Editor’s Note: In April 2011, we unveiled VeloLab, our in-depth bike and component testing program that combines objective, lab-based metrics with on-the-road evaluation. Since then, we’ve tested more than 25 bikes in Velo Magazine, from sub-$1500 budget road racers to the bikes of the WorldTour. The following cover story first appeared in the September 2011 issue. While these bikes are not 2012 model year machines, many riders are shopping the discount and lightly used markets and we present this archived test as a service to those readers.
The world’s best professional cyclists spend the month of July streaming along the roads of France, a whirring peloton of color, parting the seas of raucous spectators for over 2,100 miles. From the windy plains of the Massif Central to the jagged tarmac of the Pyrenees and the great cols of the Alps, each rider relies on a single machine to channel their hard-earned power. Wheels, tires, even gearing may be swapped out but the platform almost always remains the same.
The same WorldTour bike must be able to constrain the raw power of a bunch sprint under one rider, yet provide a stable, supple, platform for the uphill dancing of another. More miles of road buzz are damped by these frames in a single year than most amateurs see in a decade.
VeloLab put four pro bikes to the test in the lab, on the roads and in races. Each was built with the same components used by their respective teams, right down to the tires. We changed only saddles and pedals for our own comfort, just as the pros often do.
Each bike was subjected to our benchmark torsional stiffness test, providing us with an overall stiffness figure for the frame as a whole, as well as bottom bracket, head tube and rear-end data. Weeks of riding, and some racing, enabled us to provide an accurate subjective assessment on top of the scientific data, delivering a more complete picture of each machine.
For this WorldTour bike test, we selected machines from three Tour teams, and one that should have been. (We requested test bikes before the Tour teams were announced — what can we say?) From Leopard-Trek, home of dainty Andy and Frank Schleck and powerhouse Fabian Cancellara: a Trek Madone 6.9 SSL built with Shimano Dura-Ace and Bontrager wheels. From perennial French underdog and Tour wildcard Cofidis: a Look 695 IPACK with Campagnolo Super Record and Fulcrum wheels. From the Russian Katusha Team: a Focus Izalco with SRAM Red and Vision wheels. And finally, from the home of former Tour champion Carlos Sastre and enduring GC threat Denis Menchov: a team Geox-TMC Fuji Altamira with Shimano Dura-Ace and DT-Swiss wheels. The Focus and Trek are both readily available to consumers in team livery, while a stock Fuji or Look would require a bit of customization to bring in line with team specs.
With Nick Legan tied up by the Tour de France, Velo reporter and habitual lunch ride butcher Brian Holcombe joined tech writer Caley Fretz for this round of testing.
Trickle down tech
The bikes in this review are expensive. Each falls dangerously close to the $10,000 mark. But since they represent today’s peak of racing technology, they can also be viewed as tomorrow’s more affordable second tier. The manufacturing techniques and advanced technical features found on the models here will inevitably wind their way down the food chain.
Our Torsional Stiffness Test
The torsional stiffness test we co-developed with Microbac Laboratories, Inc. measures how a bike moves at three different points while subjected to a simulated pedaling force. Here’s how it works.
The front fork is fixed. The rear dropouts are mounted to a dummy axle that pivots on an eyebolt, allowing the rear of the bicycle to twist and move laterally. A chain is connected from the large chainring to the dummy rear axle to transfer the pedaling force through the rear triangle.
Dial indicators contacted the bike at the center of the drive crankarm’s face, at the top of the head tube and at the top of the seat tube. Two 50-pound dumbbell weights were hung on a spindle screwed into the left crank positioned horizontally forward and the values were recorded on the three dial indicators. — LENNARD ZINN