Interbike Tech: Top-of-the-line bikes at middle-of-the-road prices

  • By Zack Vestal
  • Published Sep. 21, 2010
  • Updated Jan. 28, 2011 at 5:01 PM EDT

It’s easy during trade show season to be seduced by the most elite, exotic and expensive bikes on display. The top models always draw loads of attention, and why not? Just like ogling a Ferrari through a showroom window, everyone loves to check out the sweetest gear available.

However, few people actually buy Ferraris. Most are looking for the perfect blend of performance, decent price and overall appeal. Regardless of whether the show is Eurobike, Interbike, or some other show, most attendees are looking for models that their customers can actually afford. Both manufacturers and dealers depend on these great bikes with great prices to keep their riders happily rolling along.

I love a $10,000 bike as much as the next guy, but today I found three sweet bikes with less formidable price tags. Three thousand dollars for a frame and fork is still a lot. But when the performance is almost identical to a bike with twice the price, bikes like this deserve a close look.

Look 586 RSP

Look 586 RSP

Look is making waves this year. First the French company gave us the new Kéo Blade pedals, which rely on a carbon fiber leaf spring for retention. Then in July at the Tour de France, they pulled back the curtain on the new 695 road bike. Our own Lennard Zinn joined a parade of eager dealers test-riding this radical new road machine.

I checked out the 586 RSP road bike. It’s mostly the same as last year’s 586, but instead of the integrated seatmast and E-Post cap, it’s got a removable seatpost. Additionally, both the standard 586 and the new 586 RSP lose a little weight by way of improved manufacturing and materials pioneered in the flagship 695. Look says its monocoque construction and the higher fiber content of newer pre-preg carbon have reduced frame weight on the 586 to about 940 grams.

But the best news for 2011 might be that Look slices hundreds of dollars off the price of a 586 RSP frame, seatpost, headset and fork module. The 586 RSP frame module now retails for $3,000, and a standard 586 with integrated seat mast can be had for just $400 more. The new 586 RSP is about $1,000 less expensive than the equivalent 2010 model, and it’s still a 100-percent race ready bike. Team Cofidis riders chose the original 586 at various times last season.

I rode a 586 RSP and was impressed with its classic European geometry and easy, stable road manners. At the same time, it feels light and stiff, and plenty performance-oriented for the racer buried within. It would be a great all day bike for big weekend rides and grand fondo-type adventures.

On a similar note, Look is lowering pedal prices as well. The ultralight Kéo Blade Ti pedals are now $420, down from $500. Blade pedals with chromoly spindles are $320 and Kéo 2Max carbon pedals are $220.

BMC racemachine

BMC racemachine

On the other end of the spectrum is BMC’s new racemachine. Just like Look, this Swiss builder is on a tear. Last year we met their top end teammachine race bike. During the summer, it was the impec drawing attention. Now, the new racemachine marks another new bike for fans of the angular, industrial-looking carbon fiber bikes.

The racemachine is built (you guessed it) with racers in mind. It’s got similar geometry and frame shapes as the top-end timemachine, but the seatstays are built to be thicker and stiffer. The overall structure of the bike is a bit beefier and the racemachine uses a standard seatpost clamp instead of the expanding wedge post of the teammachine. The fork and post still have step down shapes to help attenuate road vibration. However the racemachine is built for more road feel and rigidity.

And the price? A racemachine costs $2,850 for a frame, fork, and seatpost instead of $3,850 for the teammachine. For a thousand dollars less, you get a stiffer bike that’s just 90 grams heavier. BMC intends it to be perfect for a racer who’s less concerned about ride quality and more concerned about getting out of the final corner in first place.

Felt F2

Felt F2

If all you see is the price, Felt’s F2 is hardly a bargain at about $7,000. But that sticker is actually a steal if you consider that the F2 built with Dura Ace Di2 shifters and derailleurs, and the frame and fork are virtually identical to the flagship F1. By the way, that F1 halo model would set you back a cool twelve grand. In that light, the F2 starts to look a bit more reasonable.

The new F-Series story is already fairly well known. Essentially Felt revised both frame shapes and manufacturing to chop weight while boosting stiffness in the new platform. It’s got a BB30 bottom bracket, tapered steerer tube, carbon dropouts and internal routing for Di2 wires.

What makes the F2 cool in my book is Felt’s effort to bring that Di2 kit to a more down to earth price. By mixing an FSA K-Force crank and Ultegra brakes into the group, Felt product managers brought the bike down in price without dropping performance. The F2 frame and fork are slightly heavier than the F1 (by just under 50 grams) and it rolls on Shimano RS-80 wheels instead of the F1’s Mavic Cosmic Carbone Ultimates.

It rides great. Felt clearly did homework with the new F-Series frames and forks. This 2011 bike feels stiffer and more responsive than the F-Series bike I rode at the Dirt Demo last year. It’s got subtly crisper handling but still feels predictable. Even better, the Di2 package gives up nothing by blending in the FSA crank and Ultegra brakes. The bike still feels plenty light and shifts with the easy, characteristic Di2 precision I’ve come to love.

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