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SRAM and Zipp Aero Components – Create Your Own Super Bike

When the folks from SRAM and Zipp offered us a chance to do a long-term review of their latest aero components last spring, we jumped at the chance to create our very own super bike.

A look at high-end bikes these days is, well, at some levels, frightening. Aerodynamic frames are coupled with sleek components to create super bikes that offer lots of time saving, performance and comfort. When offered the chance to couple the frame of our choice with some of sram and Zipp’s latest aero offerings, we were delighted with the end result.

While there are frames that are much sleeker out there, our frame for this long-term test was Aquila’s Chrono Pro, which features a 12 K carbon frame with a middle-of-the-road 76-degree seat tube angle. This provides an all-around ride that is great for virtually all terrain and can be set up for both road time trials and triathlon use. Once they got hold of the frame, Zipp and sram went wild and “pimped it up.”

You’ll be able to make some dramatic changes to your bike times by incorporating some of these additions to your existing setup – it’s not an all or nothing scenario. Your first step is getting a good fit so that you’re in the most aero position possible. After that, the next best time-saving benefits come from your race wheels.

Wheels

Zipp’s 808 Firecrest carbon clincher wheels are the fastest non-disc wheels the company makes. While many of us old diehards would very much like to cling to our belief that tubular wheels are the best option for racing, Zipp is making it harder and harder to maintain that attitude. Using the Firecrest rim shape, the 808s are more aero than deeper rims that use a more classic profile, while the thickness provides more lateral stiffness, so you’ll enjoy better power transfer when you’re really pounding on the pedals or climbing. The 808s are rockets, but remain light and responsive enough to use in regular riding situations. I can attest to that – they were the only wheel I used on the bike and worked supremely well in every situation including pack riding, long climbs and descents in the French Alps and time trial efforts on f lat roads. In case you need any proof that this wheel performs like a shallower wheel, I also rode the 808s exclusively during a trip to cover Ironman Lanzarote, considered one of the windiest spots in Ironman racing, and lived to tell the tale. The durability of the wheels is also outstanding. After four months of use they are hardly any the worse for wear.

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Personalized fit is the big trend in the bike industry these days and Zipp’s Vuka Stealth bars offer the ultimate dialed-in position. The Stealth integrates the stem, basebar and mounting hardware into a single aero system made with unidirectional carbon fibre. The base bar uses an airfoil shape, but still conforms to the uci’s 3:1 aspect ratio so the bar is legal for both triathlon racing, time trial and track use. There are three separate stem lengths along with various spacers that can fine-tune the fit. There are scores of stack (vertical measurement) and reach (horizontal measurement) options, along with various options for placing the pads. Finally you can also customize the extensions width and length, and also the type of extension (race, straight or ski-tip).

At the end of the extensions were mounted sram’s R2C Aero SL-1190 shifters. The R2C (return to centre) come back to the centre position after each shift, so you never have to bend your hands to shift gears. The new shifter is much smoother than previous editions, but you still feel the reassuring click to confirm you’ve switched gears.

Zipp’s Vuka bta (between the arms) water bottle mount was the final piece of this innovative cockpit. With help from Ironman champ and aeronautical engineer Jordan Rapp, Zipp designed the Vuka bta to ensure an aerodynamic water bottle position in an easy-access spot. You can easily get at a regular water bottle without having to reach down or move from the aero position. While I’m normally very wary of having additional weight on my bars, the Vuka bta seemed to be well balanced and, thanks to the solid, alloy mount system, stayed put. The Vuka Carbon bta bottle cage is extremely light and securely holds a bottle so you don’t have to worry about anything flying out. Even while riding at speed over cobblestones along the Ironman Germany course I had no issues. The system also includes a handy computer mount that is compatible with Garmin computers, putting the computer in a perfect spot to be able to see your data.

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sram’s 11-speed Red gruppo is now available with a time-trial specific chain ring, which adds another aero piece to the component package. Being a classic triathlon grinder, I opted for a 55-tooth big chainring that ensured I could power away to my heart’s content. I could tell just how much effort I was putting in to pedalling thanks to the Quarq power meter, which is both extremely reliable and accurate. We’ve raved about the Red gruppo during
other reviews, but suffice it to say that the gruppo provides excellent, consistent shifting.

Having 11 speeds is an added bonus, too, especially when you’re trying to use one bike for multiple activities. The front derailleur uses sram’s Yaw technology to rotate, so you can utilize all 11 gears, even with the huge big chainring.

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The entire package

All together this was an incredible ride. Regardless of the conditions, terrain or type of ride, the bike performed incredibly well and dealt with all the abuse I could hand out in style. If you’re happy with your current frame, but feel like you’re ready to make some aero additions to your racing arsenal, Zipp and sram certainly have some components that will make that both possible and fun. You can read more in-depth stories about each part of the test on our website: triathlonmagazine.ca. – KM

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