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Can you build a budget TT/Tri Bike?

I have never regretted buying a Speed Concept, and overall I’ve been very pleased with it. But, running out and dropping $10,000 bike isn’t realistic for everyone. I was recently chatting with some friends around this, and I decided to see how much it would cost to build a TT bike that I would ride, and feel comfortable providing a roadmap around if someone wanted to get into the discipline “on the cheap”. That is of course a relative term. Finding something legit cheap, would require jumping in the Facebook Marketplace way-back machine, and finding something from the 90s. It’s kind of crazy how even old TT bike seem to hold value, again, in a relative sense :P.

Frame

The hard part here is picking a frameset. All the name brands are going to be expensive, so here’s where we save real money, and potentially introduce risk. This is a theoretical build, so I don’t have any real experience with this frame. I looked at a tone options and selected the Velobuild VB-TT-023 for this exercise.

Velobuild seems to have a good reputation. They have been around for fourteen years. The VB-TT-023 fits the basic requirements, so that’s what we’re going to roll with. The price is right ($1100), and by right I mean cheap enough, but not so cheap you have to wonder. It has a T47 bottom bracket (fairly confident it’s the “T47i” variant), supports electronic shifting, and has hydraulic brakes. Also, as a bonus, you could run a 32c tire if that’s your jam.

I had a lot of questions about buying a frame like this, so I asked Velobuild. Below is my list and what they said in response.

Q: What are the maximum chainring sizes for 2x and 1x?
A: 2x 58T;1x 54T

Q: How is the “Watercage Holder” attached to the seat post?
A: There are two bolts on seat post, the holder lock on seat post via screw

Q: Can the “Watercage Holder” be removed from the bike?
A: Yes, it can be removed as locked via screw

Q: Do you have a rough guidance on what size frame maps to what rider height?
A: 163-173 S ;174-182 M ;183-193 L

Q: What spacers are provided with the frame to adjust height between the base bar and aero arm rests?
A: The spacers included in 5+10+20mm one set, we can provide extra set and longer screws to adjust height if you need

Q: What is the maximum spacing between the base bar and aero arm rests?
A: The spacers we can be added as your request if we can find longer screws, the longest screw we can find here 260mm, which is enough

Q: Are there top tube bolts on the frame?
A: There is no top tube bolts, we can add if you need

Q: If someone wanted to buy a spacer “fit kit” with a collection of different spacers and bolts either with the bike or after the fact, would that be possible?
A: We can provide more or less spacers with correct screws, no problem.

Q: What is the maximum spacing between the base bar and aero arm rests?
A: I understand your request as some other customers asked spacers and screws length for many different measures. The longest screw we can get 260mm

Q: What is the max rider weight for the frame?
A: 180kg

Q: Is the frame UCI legal?
A: The frame under UCI request

For the most part, I’m good with that, but small parts support is complicated with frames like the VB-TT-023. This is the main thing that has put me off “Chinese” framesets. What happens later when you need more spacers, a derailleur hanger, replacement seat post, etc.?

I think the responses I received are fine, but it’s also not the same level of confidence you’re going to get from a Trek/Cervélo/Specialized/etc., where you can be 100% confident that if you need to get to 60mm after buying the bike, the support infrastructure exists to enable that. This is an easy thing to address with an “Accessories” catalog. You’re probably going to have to wait a couple/few weeks for it to get here from overseas, but something like that would make it easier to buy a frame off the Internet with more confidence.

Wheels

This is a little tricky. Even if you buy an expensive TT/Tri bike, the wheels aren’t awesome for TT or Tri. You’ll need to upgrade them anyway. My inclination is to ignore wheels here. Partially because of that, and partially because I think it’s safe to assume that you already have a bike, and it has wheels that could be used until you figure out what you want to do there. If you’re doing TT, then you want deep front, disc back. But that can wait.

Groupset

Unfortunately, there’s no “cheap” way to get electronic shifting on a TT/Tri bike. I don’t like it, but I do understand it. The market probably isn’t there to support segmentation. On a standard road bike, the electronic vs mechanical decision is more nuanced. But you want electronic here. No doubt in my mind. So that means splashing out a little. You have to pay to play.

Shimano

  • Shimano 105 R7170 Di2 Disc Groupset – 12 Speed  : ~$1000
  • ST-R9180 : these are kind of hard to get, can find them on eBay for ~$650 NTO
  • SW-R9160 : can be hard to find retail ($240), might do better on eBay
  • Praxis T47i BB : $45
  • Sell off 105 STI levers : maybe get $200 back?

Total: ~$2,835

SRAM

  • SRAM Red eTap AXS 1x Aero Groupset : ~$1200
  • S-900 Aero HRD Disc Brake and Lever : ~$480
  • SRAM Dub T47 BB : $54
  • Crank: Lots of options here, personally, I’d probably get a DUB Force AXS crank. You can find NTO versions on eBay for ~$150. A SRAM Rival AXS crank might be cheaper, but they are really hard to find. The key is that you want something 8-bolt because then you’ll have the best options for finding a good sized narrow-wide chainring.
  • Chainring: SRAM chainrings are too small for this application. IIRC, the biggest you can get is a 50t, cute huh? You want the biggest thing you can push to keep the chain in the middle of the cassette. I have a 54t on my bike, should have gone bigger. I would probably get a spider for the AXS crank, that provides an easier upgrade path to a power meter and more chainring flexibility, but you can do direct mount as well.
    • Direct mount: $120 | $106
    • Spider ($52) + ring ($60): $112

Total: ~$3,090 ($3,096)

All in, ~$3,000 isn’t terrible. It’s a shame that this was the best I could do, but the group cost really drives it up. Not sure there’s a way around that without using <shudder/> mechanical shifting and rim brakes…

I’m kind of tempted to try to build this :D.

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