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I'd know if I hadn't wimped out and changed the wheels...

In the end I cheated, and swapped the wheels.

This was meant to be a blog that said: hey! You can race on a cheap bike, it's okay! And it still kind of is that. But I couldn't help myself.

We have the B'Twin Triban 520 in on test, and I'm riding it. It's £450, with an alloy frame and Sora gears. It's due a full review but first impressions have been very positive. So I got myself to thinking: If you'd bought one, and got the bug, and wanted to start racing, would it do?

It's not the lightest bike, at around 10kg out of the box. Nor, with a 21cm head tube is it the most aero. But it is stiff and responsive when you chuck it about, and everything on it works just fine. So in theory, in a crit race, you should be okay, right?

Still, I swapped the wheels. let me attempt to justify that.

There's nothing wrong with the Triban's stock wheels, but they are stock wheels. Probably they're north of 2kg for the set, and when you're trying to pick up speed in a hurry they do blunt the bike's response. And in a crit race round a tight circuit, with two sprints a lap to stay on, that's an issue. Because when you get dropped, that's where it happens.

Imagine you're in a position where you've bought the Triban and you decide to try racing and you think about whether you'd upgrade anything. The wheels would definitely be your first port of call. Maybe you'd throw an extra couple of hundred quid at some Cero AR24s or maybe you'd head off to Planet X for some budget carbon. There's plenty of options without racking up a massive bill.

I didn't buy any wheels: we have a 13 Bikes Intuition knocking about and I thieved the wheels off that. It's a £1,700 bike and the wheels are decent, 50mm section with bladed spokes and a carbon fairing a bit like Mavic Cosmics. They're better than the B'Twin wheels. They're nothing particularly special, though: if you could buy them on their own, I guess they'd be around £400 for a set.

So why change them? Well for three main reasons:

1) they look more pro and they make a cool sound;
2) it's a psychological advantage: you've done something to improve your bike, and therefore your chances;
3) they are actually a bit lighter, and more aero

If I'm honest, the first two are probably as important as number three.

To the race, then. It was windy at Odd Down, quelle surprise, and so a day for hiding in the pack and staying away from the front. I've ridden Odd Down enough times now to be okay at hiding, and I was hiding when a break of six or so riders went off the front. And off the front they stayed, for the remainder of the race. They didn't get far, but it was far enough, and since Bath CC had Ruan up front in the break it wasn't our job to chase. The pack dwindled a bit as a few riders got found out, but stabilised for the second half of the race, and I tried to keep myself nearer the front than the back. But not so near the front that I got exposed.

And I didn't think about the bike, really. The gears worked, and the brakes worked. When I pointed it round the hairpins, it made the turns with a minimum of fuss. When I sprinted out of the turns to try and stay on a wheel, It was efficient and stiff. It wasn't so tall that I couldn't duck behind another rider to get some decent shelter. In short: it wasn't the limiting factor. Deep down, we all know that: unless we're a long way over to the right of the training bell curve, the gains we can make in our performance and fitness will easily outweigh the gains we can make by buying better gear. Even with the wheel swap the B'Twin was probably still the cheapest bike in the 3/4s by some margin. There were plenty of wheelsets that would have cost double what the Triban came in at. I'm discounting the on-test £1,200 Garmin Vector pedals for the purposes of this comparison. Let's pretend they were just normal pedals, eh. The ones the Triban came with. it wouldn't have made any difference. I wasn't riding to power. I was riding to stay on.

Come the end of the race I was pretty cooked, so instead of holding on for the sprint I thought I'd try and lead out team-mate David for a go at the minor places. I put in a big turn down the back straight and into the wind to the bottom hairpin, then I just ran out of gas. I swung wide to let him through but overdid the swinging wide bit and ended up on the grass, so I cyclocrossed for a bit and then coasted home behind the pack. He did manage to snag 8th place. Probably he'd have got it anyway.

What did I learn? That once you're off and racing, often the only thing you really notice about a bike is whether it works or not. Sora gears aren't sexy but they're perfectly functional. The Triban's alloy frame and carbon-bladed fork aren't light, but they're stiff and they track well. Mostly racing is living in the moment. You don't consider whether a bike that's 3kg lighter would help you to stay on a particular wheel. You do as much work as you can, and you either stay on, or you don't.

Being more analytical after the fact, I'd say that I probably found that race the hardest one I've managed to actually compete in. But then, it's my first 3/4 race so that's to be expected: all I've got to compare it to is one 2/3 race where I got my ass handed to me in short order, and some 4s-only races that were slower, in better conditions. Without going back and doing the same race again on a different bike, it's hard to know how much objective difference it makes. Odd Down is relatively flat; you wouldn't want to do a hilly road race on the Triban. But it is raceable, in a race like Odd Down. It's an enjoyable bike to ride, even in a race where you're clearly not meant to be having any fun. Probably you'd be okay even on the stock wheels. I'll never know now, unless I try again...

