Transmogrification Complete

For those of you who aren’t au fait with cheap sci fi UK comedy from 25 years ago, you might have a bit of research to do to discover the provenance of this post title 🙂

For the past few months I’ve been trialling a new setup on the CHR. Last year was all about aero and speed, and I ended up with a setup that was ridiculously aero but wasn’t the most user friendly. When I had another front tyre blowout at high speed that sanded away a bit more of my leg, I started to lose my desire for speed at all costs. The bike has since been progressing towards something that’s a bit more like a GT bike – it’s still really fast but a lot easier to live with.

The first change I’ve made is to ditch the tubeless fragile race tyres. The roads around here just don’t suit these tyres no matter how much I try to convince myself otherwise. Unless you stick to the A7, (which I do sometimes enjoy in the evening for some speed miles when it’s not quite so busy – it’s relatively smooth paving and good for eating up the miles), you have to venture onto single lane country roads with sharp stones and potholes all over the place. Both my front tyre blowouts have been sidewall gashes while running tubeless and hitting debris on these roads. I’m pretty sure both of them would have resulted in slower deflations if I had been running tubes and might have allowed me to get the bike stopped instead of immediately hitting the deck at 25 mph. The jury’s out on that but in any case I’ve lost my confidence in tubeless completely so I’ve once again gone back to tubes. This time for good I think!

The tyres have been switched out for Pirelli Cinturato Velos which can also be run tubeless, but I’m running them with tubes. They’re 26C which is pushing the limit for the CHR in the rear, but they just fit. They’re a little bit slower than race tyres but still pretty slick. More importantly, they are much more puncture resistant. I had started developing the fear on descents and was struggling to enjoy riding a fast bike on these roads – these tyres are definitely helping me get my mojo back in terms of letting it rip on descents.

The bigger change I’ve made is to swap out the narrow M5 handlebar for a set of Salsa Woodchipper gravel bars. These are similar to the bars on the Cruzbike V20 which I really enjoyed. I’ve spent a fair bit of time dialing in the position of these and trying to figure out if it’s a change worth keeping, and the result is yes – it’s a big improvement in many ways with only a couple of small drawbacks.

Getting these bars onto the CHR was harder than I first imagined. They’re 31.8mm diameter, and the tiller clamp diameter was 26mm. I could not for the life of me find a wide gravel bar with 26mm diameter in the UK, so I went with the Woodchippers. This presented me with several challenges to solve – 1) If you put drop bars direct onto a straight tiller stem on the CHR, the brifters end up way too high due to the height of the steerer tube exit point on the frame, 2) The diameter was wrong for my tiller clamp, and 3) The tiller wasn’t long enough to get decent clearance on my legs. I solved all three of these things by getting a stem extender, attaching that to the first tiller piece and then using an adjustable angle riser stem to both extend the bars out further and bring them lower.

The result, if I may say so, is a very nice setup.

I’ve used Sram Rival brifters – the rest of the drivetrain remains unchanged as I was already using Sram road components with the TT shifters.

The first thing you notice with this setup is how much space there is for your torso to sit up at junctions and the like. There’s no down-pointing bars getting in the way of your stomach. Then you notice that there’s no longer a mess of brake levers and cables in front of you – the brifter levers are well out of your vision and the cables are neatly tucked under the bar tape. So forward vision is miles better than before. After that, you discover that you have space to put a Garmin Edge mount, a Garmin Etrex mount and a mirror on the bars and still have tons of space to spare! No more faffing about with a wrist mounted mirror. Fantastic! There is literally a ton of space to put stuff on. These are super wide bars.

Getting the brifters at the right angle took a bit of messing around. The challenge is to find a position where the drop end of the bars supports your hand enough for riding in the drops without the need to ‘hang’ on to the bars, but not rotated so far round that the brifters become uncomfortable to operate. If you rotate them too flat, then your arms and hands get put at an awkward angle as they are coming up from below. The Woodchippers are a strange shape and make this more challenging, as they tend to force the brifters to point inwards, and the optimum position with them twisted out parallel to your legs has the shifter paddles digging into the bar tape when you brake. It took a few weeks’ trial and error to get this zoned in, but it’s now working really nicely.

