Tiemeyer Signature Aero Track Bike – Part 1

by on Apr.07, 2010, under Bikes, Reviews

Rob MacCulloch's Tiemeyer Track Bike


Before writing about my new track frame, I’m going to write a first part about why I went the custom route, instead of buying one of the many off-the-peg track frames available in the UK, and why many of the VC10 and Calshot regulars like Greg Lewis had to put up with my talking about a track frame choice for about a year before I made a decision.

A couple of years ago, I had a suspicion that the bikes I owned didn’t fit. I felt like I was “pedalling squares” and had quite a lot of lower back pain during a ride. After years of learning how to fix bikes, I realised that I didn’t actually know why or how my bikes fitted – I knew how they worked, but that’s a totally different thing.

I took myself off to Rock’n’Road Cycles in Southampton, who are well known in my local area for bike fit. That’s mainly due to the owner, James Huggins, who had his racing career ended by a broken kneecap and who learnt – courtesy of many intensive courses – the physiology of cycling and putting riders straight onto bikes. I’m fairly (very) inquisitive, so a two hour fitting session with James one Saturday ended up at four and a half hours. It was the best four and a half hour investment of time I have ever spent – it turned out that my normal position was useless and, in fact, damaging my knees, back, neck and feet long-term.

A painful lesson was that I have a few fitting problems. Short femurs, long calves, inflexible hamstrings, over-pronation, different leg lengths……I didn’t think things were that bad, but the numbers from the fitting jig and its power meter didn’t lie. Turns out that I need – for any bike – a seat angle of 75˚ to get my short femurs in the right place over the pedals. Then I need a tall head tube to ease the strain on my inflexible hamstrings. My saddle came down, my bars went forward, insoles went into my shoes, my back straightened out, my feet stopped flopping……all very positive changes, resulting in an immediate 20-25 watt gain just on the fitting jig in the shop.

But, there was a catch. None of my bikes had a 75˚ seat angle. Few of them had a tall head tube. And more to the point, have you ever tried to buy a road or mountain bike with a 75˚ seat angle? They don’t exist. Sadly, I am one of the few people who actually, really, seriously need a bike frame custom made to fit, in an ideal world.I say sadly, because most riders don’t need a custom fit and most bike shops tend to tell you that you definitely don’t need a custom fit, so it really does make life more difficult. Conversations in bike shops nowadays generally involve me having an argument with a bike shop guy when they don’t believe that such-and-such a component won’t fit me. To be fair, I was sceptical myself at first. So, as a double check and after a bit of frantic E-baying, I went to see Dave Yates to get a standard steel training frame to ‘re-build’ my bike fleet. Dave Yates is a British framebuilding legend, a totally straightforward bloke and his frames are seriously good value, in the custom scheme of things, as they last forever with care. I told him about my fitting session and fitting results – he said “I doubt it” – then he sat me on his frame fitting jig and he said “whoever measured you is right. You need a 75˚ seat angle”.

There you go – that’s why I now have a couple of custom made frames. It’s all about the fit and nothing to do with flash: for me, going custom was a necessity if I wanted to ride a bike and not worry about my kneecaps disappearing in an arthritic blizzard. I now spend about 95% of my cycling time riding just two frames – my Dave Yates trainer (steel, heavy as sin, bombproof, ideal trainer) and my very new, very fast Tiemeyer Signature Track.

Most track bikes have a 75˚ seat angle or thereabouts. Problem is, they tend to have short head tubes to compensate for a rider with a position moved forward by the steeper seat angle. So – Dolans don’t fit me. Cervelo’s really don’t fit me and I can’t afford them. Most of the other track frames I’d like to ride – like a Bridgestone – don’t fit me. More to the point, Cervelo aside, very few track bikes used for mass start events, like points races, are aerodynamic. But take a look at the Olympic Points race in 2008 – lots of aero frames and wheels. Track is a cycling discipline where I certainly believe that aerodynamic gains are an advantage. I’d seen from my fitting session that I was now positioned lower and with a flatter, straighter back, so it seemed sense to extend my position’s aerodynamic gain to a frame as well.
So seeing as I’d wanted to replace my bodged-to-fit steel track bike for some time, I wanted two things from a new frame: the best fit and good aerodynamics.

There are often a lot of reasons for going custom – take a look at the North American Handmade Bike Show, for example – but I’m a bit of a purist, as I really think the purpose of a bike is to get you from A to B, so what I want from a track bike is pretty simple – function. To my way of thinking, function on the track revolves around the fit first and the aerodynamics second.

As far as I know, there is only one frame builder who regularly makes custom aerodynamic track frames – David Tiemeyer of Estes Park, Colorado.

A bit of history on David’s frames. The fastest time trial in history (the Giro d’Italia prologue in 2001) was on a Tiemeyer painted up as a GT and ridden by Rik Verbrugghe on the Lotto team. Kristen Armstrong, current world elite time trial champion, used to ride a Tiemeyer before big sponsorship came her way. Jason Sprouse, current holder of the World Masters Hour Record set his record on a Tiemeyer. The UK’s own Matt Haynes rode a Tiemeyer to his National Kilo win a few years back. David’s provided frames to riders and track squads in the last four Olympics……these are fast frames with a great pedigree, no question.

I’m not exactly in that league of rider, but David’s frames were exactly what I was looking for. A couple of other things made the decision easy – firstly, David also makes the innovative PositionCycle™ and works with elite level USA cyclists to refine fit, so I was confident he would be able to have a good discussion on my fitting needs. Secondly, his local velodrome is the 142m Boulder Velodrome – mine is the 142m Calshot Velodrome – so he also understands the geometry and handling of a bike on a short indoor track.

There was one final thing that I really liked about David’s frames from a distance – they’re all made from aluminium. My ‘serious’ cycling started in the early 1990’s with the mountain bike explosion, so I’ve always liked aluminium frames with big welds and big tubes from that era and frankly, having never ridden a carbon frame (because of that fit thing), all the aluminium bikes I’ve ever owned have been fantastic. I’ve owned some legendary aluminium frames (which, needless to say, ended up not fitting): Santa Cruz, Principia, Spooky and perhaps most legendary for aluminium, a Pace RC200 with square tubes (sold, after my fitting session. It didn’t fit. I’m still sad about that).

That might sound as if David Tiemeyer’s aluminium-only frames are old-style technology, but that’s far from the case. David has his aerodynamic frame tubes custom manufactured for him and the frame designs have been tested at the Colorado Ambient Air Tech wind tunnel, where David’s frames record fast numbers alongside other better known frames. Aluminium is also easier to fabricate for a custom build – no one-off carbon moulds to fit one-off riders – and the stiffness of the material is ideal for track frames, which is about 60% or more of the frames David builds. There’s a lot of thought and technological research behind what appears a fairly simple design. That’s not surprising when you learn that David was an aeronautical engineer before starting his frame building career.

So that’s the story of why I’ve ended up with the new frame I’ve been lucky enough to buy and have a great custom builder make for me. It all began with a search for the best fit and has ended up getting to that point. I’d agree that not everyone needs or wants a custom build, but for me, it was really the only answer and the process of making those decisions was really informative.

Next up, part 2 and the build itself – because that was the really fun part, where I learnt even more from David Tiemeyer about bike fit and function.

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