Sunday, June 23, 2013

Project Orca - Episode 2: The Slow Build + Adaptation

A continuation of the saga of building a dream machine. This chapter serves also as a run-down of stuff I consider to be top of the line when it comes to bike components. See Episode 1 for an intro.

Having made a firm decision on choice of frame, I ordered a 55cm Orbea Orca Gold in blue from my local Orbea shop. I was told by Mave who runs the shop that there would be a 3-week wait for the frame to be ordered in from Spain. No worries there. I relish the opportunity to slowly piece together exactly what is to adorn this new beast.

I also wanted to prepare myself a bit so that I get my position on the bike a bit more stretched-out on the smaller frame that I'm used to. I know I'll be putting in long hours as soon as I get the new one set up, and I don't want to be having too many twinges from a change of position at that point.

So first step to stretching out: I extended the bars forward by 15mm to see how that felt. Mave lent me an Easton 115mm EA90 stem to help me with this process.

It felt immediately more stretched-out but I tried putting the saddle back by about 5mm to see how that worked - you need to be careful to keep the weight distribution between your three points of contact - butt, feet and hands - balanced. That started to give me some lower back twinges, but the length to the pedals felt better, so I put the saddle forward again and raised it by 3 or 4mm. That felt great, and I could feel a slight improvement in power transfer to the pedals in this position. Again, a few twinges from the lower back but this time very slight, and only after a 4-hour ride with lots of climbing - to be expected really....getting there!

OK - anatomical adaptation underway....what am I going to put on this beauty?

Well I'd kind of decided, based on some research but largely on the anecdotal evidence of friends, that SRAM Red deserved a serious investigation. Now, I'm a Shimano guy - have been, by default really, from the start. Worked my way through the ranks until Dura Ace was pretty much all I would take seriously - I mean it it's so precise that even a mechanical no-hoper like me can feel like a pro adjusting derailleurs and brakes. Guess if my first bike had been Campag-fitted, the story might be very different. Therein lies a tale of clever marketing. We're creatures of habit after all.

But we're in break-out-of-the-rut mode. It's time for a change. SRAM Red is famously the lightest groupset, used by many pro teams, and I've had the R2C levers and derailleurs on my TT bike for a while now and they work very nicely. I also have a SRAM chain on my otherwise DA-equipped road bike and it does seem to be better (and quieter?) than the DA one. I aim to do a comparative analysis of the 2 groupsets eventually.

So SRAM Red it is. 10-speed. Partly because I'm still a bit reluctant to embrace the reduction in chain wall strength and other such issues of the 11-speed, and partly because that's what I'm used to. And to give the groupsets a fair comparison, I need to use equivalent stuff - plus I've got a lot of 10-speed cassettes..... So we'll get the most recent 10-speed Red groupset - but not the crankset. Now to a much more fundamental change.

One of the key factors in this project for me has become the transition from the hub-based power meter to the crank-based one. It's integral to my plan for testing wheelsets. I had really looked hard at the Quarq models, with the SRAM Red/Quarq pairing as the apex. The issue of cost however troubled me, not just because I'll have to pay for it, but also because the Powertap hub-based system's biggest advantage is it's price-point. There's no real point comparing these systems unless you can offer a price point that is also comparable (I mean, wouldn't everybody rather have an SRM and a pair of Mavic Cosmic Carbones if money were no object?). The SRAM Red/Quarq set-up still costs around double what you should pay for the Powertap G3.

I keep saying that it will only be a year or 2 before we see accurate power measurement becoming massively more available, integrated in groupsets even, and at a rapidly descending price-point. The truth is it's already happening now. It's just not at the tried-and-tested stage yet, or even that widely reported. I investigated a German company called Power2Max (actually starting to get quite established in Europe), who make a crank-based power meter that they pair up with some of the more interesting cranksets on the market, and at a very attractive price-point.

At this point I must admit that I'm completely the victim of aesthetics. I just saw this image of the Rotor 3D+ crankset with the P2M and a switch was flicked. German engineering and design sense - love it! The company has some flair so even though they're a relatively unknown quantity with little presence in this region, I'm willing to stick my neck out for them a little...