Dave is a founding father of road.cc and responsible for kicking the server when it breaks. In a previous life he was a graphic designer but he's also a three-time Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling world champion, and remains unbeaten through the bog. Dave rides all sorts of bikes but tends to prefer metal ones. He's getting old is why.

31 comments

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crikey [1251 posts] 4 years ago
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More please!

In a world where cycling gear fetishism puts even golf to shame these days, the message that it's not really about the bike does need hammering home.

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Jez Ash [231 posts] 4 years ago
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Nice dog

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Judge dreadful [271 posts] 4 years ago
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Yep, I tried the same thing, on the same bike. Tried to corner and brake, from flat out, on the standard rims, thought 'fuck that' wimped out and went for better rims, that's better.
Last picture is the result of still over cooking it, with the standard brakes.

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Lee Pearce [4 posts] 4 years ago
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Excellent read.

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BBB [459 posts] 4 years ago
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Meanwhile on the forum...

Shall I go for deep section or climbing wheels on my next sportive?
 3

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Judge dreadful [271 posts] 4 years ago
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Yeah, deep sections, on a sportive, you'll look proper 'pro'.  21

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roady_rob [1 post] 4 years ago
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Clearly you havent seen my boardman-a-rello?!!

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crikey [1251 posts] 4 years ago
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I do recall a young man who turned up to our ride out to watch a pro bike race in the early 90s. The race was about 40 miles away, we were youngish and all raced cyclo cross to a top 10-top 20 standard.

His bike would have been old fashioned in 1960; he said it was his grandfathers, and he'd been riding it to see if he liked cycling.

He schooled us in the sense of 'being taught a lesson'; he was a pleasant, polite unassuming young man and he rode us all off his wheel for 40 miles, dropping us on every climb and having us struggle to hold his wheel on the flats.

His bike was gas pipe steel, it had 5 gears, one large chainring and steel rims with the original balding tyres on....

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DavidC [159 posts] 4 years ago
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Worth reading again:
"Deep down, we all know that: unless we're a long way over to the right of the training bell curve, the gains we can make in our performance and fitness will easily outweigh the gains we can make by buying better gear."

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Simon E [3097 posts] 4 years ago
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Quote:

"Even with the wheel swap the B'Twin was probably still the cheapest bike in the 3/4s by some margin. "

Ha ha, no surprise there!

Talking to a couple of riders after last night's circuit race, there were plenty of 'choppers' in the pack.

When the inevitable happens and someone stacks it and it rips off your mech or you smash a shifter it is marginally less painful to consider the cost of replacing a Sora than Ultegra.

As for the (marginal) gains from aero wheels, you'll gain far more by learning how to ride in a group effectively.

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cyclesteffer [275 posts] 4 years ago
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Awesome read! That Triban needs more of a thrashing! It's a bit like the Top Gear Toyota Hi-Lux! In our group, a young chap turned up on a bottom of the range claris-equipped Cannondale Synapse. Probably £550 quid worth. Kicked everyone's arse. No point in a £3 grand bike with a £3 pound rider.

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Chasseur Patate [151 posts] 4 years ago
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My crit bike: Felt F85 alloy frame from eBay £140. Campag Scirocco CXs: £150. Shitty old 105 groupset and random finishing kit all out my parts bin: pennies. It's hit the deck three times and never batted an eyelid.

Blowing Zipp 404 clad Cervelo S5s and Specialised Venges off my budget wheels at will.

My club ride and nice weather bikes are however, a different story.

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crazy-legs [910 posts] 4 years ago
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I've done a fair few crits on my single speed road bike. It really winds people up when you're on a one-geared bike that costs less than most people's rear wheel!  1

Only do it for the training, it spins out above about 33mph so is pretty useless in a full on sprint.

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2 Wheeled Idiot [432 posts] 4 years ago
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The feeling of catching your two minuteman on his 5k+ cervelo whilst I'm on my £350 allez is pretty cool tbh.
Its 95% about the legs and 5% about the bike

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efail [105 posts] 4 years ago
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I once had someone tell me that what he was 'wearing' was worth more than my bike.

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ColT [343 posts] 4 years ago
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About the best thing I've read on here.

Apart from the debate on the best type of banana, obv'  3

Col

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J90 [408 posts] 4 years ago
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efail wrote:

I once had someone tell me that what he was 'wearing' was worth more than my bike.

And did you ask him why the fuck that matters??

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Big Ron [9 posts] 4 years ago
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Having now 'cycle' cycled for a year and played golf in my youth, I find both sports to include their fair share of rich knobs who, I can only presume, take part in order to show off their wealth and to look down at others. Stuff 'em. It's your legs and your lungs that count most of all.

