Pro bike: Tim Johnson’s Cannondale XTJ

By James Huang - Technical Editor - Cyclingnews | Tuesday, November 11, 2008 9.00am

Tim Johnson (Cannondale- Cyclocrossworld.com) was already among the easiest to spot on the ‘cross circuit last year with his high-visibility black-and-yellow kit. But the US national ‘cross championship title he earned in December justified a bold change.

With the exception of the new bright yellow Mavic shoes and socks, this year’s color palette makes no illusion as to Johnson’s home country - red, white and blue are the overwhelmingly dominant colors throughout the frame, fork, saddle, seatpost, handlebar tape and, of course, his new team kit.  

Beneath the flashy new paint, though, many of Johnson’s equipment choices have carried over from last season – a likely advantage, if only in terms of consistency and familiarity. 

As in years past, Johnson’s bike is built around his signature Cannondale XTJ frame, which is reportedly off-the-peg stock save for the custom finish. 

Double-butted 6061-T6 aluminum tubing is used throughout and joined with slick-looking, smooth double-pass TIG welds that Cannondale claim are more durable than traditional single-pass joints. Front end stiffness is provided by the ‘Power Pyramid’ down tube and hydroformed top tube, while stout chainstays and compact wishbone-style seatstays offer the same effect out back. 

The hydroformed top tube bulges at the head tube for more front end rigidity and strength: the hydroformed top tube bulges at the head tube for more front end rigidity and strength

“The best things about my Cannondale are its light weight and aggressive geometry that fits really well with my riding style,” said Johnson.  “I like to attack corners and tough technical sections, and I like having a bike that is quick to respond to my input. It pops out of corners and seems to enjoy getting flogged week after week during the season. You can't go wrong with that.”

Johnson’s Mavic Cosmic Carbone Ultimate carbon tubular wheels carry over from last year as well and continue the theme with their light weight (1185g per pair) and surprising stiffness. While the fairly deep 40mm section provides aero benefits on the road, it’s just the thing to cut through sand and mud when it comes to ‘cross. 

Wrapping the rims are premium tubulars from heralded tire maker Andre Dugast. After the usual round of pre-race experimentation at the Boulder Cup, Johnson ultimately settled on the versatile Typhoon tread in the floatier 34mm casing size to better handle the bumpy and hardpacked course and tight, hard corners.

The carbon hub shell and carbon spokes are all joined together: the carbon hub shell and carbon spokes are all joined together

“What’s happened a few times is that the race pace is faster than anticipated,” said Stu Thorne of title co-sponsor Cyclocrossworld.com.  “Last week we started on Pipistrellos [Dugast’s fast-rolling semi-slick] and the pace was just fast enough that it wasn’t the right tire in the race. It was fine for a good, fast warm-up but the race pace went up just that one notch higher so we didn’t want to take that chance this weekend.

“It was a little bumpy and hard as a rock here.  [The 34mm casing] is just that much more volume and gives that much more cushion. You don’t lose a lot of energy in the frame so it’s just enough to give it some suspension.”

SRAM continues as a team sponsor and the top-end Red group again graces Johnson’s XTJ, with the addition of the new BB30-compatible crankset in lieu of last year’s Cannondale Si unit. Key changes from last year include an OG-1070 cassette instead of the fancier PowerDome-equipped OG-1090 and a steel-caged Force front derailleur (badged as Red) that apparently works better with the downsized SRAM prototype ‘cross-specific 39/46T chainrings.

Johnson opts for the lesser og-1070 cassette instead of red's powerdome design for better performance when things get muddy: johnson opts for the lesser og-1070 cassette instead of red's powerdome design for better performance when things get muddy

“[The OG-1090s] are light and they’re a great cassette,” Thorne said. “I love them, Tim loves them, everyone loves them but we don’t want to have to go through the hassle of switching cassettes if the weather turns bad so we just set them up this way right from the get-go. The weight savings isn’t a big deal.  Sure, if we could get the bike to sub-17lb it’d be that much nicer but I’m not going to run any risks. Those cassettes clog up immediately when you hit the mud.”

Outsiders may view the parts swaps as stains on Red’s reputation but Thorne actually sees the relationship in a positive light. Though everything may not be exactly how the team wants it at the moment, he is confident it will all get there. 

“SRAM is beautiful,” he said.  “They take all of the feedback we give them and actually do something about it.  It’s incredible.”

Case in point is Johnson’s chain, which was stamped with the Shimano Dura-Ace logo at the Boulder Cup but is due to revert back to SRAM as early as next weekend. Johnson has been testing prototype SRAM chains with more aggressive chamfering for quieter running and stronger, harder pins and side plates for better durability. According to Thorne, “it’s a whole new chain”.

Johnson powers his cannondale xtj past the boulder reservoir: johnson powers his cannondale xtj past the boulder reservoir

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After his success at the Boulder Cup, Johnson will continue to aim for good results with the end goal of a third stars and stripes jersey at this December’s national championships in Kansas City, Missouri

“The first time I wore the jersey as national champ during the 2001 season, I was just a kid and didn't fully understand the importance of it,” said Johnson.  “In the years since then, I've realized just how hard it is to win it!”

Team sponsor Cannondale is likely hoping for the same outcome, and not just for marketing purposes.  After all, if all goes well, the company may even be able to make the argument that Johnson won’t need a new bike for the ’09 season!  To be continued in December…

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