Wednesday, 2 October 2013

B'Twin Triban 3

Back in January 2013 I got a new B'Twin Triban 3 road bike. I'll not bore you with the build-up into buying this particular bike, though I will point out that I was swayed above all else by four factors:
1) My friend Simon had one and he was very happy with it
2) I found several rave reviews on the Interwebs about them
3) It had a triple chain ring and
4) It represented superb value for money

My daily commute includes a hill with inclines of up to 32% and I carry panniers weighing around 10kg on the bike, so a triple chain ring was vital. The reviews, including Simon's, were essential because I'm nowhere near enough of an expert to tell the difference between a bargain and a bomb, just at a glance.

B'Twin is a French brand, sold in the UK exclusively by Decathlon.

The Triban 3 comes with an aluminium frame, carbon forks, Shimano Sora shifters, B'Twin's own-brand brakes & wheels and overall is a rather pretty bike. Importantly for me, It comes ready to take a rack and I fitted RaceBlade mud guards to mine, as to me the bike would above all else be a commuter.

When it arrived I was rather happy, as you'd expect. Delivered fully assembled, but boxed, I still had to swing the bars the right way and adjust them, replace the bear-trap pedals it came with and adjust the saddle. Before long, I took it for a small ride and as expected found I still had some tweaking to do to get the seat position just right.

Riding the Triban was a completely different experience to riding the hybrid on which I'd been commuting for years and when, on an uphill, I stood up out of the saddle, I was initially all over the place. The Triban certainly is a far more finely balanced, not to mention less forgiving machine than my old hybrid.

It took me a few weeks to adjust to the new riding position, with the biggest problem being getting used to the brakes. The muscles in my forearms, as well as my carpal tunnels ached from braking on steep downhills, though gradually over time my body made peace with the bike.

Day by day I became happier with the bike. It's light, and very responsive.

The B'Twin tyres it came with aren't exactly the grippiest I've ever ridden on, and after just a few months there were hairline cracks showing in the sidewalls. I believe this to be a common problem with these tyres.

My biggest problem with the bike started after having done roughly a thousand miles. It started out as a noise I find rather hard to describe - a mix between a pop and a clunk, I suppose. At first I suspected the bottom bracket or the pedals. I had simply moved my rather well-used SPDs from my hybrid to the Triban and as I was planning on getting new Shimano SPD pedals anyway, I decided to wait until those had arrived.

The noise continued even after I fitted new pedals and was seriously annoying, and getting worse. I then started noticing that the pedals would slowly turn by themselves when I was walking the bike. I thought that might have been due to the chain, though I wouldn't expect a chain to wear out so soon.

The bike deteriorated to the point that the rear wheel wouldn't spin freely while off the ground and that obviously meant that the bearings had gone. I then set about to open the rear wheel to see what the situation was.

Normally, to open the hub so you can get to the bearings would require the use of cone spanners, which I didn't have. Not to be put off, I continued using adjustable spanners and I managed just fine. I cleaned the bearings, the cups and the cones, then put it all back together again. When the wheel was back on the bike, I could see a major improvement and it was spinning freely again, but not quite as freely as I'd have expected.

A week or two later the wheel started making noises again. This time, I replaced the bearings with new ones, and regreased everything with decent grease when I reassembled the hub. In the end, all this achieved was to buy me some time before the wheel started acting up again.

Rather annoyed, I contacted Decathlon, whom I purchased the bike from. They were very helpful and ended up sending me a brand new B'Twin-branded rear wheel. Once fitted to the bike, I rode around another 750 miles before the new wheel started making the same noise and becoming less free-spinning.

For a while I pondered the possibility that I may have been overloading the hubs, given that I ride with panniers, but I soon dismissed that thought. After all, I had exactly the same weight on my hybrid's rear wheel, for several years, without a similar issue.

In the end I replaced the wheels with Mavic Aksium wheels. That was over 1000 miles ago and the Aksiums are still as true & free-spinning as when new. I also replaced the by now badly worn B'Twin tyres with Bontrager HardCase Race Lites as I believe in using puncture resistant tyres. The Bontragers came well-recommended to me and so far I'm happy with them.

I do believe that the B'Twin wheels are poorly built. Specifically, I believe there's a missing lock-nut on them. This results in the one cone eventually working itself loose, which in turn means the bearings aren't tightly packed anymore. It is possible that the B'Twin wheels I had were flukes, but the odds of getting two flukes with the same missing lock-nut is rather slim, isn't it?

Having spent some time on the B'Twin owners forum (yes, we're a sad lot and we know it!) it would seem there are many more people with what seems like the same wheel problem as what I had.

Very recently, I found that the chain started slipping and closer inspection revealed that the middle chain ring is badly worn. This simply means that the chain has stretched to the point that it has started damaging the chain ring, though the bike (and chain) has done only a bit over 3 000 miles. Again, on my hybrid I had longer chain life than that, so I'm annoyed by it.

Regardless, I now have to replace the middle chain ring and the chain.* I'll probably also change the cassette at the same time, and replace the brake cables as they're showing signs of rust.

I don't mind the cables - my bike is out in all sorts of weather, rain or shine, hot or cold, as I ride daily, pretty much regardless of the weather.

Overall, I'd still recommend the Triban 3 to people. It's an excellent bike and punches well above it's weight. However, I do suggest that you upgrade the wheels as soon as you can and replace the chain ideally after no more that 1 500 miles.

Update: The Triban comes with 50/39/30 chain rings on an Ounce 170mm crank. Instead of replacing a single worn chainring, I am replacing the crank with a Simano Sora 175mm one, with the same ratios on the rings. I'm also replacing the cassette with a Shimano 12-15 (same ratio) and the chain with a new Shimano 8-speed.