Words by John MacKellar.
What is the fastest bike in the big mountains? Eight members of Team Chronomaster and along with 16 “Challengers” have just returned from an incredibly arduous and rewarding trip taking in 22,000m of climbing in just over 1,000km. The bikes of choice for team riders covered the full range. Some had chosen their trusty Tarmac SL4’s, others had brought S Works Tarmac SL6’s and the “trendsetters” who had opted to bring bikes with disc brakes were on Venge’s and Tarmac Discs.
So, with bikes that span from Nibali’s Tour victory in 2014 to Alaphilippe’s weapon of choice in this year’s Tour, which bike is best suited to tearing up and down Pyrenean Col’s?
As this was a holiday it is therefore non-competive. But, Stage 1 – sorry, Day 1 was “won” ( holiday, not a race) by Joe and Kris, with several minutes advantage to 3rd. The day saw us ride in an almost completely straight line from Toulouse to the foot of the Pyrenees in Pau. There were no Col’s but a smattering of punchy climbs of 3km or less. It also featured the most straight roads I have ever ridden and the wind was also a factor. Fastest bike of the day, Joe’s Venge Disc, was perfect for these conditions.
After the transition day, we headed in to the mountains, where the Venge Disc took another sprint victory but this one at the top of the Col du Marie Blanque, showing that the Venge can also climb very well.
Then the Tarmacs’ pedigree and prowess in the mountains shone through, with the Disc bike taking key victories (key victories?! It’s a holiday!) on the Tourmalet and Luz-Ardiden.
As we have already established, this was a cycling holiday and not a race so I can’t name which bike is the fastest. But… the next few lines highlight some of the features as to why I think the S Works Tarmac Disc is the fastest bike in the mountains….
“When ordering the bike back in Autumn I had the Pyrenees trip in mind. The Col’s on our route varied in length and size from Col de Peyresourde at 7km to the 25km climb to Lac du Cap Long. I needed a bike that could fly up the climbs and descend just as well. In the S works Tarmac Disc I have definitely found that.
The main reason I wanted a bike with disc brakes was for this trip. It enables you to run your choice of carbon rim with uncompromising braking performance. Carbon wheels and Rim breaks can overheat, or perform poorly when it inevitably rains. Luckily on this trip, the only wet weather we encountered was at the top of three climbs as we hit the clouds. The Shimano disc brakes give you consistent control and power in wet and dry. It gave me so much confidence on the wet descents, knowing that the brakes would stop me every time and allowed me to enjoy descents whether wet or dry. Where as, I felt like rim breaks left me borderline sh***ing my pants on the wettest descents.
Whilst talking about the descending capability of the Tarmac, I have to mention it’s handling. The bike corners on rails. It is quite unbelievable. For the trip, I swapped from S work Cotton race tyres, to standard S works 26mm tyres (not a single puncture in 1000km). I picked a couple of Strava Top 10’s on descents this week, although I never really felt like I cornered as fast as the bike is capable of. It’s just so stable.
Another great feature of the bike is the S Works power cranks. I also use SRM cranks and find the S Works to be as reliable and accurate but they are dual sided and measure Left/Right power which my old SRM cranks don’t. The S Works crank is also the lightest power meter in the world which keeps the weight of the bike down.
The groupset is Dura Ace Di2, the gearing that the bike comes with out of the box is what I used for the trip; 52/36 chain rings with an 11-30T cassette. This was perfect gearing for even the steepest ramps of the Pyrenees. I’ve been fully converted to electronic shifting now after almost a year of using it on this bike.
The other bits of kit I used was the neat JRC Components Garmin and Go Pro mount, Rapha small saddle bag and two carbon Specialized e-cages. The bike weighed 6.4 kgs in this build.
When 8 of the most competitive racers around, go on a non-competive holiday, participating in the activity in which they usually compete, obviously there is no bike which is ‘faster’ or ‘better’ than anyone else’s.
But if there were… it would have to be the S Works Tarmac Disc.