Monday, May 18, 2020

Bike Review: Litespeed C1R

Sam gave me this frameset maybe 2 years ago when my Focus Cayo frameset became suspect.  It took me 18 months to build and then the bike spent another 6 months waiting to get into the rotation.  After a ride yesterday on the Beach Drive out-and-back, I have nothing but positive things to say.

Litespeed C1R, Shimano Ultegra Di2 with home 1x11 conversion

Same bike, other side.

The Frameset

Litespeed is a storied titanium frame maker out of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and is now one of three brands held by the American Bicycle Group.  I'd like to know more about that corporate history!

Litespeed went all in on carbon frames a decade or more ago, selling the C-line of aero framesets and the L-line of ultralight climbing framesets.  There was a time when you could go to the Litespeed website and not find a single titanium frame.  Why is anybody's guess, but I'll give one possibility:  the '00 and early '10s were not good years for metal bikes.  Carbon became cheap and titanium never did get easy to work with.  Somewhere along the way the word "aero" became part of the cyclist's lexicon and metal frames never could make that claim.

(Litespeed is now back to titanium nearly exclusively.  I think the recent resurgence in interest in long days in the saddle and varying road surfaces makes metal, and particularly titanium, a newly desirable medium. There is still a C1R on the website for sale, though its place on the website seems to suggest that a container arrived from China and has yet to be sold out. Too bad, I say, as this bike is fast.)

From  Looks great in murdered-out black.

Although I contend Litespeed lost its way for a few years years, it did make and sell credible aero bikes in the C-line, and it did this before every tour brand and knock off wanna-be started selling teardrop tubing.  Maybe Cervelo was first, but Litespeed was there long before the Trek Madone became something other than a light-weight collection of round carbon tubes.

At this point I am working from memory, but Litespeed seemed to have three frames in the C-line:  the C1 (sometimes C1R), its top end racing frameset; the C2 or Ci2, made for internal cable routing for Di2 groups; and the C3, its everyman's aero frameset.

The bike above is the C1R.  Sam brought home two of them from a fire sale at the Racery, which no longer exists.  (Maybe this is why:  Sam actually bankrupted an internet discounter.)

The Build

I reported above that this frameset was meant to replace my Focus Cayo Evo, the race bike from 2013 to 2016 that carried me on some of my best rides in those years.  That means, of course, that I had a good collection of parts to build with.

Focus Cayo Evo.  Remember the finishing kit - you will see it again.

Bits and Parts

In fact, before I did any shopping at all, I pulled together:
  • Ultegra 6770 Di2 2x10 groupset;
  • 3T Ergonova Pro bars and matching stem;
  • Profile Design aero bars with those double-bend carbon extensions that came out 6 or so  years ago;
  • WTB Rocket V saddle in white;
  • Planet X tubular wheels, 60mm and 90mm;
  • Challenge Triathlon 24mm tubular tires;
  • Force 1x 52-tooth chainring;
  • Look Keo 2 Max pedals (the self-recentering kind);
  • Elite WB cages;
  • Zipp titanium aero skewers.
 I did do some shopping for this, though, including:
  • 6870 11-speed Di2 RD;
  • BB30 adapter (manufacturer unknown, but these are easy to find);
  • Tririg aero centerpull brakes. 
Finally, Sam sent me his FLO disc wheel instead of selling it.  I suppose I owe him for that, though if we ever bring our Litespeeds together for a week of speed we can share it.

That Tririg brake reminds me of a Campy offering from the '80s.
The 6870 Di2 parts are not expensive on eBay and are cross-compatible with the old 6770 so long as you do not update the firmware on the group.  Reports are the moment I plug this into a computer, I will lose the ability to shift.


Bike building isn't a hard project when all you do is add grease, loctite, or carbon compound, tighten things to torque spec., and run cables through the stops.  Carbon frames kill this with internal routing that is not always easy to manage - memories of four hours lying on my back running a single internal cable on the old Cervelo P2 still give me shivers.

The Litespeed thankfully routes the rear brake cable externally.
External brake cable runs at 8:00 along the top tube, where it should be.
Shifters are internal and, in my case, I was running Di2 wires.  Note above how I said this build took 18 months.  This is why.

Unlike cables, Di2 wires are floppy and cannot be pushed from the entry point through to the exit.  They also have plugs at the ends, which get caught on any lip or other protrusion inside the frame or at the exit point.  This is bad enough, but then there are tight bends, like at the far back end of the rear triangle and around the bottom bracket cluster.

The solution is a magnetic end that attaches to the plug.  You then use a strong magnet on the outside of the frame to draw the inner magnet (pulling the plug) to the exit hole.  Elegant, right?

And it worked for the main run from the entry point in the top tube to the bottom bracket.  I capped that top tube with a Shimano 6mm round plug - and capped the unused second hole with a 1/4" round plug from Amazon.  (Funny story:  that is an "Ultegra Di2 Grommet." I suppose it weighs more than the Dura Ace offering?)

