XX3.TWO/AEIGHTTECHBLOG – ØNE HISTORY PT.1
Our ØNE Concept - A single bike designed for all your riding. One bike to rule them all...
When I started racing there was a mountain bike series called Beastway, that got it’s name from the old Eastway cycle circuit in North-East London. The unique thing about the original Beastway was the flat out loose dusty corners and lack of elevation, which basically made it the perfect “gravel” race (who knew that would be popular)! At the time there were only three choices of bike - road (for road), mountain bikes (for mountains) and ‘cross bikes (for weirdos). Road bikes were out of the question, mountain bikes were the best option but felt a bit sluggish with their 26” wheels and ‘cross bikes with their high BBs were sketchy, risky, but fast. The compromise set my mind racing - what if you could make one bike to do it all?
Not only would this one bike be perfect for Beastway, but I could use it for my training, racing and everything in between...
So with a gravel bike in my mind [even though we hadn’t invented it yet] I got my 90s mountain bike and fitted drop handlebars because, as everyone likes to tell me, a gravel bike is just a 90’s mountain bike with drop handlebars right? A. I HATE it when people say that, and B. It really isn’t. As I found out... Firstly, if you think about it, on a mountain bike with a normal bar, your hands are roughly in line with the center of the stem clamp. On a road bike with a drop bar your hands are approximately 80mm further forward (think about the curve around the top to the place where you put your hands) as most of us ride on the hoods - back in 2003 this was more like 100mm because the bars were a different shape. You can’t just move your hands 100mm further forward without consequence, as I quickly realised!
Bike designers at the time adjusted the Top Tube length accordingly, so Mountain bikes were always longer for a given frame size. Not only did my new setup make the steering woolly and the reach too long, it also messed around with the front end geometry - more weight was over the front with less control - back to the drawing board.
Quite obviously I needed a much shorter stem so by going from 110mm to 80mm I’d counteracted a little of the problem. I also fitted an inline seatpost and pushed the saddle all the way forward. Without knowing it I’d altered my virtual seatpost angle to about 74.5 degrees, which is the starting point for most of my gravel frames in the modern era and fitted the kind of stem we’re all now using! The next step, I realised was to fit some bigger wheels to increase the wheelbase,so I nicked a pair from my CX bike. The widest tyre that wasn’t ridiculously heavy was a 35mm - not quite like the tyres we’re used to now but a good step in the right direction!
The problem with this is that most 90s mountain bikes didn’t have disc brakes and road/’cross bikes certainly didn’t so my Shimano Parallelogram V-Brakes didn’t reach the 700c CX wheels! Luckily, and weirdly, Mavic made a Brake Booster (originally designed to stop your stays flexing due to the awesome power of V-Brakes) which allowed you to increase the height at which your brake mounts would go. 26” was dead! The bigger wheels massively helped with speed and also helped correct the front geometry of the Frankenbike!
Gearing wise we were proper limited at the time - there was zero cross compatibility between mountain bike and road and so with the drop bars the best I could fit was the new Ultegra 9speed shifters and therefore an Ultegra 9speed rear mech with an 11-28 cassette. I definitely didn’t want a standard 53/39 up front so I had to find another way. I’d noticed at the time on all the best DH Mountain Bikes that the riders were using a 9speed road mech with a single ring and MRP chain device at the front - at Beastway I’d never dropped out of my 44 big ring when I was racing so I figured, let’s just go with that. I couldn’t afford an MRP so I took two worn out 44 chainrings and ground down what was left of the teeth. I sandwiched the good 44 between them with a hefty amount of spacers and created 1x! In fairness I wasn’t the only one and I think I’d seen this particular hack/bodge in one of the magazines at the time.
Sadly once all my bodging was complete, and as part of the preparations for the Olymipics, the Eastway site was closed and buried under what’s now known as The Lee Valley VeloPark so we could win some shiny medals whilst only being required to turn left [but that’s another story]. It also meant that I only got to race my perfect bike once at Beastway! Drop bars weren’t allowed in XC racing generally [and possibly not even at Beastway but no one would have cared] and “gravel” wasn’t even a glint in the eye of the UCI’s development* (*accountancy) team. All of which meant that my bike was resigned to the work commute!
