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Building a cheap Chinese carbon bicycle

A couple of years ago I had a pretty serious accident that trashed my bike.  Insurance covered the acquisition of a new bike but I’d kept all the useful parts off the old bike and just needed a new frame and set of handlebars to get it back on the road again.

I was recently put on to a website advertising moderately cheap Chinese carbon frames and thought, about time to try something.  www.velobuild.com was the site I was put onto and the favored steed was the R-002.

Ordering

The online order form

The online order form

I made a simple mistake during the order process.  As you can see on the left, you can select a handlebar size and a stem size, but these mean nothing unless you also select their matching item with the price lower down the form – not good form design!

Tasha inspecting the packing

Tasha inspecting the packing

Unpacking
The carton arrived to my billing address instead of the chosen shipping address.  This caused a bit of fun as it’s a bit hard to make it down to the local post office near my house during business hours.  I left work early and sprinted homewards on my bike and made it to the post office just before they closed.  The post mistress looked at me strangely when she realised which parcel I was here for…the large one with a bike frame in it…and I’m on a bike!  Fortunately the box is light and I cut a hand hold into the side of the carton and ride home with it under my arm.

Opening the carton and unwrapping the contents I notice that the handlebars I thought I ordered (as per above) are definitely not in the box…nor is the head stem…the wrapping is pretty comprehensive though and the carton arrived in good condition.  The tracking from the original EMS was a bit different to Australia Post.  They send you to a Chinese site which fortunately has an English version that requires the tracking number and then a verification thing which is not quite obvious until you put your cursor into the verification box which then reveals a Captcha-like set of digits to enter to prove you’re a human – though once the package arrives in Australia (or as they put it, the COMMENWEALTH (sic) OF AUSTRALIA) you can simply put the tracking number they send you into the AusPost tracking system.

Frame, seatpost, forks and headset

Frame, seatpost, forks and headset

First Impressions
The frame looks nice and the 3k weave with matt finish was chosen for its understated appearance and also that a paint job can hide a myriad of sins.  Looking over the frame shows very few flaws.  The internal cable routing looks good and there appears (by feel) that they’ve tubed these up to assist with cable threading (I’ll let you know once I run these if it helped or not).

Can you identify all the parts and know which order they would go in?

Can you identify all the parts and know which order they would go in?

Nothing is labelled.  If you’ve never worked on a bike, stripped one down and rebuilt it, done major maintenance – this is probably not for you.  If you don’t know how a headset goes together, you get a bag of parts and need to be able to figure out which piece goes where and with what.  There are no instructions.  If you do get stuck – I can recommend viewing Youtube to patch up your knowledge gaps.  

1.13kg for the 58cm frame

1.13kg for the 58cm frame

Weights

I weighed all the components independently.  58cm frame = 1130g.  Forks=410g, seat post 220g, spacers and headset 120g.  These numbers seem to be a little more than quoted on the website from memory but until I do some stress testing, I’m happy for the extra plastic.

The bottom headset bearing

The bottom headset bearing

Fine Finishes
Looking down the head tube I noticed a difference between the crisp clean finish of the Scott CR1 Pro head tube which is an intact cylinder with top tube and down tubes whereas the Zhongwei R-002 frame is a complex weave of carbon intersects around the head tube – it will be interesting to see how it feels, seems rigid enough now.  Someone mentioned their surprise looking at my destroyed Scott at how clean the carbon joins were on the inside – maybe they expected it to look like the Zhongwei.

I read a review about this frame mentioning something about the cable routing.  The cable entry/exit points look clean.  I’m a little concerned about the routing of the plastic cable guide on the underside of the frame, it doesn’t look like the cable will clear the frame and will create some scuffing on the frame.  The screw holding the guide on also looks pretty much an afterthought, would prefer an allen bolt.

putting the stack together. I'll chop the fork down later.

putting the stack together. I’ll chop the fork down later.

The upper headset bearing recess seemed a little mal-formed.  The gentle coaxing that worked on the lower bearing didn’t bear results, neither did getting a little more forceful and a bit of sandpapering.  So I thought it best to use leverage and lots of it, I assembled the rest of the parts, spacers, head stem and inserted the top cap and started ratcheting everything down.  Slowly but surely it all compressed down into where it needed to be.

Hex bolts covered with overspray

Hex bolts covered with overspray

Rear Derailleur Hangar
They provided me with a spare…the one on the frame is painted black..they’ve painted the screws over too…it looks like the hangar should be replaceable…but I can’t figure out how it would swap out without making a mess.

