This is the TT/Tri bike made by the other Basque bike maker. When you think of bike manufacturers in Spain, it's hard to not immediately think Orbea, because of that company's bikes underneath the Euskaltel Euskadi pro cycling team.
But there's another bike maker, Bicicletas de Alavia, otherwise known as BH. Eneko Llanos and Angela Naeth are the notables in triathlon who ride them. Its headquarters are in Vitoria, Spain, close enough to Orbea's digs in the Mallabia region of the Basque country that you could ride your bike from one bike company to the other and back and it might not even qualify as your long ride for the week.
If you really want to be authentic you won't pronounce it Bee Aitch, rather Bay Ahtchay, which is how you'd speak the initials in Spanish.
Both these Basque brands have a long history stretching back a century and more, but BH is the much smaller brand and has had a rougher go of it recently, closing its Vitoria-based manufacturing plant, and moving its production to Portugal and Asia (engineering, design, sales, marketing and other functions still come out of the Vitoria office). But this is not the sort of upheaval that has not befallen some of the storied Italian brands, and if Asian frame manufacturing bothers you then you'd better just find yourself another sport.
I got the GC Aero as a bare frame, building it up with a mix of parts that I wanted to test. Before I get to the parts, I want to talk about the build, because this bike shares something very appealing in common with certain other bikes that I particularly like.
THE EASY BUTTON
The tri bike industry is moving inexorably toward the superbike motif. No newsflash there. But the more super your bike is, the more you need to consider moving a bike mechanic into your spare bedroom full time. There are some superbikes on which—no exaggeration—you the user may not be equipped to execute a training-to-racing wheel change. In this environment, if you're considering any of several superbikes, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?
Alternatively, enter the GC Aero. Its brake calipers are gloriously exposed, and placed just where God intended. Furthermore, you get to stick honest to goodness Shimano or SRAM calipers on the bike, rather than house brand, or a behind-or-below TRP, giving the rider a fighting chance to stop his bike when he depresses his brake levers.
Cables are internal. But they're all a housing pass-through and bless Bay Ahtchay's heart for this. I love pass-through housing (obviously, as QRs in my era featured pass-through housing). What I mean is, there's no split housing: you push the brake or shift housing in one end of the frame, it comes out the other end automatically. This is a gift to the LBS, and it makes the cutting of the housing easy—once you've determined the length you need—and it makes assembling the bike a snap. One thing I'd recommend, however: Apply a lap or two of black plastic tape on either end of the housing as it passes into and out of the frame, so that the housing can't slip or slide through, and the right length of housing is maintained on either end of the housing run.
The cable routing is weird. Not bad, just, very nonstandard. The rear derailleur housing exits the drive side seat stay rather than the chain stay, and I can't remember seeing that done before. The front derailleur cable enters the top of the top tube, just behind the head tube, and this is a place where you'll often see the front brake cable enter the frame. Nevertheless, the derailleurs work fine, and the shifting is crisp.
This bike is what is called, on our F.I.S.T. parlance, "narrow and tall". Simply put, to get the length I needed out of this bike I (at 6'2") chose a size XL, and this is the largest of four sizes (S, M, L are the others, and they're also listed by BH as 52cm, 54cm, 56cm and 58cm). The 58cm "XL" gave me a reach of 43.2cm, and this is maybe a centimeter shorter than I'd prefer, but it's in the ballpark.
The thing is, the height of the bike is whopping in this size. The head tube is 170mm tall, and the bike's stack is 580mm. This is not necessarily bad. In fact it's downright good, if this is the style of bike you need. Bikes built by Cannondale, Scott, Blue and others trend toward this geometric theme. To put this in perspective. Felt F Series and Specializded Venge road race bikes have shorter head tubes, size-per-size, than BH tri bikes do.
I don't typically ride bikes made in this geometric theme. The head tube was very tall for me, and this is especially the case because I intended also to test an inventive and clever aerobar design. The problem is, the aerobar I intended to test is also rather high profile, with 5cm of height between top of the pad and the centerline of the pursuit bar.
So I had a three strikes against me when getting this bike to fit: Since I ride steep, and because I'm not particularly long-legged for my height, I tend to prefer long/low tri bike geometries. That, plus the fact that I was to ride a high profile aerobar, and a narrow/tall bike frame, meant I had my work cut out for me.
But I got there, just barely, by taking every spacer available out from under the stem, and putting a -25° stem on the bike.
I also just barely got there as regards the saddle fore/aft. The bike is built, nominally, at 74° of seat angle. The seatpost hardware is affixed to the post via a single bolt, and that bolt can be threaded down into one of three holes, which roughly correspond to 74°, 76° and 78°. I ride at about 79.5° of seat angle (measured from the center of the bb thru the center of the saddle rails), and by pushing the saddle forward all the way, and with the bolt I the forwardmost hole in the seat post, I got there exactly.
The saddle tilt is effected through this single bolt that tightens everything down, and getting the saddle tilt precisely where I wanted it was a bit laborious. But once I got it there, the bike does a nice job of keeping its saddle put: the saddle did not slide, or tilt, or move in any direction that is unfortunately often the case with tri bikes today.