On to wheels: I'm afraid I'm not going to do much in the wheel department at this point. The main reasons: I've got a lot of wheels, they all work very well, and I want to get a feel for the differences in the other stuff without adding another new dimension to the experience at this point. My Easton EC90 Aero still haven't been put through their paces properly so at least for the build-up I'll probably use them - bling factor!  I also have big plans for the search for the ultimate all-rounder wheelset. but that's another story.

Bars and stem: I love Easton stuff. It's light and super strong/stiff, and I've tried pretty much every other carbon bar they do, and now it's the turn of the EC90 SLX3 - 42cm.

I'm already stretching out quite far on this larger frame, so the SLX3's 75mm reach and short drop will mean that my position from tops - to hoods - to drops, won't require any massive shifts in this precarious new balance. I'll use a EC90 SL 100mm stem: light, bomb-proof,!

My saddle will remain the SMP Composit that I've been very happy with for a while now. The SMP saddles all have the central section missing, allowing blood flow in those easily-compressed but crucial veins down there. I've used the softer versions but in the end, the harder ones work better for me - no numb genitalia with this baby! It has the kind of traditional curved profile which works well for someone who shifts positions a lot.

Saddles are the one item on a bike that nobody will ever agree on. It seems like 90% of the science serves only to create variety - it's really down to just whatever fits your particular anatomy.

I had in mind to use the blue Alligator iLink cables with this bike. They would add such a cool touch. However, since it already comes with the top-end (black) Gore cables, I may leave the iLinks for it's first service. If you haven't used these yet, they are super light, plus they don't compress at any point, so cables remain free to activate on command for a very long time. Detractors say they can corrode, but mine haven't yet - and I can corrode stuff!

More blue stuff: I love the feel and the look of the suede-feel Fizik Dual bar tape. I've had the red-striped version on my Felt F3 for a while now and I swear it feels even better than it looks. It is quite absorbent though so needs to be changed quite often as it can get a bit smelly! They only do red and blue as far as I'm aware - but that works for me!

And I'll be adding the blue Vittoria Rubino Pro III tyres to the mix - great tyres but even more awesome blueness!

Anything else I can get in blue? Lever hoods?

Might be a bit much! Maybe I should put a bit more green on it to match the colour of the power meter..... I may just put this bike in a glass case and gaze at it all day!

When it finally arrives that is! Latest update from Mave at the Orbea shop is that there are some production delays (!!), so I have even more time to obsess on the adornments! Guess I'll have to find something else to keep me busy..... maybe I should get out there and work on my legs a bit so I'll be doing some justice to this superbike!


  1. Man, that will be one sweet looking beast, cant wait to see it live!! :)

    1. Me too! My patience is really being tested :)

  2. To fully bling it out, I'd suggest ceramic jockey wheels in blue, bottle cage bolts in blue and blue alloy chainring bolts. Not tried the Alligator cables but using Nokon and they are great

  3. Nokon huh? Do they have it in blue? :)

    The 53 frame is reportedly 900g but Orbea are pretty cagey about the weight. I'm told they don't care to get into a weight war and I do understand it. It's a very simplistic stat that a lot of brands use to sell expensive bikes to us weight-weenies.

    The Orca's name is founded on unrivalled strength and stiffness, and some very interesting geometry in the rear stays that adds comfort without relinquishing any of the former qualities.

    I'm pretty sure once I get my perfect wheels sorted out, I'll have this baby at around 6.5kg or slightly less.

  4. I have blue Nokon's on the Seven. For other blue parts, check out KCNC or Token.

    My Colnago's (56cm frame is 1150) is already at 6.5 w/o pedals and nothing really special been done to it. Perfect light wheels would be the Easton EA 90SLX.

  5. The crank is on its way to Singapore. A nice piece of German engineering for the blueish superbike.

    An exciting project. I wish i could ride the result!

    1. Thanks for this immense help Fredi, our contribution to the build process is crucial.

      I'll raise the saddle a bit so you can have a spin next time you're in town!

  6. Hi, I'm looking to put a Power2max on my new Orbea orca. Its a 2014 frame with a press fit Bottom bracket, is this the same as yours? many thanks

  7. Hi Brennan - yes, though mine's a 2013 frame, it should be the same thing