Joining VeloClub not only supports the work we do, there are some fantastic benefits:
by Dave Rome
August 3, 2020
Photography by Ronan McLaughlin
The idea of marginal gains often prompts an eye-roll from even the most devoted of cyclists. For Irishman Ronan McLaughlin, those marginal gains became a way of life as he obsessed over the finest of details that could help shave seconds off each 14%-gradient ascent (and descent) during his successful attempt at the Everesting record.
We reached out to McLaughlin for some deep insight into what did and didn’t make it onto his bike. And the best part? In many cases it was budget restraints that prevented McLaughlin from slashing Alberto Contador’s recent record even further.
Having previously won the Irish and Ulster hill climb championships (races that traditionally see some wild bike setups), and having gone for the Everesting record just two weeks prior, McLaughlin came into this second attempt with a clear idea on how to get more from himself and his rim-brake Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL6. It’s a bike he took from 7.4 kg down to 6.2 kg for the attempt.
“The first time around I pretty much kept the bike as standard except for removing the front chainring and derailleur,” McLaughlin told CyclingTips. “This time I tried to find every advantage I could with the limited budget I had to spend on the project.” That budget resulted in a build that sounds like an old wedding cliche, with something old, something borrowed, and something new. It was a strategy that saw many of McLaughlin’s other bikes pulled to pieces.
“First time around, a friend, Aaron Ellis, lent me his alloy rim Dura-Ace C24 clinchers which were lighter than my Campagnolo Bora Two 60s,” McLaughlin said. “I ran these with latex tubes and Vittoria Corsa Speed 2.0 tubeless tyres. For this attempt, I went a step further and managed to find a set of Dura-Ace C35 tubulars which I wrapped with Vittoria Corsa Speed 2.0 23 mm tubular tyres. As a result, my wheels were lighter and more aero for the second time around.”
Those tyres were set up with “minimal glue” and run at 96 psi rear and 94 front. McLaughlin, a detail-oriented cycling coach, even considered how the pressure would change throughout his attempt. “I started 1-2 psi below these targets expecting the pressure to increase with the slight temperature increase that was forecast for later in the ride.”
Then there are those handlebars.
Chopping the drops off is a common sight at hugely popular hill-climb races around the UK.
“[I] previously ran the Specialized AeroFly II bars which I really like but they certainly are not the lightest option,” McLaughlin said. “So I went into the attic and found an old set of 3T Ergo Sum bars in size 40 cm.
“Believe it or not, this [ed. cutting the bars] was the last thing I did before leaving the house to go to Mamore Gap and attempt the Everesting. Ultimately this didn’t save a huge amount of weight (just 69 grams) but I couldn’t ignore the fact that every little bit helps. I rarely used the drops on the first attempt so why carry them if I wasn’t going to use them? This weight saving was completely free.” It’s a similar story for the complete lack of bar tape.
In the name of grams saved, McLaughlin pillaged the Campagnolo Super Record EPS levers from his “favourite bike”, a FiftyOne Ras Concept (a bike we’ve featured before). As the new record holder joked about pulling apart that bike to save some grams on another, “it means I can look forward to giving my FiftyOne some TLC, a service and a rebuild when I recover from Everesting.”
Tape is lighter than bolts.
More free savings came from removing the bottle, bottle cage, and bolts from the bike. It’s something we’ve seen the likes of former mountain bike world champion Kate Courtney do during racing (as covered in our weight-obsessed episode of the Nerd Alert podcast), and McLaughlin’s reasoning was no different.
“Both hydration and fuelling were covered by my team at the top of the climb,” he said. “As I reached the summit I called out what I needed that lap and they handed it to me. If it was fluids I took a quick drink and threw it back, if it was food I gulped it down on the descent.”
A Campagnolo Super Record and Record drivetrain doesn’t exactly scream budget-conscious but using what you already own is always the cheapest option. For this, McLaughlin looked to optimise what he already had on the bike. He’d already confirmed on his first attempt that the big ring and front derailleur weren’t required, and that there was plenty of weight to shave from his Shimano 105 11-32T cassette.
“[This time] I removed most of the rear cassette just leaving the 25-, 28- and 32-tooth sprockets.” The rest of the freehub body was filled with aluminium spacers commonly used for single-speed conversions.
This probably isn’t what Campagnolo had in mind with its EPS groupsets.
“Again you could ask ‘would this make any difference?’ and ‘would it not be good to have the rest of the cassette for the descent?’ but on Mamore Gap the steepest pitches are at the top so immediately upon turning around I was gaining speed so quickly I couldn’t have pedalled.
“With the Campagnolo EPS and Garmin data from the first ride I knew on the section [of the climb] I would be using for the second ride I had mostly just used the 28- and 32-tooth sprockets so I was well covered with 25-32.”
In fact, McLaughlin actually tried to turn his bike into a single-speed for the attempt. In the end, a light and efficient single-speed setup was foiled due to a lack of suitable chainrings to fit a 12-speed Campagnolo Record crank to (with no budget left to swap out). In the end, he used the stock Campagnolo 39T ring with the custom hacked Shimano cassette on the back.
Other changes were made to the drivetrain too.
“I robbed the CeramicSpeed OSPW system off my TT bike. [I mostly did this] for the decreased chain articulation angles rather than for the ceramic bearings in the pulley wheels. I figured with the watts and the nature of the delivery of power on this ride this would provide a gain worth having, especially considering I already had it on another bike in the house.”
The chain used was a near-new Record 11-speed (a chain we’ve shown to be quite efficient) which McLaughlin said he’d worn in. The chain was left overnight to soak in Silca’s new Super Secret drip lube. “I can’t stand a dirty drivetrain and so I do this process on at least a bi-weekly basis and top up with the Silca lube between training rides.”
