond belief. The aero edges are so sharp compared to other aero tubes that you could imagine taking a grinding stone to them. The rear wheel cut-out looks as if it’s been hewn from solid metal.
The frame was a delight to build – what you get with a custom builder are the extra touches. The bottom bracket shell was threaded and faced perfectly, so the TA bottom bracket glided into place. The frame takes a standard sized 27.2 mm seatpost – no weird seatpost diameters here – and has a cunning seatpost bolt that slots into place for a single 5mm allen key to tighten both sides of the seat-tube equally. The dropouts are solid titanium plate with an inch of adjustment, so it’s easy to set your chain tension and not worry about marking the dropouts. The headtube is reinforced with rings at each end and the headset was fitted by David perfectly. David has said in a past interview with Velonews that he doesn’t ‘do’ pretty welds, but the standard of welding on the massive tubes is top-notch. Ever the perfectionist, I took a tape measure to the frame to check the dimensions – it was built millimetre perfect.
I had a couple of issues in building the bike, but both were to do with components, not the frame. Firstly, the Stronglight cranks have an extra ring of material on the inside of the left hand crank that is just decorative and not part of the crank structure – this caught the shell of the TA bottom bracket and prevented the cranks spinning freely. 20 minutes careful grinding took this ring off so that the cranks span as they should. Secondly, once I tightened up the dropout bolts on the front hub, the hub wouldn’t spin freely – the hub shell was a bit wide and caught on the hub’s end caps, so I had to grind the hub shell down a bit to get the wheel spinning right.
But that’s it – I set the bike up according to the measurements and drawing that David and I had agreed on. Every measurement was spot on, a real testament to a precision build from a great frame builder. My weight weenie tendencies also worked out – the entire bike is 14.7lbs. Not bad for a 2kg frame made from ‘old-school’ aluminium…….
I’ve now ridden the bike around six times, enough times to get a handle on it. First impressions are that the combination of the correct position, aerodynamic frame and wheels and lighter overall weight mean that it’s definitely faster than my previous track bike. Most of that is due to the better position, but the other elements help get up to speed and help me stay there. Rather than moving all over the bike, I’m finding I can stay in the drops for a long period of time – no feeling of stretching or discomfort, but a comfortable position with arms that aren’t locked and rigid. I’m also finding that when at the front of a line of riders, the bike is almost laser guided down the line you want – there’s far less effort at keeping a line. The standover height and lack of toe overlap when moving on and off the track are also noticeable – the frame just feels ‘right’.
There’s only one area which was noticeably different and that was going round steep banking on the inner black line at speed. On the first few rides, I found the bike was a bit harder to control and tended to ‘go wide’ up the banking. I don’t think that’s the frame – I think that’s the wheels. They’re about a kilogram lighter than the previous wheels I used and I think it’s the lower rotating mass that makes the bike a bit livelier in corners. But – I’m going into the corners faster, because my speed has gone up due to the overall effect of the bike, so the difference is like steering an oil tanker (my previous bike) and steering a fighter plane. I had a period of readjustment to concentrate more in corners, but now its flying and I actually have to back off the power a little bit in corners. I wanted a frame that would help me go faster through a better position and better function and that’s exactly what I got. Handling, comfort and stiffness are all top notch – the bike does what you want it to do.
So was it worth it, compared to getting something off-the-peg and about four months quicker? An undisputed yes. I’ve learnt a lot about my bike fit; I’ve learnt more about how bikes work; I’m going faster due to the overall effects; I feel far more comfortable; and the length of time to build the bike meant I could spread the cost. Moreover, the frame, forks and headset cost less than an equivalent Dolan and far less than an equivalent Cervelo, Principia, Bridgestone or other frame. And whilst this wasn’t the main object of the build, I look at the bike and think it not only looks great, but it also looks ‘right’. When I looked at my previous bike, I used to notice all the things that had been bodged to fit.
That’s not to say that everyone needs or wants a custom built frame. But if you’re concerned about your position or body and have some nagging doubts, you could potentially end up wasting a lot of money on an off-the-peg bike that isn’t doing you any good without you realising. I learnt that talking to the experts took away that uncertainty and I’m a better rider as a result. Putting all the pieces together – a good position, a more efficient frame, greater aerodynamics, better wheels – has all worked for me.
David Tiemeyer’s frame was the final piece of the jigsaw. David is one of the unsung heroes of the many American custom framebuilders: unassuming, helpful, technically-driven and a real expert in his field. His frames are not built for decoration and you won’t find him making weird and wonderful showcase bikes for the North American Handmade Bike Show. But if you want a frame for a purpose – to go faster, more comfortably, for longer – he’s your man. Very few people have his experience or expertise. I can’t recommend talking to David enough.
A final point – my odd legs needed a custom frame. But David also builds track frames in ‘standard’ sizes that come with forks, headset and a choice of paint finish for a lower price than his custom frames. If you’re a serious track, time trial or road rider in the market for a new frame, you might want to speak to David first. You can contact him at www.tiemeyercycles.com.