Shimano plug has a slit allowing me to wrap it around the wire at the end of the build, which is nice.
The run from the rear derailler into the bottom bracket was all kinds of awful.  The tight bends in the chain stay and the large lip where the stay intersects the bottom bracket cluster prevented a smooth draw with the magnet unit.  Memory fails me, and I tried about a dozen fixes, but I think what finally worked was to insert a cable, work it through the chain stay to the bottom bracket, tape the Di2 cable, and pull it through.  Another Shimano plug caps the RD entry point and another generic 1/4" plug fills the FD frame hole.

Happy with how hidden this is.
That was the final real challenge - other parts are pretty simple.  (There was one glitch where I crushed a cable installing the BB conversion unit, necessitating a new battery cable.)  In fact, my wiring diagram is incredibly uncomplicated.  It includes:
  • A junction box at bottom of downtube accessible from the BB; 
  • A line from the rear derailler to the junction box;
  • A line from the battery to the junction box;
  • A line from the right front control unit to the junction box; and
  • The right shifter plugged into the front control unit.  The blip shifter is plugged into the right shifter.
The 6770 front control unit.  Simple if not terribly flexible.

Going 1x

Sam and I agree that an aero bike has no reason for 2x gearing.  If you want to climb a hill, ride a different bike.  Better yet, don't climb a hill.  While I have hacked 1x10 on several occasions, 11 speed rear makes much more sense to me for this build, so I bought a 6870 rear derailler on eBay and tossed the 6770 FD into the parts bin.  (Any bets on how much I can sell a 6770 rear/6770 front combination for?  Well less than $100 is my bet.)

I was happy to find that I could just plug the wiring into the new derailler and shift up and down through all 11 gears with the right-hand shifter.  It worked just as well with the aerobar blip shifters.  The left shifters become superfluous, but of course they are built in and will stay.

Only that right-side shifter and blip shifter get used with this build.
There is some discussion that a firmware update can turn this into a left-easier-right-harder configuration - so long as I am using 6870 throughout.  If I try to update the firmware with the current mixed configuration I will lose compatibility, forcing me to return to a 6770 10-speed rear derailler OR to move to the still expensive 6870 shifters.

Just found these for $160 NIB on eBay.  These will be in my shop within the month, I am certain.

(That price has come way down!  $160 on eBay.  Phooey - I thought I was done. but I will likely make this upgrade.)

Of course I installed my SRAM Force crank, all 175mm and 52 teeth of it.

I got a good deal buying 52 teeth.  Apparently all the demand is for small chainrings - who knew?
That's a man's crank, I am proud to say.  I did find myself with the chain on the left side of the cluster for a fair chunk of yesterday's inaugural ride.

The Ride

So this is embarrassing, but after building this I left it sitting in the basement for a solid 6 months while riding and even replacing other bikes.  The planned use model - setting PRs at the century and longer distance - sort of fell out of favor in my riding.  I keep meaning to try for that 4:30 century, and 10:00 double - but maybe next summer.  I was inches from listing for sale when, after a consult with Sam, I decided to ride it instead.

(Sam points out that selling would necessitate a day-long prep job including removing anything not part of the original build.  My problem is that my entire conception of this bike is as a long-distance time trial machine, which means aerobars and the like are part of the thing.  Pulling those off, only to add them back into my parts bin, would almost literally break my heart.)

After a long weekend urban hiking with P__ I took this out for a cool-down ride on the Beach Drive out-and-back, with a couple of added loops on the fun hills at either end.

  • Riding on the flats this was just lovely.  It has been some time since I rode with aerobars and I found these *comfortable.*  Not "I can handle this for an Ironman" comfy, but "I'd rather be laying on my forearms than otherwise" comfortable.  If I ride this bike long I will be in the aero position more than the alternative.  That is a good result!
  • In the hills this was snappy!  The power transfer in the BB is not just linear - it feels quick being worked out of the saddle as well.  It climbs like a road bike, not like a TT bike, which is a high high compliment for a bike like this.
  • Downhill it felt stable.  I was comfortable letting roll fast, which is not always the case with a brand new build.
  • It handled well.   My test for great handling is the descent from the Rock Creek stables down to Broad Branch Road, a quarter-mile 10% grade with swooping turns and good pavement.  If I feel like I am on good GS skis on that descent, the bike handles well.  The old Cervelo felt more like Sam's Red Sleds (a downhill racing ski sold by Atomic) - fast, sure, but never quite sure you whether would make the turn or shoot off on a tangent.  This held the turns like a champ.

The Frameset

This Litespeed C1R is a serious racing frameset.  That massive BB cluster produces awesome power transfer.
Wait for Sam's post on advertising on Craigslist - he would NOT approve of this picture.
I am a skeptic that you can feel a bike "slicing through the wind," but I think I felt this bike slicing through the wind.  This frame is *narrow.*
Is that a bicycle - or a sabre?
There's a feel that an aero carbon frameset has, which I remember from my Cervelo P2 and triathlon days, that you don't get on regular road frames.  It's kind of pleasantly harsh, letting you know you are riding something fast.  Perhaps in the same way that driving an Indy Car is not fun in the way a Miata is, but you still want to do it.  That's this bike - an Indy Car.

