Monday, November 28, 2011

Guru CR .901 Bike Review: Going Custom

            For 2012, I will be racing on my new custom Guru CR.901 time trial/triathlon rig. I previously never had ridden a custom bike, nor knew much about the custom process. Here I share my opinion on the bike, some thoughts on 'going custom', and compare the bike to a few of my past time trial bikes I have owned, which have been a 2010 Specialized Transition Pro, a 2010 Blue Triad SL, and a 2008 Kuota K-Factor SL.

              I picked up this beauty (recently named the Black Widow due to the black/white color with the dark red Guru sticker on it and a few red parts...cute isn't it ;)) from Kompetitive Edge, the premier multisport and swim shop in the Denver area (which just won Competitor magazine's best triathlon shop AND best swim shop for Colorado). KE is one of the only Colorado shops that specializes in setting up triathletes with their perfect custom fit bikes, and the Canadian brand Guru is the leader in custom triathlon rigs. There are times when an athlete fits Guru's stock frames and doesn't need to go custom, but a perfect fit on any stock frame is rare, and many athletes opt for a custom bike to get this ideal and perfect fit. Most people can find a stock frame from a variety of companies that puts them in the ballpark on fit, but it is VERY difficult to set them up perfectly, with angles that enable the most efficient and most comfortable ride. This is where custom has the advantage, and after your first few rides on a custom bike you can feel the difference.                             
           If you're near the Denver area, check out Kompetitive Edge and chat with them about seeing if a custom bike makes sense for you. That's what I did, and they're always extremely helpful and super knowledgeable. Explore the custom bike process if you're looking for an ultra- upgrade for next season.  If you do look into getting a custom bike made for you, make sure the shop has a reputable fitter taking your measurements. KE teams up with experienced fitter Scott Geffre of Fit and Tri for the custom Guru process. Scott has fit pros and amateurs alike on custom bikes for over 13 years, so I readily put my trust in the expert. I let Scott take some body measurements, which is the first step in the process. A few days later, he showed me the proofs (below) of what my bike would look like, based on my measurements. After asking if I was ready to pull the trigger on production, I said "let's do this!" without even really looking at the prints. After all, Scott is the expert so I went with it. The cool thing was that when I got the bike made and had the initial fit on it afterwards with Scott, when I placed the stem at the lowest possible position (with no spacers on the steerer tube b/t the stem and head tube), the bike was set up for the most aggressive position I'd ever want to go . Any lower and I would be out of the perfect fit range. I left a few spacers above the stem and didn't cut the steerer tube, since I may want to raise the aerobars slightly down the road for an Ironman distance racing position (more on that later).
        The process is pretty simple, and starts with a few body measurements taken. The measurements are taken in account, put into a blender and walla!, before you know it, out comes spec sheets like these:
           Let's face it, our world of choosing a triathlon bike usually looks like this: 1) See how much money is in the budget for a bike 2) Find a bike that looks really cool or our top triathlon idol athlete is riding 3) See if our bike fit numbers are somewhere in the ballpark to fit decently on the desired bike 4) Start searching for a bike. Most people start searching for their frame size, i.e. a 56cm or 58cm, and assume that is all that really needs to be known. However, it's important to understand that each bike manufacturer may have very different geometry in the same stated centimeter frame size. Some bikes have longer top tubes, or reach, and others a lot shorter. After any bike fit, you should be able to weed out a few brands that aren't the best option for you. You will be able to find a brand that fits you better than others, but finding one that fits your body perfectly is extremely rare. In most cases you simply cannot get as close to the perfect fit.
     Now, just because you go custom doesn't mean you can't ever make any adjustments to the bike. You can't change the frame geometry, but you won't need to nor want to. However, you still can adjust the stem, aerobars, and seat position to dial in the perfect comfort zone. You may be wondering, why would I ever want or need to make adjustments if my bike is a custom fit?  Well, bike fitting is still an adaptive process over time, and the proper position on the bike still allows for a small acceptable range. There is not always 1 simple 100%  perfect position, but rather a very small range of very good positions. Your body changes over time, and as you get fitter and more flexible, this may change the position you're able to ride in slightly. Muscle flexibility changes are a huge reason you need to keep in mind your bike position still may change slightly in the future, and you may not always want to ride in the same position as far as aggressiveness goes. I personally try to ride in the most aggressive position possible in the bounds of 1) efficiency due to my muscle flexibility (some people aren't flexible enough to ride super aggressive, so it would hurt them rather than do any good, since they wouldn't be able to produce as much power in that position) 2) comfort - knowing I can ride a whole 56 miles in a position and still be able to run well off the bike.
