Tag Archives: BMC

Product review: 2016 BMC Team Machine SLR01 – Part 1: Build

When you increase the level of game play, things start to happen to you because you’re more engaged in the world.  Sometimes they are good, sometimes they are bad.  But it’s all subjective and really, you shouldn’t be shaken up too much about it, because, after all, it’s all relative.

The bike-building drama (yes there is such a thing) I experienced this year was quite, interesting.  A broken BMC mid-season gave way to reviving a beloved, steel dinosaur which eventually broke.  Replacing it meant building and riding a Bianchi Sempre Pro borrowed, then bought from a good and gracious friend in the local cycling community.  And after a month without a halo bike to ride, BMC finally resolved it by standing by their products and sent me a replacement frame before anyone else had one.  Even the pro team didn’t have it in their hands yet.

I later discovered, it’s one thing to have the frame, and another to actually build it into something rideable without breaking.

The build and the drama

I started tinkering with the bike for a few days before the major job was to start, just so I could prepare myself with the task.  I knew it was going to be a challenge because of the new technology and standards, of which, I had little experience – BB86 instead of Italian threaded cartridge bottom bracket, integrated headset instead of the traditional cups, new electronic shifting components.

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Wiring harness fed through before bottom bracket install.
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Wiring fed through to battery installed on seatpost.
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Front derailleur hookup.
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Charging and control unit.
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Easier than dealing with shift cables.
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The dreaded brake cable still  needed to be fed internally.  Thank goodness for pre-installed guides!

The Bianchi was a dress rehearsal as the BMC frame too had internal cable routing.  But miraculously, that was the most fun and easy part of assembling the bicycle.  Everything else, not so much.

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Trying to press fit the bottom bracket.
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The aftermath of a poorly installed bottom bracket.  It broke.

I must say – I despise pressfit bottom bracket systems – with a passion, as you can see in the picture.  They are the most troublesome and expensive standard.  They wear out, creak and are immensely difficult to install – for an amateur mechanic.  The act of installing the bottom bracket should have been easy.  It wasn’t.  First, it took me 30 minutes to figure out how to use the pressing tool.  Then, when I finally figured it out, I destroyed the Shimano bottom bracket because it didn’t align properly.  Basically, if you have this bottom bracket with your group, throw it out because it’s plastic and it’s garbage.  That’s Shimano trying to skimp on one of the most important components on a bike.

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Wheels Manufacturing bottom bracket.

Instead, I got upgraded to a Wheels Manufacturing aluminum anodized BB86, thanks to after-hours service from LL Bean by Matt.  I was able to drop-off the bike in the early evening then come back later that night after the work was done.  And I was on a deadline to give it its maiden voyage on my Monday night club ride.  By the way, this was during Labor Day weekend.

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Completed in the wee hours of the night!
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The crank slipped off the spindle attached to my foot, dragging it on the ground.

The fixing bolt for the crank was also plastic.  And it didn’t work, as I found out.  Because when I did get to ride the bike on Labor Day Monday, it too failed and left me stranded.  (It’s a good thing I have friends to bail me out.)  So I ordered the Dura Ace version, an aluminum part that actually held the torque.  I later learned that part of the failure was due to using a too thick spacer that was included in the bottom bracket assembly, reducing the amount of clamping purchase for the left crank.

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Crank was positioned too far outward.

The Lessons

After all the kinks in the build had been eliminated, the bike rode perfectly, though there were times when I soft-pedaled, anticipating the crankarm to fly off the spindle again.

“Too much power…”

…I insisted.

In retrospect, with each of the five builds that I’ve gone through since the 1990’s, I’ve accumulated wisdom and lessons learned.

Lesson 1:  “Don’t skimp on tools and assembly.”

Lesson 2:  “Let the professionals build your bike.”

Lesson 3:  “You rarely get it right the first time.”

If I had followed the second lesson first, I wouldn’t have to learn the third lesson on bike-building.  Nor would I have known more about the components that made up the modern bicycle.  Nor could I impress myself and my friends that I was more than just a racer.

Stay tuned for part two – The Ride Review.

The Specs

Frame – 2016 BMC Team Machine SLR 01 (58cm);

Cockpit – Shimano PRO Vibe 7S (44cm) handlebar, PRO Vibe UD Carbon (130mm) stem, Cinelli white cork handlebar tape.  Stiff and light and for the traditionalist in me;

Components – Shimano Ultegra 11speed, Di2, (53×39, 175mm, 11t-28t);

Pedals – LOOK Keo2 Blade CroMo, 12nm;

Saddle – Selle Italia Flite Kit Carbonio, 143mm, 165 grams;

Wheels – 2014 Reynolds Assault SLG, clincher;

Tires – Vittoria Corsa SR & CX (24mm front, 25mm rear);

Bottle cages – Reynolds carbon.

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Bikes that starts with “B”.

