The Ultimate Gravel Bike Build

Mission: Build the most capable, multi-discipline, adventure bike possible. 

Gravel riding has taken the world by storm, and for good reason – what could be better than a muddy ride through bridleways and gravel trails. No cars. A clear path ahead. Uncharted territory.

At Tailfin, we wanted to take our engineering passion and challenge ourselves to put together the world’s best adventure bike (although we appreciate the word ‘best’ is in the eye of the beholder) – a dream gravel rig that can go anywhere, do anything and leave you smiling ear to ear.

Frame

The dream build is centred around the stunning OPEN U.P.P.E.R frame and OPEN U-Turn Fork. Its combination of low weight, fast but comfortable road riding position, and clearance for mountain bike tyres, has helped this build achieve the status of greatness. The ability to be able to change from road riding tyres for your weekly club ride, to mud-crawling MTB tyres gives this bike unlimited scope for the types of adventures we can take it on. Big thanks to Gran Fondo for making our lives easier with their incredibly comprehensive gravel test… https://granfondo-cycling.com/best-gravel-bike/

Frame: OPEN U.P.P.E.R. 880 grams
Fork: OPEN U-Turn Carbon. 370 grams

Cockpit

After contemplating a carbon cockpit, we opted for the reliability and durability of aluminium. At the same time we were looking for a subtly flared bar to offer improved comfort for riding in more rugged terrain. We opted for Easton’s EA70 AX 16 degree alloy drop bar and stem.

Stem: Easton EA90 130mm. 145 grams
Handle Bar: Easton EA70 AX 44cm. 290 grams

 

Drivetrain

We wanted a 1x system for reliability and simplicity so opted for the SRAM Force 1 groupset. However, knowing that we were planning on using this bike for bikepacking we wanted more range than the off the shelf 10-42 tooth SRAM cassette. We therefore swapped it out for the e*thirteen TRS Race cassette which offers a massive 9-46 tooth,  511% range. Combined with a 38T chainring, we knew this would give us enough gears at the top and bottom of the range for almost every scenario.

OneUp Aluminium Flats for the feet. There’s a debate to be had, but for some, flat pedals offer a lot of advantages on bike-packing trips. Firstly, for real adventures, you may have to rely on your legs in more ways than just the spinning – carrying your steed over fences or streams for example. Secondly, flat pedal shoes tend to be much more comfortable: when we’re opting for distance and comfort over speed, this was our choice at the time, although I’m sure we’ll swap in clipless pedals when we take it on less gravel-focused rides.

Brakes and Shifters: Sram Force HRD Shift-Brake Control Double Tap. 471g left + 431g right
Cranks: Sram Force 1 Carbon 175mm. 679 grams
Cassette: Ethirteen TRS Race 11-Speed Cassette 9 x 46. 303 grams
Rear Derailleur: Sram Force 1 11-Speed. 261 grams
Pedals: One Up Components Aluminium Pedals. 355 grams

Seat & Seatpost

Knowing full well that we wanted a very aggressive gravel bike, we absolutely wanted to install a dropper post. This was actually one of the main reasons we opted for a 1x system. By installing a Force 22 front Yaw shifter, it’s possible to remove the ratchet and convert the front shifter to a dropper remote (pretty sure this voids the SRAM warranty) This modification has arguably been the most successful aspect of the build.

Big thanks to the guys who made this video for showing us how… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngvd0F8JxnE  

Given the lack of droppers for 27.2mm seatposts and without knowing how well this was going to work, we went for a fairly basic dropper post – the KS ETEN-I  – we will likely upgrade this down the line. After testing this out – it works like magic – being able to drop the seat when the terrain gets rowdy offers huge amounts of confidence.

On top of our post, we are running a Fabric scoop pro radius saddle 142mm. It’s a personal favourite due it’s low weight and comfort – it has carbon rails but a flexible Nylon base which makes a huge difference when spending hours in the saddle.

Seat: Fabric Scoop Pro Radius. 162 grams  
Seatpost: KS Eten i27.2mm 100mm. 590 grams 


Wheels

Wide, light and strong; we have opted for the widely praised HUNT 30 carbon gravel disc wheelset. With exceptional build quality, weight, durability and price, it’s hard to look past them. These are mounted with WTB Senduro 650bx47 road plus tyres that we have set up tubeless with Stans race sealant. These chunky tyres will be ideal for big off-road days, especially in winter, plus they look insanely good. For more road-focused trips we will be putting on a pair of WTB Byways.


Tyres: WTB Sendero 650bx47 road plus TCS.  530 grams each
Wheels: Hunt 30 carbon gravel discs wheelset.  650b. 1479 grams


Pack

Finally – the AeroPack. Zero sway, top-loading, attaches in seconds and offers class-leading ride quality – this bike bag will save you time and irksome faff when packing and unpacking during stops. Launching very soon. (Get it here.)

