Quintana Roo TiPhoon
by Dan Empfield 5.18.05
(www.slowtwitch.com)

Note: this review was originally published in 2005. It is valid today (2007) in every respect but one. The TiPhoon is no longer present in QR's lineup as a production bike, in production geometry, rather it's QR's custom option. If today you buy a TiPhoon frameset or complete bike, it's likely because you'll have it made to order, built to your desired geometry.

SIZING & PARTS
THE BUILD
THE HANDLEBARS
THE MAIDEN VOYAGE
SEATED CLIMBING AND ALL THE REST

SIZING & PARTS

After road testing a Litespeed Blade last year I got in my head that I ought to ride titanium a while longer. Not just any ti, but American Bicycle Group ti. This company (maker of Litespeed, Quintana Roo and Merlin, among other brands) seemed to do ti in a way I appreciate, based on the ti bikes I'd ridden in times past.

But there were specific things I was looking for, and I wasn't convinced that I could get what I wanted out of a QR TiPhoon in the size I'd normally ride. Instead of my usual 59cm in a QR bike I opted for a 61cm TiPhoon for my 6'2" frame, not because I'd normally need a bike that big but for two disconnected reasons. First, I wanted a bike that I could ride with no hands down a 50mph hill without concern. Not that I would do this. Rather, as I get older I tend to hold onto the bars with a death grip, and with each year I age I do so at increasingly slower speeds. Why this is I do not know, because it seems to me that as I age I have incrementally less to live for, and ought to be careening down the hills with abandon. At age-80 I should be drafting behind tractor trailers on descents, hooting and hollering with both feet sticking up in the air and out sideways in festive glee.

But no, instead I'm gripping life as if I had an entire one yet to live, though mine is fully 50% over, I need a bike that I can ride down a hill in abject terror and which will give me the confidence that I might yet survive the experience. In short, I needed more front/center and the 61cm gave it to me.

Also, I used to ride QR bikes in 59cm because it was the right size for me at 78° or 80° of seat angle (which is how they used to be built). This bike was closer to 76°, both in 59cm and 61cm. Since I'd be shortening the bike as I steepened the seat angle (through moving the saddle forward), I needed yet a slight bit more top tube length. At least I thought I did. As it turned out, after I got the bike built I ended up with 85mm of stem, so in reality I easily could've ridden a 59cm, at least in terms of fit. Whether the 59cm would give me the extra stability I sought during high speed descents I cannot say. I suspect it would. But it's an unresolved question at this point.

There were a few other novel ideas I had for this bike. First were the new parts I wanted to try. On this bike I'd intended to put Blackwell brake levers, a new saddle from Profile Design that I'd anticipated riding for some time, M2Racer Orb pedals, some new Carnac cycling shoes, and a workshop-enhanced set of jury-rigged Profile Design aero bars I'd been contemplating.

All this accomplished, I then put a set of Compact Drive cranks made by FSA, with 50x34 chainrings. On the back I put a 12-27 cassette, and this gave me 31 teeth to suck up. In other words, I needed a lot of chain in order to spin around a 50x12, and a lot of derailleur cage to accommodate a 34X27. Furthermore, I'm very likely going to put an 11X31 on the back, so that I have a tall enough gear for gradual descents and tailwind flats, plus a granny for seated climbing with a high cadence on steep pitches. This would increase total teeth to 36, certainly way too much for a standard road derailleur. This TiPhoon therefore has a Shimano XTR derailleur made for MTB riding, and as I'm still riding 9sp for the most part the indexed Dura Ace bar end shifters matched the 9sp XTR nicely. On went a Wippermann chain, whatever brake calipers were sitting around the workshop (I located Ultegra) and I found some Profile Design carbon water bottle cages to match the other carbon weave stuff on the bike—very important that these things all match each other.

