Mike Hall and Ed Pickup are no ordinary riders, and their bikes are far from ordinary machines.
Hall, need we remind you, won the World Cycle Race in 2012, was winner last year of the 2745-mile Tour Divide mountain bike race, and last month won the Trans Am bike race: 4233 unsupported miles across America, from Astoria, Oregon to Yorktown, Virginia.
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Pickup finished third in the Trans Am race: an astonishing achievement for a 23-year-old. The pair are competitors, but the mutual respect and good humour between the pair is obvious, and provides an insight into the world of endurance racing, where information is still readily shared and the spirit in which the race is contested is as important as the result.
Both men competed in America on Pivot Vault
cyclo-cross framesets with custom builds to meet the extreme demands of their calling. Let’s take a closer look at their machinery.
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Pickup and ride
Pivot Cycles’ high-spec, full carbon cyclo-cross chassis lies at the heart of Hall and Pickup's machines, but there the similarity ends, as we'll discover. Pivot is the brainchild of Chris Cocalis, whose work for Spanish behemoth, BH Bikes, gave him access to the resources to develop his own carbon chassis, RCUK understands. The Vault's geometry is billed by Cocalis as "new school cyclocross", with lower bottom bracket (285mm) and shorter chainstays (425mm) than might be found on more traditional machines: a geometry inspired in part by America's fast-evolving 'gravel grinder' movement.
It's compatible with disc and cantilever brakes, thanks to elegantly concealed bosses, and courtesy of a rear triangle that can be broadened from 130mm to 135mm with interchangeable aluminium inserts in the carbon dropouts. Cabling is internal and guides in the frame mean it can be adapted for mechanical or electronic transmission. The bottom bracket is a 386EVO unit, originally developed by FSA and Wilier, and increasingly common. The 5'9" Hall rides a small frame (538mm top tube; 535mm seat-tube), a machine he describes as 'short' and with the handling characteristics of a mountain bike, courtesy of its relaxed head angle. Pickup, who is 6ft tall, rides a 'medium' (560mm seat-tube; 557mm top tube). His machine is pictured above.
Shift of opinion
Discounting the discrepancy in frame size, the most immediately obvious difference between the two bikes is the transmission. Hall runs Shimano Ultegra Di2, while Pickup uses a mechanical drivetrain, comprised of mechanical Ultegra mechs and shifters and FSA K-Force Light chainset. Hall admits to initial skepticism about Di2 as a "mechanical purist" but has been completely converted. "For me, it’s the execution in how they’ve made it," he told RCUK. "I thought it was a toy. It’s not. It’s really good to live with. It works so well." While for mortals, electronic shifting might be considered a luxury, for a man whose races last up to 18,000 miles, it serves a very real purpose. "On the round the world ride, my hands deteriorated,” he said. “You lose dexterity. Your fingers go flaccid.” Transport is another issue where Di2 holds an advantage. “I love flying with Di2," Hall says. "You can pop the cable out, take the mech off, and put it in a box. You don’t have to worry about cable tension. You get the other side and put it back on. That’s a real boon.”
Hall of fame
Carbon might seem at first glance an unusual choice for a machine to ride serious distances, but Hall, an engineer when not on the bike, believes ride quality is a factor of tube profiles rather than material. “The technical arguments for why steel is better just don’t cut it anymore," Hall told RCUK. "Carbon can be lighter and stronger and all of those things. Fatigue tests show it. They have done since the 1990s. People like steel bikes, and I like steel bikes, but you should buy it because you like it, and not to design an argument to show that it’s technically superior in any way.” Pickup, who was forced to switch from a titanium Qoroz just two weeks before the Trans Am race after it was stolen from a supposedly secure lock-up at a hotel in Lyon during a final warm-up ride from London to Rome, concours. Moving to the carbon Pivot "wasn't like night and day,” he said.
Short and sweet
Hall's cockpit is an intriguing mixture of a short, 90mm PRO Vibe stem, and wide 44cm PRO Vibe handlebars. Absent from Hall's bike for this impromptu photo session are the PRO handlebar extensions he used for the Trans Am, equipped with Dura-Ace Di2 shift buttons, an innovation he describes simply as 'fantastic'. The impression left by the aero extensions on his conventional handlebars is clearly visible. Hall also credits the hoods of Shimano's non-series 785 STI lever - slightly 'taller' than its Ultegra 6870 cousin as a consequence of having to accommodate a mineral oil reservoir - as contributors to a more elongated position.
Pickup is a self-confessed skeptic concerning electronic shifting, preferring to use a system in which he can "fix 99 per cent of things that could go wrong with it." His Ultegra chain has recorded an incredible 6,000 miles and is still going strong. He laughs knowingly at the concept of a 'monster shift', where an endurance rider's arms are so tired that even changing across the front chainrings requires a superhuman effort, and occasionally the use of both hands. Pickup ran a compact chainset (50-34) with an 11-28 cassette for the Trans Am, but believes an 11-25 cassette would have sufficed. "There was one really steep hill - Vesuvius in the Appalachians. That was the only time I needed a 28 sprocket. The rest of the time I was kind of in the middle of the range." Be warned, however, that Pickup's conception of 'steep' is, ahem, unique. Refusing to allow bleeding saddle sores to detain him, he opted instead to ride 80 per cent of the Trans Am route through the Rocky Mountains out of the saddle.
