So here I’d found custom built bikes for tall people built by a tall guy who’s been there and done that, and knows what works. Sounded like the perfect fit for me.
So I got in touch with the team at Zinn Cycles and eventually ordered the Dolomite Ti – which comes from their custom built series called ‘Project Big’. The process consisted submitting a series of detailed measurements and discussing my needs and desires – as well as detailing what sort of riding I’d be doing. It’s a collaborative process, with draft designs submitted and discussed then tweaked as needs be.
So what exactly is different?
Well I guess the best place to start is with the design philosophy of custom length cranks. Experimenting initially on himself – Lennard’s found over the years that proportional length cranks make a big difference in comfort and performance for tall riders (and short ones). The bike is designed around the common sense idea – that a taller rider, with longer legs should be pedalling proportionally the same sized circle as a shorter person. So this means a crank that’s a lot longer than then standard 175mm. They have settled on the formula of inseam x 0.216, which in my case corresponded to a crank length of 210mm!
Now if you put that sized crank on a regular bike you’d be scraping the ground at the mearest hint of a corner – so what they do is to build the bottom bracket higher off the ground to eliminate any clearance problems. And this has the added advantage of making the frame smaller from the bottom up. It means a shorter downtube, shorter chainstays and shorter seat tube – all big benefits in a big frame. And it’s a compact design with the top tube lowered so that the frame is shorter from the top down also – further adding to the strength.
The front end geometry is also different in that there is a relaxed head tube angle to give the bike more fork trail and hence stability. This eliminates the shimmy that commonly affects big frames that often have steep head angles to keep the wheelbase short. The Alpha Q Z-Pro fork they use on all their Project Big bikes, is also specifically designed for Zinn. It has a beefed up carbon steerer that minimises any flex that can occur inside the big head tube of a large frame.
They make bikes out of steel, aluminium and also magnesium – but I’d settled on their flagship model – with a full titanium frame.
So how does this all work in the real world?
Well I took delivery of the bike the day before Taupo! (which is a hilly 100 mile ride round Lake Taupo in the central North Island. Taupo is the premier challenge ride on our calendar – with over 12,000 riders taking on the course). And I figured there was no way I was going to ride Taupo on my old repaired steel bike knowing I had a brand new custom build titanium beast in the garage at home.
So I rocked up the next morning having ridden only about a couple of km’s on the bike (and most of that on the way to the start). I was a bit worried about how the bike would perform. Especially since the long cranks felt very weird when I first hopped on the bike. But I needn’t have worried as the bike performed beautifully. I started well up towards the front fully expecting to be left behind on the hills like normal – but found to my delight – that I wasn’t getting dropped. The long cranks while still feeling a little odd – were enabling me to climb with much more ease and hang with the weight weenies.
And a good proof of that came a week later when I lined up on the start line to take on the clock in my club’s hill climb champs. The 2km Maungakotukutuku hill behind Paraparaumu is a regular lunchtime ride of mine and I had ridden the course at my maximum on my old bike a couple of weeks previously so I could compare to the Zinn.
The proof of the long cranks effectiveness shone through as I beat that time (which was a personal best) on the Zinn by 44 seconds – which over a 2km climb is massive.
I’ve also raced on it a few times and in the space of a few weeks have moved 2 groups – from break3 to break. I can get on top of the gears so much quicker and the accelerations that would have spat me out the back in the past are now manageable. (There have been a few raised eyebrows and accusations of drug taking with my new found speed )
It’s a custom build – so you dictate the components – from a just a frame and fork right through a full bike with you dream componentry. I went for a full build – and my budget allowed for a mixture of Ultegra and 105 componentry (with a SRAM red ceramic bottom bracket). They also built up a super strong wheelset for me with 36 spoke Ultegra hubs and DT Swiss 7.1 rims front and rear. The full bike weighs in at a tad over 9kg which for a huge bike with 72 spokes – is very very good. (I’m sure that will drop significantly with a lighter wheelset – but I took the horses for courses approach)
If anyone is interested in more detail – drop me a line at email@example.com and I can send you a more detailed review with a whole heap of detailled photos that I’ve taken of the bike.