However the idea never really left my head and in 2008 I stepped it up a little. I bought a steel mountain bike which had a slightly shorter top-tube and disc brakes. At the same time I bought 3 sets of wheels and set about building a pair for road, a pair for XC and a pair for ‘cross. My idea was to race all three disciplines on the same bike. Before I’d finished the project I’d taken my normal road bike to a couple of road races for a rollercoaster of a test. I won my first race, got dropped in my second one and then ended up at the bottom of a massive crash in my third one - so I left the roadies to it for a couple of seasons!
Once my bike was built up however I did enjoy using it for my training on the road - the best thing about it was that I was training in the position that (more or less) I’d be racing in. Mountain bike head angles at the time were slightly slacker than road but still steeper than today which meant that the bike was pretty handy - I could certainly ride around any issues and I knew that this compromise was better than the other way around. Off road again, I’d found a solution - I bought an identical rear mech a second pair of Hope brakes. These three bits were set up on a flat mountain bike handle bar. Obviously the brake hoses were one single continuous hose, but I replicated this with the rear mech too. I had a complete drop bar set-up and a complete mountain bike bar set-up and all I needed to do was slacken off 9 bolts, a few zip-ties and unhook the chain with the help of a quicklink. To swap from one to the other took about 20-30 minutes and I could use any of the three sets of wheels with both set-ups which I guess gave me 6 bikes for the price of one [plus a few bits]!
So, there you have it, in 2008 my concept was officially out there - and did anyone want it? No! Everyone just thought I was mad - “gravel” was for loonies and would never take off!
However, once again I knew it would be worth keeping the ball rolling and in 2013 when I built my first steel frame I was only a few frames away from experimenting with a 1x specific bike with a long wheelbase, loads of clearance, a steep seat angle and a slacker head angle - In 2016 I built the very first ØNE prototype. The first thing I did was take it to a gravel race and promptly won it. Finally I thought, “we’re onto something”!...
In part 2 we’ll look at the evolution of the ØNE concept and the testing process.
If you’re interested in building your own bike for off-road or road please get in touch via the contact form or the contact details on the website (www.aeightbikeco.com).
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Photos and words by Glen Whittington
GLENWHITTINGTON #aeightracer – Glen’s an ex-racer who still finds time to ride bikes for #SDWRacing. He started racing in 1998, initially specialising in XCO and Solo 24-Hour Mountain Bike. He became a mechanic in 2002, working in shops and also for professional race teams. During this time he spent more time racing ‘Cross and Road, and then also TT. In 2013 he built his first bespoke steel frame and then spent several years at Roberts learning the art. Since then he’s designed and tested, alongside our CØLLECTIVE, his ØNE, ÄXE, HMŔ and GÅR platforms which he now offers to the public as part of his ÆIGHT brand. #aeightracer #borninracing #madeinsweetsussex www.aeightbikeco.com GOT WHAT IT TAKES TO RACE WITH US? We’re always looking for riders to be part of our ÆIGHT CØLLECTIVE. The #aeightbikeco is about doing things a little differently - Rather than a jersey being the common theme, we kit our riders out with bespoke steel bikes and handbuilt wheels made in our Sussex workshops, the ÆIGHT WHEELWØRKS and the ÆIGHT MANUFACTØRY. We then support each other at events and races regionally, nationally and internationally - whether that’s for mountain bike, ‘cross, gravel, crit, road or TT - it’s what we call, the #protectedriderprogram
The best part is that we’re not asking you to leave your team or club - that includes racing in your club/team kit. We’ve got certain brands that we work with, mostly so we can standardise shared equipment, but your own sponsors and clubs are almost always welcome. We have some strict qualifying criteria but don’t be put off by this – if you’re interested in being part of the #aeightbikeco then please get in touch by emailing your racing CV to firstname.lastname@example.org