More Sweet Spot Bikes

The median price triathletes in the U.S. intend and expect to spend on their next tri bike is about $3,500. If you exclude those just coming into the sport, that price jumps a bit. Established triathletes are interested in the $3,500 to $5,000 price silo. Yes, about 3 in every 10 reading this now intend to spend more, but 5 in 10 non-newbies point to this price range when surveyed.

Can we talk more about these circa $4000 bikes? In my prior installment I wrote about QR and Felt. I'm interested in bikes selling between $3,200 and $3,600 with the proviso that when you slap on a few extra doodads to make it your own, you're into these bikes an extra $500 or so.

Let's look at Argon-18, the E-117 with the Ultegra build. This bike sells for $3,400. This is one sexy bike, isn't it? And when they say Ultegra they mean it. It includes the crank and the cassette. Not the brakes though, these are TRP and the bike is clearly designed around these brakes. This means you'd better not have a center pull front brake on your mind.

I've included an image of the way these TRP linear-pull brake calipers work, and how they'll look on the bike, because the studio shots of the E-117 are from the drive side. You can't see the other side, and I don't have an image of the other side. That elbow guiding the cable that you see allows the bike a fighting chance of keeping the cable close to the frame. Are these hard to adjust? Not really. You can see the 2mm (+/-) Allen screws controlling the tension on each side, and a barrel adjuster, so you should be fine with these.

Argon 18 does a weird thing with sizing. They list 3 different stack and reach values per size. So, stack for the size L is 543mm, 557mm or 567mm and the reach is slightly smaller each time the stack increases. How can one size have three stacks? Argon 18 has head tube extenders, and you can hike the front end of the bike up. If you look at the studio shots of the E-117 here in this article, they all have these head tube extenders.

Resist the urge to put any of these head tube extenders on your Argon 18. This is why God created armrest pedestals. I promise you these pedestals are more aerodynamic than the headset extenders. All the cool kids get elevation by pedestalling the armrests these days.

Fortunately the Vision Tech aerobars Argon 18 specs are of the newer sort where the pads and extensions pedestal as a unit.

If you then reject the entire premise of Argon 18's head tube extenders (which I do), you have a stack and reach of these frames as follows:

A lot of Slowtwitchers have seen charts like this. Imagine (0,0) on this chart hovering over the bottom bracket spindle. Every point along those colored slopes is a discrete size. In the red circle is an aggregation of sizes where all 4 of these bikes agree. Size Mediums in all these bikes (52cm in the PRfive) are about the same. They are close to identical, geometrically. They will fit the same. They're right about 515mm to 520mm in stack and 405mm to 410mm in reach.

In sizes below this it's the Orbea Ordu OMP that makes the tiniest bike. Felt's is just as low in its front end, but the cockpit is about 10mm longer.

The next size up for all these bikes is size Large. The exception is QR's PRfive, which is 54cm. Yes, you think this is a pretty small-sized bike to equal everone else's L. Just understand QR's sizing scheme for it's PRfive and six. It names the stack in the size, so it's size 54cm is a bike with 54cm of stack, which is typical of size L. You'll see that in the blue circle again these companies agree (well, 3 of them agree). You could throw Trek Speed concept in size L, Cervelos and a number of other popular bikes in that blue circle.

But the line or slope for Argon 18's bike, the E-117, takes a literal left turn. That slope starts to climb steeply. What happened? The bike, as it moved from size M to size L, grew in height, but not much in length. The stack grew from 516mm to 543mm, which is in line with, and maybe a touch more than, the other bikes in this comparison. But while the other bikes moved to about 425mm in reach in size L, the E-117 only went from 405mm of reach in size M to 409mm in size L.

Is this bad? No. it's not what I would have done, but it's not bad. It just means that the fit posture or personality of this bike is different in size L than it is in the smaller sizes. It's like looking at a family of 4 children, 3 of which look alike, and wondering if the pool boy or the milkman influenced the genetics of the 4th. The size L is just not quite the same bike as the other 3 sizes, fitwise. Not bad. Not worse. Just different, which will be great for the particular person for whom it is the perfect fit.

Of course you could just use a longer stem on the E-117 in this size. If you push the front end of this bike out 15mm to 20mm, you'll be where these other bikes are. Just, this difference at the head tube is translated to the bottom of the bike. Trek, QR, Felt, and Orbea have front/center distances that are 15mm to 25mm longer in size L. That won't change if you push the front end of the E-117 out. So, you'll have a little more weight in front of the steering axis.

Deal breaker? No. Just depends on the rider. These size-L bikes with 540mm of stack fit me nicely, but honestly 425mm of reach is tight for me. I really need more like 435mm. So, to me, the E-117 would not be a proper choice because I'm already on the edge of a Speed Concept not being long enough.