Full List of Parts:

Frame: OPEN U.P.P.E.R. – 880 grams – https://opencycle.com/UP

Fork: OPEN U-Turn Carbon – 370 grams

Wheels: Hunt 30 carbon gravel discs wheelset. 650b – 1479 grams – https://www.huntbikewheels.com/products/hunt-30carbon-gravel-disc-road-wheelset-1469g-30deep-27wide-999

Discs: Ashima Airotor 160mm. – 85 grams each

Tyres: WTB Sendero 650bx47 Road Plus TCS –  530 grams each – https://www.wtb.com/products/sendero

Brakes and shifters: Sram Force HRD Shift-Brake control double tap – 471g left 431g right

Handle Bar: Easton EA70 AX 44cm – 290 grams – https://www.eastoncycling.com/products/details/ea70-ax  

Stem: Easton EA90 130mm – 145 grams

Cranks: Sram Force 1 Carbon 175mm – 679 grams

Cassette: Ethirteen TRS Race 11 Speed Cassette 9 x 46 – 303 grams – https://eu.bythehive.com/collections/drivetrain/products/trs-race-cassette

Rear Derailleur: Sram Force 1 11 speed – 261 grams

Chain: Sram PC 1170 11 speed. 114 links – 256g grams

Pedals: One Up Components Aluminium Pedals – 355 grams – https://int.oneupcomponents.com/products/aluminum-pedal  

Seatpost: KS Eten i 27.2” 100mm – 590 grams – https://www.kssuspension.com/product/eten-i/

Seat: Fabric Scoop Pro Radius – 162 grams – https://fabric.cc/products/saddles/scoop-pro-radius-142mm-saddle/

Bottle Cages: Vel Carbon i-Cage – 2x 28 grams

Bikepacking Gear: Tailfin AeroPack – 640 grams – https://www.tailfin.cc/products/the-aeropack

With Many Thanks To…

Film & stills both shot & edited by Sam Taylor: http://www.samtaylorphoto.co.uk/

Big thanks to Bike Fit James https://www.instagram.com/bikefitjames/ for the use of his magnificent shop https://www.bicyclerichmond.co.uk/, and his talented wrench John.


A day in the peak district

A change of scenery is needed every now and again, and having somewhat exhausted photo opportunities in our local area we decided to head up north for a day out in the breath taking Peak district National Park.

Woken by our 6:00 AM alarm we were greeted with a particularly moody looking morning and left with thoughts that our sunrise golden light hopes might be dashed. Undeterred, we met with our riders for the day, Tailfin ambassadors Joe and Alice, and our Photographer for the day Sam Taylor. Fuelled on multiple pots of coffee and a cracking bacon sandwich provided by the Norfolk Arms, we drove up to the Lady Canning’s plantation with the aim of catching the much sought after ‘Golden hour’.  

In typical fashion, just as the sun began its rise, a large band of grey cloud accompanied it giving us only fleeting seconds of golden light at random intervals, creating the first challenge of the day our photographer. 

After not quite getting the light conditions we had hoped for we pushed on to our next destination eager to take on the striking rocks and gravel paths of Curbar Edge. 

After a drastic dip in temperature the brave decision was made to take a lunch break at the highly recommended Tilly’s Tea room. We were not disappointed. 

A day of cycling is not complete without a proper coffee stop

After a stand out flat white and round of sandwiches, it was time to hit the tarmac and take on the infamous Winnats Pass, situated in the much anticipated Hope Vally.  This was Joe and Alice’s time to shine, putting their hill climbing powers to the test doing endless laps up and down the notoriously steep road trying to catch photo opportunities between the seemingly never ending stream of cars. 

Final stop of the day was a quick blast up to Mam Tor. The rapidly dying light gave us a limited time to try grab some unique road and landscape shots. However, I think the shots we got clearly showcase the natural beauty and conditions the peaks are renowned for. 

And with that final photo the clouds came in, and within 10 minutes we were in darkness being forced to pack up, and faced the long drive back down south. We cannot recommend enough that you take the time to visit and ride in the Peak District. From long sweeping roads, to scenic gravel paths and breath taking scenery there is something for every type of cyclist to enjoy. One thing we can say for sure is it certainly ain’t grim up north.

Conquer the Winter Commute: Tailfin’s tips, tricks and insights.

The slog of the winter commute is here again, right on your doorstep, and it can feel like a truly daunting task as you look out the window every morning. More often than not, we are met with the unenviable sight of strong sideways winds, heavy downpours or worse still, solid frost across the driveway. These conditions can make the car a hugely alluring prospect with climate control, heated seats and no need for multiple high-vis layers. Features that sadly no bike, despite its price tag, can offer.

However, us cyclists are made of strong stuff, with offices across the country full of brave warriors who battle these conditions to spin their way to work every day. We thought it would be a good idea to whip around the Tailfin office to get our tips and insights on what makes the winter commute a bit more bearable.