USB...easy as ABC
A close look at the cockpit on Pickup's machine reveals an interesting juxtaposition of electronica and more traditional navigational methods: the Garmin EDGE 810 pictured is to be returned. At the finish of his 4233-mile odyssey across America, the odometer had recorded just eight miles. He was also forced to navigate from maps. Experience gained from riding the route in 2010 gave Pickup some insight, but maps played a vital role, despite a route plan that would render them useless to a rider who had drifted off course. A 120mm USE handlebar stem contributes to his preferred, ‘stretched’ position. The amount of spacers beneath the handlebar stem is likely to be reduced now he has returned from his epic journey. The Pivot’s comparatively low headtube was a contributing factor in its selection over ‘endurance’ bikes from brands like Specialized and Trek, he revealed.
Pickup used a Schmidt SON dynamo hub to power many of his electrical needs on the Trans Am, running a cable from a micro-USB port on the hub's driveside up the fork leg to a full-sized USB port mounted beneath his aerobars. Hall, whose arrival at the Trans Am start line with a conventional battery set-up caused astonished glances among his competitors, opted for impromptu charging sessions at his various stopping points, including the porch of a fancy hotel on which he napped on the penultimate day of the race. He had previously used a dynamo-powered lamp, both for the Tour Divide and at the Bryan Chapman Memorial race, but wanted to use Reynolds' 24-spoke Attack Disc wheels and had been unable to find a 24-hole dynamo hub.
Hall pressed into service his faithful Garmin Edge 705, bought second hand for £100, and now with the World Cycle Race, Tour Divide, and Trans Am Race safely under its belt. The side-mounted buttons have perished, but Hall has a new case lined-up, found in a local bike shop. Unwilling to disturb the electronics before the Trans Am, he opted for electrical tape as an impromptu protector. He also carried a Garmin eTrex as a back-up unit, a more up-to-date offering than the Edge 705, despite its bulky appearance. Its line-in input allows it to be powered from a dynamo hub, but having decided against one for the Trans Am (see above), Hall powered his unit from lithium batteries, gaining 36-hours of continuous usage.
Bags of room
Both riders used Apidura frame and saddle bags, the most visible sign of a new, lightweight approach to endurance racing wildly at odds with the traditional pannier-laden steeds even of recent memory. Pickup used his framebag for items to which he needed easy access: sun cream, chamois cream, small amounts of food, warmers (knee and arm), and a small 'cafe' lock to deter thieves. Hall's top tube bag provided safe storage for his Garmin eTrex and a range of cables, while both men used the rear bag for sleeping gear. Pickup carried a sleeping bag, bivvy bag, and rain trousers, jacket and gloves, while Hall opted for a pertex bivvy and a 300g down jacket, both from Rab, which he could put on while searching for places to sleep in very cold conditions (such as those he experienced in Yellowstone National Park), allowing him to crash out immediately after finding somewhere appropriate.
Pick-up purchased a WTB Volt saddle two weeks before the race to complete the Pivot Vault build, having lost his previous perch with the stolen Qoroz. He'd used a Volt on a commuter bike and been pleased with the result, but will seek something 'posher' for his next endurance challenge. Not immediately obvious from this image is the slightly downward tilt, a subtle change of position adopted by Pickup in a desperate bid to reduce the chafing that had caused crippling saddle sores, which he treated with makeshift bandages fashioned from toilet paper and kinesio tape. He's considering taking a gel saddle cover on his next mission, to introduce should difficulties return. Temporary fixes on the Trans Am using knee and arm warmers proved unsuccessful. Hall runs a PRO Falcon, with a similar downward trajectory.
Both men used lamps from Sussex firm, USE Exposure, to light their way on night rides through terrain as remote as Yellowstone National Park. Pickup used an 800-lumen Revo lamp, powered by the aforementioned Schmidt SON dynamo hub, while Hall opted for battery-powered units from the same firm: a MaXx-D with a powerful 1600-lumen output, and a faithful 400-lumen Joystick, which also saw service as a piggyback cell, weighing just 20g more than USE Exposure’s backup battery and offering the considerable benefit of a secondary lighting source. Hall's bike also wears a Lezyne Zecto Drive reversible light and Femto Drive at the back, while Pickup uses an Exposure Flare at the rear.
Disc braking is a feature of both bikes, with Hall running Shimano RS-785 (pictured) and Pickup using TRP HY/RD cable operated, hydraulic units, actuated by Shimano 6800 Ultegra STI levers. Both men use Shimano Centrelock rotors: Hall with Reynolds Attack Disc carbon hoops shod with Continental Grand Prix 4000 rubber, and Pickup with HED Belgium aluminium rims wrapped in a Schwalbe Durano tyre upfront and Continental Gatorskin at the rear, the latter purchased in Kansas after three punctures in a single day on the Trans Am race.