For cruising at speed, I can rest my hands gently on the tops of the bars or hoods, and still have great control of the bike, with easy access to gear changes and braking. I got the widest Woodchipper bar and there’s just enough clearance for me to do this without my thumbs hitting my legs, even with my winter gloves on. My hands are quite high up in this position, and my arms are still a bit bent, but not too much. There is a limit to how straight you can make your arms, due to the height of the bottom bracket which necessarily forces everything else up higher and closer to the back of the bike. For a bit more direct control, I can use the drops. This feels much more like a normal bike. Perfect access to the double tap shifter paddles and gear levers. For some reason, braking feels better with this setup compared to the Sram road flat bar levers I had before. You’d think they’d both have the same pull ratio but the brifters do feel better. The bike feels a lot easier to control at low speed on steep hills using this position as well – it really does make a huge difference compared to having your hands tucked in close on the narrow bars. Combined with the 11-42 on the back, you can winch up steep grades at fairly low speeds quite comfortably.

I have tried holding the bars in close the way you might on a climb on a road bike, but this doesn’t work at all – I felt like I was not in control of the bike and had to rely on leaning to steer.

So with these two changes, the bike now feels much more ‘me’. It’s great having access to proper brifter technology again, and being able to see better over the front is a big bonus too. The only drawback of this change is speed – you definitely lose a little off the top end, particularly with the slightly slower tyres. I don’t think the aero loss due to the bars is as bad as you might think at first – yes, your hands are out wider, but there’s a lot less brake and cable junk sticking into the wind, and when riding on the hoods your elbows are lifted reasonably high. To be honest, I think I’ve stopped caring about all out speed this year anyway. I still like to go fast and it is still a very fast bike – but now it’s also one that is easy to ride in almost any conditions and should hopefully be a lot more puncture resistant. A bike for long days out – which is also why I bought an Etrex 🙂 Looking forward to venturing out into some new territory this year.

The final icing on the M5 cake.

Also, just for giggles, I’ve put the M5 narrow bar on the Fuego with the TT shifters. I suspect that will be a temporary thing until I see sense again, but it feels a bit more like a proper lowracer now! I’m converting it to a 2×11 drivetrain. I still have the Deore triple on the front for now, but I’m only using the two biggest rings, and I now have an 11-46 on the back. Shimano says this won’t work with the SLX long cage derailleur I have, and they are almost right. I should have gone with an 11-42 which definitely works as I use this on the M5, but apparently everybody has been buying those in the pandemic and I couldn’t find one anywhere. It’s all a bit tight in terms of tolerances for setting the b screw and still getting crisp shifting, with one sticky gear on the big ring that I can’t tune out. I’ll probably put the open cockpit bars back on with the bar ends which will be a nice setup.

In the meantime, it’s got all the drawbacks that these bars had on the M5, without the advantage of the insane speed. It won’t last.

Endless tweakery!

5 thoughts on “Transmogrification Complete

  1. “The bike feels a lot easier to control at low speed on steep hills using this position as well – it really does make a huge difference compared to having your hands tucked in close on the narrow bars. Combined with the 11-42 on the back, you can winch up steep grades at fairly low speeds quite comfortably.”

    Slow speed win then – that really makes sense. Plus, as you say, all the tech that’s been put into road bikes for briftershas been out of reach for you till now. One reason you and others like the Cruzbike idea was being able to just use road components rather than the mix LB uses.
    (typically 105 road double blended with XT rear mech and block so we can use flattbar shifters).

    Good write up and hope to see for real soon….

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    • It’s worth pointing out I also use an XT rear mech and block. I just like brifters more! To make this work you stick a JTek Shiftmate 9 in the rear derailleur cable path and it all works very nicely.

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  2. Nice conversion! From time to time I’m dreaming about a gravel CHR as well. I would build it from the ground up, with 584 rims which would allow for much wider tires (35 mm should fit at least). A Tektro long arm rear brake could work, but propably better option would be to order a frame with rear disc mount to begin with.
    The gravel bars would round up this setup very nicely.

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  3. Interesting set up
    Noticed that a lot of cyclistes couchés dans la France like this sort of set up
    Do you pull on these bars when climbing a la Cruz bike ideology? They kind of look as if they invite it
    I am always torn between pulling on my straight bars or just resting the finger tips on the bars – although extreme gradients usually produce a gritted teeth death grasp of the bars
    Occasionally i will actually push myself back into the seat with the bars
    Any ideas on which technique gives greater climbing power ?

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  4. I don’t think pulling on the bars on a fixed BB bike does anything to increase power. The main reasons I did this change were to improve forward visibility and get better handling. I always ride with minimal arm tension so I’m a fingertipper as well.

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