James Atkey – Operations & Finance Manager (also makes a mean coffee)

  • Winter gloves

“This is probably a really boring and generic answer, but the hardest lesson I learnt was trying to use summer gloves through last winter. Turning up to work with borderline frostbite isn’t a great start to the day. I quickly wised up and got myself some Void winter gloves which I am super impressed by. I recommend getting winter gloves as early as possible.”

  • Merino buff

“Next one is a decent merino buff, especially if, like me, you have an issue with being cold. I have to state not all buffs are equal so getting a decent fleece-lined one is essential. I use mine to wrap my whole head, around my ears and over my nose, to stop cold-induced headaches. It’s all about function, not fashion here!”

  • Find a segment on Strava to motivate you each day

“I think gaining motivation through some kind of fun is always a good idea, no matter what you’re doing. I have a decent segment on my way home, Park Street, which is a savage little heartburner that I used to dread after a long day. However, setting yourself against a time gets me up for it and you quickly forget about the cold.”

Jack Ashman – Marketing and Brand Manager 

  • Proper waterproof gear

“I have to confess, I am very new to commuting to work – up until now I’ve never had to consider it. I am an avid cyclist, although prefer not cycling in the rain. I have, however, been told this job is not weather-dependant, so I have to make journey no matter what. At first I thought I would be able to get by on my trusty windbreaker and chinos, however, after the very first, very wet commute, I had to endure a soggy 9-5 day, not something I’d recommend. So I  quickly invested in a high-quality jacket and waterproof overtrousers and haven’t looked back – the result is a much more enjoyable ride and drier day’s work.”

  • Winter tyres

“As a lover of road and mountain biking, I appreciate the benefits of correct tyre choice, and feel it is an area worth investing time to learn about all the different shapes, sizes and compounds of rubber. I have been caught out in the past with cheap, super hard compound tyres that typically comes on new full build bikes, and would definitely recommend investing in some good year round tyres. My personal choice would be the Continental Grand prix 4 season folding tyre. An interesting read to aid tyre choice is this cycling tips article that dispels a few urban myths about how tyres function:
https://cyclingtips.com/2014/08/rubber-side-down-the-function-of-road-tyre-tread-patterns/

  • Not a rucksack

“I know this is going to sound very biased coming from the marketing guy at Tailfin, however, I cannot describe how much more enjoyable, comfortable and, I would even argue, safer riding is without a big heavy rucksack on your back. Moving my stuff into my Tailfin rack and bag has made me feel less restricted, not to mention no sweaty back and no struggling to look over my shoulder at lights.”

Casual Gear doesn’t look so good when you turn up to work soaking wet!

Nick Broadbent – Mechanical Engineer & Founder

  • Safety first

“Commuting can be hectic – people are often rushing, late or impatient. In winter, poor light or bad weather can add to the madness. Visibility is therefore key to make sure you can be easily seen in all conditions – it’s definitely worth the investment to have decent lights and high vis layers.” 

  • The most obvious route isn’t necessarily the best route

“This can be anything from track stands at traffic lights, improving your kerb-hopping skills or practising wheelies in the park. Find different ways to challenge yourself, improve your skills and have fun instead of seeing it as a grind.”

  • Smug not smog

“The old adage goes: This one runs on money and makes you fat, this one runs on fat and saves you money. However terrible it is outside, and whatever excuse you have, remember that quote and keep pedalling”

Kate Gordon – PR and Copywriting

  • Decent lights

“While most of my commute is urban and therefore pretty well lit, towards the end of my ride I take the towpath and in winter, it’s pitch black. Having decent front and rear lights are key, and means I can switch from a flashing front light (for visibility on busy rush hour roads) to a full beam so that I don’t inadvertently ride off the path and into the river.”

  • Mudguards

“Sometimes it’s not the water falling from the sky that gets you, but the stuff coming back up at you from the road. Caught completely off guard, I rode into the morning in an absolute downpour the other day. My legs were wet up to the mid-calf point thanks to the lack of a front mudguard and I had a soggy sit down for the rest of the day thanks to the lack of a rear one. I would 100% recommend mudguards – they keep your bike a teeny bit cleaner too and they also make you much nicer to ride behind.

  • Be prepared

“This is really boring but it really works. Get everything ready the night before. Have your bag packed, kit out and then in the morning, all you have to do is get ready, grab your bags and get out the door. Keeping early-morning faffing to a minimum will make the whole commuting process feel a lot smoother.

“And one final thought- and enjoy it! As long as you’re well-kitted out, the commute to and from work is a great way to get some fresh air, to mentally prepare for the day ahead and to wind down from it once it’s over.”

TCRNo6: Ben takes the AeroPack to a top 10 finish

This year, our ambassador Ben Davies, finished the Transcontinental Race (TCRNo6) in an incredible 10th place, out of a starting field of 254. We asked him about his experience and how he got on with a pre-production prototype of the AeroPack, our new seatpack killer.

The most important question. Did you enjoy it?

I loved it! Any opportunity to be on my bike for a sustained period, ride some incredible roads and cross a number of countries is a good one, but the Transcontinental Race really is a special race.

How did you find this year compared to last year?

