I’m allergic to production bikes. Ok, that’s not strictly true, but I will generally avoid most production machines – usually based an irrational dislike of the brand, a less irrational dislike of the available colourschemes, ill-suited geometry or a combination of the above.
Recently, on the hunt for a new project, I had a (rather late) discovery that a number of previously ignored bikes actually have quite well-suited geometry. The more I looked the more my interest piqued, and I began to latch onto somewhat alternative project plans. A happy accident occurred when one such frameset appeared in my size on the secondhand market at a very agreeable price. Sold! To the bloke who used to feel physically sick at the prospect of riding a bike with ‘that’ name on it…
Once I had decided on this route for my next project my focus shifted – I now wanted to build something off-the-peg to know if the hype was real, or was just fanboy exaggeration plus favourable magazine and website reviews for major sponsors (yes, shock horror, it happens). I have owned a cookie-cutter bike in recent years and was surprised at quite how much I enjoyed it, but did – and could – the same enjoyment carry across to a brand that I never thought I could bring myself to be seen riding in public? Well, yes… and no.
I own three other bikes – all of which are custom. One is Titanium, one is steel and the other is a mix of wood (yes, really), carbon & steel. The geometry of all three is pretty much the same barring very slight subtleties in bottom bracket drops, fork rakes and wheelbase lengths, and my position on all three is within millimetres. This new-but-not-new race-based frame has a slightly higher BB, shorter chain stays and steeper head angle – but the relationship between my contact points is the same. Geometry aside, the most significant difference is that this new-but-not-new race-based frame is also carbon, and designed to be particularly light weight.
Running this bike with a set of my existing wheels (that I have run on all of my other bikes at some stage) results in a weight drop of around half a kilo over my lightest bike. The fact that the wheels in question are 52mm deep carbon clinchers (and therefore probably negate the ‘light weight’ intent of the frame) makes this impressive, but not significant. Swap out those wheels for a particularly lightweight set, however, and the changes would begin to get really noticeable. If the frameset were the ’SLR’ version of this bike, rather than the ’SL’ the weight would drop even more – and we’d be talking major differences without even starting to use really ‘weight weenie’ parts. I digress… What these wheels do achieve is to offer a baseline for me to understand this bike compared to my others so that I can be sure that what I am feeling is really just the frame and geometry.
Before I go on, here’s a quote from a popular website’s review of this bike:
“If for a moment we hark back to the glory days of the [bike name removed], when it was one of the lightest in the peloton and winning everything (no matter how tainted those victories are now), the essence of that bike’s excellence was its mix of lightness and handling prowess – and [this bike] has that and more.”
On its first outing the bike seemed very “so what?” in that nothing dazzled or surprised me. That said, there was nothing to disappoint me either. Handling through corners is a little quicker, but that’s only to be expected given the racier geometry. Comfort levels were on par with my other bikes – slightly less harsh than one, slightly harsher than another and about the same as the third. What I did find interesting was that acceleration felt no sharper and climbing felt no more spritely – and yet one website review claims: “Climbing is where [this bike] excels… it climbs with the vigour of a spider monkey escaping a hungry predator”. Oh, right. I must have missed that bit…
On subsequent rides I tried the bike both with the same wheels again, and with others. With each ride, the smoothness of the ride became more apparent and I began to enjoy the bike more, but it still refused to particularly sparkle. Remembering back to my previous cookie-cutter production bike, that did have eye-opening snappy acceleration. Here, that “so what?” feeling was the only thing that continued to shine through.
“Crest the brow of a hill and point [this bike] back down and the chassis’ liveliness uphill transforms into a compliant ground hugging missile that floats over bumpy and broken surfaces with a limpet-like tenacity for holding its line. The amount of grip it exudes through hard cornering is mighty.”
Visually, it’s a good looking machine. Stealth black isn’t really my thing, so some days I love it and others I hate it. I do like the look of chunky tubes when viewed from the saddle – especially the way the down tube fills the full axle width of the cranks (thankfully with zero creaking to note from the proprietary bottom bracket format which allows this), but otherwise it’s neither particularly attractive nor overly ugly.
So what’s the verdict? According to that website review: “In all [this bike] is the rightful heir to the classic [bike name removed], blending ride quality, lightness and a whole shedload of riding fun. It’s set to be one of the stars of 2015 and fully deserves the accolades that will undoubtedly come its way”. According to me, I would be intrigued to try the über-light equivalent of the same bike in full-blown flyweight mode to see how that compares and I am still intrigued by another bike from the same people, purely to see how the features of that frame feel on the road. This bike specifically? It’s a just another bike. Box ticked, move on.
Is there any truth to the hype? On this basis, and in my opinion, nada. None. Zip. That’s a “no”, in case it wasn’t clear.