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alansmurphy [866 posts] 4 years ago
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Nice read, I do have a problem with suggesting a wheel upgrade that costs nearly as much as the whole bike as a 'marginal' improvement...

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Morat [272 posts] 4 years ago
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Things were looking good for us in our Wednesday night MAMIL gang until one of us brought his 17yo son along. Mr Carbon Synapse gave chase up one of his favorite hills and had to be assisted off the kerb, clutching his chest, once he'd recovered enough to get back on board!

A carbon frame doesn't overcome having the build of two pipecleaners knotted in the middle.

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James Warrener [1083 posts] 4 years ago
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I used a BTwin as my TT bike a few years back and did ok on it.

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Beatnik69 [392 posts] 4 years ago
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I own two B'Twin bikes... but I'll never be beating anyone in a race.  2

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goggy [157 posts] 4 years ago
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Chasseur Patate wrote:

My crit bike: Felt F85 alloy frame from eBay £140. Campag Scirocco CXs: £150. Shitty old 105 groupset and random finishing kit all out my parts bin: pennies. It's hit the deck three times and never batted an eyelid.

Blowing Zipp 404 clad Cervelo S5s and Specialised Venges off my budget wheels at will.

My club ride and nice weather bikes are however, a different story.

I agree with this sentiment - if you are racing for (mostly) fun then a cheaper bike is worth it when you (inevitably) take a tumble. I, however, love my solo hill climbing and weekend club rides, and have a few bikes that make those more enjoyable. Strangely enough, having nice bikes makes me feel the need to justify them. As a result, my fitness and ability (especially hills) has improved greatly over the 18 months since I spent the extra cash.

Just don't buy an expensive bike and then not train up to it (see Box Hill on a Sunday for examples!)  3

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timnoyce [8 posts] 4 years ago
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alansmurphy wrote:

Nice read, I do have a problem with suggesting a wheel upgrade that costs nearly as much as the whole bike as a 'marginal' improvement...

I agree with this guy. If the wheels are round, and the tyres hold pressure... then you can race on them. Don't be so ridiculous. Title should read "can you race on an £850 bike" although that wouldn't have been nearly a tempting a read!

I like B-Twins, and on the whole, great article!

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johnnymcg259 [21 posts] 4 years ago
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crikey wrote:

I do recall a young man who turned up to our ride out to watch a pro bike race in the early 90s. The race was about 40 miles away, we were youngish and all raced cyclo cross to a top 10-top 20 standard.

His bike would have been old fashioned in 1960; he said it was his grandfathers, and he'd been riding it to see if he liked cycling.

He schooled us in the sense of 'being taught a lesson'; he was a pleasant, polite unassuming young man and he rode us all off his wheel for 40 miles, dropping us on every climb and having us struggle to hold his wheel on the flats.

His bike was gas pipe steel, it had 5 gears, one large chainring and steel rims with the original balding tyres on....

This type of fella you write about is known as 'the natural'.......someone who is gifted at the sport. It's humbling......I've experienced it!

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sergius [457 posts] 4 years ago
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goggy wrote:

Just don't buy an expensive bike and then not train up to it (see Box Hill on a Sunday for examples!)  3

You need to be a little careful with this. I always do Box Hill last as it's the easiest one around there. After 65 miles of climbing (such as it is around Dorking), I've been known to "crawl" up there on my way home (well - spin it out in a low gear at least).

As the saying goes, you can't judge a book by it's cover.

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Jimbonic [136 posts] 4 years ago
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Pretty much all of that!

I'm constantly being reminded that it's all in the legs. I'll get well and truly put in my place when riding my "best" bike (Planet X carbon pro), yet be able to ride more expensive machinery (bikes that cost actual money) off my wheel on my fixie. I've even, effectively, ridden myself off my own wheel by getting a PB up Box Hill on my fixie!

I guess it's mostly about how you're feeling on the day and, like sergius says, how those around you are feeling.

Love the stories about the naturals.

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Danger Dicko [282 posts] 4 years ago
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I'd rather take a tumble on an alloy bike with Sora gears than on a £4K Cervelo with Dura Ace.

One of them won't make me cry.

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notfastenough [3725 posts] 4 years ago
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sergius wrote:
goggy wrote:

Just don't buy an expensive bike and then not train up to it (see Box Hill on a Sunday for examples!)  3

You need to be a little careful with this. I always do Box Hill last as it's the easiest one around there. After 65 miles of climbing (such as it is around Dorking), I've been known to "crawl" up there on my way home (well - spin it out in a low gear at least).

As the saying goes, you can't judge a book by it's cover.

I positively crawled up one last little hill in Prestatyn and heard a little boy say to his dad "He looks like a proper cyclist, but he's going very slow!" I'd just done 81 miles round North Wales in wind and hail.

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Beaufort [270 posts] 3 years ago
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It's not about the bike.

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