This year racing the Transcontinental was very different than last for me. Last year’s race was my first of this kind and I went into it a with fast-paced touring background so it was a great learning experience. With the race this year being less of an unknown, I felt like I was able to prepare in a better way and hopefully learn from some of the mistakes that I made the first time around.

What were the challenges?

During races like the TCR, there are lots of challenges, both physical and mental, and one of the key things is how you react to and approach these challenges. There is the obvious physical challenge of cycling 4,000km as quickly as you can, but there are also all of the unforeseen challenges that you have to tackle.

I was really lucky this year with no real mechanical issues to speak of – the only puncture that I had was in Meteora (after the finish) so I will take that one! I feel like I put a lot of thought into my race setup which hopefully helped on the reliability front.

On the TCR we have to route ourselves between the designated checkpoints across Europe and this is always an area which causes some challenges. In Bosnia I spent a whole night climbing a mountain and pushing on only to find my route was then impassable… I hate turning back on myself but unfortunately I didn’t have a choice and I ended up losing a pretty considerable amount of time.

I have also found out through TCR that I react quite badly to some insect stings which isn’t particularly nice. I got stung twice this year: the least bad of the two was on my crotch…from the inside of my shorts (don’t ask!).

What were the highlights?

That’s a hard question: parts of the race blur into one! I’m really looking forward to taking some time to look through my Strava which I am sure will remind me of some places I have to go back to.

Montenegro was definitely one country where I made a mental note to go back and explore properly rather than pacing through. It was stunning.

The Karkonosze Pass in Poland, which was the parcour for the third checkpoint, also stands out as a real highlight. It may not have been the most beautiful, but I have never experienced a climb which sustains such a steep gradient (28% at points) for such a length of time. The whole parcour was 11.5km which felt relentless!

Any low moments?

Getting stung on the crotch could be considered a low point but in all honesty I found it pretty funny! I genuinely couldn’t pick out a low moment as I think you really have to embrace the “tough” moments. Yes, you end up encountering some poor driving etc., which is never fun, but I wouldn’t consider that a low moment as it is almost expected.

In our previous chat with you, we asked you about your approach to training for this year. Do you feel like this paid off?

I definitely went into the race stronger physically this year than last, so I would have to say that my approach to training this year was beneficial. In June, I also managed to fit in a short ride across Spain to test out my kit which was really useful.

There is definitely more scope to make improvements on the training front so I am excited about that.

Any plans for the next challenge?

I’m taking some time now to plan out what I want to do next but I would love to do TCRNo7 next year. More immediately, in the next month or so my partner and I are planning to head over to Belgium for some relaxed touring.

How did the AeroPack perform?

In short, I was really impressed! There are two design features which really stand out for me and are a massive improvement from what I have previously used. Firstly the Aeropack is planted on the bike: by that I mean there is no sway or movement to disrupt how the bike should feel. This is particularly noticeable when ascending or descending and you have a stable platform that you can throw into and flow through the corners.

The second thing is simply the ease of use and access. The kit in the bag is easily accessible, you don’t have to pack the bag in a certain way (with a saddle pack, for example, you have to be careful where you are loading the heavier items) and there is generally no faff. This really makes a difference in a race situation where you are trying to limit dead time, but also, when you are fatigued, the last thing you want to be doing is fiddling about with how you attach a bag to your bike.

Update:

Due to the final TCR results being released we can give the great news that Ben was a top 10 finisher, an incredible feat if you ask us. 

Below are some interesting statistics from the race that clearly show how tough the TCR truly is. 

Race Map:

Daily Route Breakdown:

 Rider Tracking:

Participant drop off rate:

Testing the AeroPack on the west coast of Ireland

Summer is the season for long-distance cycling: the days stretch out and miles ridden claim their hours. Ultra-endurance races are taking place around the globe. I’ve escaped the concrete of my city home with my partner – Joe, and my road bike Genny. We’re heading for a mini-adventure in the lush green expanses of south west Ireland – home to the TransAtlantic Way race.

Tailfin has joined the many brands trying to answer the question of how to make bikepacking a lighter, faster, more comfortable and more efficient experience. The result is the Aeropack, and we’ve brought one with us to test in the wild.

The AeroPack sits behind the saddle, in a similar position to a seat post bag. The bag attaches to two carbon stays positioned over the rear skewer, with one ski-boot style clip around the seat post, and a rigid frame inside the bag. This allows more of the length of the bike to be used for carrying capacity, and because it’s anchored in two places, it’s pretty hard to make the AeroPack wag or wiggle. It opens much like a dry bag and given the large surface area of the base, luggage is readily accessible. This is one of the areas where the AeroPack stands out, along with its capacity, aerodynamic design and stability.

 Between us, we’re carrying one AeroPack, containing a bivvy bag, sleeping bag, fleece liner, Thermarest, thermals, down jacket and a controversial luxury item – an inflatable pillow. Our other main luggage is an Apidura seatpack, containing roughly the same items, less the pillow, fleece liner and thermals, and with a Klymit half mat in lieu of the full-length Thermarest.

