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Review: Scott FOIL Team Issue — An aero road frame without the compromise

  • By Caley Fretz
  • Published Aug. 12, 2011

The FOIL on our stiffness jig. Photo: Caley Fretz

BOULDER, Colo. (VN) — For the April issue of (then) VeloNews magazine, we reviewed four aero road bikes: a Cervélo S3, Felt AR1, Ridley Noah, and Blue AC1 SL. Each was put through two scientific tests plus over 30 hours of ride time. The Scott FOIL was not yet available during our test period, and so it was left off the list.

We don’t usually publish VeloLab bike reviews on VeloNews.com; that content can only be found in Velo magazine. Consider this online review — a first for us — an addendum to our April roundup. The format is a bit different, but we put the FOIL through the same rigorous test process as we always do for VeloLab reviews. Like what you see? Aero road bikes round 2 is on the horizon, but you have to subscribe to see it.

So with our magazine sales call out of the way, on to the test.

The FOIL: aero shape without the compromise

The FOIL doesn’t look like an aero frame. There are no slender tube shapes or wheel cutouts, and no ultra-narrow head tube. In fact, Scott has had to use paint to show just how they’ve made it aerodynamic at all.

The concept behind each tube shape is similar to the Kamm-tail used on Trek’s Speed Concept TT frame: cut off the back of an aero profile to see aero gains while using wider, stiffer tubes, while also staying within the UCI’s 3:1 tube profile regulations. Sticking within those regulations while using regular NACA profiles necessitates skinny tubes, as seen on other aero frames currently available. On the FOIL Team Issue, red paint indicates a truncated aero-profile tube.

The result is excellent: an (allegedly) aero frame, saving its rider a claimed up to 20 watts at 45kph, without the downsides associated with skinny aero tubes with thick walls. Free speed, without the negative side affects traditionally associated with going aero: a flimsy front end and dead-feeling ride. Even if the aero claims are overblown, which I don’t think is the case, I’d consider the FOIL a good buy based on its stiffness and ride quality alone.

Geometry, 56cm (L) frame
Stack: 569mm
Reach: 394mm
Top tube length: 565mm
Head tube length: 160mm
Head tube angle: 73˚
Seat angle: 73.3
Wheelbase: 994mm

Lab testing
The FOIL produced 43 percent less deflection at the head tube, 21 percent less rear end deflection, and the second lowest bottom bracket deflection on the same Microbac Laboratories torsional stiffness jig when compared to the stiffest aero bike in each category tested earlier this year. That’s an overall frame deflection sum of just 5.22mm, compared to 6.89mm for the Ridley, 7.20mm for the Blue, 8.43mm for the Cervélo, and 8.80mm for the Felt AR1.

The FOIL’s stiffness numbers fall close to those of the high end, non-aero race frames tested in the WorldTour bike test found in the September issue of Velo. In fact, the FOIL would have been the second stiffest in that test, despite its aerodynamic tube profiles.

We were not able to get the FOIL into the wind tunnel for this test, though there will be further wind tunnel testing of aero road frames in the future (that’s all we can say at this point). However, it is worth noting that our in-house BB deflection figures match up with those published by Scott almost perfectly; for now we can hope the same would be true about their published wind tunnel figures.

Those figures purport that the FOIL is slightly less aerodynamic than the Cervélo S3 (about 6 watts at 45kph) at 0˚ yaw, dead even with the S3 at 10˚, and slightly better (2 watts or so) at 15˚. According to Scott, it’s miles better than a Madone 6.9 in the tunnel, from 10-20 watts depending on yaw angle. Take those figures with a good helping of salt, though.

Ride quality

Scott says the FOIL saves up to 20 watts at 45kph. Photo: Caley Fretz

On every other aero road frame I’ve ridden stiffness has been compromised in the name of aerodynamics and ride quality has been a notch below traditionally shaped frames. The venerable Cervélo S3, which both Nick and I love, has a soft front end compared to, say, a Trek Madone. The previous generation Ridley Noah is horrendously jarring over anything but perfect pavement — I can’t comment on the latest model. The list goes on. I was willing to take those sacrifices for improved aerodynamics, which I believe have a greater impact on performance than an ultra-stiff head tube, for example, but I’d certainly prefer an aero bike that didn’t have those problems.

The FOIL, to put it simply, rides like a regular race frame, and a great one at that. The truncated aero shapes allow for wider tubes with thinner walls, just like a frame with traditional tube shapes. The ride is almost indistinguishable from an Addict, thanks to both the nearly identical geometry and aforementioned tube construction. It’s light and lively, with a stiff front end (a fact backed up by our lab) and planted rear.

The same cannot be said for comfort. The same zing that feels wonderful when stomping out of the saddle starts to takes its toll on the body after a few hours on the road. Chip-sealed road surfaces are transmitted with perfectly miserable efficiency up to hands and rear end. Comfort isn’t as poor as the 2010 Ridley we tested last winter, but it’s getting there.

