Bikes of the Bunch: Argon 18 Nitrogen Pro Gran Fondo Racer
In this Bikes of the Bunch, reader Lachlan Brown shares his custom painted and custom equipped Argon 18 Nitrogen Pro. It’s a bike that Brown rides in competitive Grand Fondos and on his local roads of Batemans Bay of New South Wales’ South Coast, Australia.
It was thirteen years ago when I found cycling. I had wound up my dinghy sailing career and my brother suggested getting into (shudder) triathlon. It didn’t take long before I found myself enjoying and performing best in the second of the three disciplines.
My eyes were opened when I joined the Moruya road bunch ride, and to this day, it remains a Saturday morning ritual. My local club, the Eurobodalla Cyclists, got me into road and criterium racing, and I would go with clubmates to events like the Canberra Tour, the Southern Districts at Breadalbane and the Tour of Bright.
A decade ago my weight weenie’ism was at its peak, and after totalling my first proper road bike, I got one of the best and lightest bikes of its day – a Cervelo R3SL. I replaced some of the more impractical lightweight components and to this day it still goes uphill like the proverbial rat up a drainpipe. This came in handy during the 2011 Alpe d’Huez triathlon and the 2016 Queenstown Peak to Peak, not to mention trips to the Spring Classics and the Giro.
Moving to aero
These days aero is everything, and my Cervelo just wasn’t. Moreover, after competing in Challenge Roth (an ironman-distance event) this year I planned to give triathlon a rest and to concentrate on road cycling for a year or two. Like many middle-aged cyclists, I prefer riding in a Gran Fondo with a beautiful scenic course more than biffing and barging my way around a crit track. I am planning to do a few such events like Amy’s Gran Fondo and the Blayney to Bathurst with the goal of qualifying for the 2020 Gran Fondo World’s in Vancouver. I have qualified for a couple of world championships in the past, but family commitments have always kept from going.
At the start of this year, I decided it was time to get myself an aero bike and I wanted to keep it light, if there was such a thing. My budget was definitely in four-figure (AUD) terms not five, even though that would include some high-end components.
It quickly became clear that there was no complete bike on the market which fulfilled my wishlist. And that was fine, part of the satisfaction for me was being able to put some consideration into bringing together the things I wanted and creating something unique. I had no idea that this would end up taking six months to achieve.
Deciding on a frameset was first. Being somewhat conservative, I wanted to stick with mechanical shifting and rim brakes. I also wanted a bike I could easily take to pieces to put in a bike bag and that I would be able to do my own routine service on. This cut down my consideration field considerably, essentially to the Colnago V2 R and the Argon 18 Nitrogen Pro.
Although the Argon’s brakes are fiddlier than the direct-mount callipers on the Colnago, I liked Argon’s clever integrated handlebar with an adjustable stem. The stem comprises two sections with a toothed join halfway along. The front stem section is an integrated part of the aero handlebar. The rear stem section clamps on to the steerer tube conventionally then is held to the front section thanks to a bolt running longitudinally inside the stem. The adjustability comes from a range of rear stem sections of different lengths supplied with the bars. The weight (397g for 42cm x 10cm) is quite competitive with a normal bar/stem setup.
Being a slightly older design (2015), the Argon Nitrogen Pro frameset was widely discounted and Merlin Cycles had great deals on them in team Astana livery. These came without the aero handlebar which was good because I was able to order my preferred 40cm width from a different supplier instead of the 44cm wide bars which normally come with a large size frame. I was on the margin between medium and large size frame but went with the large for the taller stack.
I am not a big fan of Vino and the Astana team, and so I decided to get the frame delivered directly to Paint My Bike for a respray. They came up with this stunning candy blue to black fade for the colour scheme.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I got the resprayed frame to my local bike shop, Batemans Bay Cycles, that we noticed the supplied fork had a steerer tube which had been cut way too short for the frame. Merlin refused to replace it as it had been resprayed and it was more than 14 days since delivery, and I had no choice but to order a replacement fork from Argon and get it colour matched at Paint My Bike. It was an error and a crappy situation that cost me almost $1,000 to rectify.
Choosing the bits
I have always liked the Campy Record 10 speed on my Cervelo. I certainly like the way it looks, but also the ability to shift multiple gears in either direction with one push. And so I went with the modern equivalent, 12-speed Super Record. I got the whole groupset from Starbike in Germany, and they were willing to subtract the cost of the brake calipers as the frame came with its own integrated brakes.
When it came to the wheels, I wanted a lightweight and aero wheelset that would still take tubes with a 60mm valve stem, the longest valve stem available in latex road inner tubes without resorting to valve extenders. Likewise, I am not sold on road tubeless.
This meant the rim depth would be a maximum of 50mm. I’d only ever heard great things about Caden Wheels from Ben Cawood in Sydney, and he doesn’t get due recognition for the excellent wheels he puts together. And the 49mm Cadens was the best value proposition I could find. They were wide but not so wide that they would not fit on the bike, and paired up nicely with the 25mm Continental GP5000 tyres. These tyres are supposedly quicker than GP4000s, but they feel exactly the same to me.
Batemans Bay Cycles has done well with the build, and the shop mechanics Kate Huxley and Matt Robertson made sure there were no rattles coming from the internal cables. I made the computer mount using a Garmin puck I had leftover and a strip of aluminium finger splinting material cut down to size. It works well.
The bike has been a joy to look at and to ride. That blue fade just sparkles in the sun, and does so while still looking like something Argon may have done themselves. The frame is certainly on the stiff side which makes for a reactive but firm ride, and thankfully it’s not so harsh to rattle my bones or loosen my fillings.
To my relief, the integrated TRP v-brakes work just as well as the conventional calipers that I’ve used. They’ve stayed centred and give me little to complain about. They’re a very similar brake to what the old Giant Propel used, and I think they get an unfair rap.
The reality of buying an older aero frame is that tyre clearance is a little more limited, and the cables are exposed to the wind when compared to the latest aero bikes. But neither bother me, and those external cables make servicing and travelling with the bike easy, exactly what I wanted.
Another quibble is that the front shifting requires a surprisingly large shove of the lever to get the chain onto the big ring. It’s most noticeable when starting a ride in near-freezing conditions with stiff hands.
Otherwise, and so far, I’m very happy with how it all turned out. It is noticeably quicker on the flats and downhills than the non-aero Cervelo R3SL, and while I haven’t raced the bike yet, I suspect it will perform admirably well. I’ll know more at Amy’s Gran Fondo in September.
Frame: Argon Nitrogen Pro, size large
Headset: FSA integrated
Wheelset: Caden Decadence 49mm Carbon clinchers
Shifters: Campagnolo Super Record 12 mechanical
Crankset: Campagnolo Super Record 12, 52/36T, 172.5mm
Bottom Bracket: Campagnolo BB86
Derailleurs: Campagnolo Super Record 12 mechanical
Cassette: Campagnolo Super Record 12, 11–32T
Chain: Campagnolo Super Record 12 speed
Tyres: Continental Grand Prix 5000
Handlebar: Argon AHB 5000 40 cm with adjustable stem (80 – 120mm)
Brakes: Argon/TRP integrated
Seatpost: Argon ASP5100
Cages: Supacaz alloy
Computer mount: Modified aluminium finger splint
Bar tape: Specialized S wrap HD
Saddle: Astute Star Lab VT
Weight: 7.2kg (without pedals)