We can get everything in the seatpack, but there’s some jiggling required, and Joe’s Klymit is about half the size of my Thermarest. By comparison, the sausage shape of my combined sleeping equipment fits beautifully in the oval-shaped AeroPack, and thanks to the roll-top design there’s room to spare. If more space was needed, a dry bag can be strapped along the top of the AeroPack. We trialled this, and found it a stable way to store bulky items. It could also come in handy when you’ve just topped up with food and need a little more room.

Glandore, on the south coast of County Cork, is where we begin. From there we take in three peninsulas of rugged coast – the Beara, the Sheep’s Head and the Mizen. Our plan is to cover 360km in two days with approximately 6,000m of climbing, and an overnight bivvy stop on an island. Being right next to the Atlantic, we’re at the mercy of the weather, and rain blows in out of nowhere, disappearing as quickly as it came. This leads to a lot of faffing with layers – thankfully, the accessibility of the AeroPack makes it easy to put away anything we don’t need.

Our first day saw us tackle 180km, including the Borlin Valley climb: eight kilometres of up, dipping in and out of mist and with beautiful views. The only interruption was when we encountered a roadblock of crossing sheep. I was interested to see how the bike would feel climbing with the load on the back. It felt pretty great: The bike was heavier, but the stability of the AeroPack meant I forgot it was there and could happily climb fast, out of the saddle, using my weight to wiggle up any steeper sections.

The lap of the Beara peninsula came with 35km of cycling into a fierce Atlantic headwind. In the final 50km of our ride, rushing to make our ferry to Bere Island, and with heavy legs it began to hurt. At this point, I was grateful that the design of the AeroPack minimises drag on the bike, making it a handy alternative to a barbag. Thankfully, and despite cutting it a little fine, we made the last boat.

Less thankfully, just as we reached the pier, the wind picked up and the heavens opened. Once stopped, we realised that the temperature had dropped significantly since lunchtime. Choosing to sleep on an island meant we were potentially going to be cold, wet and exposed overnight, with little option for starting the next day’s route early. I was fretting. 

We boarded the ferry regardless, with darkness and worsening weather greeting us on the other side. We resolved to settle our hunger first, and tackle the question of where to sleep second. Arriving at the Lookout café was great, with a warm welcome from a friendly, smelly, wet St Bernard called Murphy and the prospect of a hot dinner.

Preparing ourselves to leave, the owners asked where we were staying. We described the concept of bivvying. They were mildly horrified, and I didn’t mention that I’d been eyeing up the ferry-stop as a potential overnight shelter. Colm, who runs the ferry service, pointed up the hill to a faint boat shape. He explained they had a grounded boat cabin we could sleep in. Yes, I could have quite happily kissed his feet. An indoor cabin and a bed do not count as bivvying but I had happily let the bivvy idea go by this point: we had a warm, dry and comfortable night. When day two arrived, we were (mostly) blessed with sunshine, and we covered 175km of the Sheep’s Head and Mizen peninsulas, which neither of us wanted to end.

In total, we did about 16 hours of cycling with the AeroPack. It offers capacity, flexibility, stability and a sleek design to those who want to cover big distances with no compromise on pace. Even as a prototype it’s a thing of beauty, and I can’t wait to see how the final version turns out. 

…..

About Joe and Alice

Joe and Alice are enthusiastic amateur cyclists who like to get involved in all aspects of the sport. They particularly like hills, and have both competed in the national hill climb. They also like big-distance – Joe completed an Everest on Belmont Hill last November, Alice took this a step further – breaking the women’s record for Everesting on Naish Hill in August. The next bike to join their growing collection will be a tandem, and they’re keen to take on some records with it. 

Instagram Tags: @alicethomso @jawksworth

Alice’s own blog: https://alicewritesaboutbikes.wordpress.com/

Becoming an Ultra-Endurance Racer

What does it take to ride an endurance bike race? We spoke to Ben Davies, long distance bike racer and tourer and Tailfin ambassador, before he headed off to TCRNo6 earlier this year.

What’s your favourite bike that you’ve ever owned and why? The bike that I am most attached to is definitely nothing fancy! My Trek 520 touring bike has been all over the world with me, with my latest adventure on it being a 15,000 mile, six-month solo tour from Northern Canada to the southern tip of Argentina. It is a real workhorse and has been dinged, scuffed and re-welded, but it is still going strong.

What would your dream bike be if money was no object? 
That’s a difficult question and my answer would probably change from week to week. I was recently looking at some custom carbon frames at the Bespoked bike show, so money no object it would be nice to go down that route, paired with Sram Red mechanical, and Enve wheels and finishing kit. 

What was your path into cycling? Have you always been a road cyclist, or did you come to it from a different sport? 
I have always been a keen cyclist and started off riding mountain bikes, mainly XC, as a teenager. I then made a move into road cycling and taking cycling more seriously after a bad knee injury playing rugby when I was 18. Since then I have spent a lot of time touring around Europe, Morocco, Trans-America and Pan-America.

