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Monday, January 12, 2009

Project Tiemeyer

It's been a busy year and this final chapter of our Project Tiemeyer is long overdue. To recap where and how this all started, let's look back over the past few months.

When the process started, I was riding a custom Ground Up track frame that did everything I could ever want from a frame. Stiff, strong, durable with tight handling--a great track bike that fit me perfectly.

Took a few months off that frame and rode a Planet-X, a Teschner Track Pro and some place along the line started working on getting a custom Tiemeyer Signature track frame designed and built. When the dust settled, the season ended and we started preparing for winter. Only one track bike is in the garage ready to be taken to the Dick Lane Velodrome. The FixedGearFever Project Tiemeyer is dialed in and ready to go!

From the beginning, this has been a review of the Tiemeyer "experience." When you compare the Teschner Track Pro, the Planet-X and Tiemeyer Signature, you can look only at the hardware or you can look at the big picture. Looking "outside the box" that gets delivered to your front door shows you a much different picture.

Let's open up the box and talk a bit about the Tiemeyer. The Tiemeyer Signature design sticks out in a crowd. It's been imitated by numerous other frame builders but duplicated by none. The wing-shaped Reynolds aluminum has proven itself in a wind tunnel, the design is simple and could even be considered "basic" by many. Having said that, Dave has not cut any corners in the design, construction or finish. The welds are smooth and even, the Spectrum Powder Works finish is flawless. Dave installs each headset, checks the alignment and finishes each frame himself. No details are left unchecked. When you open the box, you are looking at one of the nicest frames you will ever see.

Assembly is a breeze. The seat tube is reamed to a perfect 27.2, the rear end is 120mm so your wheel slides in without any issues, and the threads in the bottom bracket are cut and chased so you do not have to worry about any paint. With your Chris King headset (which comes stock) installed, you are minutes away from having your new bike rideable.

One thing you will notice about the Signature is the weight. You are not purchasing a super lightweight frame here. While I do not have an accurate scale to compare weights of frames, I will tell you it is probably a 4.5-5 pound frameset. This is both a plus and a minus for some people. The gram geeks will get worked up about the weight of the frame, but please for a moment consider that a stock Fuji with a Zipp disc and a light front wheel will fail the UCI weight limit test. The Signature is designed to be raced around a velodrome, not up a mountain. It's designed to be stiff and fast. This has been accomplished!

Back to the setup. Having worked with Dave on the design of the frame, you have your design diagram (included with your shipped frame). You have the measurements right there. You know what stem you need, you know how high and how far back to put your saddle. Right away, you are set up and on your way to the track. Your bike will be right at home on the track!

Racing four distinctly different bicycles in a season is odd. Over the years, I have developed an ability to sort out a bicycle quickly, which helps, but I am always "uncomfortable" until I've ridden or raced a bike a few times. For me, it's "can you handle an oh-$#*! situation well?" Get through something that scared you a bit and you know you are comfortable on a bike. When I got on "Wilson" (the name I chose for this bike), it wasn't like others. The fit, the feel--it was exactly what my mind and body expected. I knew it would steer similar to others. I knew it would be stiff. I knew it would handle like a track bike. All this and the fact that the bike fits me perfectly (it was designed for me--with my input), all work together to make this a great ride.

The first couple of rides were basic training sessions. A lot of playing to see how the bike felt turning right, turning left, jumping, backpedaling--all of the standard tests I do on a bike I am testing. All of this made me feel comfortable and ready to do just about anything on the frame. I managed to squeeze in one last race of the year at the track. I'd love to tell you that Wilson helped me to win everything by taking lap after lap. The unfortunate thing is, that even a super-fast, aero frame won't make a mule into a race horse. The bike did everything I asked it to, but after an injury-filled month, I just didn't have the legs to end the season with a big win on my new Tiemeyer. But the bike was definitely not the limiting factor.

The final test of the Project Tiemeyer came a week later at a training session. Riding around motorpacing behind a friend I trust on a bicycle and a motorcycle, as relaxed as can be, at 25-ish mph. I am not sure what exactly happened but the motor slowed a good bit. I was close and another rider was above me. It was one of those "oh-$#*!" situations I referenced earlier. If my brain didn't tell the bike what to do or the bike didn't do it, I was going to learn what a butt cheek or shoulder bouncing on concrete feels like. A split second later, it was all over. Perfect. No bump, no crash, no issue. We all said "whoa" and sorted it out. Good deal.

The only "shortcoming" of this frame won't affect very many people. Most people race their track bikes on smooth, well-kept velodromes where you can run 150-gram tires and ride 220-gram rims. Those of us in Atlanta, St. Louis, Queens and other tracks that are not so smooth, this frame isn't as smooth as its carbon fiber competitors. Perhaps I am brainwashed, perhaps I am making this up, but I went from a fully carbon frame/fork to a carbon fork with an aluminum frame. The components were the same (literally). In shorter events/sessions, there were no significant differences. In longer events/sessions, I started noticing increased "butt adjustment" and hand numbness. This is nothing I have not experienced on my Ground Up (steel).

Some of you may scroll back to my Planet-X review. You may compare my comments on the BT Aluminum frame I reviewed a few years ago. Some could say "there is a Tiemeyer banner on the side of FGF." When you put it all together you will find that I generally haven't ridden a bad frame. I liked the BT Aluminum, I liked the Planet-X. I enjoyed racing the Teschner Track Pro. I love the Ground Up. What can I say? I've tested some great bikes and been honest about all of them. I'm keeping the Tiemeyer. No questions asked.

When you consider that for $1,850 you will get a custom-made frame, a Chris King headset, a Reynolds fork and a Spectrum Powder Works finish, some would say that is a great deal. Add in the knowledge of frame design, years of experience, the iterative design process, and the fact that you are working with one of the classiest men in the bicycle industry, you have just created the best deal in the industry. For the money, I know of better value in track frames. The "best value" award is often given to a lesser product that performs well. That is not the case here. You get a world record-capable frameset, made just for you and built to last. If you are looking for a professional quality track frame, you owe it to yourself to consider the Tiemeyer Signature!

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