As some Slowtwitchers know, we have mustangs here at the compound, and I don't mean Fords. The thing about mustangs, they're feral. They're truly wild animals. It's a little like saddling an elk. They survive in the wild because they've learned to, and when you "gentle" them they never really, totally, lose that sense of what might be wrong. If they think something's wrong, and they react, well, you may get your own little private rodeo.
So when you first hop aboard one of these fellas, giving him his first experience of having somebody sitting on his back, you don't really know what's going to happen. When you take him out of the arena and onto the trails, you can't really relax. He's still very vigilant. He's scared of what's out there, and I'm scared of him scared of what's out there.
I mentioned above that I wanted to try out a new type of handlebar. The newness here is a pursuit bar position offered by 3T. The bar is called the Brezza Nano, and the thing about this bar is, the pursuits are very narrow. 300mm. That's as opposed to 400mm, which is more standard.
I'll write about these bars separately, but the point is, I did not know what to expect out of these bars at all. No problem if I lived in Florida or Minnesota. But I don't. The very first thing I do when I leave the compound on a bike is descent, and it's a 45mph descent if you don't ride your brakes.
When I hopped aboard the BH GC Aero for the first ride, it felt a little like hopping aboard a mustang's first ride. I didn't know whether the pursuits were going to give me enough stability, and I had no idea whether the bike itself was trustworthy. My biggest concern was what would happen if I got a speed wobble.
I was therefore very happy and, in fact, grateful, when this bike handled the descents without incident. On paper, the bike had a lot of things not going for it, at least with me as the rider: seat angle too shallow, head tube too tall, and a very short wheelbase because of the 375mm chain stay and 73° head tube angle (The wheelbase on this 58cm GC Aero is about 101cm, and that's much tighter than the 104cm or 105cm typical on the tri bikes I ride). But you don't ride paper. You ride the bike. And the GC Aero was a dream ride. I loved riding the bike.
In fact, were I to compare this bike to any other bike I've ever ridden, I'd say it's quite close to the P3. And this is interesting, because I thought a lot about the P3 as I built and rode this bike, because the P3 is the other bike that is both very aerodynamic while also very easy to assemble and work on.
I rode this bike a bit differently than the groupkit offered for sale. What you get for $2999 is a more or less Shimano 105 mix, with a BB30 FSA Gossamer crankset and a downspec'd chain and cassette. Brakes are Tektro, and really this is an entry level group designed to get you aboard a superior frame for under $3000 for the complete bike. That groupkit is fine, it'll get the job done.
But if you can pop for a few extra simoleons, I noticed you can buy this frame on Competitive Cyclist's site built with the kit of your choice (the link is to the build site for the GC Aero). For $3300 and change you can upscale this to an Ultegra kit, or a SRAM Force kit. I "built" this bike on Competitive Cyclist's site, with Force and with a 3T Brezza II Team aerobar for $3700 or so. For $4200 complete it'll come with a HED Ardennes wheelset, which will give you a top quality wheelset with a rim similar in width to what you're using for race wheels, if you're riding Zipp Firecrest, HED Stinger or newer HED Jets. (I'll be writing soon about rim width, and the utility in having all wheels on your bike using a similar width.)
You can spec cranklength on this site, compact versus standard, as well as cassette option. You can choose your stem spec, and this is handy. I pretty much calc'd out in advance what stem I'd need, based on the stack and reach of this frame, and the size of the headset top cap (20mm) that comes standard on it.
I rode the bike with Visiontech TriMax carbon cranks and an otherwise SRAM Red group, and Reynolds RZR Forty Six wheels.
This is a really nice frameset, built into a very nice bike, from between $3000 and $4500, depending on the build. I've seen the GC Aero built with a variety of kits, and this is one of the few nice tri bikes you can buy online these days. If you choose that route, Competitive Cyclist, Trisports.com and a few others offer it with plenty of options.
I don't know what we'll see in the future from BH Bikes. But I know what the future holds for the bike I'm riding. Fellow Slowtwitcher, former national duathlon series champion, and current pro bike racer Paul Thomas rides BH and this is going to be his TT bike for 2012. I think he'll be pulling the ultra narrow 3T pursuits off the bike, as I do not believe they are UCI legal. Otherwise, if he retains his Arizona State TT title in 2012, you'll know what bike he won it on.
Were the bike in this pic mine, I'd opt for the next size up. Too much seatpost out, and too many spacers under the stem.
The beast as I rode it. Very nice bike. Very stable ride. BH did a nice job.
This is what the cable routing looks like. Housing is pass-through, a motif I like.
Chainstay is very short, 375mm, which on most bikes increases the possibility of hitting your heel on the chainstay housing. Not on this bike!
If you buy your BH in the right size, you won't have much seatpost sticking out.
I had to work hard to get the armrests low enough, using a -25°stem. Better if BH replaces this top cap with a 5mm cap as OE spec.
I think BH's solution for the rear shift housing exiting the seatstay is nice, esp on short chainstay bikes.
I built the bike with really narrow pursuits, so, I needed a trustworthy frame, and the GC Aero did not let me down.