Ryan’s Bike for Paris-Brest-Paris

Ryan’s Bike for Paris-Brest-Paris

Ryan Francesconi rode his steel-framed Smeltzer ‘Thee Gifford’ adventure bike in last summer’s Paris-Brest-Paris. Ryan’s tires were wider than almost anybody else’s, and yet his 650B x 48 mm Switchback Hill Extralights didn’t slow him down as he surfed the fast pacelines during the early hours of the event.

Ryan opted to keep his One-By drivetrain for PBP. With a 40-tooth chainring and a 10-42 cassette, he had more gears than he needed. As a powerful rider, Ryan wasn’t bothered by the slightly larger steps between gears.

He did swap his XT cranks for XTRs to get a lower Q factor, and he reported: “I was very happy with that decision.” Similarly, the just-introduced GRX gravel rear derailleur worked perfectly with his Ultegra shifter.

Rene Herse 650B XL fenders cover the large tires, and a second stay stabilizes the front of the fender. “Essential for fast gravel rides,” commented Ryan. Ryan loves riding in technical terrain, and he prefers to distribute his luggage evenly across the frame. That makes the bike more agile in twisty single track, and easier to jump, too. Not that he was going to need to jump a lot in PBP, but having a bike that feels familiar is a benefit on a long ride. Small bags on the handlebars, in the main triangle and under the saddle held everything he needed for the long ride.

A SON Delux thru-axle generator hub powered Ryan’s lights. Ingeniously, he used Honjo R-clamps to route the headlight wires along the fork blades. The clamps usually attach fender stays to the dropouts, but here they are mounted to the mid-fork cage braze-ons – a clean solution.

Ryan liked the comfort of his Berthoud Aravis saddle, and he had no saddle issues. However, his ‘gravel’ handlebars – designed for leverage and control on single track – were not ideal for such a long ride. He suffered from ulnar nerve problems, which fortunately cleared up soon after he completed the long ride.

Even though Ryan’s Smeltzer was originally designed for off-pavement adventures, it performed well in Paris-Brest-Paris. It combined speed with comfort and the ability to carry the gear needed for this long ride – which is exactly what we want in a randonneur bike.

Click here to see David Wilcox’ Seven all-road bike set up for PBP.

Photos: Nicolas Joly

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Comments (9)

  • Craig Lloyd

    Lovely, well thought out machine. Ryan has put it through a wide variety of rides!

    I was interested to note the seat-stay mounted rear brake when everything has gone flat-mount (tucked in the chain-stay)… guessing to protect the hydraulic hose from bouncing rocks on the rough stuff? It’s also a better place for those of us who run cable discs, as the downward facing housing seems to stay gunk free and smooth for a lot longer.

    I would like to try 1x. When I have all the gears I love it, but I have also done a lot of fixed gear riding and enjoyed that, so I think I could adapt to bigger jumps. Close cassettes are useful for racing/maximising speed at threshold, long steady climbs or long exposed roads. I don’t see a lot of any of that and with longer chain-stays than a racing bike, I don’t think the cross-chaining matters so much.

    January 24, 2020 at 8:48 am
    • Jacob Musha

      I must admit that I don’t understand the benefit of 1x on a “road” bike. My cyclocross racing bike is 1×7 and even that is more gears than I ever need. My all-road bike is 2×8 with a 46/28 front and 13-26 cassette. I mostly ride it as a 1x anyway, only shifting down to the 28T ring for the longest and steepest hills.

      I have to imagine there’s a weight penalty replacing that tiny chainring plus the front shifter/derailer with several huge cogs, plus a longer chain, plus a long cage rear derailer. But I haven’t done the math to find out. Then there’s the drawback of having to use expensive, fragile, and finicky 11-12 speed junk.

      More than half my yearly miles are fixed gear but I still don’t like big steps between gears when riding on the road. On a MTB or cyclocross bike it’s fine or even desirable since those are mostly short blasts of power and being in a slightly wrong gear doesn’t seem to matter.

      January 24, 2020 at 11:53 am
      • Derek

        I have experience with various setups including single speed, 1x, 2x, 3x, and internal gears. The benefit of 1x may not be so much in the bike itself as it is in the human factors. In the mountains, with long ups and downs, 2x is a no brainer, but in hilly terrain It’s easier mentally when you don’t have to decide which chainring you need to tackle the next hill, over and over and over. It’s the same reason why 2x with a big ring of “only” 46 works well for you.

        The brain uses a significant amount of the energy we consume and over thinking what we’re doing can actually make us ride slower with the same effort, so the bottom line for me is, whatever you’ve got, just ride and don’t worry about it.

        January 25, 2020 at 5:21 pm
  • Matt Delcomyn

    I’m loving these PBP bike reviews. They are pinnacle designs that are so refined for the purpose. It’s great to see the thinking and solutions that went into these beautiful machines. Thanks for this content!

    January 24, 2020 at 9:36 am
  • Brendan

    Are the Q factor numbers available to what they were, then to the final setup?

    January 24, 2020 at 12:13 pm
  • Scott

    I just don’t get the wide bar thing for riding gravel. They are only useful for single track and even then it’s a compromise, your probably better off with a normal mtb handlebar. On most dirt roads and fire trails a normal width road bar is fine. The extra width feels really uncomfortable, almost like doing wide stance pushups.

    January 24, 2020 at 11:03 pm
    • Jan Heine

      That matches my experience. Ryan’s bike spends a lot of its life on single track, so it makes sense there.

      January 25, 2020 at 6:32 am
  • RyanBuildsWheels

    Thanks folks! Lovely machine 🙂

    I’m having no joy trying so search for what brand of bags these are; I’m especially interested in the mounting system being used for the bar bag having just had a custom front rack made for my new machine from Clandestine.cc here in the UK…

    Any help much appreciated.


    January 25, 2020 at 3:45 am
    • Jan Heine

      The mounting system for the bar bag are Velcro straps. The bag itself is made by Ruthworks in San Francisco.

      January 25, 2020 at 6:33 am

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