English Cycles custom Di2 Special road bike with stealth Di2 electronic shifting install

Rob English has been featured here before for his sweet custom builds (here and here, for example), and we’ve even teased this particular bike. Called the English Cycles Di2 Special, it takes stealth integration to the next level. Here’s the foreword:

“It always seemed that the control box was an afterthought, being cable-tied to the brake cables. So I made a custom stem to house it underneath. By also making an ‘upside down’ headset arrangement, such that the steerer is part of the stem and bolts into the fork crown, I was able to run the Di2 cables completely inside from the stem to the derailleurs. Then of course the battery needed to be hidden too…”

Curious? Sneak past the break and see how it all came together…

English Cycles custom Di2 Special road bike with stealth Di2 electronic shifting install

Straight on, there’s virtually no indication this is a Di2 bike. No visible battery. No visible controller box. No visible wires.

English Cycles custom Di2 Special road bike with stealth Di2 electronic shifting install

The battery uses Icarus’ custom internal battery with micro-USB charging port, and the port is cleanly integrated directly into the frame. The battery is about half the weight as 50% more capacity than the stock power unit.

English Cycles custom Di2 Special road bike with stealth Di2 electronic shifting install

Internal wire routing through the chain stays is now pretty common. Here’s where things get trick:

English Cycles custom Di2 Special road bike with stealth Di2 electronic shifting install

Rather than leave the control box zip tied to the brake cables, Rob fabricated a custom stem to hold it flush on the underside. Controls are still accessible, and wires are then run directly through the stem into the frame.

English Cycles custom Di2 Special road bike with stealth Di2 electronic shifting install

To make this work, the stem and steerer tube are one piece and the fork clamps to it at the bottom. It essentially uses an upside down Aheadset nut to tighten the fork and stem/steerer into the the headset, which is tightened into place from under the fork crown. Once that’s tight, the front brake is attached using a shortened bolt that, rather than running through the entire fork crown like normal, tightens up against a curved washer on the inside front wall of the fork.

The steerer tube has a cut out that’s smoothed edges to funnel the wires into the downtube. The hole allows the bar to rotate 90º, at which point it would hit the frame and stop anyway. Rob says the real stress points are where the steerer tube interfaces with the headset, so the hole doesn’t diminish the structural integrity of the system and that he thickened up the ends of the steerer tube, too.

English Cycles custom Di2 Special road bike with stealth Di2 electronic shifting install

About the frame, Rob had this to say:

“The frame features a Columbus aero downtube, custom butted and ovalized seattube, my signature skinny wishbone seatstays and True Temper S3 chainstays. Retro Sweet Wings steel cranks complete the steel theme, but the bike still comes in under 15lbs.”

This bike’s been delivered to its owner after spending a few days in Fair Wheel Bike’s showroom. Now we just get to wait and see what he comes up with for NAHBS 2012!


  1. I’m generally “meh” when it comes to most racing bikes these days but the level of thought and attention to detail on this bike is very impressive.

  2. This bike is super sexy. The whole custom stem thing is kind of a solution for an unfounded problem, even if it was just for looks. I don’t know… that’s the only part I don’t like. Everything else is so clean and minimalistic!!!

  3. @wv: the custom stem set-up is to accommodate the internal wiring. And there’s nothing wrong with a custom stem. It can solve fit problems for a lot of people.

    That said I think the stem is ugly. It reminds me of some cheap stem from the 90’s. I would’ve paint matched the stem with the cranks or vice versa.

  4. Aesthetically very beautiful, functionally I see two issues:
    1 – the routing to the rear derailleur looks like it will make wheel changes a pain.
    2 – the location of the Di junction box being the underside of the stem will make checking it too a pain.

  5. Hi saupak,
    1 – the grommet causes the cable to arc up as it leaves the frame, thus it goes over the top of the q/r nut and in no way interferes with removing the wheel.
    2 – with the internal battery having 50% more capacity than the stock Di2 battery, it will likely only need charging two or three times a year. Rolling the bike into the garage on it’s rear wheel makes it very easy to see the control box and check the battery level before putting the bike away.
    Thanks for all the kind comments!

  6. Very cool bike with some very novel solutions and design aspects. Rob English certainly has a history of producing bikes with those characteristics. I would really like to see him have a go at a traditional frame (i.e., no sloping TT). Rob certainly shows that steel is far from dead as a frame material and can be built into a frame that certainly competes in weight with mass production bikes of any material.

    I find the interesting and novel solutions that more than a few custom builders are providing much more interesting that what the large bike/frame producing companies are calling “revolutionary”, “innovative”, or “cutting edge”.

  7. @wv cycling – I agree about the fork being being a little scary. I would think a better (stronger) solution would be to use a traditional fork construction, cutout the holes for wires the same, but machine another hole at the top of the fork to align with a hollow stem and add one of those “i-beam” style compression bolts to replace the star nut and leave room for wires inside the fork steerer.

    Here’s the type of bolt I’m referring to: http://chicagoxc.com/?p=271

    You could even use that type of bolt to clamp everything down, tighten the stem and then remove the bolt altogether to save weight.

  8. Is that crank really going to work with Di2? Had a C’dale in the shop running Di2 with sloppy front shifting due to C’dale chainrings/crank not being stiff enough to play nice with servo-powered shifting. DA crank swap and everything was AOK.

  9. The stem does look a bit chunky compared to the rest of the bike. Not sure why he didn’t go with a lighter, cleaner single bolt clamp. Yeah, it makes changing bars a pain but then again this is a custom bike so how often would you really be doing that? Also surprised he couldn’t think of a cleaner way to attach the fork to the stem/steer tube. The pinch bolts behind the crown look kind of chunky when compared to the rest of the bike.

  10. All, thanks for the comments. As the owner of the bike, all I can say is that I am thrilled with the work Rob has done. It’s exactly what I wanted and I am happy with the results. Rear wheel removal has been without trouble… not that I’ve had to remove it often. No flats so far, but I did change the cassette. I love having the controller for the di2 under the stem. It’s out of the way and I have yet to need re-charging since receiving the bike. As for the cranks… yes, they are retro. I’m still undecided about whether to keep them on the bike or not. But that is an aesthetic issue. Functionally, the cranks have been great and the shifting has been top-notch even with the non-Shimano parts. The fit is perfect to my measurements and the geometry is just what I asked for. Ride quality is simply sublime. The only thing I was a little disappointed with, and I already shared this with Rob, was the powdercoat… but that is because we tried something new and untried so I don’t hold Rob responsible. My original plan was to have the entire frame, fork, stem, and crank chrome-plated. But that turned out to be a too expensive proposition and I had reached the pinnacle of my budget at that point. This was a gift to myself on the anniversary of 20 years of Navy service, but I still had to stick to a budget. Anyway, for those considering a custom rig, I strongly recommend Rob English. He was a pleasure to work with. The communication and collaborative process was not only effective, but fun. And his craftsmanship is superb.

What do you think?