Mark Cavendish complained that the original pre-production FOIL was too stiff during the 2010 Tour. The current version has been re-engineered, and made more comfortable. Scott needs to take the frame another step down that road.

The frame
Scott included all the bells and whistles associated with high-end frames these days: a tapered 1 1/8” to 1 ¼” head tube, BB86 bottom bracket, and internal cable routing.

The results of our April issue VeloLab aero road bike stiffness test, with the Scott's figures added in. Art by Mike Reisel

Carbon dropouts, front derailleur mount and lower headset bearing race all help keep weight low, and low it is — just 840 grams for a medium HMX version frame. That’s over 100g lighter than the Specialized McLaren Venge or Trek Madone 6.9, over 200g lighter than a Cervélo S3, and over 300g lighter than a Felt AR1.

Head tube height is middle-of-the-road at 160mm for a 56cm frame. Those who prefer a super aggressive position might need a -17˚ stem, but I was fine with a -6˚ and one 5mm spacer.

The seatpost is proprietary, built by Ritchey for Scott with an excellent Ritchey clamp mechanism that can be used with both metal and carbon saddle rails. The seatpost clamp is beautifully integrated within the frame and seems perfectly secure. All clamp parts are replaceable, so if you strip a nut there’s no need to throw the frame away.

Frame: Scott FOIL HMX NET
Available sizes: 47, 49, 52, 54, 56, 58, 61cm
Fork: Scott FOIL HMX NET
Front brake: SRAM Red
Rear brake: SRAM Red
Brake levers: SRAM Red DoubleTap
Saddle: fi’zi:k Arione CS
Seatpost: Ritchey FOIL Aero WCS Carbon
Front derailleur: SRAM Red
Rear derailleur: SRAM Red
Shift levers: SRAM Red DoubleTap
Cassette: Shimano Dura-Ace CS-7900, 11-25T or 11-28T
Chain: Shimano Dura-Ace CN-7900
Crankset: SRAM Red, 53/39T or 50/34T
Bottom bracket: SRAM GXP PressFit
Stem: Ritchey WCS Carbon Matrix 4-Axis
Headset: Ritchey WCS integrated
Handlebars: Ritchey WCS Carbon Curve
Tape: fi’zi:k
Wheelset: Zipp 404 Clincher (aluminum brake track)
Rear tire: Continental Grand Prix 4000 23c
Front tire: Continental Grand Prix 4000 23c

The internal cable routing is relatively easy to swap, which is great for home mechanics. Running the cables through the top tube, as Cervélo and Felt do on their aero frames, might produce slightly better numbers in the wind tunnel but inevitably increase friction compared to the downtube routing used by Scott.

Here’s a major peeve of mine: the FOIL is available for mechanical groups or Shimano Di2, but the drilling is different so once you pick a side you’re stuck with it. The Di2 version can’t be outfitted with a mechanical group, and the mechanical version can’t run Di2 wiring internally. Of course, you can still run the wires outside the frame, but that’s ugly.

Making the frame swappable from Di2 to mechanical is as simple as using removable cable stops and making sure the holes are the right size, just as dozens of other manufacturers do. I have no idea why Scott didn’t go this route, but it’s a major oversight particularly as Ultegra Di2 seems set to gain further market share.

Component choice
Component spec on the Team Issue, the second tier available, is solid. A full SRAM Red group with Zipp 404 clincher wheels and Ritchey cockpit is, for the most part, difficult to fault.

I quickly removed the stock Ritchey WCS Carbon stem because it’s a noodle, and ruined the otherwise stellar front end stiffness. It was replaced with an aluminum Thomson stem. The Ritchey carbon bars are plenty stiff, though, and I dig the nice curve they provide in the drops.

Scott gets a few points for throwing a Dura-Ace cassette and chain on the otherwise SRAM Red group. I love Red, and run it on my personal bikes, but the hollow Red cassette is just annoyingly loud and doesn’t shift quite as well. The Dura-Ace shifts wonderfully and is quiet to boot.

The scoop
Other than the slightly rough ride, it’s tough to fault the new FOIL. Even ignoring the aero claims, the bike rides as well or better than traditional high-end race frames. Add in the purported free speed, and the FOIL takes a big step ahead of the rest.

The FOIL is expensive, though. The Team Issue, which uses the lighter HMX frame, will set you back $9,000. For that you do get the excellent Zipp 404 wheelset, SRAM Red and Shimano Dura-Ace drive train, and top of the line Ritchey and fi’zi:k bits. Good news is that if weight isn’t your primary concern, the HMF version frames (like the FOIL R2 with Ultegra, $3,700) are considerably cheaper. Scott says stiffness is the same; they’re just a tad heavier.

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Caley Fretz

Caley Fretz

Tech Editor Caley Fretz can usually be found chasing races along the backroads of Europe or testing bikes and gear in the mountains outside Boulder, Colorado. If you can't find him there, check the coffee shop across from VN World Headquarters.

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