Those red spacers were left over from a failed attempt at making The S-Works Tarmac SL6 a single speed.
While trimming weight, rolling resistance and drivetrain friction were clearly areas of focus for the second attempt, McLaughlin suggested that aero still played an important role in his technical decision-making.
“It might seem insignificant on a climbing challenge but consider the two-minute difference between Contador’s record and Lachlan Morton’s previous record,” he said. “I was setting out to do well over 60 laps; this works out to less than two seconds per descent which is easily achievable in aerodynamics at the extreme speeds I was descending.” For reference, McLaughlin topped out at 86.5 km/h.
“The difference between my fastest descents and slowest was nearly 10 seconds — I took two descents slowly to remove overshoes — but had I been somewhere in the region of five to 10 seconds slower on every descent by not taking steps to improve my aerodynamics, then it could have resulted in over 10 minutes of extra time on my ride.”
The front brake was picked with aerodynamics in mind. And while the cabling could perhaps be a little cleaner, there are still some tricks used. For example, the Campagnolo EPS junction box is hidden within the Deda Zero 100 stem.
A TriRig Omega X brake was purchased for the front of the bike, something McLaughlin figured would be better on the descent than the stock Campagnolo Record direct mount caliper. Coincidentally this turned out to be slightly lighter than the stock caliper (by 12 g), but was certainly done with aero savings in mind. “I will keep these after the bike is rebuilt — I just wish I had a matching rear one,” he said. “I find the braking on them is fine but braking is never top of my list of most important features on a road bike.”
McLaughlin also considered the 23 mm tyre width, aiming to optimise the selection to fit the C35 rims while balancing rolling resistance. And those chopped bars? Yep, McLaughlin believes there were aero benefits there, too.
“Given [the drops] are two separate cylindrical shape bodies, both of which will be providing aerodynamic drag, why would I choose to leave them on the bike when they were not going to be required for the ride?” he said. The Irish cyclist knew the drops weren’t needed in order to hold his ideal tucked position on the descent, so off they came. “Another added benefit of the cut bars, probably unique to me, was the fact that the short drop left, in combination with the lever, provided me with the perfect grip upon which to pull on the steepest (uphill) sections.”
Clothing choice was also an area of focus, with McLaughlin wearing aero overshoes, an aero skinsuit, and an aero helmet for the day-long effort.
That Skinsuit was a Pactimo Ascent Flyte, a one-piece race suit with rear pockets that McLaughlin says is every bit as comfortable and light as a jersey-and-shorts combo. Those rear pockets were only used to carry a phone which “provided the soundtrack for the ride.” Notably, McLaughlin ditched his spare GPS unit for this second attempt — “it is, after all, extra grams and I was already slightly annoyed about having to carry the heaviest of Garmins as that was the only option.”
McLaughlin on his way to taking the record.
His helmet of choice was a Kask Infinity which features an adjustable vent at the front. “I opened the vent for ascents and then immediately upon turning at the top I closed the vent, zipped up the Flyte suit and got down into a ‘super tuck’ all the way to the bottom,” McLaughlin explained. “I was actually able to get my head right down level with the Garmin and so at least the A [frontal area] in my CdA was as low as could be for every descent.”
Speaking of the aero overshoes, McLaughlin said: “I was quite disappointed with these that once they got wet in the rain they wouldn’t stay in position and started to flap quite a bit on the descent,” he said. “I was able to take them off, one per descent on two descents in a row.” And beneath those overshoes awaited aero socks, something McLaughlin had worn in case the first plan didn’t work out.
As mentioned at the start of this article, many of McLaughlin’s technical decisions were made based on the available budget, and very few items were purchased specifically for the attempt. This, of course, means some cards were left on the table, and McLaughlin suggests (while laughing) there is as much as five minutes of savings still available to him. Understandably, he wants to keep some of these further improvements to himself, but he was willing to share a few others.
For example, the 69 grams saved by cutting the drops off his bars was the same amount that a more expensive saddle would have saved. “I wasn’t willing to change to my saddle,” he said. “I currently use a Specialized Power ARC Pro, and I’d have gladly changed to an S-Works Power Arc, but I didn’t have the dosh to make this change.”
Meanwhile, another item that wasn’t negotiable was the use of an accurate power meter. McLaughlin’s choice was the Favero Assioma Duo power meter pedals, something he says is one of the lightest options.
Simply swapping to a different saddle or set of pedals wasn’t an option as it completely changes how a bike fits. “I had done a lot of work to get my position right for Everesting and actually the first Everesting acted as a test for this position as I had used a Leomo Type S and motion sensors to track that ride as a backup GPS,” explained McLaughlin of the fairly new accelerometer- and gyroscope-based tech he uses for fitting himself and his coaching clients at Panache Coaching. It’s a new tech also used by a select few in the WorldTour, something we’ve discussed with Adam Hansen on a previous Nerd Alert podcast.
The Northwave Extreme Pro footwear was another result of budget restraints. “They are the lightest shoes I have but far from the lightest,” he said. “I was desperate for a pair of Giro Prolight Techlace or Specialized Exos but just couldn’t find myself a pair.”
And while McLaughlin was tight-lipped on other areas for improvement, it’s quite clear that a bigger budget could bring an even lighter and more aero wheelset, some lighter components, and perhaps that initially intended single-speed drivetrain.
Maybe we’ll see such upgrades on a future attempt but, at least for now, McLaughlin has some bikes to rebuild and some glory to bask in.