What is it about the Transcontinental Race that is so attractive to riders? What drives you personally to take on challenges like this? 
I think the Transcontinental Race has different draws for different people but it is a beautiful race and there is a real sense of community from the team running the race.

From a personal perspective, the self-supported ultra-distance format has a real draw as it is a sustained physical and mental challenge which requires a lot of self-reliance. On a really simple level, it is also a great opportunity to travel considerable distances by bicycle in a relatively short period of time.

The TCR involves riding nearly 4,000km across Europe, with the top riders often finishing in just 9 or 10 days. How do you mentally approach a feat like that? Can it be a dark place to be on the bike for those kind of shifts?
With last year being my first race of this kind, there was definitely an element of the unknown, so I went into the race really excited and with an open mind. I had a lot of experience in fast, long distance touring which was a useful background to have for the race. 
My approach this year is slightly different as I know what to expect and have the chance to learn from last year. I haven’t really experienced any dark moments on the bike; I genuinely really enjoy pushing myself and always try and embrace the opportunity and challenge. It is incredibly satisfying to cycle through the night and see the sun rise!

You raced the Transcontinental Race for the first time last year, finishing with a time of 13 days 20 hours and 47 minutes. What was your main learning curve on that race? Any major takeaways? 
I definitely should have spent more time on the route planning! Last year I went on a slightly off-piste route through Switzerland which resulted in much more climbing than was necessary. It turned out to be an incredible cycling route, although not particularly fast for that section. 
As it was my first ultra-distance race, I learned a lot about what kit works and what is not ideal: one legacy from touring that wasn’t great was using solar power/battery so I am planning to go down the route of dynamo power for this year. 

What was your approach to sleeping on that race? Did you prefer to sleep longer and ride harder, or ease off the pedals and crack on during the night? 
I think I took quite a conservative approach to sleep last year, probably because it was my first ultra-distance race; generally I was sleeping 6-7 hours per night. I used the bivvy each night, which was great for utilising as much of the time stopped to rest as possible. This is definitely one area where there is scope to improve.

Are you a data obsessive on the bike or do you prefer to ride more on feel?  
It generally depends on what my objectives for the ride are: I definitely have a preference for riding on feel and perceived effort but it is great to have the data available easily if I need it. Where power data etc. becomes particularly useful is when I am concentrating on shorter training sessions during the week and need to best make use of my time.

How have you set about training for the 2018 edition? Have you approached it any differently this year, with one TCR already under your belt?
The main difference this year has been that I have tried to take a more structured approach to training to best make use of my time around work commitments. The general trend has been shorter, higher intensity rides during the weekdays and then trying to fit in longer rides at the weekend.

The Best Thing About Tailfin? It’s Not What You Think

The headlines are wrong

You’ve read the headlines. 

Super light. Carbon. Fits any bike on the road, and quick-release to boot. And yet, believe it or not, these attention-grabbing attributes actually tell you nothing about the Tailfin set-up’s most unique benefit. 

That’s because the real, key attribute of our rack and bags, the USP (Unique Selling Point) that puts it out in front of all our competitors, is one you will only ever experience first-hand riding with it yourself. That benefit is ride quality.

What the hell is ride quality?

‘Ride quality’ – we’ll be the first to admit that this is a difficult thing to quantify. Equipment can be weighed and capacities can be measured, allowing you to stack one product up against another in terms of cold, hard numbers. The somewhat subjective quality of a ride is a little harder to define – but we’ve done our best to break it down, using the concepts of ‘stiffness’ and ‘flex’.

These terms are no stranger to anyone who rides bikes. You will have read bike manufacturers championing the lateral stiffness of their frames over those of their competitors. The science behind these claims is sound – the stiffer the frame, the less it flexes under pedalling forces and the more the rider’s efforts are transmitted into the road. Meanwhile, it’s good to keep frames compliant on the vertical plane to soak up road buzz and provide a smooth and comfortable ride.

The motions of a load

When it comes to the stiffness that Tailfin is talking about, the concepts are similar – just applied to a different aspect of the ride. 

When you are carrying luggage on a bike, there are generally two types of motion that are going to affect the quality of your ride experience:

  1. Firstly, there is the uncontrolled movement of luggage – this is the jolt of your goods shifting around as you ride over an uneven road surface. More often this is caused by poorly packing your goods, not attaching your framebag tightly enough or any rattle or wobble that is inherent in the system
  2. Secondly, there is the side-to-side progressive flex of the load wobbling around. This is effectively the stiffness of the load. This can be felt as a ‘fishtail’ of a saddlebag when you stand up out the saddle and lean the bike over beneath you.

Seat packs and pannier bags

With pretty much all fabric ‘bikepacking’ bags, a certain degree of this movement is unavoidable. This is a simple fact of the materials used – thinly constructed bikepacking bags secured via velcro straps can never be fastened securely enough to eliminate all of this movement.

