Don’t miss out on the latest CyclingTips updates.
As a former world time trial champion – and qualified engineer – Emma Pooley knows what she wants in a bike.
So much so that Pooley, who’s currently focused on her triathlon and duathlon career, designed her 2017 bikes from the ground up, determining everything from the reach to the headtube length and 650 wheelsize.
Bespoke bike company, Bond, jumped at the opportunity to meet her needs, outfitting her with a road and time trial bike fit for a world champion and proving that aluminium – and not carbon – is the way to go for custom bikes.
Thirty-four year old Pooley enjoyed a successful career as a professional cyclist before retiring and returning to her first love, triathlon. Her nine-year career saw her win a silver medal in the individual time trial at the Beijing Olympics, a UCI world champion title in that same discipline as well as several additional medals at the world, Commonwealth and national championships. During that time she established herself as one of the best hill climbers of the peloton and gained a lot of respect off the bike for being a well-spoken advocate for women’s cycling. Enticed by the hilly courses for the Rio Olympics road race and time trial, Pooley briefly returned to cycling in 2016, but she continuous her du- and triathlon focus in 2017.
Pooley is the current Powerman Duathlon champion, having won the event three consecutive years. In 2017 she hopes to defend her title and needed the perfect bike to do it.
Pooley also happens to have a PhD in engineering and knew exactly what she was after.
At 1.57m (5’2”), Pooley is a shorter rider who’s had a hard time finding a bike that fits her while still handles well.
“The smallest frames from most manufacturers are at best borderline on fit, and they have normally compromised somewhere in terms of handling or geometry,” Pooley explained.
“There are plenty of cyclists my size – I know, because a lot of them get in touch to ask about bike choice,” said Pooley. “But it’s remarkable how little consideration there is in the mass-market bike industry for people my size… I honestly think most small cyclists don’t even realise how badly their bike fits (or, to put it another way, how much more comfortable they could be) because they’ve never known anything else.”
As a professional athlete, however, Pooley was exposed to more options than most.
“I’m lucky because when I was racing on the Cervélo Test Team we had a brilliant mechanic, who adapted gear levers and stems and handlebars to get everything to fit me as well as possible, and also that I was, eponymously, riding a Cervélo. By far the best bike I raced on (in terms of fit) was the Cervélo P3 with 650c wheels. Sadly, Cervélo has now changed their smallest TT bike geometry and discontinued the 650c frames – a disappointment to discerning smaller cyclists.”
What Pooley needed was a shorter reach and small wheels.
Her call for 650 wheels:
“700c wheels are simply too big for small riders,” Pooley stated. “You only have to look at pictures of me racing over the last few years – I look silly, at least partly because the bike looks ridiculously over-sized!”
Speaking like an engineer, Pooley went on to explain:
“Analytically, a rider has three contact points with the bike: pedals, saddle and handlebars. These three points are related to the wheels by the stem length, headtube angle, bottom bracket placement and seat tube angle, which all affect how the bike handles,” she said. “You can think of the mechanics of it as, essentially, a triangle perched over two circles. A small cyclist means a smaller triangle, but the circles stay the same size. The circles can move a bit closer together but the shorter the wheelbase, the greater the cross-over between front wheel and foot, which can be dangerous. Thus, for the triangle to fit onto the circles, there are limits on headtube angle, seat tube angle, and stem length – where taller cyclists simply have more range.”
With that said. It certainly is possible to build a frame with 700c wheels to fit a smaller person, but it requires quite a few adjustments from a traditional road bike geometry, something Pooley and Bond set out to do.
About the manufacturer
Intrigued by the challenge to provide Pooley with the first bike to truly fit her, Bond jumped at the opportunity to sponsor the proven champion in 2017.
Launched at the end of 2016, Bond is a bespoke bike manufacturer that places the customer in the driver seat, letting them determine the ins-and-outs of the frame geometry to meet their specific requirements.
“Emma, having a degree in engineering and being such an accomplished professional knows exactly what she wants. On top of that, she’s just a very nice, honest and conscientious person, so yeah, she’a an absolute pleasure to work with,” said Lee Rodgers, owner of Bond. “We hope she’ll really be turning heads when she wins a TT or duathlon on a bike with more traditional tubing – and aluminium at that!”
Bond works exclusively with aluminium, a material which according to Rodgers “has been overlooked for almost two decades.”
“Aluminum allows us fully customise the geometry without having to create endless new moulds, as would be required with carbon,” explained Rodgers. “Steel, lovely though it is to ride, has certain disadvantages in terms of weight and stiffness.”
“With aluminium we knew we could produce customized frames that would still be highly competitive in terms of weight and in return of the power that goes into the pedals,” Rodgers continued. “The innovations in aluminium over the past few years meant that we could make a ride that would be much more comfortable than the aluminium bikes of old, a ride that could even rival that of the top carbon bikes. We were able when engineering the frame to minimise the tube size differential at the junctions of the frame, which means these joints are stronger than aluminium frames of old, and in turn results in a nimble yet stable feel to the steering.”
The end result:
“This bike is without doubt the best I’ve ever ridden. I’d like to think my clever choice of geometry is helping a little, but mainly it’s light, stiff, and when I put my foot down it goes,” said Pooley. “When setting about defining the frame geometry for my Bond road and TT bikes, I knew what I wanted but I wasn’t sure if it was possible. I’m hugely grateful to both the Bond engineer for his help, and a former colleague from a previous pro cycling team, whose expert advice was invaluable in coming to the final specification.”
The final specification:
On the road:
- Crank length: 165mm – “thus reducing toe crossover problems”
- Headtube angle: 71deg – “in order to reduce toe crossover, I specified a relatively low headtube angle, and relatively large fork rake. This together means the front wheel will be further in front of the handlebars than usual, but with a reasonable fork trail so that the bike is not too twitchy at the front end.”
- Reach: 361mm – “this means I’ll be able to reach the handlebars!”
- Headtube length: 90mm
- Seattube angle: 76deg
- Rear centre: 405mm
On the TT bike:
- Crank length: 165mm – “Reducing toe crossover problems as well as reducing the vertical range of motion of my feet and knees, which is useful for comfort of breathing when tucked down in an aero position.”
- Headtube angle: 72deg
- Reach: 375mm
- Headtube length: 84mm – “I’ve reduced this to the absolute minimum possible, to get as low as possible at the front. This helps with aerodynamics, especially on the TT bike where I have traditionally had to use a very extreme step to drop enough height at the front to be in a good aero position.”
- Seattube angle: 80deg
- Rear centre: 399mm
Note: Pooley’s custom frames have not(yet) been wind tunnel tested.
“In any case the drag of the frame alone is pretty meaningless for real life situations, since it’s the aerodynamic properties of rider and bike and wheels together that affect one’s drag. And though the Bond frames won’t have aero tubing, this has far less of an effect on drag than body and head position,” said Pooley. “With the frame geometries I’ve specified, I will be able to reach a lower position than on any off-the-peg bike I’ve ever ridden previously, so I’ll be more aero than previously.”
Note that while her triathlon/TT bike features 650c wheels but her road bike does not.
“Because I plan to still do the occasional road race, 650c would be a risky choice for the road bike because it’s near impossible to get a spare wheel in a hurry mid-race (as hardly anyone uses them, neutral service do not carry them),” Pooley explained.
Pooley will be putting her Bond bike to the test at the Rheintal Duathlon on April 30th, a test event before the European long-distance duathlon championships on May 21st.
Our tech writer Matt Wikstromis currently testing a Bond bike. Check back soon to see what he made of this new take on aluminium bikes.