Bottom Bracket

Token Bottom Bracket

Token Bottom Bracket

Thanks to Susan for the extra Token BB.  I thought I might as well see if this fit early on. The quality control around this area wasn’t top notch and I wasn’t getting the confidence inspired engagement of threads I normally get with other bikes and this was a brand new BB.  Mess this up by cross threading and you might as well throw the frame away, you can probably salvage it somehow but I didn’t want to think about how to go about that so I was using a light touch and trying various techniques to feel the BB engaging in a positive manner.  At least it is in now, if I have to take it out the thread should be well defined now.

rolling rolling rolling

rolling rolling rolling

Wheel fitting
I’ve thrown a couple of custom built alloy wheels in just so it’s rolling.  The wheels were quite difficult to slot into the frame.  Looking closely at the dropouts there seems to be some sort of bumps to provide some sort of assertive engagement of the wheels…I just found it hard to get the wheels in and will look at grinding these out.  The front fork I’ll have to work out as this was excessively difficult to get the wheel into and putting full pressure downwards on the frame sees the wheel pushing over to nearly touch the right side of the fork so this deserves some closer attention to see what the fault is here.

Two months down the track

There’s very little to report.  I haven’t maintained it.  It hasn’t been ridden in the wet (those mudguards really work!!!).  It still shifts sweetly (maybe a little lag on some of the bigger rear cogs, but no big deal).  Brakes work well.  It flies off kerbs fine without shattering in to pieces.  I’ve fitted a Fibre Flare rear light for a bit of cool looking visibility.  No punctures yet.

If I had to complain about anything, it sometimes feels/sounds like the headset is not done up tight enough if I hit certain bumps, but otherwise feels pretty solid around the headset – I’ve redone it up a couple of times just to be sure it’s not loosening off, and no it’s not.

One other complaint is that it creaks quite a bit for out of the saddle riding – but not a single creak under any load when seated.  Problem with carbon bikes…it is hard to diagnose other than spending time swapping wheels, changing BB’s, cleaning and regreasing BB…it’s not that big a deal, I don’t plan to do major group rides on it.

I think when the current tyres wear out, I might put Tannus puncture proof tyres on it just so I can really not care about anything on the commute.  What colour should they be?

The Second Commute – Pretty much sorted now

This bike is so gnarly is has snarled at Melbourne weather and scared all the rain away.  I’d really been looking forward to putting this bike into super-commuter mode, puddles and all and I just get dry roads this week.  The changes done last night have transformed the bike yet again.  The unpadded and smooth Selle Italia seat vastly superior to the squidgey Fizik Nisene one, the Ksyrium ES wheels with a flatlands cassette lighter and quicker accelerating.

On the commute home tonight I opened up the taps a couple of times and this bike loves it.  A 4th overall on a 1.2km segment with an average speed of over 40kmh with a reasonable climb in the middle of it…no problem, could have gone faster but there was a roundabout with cars getting in the way!

There’s a bit of a plastic slapping noise when hitting large bumps in the road, haven’t sorted out where this is coming from yet.  I suspect it could be cable slap in the internally routed cables…it needs a big bump for it to be evident.

The bike is earning trust quickly.

The First Commute

The weather forecast was crap and I was actually looking forward to it!  I’d fitted the Roadracer 2 mudguards to the bike and was keen to see how well they worked.  As luck would have it I had a dry ride to work and home again.  Oh well, the forecast for the rest of the week is crap so I may still be in luck.

The ride started well.  Off down the usual route towards Beach Road and there’s a nice stiff Southerly blowing…hmmm…could be some Strava-age happening.  I decide to hit the bike track and have some fun in the turns.  The bike is handling well and I’m pushing north of 40kmh and the track is mainly empty.  Somewhere north of Elwood I hear a clacking noise – surely not the mudguard…sounds like the mudguard…no…broken spoke…damn.  Pull over just at the end of a Strava segment (didn’t know it at the time and later learn that I’ve scored 9th overall on that segment…impressive, beating my previous best time by 7 seconds which would have been pretty quick then too).  So this bike is surprisingly quick!  It doesn’t really feel it, it does the speed comfortably.

I fold the spoke around another spoke and note that the wheel isn’t wobbling too bad and press on but with less power.  The rest of the ride is uneventful except that I overtake everyone that passed me while I played with my spoke after passing them at some huge speed earlier.

I have to stop and get a new security tag for the bike for the bike cage at the office.  The guard is very impressed with the bike – looks “badass”, he reckons.  He feels a little guilty about putting a bright yellow tag on it, though I say it matches the front tyre.

The ride home was a sedate effort with the slightly clacky rear wheel but still scored a 3rd best effort on some segment somewhere, so still pushing good numbers speed-wise.