Why is the E-117's L sized like this? I don't know, but I have a guess. Argon 18 sponsors no fewer than 5 teams that are at or above UCI Continental status, which means they must conform, in timed racing, to the infamous UCI rule 1.3.023. I won't explain the rule in detail, but it constrains the positions of those who ride bikes like these. This UCI rule might be a design input.

How fast is this bike? Below are a pair of wind tunnel test graphs provided to me by Argon 18. It's interesting comparing all these graphs provided by manufacturers, to see if Argon 18's results on, say, the P5 and Speed Concept comport with what QR, Felt, et al have to say about the Cervelo and Trek bikes. QR's testing finds the SC a bit better in a yaw versus the P5 than does Argon 18's test here. Maybe QR's tests had the Speed Box on the SC, or had it in some way configured to present more surface area.

In any case, as you see the E-117 exhibits about equal drag to its previous top-of-the-line model E-118.

Trying to parse all these numbers, comparing the E-117 to the charts provided by QR and Felt, it seems that the E-117 is in the discussion but maybe a tick behind these other bikes. Maybe around Cervelo's P3?

To me, the test provided read like an honest appraisal of this bike. It's fast, it's not superbike fast, but it's mortal bike fast.

The E-117 Tri has a cousin called the E-117 Tri+. Same with the E-119. The "+" bikes have a different seat post that has an integrated rear hydration system (see the pic above). The + also has top tube storage. I am unconvinced by the +. The rear carrier has bottles that sit high, and I always have trouble hiking my leg over those bottles. Besides, if you look at the hydration systems used by the pros these days, they don't carry chicken coops and sleeping bags and everything else back there like they used to. It's 1 bottle sucked up underneath the saddle, and everything else is either aero frame bottles (like Torhans) or front hydration.

About the "+" frame, I'll write more about this in the future but: you can configure it to a single bottle for supported races, or carry the kitchen sink if you prefer. It also has a different lay-up (I've written about lay-up schedules recently, so I hope you know what I refer to), and it includes the front hydration system you see here, which is a Torhans. The fork is 50 grams lighter and the frame is 170 grams lighter than the non-+ version.

With all the disclaimers and exceptions noted, I just love this bike. I love it most in sizes XS, S and M. I love it with no head tube extenders. And no built-in rear hydration. I love the price and that you get a lot of Ultegra for that price. I might change the extensions and the saddle, that's it. The front gearing is perfect: 52/36. The rear is 12/25, and I'd ask the retailer to swap me an 11-something. This, then, gives me a bike that is again in that mid-to-high $3000s, when I've got it set up the way I want.

I've already written about Orbea's Ordu OMP (see linked articles below) plenty so I'm not going to belabor it. Also, this is not a precise fit in this silo because it's a bit more money. It is a $4,300 bike before hopping it up. It'll end up being almost $1,000 more than these other three bikes I've written about in this and the prior installment. Is there anything that makes this bike worth the premium?

Well, yeah. Starky. In my opinion, with respect to those who finish higher overall, Andrew Starykowicz is one of the top 3 most bankable, effective pro triathletes, of any gender, when it comes to selling bikes.

Starky throws down during the bike leg, knowing that if you run a 2:45 you'll pass him somewhere near the end and beat him. But you have to run that 2:45. If you gently posit to him a different race strategy, you risk him going Donald Trump on you.

To those who disagree with my analysis of his worth, I have three words for you: Stadler, Zäck, Hellriegel. These guys sold bikes and they sold them because they stomped on the pedals. Yes, Stadler and Hellriegel won Kona, but they didn't sell bikes because they won Kona, but because of how they won it. And Zäck was probably ahead of them all as a bike endorser and he never won Kona. (Yes, I know that some of these guys above also brought baggage, as does Starky, I'm simply referring to the factual history of which athletes were key bike endorsers throughout triathlon's history.)

I mention this because I see Starykowicz and this new OMP linked in a way I don't see with almost any other bike companies. Maybe Jordan Rapp and Dimond. But this a Natascha-Cheetah thing. Starky's attitude flows onto the bike, and it kind of makes me want one.

Not only do I like Starky's ride, I want to ride the Orbea mostly how Starky rides his, with TriRig brakes front and rear. I just prefer those wrist relief style carbon extensions to the S-bends on Starky's bike.

All four of the bikes covered in the last 2 installments are bikes you can win on, pro or AGer, as long as you're fit properly, the bike is geared for your needs, you have proper race wheels and tires, and, of course, you remembered to train, to eat, and so on.

I am convinced, unless I see something I haven't yet seen, this $3,500 to $5000 window is where the action is and will be during 2016.