Likewise, poor quality pannier bags can suffer from the same problem – thin, unframed bags hanging from the side of a rack suffer from a lack of structure and cheap plastic hooks that make it impossible to carry your luggage without it flexing and moving.

RACKS FLEX TOO

Traditional metal pannier racks, designed to attach to frame eyelets, have to cater for a whole world of frame sizes, geometries, axle widths, and eyelet positions. To cater for these very significant differences, traditional rack bodies are designed with a degree of flexibility built in. Take one of these racks in your hands and push the struts together – you’ll see them flex surprisingly freely. 

This inbuilt pliancy has repercussions on the quality of the ride. In exactly the same way that a steel frame flexes minutely when sprinting out of the saddle, so too does a metal rack flex under the load of your luggage. While this suppleness can be an advantage for bike frames, helping them absorb road buzz, this isn’t the case when it comes to racks and luggage.

The pliancy required to make traditional racks adaptable to a variety of frames means that it lacks the stiffness to hold your luggage securely in place. Cornering, riding over a pothole, climbing out of the saddle – with a traditional rack, all these things will involve a degree of flex as the rack is acted upon by the weight of the luggage. That degree might be subtle, but it is real and unmistakably noticeable.

A NEW APPROACH

Taken together, these two issues can combine to create a frustrating and distracting experience for the rider. Both traditional panniers and newer bikepacking bags can be flimsy, and do not do enough to keep your possessions firmly secured to the rack. Likewise, the inbuilt flex required of metal panniers mean that they are simply not stiff enough to keep your bags securely in place. Your bags will rattle distractingly, sway beneath you when riding hard, or worst, throw the balance of the bike off and simply kill the joy of riding your bike fast.

With these two issues in mind, we set about breaking down the complete chain of linkages that are involved in carrying luggage by bike, and analysing how this system can be redesigned with the ultimate priority being stiffness and ride quality.

LINK 1 – FRAME TO RACK CONNECTION

First of all, this meant completely reimagining the way in which a rack connects to your bike. The eyelet mount system is flawed, not only requiring tiresome fiddling with tools to attach or detach the rack, but also creating too wide a variance from frame to frame to create a rack stiff enough for the task in hand. Tailfin’s patented axle mounting system totally resolves this issue: no matter what bike the axle is used on, it provides a totally uniform mounting point that never deviates.

LINK 2 – RACK STIFFNESS

Without the need for this inbuilt flex, we were free to create the stiffest pannier rack ever built. The T1 is not simply carbon for carbon’s sake – carbon fibre has a stiffness-to-weight ratio far superior to steel, alloy and titanium, allowing us to create a rack that was both extremely lightweight and also significantly stiffer than any of our competitors. 

But carbon fibre is not just stiff and light – it’s also an incredibly versatile material that can be shaped into almost any form imaginable. Alloy and steel constructions depend welding together rods or tubes, creating yet more points of flex. Using carbon has allowed us to create the T1 in a single, monocoque frame design that delivers a stiffness far superior to welded structures.

LINK 3 – RACK TO BAG CONNECTION

Next up on our hit list was the bag-to-rack connection point. With almost all panniers, this is usually a simple plastic hook or an Ortlieb-style ‘holster’. Straight off the bat, these connections are intrinsically insecure – because there is no ability to fasten or tighten this connection, it will inevitably rattle and shake. All Tailfin pannier bags attach to the T1 by means of an Aluminium alloy cam-action clamp that firmly pre-loads the connection, eliminating any possibility of movement between frame and bag.

LINK 4 – BAG STIFFNESS


The pannier bag itself has also received a total redesign. As we’ve already noted, traditional panniers are inherently slack and flimsy things, usually made of a thin plastic sack. Tailfin panniers are built around a rigid backbone, constructed from a tough yet lightweight plastic frame. This backbone keeps the bag and its contents firmly attached to the rack, keeping your possessions totally secure and your ride absolutely smooth.

GREATER THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS

Taken together, these innovations deliver a striking real-world improvement in ride quality and bike handling. Keeping your luggage rigidly attached serves to eliminate off-putting rattles as well as safeguard the quality of ride that your bike can deliver, keeping the handling lively and the ride responsive. 

Built to Last – Trigger’s Broom and Other Stories

In one famous scene of the classic British sitcom Only Fools and Horses, the slightly slow, ‘village idiot’ character Trigger receives an award from the cash-strapped council for his outstanding thriftiness. After 20 years as a janitor, Trigger claims to be using the very same broom as the day he started. The only caveat, as Trigger proudly boasts, is that “this old broom’s had 17 new heads and 14 new handles in its time.”

The well-read amongst you might recognise Trigger’s Broom as a reworking of Theseus’s Paradox – the question being, how often can you replace the component parts of an object before it stops being the same object?

Philosophical wranglings aside, Tailfin has always thought that Trigger might well be onto something. And what he is getting at, in a very roundabout way, is the design principle of modularity – the idea of designing things in such a way that component parts can be easily and seamlessly replaced. 

