In our last article we discussed the rationale behind why 1x (single front chain ring) might work for triathletes and TT’ers. We concluded that most triathlon and time trial courses aren’t hilly enough to warrant needing the extra smaller gears available to us on a double chain ring set up. Also, we didn’t believe that the lack of electronic options, at this stage, would preclude anyone from taking the jump to 1x, as SRAM are close to releasing options for us, and as we know from history, Shimano will likely follow too with 1x specific shifting. More importantly, on the plus side, we have the potential for better aerodynamics, lighter weight bikes, more simple maintenance and also more secure chain engagement.
With all of this in mind, we decided to see how easy it would be for us to create our own 1x build from scratch. We started out thinking we needed a bike that could serve as a general test bike for new wheels, saddles, pedals, aerobars, or anything else the good folk at Australian Triathlete Magazine were willing to throw at us. While a high-end superbike would have been great to build up, it would also have limited us to only being able to test a limited number of bike accessories or parts due to the integrated nature of the frames – that, and we had a limited budget. This meant finding some bargains that would fit our idea of the ideal test rig.
We decided to look at a full bike and then pick the parts we wanted to keep, and those we knew we would take off, we would sell. As we were building a 1x specific bike, we knew that the drivetrain that came standard on the new bike would be removed and replaced with a specific 1x crankset and clutch rear derailleur that SRAM specialises in. We also knew we had to go mechanical so we didn’t need to spend a fortune on Shimano Di2 or SRAM eTap equipped bikes. The down side of buying a bike with a lower speced drivetrain is that the saddles, aerobars and stem would likely be less than adequate, meaning we would have to source our own. For us, this was actually a plus as we are partial to certain front end set ups that are quite adjustable, allowing both of us to ride the bike with our own specific stack and reach measurements.
We hunted around for a bargain bike and found it in a 2016 model Giant Trinity Advanced. The bike was on sale for $1900, from $3000 due to being last years model, which interestingly has exactly the same spec as the current one. This was ideal given the lowest model bike still has the same quality frame, but doesn’t come with an integrated front brake and aerobar system. The only downside we could see was the non-integrated front brake cable, which is unfortunately left exposed to the wind. The bike came with mechanical Shimano 105, a Giant TT saddle and Giant time trial aerobars, as well as some solid training wheels, all of which were going to come off to be replaced with our preferences. We were always going to put on our trusty Fizik Arione2 Tri saddle, which has been a staple on our bikes, as well as the Tokyo Epic wheels that have become our baseline for aero wheels over the past three years.
It was now time to source our new SRAM carbon Force1 cranks with a 52T ring, SRAM GXP BB86 bottom bracket, a SRAM Rival1 rear clutch derailleur, SRAM 11-28 cassette with matching chain and SRAM R2C 11 speed shifters for only $690. For the front end, we chose the slick 3T Vola team bars with the super low stack Syntace Flatforce -17-degree stem and a set of Tektro TT brake levers for $610. Adding to this was the Elite Aero bottle cage and holder we found for $50. Along with the original price of the bike we spent a total of $3250. We were then able to donate the saddle and bars to some young athletes getting into triathlon and on-sold the Shimano 105 shifters, front and rear derailleurs, plus the crankset for $300.
This makes our total cost for the parts just under $3K, which we were rapt with.
The rebuild started with finding someone more experienced than us who could ensure our bike ran like a dream. That person was Ben the Bike Tech, who has helped us with a few projects in the past. He’s had a lot of experience with TT builds and is the go-to guy to help some of the major local bike brands deal with some recalls and rebuilds of stock. At The Test Lab we like to think we know bikes well, but when it comes to a full rebuild, we always defer to the experts. Along with ensuring we didn’t destroy the bottom bracket shell or head tube, we knew Ben could take care of some of the more challenging re-cabling and steerer cutting jobs that we don’t have the tools or know how to do properly. We would recommend you do the same with the more complex parts of a build, and getting your local mechanic to help means you can always go back to them for any fine tuning down the track. Ben did an amazing job with the bike and showed us how some of the new components are best mounted and adjusted.
The new Test Lab TT rig was now ready for the maiden voyage, and it sure didn’t disappoint. For a sub $3000 bike, it sure performs well above its retail price. Over our standard ride courses around Melbourne, it has more than enough gearing for both moderately hilly and flat terrain. With the race wheels on and a tail wind at our back, we actually found our normal 52/11 maximum gear was just enough. If you feel like you need a little more or less gearing, SRAM do 48, 50 and 54T rings. You can also get some easier cogs in the back with either a cassette up to 32 or 36 teeth for a hillier terrain. We have had no issues, whatsoever with either chain drop or bad chain lines, making shifting for us more secure without adding any friction into the system.
We know as a result of the build we came out around 300g lighter, mainly due to the front crankset swap and removal of the front derailleur. We suspect our new whip has a lower aerodynamic drag coefficient, but it’s only speculation. The only slight downside compared to our normal TT bikes was the ability to shift gears from the hoods with the absence of the electronic satellite shifters, but we soon got used to the bike in mechanical form and the ease with which we can maintain it. With the money we saved over a top end bike, we’ve also been able to add a Stages power meter and the new Wahoo Bolt GPS bike computer to make this the perfect weapon for any tri or TT event we can find.
Overall, we can’t speak highly enough of 1x builds and just how easy and potentially inexpensive they are. If you’re looking for that little advantage over the competition and want to spruce up your ride, this can be done for very little cost. We hope some of the big bike brands start to see the value in the simplicity of the 1x system – like we have seen in the MTB and Cross segments recently.