The past few weeks have been a bit of a lull, even though it’s at the peak of cycling season and my form has been the best it’s been ever (at least, according to Strava).  I can only go uphill from this point.  The only setbacks this time are mechanical – in that my only two road bikes broke in front of me (or rather, under me) and I’ve had nothing to ride on except my mountain bike (not the same!) for a few days.  I was fortunate, however, in having a cycling community here in Maine.  Everyone I knew reached out to offer words and actions of support through sympathy or by either lending parts or an entire frame.  The principle here is that no one should ever not ride because you don’t have a bicycle or you have a mechanical failure.  Those who are passionate about cycling knows this and will do what it takes to support you to get back on the bike.  What other subculture does this in the name of health and well-being (or addiction)?

The loaner frame, borrowed from this year’s Yarmouth Clam Festival Race winner (thanks, Eliot!), is now bought and paid for.  (Maybe it will win me races.)  It was only appropriate that I bought it having put so much emotional effort into building the bike.

Yes, I hate internal cable routing (as a mechanic).

The Bianchi Sempre Pro has performed well these past couple of weeks.  Once dialed in, it’s very responsive and stiff.  It will point you to where you want to go, though it’s not as compliant as I’m used to.  I was probably spoiled from my late BMC.

As you probably know, (if my making so much noise passed through deaf ears and by blind eyes,) BMC had initially denied my warranty after my bottom bracket shell broke.  Miraculously, I got an email from BMC corporate and we had a short discussion on the matter.  It took some effort, but BMC finally did the right thing in handling this unique situation.  (Kudos to BMC!)  They honored the full warranty and I actually received it just last week at a bike shop in New Hampshire.  (I would have gone through my sponsor, but they’re not a BMC dealer.)  Talk about lucky!  It’s quite a sight to behold.  All in all, it took roughly one month for this to be rectified.
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Out of this bike drama, the interesting part is that I learned about a little known law called, “the implied warranty law” which protects consumers from unexpected product failure.  Stipulations of the law may differ from state to state, and not every state may have one.  The fact is, that the BMC frame was 3.5 years old and Maine’s law protects any product for 4 years.  And well, you can connect the dots.  (Thanks, Matt!)

So it seems that all worked out in the end, especially when one stands up for their principles and has a community to back you up.  And when that happens, great things happen.  As for the current status of bikes, I’m at N+1 as I have to spec-out the BMC.  (Component manufacturers, please check out my sponsors page.)  Once the bike is built, I will post a review after my races and rides.  Hopefully it will be completed very soon!

But for now, ride well!

“It’s All Relative.”

It’s all relative.

This was the phrase that my yoga instructor said to me when we were comparing notes on how our lives were going.  She had just finished the chaos of outlining and then facilitating a Yin Yoga teacher training curriculum in addition to her regular classes.  I had to juggle my professional, personal and amateur schedules.  The busy-ness and the amount of energy required to upkeep ourselves, to keep engaged was immense.  It’s part of the reason I haven’t written anything in a while.  I’ve been too busy training, racing and traveling for work.  On top of that, I’m also a single dad, so my son requires my attention about every other week.

Another way to put it is:

“It’s all about perspective.”

Because it is.

Having completed the Purgatory Road Race in Sutton, MA, and it did live up to its name, every ride afterwards seemed much easier.  The course was a power course – fast and unrelenting with no respite because of the even quicker downhill sections sprinkled with bumps and ruts in the pavement.  The climbs were short, punchy and steep, but long enough to discover that you need to lose another few grams of fat.  Hill repeats did its job in preparation for this race.  Just.  Everyone pushed the pace.  It felt like the couple of CompuTrainer sessions I attended earlier in the year, panting like a dog with my tongue out, drool dripping onto the top tube.  The race was soul depleting but fun nonetheless.

As a way to build form and to give back to the community, I participated in the Trek Across Maine – a charity ride to raise funds for lung health.  This was my 8th year riding 180 miles for three days.  Granted, I’m certain I could do it in just one day and not make it into such a big production.  Still, it’s a great cause.

Two out of the three days were sunny and pure bliss.  Little did I know the third day would become an adventure.  Having passed most of the field (of 2000 cyclists) on the first two days, that didn’t change on the third day – except for one thing.  It was a deluge.  Not only did I pass most of the field, it seemed like over half the field abandoned because of the rain.  I saw truck after truck with racks full of bicycles pass me on the road.

“He must be crazy.”

I’m sure the warm passengers thought as they buzzed by me.  But I wasn’t the only one on the road.  Others had toughed it out to finish the ride.  The pros do it (in snow too).  And any cyclist as passionate as myself would do it.  Those who do are badass.  (See Rule #9.) It’s also a matter of being prepared mentally and physically – in terms of the clothing you wear.  As I was riding in the rain, it came down harder until there was a point in time when I suddenly felt my base layer saturated with water.  The arm and leg warmers weren’t enough.  But then again, I doubt any high-end softshell rain gear would’ve protected me from the elements.  I picked up the pace to keep warm and had to skip most of the rest stops.