THE BUILD

This TiPhoon is not the hardest build out there, but it's not the easiest. One thing about integrated headsets, and this isn't an ABG thing, but a thing in general. Companies make their forks to cosmetically match the flared out head tubes featured on bikes with integrated headsets (such as this Real Design fork mated with the TiPhoon). There is a problem with this. Once you've banged on the crown race, forget ever getting it off again. This is because this crown race must have a diameter that exceeds that of the crown race seat on the fork, or there's no tool known to man (and I know because I have them all) that can get that crown race back off again (you'll notice in the adjacent photo there is no crown race to be seen). It's the burden you bear when choosing a bike with an integrated headset. But, hey, the bike sure looks and works nicely in the meantime.

Otherwise it's a pretty standard build except for all the internal cables, certainly nice but adding an extra 45 minutes or so to the build time. Both derailleur cables require a split housing, just like the rear brake cable, and the housing must be exactly the right length when bending around the bottom bracket. I think it would be best if ABG just included this housing with the bike. It wouldn't cost much, and it would save the retailer the hassle of cutting the housing to the exact right length.

ABG has absolutely, positively the best method for affixing telescoping aero seat posts to their corresponding aero seat tubes. It's easy, intuitive, simple, safe, clean. So much so that Cervelo seems to me to have borrowed this design for its P3 Carbon. Only fair since a certain dropout set screw idea came to ABG after first appearing on Cervelo. These two first-class companies will continue to lead in ingenuity and inventiveness, and it’s only proper that they borrow from each other instead of adopting a "not invented here" approach.

HANDLEBARS

The 61cm size was going to cause me one concern, I knew this in advance: getting low enough in front. Profile Design to the rescue. Its H2O stem affords more drop than anything else threadless that I've yet seen. I ended up using an 85mm H2O on this bike and it did the trick. Also, I thought of adopting the Björn installation of Profile Design's new modular bars and extensions set up, except my armrests were going to sit over the top of the base bar (a Profile Stoker 26) instead of behind it. (About that Björn thing: it’s my understanding that after Mr. Anderrson found happiness in the form of Profile Design S-bends and F-19 armrests, the two—Profile Design and Björn—have since gotten married, in the form of a personal services contract.)

As for the aero bars, I’m a fan of the S-bend bars Steve Hed first made for Lance Armstrong. However, there was one wrinkle I thought I’d add, making the “S” a sort of “W”. I wanted just the slightest kick up at the end.

Herbert Krabel, ABG’s creative director (I’ve decided to start calling him this instead of marketing manager because he routinely comes up with bright ideas not usually under his purview) had the boys in the back make up a few sets of titanium S bend extensions. I then cut up a set of Profile jammers so as to get me the little kick I wanted at the extension terminus. I found a Cervelo carbon seat post that had just the perfect inside diameter, and made myself a pair of sleeves. I super-glued everything together and voila, W-bends. Worked like a charm.

Only thing, I think I made a mistake with the “pistol grip” placement. It’s too close to the base bar, not far enough out toward the end of the extension. Next time I do this I’m going to consider more carefully where the middle bends in this W-bend occur. But in general I’m quite happy with the set up, pretty much the best I’ve yet had.

The whole thing sits on a Stoker 26, and this is really the only pursuit bar to use when embarking upon some sort of handlebar jury-rigging adventure. One doesn’t want to be restricted in the placement of the aero bars. I have them clamped further apart than would be possible on most pursuit bars that swage down to 22.2mm immediately after leaving the stem area. The only potential problem with this is if I try to stick a water bottle between the clip-ons. That’s always my preference when I race. If the bottle doesn’t fit in there nicely it’ll just be back in the garage rooting around for more spare parts.

THE MAIDEN VOYAGE

Even when things are supposed to work out, it's always a delight and maybe a little bit of a surprise when they do. Like when they throw all those colored dyes in the paint can at Home Depot, mix it up an voila, it's the color you asked for. Or when you go through the process of balancing your checkbook and, lo and beyold, it reconciles to the penny the first time.

Of course all this stuff should work. It's designed to work. But I'm still surprised when it does because of the chasm between how things ought to be and how they are.

I therefore did not expect ultimate success out the gate with this 61cm TiPhoon, not that it wouldn't be eminently rideable, but that it would not be everything I'd hoped for. And this has nothing much to do with how ABG built the bike, but with what I asked for, and how I built it up, and what my expectations were.