       In going custom you still have the ability to change stems, or use a headset spacer to raise/lower the aerobars very slightly, which you may want to do depending on the distance you are racing. Most triathletes are able to ride more agressively for shorter races than longer races. Again, to reiterate, there is still a very small window or range in terms of a near perfect fit, and a custom bike frame will put you in this small window without limiting you 100% and still enabling you to make a few minor adjustments. With a proper custom bike and fit, you will be within the perfect appropriate adjustable range, which is hard to do with most bikes. The reason why custom bikes make sense, is simply because this range is very small are often hard to hit. Are custom bikes necessary for all? No, they are a luxury option for those who value precision, ultimate efficiency and comfort.
          My previous bikes all were made by reputable companies, and I liked them for the most part, but I will say I feel the most comfortable and sturdy on the Guru. No, I am not paid by Guru to say these things, nor am I a Guru sponsored athlete. I'm sharing my experience in going custom. This season I raced on a Specialized Transition Pro. Being a 'weight weenie' concerned about every little thing, I was curious to compare the weight of the Guru to other
The Guru CR.901 frame is extremely aerodynamic
bikes.  Even though weight on a TT bike is a lot less important than on a road bike (aero trumps weight), unless you're riding a very hilly course, I still think weight is very important. This is especially  the case for multi-loop courses with sharp 180 degree turns, where you are decelerating and accelerating numerous times during the race.  I weighed the Transition Pro with the same training wheelset & components as the Guru, and the Guru was slightly lighter even though the frame size was slightly larger. The Guru CR.901 (Guru's top of the line custom bike) weighs less or near it's competitors - top of the line carbon fiber time trial bikes.
       More important than weight was my discovery in the feel of the ride. At the Capital of Texas Triathlon this year, I used a Zipp 900 rear disc wheel with a Zipp 808 front. It was very very windy, and I had a horrible time trying to stay in the aerobars due to the deep wheelset and wind. In fact, in training as well, the winds affected me all year more than I thought they should. I didn't feel as confident in the aerobars, and confidence is a must have in order to focus, relax, and hammer on the bike. On my custom Guru, the #1 difference I notice is the stability and comfort in the aerobars in the wind. Scott, who fit me on the Guru, explained this is a result of being properly positioned on the bike, specifically the front of the bike.  Weight distribution is correct.
Two water bottle cage mounts
      I liked my Blue Triad SL a lot. It's was a nice bike, though I enjoy having 2 water bottle cage mounts on the frame - I only had one on the Blue and Specialized, so I had to rig up a rear seat water bottle holder. The Blue also had an integrated seat post, which was a serious pain for traveling with the bike as the bike barely fit in my travel case (since it was a size Large) - not to mention that you had to cut the carbon fiber seat post just to lower it, and there is no going back once you do. Another benefit of the Guru is that the frame allows enough width to run a 23mm rear tire. My Blue Triad wouldn't fit anything over 21mm wide in the rear. I also enjoy that the rear brake is easier to access and adjust. It is not tucked under the (bottom bracket area of the) bike like many aero TT bikes now have it, so it may not be quite as aerodynamic. However, with the aero frame of the Guru, the better comfort and stable ride of the Guru, it is worth it to me and those time-saving advantages are far more beneficial. The advantages of being able to produce more power in my ideal position outweigh a slightly more aero rear brake caliper. Also, it is very easy to adjust, and I don't have to worry about the brake rubbing my rear tire as much, since it was hard to adjust the rear brake on past bikes.  Another advantage to the Guru CR.901 is the ability to run a standard bottom bracket or a BB30. This is rare! Most bikes come with one type, but the Guru allows the option for both with inserts. I recently swapped out my standard bottom bracket with a BB30 for increased stiffness and feel in acceleration.
The new BB30 bottom bracket

These red bottom bracket cups were replaced with a BB30 / internal bottom bracket/crankset

The Crono has a traditional rear brake caliper
My Guru features a tall, custom 19cm head tube. That's what I get for being almost 6'3"!
       Its crazy to look back at my own bike evolution. I started out on a 60cm 2005 Trek Madone road bike which was WAY too big for me. I had no idea what a fit was supposed to feel like, which is to be expected as a beginner in the sport. Over time, I have learned, and felt, the benefits of a perfect fitting bike. When you are trying to compete at the top level of the sport, the details matter.   If you're searching for the perfect fit, going custom is something to consider.

The steed of my 2009 season, my first triathlon season
Today's Ride. It fits.