Funny what can happen in a year. I had just lost my brand new Giant Propel aero bike (yes, I’m still peeved off, can you tell?) and decided to get myself a cheap and cheerful replacement.
It was a strange time in that, even back in March, the demand in bikes due to COVID-19 was starting to cause bike shortages.
Even before I bought the Giant, I was toying with the idea of getting the Triban. Glowing reviews from websites such as BikeRadar and Road.cc, as well as a report from GCN suggested that the Decathlon mass-production road bike was a diamond in the rough and a good bike for the price.
After my Giant was written off, getting a Triban RC 120 seemed a good idea. A road bike for 450 EUR, and I could swap out the groupset for the Shimano 105 R7000 of the Propel, and recover the wheels. It sounded like a fun experiment in better understanding how bikes work from a mechanical perspective.
The RC 120 has a 6061 aluminium frame with a Giant TCR-style top tube, and carbon forks. It came as standard with a basic Shimano Tourney 50/34 crankset and Microshift front and rear derailleurs and an 11-34 8-speed cassette, presumably from Decathlon. The shift levers were also from Microshift, and the brake callipers were no-name brand. I rode this setup for about 1,000 km and to be honest I was very impressed.
Asides from 10 days on the Propel, I had no road bike experience. That being said, I know what I like – the gearing was excellent for tackling steep hills, it could handle speed, and the shifting was crisp and accurate. For the beginner cyclist or passionate cycling on a budget, this bike is an excellent choice, especially as a first road bike.
I took this setup to the Tyrollean Alps where I tried my hand at climbing some steep hills – the bike outperformed me, with me needing a few breaks to, ahem, admire the view. Even the stock brakes didn’t cause me much worry, providing solid braking even from 60 km/h.
After 1,000 km, I decided to get to work on my upgrades. It was quite the learning process removing the groupset and bottom bracket, replacing it with a BSA bottom bracket and installing the Hollowtech Shimano 105 system, replacing the shifters, recabling the entire bike, and so on.
One year later, the only original parts on the newly-named Hamish are the frame and the fork. He really is Trigger’s broom. A selection of upgrades:
- Groupset – Shimano 105 R7000 11-speed groupset, including shifters – relatively low cost, robust with excellent shifting. A wide range of cassettes are available, I currently use 11-30 and 11-34 (for big hills)
- Wheels – Giant PA2 alloy wheelset (good for commuting, stable when braking down hills) and Giant SLR 1 carbon wheelset (good for racing, caution on use in the rain), both set up for tubeless tyres. Shimano WH-RS100-CL wheelset (good for winter riding and gravel; cheap and cheerful but for clincher tyres – I use 28 mm Continental GP 4 Seasons)
- Brakes callipers – whilst not bad, the no-name brand worried me a little, especially given my above average body size and penchant for descending at speed. I upgraded to TRP RG957’s, highly rated if not a little expensive brake callipers
- Brake pads – I upgraded to Kool Stop brake pads, and like either the salmon / dual compound Dura pads – which are especially good in wet conditions
- Saddle – depends, I’m still on the search for the perfect saddle, but I’m quite happy with my Selle Italia SLR Boost TI316 Superflow
Are these really necessary? Not really – the basic model is good. I think even the Triban RC 520 comes with a 105 groupset, and it is worth the extra money if you can / want to afford it.
The 105 groupset is one of Shimano’s top class offering, following the professional orientated Dura-Ace and passionate amateur Ultegra. The 105 does borrow a lot of technology from these groupsets, making it very good but with a weight penalty. If the idea of counting grammes doesn’t excite you, save yourself the fuss and cost and get the 105.
Side question – I could have ordered a disc brake RC 120 for an extra 50 EUR – why didn’t I? On one hand, when upgrading my bike I thought I could best reuse my old rim brake wheels and parts, including the shifter levers, on a rim brake bike. On the other hand, whilst I’m not a traditionalist per se, I don’t really like the fuss with disc brakes (hydraulic fluid is a pain to change) and I hate the squealing noise when they get dirty, or even the ting-ting-ting if the disc gets warped. With a cheap bike, it makes sense to get a basic but robust system. Rim brakes it was.
I won’t claim to be an experienced road bike cyclist – I only started a year ago. But Hamish and I have covered 7,000 km so far in just over a year, riding pretty much 6 days a week. This has been through the daily commute, 40C heat, -10C cold, 30 km/h winds, snow, ice, day tours, and up and down mountains. You will find lighter bikes, certainly. You will also find more aero bikes. Carbon may be stiffer.
But Hamish is my own bike. I have literally built it up from the ground up, and I know how it feels and how it ticks. I can repair almost any problem. Whilst it may look like an off-the-peg Triban and be scorned by more experienced cyclists who prefer bikes with an established brand name (yes, I’ve experienced are a few), Hamish and I have overtaken, outpowered and outclimbed Giants, Canyons, Cannondales and Bianchis. Ultimately the biggest upgrade is the cyclist, not the cycle.
Every time I sit on the saddle, clip in and pedal down my street on the way to the office or my route, I feel content. I hear the light rasp of the chain, and feel that all the parts are well oiled and working together in harmony.
I plan on having more fun with Hamish – not only the daily commute, but also racing, gravel biking and randonneuring. I have registered us for the 125 km Neusiedlersee Radmarathon and Berlin-Munich-Berlin half-distance in 2021 (700 km), and plan on tackling a few crits as well. Even if I get myself a new carbon racing bike with electronic shifting and disc brakes, Hamish will certainly have earned his place in my garage.
In summary, after 1 year – the Triban was good, but my Triban is excellent.