Anatomy of a tcr bike

Its easy to spot bikes being prepped for a bikepacking race out on a training ride – the bike packing bags are obvious markers.

But what else has turned an ordinary bike, (a 2015 Cannondale Synapse in this case) into a bike capable of epic adventures.  Some alterations are obvious, others are more subtle.



Carbon, steel, aluminium, titanium?

It does not matter – its just personal choice, and the right frame is one that fits, and is comfortable.

Endurance road bikes, (with a higher handlebar position) are popular.

I’m riding a Cannondale Synapse Hi Mod frame, from 2015.  I picked it up 2 years ago for about £990, instead of £2500 or something ridiculous.  I had to source the headset bearings, rear disk mounts and some frame plastic inserts – about £30 all in.  Why? comfort, and its a Cannondale.

Tri bars

Tri bars, on an endurance bike?
Thats normally a sign of a numpty or novice rider.

tri bars – more places to hang kit

Tri bars get you low and aero, so you go faster for the same effort, or use less effort for the same speed.  They are also comfortable, as they give your hands a break and move your position on the saddle.
However this only works if you are used to using tri bars.  They take getting used to, (ie getting onto / off them without wobbling, and they put more strain on your neck as you need to look up more)

Many, but not all tcr riders will use tri bars.  Their most important use is to provide more real estate to hang more kit on. 🙂

I have a set of 3T clip ons, with aluminium bars and carbon pads that flip up so I can still ride on the top of the bars when climbing – the more hand positions the better.  These are now discontinued, but I am still buying spares

Di2 bar end shifters are brilliant.

Disk brakes

Again, a contentious one, but more and more tcr bikes have hydraulic disk brakes.
Hydraulic disks are reliable, work well on alpine descents in the rain with a heavy bike and are kind to the (battered) hands of a tcr racer

They are also heavier and harder to fix at the roadside.

I have shimano R785 di2 disk brake set with post mounted calipers – These came out a couple of years ago, and have now been replaced with ultegra flat mount disk brakes.  I have 160mm rotas front and back – more metal = better cooling on alpine descents.

Shame I stripped the screw holding the pads in on the rear when trying to fit new pads 3 days ago.  Lets hope the rear pads don’t wear out in the next 2 weeks as I’ll need to drill out the screw.

discs make me happy.  They just work.  Till they don’t

Wheels / Tyres

Wide tyres, (28 or 32mm) for comfort
Fast, (as possible)
Resilient, (so they don’t fall apart on gravel, or after 10 days of riding in the middle of Albania).  Some people use tubeless, many don’t, (yet).

I have 28mm continental gp4000s fitted for the race – these are really 31mm wide.  I’ve raced Ironman’s on GP4000s – excellent.  Lets hope they last the distance.

fast, resilient, wide.  (these GP 4 seasons are slow)

Frames built for disc brakes often also have clearance for larger tyre sizes.

Wheels – As light, aero and strong as possible.

I have a set of Alto CCX28 carbon rims with a Son delux dynamo front hub, and Tune kong rear hub.  They are lovely.  I’ve ridden 150k on them, t=so my jant to Belgium will be their shakedown.

Electronic gears

Di2 is great – reliable, and more friendly on the hands after 2 weeks of riding than mechanical shifters.  The only downside is cost, and maybe more difficulty fixing issues at the roadside.

I have Ultegra di2.  I fitted it all myself – its just like lego.

di2 – expensive but great

Dynamo / Dynamo lights

Good dynamo hubs do not slow you down much, but mean you can have lights when ever you need them for night riding.  They are one less (hungry) thing to think about charging.

Many use dynamos to also charge usb devices, but many now just rely on usb battery packs to recharge garmins or lights.

I use an exposure revo front light with exposure red-eye rear.  I have an exposure joystick helmet light with another red-eye.

The rear light bracket is a custom mount involving some bar tape and cable ties.  The rear seatpost mount is out, (as the rear saddlebag goes there), and the synapse seat stays are very swanky, but make fitting a light awkward as they keep changing shape.
anyway – its been on for 2 months and not fallen off so far, so it should survive the Muur and Bosnian gravel.


Big (low?) gears are really useful to winch your way up anything.  They are great for the 3rd day of alpine climbing when your legs are shot and you have the strength of a kitten.