Making our products easy to repair and replace is a key part of the Tailfin ethos. We recognise that there’s nothing more irritating than gear that you can’t service yourself.

For this reason, if any part of your Tailfin product ever wears out or needs replacing, you can order exactly the component you need from our Spares page. What’s more, you’ll unfailingly be able to fit that component using a standard set of Allen keys. This saves you money on replacing the whole product and time fiddling with proprietary tools, and also makes cycling that little bit more eco-friendly. Perhaps Trigger was onto something, after all.


That’s not to say that we’re expecting our gear to fall apart on you – all our equipment is built to last, and if it doesn’t, then you only need to get in touch for us to put it right. Our 5 Year Guarantee covers all Tailfin products against faults arising from manufacturing defects, giving you total peace of mind.


Sometimes, however, it doesn’t matter how many guarantees we put in place, or how serviceable we make our products. The reality of cycling – especially cycle touring in far-flung places, on the edge of your comfort zone – is that sometimes things can go wrong. We want to be ready for that when it happens – which is why we offer the Tailfin Crash Replacement Service.

If your Tailfin product is damaged as a result of a crash, then you are entitled to purchase a replacement at a 30% discount. This applies to both replacing the entire unit, or if you wish, just replacing the damaged component. Sadly, no warranty within the cycling industry will completely protect you from damage caused by a crash, but we hope this goes some way to protecting you from worst case scenarios.


Tailfin Care: our 5 Year Guarantee, a Crash Replacement Service, and the design principle of modularity. Trigger would be proud.

Let’s talk things Thru: the Tailfin Guide to wheel axles

Axle (noun) : a rod or spindle (either fixed or rotating) passing through the centre of a wheel.

At heart, wheel axles are a very simple concept. But that hasn’t stopped the cycling industry doing it’s best to make the subject as complicated as possible. The purpose of this article is to explain as simply and clearly as possible the different types of wheel axle.

Why do you need to know any of this? In a nutshell, it’s because Tailfin racks work by replacing the axle of your rear wheel with a specially designed axle of our own. If you want to use a Tailfin rack, you need to know the correct Tailfin axle to order along with it.

There are two different types of wheel axle out there. By far the most common is the one on the left side of this picture, called a Quick-Release axle (or a QR, or QR skewer). The QR skewer was invented in 1927 by Tullio Campagnolo, and it’s design has stayed pretty much the same ever since then.

The axle pictured on the right is called a thru axle. This is where things start to get a little more complicated. While pretty much all QR skewers are interchangeable with each other, there are many different types of thru axle.

So how do you tell a QR from a thru axle? The simplest way to do so is by looking at the axle itself. A QR is just 5mm in diameter, while thru-axles are much thicker.

You can also tell what axle you need by looking at your bike frame. On a QR compatible frame, you mount the wheels by slotting the wheel between two U-shaped mounts called ‘drop-outs’.

On a thru axle compatible frame, the ‘drop-outs’ are not U-shaped at all, but a closed loop. You fit the thru axle by pushing it through the round holes and threading it into one side of the drop outs.

If you’ve had a look at your axle or frame and can see that you need QR skewer for your Tailfin rack, then you can stop reading now. Simply select the QR option at the checkout and you’re good to go. If it looks like you need a thru axle for your Tailfin rack, there’s one last thing to check.

Because thru axles are a relatively new development invention, there is currently no industry standard. Countless different manufacturers produce their thru-axles to different specifications, making it impossible for Tailfin to make a single thru axle that will suit every bike.

What we have done is produce a set of adapter collars that will come with your thru axle that will make it compatible with your bike – all you need to do is check what ‘pitch’ you require.

Pitch refers to the thread on one end of a thru axle –  it describes the distance between each groove of the thread, or how ‘coarse’ or ‘fine’ that thread is. There are three different pitch measurements used in thru axles – 1.00mm, 1.5mm and 1.75mm. You can check what pitch measurement you need to use by checking the table here. Once you’ve matched your bike to it’s manufacturer, simply select the correct pitch at checkout.

Creating a classic: the making of the Tailfin T1

When we released the first Tailfin products in April 2016, they redefined what you could expect from a pannier rack. With a lightweight carbon design, an effortless installation process, and near-universal compatibility across all kinds of road bike, it was a bold statement of our mission to create the best cycling equipment in the world.

The T1 retains all of these groundbreaking design innovations but is further refined with the knowledge and experience that comes with six months of real-world testing. We wanted to make the T1 tougher, simpler to use and versatile enough for any adventure. This is how we did it.

We always knew we wanted the T1 to provide a totally seamless user experience, one that simply made sense from the moment it came out of the box.  

Both the T1’s seat post connector and the axle mounting points now boast new latch designs that are cleaner and more intuitive than our previous models. Importantly for us, they provide reassuringly definite ‘feedback’ whenever they are fastened or unfastened, eliminating any uncertainty when mounting the rack.