I wanted two things out of the bike, assuming I could get the thing to fit and build up properly (which it did). Once on the road I wanted it to be a nice riding bike while in the aero position, and I wanted it to descend extremely solidly, conservatively, predictably, with no hint of a twitch or a wobble. I did not care so much how it performed out of the saddle while climbing, as I intended to gear this bike very low, and sit and spin up just about everything.

Anyhoo, bike altogether I spun it up and settled in. Same ride, same feel, I got from the smaller-sized Blade I rode last year. The bike was great in the aero position while on flats, rollers, moderate inclines.

After one such upslope about a mile in length came my first test of this bike's descending characteristics, about a mile of straightish descent steep enough so that I could get the bike up to 40mph easily, and 45mph if I tucked a bit. I'm always a bit squeemish about descending on a new bike. It's like giving your newly adopted pound dog its first bath. I just don't know for sure how the bike is going to react, and I really don't want to get bitten.

So down the hill I rolled, and this is when I got that nice sensation I get when things go as planned. Rock solid. I felt like I could ride down a 55+ mph hill and have no concerns, exactly what I want in a bike.

I did have occasion to get out of the saddle on a little climb and, no, this bike does not respond the way I'd ultimately like, if this was an important feature to me. It would be a deal-breaker would stand-up climbing be unimpressive on a road race bike I might contemplate riding. But for present purposes I want a sit-down-and-climb bike, and that's what I've got.

Standing up, this 61cm TiPhoon doesn't want to move when I do. It's like dirty dancing with a partner whose hips just aren't in the game. But, no matter. I knew this was going to be the case, and it rides just as I expected. Were I to have gotten the 59cm size, with a bit shorter front/center and wheelbase, and using a longer stem, I might have just about everything I'd ever want in a bike, including a quicker, more responsive stand-up climbing ride. I don't yet know.

As noted, however, that would be like having a bike that would also toast bread. I just don't need that feature. For everything I want out of this TiPhoon, the 61cm size rides just as I thought it would, and I'm very impressed with it.

SEATED CLIMBING AND ALL THE REST

The more that I ride tri bikes, the more that I internalize what I already know, that this sort of bike can't be ridden like a road bike and, in fact, there are remarkably few similarities in how the two styles of bikes ought to be ridden. It's one thing to know this, another to have it resonate during each successive pedal stroke of a watershed ride.

This has been the case during this TiPhoon exercise. I set out to construct a bike especially for the sort of riding a triathlete would want to do, if he rode entirely by the book. This means staying in the saddle—and the aero position—pretty much the entire time, with low enough gears to make aero position climbing palatable at moderate efforts, all on a bike that descends with extreme stability even though ridden quite steep and with one's weight thrown forward.

This TiPhoon is just such a bike, and does everything asked of it. In fact, I was quite surprised because I've ridden very little this year—maybe 300 miles, not much more—yet on my first real substantial ride on this bike I set a new (for me) course record on a 30 mile ride with 2500' of climbing. I've ridden this loop many, many times, on both road and tri bikes, and have never ridden it this easily or this fast. That goes for the ups as well as the downs.

Of course this is anecdotal, but notable to me nonetheless and, since I'm writing this, I've chosen to use the anecdote. During this ride I stayed seated all but perhaps 10 or 15 beats out of the saddle, cumulatively, just to let the blood back into places it'd been denied. Quite something, this bike.

Yes, one must differentiate between a geometry and set-up that generates such a ride and the special qualities of this bike itself. I must say though, as noted above, there really is something about the way these ABG-built bikes ride. They seem to me very fast, and maybe it's ti, and maybe it's ABG ti. I don't know. Either way, I think I'll keep this TiPhoon around awhile as I step up my time in the saddle.

One more thing before ending this. After additional riding, the aero bar extension set up is undeniably the bomb. I must think of a name for this S-bend with a final hook. W-bend. M-bend. Switchback bend. Or, how about Slowtwitch bend? Have to give that some thought.