I laughed, told Paul about it, then went to have a look at this time traveling piece of machinery. It did look fast. Futuristic. Kind of like a batmobile but made into a bike. Anyway, ever since that day, I've wanted to ride one and experience the speed, keep it there for hours and see the kilometers fly by.
Unfortunately, I've never been able to justify a time trial or triathlon bike, considering that you only really get to ride them a few times a year at specific events. They are not the most comfortable bikes, not very versatile, not legal in many races. There is something very sexy about them and if you enjoy triathlon, the longer ones, then a time trial bike is something you need to experience at some stage.
I plan to race an Ironman sometime and I wanted to test to see how my body holds up on a time trial bike and how much I enjoy the experience first. So I entered the 2016 Jailbreak Triathlon (the distance is roughly comparable to a 70.3 Ironman distance event). You can read my Jailbreak race report here.
My next step was to secure a bike to test ride. The guys at SwiftCarbon were trusting enough to let me borrow what they call their 'mid-level time trial / triathlon bike', the Drone. They call it that because nothing about it seems entry-level, but they also have a more advanced offering called the Neurogen, which I personally think is one of the best looking bikes available.
Another reason why it's called a mid-level bike I believe is because of the pedigree of the SwiftCarbon brand. They only make carbon frames. They do not dabble in cheaper materials. Their race bikes are proven weapons raced at the top level. I wonder what would happen if a new wonder material came along to supersede carbon? How long can this company name last? Anyway...
If you're lucky enough to be in Cape Town and buy a bike from SwiftCarbon, you'll get the huge bonus of dealing with the guys directly at their store. It really is a personalised shopping experience. Neil and Charles have all the credentials and know the products inside out. Before leaving the store with the bike, my fit was set up on the trainer. At this stage, if you are purchasing you have the option to swap out the stem for a shorter or longer reach, you can also select from a range of saddles to find one that suits.
Ok, let's start with the looks. I was pleasantly surprised when I was introduced to the Drone. I had a suspicion it was going to look entry-level compared to the awesome Neurogen. Like one of those marrying the less-attractive sister stories, but I was wrong. It has all the looks and even came in a stealthy matt black carbon finish that resembled a batmobike. Awesome!
Onto the first big checkpoint, the drivetrain. On this Drone, Shimano 105 is the order of the day. In the world of mountain biking, I can sort of see how paying vastly more for top-end drivetrains is worth it but in the world of road bikes, 105 is just so good that it would take a lot to necessitate an upgrade. If value for money is a consideration, 105 is the logical choice and a reliable one at that. I did not even need to ride the bike to write that part down but I did ride it and it worked great.
The Shimano 105 parts run throughout the drivetrain, except for the brake levers, which are Cane Creek's time trial specific levers. The rear caliper is hidden below the bottom bracket to add extra aerodynamic efficiency. Knowing the market, the customer, and the kind of races and terrain around Cape Town, Swift chose to spec a semi-compact crankset 52-36. I thought that was a good choice. On the bike leg of Jailbreak, there was one pretty long climb that got me into my lowest gear, and I had to climb it twice. On the faster parts of the course, I was sitting comfortably at over 50km/h at a relatively low cadence, so I thought the gearing was well thought out. Brakes, I didn't use them much but they felt better than the brakes on my current road bike so I was confident, and have nothing really to say except that the modulation on the bar-end levers was surprisingly good.
The wheelset is a standard Mavic Aksium aluminium-rim wheelset with Mavic Yksium tyres. Many riders who are in the market to buy a time trial bike will already own a decent set of wheels, or will plan to upgrade at some stage. Buying wheels is like buying underwear; it's a personal item, everyone likes different shapes or sizes and you don't really pick them out for other people. So the standard clinchers are cost-savers that work very adequately until you decide to get something else or plug in your racing wheels. I actually thought they rolled very nicely and felt robust, handling the relatively rough farm roads out near Slanghoek.
Talking about wheels, here you can see a bit of the attention to detail on this bike. The wheels came with 25c tyres and clearance was fine. The rear end has a standard quick-release axle but there is an option to remove an insert turning it into a horizontal dropout. Most people will not use this feature but if you are serious about aerodynamics it means that once you have set up your wheel and tyre combo, you can slide them right up to hug the frame and reduce any turbulence in that area.
The Swift carbon seatpost is wide and thin, nicely aero, and has two holes at the top which allow you to adjust your saddle forward or back. It's an interesting system and worked well for me without any troubleshooting. I kept my saddle in the further back option but scooted it forward on the rails and pointed it slightly down toward the front. I'm not sure that was the best set-up for me. It was comfortable for the first 90 minutes but if I kept this bike I would definitely invest in a triathlon specific saddle. After 2 and a half hours of riding though, I did jump off the bike and run with my legs feeling fresh, so the position could not have been too far off.
Up front the Drone is made up of Ritchey components, a reliable and comfortable cockpit, confidence-inspiring, without sending the overall price of the bike skyward. It's a basic but effective setup. The bars out front are relatively adjustable and the elbow-rests were minimalistic but certainly adequate in terms of comfort.
In the end
I had a blast on the SwiftCarbon Drone. It got me back to transition with an average speed of 32,7km/h on a course with over 1000m of ascent covering 84 kilometers. For my riding, I still find it hard to justify buying a time trial bike that will only get used a few times a year when a standard road bike will get you to the finish line as reliably. But is it faster? Yes. Quite a lot faster? I think so. And the longer the race, the bigger the time difference. Is it fun to ride? I certainly enjoyed it. If you are serious about triathlons and you've been doing the road bike with tri-bar thing, it is certainly worth taking a look at a bike like this. At R33 900, it is potentially a big step up for a reasonable price.
SwiftCarbon Drone 105 specification:
- FRAMEToray 700
- FORKSwiftCarbon 700C carbon fibre
- GROUPSETShimano 105
- FINISHING KITRitchey Comp
- WHEELSMavic Aksium
- HEADSETSwiftCarbon 1.1/8”-1.1/2” tapered
- SHIFTERSShimano Dura Ace
- BRAKE LEVERSCane Creek Levers 200TT
- DERAILLEURSShimano 105
- CRANKSETShimano 105, 52x36
- BRAKESShimano 105
- BOTTOM BRACKETShimano 105
- CASSETTEShimano 105, 11-28t
- HANDLE BARSRitchey Comp TT Bars
- STEMRitchey Comp
- SADDLERitchey Streem V3
- WHEELSMavic Aksiums
- TYRESMavic, 700x25c Yksion
- RETAIL PRICER 33,900.00