Compact (or smaller) chainset, 32t or bigger cassette on the back.  My bike runs a Sram 11-36t rear cassette using an ultegra mid cage mech and a wolf tooth adapter to move the rear mech down,  I have a very expensive Sisl2 compact chainset on the front, with a stages power meter in one of the cranks


Custom adaptions

Light fittings, aero bar bridges, storage options – people love to tinker.
I have a rear light fitting, (see earlier) and a custom aero bar bridge to hold my Wahoo GPS bike computer and front light.  Its made out of a piece of B&Q plastic piping with some cable ties and bar tape to make it more pretty


Water bottles.

Space of the bike is at a premium, with frame bags getting in the way or obstructing water bottle access.

Side access bottle cages and adapters to lower bottle cage attachment are almost mandatory.

Third bottle mounts under the downtube work surprisingly well.

I have a di2 battery mount to lower the rear cage down 2 cm
The bottle cages are evans cycles carbon side opening bottle cages
The tool cannister is held on with a Louri strap
I have 2 * 750 ml bottles, (on tcr3 I had 2 * 500ml)



Various combinations are used.  The fastest probably have the fewest, the slowest have more luggage – they will be out there for longer, with longer evening stops, so they need more kit for sleeping etc.

I’m personally carrying a lot of kit.  Bento box (behind the stem) for electrics and quick access items (cafe lock, etc).

Top tube bag for wet weather kit, chamois cream, sun cream etc.

Rear bag for spare kit, bivvy bag etc

Feed bag – really useful to be able to keep eating while riding.  holds peanut m and Ms, snickers bars, bananas or croissants.

I have Apidura stuff.



Mandatory in Germany apparently

Bar tape

Hands take a battering, so double wrapped bar tape, thick bar tape, or gel pads under the tape are common.

I have lizardskins 3.2mm DSP tape.  Its great



Spds on a road bike?  Yes – helps to be able to walk around supermarkets, hotels or up 20% gradients.

I have shimano XTR mtb pedals


If you want to know anything else, just shout, so I can bore you some more.

4 thoughts on “Anatomy of a tcr bike”

  1. Great informative blog regarding endurance riding and bikepacking. Look forward to meeting you in Geraardsbergen for the TCRNo6, where has all those months of preparation gone? Best Wishes, Jason


  2. Hi
    Not sure if you still look at this blog, just wondering how the Synapse worked for you in the event itself? Was it enough bike & gearing for the duration?


    1. I’ve been lax in writing a race report 😧.
      The carbon synapse worked brilliantly. They survive Paris rubaix at pro speeds, so me pootling up some gravel is easy.
      Most frames will be strong enough, it’s comfort that’s the problem, so a forgiving frame and wide tyres are essential.

      Coming on to tyres…. I split a 28mm (more like 32mm) gp4000 on some inocuous gravel in Italy. I repaired with a tyre boot, and bought a new 25mm within an hour and replaced with a 28mm again in Vienna, but it knocked my confidence in them. They are fast on tarmac, but I am not convinced on their longevity of there are significant punts of gravel. I had no issues with conti 4 seasons in tcr3 over some horrendous gravel on assieta, but they are slower. I ended up carrying at least 1 spare tyre for the remaining race.

      Carbon wheels were brilliant

      If I get in this year, I’ll use a similar set up, but might alter tyres depending on the gravel.

      On tvr#6, I learnt the idea of commitment so i regularly rode onto the night, with a falafel kebab in my back pocket, and no accomodation booked. I ended up sleeping truely rough just twice, and one of those was at a checkpoint. What normally happpeded was I found a hotel or pension at 9-10pm just at closing, and slept there.

      I may leave the bivvy/sleeping kit at home next time. But then I lookat the weather in the French alps this year, (I was travelling on the opp direction over the galibier as riders were heading up it) and having kit to sleep gives you the confidence to ride on into the night…..

      Hope that helps

      If you have any other specific questions please ahout


    2. Re gearing, the compact +36 was great. Ive not taken it off.

      You could go smaller than a compact, but my chainrings are too pretty for that.

      DI2 was brilliant. Ran out of charge once and just plugged in the zendure power bank for an hour, (while riding) and all sorted.

      Wahoo’s were excellent
      Used Garmin 935 watch for route uploads, (again charging while riding). Nothing failed.

      Dynamo was great, always having lights was comforting. Never used the charging capability so would ditch that next time


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