The seatpost slipped a little while riding.  I added carbon paste and a touch more torque when I got back - I hope it holds next time.

The dimensions are about right for me.  I love the feel of my Focus Izalco Max (2016) with 584 stack and 405 reach, 2 cm of spacers under the stem.  I got as close as I could to that fit with the 3T (605 stack/405 reach, slammed stem).  This bike lists at 616 and 402, so the bars are 1 cm up from my other bikes and I am using a 120 stem (rather than my normal 110).

The Build

The Groupset is an unapologetic hack, turning a 2x10 Di2 into a 1x11 Di2 by adding in the new RD, tossing the FD, adding in the SRAM 1x crank.  That's it, and it works like a charm.  All the upside of S-Di2 shifting, which has been well detailed; all of the upside of 1x; and none of the fuss or expense of the newest parts.

See, no errors photographing in the small ring with a 1x.  Now, that chain should be on the outside of the cassette!
The superfluity of the left shifters is annoying and should be fixed.  This is particularly so now that I am accustomed to the SRAM left-easier-right-harder shifting from the 3T, which is *awesome.*  The answer is clearly to replace the shifters and do something with the firmware.  I suppose that will happen this summer.

The wheels and tires work.  I am no big fan of tubular wheels only because I don't want to spend a day switching tires and constantly vaguely worrying about whether the glue is still good.  That said, I have never switched tires on these wheels and they don't seem to need it.  So maybe I should rethink my distaste.

I have these wheels because they cost $500 for the pair and I needed racing wheels.  Sure enough, they turn fast.  (Except that one time I tried to sell them I dropped the would-be customer on the test ride.  He naturally blamed the wheels.  There is a lesson here somewhere for best practices in selling.)

These 24mm Challenge tubular tires roll nicely and fit perfectly in the seat-tube cut.  I have ridden Challenge tires in clinchers for years and really like them.  These are not an exception.

And the bike needs aero wheels.  Unless I land a cheap pair somewhere else, I expect these stay the way they are until I break a spoke and throw them out.

I like the Tririg brakes!  I had no idea what to expect, but these look good and they brake hard, with no problems coming uncentered.  Despite carbon wheels I was able to skid, and I did skid a few times during amateur hour on Rock Creek Parkway (COVID quarantine has been hell on roads that used to be de facto reserved for the cyclists.)

Finishing kit is not special with the alloy 3T cockpit, the proprietary seatpost, and the WTB saddle.  That said:
  • I like 3T alloy stem and bars and have been riding them for some years now by choice, so happy enough with them here;
  • The WTB Rocket V (now just the Rocket) is my go-to saddle on every bike, and it works here too.  The white matches the frame.  Just need to level it out a touch before the next ride.
Need to find a better way to carry that tire charger.
  • The Profile Design bars with the carbon T3 extensions are the best thing in aftermarket aerobars.  I have ridden them exclusively for >5 years and see no reason ever to change.  
  • That X-lab velcro-on aero bottle is an elegant add-on.  Wish there were a way to have it without the velcro straps.
Anybody who grew up on the old Profile Design cups/arm pads knows what a massive improvement these are.
The cockpit is a little busy like this.  Just hidden to the right of the risers is an Exposure Trace light, which makes me visible though does not serve to light the road so well.  Sam recommends I move that junction box, though frankly it is out of the wind there and I like being able to access it.  That's a tall - 5cm - riser under the bars, but it makes for a *really comfortable* forward position.

The Exposure Trace is more visible here, as is the Exposure mount for the larger Strada headlamp, a great product for all night riding.  Opinions may differ about my tape job, but I kind of like it.

As I said, I was going to sell this without riding it.  I've now ridden it, and I am not going to sell it.  With the plethora of cheap fast bikes available today, there is no way I can get my money's worth out of a 5-year-old frameset built with used parts - because to replace this will cost me $5000 easily.

C'est Tout Les Jambes

I was riding the 180km loop around Lac Leman from Geneva in Summer 2019 and fell in with a local.  After I complimented his bike, he replied, "mais c'est tout les jambes."  It's all in the legs.

The question now is whether I give the bike its due!  A final assessment is that this bike can carry somebody to the 240-mile 12-hour, 4.5 hour century, or any number of long solo goals.  It may be time to turn some attention to that kind of riding.

1 comment:

sam said...

Nice write-up, and it's a great bike.

I agree with your assessment. I read reviews of this frame complaining that it was harsh. I've got 700x28s on mine and, while it's not plush, I don't find it unpleasant except on perhaps the harshest roads.

Your drivetrain hack is delightful. I love that it was possible to do it, and I resent that Shimano arbitrarily removed that ability. There are stories of interoperability between the Shimano TT shifters and sram etap (by splicing the TT shifter wire into a blip wire. I'm sure Shimano will break that in the future too. 1x is absolutely the right choice for this bike, and if I can find a good price on a lightweight 1x crank, I'll do the same.

It's definitely true that the 3T can give us a great ride on the same roads that the Litespeed can, but like you say, for a flat to moderately hilly paved ride, I'll take the Litespeed any day.