At one point, I got so cold, I couldn’t feel my fingers.  And I couldn’t shift my gears easily to something easier when I hit the climbs.  I had to use my left hand to shift my right lever down a gear, and sometimes, I couldn’t even accomplish that.  I was stuck on 53×15 and doing stomps when the gradient increased.  I recalled this having happened on some early winter training rides, but not in the summer.

At the end of the jaunt, I was treated for near hypothermia, trying to return color into my face in a heated BMW X5 medic vehicle.  Hot chocolate and the Trek volunteers were more than helpful in getting me sorted out.

Not all goes as planned

Here’s where things went downhill – literally.

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See the frame failure at the bottom bracket? The result of 11,000 miles.

Sasha had broken.  The adventures she had taken me through since 2011 have ended.  I named her Sasha because at the time, I considered the frame quite exotic and not everyone knew of BMC.  She was the third of my BMC frames – the first being the impressively engineered, SLT, with its mixed use of aluminum skeletal lugs and carbon. The second being an earlier version of the Team Machine SLR01.  It was near identical to the third.  The bottom bracket shell of my beloved Sasha had given way, sheared off of the frame with only strands of carbon holding it together.  The crankset moved with a click-clak every time I pedaled the downstroke.  At first I thought it was just the bottom bracket bearing needing replacing but a more careful inspection revealed that wasn’t the case.  Taking her to a bike shop confirmed my worst fear – she was irreparable.

My world stopped.  It was cathartic.

This happened several days before I were to race in the Berkshires in Massachusetts at the Tour of Hilltowns.  I was gutted.  My competitive advantage had vanished despite having trained hard for it weeks before in the White Mountains with my Tall Sock Racing teammates.  15.5 pounds of bike was no more.  I was left with riding with my backup – a 1994 TIG welded, Columbus-tubed, steel frame.  The complete bike weighed 20 pounds, and now probably just under that having stripped the BMC of its parts and swapped the carbon wheels and brakepads.  She was called, “Panzer”.  The couple of days of getting acclimated to Panzer wasn’t enough as it was evident on the first 8%+ climb in the race.

That morning before the race, I had also done a few things wrong which affected my performance.  I had mistakenly ate dairy for breakfast, upsetting my stomach.  I also took a shower thinking it would be the only chance to feel like a human that day.  But that made my legs feel heavy.  I tried to counter that with a warm-up, knowing too that the first climb would be brutal without a proper warmup.  But that didn’t help.  On top of that, during the race, I had a mechanical while riding Panzer – her handlebar suddenly twisted after hitting some rough sections of the course.  The quill in the stem wasn’t tight enough.  I had to stop to get it fixed.

Everyone has a bad day. I had a bad week.

A broken Sasha, started my downward spiral.  I was a mess even before the start of the race.  But there was a silver lining (if you can really call it that) I didn’t discover until during the race.

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Panzer at a coffee ride.

With her weight advantage on the downhills, Panzer ate up the road.  The uphills didn’t matter (but really, it did) because time would be made up on the downhills.  Because I was diligent in my climbing and descending at slightly higher speeds, I had caught up with a small group of mixed categories (but not before being passed by the leading group of CAT 5’s mid-race).  The course was similar to Purgatory RR with its notable difference being the longer 5 mile climb before hitting the midway point. It was something Sasha couldn’t do, even though she was a better all-around bike.  But alas, it wasn’t enough to win the group sprint.  Panzer’s added weight was a disadvantage.

What now?

With Sasha broken, I’m without a competitive bicycle for the hills.  I tried to get BMC to honor a full warranty, but the rules they set out made it unfair.  And their frame failed in a most catastrophic way.  I even have proof that I’m the original owner, of not just one but three BMC’s.  And being one of the biggest BMC fans out there, (I wore the team kit religiously the last couple of years,) it seems loyalty means nothing to them.

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Two broken BMC frames hanging like carcasses.

In order to get a proper replacement, I have to go through the crash replacement policy, which is bittersweet.  It means I’d still have to pay for the frame but at a reduced cost.  And if you know how much BMC frames cost at retail, you know it’s still a good amount.  With the Green Mountain Stage Race in Vermont looming in September, I don’t have much time to prepare.  I’m without a bike and it takes time to acclimate to one.  So now, I’m having second thoughts and considering other brands.

I’ve ridden Specialized once, and I do like their lineup.  Venge or Tarmac?  Cervelo’s R5 is another consideration as well as Wilier’s Cento 1SR or Zero 7.  I also heard from a friend that Wilier replaced his broken frame that was “out of warranty” quite easily.  Exceptional service goes a long way to produce customer loyalty as does companies standing by their products.  Our sponsors (most notably DeFeet and Maple) in our Tall Sock Racing Team stand by their products.  Why shouldn’t the bicycle companies who produce the bikes we ride do the same?

Of course, things could be worse.  To put it in perspective, I’m still able-bodied and living out my passion.  And I will always remember that it’s all relative.