More Adjustments

The ride today shook out a few more adjustments.  I hadn’t tightened the shifters enough on the bars – so they’ve been tightened.  I don’t like the saddle and had it a bit high, and a bit far forward – so I’ve swapped it for another saddle on a different seat post (good thing the security dude didn’t put the tag on my seat).  The wheels have come off and been replaced with Mavic Ksyrium ES’s sporting red tyres.  Bike weight has dropped 500g to 7.5kg.

I wonder how much faster it will feel tomorrow.  The ES’s are super light and accelerate very quickly…should be fun…

Ride Report

It’s a quiet Sunday so I thought I’d get the bike finished and fine tuned.  Obviously the Deda Dog Clamp wasn’t working so I found a hose clamp, the kind you find in the engine bay of your car and wound that up tight.  It seemed to do the job.

Next, I didn’t measure the rear brake cable length from the brifter to the frame mount point really all that well so the cable sat really far out to the right, not a great look.  So I chopped off the end ferrule, removed the inner cable and chopped about 3 inches after carefully measuring how much cable I really needed when the handlebars were on full lock to the left.  I then rethreaded the cable, chopped a further 2.5 inches of inner cable off the end and crimped on a new ferrule.  Done.

The bike was now sitting there wanting me to take it out for a ride.  I was wearing jeans and sandals and thought that isn’t the best riding gear so jumped into the full lycra wardrobe and let my daughter know I was going “around the block” (which we all know is code for “a bit more than simply round the block”).

I took it up the road and then out on to the main road heading south and then got to Beach Road (about 3km from home now).  The ride feels really solid and very confidence inspiring.  There are no creaks or groans under power but I did find out that I haven’t tightened up the shifters quite enough as I felt a bit of movement under the loads I was starting to push through the bike.

I took it through a gravel carpark to find out how it feels on poor surfaces and it bounces around like you’d expect a light bike to behave.  This bike weighs in at exactly 8000g (without the waterbottle and toolkit bottle).  My Cervelo at just under 6700g is obviously a lot lighter, but there isn’t all that much in it feel-wise…I guess I’ll have to try it out with Strava to see if average segment times rise or fall.

It feels good.1451981_10152445776229745_1440503377_n

Note the seat post clamp?  It’s a radiator hose clamp!  It still wasn’t quite good enough and a few decent bumps in the road saw the seat post pushed down the tube.  I rode to a local bike store and bought an alloy clamp and that has fixed the problem…it’s black and heavy.

I’m still tweaking the gears and fine tuning the feel of the brakes.  The rear gears work well now and the front movement needs a small amount of extra inboard movement to stop chain rub when in the small chainring and large rear cog, but other than that, no issue.  The brakes are working well and once I get a GPS mount, switch over the K-edge camera mounts and fit some lights – it will start doing duty as my main commute bike.

I’ve still got some crud-racer mudguards to fit for the rainy days…but that’s it.  N+1 achieved.

Build Day

I collected all my bits this afternoon and prepared myself for the build.  The only things I 20131207_132529think I was missing but hoped could find lurking somewhere were some gear cables and a seat post clamp.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find the cables (found them later though didn’t I!) and I’m pretty sure I must have donated my old seat post clamp to a worthy individual.  I had bought new brake cables, bar tape, bottle holders and a front shifter (the old Scott one was a braze-on and I’d donated that away anyway).

OK. Where are we at?

Here’s a look at where we got to.  It’s a pretty sleek looking setup at the moment with not much on it.  The bottle holder area on the downtube has a pretty interesting recess, I wonder if it helps the aero at all?

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Handlebars

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Thanks to Gary who offered me these handlebars if I buy him a coffee (I had my chance to make good this morning and completely stuffed that up as I had to disappear quickly).  These are simple aluminium bars, nice and light, they will do the job well.  I liked the fact that they are pretty much brand new and have really clever guide marks where the shifters mount so you can be pretty sure that you’ve mounted them equally – makes like a little easier.

Gears

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Fitting an Ultegra compact crank that I had lying around.  This baby has been to Europe twice and does a great job and I could probably get away without using a full-size crank in my day to day riding, I only tend to run out of gears over 80kmh, but I don’t plan to be doing those sorts of speeds on this bike until the trust factor has been established.

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The front derailleur is a simple Ultegra  clamp-on to suit 34mm (there’s a decimal point value too but I’m not going to look it up now). The grey Ultegra blends well with the frame and doesn’t look like a bolt on instead of the sleeker braze-on.

