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Sunday, 1 January 2017

My winter bike that turns out to be race worthy

My winter bike that turns out to be race worthy; Specialized Allez with Shimano Ultegra 6800.

I’ve had the idea for a while to build up a Specialized Allez as a training bike, since the frame geometry mirrors my Specialized Tarmac. I reasoned that the bike should be able to give me the exact same position as my race bike, which will make transitions between training and race bikes that much easier on the body and mind.

Scratched up paintwork evident on the top tube.
After months of deliberating I took the plunge and bidded for a frame on eBay. The frame was advertised in a pretty gritty state and true to form it arrived caked in years of London grime. I set to work cleaning it, and after the muck and stains were removed it looked a lot better, although it had a few scuffs and other marks. The frame set me back £100, so I was not expecting it to have a perfect paint job. I also reasoned that for me to be happy abusing this bike in the winter, it was probably best that it was not in pristine condition.

Next I started snooping around for a groupset. I considered buying a new Shimano 105 group, but for only £250 I was able to buy a used Ultegra groupset, so that was a clear winner. This is also the same groupset I use on my race bike, which helped on my mission to make the bike feel as close to my race bike as possible.

The saddle was my next objective, and this was an area where I was searching for something specific. The saddle had to be a Specialized Romin Evo, the same as I use on my other bike. Fortunately I found one in nearly new condition for a bargain price. In fact, it was in such good nick that I used it on my race bike and demoted my old saddle to the Allez. Another £20 hit to the bank account.

The bars and stem I had lying about in the garage, but for the purpose of this article I’m valuing them according to the prices for which I’ve seen them advertised. I finished the bars off with some handlebar tape I’d not tried before, branded as LifeLine, which proved to be a great value discovery at only £5.50 a pop. I will be using this on my race bike too, saving a lot of money I used to spend on Lizardskin handlebar tape.

With Fulcrum 5 training wheels.
Fortunately I had training wheels to use on the bike, in the form of Fulcrum 5 wheels, which came as standard on my Tarmac.

So all in I spent £430 on this project, broken down as follows:

Specialized Allez Sport frame, including seat post: £100
Shimano Ultegra 6800 group: £250
Factor stem: £15
Cane Creak headset: £20
Zipp aluminium bars: £20
Life Line bar tape: £5
Specialized Romin saddle: £20

My custom build Specialized Allez ride review

It may seem ridiculous to give a review to a customised bike, but it is a simple build which I would highly recommend anyone to copy if they want a really decent race bike at a massively reduced price, so that is my reasoning.

Before my first proper training ride on the Allez I took a week off from training. When I then started my winter training on my new steed I was very pleasantly surprised. The bike handles just like my Specialized Tarmac, and feels just as responsive when accelerating on short sharp climbs. I never had the feeling that the bike was sluggish or heavy, which is how I imagined it might feel.

The aluminium frame can feel a bit harsh if you put 100 psi in the tyres, but rising 25mm tyres at 90 psi feels very comfortable and the road vibration is reduced. The potential for a bumpy ride due to the frame’s stiffness is a clue to the rigidity of the frame in terms of translating power input into speed. The acceleration is instant and very satisfying.

While the weight of the frame is not going to get anywhere near concerning a UCI commissaire, it is not heavy by any means. I’d say that the handling and responsiveness of the frame go a long way into compensating for a few 100 grams weight penalty. Paired with some lightweight race wheels you would have a great climbing bike.

After a few rides I noticed that my Strava data was telling me a little secret; for under £500 I had built a bike that was just as fast as my race bike, at least as far as my average speed on training rides is concerned. Now, I must admit that I’ve not gone into data analysis to determine if I’ve been producing more power on average whilst training on the Allez when compared to the Tarmac, but going on gut instinct I would say that the bikes measure up pretty close. I’m considering doing a few winter circuit races on the Allez to see how it feels in battle, and I’m expecting it to do a good job.
Fitted with Zipp 60s I plan on testing the Allez in a crit or two.

Conclusion

Of course I am looking forward to getting my race bike out from hibernation, but with such an able training bike, it has been a lot easier to avoid the temptation of taking my best bike out over winter.

The thought has even crossed my mind to sell my race bike and use the Allez for the coming season, but this practical and sensible idea was quickly quashed when I next looked at my Tarmac hanging in the garage, as it is indeed a beautiful bike.

So I feel I must let others know about the potential behind the humble Specialized Allez frame. I see so many of them for sale with entry level components and I can’t help but feel sad for the frame, living a life of mediocrity when it could be releasing its full potential, laced with a few upgrades and a rider willing to melt himself on the road.

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