For the rear derailleur, I had an old Dura-Ace one lying around.  I also have an Ultegra but I thought I’d indulge in just a little bit of sticker-snobbery, just this once.

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Leverage20131207_135843 (1) 20131207_140435 20131207_140842

As mentioned before, the levers were easy to fit and line up with the guide marks on the bars.  Using the left double-chainring Ultegra shifter that survived from the old Scott.  The rear derailleur shifter was trashed in the prang but I had bought a pair of brand new shifters from a bloke on the Bike Victoria forums for $100 a while back – so if anyone needs a shifter for a triple-chainring, I have one spare.

I’ve also got several spare brake cable holders for these shifters which are incredibly easy to lose.  I managed to lose on and Athol from Brighton Cycles managed to find me one.

The rear brake fitted in easily enough and gave me no problems.

20131207_142147Internal Cable Routing

I am impressed with this on this frame.  Not only does the bike look slick, the cables can be fed through with ease as the internal routing is guided so you don’t have to resort to tricks to fish your cable out at the other end.  The rear brake and gear cables run through the frame this way.


20131207_161207 20131207_161218 20131207_162201 Significant Problem #1 – Front Brakes

I went to install the front brake caliper and did it up tight, but it was still loose in the frame!  I tried cleaning up the threads and cleaning out the end screw, but years of not being sealed had rusted the end screw so that it was never going to tighten any further than it had on the Scott forks.  I decided to give up at this point and go to Bicycle HQ and source a whole new front brake unit.  They had a slick “grey” Ultegra unit which matches the bike better – it doesn’t match the back brake now, but I doubt anyone will notice…but it does match the new front derailleur.  The new brake also came with a bunch of various length end screws – I wonder if you can buy these individually, I might have saved some money.  I also picked up gear cables while I was here but they were out of seat post clamps.

Significant Problem #2 – Front Derailleur Cable Guide

The cable guide on the bottom of the frame looks cheap and crap.  I had my doubts as to its utility and was right, the cable rubs against the frame – it’s probably not a huge deal, but I think it is a bit of an oversight.  I replaced the guide with the one from my Scott and that was longer and cleared the frame completely.

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Supplied cable guide = bad

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Cable Guides: Scott left, Zhongwei right

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Scott Guide = good

20131207_171142Significant Problem #3 – Rear Dropouts

I went to take the rear wheel out of the frame and found that it simply wouldn’t come. I then noticed that the wheel skewers were not able to clear the rear derailleur bolt due to the frame builders overzealousness with the epoxy around this area.  I pulled out a file and started filing away at the area to open the channel up more until the wheel was able to be easily inserted and removed without any catching – I hope I didn’t need all that carbon!

Significant Problem #4 – Front Dropouts

Getting the front wheel out also was proving difficult.  Once again the file was brought into play and significant carbon was removed – the wheel now inserts cleanly without catching on anything and sits true within the forks.

Slamming the Stem

“Slamming” means lowering the head stem on the steerer tube.  I’ve never cut a steerer down before, but the tube on this bike was obviously brand new and way too high to leave alone.  I went to take the handlebars off to find that they wouldn’t clear the steerer tube as I hadn’t left enough brake cable on the front brake to allow removal – this is where I realised that it wasn’t such a bad thing – I used the bottom spacer and the head stem as a guide to help me cut through the steerer tube with a hacksaw.  I then removed all spacers and slammed the headstem right down low.  Looks sensational.

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Build Complete (still need seat post clamp!)

To finish the bike off, I picked a Fizik bar tape, a couple of BBB alloy bottle cages and have fitted Look Keo pedals as the best fitting bike shoes I currently own run these cleats.  I plan to switch to SPD cleats (or mountain bike cleats) when this bike becomes the commuter so that walking around the office etc is much easier (it’s also easier to leap off the bike and run it over pedestrian crossings, past stationary trams etc where it is technically illegal to ride a bike but perfectly OK to be a pedestrian (the hybrid commute).

I took it out for a quick spin up and down the local street and the initial feedback is that it feels solid and well balanced.  Obviously there’s some trust to be earned and this will take some time.  When you pay big $$$ for name brand frames, you know there’s a lot of R&D and testing and warranties and stuff…it’s not so obvious with a cheapie Chinese frame, maybe it is as good…not sure I’m willing to bet a high speed descent on it…just yet.  I still need to match the wheels up, I couldn’t find a spare black tyre to replace the yellow tyre on the front wheel (I did…but it fell apart in my hands as it had been sitting in a hot shed for a few years).  I do have a black seat to go on the seat post I ordered with this frame…but the Ritchey Pro seatpost is actually a better fit.

Now…who has a seat post clamp?!?!?

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